O Amor ...
Imagine you are granted to take pleasure in something you prefer over everything else, and if it weren’t reading, would you still be interested in leafing through the following pages?
If ‘No’- fine; but if your response is aligned with your plan to read on, I sense we have a situation here! Your answer to my query suggests me that you are an avid, voracious reader. You are a person with an insatiable desire to read, I presume — but to your disappointment, I scarcely offer anything to your ‘bibliophilic’ cravings. Therefore it becomes a classic example where a reading aficionado is stuck with a not-so-prolific writer.
See, my introvertish mind is generally inaccessible, but this is one such infrequent occasions when my thoughts have started to verbalize, since there is someone who is open to receive them- I am talking about you. But talking about me- I am afraid, I cannot match the kind of literary quality that you’re used to — I am highly amateur, and my prose is deeply inept. Even so, I’m sure you expect me to entertain you, considering the money that you may have spent and the time that you mean to invest. And I shall. Stick around if you’re curious enough, more than that, patient enough.
You might wonder why I picked up the pen despite limited writing skills; it’s because of this ever-inquisitive voice in my brain, constantly urging me to write about myself, questioning me why I don’t permit my story to come out of the dark yesterdays into the limelight of today. And I finally responded- ‘yeah, why not!’
Come, I invite you to hear my tale. Stands decided between you and me, then: I will be addressing you as my reader, and you may call me anything you deem appropriate.
Before we commence, I must convey to you that I anticipate no kudos, no criticism, dear reader. This is no work of art that I intend to deliver. Nor would I encourage you to attach your sentiments to this narrative. All I expect is your gentle presence. Be with me, but in a semi-conscious state.
Alright, I’ll start now.
I’ve been a love driven person all my life, and thus for the obvious reasons, this story revolves around the same theme. Meet me: I am a Libran Male of the Third Decan (astrologically) — an ever-romantic rare race. We drink our first milk straight from the mammillae of Venus: the goddess of Love, Art and Beauty. It wouldn’t be an overstatement that nothing energizes us more than coming across Romance. Take me for example: I always wore my heart on my sleeves, striving to snatch my own place in a love story, or two.
And the genie said- ‘your wish is my command!’ Not just once or twice, Love visited me in numbers. And oh, did I welcome it! Over thirty-nine years, I took the plunge numerous times and every time it was as refreshing as ever before.
How did it start? Well, I am a straight man, and it all started with women. There were six of them in my case — six different shades, stages in my life. By looking at the number of ladies in this account, you mustn’t take my relationships for mere repeated infatuations. I am authentic and my love unadulterated! Go ahead; ask me to identify any of my girls from her sweet aroma, and I won’t mistake them. Yeah, of course, I am exaggerating, but I could certainly differentiate by the way they touched me — mentally and physically.
But don’t envy me yet. Even with such an extensive background of beautiful companions, if you inquire into my current status, I stand in solitude; they came, and every single one of them left for good. I received some severe heart-aches in the course and gloriously broke their hearts too. Still, I haven’t got too many regrets, no great grief. But, for you to appreciate it better, we’ll have to churn up my life from one edge to the other, so as to extract a meaning thereof, so that the hidden essence bubbles up.
The pages to follow constitute an autobiography; I have never written one, but I believe you must’ve read some. Even if not, the crux is- excuse the style. Also, I am no grammar Nazi, just a layman attempting to document the scattered chapters of my life together, binding those loose foliates back.
Get ready now to feast your brain on my heart! The rainbow of seven colours that we seven lovers make, shall convert into bright white beam of love- once you set sail. But before that, know that this is going to be a different kind of storytelling, wherein I’ll narrate my ladies in parts. You have to be able to retain things. Hence what I demand is your ability to recollect.
An observant reader like you must be judging me already — ‘first he says remain semi-conscious, and then he asks me to memorize stuff!’
You seem curious enough to me, but where is the patience that I called for, my dear reader? Do you always rush to deriving inferences or is it only for me that you’re so kind?
