Just Another Love Story

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Haunted by her memories

25th July 2014….

An unwanted bunk….

“You are coming, right?” she asked on facebook.

I had to go, there was no way out. As we approached our mid-term exams, revision tests piled up. Quite worthless, as still a lot of syllabus was pending. Nevertheless, the school had to show its seriousness about academic performance of their students and what better way than to demolish their confidence by putting up tough out-of-syllabus questions on revision test, and by using the ‘useless’ and embarrassing report card as a tool for blackmail. We were sufficiently warned that it could very well be used in parents-teachers meet.

There was no declared time table for it; and more often than not it terrorized the same way as a surprise test does; only this one came with a two day prior notice. All we knew was that all tests would be over in a span of three weeks. On the first day of week, we were informed about the math test to be held on Wednesday.

As expected, none of us was prepared. We have been just too busy to focus our time on something as boring as studies. Unanimously, we decided to skip the revision test. Even though it was something that should have shaken us, it provided us with a perfect opportunity to bunk the classes as maths was the only common subject apart from English which our entire group shared.

The schedule was on the mercy of the respective subject teacher choice, and it was less likely that any of the PCM and commerce test would fall on the same day. We consoled ourselves that even in worst case scenario we wouldn’t fail mid-term exam so the report card won’t be out in open anyways. We felt a little sad having being ‘forced’ to another bunk but shadowed it under the pretence that all of this was done to have memories with friends. We also promised that each one of us will work hard for the next test, a promise which from beginning was meant to be broken and we all knew it.

Tushar initiated the plan, Sarvesh and Manas joined in. Cajoling Prateek for it was an easy task, he was infact quite enthusiastic about it yet he pretended to feel guilty about missing out on test. One who really felt guilty and decided to skip it was Sahaj; and also because maths was his favourite subject. As hard as it maybe to believe, humans who prefer maths also exist amongst us.

For me, it was an easy decision; I wasn’t gonna miss out on hanging with my friends for a silly test. But my excitement dropped to zero as soon as I found out that he has invited girls too. Not only because I wouldn’t get to do my usual awkward silly escapades, but also because Muskan would be there.

Every other girl backed out of it. Bunking a test seemed a sin to them, and we actually preferred it. Taking along companions who would be stressed all the time, and also in fear would take away all the fun. For us it was just a routine when they would end up making a big deal out of it.

Muskan was quite used to it, and was accustomed to bunk with Tushar with little help from her van driver who used to drop and pick her up again from a predetermined place and then leave her at home, and it would appear like any other school day. Quite contrary to other drivers, he never probed too much. A little persuasion by Tushar is all it took to convince him that he wouldn’t get in any trouble.

“Ofcourse I am” I replied; before getting offline. That was the only chat we had that day. At first I didn’t want to, so I discussed with Prateek whether I should come or not. He made me understand that backing out of it having earlier agreed would just make it awkward for no reason. Maybe also because he needed a companion on his bike, he coaxed me to come.

Next morning, four of us- me, Prateek, Manas, Sarvesh huddled together at ’lalbagh’ – a palace by Holkars with its own historical relevance, speaks of the grandeur and heritage of the glorious times in the history. Used as a venue for arranging celebrations and functions in the city, it is adorned with mind blowing architecture and several beautiful gardens meant for playing and jogging, recently famous for the photographic background beauty it provided; a place where we usually used to change our clothes behind any tree we could. The whole place stretches over few acres which makes it a perfect hide out place. Once we bunked only to take whole tour of that place.

There wasn’t any need to change clothes that day for the destination we were headed towards-Tincha fall. A scenic waterfall on the outskirts of the city, it wasn’t properly developed too much for tourist visits but it was a usual hangout and picnic place for locals. A few jokes were exchanged; we cursed teachers for a while for tests and finally moved onto leering jogging girls around us, when we all agreed that shorts should be made compulsory for girls who came jogging, otherwise it made no sense to us at all.

But we couldn’t come up to consensus that whether girls look better during morning with just out-of-the bed look with messy hair or in their sexy party attire with hair combed up and with all the makeup on. It started a debate but eventually we ended up on the conclusion that on any day, at any point of time, with any outfit on…as deprived as we were, we would always find them beautiful no matter what.

