The Echoes Of Dumb Love
-By Arvind K.Pandey
(The story was first published in a prominent newspaper Northern India Patrika on November 17, 1996)
It was towards the evening that I had confined myself to an isolated corner-a regular phenomenon which has now become part of my life, whenever her memories haunt me.
Ten years ago when I first landed in Lucknow I had little realized that the role which the city was going to play in my life. For past two years, due to my father’s transfer at Allahabad, I was staying as a paying guest in my friend’s house.I had stayed back in Lucknow to complete my class 12th.
However, the event that had brought bitterness in my life was the moving away of Ashmita from my life. Ashmita and I were classmates and we studied together nearly for five years. For the past two years we were in different schools. In these two years I never got an opportunity to meet her. So there was the possibility of her having forgotten me. In this modern world you should not expect someone to remember you for long, more so if it’s a casual friendship. The hardships of life seldom allow friendship to attain maturity. When we were together we hardly thought of anything else other than discussion related with studies. Our chance encounters between the periods were centered mostly on the studies. We never got an opportunity to sit together. Shyness always prevented us from expressing our hidden emotions, if any such feeling ever struck our hearts. So if we ever tried to muster courage and give outlet to our emotions, we checked ourselves at last moment, postponing it for some other suitable time. That time never came! I joined other school, leaving her alone.
The one opportunity when I was able to meet her came at a time when her examinations were just to get over. My twelfth examinations were just over. However, hers was to end one day after mine, being enrolled in one extra subject. I was at my old school to bid adieu to my old classmates before being back at Allahabad. Needless to state, the real motive was to have a brief conversation with her. In my heart was concealed a desire to have a deep glimpse of her. My friends were engaged in last minute revision so they did not notice my presence. Those who did notice my presence were bit amazed to find me there at such an odd hour when paper was about to start. Curiously they enquired about my presence. “I wanted to see you people before moving to Allahabad,” said I putting an end to their speculations about my untimely presence. Then that glorious sight for which I had been waiting for so long appeared before my eyes. She was sitting in an isolated corner far away from other students as she liked the least interference of not so close friends. She had few close friends, whether I was one such friend I never bothered to find out.
This was our first meeting in two years. The beauty of a woman increases with time. The more refined beauty of Ashmita confirmed this fact. With added seriousness, the maturity of her face sparkled like clear water, which had increased the serenity of her face. Barely preventing the emotions to go wild, I moved towards her. Being overwhelmed by her sight, I failed to realize that I had gone too close to her. Being lost in her textbook, she failed to notice my presence. I greeted her meekly. The fear of rejection has suppressed the tone of my voice. Two years were enough to wipe out old memories. She looked up and found me standing near her with sense of joy mixed with surprise and wonder. She responded warmly after taking some time to reconcile with my presence. I tried to give this meeting the shape of a chance encounter but could not hide the feeling for long that I was there to just have an interaction with her. Her feminine instincts hardly took time to intercept that. Unable to speak anything further, I gave my autograph book to her which I kept with me lest she enquired about the purpose of such meeting.
Reluctantly she took the autograph book from my hands and went on to fill it. This seemed to displease her as she hoped for a conversation. Realizing her feelings, I took back the autograph book hands from her leaving her bit puzzled. We did talk but the conversation remained stuck to formal issues, interrupted with periods of silence. The examination bell could ring at any moment. Valiantly I tried to give words to my latent emotions but once again the words got stuck inside my throat. I failed to muster enough courage. The reluctance in speech stood in the way like always.
Realizing my plight she tried to uplift my emotions which did provide me encouragement but it was not sufficient enough to break the jinx. I fixed my eyes on her to guess what was she up to. The thought of leaving her had already made my senses numb. I just couldn’t move my eyes away from her for even a moment. Yes, I wanted to arrest her image forever in my eyes and heart. Then I remembered something, about those letters that I had sent to her in last two years but which were not acknowledged. The real purpose (in which I failed) was to judge her reaction as in these letters I had to an extent revealed my hidden feelings. Her cold reply that she received none brought an end to this little hope as well. Either the letters did not reach her or her parents destroyed them before they could reach her.
And while I stood engrossed wondering if she heard my silent voice her plain face devoid of any reaction did not at all seem to respond. I could not bid her goodbye because when I regained the sense of reality after being lost in deep thoughts she had already left the spot and entered inside the examination hall. However, she was the last person to enter in the examination hall as while I was rapt in my thoughts I had heard some voice instructing her to be inside the examination hall. She was waiting for me to say something which I was never going to say!! On seeing no chance of mine getting back to conversation mode she was left with no other option other than to respond to the call to be inside the examination hall. Later when I realized that she has left the spot I was left in deep pains. Another opportunity had gone.
The bright aspect of the conversation was that I came to know that she will be at school the next day as well. She had to complete some formalities related with the school project. I had advised her to be present in the school earlier than the scheduled time of the start of her project demonstration.
The stars were not in my favour as next day I got up very late. Hurriedly, I dressed up and dashed towards the school. When I reached the school gate, I found that her project demonstration had already started. I was deeply frustrated. High expectations when dashed leads to high frustration. She came out of the examination hall after the end of the demonstration session but instead of coming towards me she moved in the direction of the gate. I was so involved in so many thoughts that crossed my mind like waves in a disturbed ocean that I failed to take note of the presence of her father’s presence. I tried to catch her attention but to no avail. From school I returned to home.
I woke up from my thoughts as I found someone knocking the door. I found my friend there giving me a strange look. “Why have you shut yourself in the room? Are you all right? You have to leave day after tomorrow and your things are still lying unpacked?” he asked. I felt ashamed over my laziness. Next day was Holi festival. I had postponed the journey to Allahabad for one more day and instead planned to play Holi at my friend’s house.