I know it’s difficult to ignore tempting stimulus. Nor is easy to defy our sentiments. Or, for that matter, to restrain ourselves from judging something that comes our way— is near unachievable. It is okay! Loosen up now. Take it as it comes. Let those opinions flow as my words are flowing. Abide with me. To make things clearer, it is high time I take you a little back in time — my time, for my Mermaids dwell in deep waters. One cannot understand our bonding from the surface through a superficial glance. So dive now, but do not let go of my hand. You will need me as much as I need you… stay close.
Chapter One: (1990-1992)
BORN in 1977, I belonged to a Brahmin family in Meerut city. Like most of the kids in my community, I went to school, but slightly behind the schedule. Unusual it may sound today, but I received my kindergarten education at home from my mother herself, who had been a teacher in her vernal days. I was her only child — her only son and an extra pampered one. Unwilling to part with me so early, she brought books right by my age, and taught me at home for two years. Later, she got me admitted into a Hindi-medium, boys-exclusive school in my locality.
My first school was small, where a variety of children from the neighbourhood forgathered daily, making it a heterogeneous population. The school building was a ruin –– an about-to-collapse thing; but the environment there was comforting. It was nothing different from home when it came to different liberties, but I especially enjoyed learning here. Prior to this, my study hours at home had been distressingly flexible in accordance with the ever-changing timetable of my mother, and owing to the hardships I suffered from this, I hadn’t been able to appreciate the idea of studying so far. Now, here in the school, everything was strictly pre-decided: rigid, but convenient. I warmly welcomed the ‘restraints of school’.
I was almost 13 and finished with my seventh grade when, one day, I heard my parents and uncle discussing about bringing a change to my education. They wanted to put me in an English-medium Co-Ed school.
The very next day I was taken to my new supposed school. Naturally, I was curious to know about the whole affair, but what exactly was happening here in the Principal office — was completely beyond me! I had never met a man so dreadful and cold.
“The boy is now yours,” said my father, looking at the strange elderly man, who had milky-white head and brows in sharp contrast with his coal-black moustaches. I admit I didn’t know about dyeing this early, and I could tell that this old man sure hadn’t heard of anything called ‘dying’!
“Rest assured,” responded the old man in a modulated voice; and smiled, smiled pointedly at me. The principal didn’t care to show any child-friendly sign, and his sneering smile made me cautious.
‘The hell is going on? Is he a good person?’ My other side––my all-time companion––an unnamed part of myself questioned me. I called it– ‘Duh’. Duh cared for me, in a manner, typical of either an adoptive father or a bitter step brother.
‘Doesn’t look like one,’ I replied to Duh, ‘but if he’s indeed bad, why’s my father here?’ I knew no other categorization except good or bad.
‘He seems to be such a crafty man! Why can’t your father see it? Such a shame that you’ll have to leave your beloved school to be given away to him!’ –Duh pitied me, so did I.
“He is too young to be in the eighth grade, I think. Besides, he might find it difficult to cope with what should be a new pattern for him, as most of our textbooks are in English. Furthermore, we encourage students here to converse in English itself. I propose you make him repeat the seventh grade, Mr Kashyap. Let him have some time to adjust,” the old headmaster explained the hidden terms & conditions to my father in a persuasive tone.
‘Whoa! He wants you to re-claim the hard-earned passing certificate. That would be one more year of harassment!’ –Duh voiced his concerns. ‘Fear God old man– he’s watching. Your call may come anytime soon, and then you’ll have to answer for your deeds.’
I tried to ignore Duh, but his words were drilling me within. I looked at my father in hope. He was in deep thought and didn’t seem to support cross arguments. I felt pathetic at my fate.
The guileful man coughed and again tried to net my father in his shaky voice– “Think no further. He is not the only one. Many others in our school have repeated classes for the same reason. And believe me, it has only brought their parents happiness… and satisfaction. It is a wise decision –– something, someday, you will thank me for!” he said, and Duh again cursed him inside my head.
‘Happiness? Satisfaction? By robbing a child of his childhood? By surcharging him with an extra punishing year? You old demon! There can be no doubt Devil embodies you!’
“You are correct. It will be good for him in the long run,” my father finally gave up to his tricks, and my heart sunk.
“Very well. You do not want to change his name or age for the records, do you? It’s no big deal- I can do that if you want,” the superannuated man suggested the feasibility of one more torture to inflict upon me.
