Joined: 18 March 2010
An inner sigh. An instinctive smile. No matter what his horoscope said, no harm or misfortune would befall him today. He would not let it. She had graced his day, totally oblivious to her own graces, and that was enough for him to face his own daily challenges head on with the memory of her innocent, smiling face. Archana...
PART - I
That is what I had first heard the lady at my night school call her.
I remembered that first day when she had barged into my class. A pretty girl with an angelic face, cheeks flushed an endearing shade of pink, moist with rain drops dripping from her long braid along the frame of her face and her clothes. It was raining and she was running late. In her hurry, she had entered my class and was embarrassed when she realized her error. She looked so awkward standing there all flushed and skittish, I was instinctively drawn to step up to help her and guide her to whichever class she was looking for but I was too slow... my instructor got one of my classmates to assist. She walked behind Pratap, clumsily, apprehensive about her tardiness and attempting shabbily in her nervousness to preserve a semblance of an appearance in front of all those curious strangers staring at this almost dishevelled drenched girl.
I remembered how amused I had been at the whole incident. Then the class resumed and I forgot all about her until later than night as I lay restlessly in bed, tired to the bone after a full day of work and night school, yet unable to catch a wink. The thought of her made me smile... something to look forward to amidst the late instruction at night school. I had to find out which class she attended. Pratap - I could casually ask Pratap and hope not to draw his attention enough to get ribbed about it from the rest of the term. After all, it was ordinary curiosity ' I was not moonstruck or anything.
The next day, I had walked into my class more tired than ever. The garage I worked at had been especially busy that night. Why was it that no one maintained their cars through the year? Was it so surprising when it broke down in the rains? The monsoon was always good for business but stressful on the half dozen mechanics at the garage. Mr. Mahate was a good boss and had always seen some promise in me. He had always appreciated me for my hard work and resourcefulness. I had gone from apprentice to mechanic over the last 8 years at the Mahate garage and now Mr. Mahate was encouraging me to get my auto mechanic certification done so I could get a supervisor post at the Tata factory where Mr. Mahate's friend worked. This was the much needed break, my step towards a more promising future ' and this is why I had enrolled for courses in the evening at UJWAL BHAVISYA NIGHT SCHOOL.
That night as leaving the school, I had seen her get into a rickshaw with an older woman. It must have been her mother ' who else could it be? I chastised myself, "How could have forgotten?" I had promised myself that I would find out the next day.
The next day, I saw Pratap and walked towards him to ask him about her but something held me back. I knew Pratap only through school, what if he was a blabbermouth? He might make more of my curious question than was warranted and be quite irritating to fend off in class. So I decided on another method of getting the same information - I had gone to class and after attendance had been taken, excused myself to use the washroom.
Walking along the corridors softly so as not to draw too much attention to myself, I had peeked quickly in all the classes. I remembered feeling like a Peeping Tom ' my curiosity had got the better of me I had to admit. I had almost missed her. Hidden in the back of the class in very non-descript manner. What had she been doing in the 9th grade class? Was she getting her secondary school certificate done at the night classes? I had wondered.
Wow, did girls still miss out on basic schooling these days with all the government incentives available? My sister had not only finished school but was now in her second year of junior college and humble as our family income was I could still afford to pay for her education. Why did this girl not complete her schooling? Was she sickly? Had some other misfortune befallen here? Why? This would not do, that budding curiosity had filled me up with so many questions, nagging and persistent they were and knowing myself I knew they would not stop until I had found the answer. There was only one way to find out. Ask the source. I had to find a way to befriend her.
"Time to go back and get your own education in order, Manav" I chastised myself mentally. No point in letting myself get so distracted that I lost sight of my own goals. So I had quickened my pace and headed down to class. When I walked in, everyone looked at me with funny looks ' 20 mins in washroom ' pata nahi kya problem hai?
That was two weeks ago.
Walking out of class tonight, I saw her waiting outside the school with a pensive look on her face. Guess her aai was running late. I did not want to alarm her or make her more anxious than she always was so I hesitantly asked her "kya hua? Why aren't you going home? It's getting late?" She looked at me hesitantly and I knew she was wrestling with herself on whether to talk to me or ignore me. Finally, she said "Pata nahi aai kahan hai? She is usually very punctual. She does not like me to stay here after the school closes as it is not very safe?" She was fretting and twisting her handkerchief back and forth. I had to help ' no question about it.
"Yeh loh, call your aai and find out what happened ok?", I said in my most soothing voice and then just to make her more comfortable, I added, "bol doh saheli ka phone use kar rahi ho ' no need to mention that I am here". She smiled, seemed less anxious ' maybe because I did not seem like a predator anymore? ' and dialled the number.
