The Enchanting Midnight

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"Respect Is Earned"- Aryan Sharma


“Respect Is Earned”- Aryan Sharma

It was finally the fourth week of June and monsoon had started to arrive, if not completely arrived. At least it was not very scorching like earlier.

Just one day before I would officially enter college. I was excited, yet anxious. Since it was my last day of uninterrupted fun at home, I wanted to do everything that I could to make it memorable. I spent more time playing basketball and went out with Timothy to the club.

By the time I returned, it was already 8-30 in the night and my father was back home. After dinner he suggested going out for an ice cream, and we all agreed. He drove us to the ‘Top N Town’ corner near our locality.

It seemed to be a popular place or it was crowded that day. The tables were neatly arranged outside the shop and dim lights made the atmosphere peaceful.

I went to look for a new flavour for my mother and ordered my favourite Italian Chocolate ice cream. When I returned, I saw my father talking to somebody. Since his back was towards me, I could not notice who he was.

As I reached near the table, I heard a familiar voice, “Actually, this is a youth programme involving funds as well as participation. We have an organization which supports this”, he said showing the pamphlet, “So, all we need is your interest towards it, sir.”

I had heard this voice somewhere but could not recognize it. My father took the pamphlet from him and the person turned back. I saw him and remembered his face. He was the same guy. The same soft black eyes and neatly trimmed hair but he seemed more casual, and classy, than that day in his outfit.

I looked at him in amazement. He smiled back at me, “Nice to see you Miss Sengupta”.

I eyed him with suspicion but he did not notice and left.

“Dad, you know he was my senior!”, I whispered as I took my seat beside my father.

“The same one?”, he asked.

I nodded in agreement. He laughed, “He did not seem to be a fresher though. How did you think so?”

“He did not seem that way today”. We could not stop laughing at the coincidence,” What was he telling you by the way?”

“Well, he seems to be promoting an organization for child education. You will be able to explain that better to me in a few days I think, as he said that is a part of their curriculum too”.

“I hope I can make a place there. It was different with school, but this is something completely new for me.”

“But you know what, you are the same. And it is all that matters”, he smiled at me and I felt better.

It was my first day at college. I had come to this old, well maintained building before and it seemed no different than that day. Yet, it was different than that day. The crowd at the gate made it so.

It was to welcome the freshers and to know them. In other words, it was to frighten them, I thought. ‘Do or Die’ I had to enter the gate anyway. Gathering my outspoken attitude, I did that.

“Excuse me miss, you should wish your seniors”, as expected, I was interrupted by a girl who did not look like my senior, but I stayed silent this time.

“Good morning ma’am”, I replied.

“And sir”, a guy next to her spoke.

“Good morning sir”.

“Good girl. So what do you have in yourself that makes you different?”, the girl asked me.

“My personality. And I think that is what makes everybody different. It has to be unique for each one, isn’t it?”, I replied.

“We asked you to answer with your own views, and not question about our opinion”, the same guy said.

“That will be kept in mind,” I added,” Sir”, with more emphasis on ‘Sir’.

“Oh very smart, introduce yourself with your secondary school score and your place”.

“My name is Mishti Sengupta. I got 96.80% at the secondary school level. I am currently from Hyderabad.”

“One last question Mishti. You have to tell the name of any of us over here and you can proceed, or else we have more than questions for you. You can guess three times”, the way she smiled, I knew it wasn’t good.

I looked at all those faces. Guessing names would have been a cool game if this wasn’t the situation. I was wondering with whom to start, just when I saw him in the crowd. He had been looking at me, listening to all that I had said till then. I jumped with joy.

“Yes, I can tell his name. Aryan Sharma..sir”, I nodded at them with a victorious look.

They seemed surprised as well as disappointed. He laughed out aloud.

“Oh, smart girl, you knew him. Anyway, as promised, you can proceed now. Have a good time here”, she smiled at me.

“Thank you ma’am”, I smiled back.

I looked at him again. He was lost in some conversation with another guy. As soon as he looked at me, I turned to the other side and left from there. At least the place seemed familiar after that, I thought to myself.

The first class, just like the day, seemed to proceed well. There were a couple of batch mates who were all from the city, so I was the only odd one out there, and that brought too much of unwanted attention.

It wasn’t just the case with my batch mates, but also with the lecturers who seemed to wonder why I had chosen Hyderabad for the course, until I explained them that this was going to be my city now.