“No, not the age,” replied my father, “but we call him Vishu at home, which was nothing different in his previous school. That’s not appropriate in schools and places, you know; so we have decided to name him Vishesh. You should record the same!” he accepted a revised version of the wicked proposal.
‘Hold on a second; now they are renaming you! Goddamn this oldie! What did you do to him? Why’s he after you!’
“But Papa…” I took my last shot.
“Shush!” was what came from my father. I couldn’t believe him! Not only he gave his assent to making me repeat the year, he also didn’t find it appropriate to take my consent on modifying my own name.
“Fine, then, Master Vishesh Kashyap! This is going to be your new school. You will make new friends here. Ha! Ha!” the headmaster laughed sinisterly. “Mr Kashyap, I think he already likes it here!” he announced. I grasped that my fate was sealed and there was nothing that could have been done from my ineffectual side.
Meanwhile, having pessimism of the seven worlds in my poor little heart, aimlessly, I looked out of the window and observed that the building was enormous. My sight shifted to a handsome number of students––queued-up and moving in a particular direction––silently they walked in uniforms. None of them seemed glad doing what they were doing, not at all. We didn’t follow any dress code in my previous school, nor did we march like them; their discipline appeared distressing to me. I then spotted an almost-done man with crooked chassis, holding stick in his hands, following and scaring the hapless children to death.
Man! I had undergone ‘schooling’ inside and outside my home, but never had I imagined a school as menacing as that one. An institution, run by people aged enough to be called historic! A brutal place– where they renamed children for no significant reason, where children were forcefully made to repeat the classes so that it would bring their elders- some entertainment!
I was revolted! I drew myself back and started ‘inspecting’ his office. Majorly, there were a hell lot of books, arranged in a good deal of shelves, along with three chairs and a table across which sat the antagonist of the scene. I looked at the table: it was old and tired just as every other thing and non-things there. A thick sheet of glass covered it. There was a notepad, an English newspaper with saffron tint and a pen holder, holding two different-coloured ball-pens.
‘Wait, what’s this?’
Something unfamiliar had caught my eye. Although I had faced enough of unfamiliarity today, this one was pleasant. I had never seen such an attractive oval ball before! I kept gazing at the paperweight on his table. It seemed to contain the whole universe, a vibrant one, and my hand reached for it unknowingly.
“You like it? Here, take it. I have more for you,” saying this, Principal opened his drawer to take out two more paperweights.
“Pick one –– take any one,” he said.
I raised my eyebrows in disbelief.
“Yes. Take it home with you.”
‘Alright! You are not to remain here. Your world will not end, not this day. You are going home with your father, and then you can talk about it.’ -Duh spoke to me.
This knowledge and a bit of self-consolation eased me. The oldie now looked less cold, as he had offered me his ‘precious’. This utterly confused me about him, though. Anyway, I made a serious face, chose one of the paperweights, and off we went.
A week after this admission incident, I finally let the new school grow on me. The routine started now; being choice-less, I accepted my doom. My first few days of a disciplined school were nothing different from any other child: rebelled a few days violently, protested non-violently a few more –– all to no avail. Some problems have no solutions, they have adjustments, and I had understood this. I had to stand up tall now, as I was all by myself out there in the world.
To this point, I bore no knowledge whatsoever about girls. I had no one matching my age in the neighbourhood, nor did I ever find a girl in my previous school. I hadn’t actually encountered a girl, as young as I was, for a period long enough. But this was not to remain same for long. I was going to change it forever. The boy was now in the field…
“Aaahhh!” I heard a long, loud scream.
It was my fifth day of the new school. I was quietly sitting in my class where no teacher had arrived yet. Mostly, this particular lady was late, allowing the students the much required stretch to get mentally prepared for the rigorous half hour to follow. We utilized this time-lag in our own ways: some talked, some sat in peace and some jumped on the benches out of anonymous motivation. I heard this screech and looked at the bench behind mine; I found a girl screaming, as another girl was slapping her. The more the first girl squealed, the harder she was smacked by the other, and as the intensity of her vocals increased, the frequency of the slaps accelerated.