Sarvesh pointed me out as little off-beat, and it was only because of the fact that amongst the jogging girls I haven’t yet picked out any one and declared her to be mine. I wished I could tell him that I already had a girl in mind, which would never be with me. So I glanced around, and picked out one mildly jogging by herself with headphones on in grey top and black track pants. Rest all picked the sexier ones, ofcourse they all wore shorts and Manas’s choice was rated best amongst all. The discussion continued for some more time about my degrading taste in girls when Muskan and Tushar joined us on his activa.

Was it the dappled sunlight from the cloudy sky, or the ripples in my heart; I don’t know but she sparkled extra bright that day. She exchanged a few pleasantries with everyone before we headed towards our destination. I was sitting behind Prateek on his bike. I was too bad a driver for his Apache. Even though I preferred driving on long rides, I was happy sitting behind. This was the most fun part for me during our bunks; long rides. Speeding away on the smooth cemented roads, where vehicle just rolls through, surrounded by greenery on either side, taking in fresh air and engulfing the nature’s beauty, I always let my thoughts fly away with me. Picturing it as running through time would make it even more dramatic and I would enjoy it. Everytime I could see my entire life flashing in front of my eyes as I would glance through the running trees. My dreams would rise as high as the blue bright sky enveloping us. I liked everything about it; the adrenaline rush from driving fast, the feel-good-factor of being blessed to have such great friends, the endorphin release by the eye –catching, marvelous light of the sunrise at its dawn, and my imaginations which would run as wild as ourselves.

I kept looking at her, and she resembled warm sunlight on a cold winter morning; exactly matching the nature’s magnificence. Infact she was one, too.

Even in the ugly school inform, she oozed charm. The most scintillating and sexiest thing she had done was to leave her hair untied. Her hands and face rested on Tushar’s shoulders. As he sniffed, I figured out maybe she had shampooed that day. Her smell from that day in the garden, where her velvety scent of the wet hair aroused me further, I could only imagine the possible tingles down his spine as he breathe that scented air in.

As the mildly cold breeze spring through, it made her hair flow. The wind blew further, making those strands of hair float in the air. With every whiff of spring, whirls of black fell on her face, but even she enjoyed the smooth touch of the breeze against her soft face. Every once in a while she would take some strands and tuck them back behind the ear, but she never tied them. Her smooth long hair, cut stylishly and curly at the end would cascade into the air and land in wayward manner in waves on her back, sometimes on his face too, if the breeze was stronger. It was a gorgeous mess.

In the rear view mirror, I could peep at the annoyed face of Prateek who was still mumbling curses under his breath. I begged him to drive slowly, few feet behind Tushar so that I could properly admire her. He glanced at me disdainfully but then frustratingly agreed. But his anger grew as Tushar lowered his pace; the lovebirds were busy whispering to each other. Bound by my instructions not to overtake them, he couldn’t put his bike down in fifth gear, which quite frankly was a shame for a bike of that caliber on such a fast moving road. But more than his, I appreciated Tushar’s driving more. With half tilted face, blowing hair past his eyes and a cute girl whispering in her sweet voice in his ears, he maintained remarkable concentration on the road.

But situation got a little awkward as his pace lowered even further, and there was a moment when we drove parallel to each other. Though she was still busy in their chat, I could not break free of the side glance at her, but had to tear my eyes off her as she turned her gaze towards us. I could not dare looking into her eyes, I feared drowning in the love which her eyes would reflect, I could not risk such a weak moment amongst my friend. Instantly I told Prateek to drive faster to which he happily agreed.

Even my thoughts changed gears and leaped uncontrollably as we bounced on the dusty roads as we approached the outskirts. I sat there bedazzled looking up in the sky wondering where we all were headed towards-in life, particularly. In the crazy, action and enjoyment packed life we lived; we never realized how much we all grew up. I could still see myself standing at Prateek’s door all confused and worried, not more than three years ago, when we planned our first bunk. We had assignment submission the next day and both us hadn’t even completed half of it-combined. Back then, we had to come up with a genuine reason not to attend school and we were horrible at acting sick. So we called up all the friends and made our first ever plan.

