Oblivion : Rimli Bhattacharya
Shouldn’t I be ashamed of looking back at this point of my life? I am supposed to be a dogged female who had risked everything but had never shied from being in love. Was I even aware what heartbreak meant to me those days? But I had felt something shattering my mind asking me to leave my soul like dust in the wind. I wanted to die. But lo and behold, here I stand on my feet with a head held high.
I eye that garlanded photograph, my daughter's father. I wanted to hide but why should I? To be in love isn’t a sin. It never was. I take the photograph in my hands. He looks at me with lips arched in a smile. It was in him I had seen my future, my dreams – the joys and sorrows. I am in our home which I had shared with him for 11 years. Can I tell him today? Can I?
I was 14 and was in ninth standard studying hard to score an ‘A’ grade in science, something which my mother always dreamt of. But I was a rebel in my ways. Between the pages of that fat physics hard cover I often tucked those Mills & Boon romance series which I borrowed from my friend Jina in exchange of my ones, The Adventures of Tintin. Not that I ignored my studies, which I could never afford to do as I was under strict vigil of my mother but I had my own ways to deal with her suspicious nature. And I have a reason behind my saying. First, I never liked science as I loved literature and aspired to be a writer. Second, it was the rage of hormones which I couldn’t control each time I read those books and blushed. To a certain extent I give credit to my English teacher for my penchant for literature. He had in him the art to captivate his students by his way of teaching, unlike my physics teacher who preferred maintaining a somber face and teach us Radioactivity, Nuclear Fission and Fusion, Equations and the list was endless. But that didn’t avert me from bringing good grades in science. As long as I satisfied my mother with my ‘A’ grades in science and math I had every freedom to read my comic books, thrillers, poems, and the yearly puja barshiki – at least she thought so.
My father was a reticent man who never imposed any rules on me and it was only him to whom I had confessed about Imran. I had made him promise not to share this secret with my mother and he had complied. I guess he understood his wife very well.
“Baba, is it okay if I read Jackie Collins?” I had asked him holding the book Chances in my hand.
“Well, I haven’t read her so I am not the right person. But why ask, Buri? What’s so special about her books?” he sounded inquisitive.
I had handed over that book to my father to read. I remember him covering the book with a brown paper to forestall my mothers’ suspicions and reading it. Within three days he had returned that book to me and I remember him breaking into a smile and saying, “I won’t say a no, if you insist in reading this book at this age. But don’t misinterpret it. By the way how do you manage to get her books? I don’t remember buying such books for you. And your mother, she is simply out of the question”.
“Baba, it’s easy. We are all grown-ups and we exchange books in school. And this book is special. It’s a gift from Imran”, I had opened up to him.
“You are yet to gain your democratic rights, Buri”, by then my father had dug himself in his newspapers which lay piled next to him. This was his style. He wanted me to deal with myself. Unlike my mother he always avoided interfering.
I studied in a convent and throughout the year we had new admissions mostly children of army personnel. While we travelled in our school buses they came to school in their army jeeps. And it was in one of those jeeps I had spotted Imran. A fair skinned good looking shy boy it would be wrong if I say he was reserved. He had a little sister equally fair and he mostly clung to her. He wore glasses and there was a slight trace of moustache just above his lips which had instantly sent my mind into a sensual state of intoxication. He was hazel-eyed but there was something comical in his gait that made him a butt of ridicule amongst all, except me.
Being the captain of my school house it was very easy for me to track him down. He was just a year younger. Neither was he a performer in studies, and was equally bad in sports. I was yet to know about his other extracurricular activities. So when the voting started for the new comers for assigning them houses I had wished him to be a part of my house. I knew he wouldn’t be accepted by the other captains but then our teacher intervened and allocated him a house and unfortunately it wasn’t mine.
He couldn’t make friends easily but wasn’t stand-offish either. He would smile at those girls who adored him for his looks and manners. The boys were rude to him. And during one such casual day I first got to interact with him. It was our lunch break and we girls were seated on a bench adjoining the ground where the boys played football, cricket and volley ball. Sometimes we too joined them but that day we were cheerleaders. My eyes were quick enough to notice Imran standing at one corner not far from us and watching his classmates play. I don’t know since when I had been staring at him when he turned and looked straight towards me and our eyes met for the first time. And strangely this time it was me who had lowered my eyes. He was still standing when I had walked up to him and asked, “Why don’t you join them?” My question took him off guard and he fumbled for an answer. Mimi, my classmate tried to pull his legs, “You wanna play with gals?” she had winked and I realized my mistake of talking to him in front of these friends of mine. Tears welled up in his eyes. He had then walked away and I had argued with Mimi for being so rude.
“Boys don’t cry and look at this baby boo”, Mimi had laughed off at my anger vented towards her.
Like every year our rehearsals for upcoming Parents’ day started and as always I was picked up for dance. While our teachers would encourage everyone to participate but there were a few who shied away and one such boy was Imran. Being a part of cultural committee I had that power in me to choose students for singing, recitation, dance, drama, mimicry, mono act and lot more. I refused to give up on Imran. I couldn’t accept the fact that he would only be a silent spectator while we all would be enjoying our rehearsals. I selected him to be a part of the Punjabi Bhangra dance. And this was my second mistake. Imran faltered and couldn’t pick up the steps. He was mocked, ridiculed and bullied to such an extent that he stopped coming to school. My heart wept for him. I would wait for their jeep to arrive and it would be his sister whom I would keep on asking about her brother. The little girl quite unsure herself would simply reply that her brother was unwell.