Well! There she was: slapping the screaming-crying girl with so much of anger on her face, her hair swaying in rhythm with the stroke of her hands, her burning cheeks blooming ruddy like the petals of a tulip– appearing rosier than the cheeks she hit continuously.
It was my first love at first sight! Like a thunderbolt it struck me and only those who have experienced this blow can know how powerful it is. Although it looks weird to be swept away in one single glimpse; but there is nothing unreal about it. It does happen, and just this way. It’s close to the sensation you get, when for the first time, you see snow covered peaks in wilderness, or an unrestrained river making its way with great uproar, when you admire the view of meteor shower, or stop to watch the volcano erupt from distance. These are awe inspiring moments which overwhelm you as you experience something in all its magnificence, and you give over to this grandeur!
Such is the force of love at first sight! The senses go dormant for a while, and all that remains active is a rushing organ in the chest— assuming charge of your entire being. The visuals that your eyes try to transmit to your brain, are kidnapped by your hyperactive heart, which then processes them in his own quaint fashion.
As a result, all her movements were divided into hundreds of frames and a slow animation film started for me. I smiled to myself, different from every other smile I had ever smiled. I watched the slideshow of her beautiful, furious play, and the moment just got hold of me! The existence of everything around me was overridden by her solid presence. I couldn’t see a thing other than that girl— beating her hands in the thin air, magnetising me with her absolute, authoritative pull, just when I was jerked back to life with the push of hurrying children. Our teacher had finally entered the class.
“Vasudha!” yelled the lady-teacher.
Ha! Vasudha! Never before had a name made such an impression on me as this one did. Sometimes you see people and get the intuition that they are related to you in a way unspecified, important to you for a reason unidentified. Today I had received my hunch.
With every passing second, I was discovering new sentiments. I had never known a girl earlier, but quite dramatically, it felt as if I knew her from the very beginning. It was as if we were eternal beings who had always been together and were today concluding a very long separation.
“What’s wrong here? Why are you hitting her?” Teacher investigated, separating Vasudha from that poor girl.
Vasudha looked up angrily; her eyes brimming with tears that started flowing eventually. Her throat wasn’t making any sound, though. It was not the ‘regular style’ of crying I was accustomed to watching. I wondered what kind of an emotion was that! ‘How does she manage to cry like this?’ -I thought.
Teacher kept inquiring but Vasudha wouldn’t open her lips. With the other girl still crying loudly, Vasudha’s quiet tears silently conveyed her innocence to me. Her denial to defend herself proclaimed that she couldn’t be guilty.
‘The girl must have done something to deserve this beating.’ –came a single-minded thought to me. Out of a strong but unrecognised gush– “Don’t cry!” I murmured, loud enough to just reach whom it was intended for.
Now, for the first time, Vasudha sniffled and looked at me for a second and then buried her sight in the earth.
“Kirti, child, stop crying and tell me what happened. Why did she hit you?” Teacher inquired from the apparent aggrieved, irritated by the behaviour of the supposed assailant.
“I accidently dropped her lunchbox on the floor,” answered Kirti.
“She started beating you for this?” teacher asked with suitable awe.
“Yes,” replied a boohooing Kirti.
The eyes buried in the earth rose and blood rushed to those cheeks again. Vasudha kept staring at Kirti with contempt, opposing her claim in a language free of words.
‘She hit her so badly for lunch!’ –Duh shared his doubt with me, noting a clear contrast between the image of the girl and the allegation upon her.
“You hit her for lunch as she says?” The teacher once again tried to coax Vasudha into talking who seemed to have repressed everything that was running inside her head.
“Fine! Don’t answer! You come with me now. All of you- sit quietly till I return,” she said, seeming to have run out of other options.
Kirti left the class first. The teacher was holding Vasudha from the arm and now harshly pulled her out of the class, who silently followed- to the Principal’s office, presumably.
I sat quietly in the class all this while, eagerly waiting for our teacher to return.
Neither of the girls were accompanying the teacher when she reappeared. I looked at her face as if she owed me an explanation, but she simply asked us to open our textbooks and started on right away.
The entire day passed, but Vasudha didn’t come to the class. Kirti did return just the next day, but not the ‘one’ I had been waiting for. Another day whiled away, and she didn’t show up. The same story went on for the remaining three days of the week.