We were born miser, frugality our most common attribute; but I was thinking of the time when we weren’t even given access to vehicles. I smiled as I remembered us catching the train, half of us feared to death with the thoughts of getting caught up bursting in our head. I missed those chanting prayers, the nervousness, and the anxiety on our first bunk and how our gang even made “life of pi” an enjoyable, memorable experience. As we gained experience in this field our confidence grew. We no longer worried; we were mastering the art of putting teachers and parent in illusion. We knew that even if we get caught, consequences couldn’t be any worse than what all we have already been through.

Somewhere bunks from spending time together and avoiding test changed its relevance to ticking off the entire tourist spots around our city. We lost balance and shook a little as we drove past the singing and dancing maniacs- Sarvesh and Manas who were barely in control. None of us had hint of idea that somewhere down the line, we have been entrusted with certain responsibilities which we have picked up, maybe unaware and unwillingly. And even if with sloppy and slow paced feet we were heading towards building ourselves a future, hopefully bright one. All such thoughts got swept out as we parked and our cacophony echoed through the valley.

Apart from few youngsters, who might also have been on bunk, there were no real spectators around; as expected on a weekday. Any spot deprived of families always excited us as we wouldn’t have to face trouble keeping our tongue in-check but with a girl around we had to be cautious. As expected, it was active during the rainy season and it provided a delightful spectacle.

The thundering voice of the fall spattering, the humming of birds, the greenery around and the bright sunlight; the nature just engulfed us into its mysterious beauty and we let it consume us. The way the wet cold breeze brushed off our faces was simply marvelous. We hurried toward the fall and dipped our toes in cool and clear mountain water, foolishly moving ahead till the point our knees were completely submerged in it and the fear shook our senses and we stepped backward. Yet, the touch of flowing current was mesmerizing. We stood there for quite some time; when our legs finally gave up and after taking up enough photographs, we decided to sit on the meadow and have our packed lunch. One of the best thing about bunk is that is saves extra expenditure on the food.

We sat around in a circle, with Tushar and Muskan adjacent to each other; the arrangement looked familiar which threw my thoughts back to the first night when we met. I felt like piercing a metal rod through my head, it was getting hard not to associate everything with her. I swallowed my food in hurry, acting to be famished while others pecked at their food, making conversation with each other. I was bemused when I saw her so comfortable in such a quirky, antique, “different” sort of group. Even though she was a stranger, she mixed in quite well with the group, laughed at out horrible jokes and actually showed interest in our shy, weird, bizarre lifestyle.

Just when I was worried about losing a similar natured group of friends, I was also losing away a girl who could actually see right through me, who could understand me for who I am. As the thoughts became too hard to digest, I took out the phone and started shuffling through recently taken photographs. I smiled as I look at all of them. I knew that they would never make it out of the gallery and into the ‘real’ virtual world of facebook because of the family members; yet they were the best memories of each of our lives. Best memories are the ones which can’t be shared.

But I could see in front of me that visuals can be pretty deceptive. As I zoomed, on Muskan in one of the pictures, I saw her close to Tushar, their hands around each other’s waist yet I could make out that she feigned smile. The cute crinkles on the side of her eyes and on the top of nose weren’t there. I lifted my gaze to look at her; she looked satisfied, but not happy. Maybe the flamboyant personality and all the talks with group was just a disguise to complete the pretence of being ecstatic. My heart told me that she wasn’t as happy as she could be, with me. Her stolen glances assured me for it. But just as I blinked out of thoughts, I saw them as he tore the chapattis, dipped it in the pickle and fed her with his own hands. She blushed. Our eyes meet, as she covered her mouth and chewed the portion clearly too big for her, but just for a second, both of us withdrew from the stare at the same time.

Her look was confusing, I had no idea if she was pushing me away or calling me closer. But I knew she cared, she knew that it was getting awkward for me. It was already tough enough to see them together, but to witness them sharing a cozy moment was just rubbing salt on my wounds. I wanted to leave, I had to.

Just then I saw at a distance, troop of monkeys jumping around the pillars of dome shaped structure meant for sitting in the shade. Though I was no animal lover, but I could have even used cobra to distract me out of the lovesick ambience. I stoop up, Prateek followed-a true friend but even a more animal lover, as we made our way to play with them. I was frightened but fortunately they all were infants. Jumping around, I saw them happily eating whatever we threw at them. The rest of our group joined in. They weren’t snatching anything from us. Muskan mildly hyperventilated when one of the infant took biscuit directly from Tushar’s hand. Her hands quivered as Tushar made her do the same; she screamed, laughed, covered her mouth and danced a little as infant took the bite from her hand.

