Though I didn’t want to attach any significance to what Vijay had told me, it still impelled me to search my mind a bit because I always really liked knowing what I was going to do instead of doing it first and wondering why I’d done it afterwards, or until then that was what I thought of myself. I wanted to put everything behind and move forward, but the thought that I had put my neck into the lasso thrown by Vani kept nagging me. I tried very hard but found no reason whatsoever not to believe what Vijay had told me. Had Mohan, who had lured me into going for this adventure, also been a part of the conspiracy, I couldn’t be sure, nor could I ask him, for I was in the danger of incurring his displeasure if that had not been so. But I couldn’t fault Mohan, neither then, not later, nor even now. I took comfort in believing what I liked to believe, that he too had been hoodwinked.
On another front, some coldness had steeped into the relations between Bhaskar and Mohan, which I guessed was because of Bhaskar’s envy, his disapproval of Mohan choosing to take me on the tour and what was more important, without even caring to tell Bhaskar why he had done so. Neither had kept any secret from the other, at least as far as I know, till then. Mohan didn’t seem to have done it deliberately, for he must have been goaded to keep Bhaskar out of it, was my convenient guess. It troubled me too, that I had been secretly delighted by the chasm between the old friends, although it also simultaneously pleased me that at last I had been able to pierce their close friendship. I had not been able to forgive them for ignoring me on so many occasions early on. Now both were close to me, but they had drifted apart from each other. It all sounds silly and frivolous now but back then, it had been so important to me!
Fortunately, the teachers had not got the wind of what had all happened in our group and life went on as always, until something happened.
I began to meticulously avoid talking to Vani and evade the daily trip to the canteen with the group. Mohan too seemed to be busy with the political elite of the university. There was a group consisting of the General Secretary and other officer-bearers of the gymkhana, who along with a big crowd of followers were spending too much of time in the Gymkhana building where a room had been provided officially to the GS. They would play shuttle, bunk classes, play cards with stakes in terms of money, wander on bikes all the time in the city. Mohan was soon immersed in all these useless pursuits so much so that he hardly returned to his room even in the evening. He moved most of his belongings to the Gymkhana building and was hardly seen with any of us on the campus. Bhaskar tried to follow him and be a part of that group, but I had the least idea why he didn’t succeed.
I’d got a new partner in Pavan, along with Vijay for my daily trips to the city for drinks and dinner. Those times must have been really very hard on Bhaskar, though he never showed it. He made all efforts to seem happy in the company of Suresh and Virupakshappa in the hostel, making jokes, reading newspapers holding either a cigarette or a cup of tea in one hand, telling things that had happened only in his fantasies, mostly the politics of his native place and frequenting to his friends from his undergraduate days. But we all did meet in the department where we gathered to attend lectures.
As usual, Vijay and I used to sit right behind the girls in the classroom. Vani, who always sat on the first bench, had begun to sit in the last row of the girls, just in front of us. She kept looking back at me and try to talk to me so often that one of the teachers noticed it and reprimanded her and advised her as well to be attentive in the class. It was too embarrassing to me to put up with and I suggested to Vijay that we sat somewhere else.
The day we changed our place and sat in the last row of the boys, Vani was obviously offended and her face fell. Nirupama, sitting by her side tried to talk to her and take her mind off me, which I could easily observe and understand. I knew that something was wrong. When that lecture was over, Vijay and I walked out of the classroom and stood in the balcony leaning on the parapet, gazing at the tall palm trees. We had another five minutes before the next lecture began. Had the gap between two lectures been more, I would have preferred to go out of the building to have a fag.
“Why are you doing like this?” I was startled to hear the voice from behind my back and turned to find Vani standing, with red eyes. “Why are you doing this to me?” She repeated the question.
“What am I doing?” I asked evasively.
“Don’t you know what you are doing? You do know very well that you have been avoiding me as though I am a stranger to you.”
Before I could answer Vijay excused himself and walked away.
“Vani, you are creating a bloody scene here. What have I done?”
“I am not creating any scene here. I am just asking a simple question. I need an explanation. Have I done anything to offend you?”
Now I had begun to lose my temper. “Do you own me? I don’t need to explain anything to anybody, ok?”
She looked stunned at my response and stood still for a while.
“You mean you don’t love me?” Her voice was now only a shade higher than a whisper.
“Don’t be absurd. Did I ever tell you that I loved you?”
“Then, then why did you…” she couldn’t complete the sentence. “You love someone else?” at last she managed to ask.
“I don’t think that is any of your business Vani. Please behave yourself,” my tone was still testy. I was angry but not at her, but at me myself, for having thrown myself in such a situation.
She stood considering my reply for a moment. It was not more than a minute, but, to this day, it was one of the longest of my life. Seconds seemed to be separated from each other by what seemed an eternity. I could hear my heart thumping wildly. Her cheeks grew red; she glared at me with anger, anguish and disappointment. “Don’t I mean anything to you?” she asked at last, without expecting any reasonable answer from me.
I was now very conscious of my surroundings. I was in the balcony before my department, most of my classmates, and maybe a couple of teachers watching me with interest. I decided not to say anything. As luck would have it, Mohan approached us and favoured me with smile. He was absent in the first lecture and was just returning, perhaps from the Gymkhana, after a game of badminton. It was an immense relief to see him.
“Hey Mohan! Where had you been man?” I deliberately moved away from Vani turning my back towards her. I hoped Mohan wouldn’t start a conversation with her. I could sense Vani moving away and going into the classroom.