She kept floating in my mind. Nothing would’ve inspired me to get to school so ‘thirstily’, as the anticipation of meeting Vasudha again. Weeks changed and changed the month, but didn’t change my desire to see her. So strong was the desire that it manifested at last. It must have been more than twenty-thirty days when I found her in the school playground where we had assembled for the daily prayer offerings.
It was a huge ground, and the number of children was even larger, yet I recognized Vasudha at once. Closed were her eyes, hands joined next to her heart in prayer, head down and lips sealed. Unlike others, she wasn’t repeating the prayer after our music teacher who arranged the whole thing daily. My neck remained turned in her direction and eyes fixed on her. She emitted rays of purity; I couldn’t wait for the prayer to end and the classes to begin.
“Good morning students! For those who are new and do not know her— this is Vasudha, your classmate returning after a month because she was ill.” The same teacher, who took her away from me, gave her back.
‘New, are you? Or is she?’ –Duh laughed within.
No, I wasn’t new here- not in her world. In fact, I had developed a belief that I knew her from the time immortal.
“Go, sit Vasudha. Everybody, open your G.K. textbooks.”
I noticed that Vasudha was not at all particular in her choice, as she immediately moved to the first available seat, partly occupied by a boy at the left front. Just as she approached him, he shifted inside to make room in the outer corner. I looked back at the holy bench where I had received my enlightenment. Two other girls held its possession now.
'Even better! You could easily eye her from here.’ –Duh.
I kept ‘eying’ her all day long and laid my eyes on her more leisurely when came the interval– a time when I was free from the search-lights of our teacher. But I became alert as Vasudha sat down to have lunch; I needed to know if it was indeed her love for the food that got her into the whole trouble.
She took a grilled sandwich and nibbled it gently; thing looked delicious! I now anxiously opened my lunchbox and got depressed at the usual sight of two plain paranthas with pieces of greasy lemon pickle. She slowly finished one sandwich and left the other untouched. I knew in my heart– had it been my tiffin, it would’ve contained at least four of them and would still return spotless.
‘She eats so little! What then, was this bloody battle about?’ –Asked Duh. It couldn’t be her lunch, was the only thing I could say. School ended, and I returned home in one of my best moods of the recent days.
Examining her throughout the day became a ritual that I religiously performed, from distance. I hadn’t yet found an opportunity to talk to her, neither was I courageous enough to create one–– just watching her and observing her activities brought me immense pleasure. I had made a few friends by now, right in-line with the ‘prophecy’ of my Principal, but all in my own gender. No other girl in our little world interested me, and the one who did, seemed interested in nothing worldly.
I was not able to untangle the situation with me. A girl- I had never exchanged words with- looked solely mine. I didn’t have words or even coherent thoughts at this age, but I sure had feelings. And if I could just articulate those feelings, I would’ve expressed that even infinity had something beyond it, and that’s where my love awaited her… that if the whole universe was just a great illusion, my love was the only thing that existed!
But– was she of age to comprehend anything out of such intense emotions, if conveyed to her? Could she receive them at all?
Even if the answers were indeed confirmatory, being able to perceive something, to interpret it in its literal form doesn’t mean it concerns you. I couldn’t directly compel her to like me back.
These are some complications always attached with love, which I didn’t recognize at that age. I wasn’t mature enough, myself. But even if I had the required brains, I would have taken my chance. And why not? We were kindred spirits! The very first sight that I had of Vasudha would have been a disagreeable experience for anybody else. But it did not drive me back; instead, it drew me to her. Those eyes had anger in the place of affection, and I was still swept off my feet! Of course, there was a bond between us with plentiful substance in it. The ethereal state of emotion couldn’t entirely lack in earthly realism!
Anticipation is the strongest drug that there is. I was ready to pull my socks up, confident about the coming days. After all, there was a connection! Only that, it was not actualized in its true essence… just yet.
I am now moving forward in the timeline. Many other girls are waiting in the queue for their stories to have an audience. But I shall definitely return to Vasudha after a while. The first ever love of my life.
The excerpt ends here. Please follow the official Facebook page of ‘O Amor’ at facebook.com/oamor.nikhil.bhardwaj for the release date and other reader queries.