I wished to tell her that this is the same childish innocence of hers I am addicted to. She guffawed further as she took a random click while I was making faces to an infant. “You look similar” she laughed as she showed me the picture. For the first time in the entire trip, I felt calm. Even with the heavenly beauty surrounding us, her smiling face hypnotized me.

Still a lot of time was left, so we extended our morning trip to ‘ralamandal’ sanctuary- a beautiful hill which houses an ancient palace built by Holkars, home to wide variety of flora and fauna as a treat to eyes. A cakewalk for trekking enthusiast as it is a straight path for the most part. Its scenic beauty dominated by the heavenly view of the entire city it provided at the top of the hill. But yet another place falling prey and being captured by couples. The make-out stories and the live intimacy scenes gathered more attraction then the occupants of the sanctuary. There was literally a couple on every bench, barely hidden from the trees in their front. And they were just too close, clearly breaking all social fundamental norms, even what we would call stepping over the line.

We made our way to the top. The slope wasn’t steep which made it easier to climb. Although we pushed ourselves to different routes to get to top, it just never got challenging enough. The only reason we were afraid of slipping was the sticky red mud we were walking on. What excuse we would make for having our pants torn off in red soil at school?

We reached top, and the view was enchanting. We sat down on some rocks, and breathed in the fresh air, our eyes capturing the iconic view of the entire city. We could see the few skyscrapers that graced our city, the under-construction buildings; the new business park…our city was soon going to mark its presence on national level.

Being on top is a strange feeling. Automatically pride engulfs you as everyone and everything looks tiny in front. But my ego hit rock bottom as I saw them giggling when he pointed out some place with his finger. I thought of slapping him for his idiocy. She has lived her entire life here; she knew what places are those. All of us sat down, took some pics and talked. I remained silent, and I thought others should have been too. The sound of the heavily flowing breeze was soothing enough. She stood up on a stone, with arms wide open. Tushar stood up too, and hugged her from behind. Even Sarvesh’s constant mocking could not separate two of them. I guess shamelessness is in the air there.

It was getting painful, and I looked at Prateek who couldn’t fathom what was going on. It just got more awkward, when Manas advised them to strike the titanic pose. He looked perplexed when I gave him the meaningful gaze. He and Tushar were best buddies and I knew he wished him well.

She called out for me. She took out her cell from the bag and handed it over to me. I was given the suicidal task of clicking the happy pictures while they spread their arms open, with the city in its background. ME, REALLY!! That was the first instance when I got mad at her. Why was she making it too hard? Couldn’t she have just stabbed me with a knife? Thoughts bleed out as I took the pic from backside as they faced the entire city.

It was close to 11 when we decided to step down. We were sliding downwards which made it a little difficult. Once Muskan stumbled a bit, and held my hand for support as I was closest to her, not able to find the balance we fell down and barely escaped hitting a tree.

We sat on our toes, still shaking. She was breathing heavily. “Calm down” I whispered in her ear. She let out a heavy sigh, and looked deep into my eyes. For no reason, I shivered. I couldn’t let the sensation engulf me again. Seeing her happy, at the top; I made the decision to walk away from her life. I was just some spectator passing by, looking at their fairy tale sort of life, who on the way got attracted to it.

But it was time to move on to the next chapter; for them, and for me. Tushar came running upwards and picked us up. Well if you care so much, why did you leave her behind in the first place? I was turning blind to his kindness. He noticed some dry leaves and dusted it off her shoulder. What he failed to notice was that her hand was still holding mine. But eventually she had to let go as we moved further along.

As I sat on the bike, I felt relieved; I couldn’t wait to go home. But my torturous ride wasn’t over yet. The clouds thundered, and it started to drizzle as we hit highway on our way back. It wasn’t stomping down, so we didn’t have to worry about getting wet; and frankly we were enjoying the shower in the cold breeze on such a cloudy afternoon. She lifted her head and let water drops linger on her face. All three vehicles were moving parallel, and I was directly in her sight, and I could see the same pattern in which drops rested above her lips, and slipped downward on her neck. I wondered if she remembers that moment too. She did and turned her gaze, catching me looking at her. She smiled.

