“Is something wrong, Harsha?” Mohan must have sensed something certainly wrong.
“I'm afraid so friend. It is Vani” I tried to reply in a calm tone.
“Oh! What does she want?”
“She thinks she own me. I shouldn’t have come with you on the trip”
“Hey, come now. Nothing has happened. You will be alright. I am surprised she didn’t do this to Bhaskar.”
“She might have. How can you be sure she hasn’t?”
“Well, he would’ve told me.”
A senior professor, who was to engage our class, came out of his chambers and we had to rush into the classroom.
In spite of Mohan’s assurance that I would be alright, I was afraid it was not going to be so easy. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of something that I might tell Vani by way of explanation of my behavior. Albeit in rage I’d told her point blank that I didn’t owe an explanation to her, I wasn’t myself so sure. On the contrary, I was thinking of all sorts of explanations that could convince her and free me from the clutches of obligations to her. I couldn’t bear the thought that someone was badly hurt by my callous attitude. Hadn’t I been selfish? Of course both of us had sought and found pleasure, but I couldn’t blame her alone. I had to share the blame. I never did tell her in so many words that I loved her, but wasn’t that implied in our cultural context? I certainly had acted in such a way as to imply that I intended to have a long time relationship with her. But the reality was I wasn’t ready yet for a lifetime commitment and Vani would’ve been my last choice even if I was, in fact, ready.
Vijay was already seated and we joined him on the same bench. It was a class on political philosophy by the professor, who was as extremely erudite and eloquent and his lectures were always full of good humour. But today I felt like running away from there. Vijay was looking at me with a question as to what had happened but I couldn’t tell him anything as the lecture started immediately.
Only a few minutes into the lecture, the professor was quick to find out that something was wrong with Vani, for she had turned pale and looking as though she was nauseated. She rested her forehead on the desk which was noticed by the professor. “Is something wrong? Are you not well Miss Vani?” he asked her.
Tears flowed down her cheeks and she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes but didn’t reply. My feet went cold and my heart began to pound furiously out of fear that now I would be caught, if he seriously investigated into what had gone wrong. I was sure though that Vani couldn’t tell anything in the open class, but I was not that sure she would remain equally tightlipped if the professor summoned her to his chambers and made enquiries. I could visualize the enquiry, Vani sobbing and keeping her head down, I being summoned, then parents being informed and I losing all my dignity, pride and …
“I am all right sir, I was just feeling some giddiness,” at last Vani replied trying to stand up and wincing with pain.
“No, you need not stand up. If you are not well, you may go back to the hostel and take rest. One of the girls will escort you,” the professor said in a kind voice.
Vani was still holding her forehead with her right hand and didn’t reply, but Nirupama talked to her something in whisper and then said aloud, “I will take her to the health centre sir.”
The professor nodded and continued with his discourse, much to my relief. He must have thought that it was the usual monthly bad days for Vani. I watched Vani and Nirupama till they left the classroom, all the way feeling that at least a few of the students must be staring at me accusingly.
“It is all bloody drama, Harsha,” Vijay whispered to reassure me, but the professor observed his doing so and asked him, “Do you too want to go to health center?” There were giggles all around till the professor said stiffly, “That’s enough!”
I sincerely hoped that it was play acted by Vani in order to gain my sympathies, yet I was finding it hard to believe just the same. I wanted to get out into fresh air but now for another forty-five minutes it was impossible to do so. I couldn’t close my eyes and try to calm myself for the fear that the professor might think I was dozing. To try and understand what the professor was saying was out of question but I was obligated to pretend concentrating. The world is full of pretense, I thought, everyone was pretending all the time.
“Life is poor, short, nasty, brutish and short in the State of Nature according to Hobbes. Poor because..” the professor was explaining the Hobbesian Theory of Contract. A thought came to my mind that even in the civilized state, life is not much different! In hind sight, it all looks so ludicrous. “Fear and self-preservation are the dominant emotions in human nature” I couldn’t understand in what context the professor was saying this, but certainly it must have been Hobbes’ idea of human nature. True, I said to myself, how true!
After what seemed to be an eternity, the lecture was over and I was relieved as though I had been through an ordeal. The moment we climbed down the stairs and reached a safe distance from our department so that nobody could see us, Mohan and I lit cigarettes. The nicotine rushing through the blood, instead of relaxing my mind, gave a sudden kick as to nauseate me. I wanted to sit down but we were standing under the dappled shade of a gulmohar tree.
Watching us smoke, Vijay might have felt the urge too. He relived me of my cigarette and began smoking. Mohan laughed observing Vijay’s novice way of smoking and said, “Mama, you are not taking even a puff into your lungs. You are simply wasting the cigarette.”
“I know,” Vijay said defiantly, “I am doing it deliberately.”
A breeze of cool wind that caressed my face and fluttered my shirt, made me feel better. At the very moment I saw Vani and Nirupama coming; perhaps they were returning from the health center. “Look,” I said, “Vani seems perfectly all right!”
All were looking at them now. “Who said she was not well, Harsha?” Mohan inhaled deeply, “She just wanted have your attention.”
“By creating a scene!” Vijay added sarcastically.
We remained silent till Nirupama and Vani approached us; while Vani kept going as though she had not noticed us, Nirupama came to Mohan who met her half way and talked to her under his breath. After exchanging only a couple of words he came to us and Nirupama joined Vani.
“She is perfectly alright, nothing to worry,” he announced.
“As expected,” Vijay rejoined, “Let’s get back to the hostel friends” he spoke my mind.
I let out a relief; all the same I was not actually totally relieved. I had to still find a pretext as to why I would not be Vani’s boyfriend. As we entered the botanical gardens through the turnstile, an idea came to my mind. The botanical gardens seemed darker than they always did, though it was only a couple of hours after mid day.