"Dada", I heard her say, "Aai kuthe ahe? Mala shala thun gyala nahi ali." "Oh, She's Maharashtrian too", I noted, "Good". Then I caught myself "Why did it matter?" Hmm''' Some conversation back and forth, a lots of "What?" and "How?" and then repeated "OK, OK" and then she hung up. She seemed more anxious now than before the call. Aab kya hogaya? I wondered. I asked her hesitantly, "Is everything ok? Is someone coming to get you?" She looked at me distantly and said "Han, Dada is coming. Thanks" I looked at her and thought it best not to pry. I waited over there with her silently till her Dada came. I told her to tell her Dada (If he asked of course) that I was responsible for closing up nightly and that is why I was still around and there to help her. I did not want her getting into unnecessary trouble with her family.
I kept thinking what must have happened to her aai on my way home. She looked really nervous, the poor thing.
The next day, I saw her again. She introduced herself and so did I. She thanked me for the help and told me briefly that aai had another one of her asthma attacks (brought on by humid weather) and that the ensuing scramble to get her medication (pump had been depleted or something) had caused the confusion and delay in picking her up. I nodded sympathetically and smiled. She smiled back. Does she know how sweet and simple she looks? There is such an innocence about her that is so appealing. I say this as a friend though, no other ulterior motive in mind of course.
I told her that I was happy to know that aai was better now and that I would catch her later.
to my class. Should I have spoken to her a little more? Did I come off as
uncaring or aloof? Oh that would not be nice. My instructor was talking
but why could I not focus on the words? This was odd. "Ok Manav, focus, focus. Fail hone ka iradah hai kya?" I
forced myself to follow the words coming out of the teacher's mouth and thank God
for that as his next question was directed at me.
I did not see her that night as I left the class. Aai or dada must have picked her up early I guess.
I caught the 9:20 evening local to Dombivli. Train was miserably crowded as usual. Could not wait to get out from that sweltering dibba and have a nice bath and something to eat. Nothing more refreshing after a long, tiring day.
I reached home. Happy House chawl near the Dombivli Station. A two-storey building that was built in the early 60's, structurally sound but aesthetically could do with a paint job at least, all families were tenants that made one crazy but interesting community. Alternating between camaraderie and petty squabbles, life at Happy House could not be considered boring. Vimla, Laxmi and Sheila chachis were probably the most vocal of the lot and thick as thieves. They were friends of his aai and loved, feared and respected her in some measure. As Savita's children, he and Vandu were loved and indulged by all the families in the chawl.
The lights were out by the time I got home. I could hear the faint sounds of game shows and news casts from the neighbouring units. I opened the door slightly so as to not disturb the other family members. There was just aai, baba, and Vandu (my baby sister and the official baby in the family).
My baba was a wonderful man, intelligent and kind, a theatre artist by profession. Baba acted in Hindi and Marathi nataks. He was a commendable actor but had always lacked the charismatic personality and stage presence that could have garnered him the lead or pivotal roles. He travelled the country, playing one side role after the other with very little income to show for his efforts.
Aai was the anchor in our family. Had always been for as long as I could remember. She was very lowly educated and yet had managed to do different home based jobs and raise enough money to more than supplement any shortfall in our meagre household budget. She tried hard to fill the void that a frequently absent father had invariably created. She was warm and loving soul with a tough, brusque, no-nonsense exterior but if one looked carefully they would see the humour and the compassionate side of this supposed Hitler.
Now age was catching up to both of them and things were only getting financially tighter at home. Never before had I felt more responsible for managing the financial burden of the house. Vandu's education and her marriage in a few years. It was all adding up and I need to get that supervisor job so I could support the family better and give it a more secure footing. I had to put any personal plans I had on hold or else ...
I walked softly to the kitchen and went to wash my hands and feet in the little wash area in the kitchen. Aai walked in. "Manav, ala pora. You must be so hungry. Sit down after you wash up. I have made dal-palak bhajji and chapatis. If you had come earlier, the chapatis would have been fresher. Uff!! God knows when this day-night chakri will end and you get some time to rest and eat a healthy meal. Look how thin and pale you have become. I work about your health so much. Why do you have to take on so much at your age?"
I grinned. Aai would always be aai. She still imagined me as a high school kid or probably even littler. Who knows?
"Aai, don't worry na? If I fall sick, you're there na? Free nursing services? Won't you take care of me aai? Your nana munna baccha" I gave her my best puppy expression.