With the classes going on I realized that it was definitely not a very popular choice among students my age. Owing to whatever reasons, the strength of the batch did not seem to be appreciable even in a metro city like this one, I wondered.

I also realized that my decision of getting into this course had been correct, because I felt as if it was something I had really wanted to look deeper into. I aspired to make use of what I would learn during my graduation.

Three hours of continuous lectures seemed to make many others lose their concentration but I loved to listen to the lectures about the history of mass media.

After three and a half hours, we got our lunch break. There was nobody in the batch whom I knew as such. We had introduced ourselves in the first session, but the introverted nature of South Indians seemed to play its part.

Nevertheless, I felt comfortable with a Telugu girl of my batch, S. Ratnashree, who seemed too quiet and lost even on the account of that being our first day. I noticed that she was a bit too scared, yet I did not want to seem too outspoken by asking her about it.

We proceeded towards the canteen. It was more like a common school mess than a canteen. Yet, like the building, this place too, was neatly maintained even if old. There was a garden which was next to the canteen. It was beautiful, yet it was vacant.

The space was appropriate for the number of visitors there, which were not so less, I’d say. It seemed that the students spent more time in canteen than in the classes, because I hadn’t seen that much crowd in the corridors.

I found a place with Ratna near the menu board. As expected, there were too many varieties of Dosas, Rasam, Idli and even Chutneys, but the usual North Indian snacks were missing. I did not dislike South Indian food but I’d never tried it with a taste earlier.

My friend seemed to understand my plight. She smiled at me and said,” Why don’t you try Vada with Cocount Chutney? It’ll be good for you as a starter before you can switch to a Dosa. It would be easier for you.”

I was surprised at her friendliness, as she had finally spoken something on her own for the first time in the day. I followed her advice and she was right. Vadas had never seemed so tasty to me. I was wondering about ordering a plain Dosa when I saw him entering the canteen alone.

I remembered the morning incident and thought of showing some courtesy. I walked towards him.

“Err…excuse me sir”, I tried to be more polite.

“Oh yes Miss Sengupta”.

“Thank you for the morning.”

“Oh that. Thank your memory that you remembered my name. Most people don’t you see.”

“Yeah actually”, I said and then wondered I shouldn’t have when he eyed me.

“Oh actually even you remembered my name sir”, I added.

“Ha ha ha. That was because even though I am not so popular, nobody, none especially from the juniors have ever considered me as their batch mate. I couldn’t forget this daring junior of mine”, he laughed and looked like an innocent school kid.

“I corrected my mistake sir, in the morning. Thank you, that you told me your name that day, despite my over smartness. It saved me today”.

“If you do me a favour, I’ll accept your thank you”, he looked at me with those soft black eyes.

“Yes sir”.

“Stop thanking me and order one Dosa for me, I have left my money in my bag. That would be all.”

“Oh yes of course sir. That’s a very less price”, I laughed.

“You mean you want me to order more Dosas for myself. Or should I invite others too?”, he asked naughtily.

“No sir. I am fine with this much”, and I ordered one Dosa each for me, Ratna and him.

“You do not seem to be from here. Are you…sir?”, I enquired.

“No and yes”, he replied.

I looked at him confused.

“I mean I am not from here. But I have stayed long enough over here, that I can call this place as my own”, he looked at the gate. I waited for him to add more but he didn’t.

The silence among us was broken by the call for our order. He stood up and brought the plates, and I accompanied him. We started with the typical Dosa from Hyderabad.

“So how was your first day in college, Miss Sengupta?”, he broke the normal silence.

“Well, it was very good sir. Be it the start, or the lectures.”

“You got such a good score in school. You seem to have chosen this field out of your inclination. Interesting. Not many people have this outlook.”

“But we are all free to choose our interests, isn’t it?”

“Of course, but it is not so common. People end up going for the wrong choices too.”

“Actually sir, I believe that we should make wrong choices too. How would we learn to make the right ones then?”

He looked at me seriously, “Are you a philosopher too Miss Sengupta? You seem to be one.”

We were interrupted by Ratna, “I think the lunch break is over Mishti. It is time for us to leave”. I had completely forgotten that she was there too.

“Not yet”, I replied to him,” Got to go now..sir”.

