The moment I entered the botanical gardens through the turnstile, it suddenly struck me that I had quite forgotten about Vijay, who was with me in the lecture hall and after the class was over, had gone out for a while and had not returned. Where the hell had he gone? But had he returned, I wouldn’t have had time alone with Kavya for which I felt grateful to him. It was good that he’d vanished. But now I needed him; needed someone to talk to; as none seemed half good a listener as he. I felt a hand being placed gently on my shoulder and I turned back with a start. There he was!
“Vijay! Where’d you been?”
“You must thank me first for leaving you alone with Kavya. You were so absorbed with her that you didn’t even notice me peeping into the lecture hall. And you’d quite forgotten that I’d skipped out to the office to submit a certificate.”
“Oh yeah! I remember it now,” I said gratefully, “You indeed owe me for keeping out of way.”
“I can see that you look a bit disappointed, though the gleam in your eyes has not yet faded. Something is wrong?”
“It’s nothing. She talked to me really well, but didn’t even turn back to look at me while leaving.”
“Tsk tsk, she belongs to a very traditional and dignified family dear, don’t be under the impression that she is going to be easy. In fact, I think she is not your type. You better leave her alone!”
“Vijay, there’s nothing like ‘my type and your type’. Every girl can be molded to suit my type” I said in what seems in hindsight pure arrogance.
“Or rather you can mold yourself to suit the preferences of the girl, till your ends are met!” He blurted in half jest.
“You might say so!”
The botanical gardens were as shady and cool as ever, but had never felt so pleasant before. I had never known that a smile could be so attractive, so enchanting and so beautiful. Kavya kept smiling at me again and again, even before my wide open eyes. Her dreamy eyes, the braids hanging down from both sides of her glowing cheeks, the intoxicating scent of her proximity, the soft, soothing -at times causing galloping of my heart beats- brush of her shoulders with mine, all kept flashing at the back of my mind and unknowingly, I kept smiling to myself as though I was the happiest man on earth. I didn’t notice that Vijay had been eying me with puzzled look.
“What makes you smile so much? Suddenly your spirits seemed to have lifted up” He said trying to avoid a branch of tree coming in his way.
I couldn’t tell him, could I? That would have been negating all the impressions of me I had laboriously built up, without realizing the futility of it all.
“I just remembered what Bhaskar had told about Vani, how she makes cries out with delight while…” I deliberately tried to change the subject and left the sentence unfinished.
“Does she really?” He asked with sudden sensual interest.
I could see that his curiosity was even more aroused.
“But not as laud as he describes. He always exaggerates things,” I added. I was amazed at my own capacity for lying. I needed to confirm Bhaskar’s description to denigrate Vani, defame her character to avail Vijay’s support to finally ditch her. I needed badly to show her in bad light so that I could get away with my own wrong doings! A faint twinge of guilt and shame travelled through my mind, but I could suppress it easily. I wanted to put all that reminded me of my brief encounter with Vani behind, and move forward towards the glittering sky of future, that was Kavya. Was I utilizing Kavya too? This was the question I didn’t dare ask myself at that moment.
* * *
The ‘Prince’ had just opened for the evening business when we walked through the entrance nodding at the smiling owner of the hotel. Just as we were entering a cabin, I found that another group of boys was sitting in the far corner of the hall and one of the guys, who looked familiar, was trying to hide himself. Obviously, he didn’t want people to watch him sitting in a hotel serving liquor and non vegetarian food. I looked hard and recognized him. “Excuse me for a while,” I told Vijay and walked over to Umesh Melligatti. I remembered that he had been Kavya’s classmate in the undergraduate college. Realizing now that there was no way he could avoid me, he started walking towards me, so that at least he could shield his group from being discovered in this place.
“Why were you trying to hide from me?” I asked him as I took his extended hand.
“I don’t usually come to places like this Harsha. Some of my old college mates brought me here. This is your usual hangout. Isn’t it?’ He couldn’t lie convincingly.
“I don’t care who goes where dear. It isn’t a big deal. Is it?” I ignored his counter question deliberately.
“Not for you who’s from a big place like Belgaum. Dharwad is just a big village. Word spreads here too quickly”
“Anyway, you needn’t worry about me and you know it only too well. What I wanted was to talk to about one of your classmates in your college.”
“By any chance, is it Kavya?” he asked with a teasing grin.
“What if it is?”
“I would rather you stay away from her. She is not that type.”
“What if I tell you I have successfully changed her?”
“I won’t believe you Harsha. I have seen her for almost four years”
“Ok. It hardly matters whether you believe it or not. It only shows you don’t know me.”
He considered it for a while, indicating that he had started to believe me.
“What I can say is that you should be very cautious. Especially of her brothers. She is a very decent girl”
“Thanks. You must be having her photograph, at least a group photograph?”
He looked up at me with suspicion. “If you are so cozy with her, why don’t you ask her?”
“You know very well Umesh, why she can’t give me one. She is still terrified.”
He again took some time to think it over and then nodded. “I will give you a group photo taken during our study tour.”
“Thanks brother. You may now join your group. Have a nice time!”
He nodded and walked away.