Phat!! One sharp knuckle crack to the head. She was not taking any of it. It was too late and I had just mocked her genuine concern.
"Fine, make fun. You can take care of yourself na? Well then start now. Serve yourself dinner. Food is warmed up anyways", and then she walked away muttering under her breath something to do with children never appreciating and what goes around comes around.
I could not stop myself from breaking into a wide grin. She was tough as nails one minute and adorable the next. I shook my head. Better not try and figure her out ' I know my dad had stopped trying.
I ate quickly, said a quick prayer and went to bed. Needed to wake up early at 5:00 a.m. to get my morning chores done. While many in the city were sleeping like babies, families in chawls had to rise early to fill water that came only at fixed times and ungodly hours of the day.
Morning chores all done, I rushed to the garage. I saw Tarun lounging on his bike. Tarun was probably the only other person I was closest to outside of my family. He came from a well to do family. His dad ran an export business and he was the heir. Mom died when he was 8. I met him six years ago when he brought his dad's car over to the garage for repairs. He hung around, seeing me work, started talking about the cricket match and other things. He must have liked me as he did come more often after that to chat and our friendship gradually grew over time. He seemed genuinely nice and caring inspite of the visible disparity in our situations. Wonder what he was doing here today?
"Tarun, kya hua? Did your bike break down? Need a tune up?", I asked.
"Nahi yaar, everything is fine. There is a new movie on tonight and was wondering if you wanted to go. It's going to be a block buster they are saying."
I grinned. "Me? Tere girl friend ka kya hogaya. Swati na or Mona? Sorry I cannot keep track."
He grinned back. "Mona Vona kuch nahi. Aaj meri jaan it's just you."
He was incorrigible. One couldn't help liking him. Tarun yaar, I wish I could but mera night course ka class hai. Bhul gaya kya?"
"Uff! han Mein sach mein bhul gaya. C'mon yaar, Manav, ek raat ki gutli mar na?"
"Nope. Aab bas yaar, chhod. I have lots of work to do ok. Sunday ko milenge, ok".
Tarun left. He was not happy I am sure but he did not look upset and I was a little concerned about that.
I got back to my work. Chatting with Tarun had delayed me further. There were at least three cars that were rush jobs today and I would have to deliver these after repairs myself as the owners could not come in to get it today and we need space in the garage to bring in the new cars for repairs.
Gotta get cracking.
I rushed to the night school. Wow, yeh ladka kabhi nahi sudhreyga. Tarun was there, lounging on his bike like a bekar badshah. He was waving at me like I was going to miss him or something. Idiot. I walked over hurriedly to him to dissuade him and send him away. On the way, I bumped into Archana. She gave me the broadest smile ever. I could not help stopping to say hello
"Kaisi ho Archana?"
"Teek hun Manav."
"Class ja rahi ho?"
"Han, just need to rush over and talk to my friend."
"I will see you later ok?"
"Accha, take care. Better rush before class begins."
She turned and smiled at Tarun.
Said a quick bye to me and walked off.
"Tarun yaar", I started.
"Yaar vaar maro goli, so this is the reason that you did not want to come with me to the movies this evening. How can an ugly dude like me compete with shimmering roses yaar? Bahot na insaafi heh Manav Bahot na insaafi hai."
"Ok, ok, don't get so dramatic. Bas, she is only a classmate nothing else ok. Keep your imagination under control. She is a nice simple girl and it is only a hi-bye kind of thing. Don't read too much into it."
"Han, Han. Today you smile, tomorrow laugh, parso shaadi phir life hi life mere yaar. Now who needs friends when a forever friend (smiles the wickedest of grins) is so close by? A breathe away." He said with dramatic flourish.
"Tarun, bas yaar. Stop your nonsense you're making me late for class."
"Han, Han. Now you will forever be rushed and headed in one direction only. Don't worry maaf kiya. No need to go to the movies tonight. Will give Swati a call. Suno, bhabi ko mera pranam" he said in his most filmi andas and with another naughty grin and bow he walked towards his bike whistling all the way.
He is such an idiot. Always blows things out of proportions. What a dreamer. Just because he is an heir thinks everyone can sit on their haunches and make love and romance all day. Besides Archana probably thought he was like an older brother or something. She was so seedhi sadhi. Even their conversation today was just like friends na?
"Oh God!", he looked at his watch. He was a full half hour late. He knew he was not a favourite of his teacher but he never thought he would be known for being one of the lesser disciplined students in his class.
Joined: 27 February 2011
Joined: 18 March 2010
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Joined: 18 March 2010
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Joined: 18 March 2010
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