Did she forget she was pillion riding with her boyfriend? Even if it seemed wrong, I could not resist looking in her eyes, at her; her gaze never left mine reminding me how hard it is going to move away from her. It would probably be the toughest thing to do, but it had to be done. She belonged to someone else. We finally let go of our locked eyes at the sound of the beeping horn. Reaching bhawarkua square, we parted our ways. Tushar went to drop her off at the place her driver would pick her up. We made way to our home while Manas and Sarvesh to theirs.

I felt a little twist in my heart with her no longer visible in my sight, even though that is what I yearned for the entire trip. I was already getting weak picturing myself walking out of her life.

Over the next few days, I discovered the true meaning of the phrase “Love hurts”. I was trying to get over someone for being nice to me. For once in my life, someone bothered enough to look beyond the jovial exterior and reach deeper levels.

Even when I kept quiet, or while I blabbered a lot; she exactly knew what sort of headspace I was in. It was a bond never shared before, a feeling so exquisite never experienced before. Having someone close to ours and being close to someone’s heart is a weird feeling.

Feeling loved, special, and ‘powerful’ is a sensational emotion .Knowing that your words, your breath, your smile, every single stupid action have an irreversible impact on someone is a dangerous yet intoxicating feeling. I remembered laughing at my own stupidity, remembering that time- loving everything in my life, waking up positive and sleeping with a sheepish smile; life seemed beautiful back then.

Now it seemed dull, pale, colorless…It lost all vibrancy and energy, and it was obvious. I had nothing to look forward to.

Memories are wonderful as long as you don’t have to deal with the past. I had to.

She became my bad habit which I didn’t want to let go off.

Avoiding her started painfully and it continued the same way for next few weeks. It was extremely annoying, irritating and ofcourse painful to see her online and not being able to text her. The chat volume reduced drastically, as texts even from her side declined. She was taking out time for her relationship.

Adding to the misery was our little escapade that evening in the garden. I couldn’t remember a single day after that evening when we talked so much without hesitation. The number of topics we could talk upon got shrunken down. Even though unofficially, the dice was out in the open. I had nowhere to run, nothing to hide. Anything concerning Tushar would make me jealous, and anything revolving around word emotions or feelings would steer the conversation to a dead end.

Over time, she scratched some old wounds, and even the healing began but ultimately she left them unattended. I wished I had inquired more about her feelings, for me. Obviously she felt something, but exactly what; I had no idea I required her to be a shadow and be around me, to light me out of the darkness, in her presence, I felt comfortable, strong, motivated, happy…

I felt trapped in my own life, events piled up in a way that it forced me to being depressed; I faced the lows of my life. That was the worst that happened to me, till then. I could not simply stomp out of her life, without any reason. It would have made things look dramatic.

Initially, I thought of blocking her but shredded it soon not only because of its bizarreness; but also because my hands quivered everytime I went for it. So instead I told her that to take out time for studies and tuitions I am deactivating my ID.

I don’t know if she bought it or was it her ego or she cared less, but she wasn’t intrigued. She responded with an agreement, pointing out that she too was busy in coaching, studies and also in a new fresh start with Tushar... But it felt good to know that even she couldn’t withstand picturing me completely out of her life when she suggested that we should remain in contact over phone calls. Call it our ego, or awkwardness of the situation, that never happened.

I kept aside my mobile on commanding instructions of my father. Frankly it didn’t affect me much

First time ever, I craved for being mentally stable enough to study. School helped only till the time we weren’t finished with our revision tests and prep leave started. Even at that time I entered and left as unobtrusively as possible. All my friends thought of it as exam stress. It felt odd, not leering onto second floor or waiting for her in the parking lot remembering the days when it was the only purpose for me to go to school.

Another plan was initiated, but I backed out calling sick. Without me, Prateek had no one to keep him company. But interestingly participants increased from last time as they realized that giving test was proving worthless anyways. The additions were Prajval and Ayush along with two of Muskan’s friend- Avni and Kavya- both of them on their first bunk. I heard they enjoyed a lot and mixed up well with our group. Their intrusion made me feel uncomfortable; if that’s the way it was going to be from there on I could sense another thing slipping away from me. It felt as if only three of us-I, Sahaj and Prateek were keeping the tradition of shyness alive.