Next day I found people of Lucknow caught in the colours of Holi. However, I had lost all the zest for the festival and kept myself involved in making arrangement for the journey next day. The preparation was nearly complete. I suddenly realized that Holi could be an ideal chance to meet her at her home. Her parents would then be compelled to take my sudden arrival in a lighter way! The thought of visit thrilled my dull senses. The noon was at its peek and soon evening was going to follow. I had to make a formidable decision in this regard or else it would be too late again!!! The idea of the visit had provided a new lease of life to my sagging spirit.
I was now worried how would she react on finding me at her home in this unexpected manner? How could I have informed her when I myself was not aware of such development? I really wished to inform her, only if I could.
Even if Ashmita responded positively her parents I was sure were never going to like my presence. Nervousness gripped me as destination came closer. Darkness had prevailed so it has become hard for me to locate her house. I had never been to any girl’s house before, forget her home. At last, I located it. The nameplate flashed her father’s home. Mentally rehearsing how would I behave and what I would say I gave a knock at the door with trembling hands. Her house being located in remote corner of the city was wrapped in absolute silence.
The room opened and a face peeped from behind it. He seemed to be her younger brother. On learning that I wanted to meet Ashmita, he closed the door with bang after having a deep look at me. Then after a few minutes another door opened-the front door. This time it was her mother who without asking anything asked me to come inside. She was visibly upset but was trying hard to hide her true feelings with a forced smile. “In our family girls are not allowed to meet with boys. No boy is allowed to pay visit in this manner,” she said without giving rent to her hard feelings.I was prepared for this polite rebuff. The only thing I prayed for was not to be provoked into saying something foolish in the heat of the moment.
For a while there was deep silence. That did not deter me from asking where Ashmita was? I came to know that she had gone outside to exchange Holi greetings with her friends and now she was about to come back anytime. Her mother went into another room, leaving me alone in the drawing room. I noticed that the room had a very simple decoration and the simplicity that prevailed in the room resembled the being of Ashmita who believed in life of simplicity. The elegance that prevailed there was symbolic of spirit of Ashmita who hated lifestyle mired in pomp and show. Her mother came back with refreshments. I never thought of being treated in this grand manner!! However, the harsh tone of her mother had started to take me in its grip.
It had soured my mind as well as the taste. “Why do you want to meet Ashmita ?,” she asked raising her tone. “I am leaving the city and I came here to have her autograph,” I replied. This answer was a cover up but for the time being it perfectly served the purpose. Nevertheless, it raised doubts in her mind.
Her career related questions met with dry answers on my part. She might have formed a poor opinion of me –a lad devoid of substantial purpose in life. Well, I was here to meet Ashmita and not to disclose secrets of my life. Fifteen long minutes have by now elapsed at her home. Ashmita was still nowhere in sight. I did not dare to enquire about uncle’s absence. Something has to be in order! I wished if Ashmita’s brother was involved in our conversation. That would have helped to lighten the situation. He might have been ordered not to enter in the drawing room where something unwanted was taking place, not respectable enough to be witnessed by someone of his age. The atmosphere got on my nerves. It was pretty suffocating.
Both of us were engaged in proxy battle. While she was trying to pin me down, I was defending myself from scathing comments as much as I could. I had come here with decent emotions but her mother suspected my emotions. Certainly, I could not tolerate to see pure emotions being crushed in this crude manner. At one point, I did think of speaking out what I had in my mind but then I controlled myself. It is very difficult to convince someone who had preconceived notions. It would be exercise in futility.
How I was related to Ashmita only I knew. Ashmita and I were careful about the bond that held us together.We did not give it any name but deep inside our heart we knew that what exactly it was. So to preserve the sanctity of that bond I decided to keep quiet.
The mother, on the other hand, was suspicious. Definitely it was love which forced me to pay visit to her house but at the same time I was quite aware of the fact that it was not a fleshy love hovering around basic instincts. Her eyes, however, failed to see within my heart. Her eyes just couldn’t locate the reality, observe the innocence that existed in my eyes.
I suddenly realized that I was getting late and that she might not return soon. I had not told anything to my friend and therefore he must be anxious about my return. I could no longer pretend now that her words did not affect me. The frustration inside me caused by her spoken and unspoken words had taken the shape of volcano inside me. If I stayed there any longer, I would only be risking an outburst. The visit had already sown seeds of misery for her. Now by displaying the feeling of rejection I would further increase Ashmita’s problem. The fact that this might be the last chance to see her now haunted me. From now on I would only see her in dreams. Unable to look directly into her mother’s eyes I asked for her permission to leave.
She probably wanted to see us together to measure the intimacy of our relationship. After a slight display of hesitation –a superficial gesture-she granted me the permission to leave the room. I had a good look at her drawing room and recollected all pleasurable feelings of being at her home-the golden treasure that will help me to pass days and nights mired in loneliness!
Her house was now out of sight. I looked back only to find long stretches of darkness. The darkness of nature shall be penetrated and removed but one which has just gripped my heart shall exist always. One who could remove it had moved away from my life. My eyes had now turned moist. Do those who dearly love their beloved meet the same fate? Who will tell me where I erred or faltered? Why I failed to meet her? The God within me was also silent today. He too did not have any answer. My heart that was now rebellious was telling me to return back to her home. The poor heart!!! It never realized that game was over. It was a predestined affair in which I had to emerge as a loser. Yes, we together traveled far and this was the U turn which placed us on separate paths. And we separated to never meet again!! Or have we?
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