“Oh so I shall have to wait for the day when Miss Sengupta turns into a famous philosopher. Don’t forget that I was the first one to tell you that. Good day”.

“I won’t..sir. Good day to you too”, I said as I left from there.

I hoped that he hadn’t noticed my reluctance towards adding a natural ‘Sir’, but I felt that would soon be resolved within a few days with the habit.

The rest of the day seemed no different. There were more lectures about the importance of media in the world and India. After a particular time I’d say, I felt bored of listening to the history and importance of media.

Of course it was important but then the real essence of journalism did not lie in that. At least, I believed that. However, I was aware that it was the only thing I needed to study well in order to score good in my examination that year.

After two and a half hours, it was time for us to leave for home. It had been a long day. I waved goodbye to Ratna and proceeded towards the gate. I saw the same crowd which had met me in the morning and wished them too.

As I walked out of the gate, I was interrupted by a familiar voice and this time I did not take more than a second to recognize who it was.

“Are you forgetting something Miss Sengupta?”, I saw Aryan holding my Identity card in his hand.

“Oh, thank you sir. Actually, I did not come to know when I dropped it. I won’t drop it here now”.

“You better be careful about it. It is not necessary that you will drop it in college every time.”

“Oh, I meant I will take care not to drop it anywhere..sir”.

“And it is okay if you don’t add a ‘sir’ when there is nobody around. You seem to be too reluctant to add it every time.”

“No no…I am just not habitual. That would be corrected.”

“Well, you don’t need to act giving respect. It is earned”, he said as he left, leaving me dumb. He was right and this time I did not have any opinion to sound over smart. For the first time, somebody had made me silent to think about something that I hadn’t paid attention to.

Back home that evening, I narrated the whole sequence of events to my mother and Timothy, and again to my father at the table. Some things really never change.

“It seems as if this senior of yours will prove to b your guide at every step”, my mother said laughing at this,” and you see some times you can be careless too. But he was right”.

Yes, he was right. That night, as I sat on my bed with my diary, I could not stop thinking about what he had said. “Respect comes natural”. And unknowingly, though it was just two or three instances, I had that respect beginning to come for him. I couldn’t explain the reasons for that.

May be because he wasn’t rude like other seniors. Though he said things directly, he had never shown his over smartness. May be he wasn’t a show off. May be he was natural, as he seemed.

Or may be, I was thinking too much for a simple sentence. It need not have any reasons. Respect came natural for him. The reason why I didn’t mind calling him ‘sir’, thought it required efforts for me.

I quoted that line in my diary that night, underlined it and wrote the name of the person who had given it to me- “Aryan Sharma…sir”. I wrote it that way.

And with a few more thoughts about my classes to come, I dozed off.

The days further were no different. I met seniors, batch mates, who had started to interact with me, some familiar lecturers who had started knowing me because of my outspokenness and of course because of Aryan sir.

He was not very popular among the students because he was sincere, but he was surely known among the staff. I always found him involved with some or the other serious discussion about politics, media, some social cause or with some random staff member about their work.

And with that graceful charm of his, I always saw him as a simple, helping, quiet person who did not care much about what others said. I never found him with many people. He was usually alone whenever in college.

Somehow, we always crossed ways and I greeted him, not forgetting to add ‘sir’ and he asked me if I was fine. He always called me ‘Miss Sengupta’. Never had I wondered why, though it was a little awkward for a senior to call a junior that way. But nobody seemed to question him on that, or on any other thing. He did things his way.

So it was my fourth month at the college, when out of all the usual routine, I saw him a little worried, in the corridor.

“Anything wrong, sir?”, I couldn’t help but ask.

“Yes Miss Sengupta, I am a little worried about…”

“Can I help you in any way?”, I interrupted him.

“No, but thank you for asking….actually you can help!” He seemed surprised at himself. “Can you do me a favour?”

“Sure sir, what’s that?”

“Can you be a part of our annual function play. It is scheduled on next Monday and we had everything prepared, but our batch mate is down with Jaundice and we don’t have any girls in our batch who are willing to do this.”

“Next Monday!”

“Can you…?” There was something about the way he looked. It seemed genuine. I couldn’t deny.

“I will..sir”.

“Thank you. Come to the canteen in the lunch break. You will have a lot of people waiting for you”, he smiled and left.

I wondered if I had done the right thing and something inside me said I had done it for him.

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