Out of the three revision tests I gave I failed in one of them, and passed on boundary in the rest. And one fine morning, unexpectedly, it invited the phone call from my class teacher to my father. I was accused of having potential and not using it to the fullest. When did teacher start caring enough about me? And if they really cared, I personally think it should have been a one on one conversation, there was no need to bother my already busy father.

My parents were never strict on me; instead they took out their anger on each other. The call started a string of fights, they threw at each other harsh words accusing for spoiling my career. My father’s anger erupted, rather boiled and he took it out on glass of the centre table in the hall, breaking it with his own fist when maa pointed out that it was his unavailability that broke the family in the first place.

I felt disgusted having caused the fight, I felt suffocated in my own house. They had verbal fights before also but I couldn’t help but blame myself for the ferocity of that one. I trapped myself in my room with the feeling of killing myself, and cried by myself. I felt angry as I thought maa hasn’t noticed it as she kept herself busy in the kitchen while my father stomped out. I picked up the telephone to call Muskan, as no one else knew of our family episodes and only she could have understood my feelings, but eventually decided against it.

I could not let her mend my heart in such a vulnerable state. I was training myself to get over her, and her caring words would have made me fall in love with her even more. I kept sitting by myself thinking about the mess in my life. It was later in the evening when my panic attack vanished as my stomach grumbled in hunger. I was both furious and worried having heard nothing from my maa for past 6 hours.

“Did you sleep enough?” she asked, sitting on the sofa watching her daily soap opera in the hall. I noticed she hadn’t picked up the glass pieces. I rushed to the kitchen without even replying to her to fill up my angry stomach. But my ire got swept out when I found out she had prepared “rajma chawal” for dinner. I took handsome amount in my plate, mixed them well and sat on the dinner table. Having finally regained some peace of mind, my head wandered around days when we used to eat sitting on the floor in our single hall-kitchen house. No matter how small that was, it was something that we could call “home”. We were happy, even while sleeping on those hot floors, the old fan barely keeping us alive.

It all changed when my father shifted to a different job. He got into marketing and travelled a lot giving us less time. His intentions were always pure; he worked day and night, his sweat cementing new walls, little did he know he was putting them between family relations.

Ma came in and poured some water for me, and quietly rested her hand on my head. We kept quiet, yet I could feel wetness around her eyelashes. Some tiny drops corrugated around my eyes too. She kept on gently rubbing my head, standing beside me. I think she understood the turmoil in my head, she practically raised me alone, even if not completely but she could make out I was in some trouble. We heard a gentle push on the main door, my father arrived. I washed my plate, and kept it on the rack preparing myself for another brawl. As I headed for my room, I saw my father on knees gathering the broken pieces alone.

I bent down to help him, as I looked at his face. Constant traveling tanned his skin color, he appeared worn out with sleep deprived eyes and even more crinkles on his forehead. Maa came with the broom, and cleared the whole room. I noticed her wiping off her tears as she threw it in the dustbin.

She joined us on sofa, and we quietly watched one of the soap opera. It felt blissful watching something together after so many years. I excused myself to room leaving them some privacy. I looked at them one more time before entering my room, they were still quiet. I knew he wasn’t going to kiss her or embrace her in his arms to let her know about his love. That is something beyond Indian families’ norms. They were the nicest of people going through the toughest time of their lives. For the first time in days, I felt relieved, calm. Watching parents happy and together is the most blessed sight.

I felt weak, powerless not being able to get her out of my mind, but promised myself that I won’t betray my parents anymore. I was less inspired and more feared about giving them yet another excuse to fight upon. It somehow shifted my focus back to studies.

After a whole month of emotional stampede in my head, I felt blessed to have our mid-term exams started, it got my mind occupied to some productivity, but even more importantly it got me distracted from her. Surprisingly, exams went better than what I expected. I felt relived knowing that my parents won’t have much to complain about.

With exam burden off my shoulder, I felt a lot lighter. My friends got some days off from coaching. With broken pieces coming together, I could finally see ray of hope entering my life. Even though we weren’t in any contact, thinking about her didn’t hurt as much as it used to. Quite frankly, I stopped thinking too much, because everytime the thought of her not being in my life, would make my chest feel heavy. Yet the fate had one more card to play.

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