For the next couple of days Vani did not turn up at the department and everybody, to my relief, assumed she was indeed not keeping well. However, I was not sure I had escaped unscathed and the thought kept nagging me like a shrew. Mohan kept on assuring me that nothing would come out of it, that Vani had come on the trip on her own volition and had everything that she did voluntarily. All the same, I wanted to make sure that I keep myself in a safe distance from Vani and for that I had to justify myself somehow. At first I thought of telling her that I was going steady with a girl from Belgaum, but then she would blame me even more, for keeping both the girls in the dark about my misdeeds. That too, only when she believed that there indeed was a girl in my life.
Why, I thought, I could show her a girl right in the university and say that I had fallen in love with her. But for that I had to find a girl who would be friendly enough with me in order to impress upon Vani. I was sitting right behind the girls in the classroom when these thoughts were crossing my mind. Yes, there was Saroja, but I somehow had a feeling that it would be unnecessarily hurting the feelings of Saroja because I was sure she would gladly accept if I proposed to her. I had gleaned from her ogles, sidelong glances, blushes and giggles that she had it for me, though it could well have been all in my imagination sprouting from my youthful arrogance.
Today Saroja however, was not present. Kalavati followed the professor as soon as he left the lecture hall; it was continuous effort on her part to impress upon the teachers that she was a very industrious, studious and sincere student that required her to visit the chambers of the teachers much too often with some problem or the other. Mohan had left for Gymkhana after the first lecture itself and Bhaskar had a brother visiting him the previous day and he had left for the Bus Station to see him off. All the boys had cleared the hall and I started singing “Khoobsoorat ho to ilzam-e-nazar le lena” a ghazal sung by Chandan Dass, set in Rag Hamsadhwani.
Suddenly I realized that I was not alone in the hall. Kavya was sitting with an open book on her laps but staring at me. Her eyes lit up when she realized that I had caught her gazing at me. With the brightest of her smiles she said, “You sing very well”
She wore a white salwar-kameez over which a crimson dupatta hung covering her shoulders and bosom. She’d big dark and dreamy eyes. For once I noticed that she had the fairest of complexion in our department. Unlike the other girls, she had parted her slightly wiry hair into two braids. Her forehead was wide and the bindi she wore on in was so small, it was hardly visible. The nose was narrow and straight and lips were full. One could easily have presumed that she was used to applying lipstick, for her lips had a natural shade of pink.
“How come I haven’t noticed that you are so attractive?” I said, but became apprehensive, expecting her to get angry.
She blushed and looked pleased but immediately took control of herself and said, “Is this line you always use?”
“I don’t remember to have said this to any girl in all my life. Believe me,” it was my turn to be embarrassed. I must have given that impression to all my classmates who had observed our group.
“You are interested in ghazals?” she changed the topic.
“A lot. And in music as well. Are you too?” I asked her.
She nodded, pulling her dupatta over her shoulders. “I have read Ghalib, ‘Jigar’ Morodabadi, Meer, and even Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’“ I tried to impress her, though I had read only fragments of the works of these poets. I made all efforts to pronounce those names properly.
“How can you read them? Are you familiar with the script?” she seemed genuinely interested.
“They are available in Devanagari script, with footnotes containing meanings of difficult words”
“Are they indeed? I would like to read one myself”
“I can get you one. I have got ‘Deewan-e-Ghalib”
“Thanks. Are you waiting for the optional class?”
“Yes, I am glad I am. Otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed you!”
She blushed again and started making scratching the ground with her toe. A peon entered the hall and informed that there would be no lectures in the afternoon as the teachers would be having some meeting. “Well, then there is no need for both of us to wait,” I said leaning on the desk, closer to her. She stood up with a start, gathered her purse and looked at me expecting that I would let her go. She couldn’t go from the other end of the desk as it was blocked by the wall. A mild perfume emanated from her which I recognized as that of a rose.
“I have to leave now or I will miss the bus,” she said imploring me to move away.
“Can I come along with you to the bus stop?” I asked, moving away from the desk. She didn’t reply but favoured me with a bright smile.
As we walked towards the stairs, I could feel the eyes of some of our classmates lingering in the corridors on my back. Despite feeling a bit unsettled by that I also felt proud to be walking with her, but she looked embarrassed although I didn’t expect her to be, having grown up in Dharwad city as she was. She was at least four inches shorter than me and wasn’t wearing high heels. I tried to walk very close to her and a couple of times her shoulder brushed against my arm, sending me into a tizzy! Why am I feeling like this? I asked myself. She became conscious of proximity to me and moved a little away, sending a faint note of disappointment in me.
“You are a local girl. Aren’t you? Have you learnt music?” I asked to keep our conversation going.
“No, never had a chance. But I love music.”
“Right here in the university, you could have joined for a diploma course in music,” I suggested.
“I don’t have time for that. I am not living on the campus you know,” she said looking up towards me, “Moreover, I come from a traditional family and have to account for every minute I spend out of my house.”
“Strange, indeed very strange,” I said pouring sympathy into my voice.
“Perhaps it won’t seem so strange if you know that I am the first graduate in my family”
“Don’t have brothers?”
“Two of them. Both are into our family business. Very tough guys,” she replied. I felt she was avoiding looking into my eyes while saying so.
We crossed the large statue of Goddess Saraswati and came out of the huge door. The road that led to the bus stop from there was free of vehicles and had a beautiful garden adjoining it. The authorities were growing roses in the vast area fenced on all sides. The roses of different colours - yellow, white, pink, red, and even orange- were in full blossom. The hedges were covered with bougainvillea
of different varieties. Both of our clothes fluttered by the cool breeze and it was sheet delight to watch her try to control her dupatta. At the same time her hair too was waving and she had to brush them aside from covering her eyes.
“Isn’t this beautiful out here?” I too combed my hair with my fingers. She didn’t reply. I could understand that she had now become even more conscious of walking with me. She was looking all around and hurried towards the bus stop as though she would miss it though there was none parked there. But as soon as we reached the bus stop, a bus came to a screeching halt and she boarded it without bidding me farewell, not even looking at me. I stood there till the bus packed with passengers left and vanished from my sight, feeling cheated, and deeply hurt.
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