“Are you out of your mind?” Jina pinched. “You can get rusticated, you know that”.
“Umm, how? I haven’t done anything yet”, I trailed off and Jina smirked.
I heaved a sigh of relief when I spotted Imran on the day of our grand rehearsal. Finally he has turned up.
“And you are not dating him”, Jina gritted beneath her teeth. “After all he is a big loser”.
I had laughed and had squeezed Jina’s chubby cheeks till they turned crimson.
There was a dried paddy field adjoining our school ground where our dance teacher took our rehearsals. The dance was based on the fusion music “beats of Kaziranga” by maestro Ananda Shankar which required ample space and hence choosing this parched paddy land for practice. We were a group of 10 girls including Jina. We had practiced for two long hours when our teacher decided to give us a break. I wanted to pee and was rushing for the toilet when I spotted Imran. He stood at one corner of the paddy field and I was unsure if he was actually watching me. I looked sideways. My friends were busy chatting with each other when I quietly tiptoed and fizzled out. My adrenaline was all time high when I reached for Imran’s hand. He looked puzzled. I pulled him and ushered him to run with me. We ran and stopped at the corner of a hill. We hid behind the bushes and were panting. We were still holding our sweaty hands and staring at each other in an odd way when I muttered “You run pretty fast. You kept a good pace with me”. His delicate lips arched a smile but it didn’t quite reach his hazel eyes. They were engulfed with sadness. It made my heart heavy. I released my grip but I didn’t want him to go. I wanted him to smile squeezing my heart away. I wanted his smile to stay.
Almost in a haste I threw a question “Why do you love staying alone?” His lips twitched, he wanted to say something. We could now hear the school bell ring when I mustered all my courage, grabbed his face and kissed his lips. We stuck together for an entire minute when I remember me pushing him away. Awareness hurtled back along with awkwardness. I ran back for my rehearsal. I was out of breath.
“Nicely played mate”, Jini nodded.
“Um, hmm, he is a sober guy”.
“Tell me what you both spoke?”
“Why were you spying?”
I heard those voices in my head. This conversation was going gross.
“Did you collect your costumes?”
“Let’s go together”, Jini nudged me.
I was sitting in the green room all decked up for my dance. The room was empty. I could hear the welcome song as our music teacher playing the piano. I had ample time left for my dance. While others preferred watching the program, I being a besotted bibliophile was devouring yet another Mills & Boon series.
In his Red Tee, jeans and suede boots he stood in front of me. Oh, how much I loved this red. It was, and it still remains my favorite color. His glasses were replaced by lens.
He inched closer. I could smell the cologne. I don’t remember who kissed who but it wasn’t a closed mouth one. Emboldened by the feel of his tongue inside me I pulled him closer. His hands traced my body, feeling each crevasse and stopped at my breasts. I pressed his hands and let out a soft moan. He leaned and kissed my neck. No words were spoken but a story was well communicated between us.
“Damn girl, your lipstick and what have you done to your makeup?” my teacher was furious. Applying a fresh coat of compact, she re-did my eyelashes. Thrusting me the red lipstick to re-apply she asked me to join quickly. More two recitals and then it was ours.
I stood in front of the mirror. My mind was on fire. Relax, the voice spoke. My breathing eased and it was then I joined my teammates.
At 15, I was miserable. Imran’s father got transferred. Also it was the year for my board exams. My mother constantly reminded me of that ‘A’ grade thing.
My father was in his study when I tiptoed and reached him. My mother was inside the kitchen and I bolted the door from inside ensuring that my mother couldn’t listen to our conversations.
“Yes, Miss Santangelo, how are your studies going?” my father gently stroked my hair.
“Good”, I lied. “Baba, I no more read Jackie Collins……” my voice cracked.
“It happens when one is young. You will understand when you grow big.”
“I am a big girl, baba”.
“You are yet to gain your democratic rights, Buri. The world is far too complicated than you feel. Learn to trust your instincts, they don’t lie”.
Joydeep entered my life when I was in my college. We dated for four years before getting married. We were happily married for 11 years until…I shut those voices in my head. I don’t want to hear the sirens of the ambulance anymore.
Today while dusting my wardrobe the book fell—Chances.
This book had been my companion ever since Imran left.
My mind drifted between my past and present.
Baba had told me to trust my instincts.
Some may name it seduction; but I call it love. There is a hidden elation in the freedom of being alone and I had the liberty of being caught in that divine spell. And so when I see his hazel eyes, me and the feelings which I harbor for him in my heart, becomes one. I am unsure how Joydeep would take this but let me at least try confessing. I can still die a thousand deaths for those hazel eyes, rest were an oblivion. I wish he understands, I can only wish.
Note: Oblivion is a part of Rimli Bhattacharya’s collection of short stories from her second book “That Day It Rained And Other Stories.”