By: Vivek Nath Mishra
When I was fifteen, I fell in love with a girl named Shashi and started writing poems for her. She had boy-cut hairstyle and she wore round glasses, large to her face. I sneaked glances at her as I hadn’t had enough courage to face her. I took utmost care that nobody watched me while I watched her but soon I would be engrossed in her beauty. I loved her hearty laughter and I loved her brown, round face. When she ran or cried, her face went red all over as all the blood rushed up to her face. I’m ashamed to accept but I loved her crying face too. She was more childlike when she cried than when she laughed. She looked adorable while crying as she curled her lips and, of course, she became more red then.
She was Naveen’s sister; they were twins. Naveen was smarter, taller and stronger than me. I was fat, feeble, wobbly and quite apparently diffident. Although, I was poetic in my musings but quite contrary to it I was very prosaic in my manners and laconic. I devoted all my time of leisure to reading books or writing in my little notebook. In school, if I wasn’t found anywhere I was sure to be found in the library. It was only the librarian in the entire school who knew me well by my reading choices.
Sitting in the office, after several years, now I can barely remember a few faces from my school but I have never forgotten Naveen and Shashi. And I have a reason for it. It was Shashi who read my poems for the first time, not that I showed it to her, in fact, she read it by deceit.
Once when I was sitting under a guava tree in the orchard of our school campus and was reading a book. She came tiptoeing from behind and took my notebook without my knowledge. She had already read several pages before I turned round and snatched my notebook from her.
‘Quite romantic!’ was her sole remark as a weak smile flickered on her lips.
She seemed enthralled by my poems, as from this day she started showing a lot of interest in me. She was always ready to imbibe the ambrosial drink poetry is. She would follow me to every place and insist me to show her my new poems. Although, this was the only thing I wanted. I wanted to win her friendship, but every time, she came near me it made me nervous. Words danced in my mind and I felt unable to talk to her. I nervously stammered and ran out of ideas when she talked to me.
One day, she brought her bag along and sat next to me in the classroom. There in the classroom, boys sat with boys and girls sat with girls and so I felt embarrassed gaining the entire class’s attention. I was embarrassed to the roots of my hair but I couldn’t stop her. She was bold in her manners that cryptically added to her charm.
However, Naveen didn’t like it. Naveen was the ringleader of the class. He was the smartest boy in the class and always got the highest marks in mathematics. I had a huge respect for him in my heart as I remained invariably dull in all the subjects. It occurred to Naveen that I was trying to steal his sister. And in no time, I, who never sought any attention from anyone gained furtive glances and raised eyebrows from Naveen. He gave me long, hard looks.
One day the history teacher was absent, and the class was very loud and out of control. But no chaos around got me distracted and I was engrossed in writing verses. I was still writing when out of nowhere Naveen jumped from behind and snatched away the paper from my hand. I tried to grab the sleeves of his shirt but he was beyond my reach in a blink. He ran towards the dais, went over to the teacher’s table and began to make an announcement.
“Dear friends, how about a few poems from a love sick student of our class, Rajani.”
The whole class went silent immediately and all the gazes fell upon me. My heart skipped a bit. I was stunned and appalled by the unexpected turn of events. A strange nervousness dawned upon me as I stood there as numb as a rock.
Naveen started reading the poems aloud, punctuated by his and students’ frequent laughter. The tormenting laughter began to reverberate into my ears. After he finished reading, the deafening laughter roared in the classroom. I felt like I would faint soon. My romantic world was welcomed by the realistic world’s mockery. Boys jeered at me, girls laughed consolably, pointing fingers at me.
I had a nervous breakdown. I didn’t even know that I was crying, tears welled up in my eyes and washed down my face. I was drenched in perspiration. Being humiliated I puked on my shirt. I rushed to my seat, grabbed my bag and bottle and ran out of the class.
Later, my parents persisted me to go back to school but I was stubborn. They asked for reasons but I never told them anything. I didn’t go to school for a week. I knew it was to reveal sooner or later and I waited, but a news came as my saviour. My father got transferred to a faraway city, and I got admission in a new school. But the dilemma remained with me. The bitter taste lingered on my tongue, despite the amount of honey I tried to swallow. The notebook seemed to me my most bitter enemy. Every time I saw the notebook lying on my table, it seemed to mock me. My ears started to ring with the savage laughter. So I decided to bury it deep in a suitcase and locked it and never wrote anything further.
Many years went by. I was a practical man now, practical enough to work for a corporate company and spend tedious days like a routine. My days were invariably similar and sadly I can’t remember any of these, until one day when I saw her again. It took me sometime to recognise her as now her hair was long and hung down to her waist, but her features were quite the same. Her small face was as beautiful as it was many years ago. She still bore the childlike innocence. She was talking to my boss in his glass chamber and then, in a flash, she turned her face towards me as if she felt my eyes on her. I became nervous like a child again as she opened the door, and started walking in my direction.
“Hello Rajani! I was your classmate in high-school. Naveen’s sister. Remember?” she said and I felt she was nervous too as her lips quavered.
She didn’t wait for me to answer as if she knew in advance that I recognised her.
“We looked for you everywhere but you left the city. Naveen wanted to say sorry to you. He didn’t know that it would affect you so much. He was a child then. He wasn’t able to sleep for nights. He was full of remorse. This is a gift he wanted me to give you.”
She took out a paper from her bag and gave me. I unfolded it. I was expecting it to be a letter but it was the same paper Naveen had snatched from me years ago.
I couldn’t believe Naveen had kept it safe for so many years. It’s was really his atonement. I had forgiven him already.
I read it many times to feel what I had felt when I had written it for the first time. But the charm was dead. It lacked the young heart. Perhaps, the poet was murdered long back.