[I won’t waste any more of your time by apologizing for the hideously long break in posting, than I already have by taking it. So just help yourselves to this instalment of a freshly-baked teenage romance.]
They say love at first sight is not real. May be it isn’t. But boy it’s heady.
Have you ever been on LSD for months, or years?
Forget it. That was a joke. And anyway, you wouldn’t know what love at first sight is even if you had.
That’s what Ranjini was to me – a psychedelic disorienting taste of first love.
We were neighbours in our sleepy town of Dhanbad. I used to watch her from my balcony as she made her way to the temple with her mother every Sunday. One day I smiled at her. She smiled back. Before I knew it we were scrapping each other away on Orkut (Facebook wasn’t around since beginning of time, remember?). That was back in my Higher Secondary days.
Good times don’t last forever. For us it ended as college life approached. It was time for me to go join my engineering course somewhere in the Southern part of the country, and for her to join hers in the East. I panicked. I proposed her.
As I look back today, everything that happened thereafter looks all normal, all too predictable. She was instantly the quintessential Indian good girl – “haven’t thought about that thing ever”, but would love to remain the best of friends. What choice does a hapless, smitten teenager have but to agree with the enthusiasm of a puppy at the first sight of its master after a month of separation?
I arrived in college. So did Rahul – the only other chap from good old Dhanbad – and was made to share his dorm room with three local students. He came running to me. He needed a quiet room for studying. Would I not help him out, coming from Dhanbad and all? If I didn’t let him share my room he’d have to go back to Dhanbad, and God knows whether he’d want live at all after that. I saw tears.
I melted. I went to great lengths to ensure he was allowed to shift to my room. Thereafter we became best friends.
Enter Sheetal – meek and shy, fresh out of a girls’ school and mortally afraid of boys. She just wouldn’t talk to a boy. What if he tried to make passes at her?? :D
Rahul fancied Sheetal inside his heart. But he knew she wouldn’t talk to him. So he came up with a cunning plan. He made her tie a Rakhi to him. (In most Indian cultures Rakhi is a symbol of sibling-hood.) For good measure, he also told her he was madly in love with some other girl from his school. I was aghast when I came to know what Rahul was up to. It was just wrong. He was just … fake. I felt I couldn’t take it.
When he finally proposed Sheetal confessing the whole story, she was as disgusted as I was. Rahul’s excuse – “You won’t talk to me unless I was your Rakhi brother. Or some sort of a brother. :D” When Sheetal turned her back on him he came up with a new plan.
When Sheetal was out with her friends in a local market, Rahul drove up to her in a motorbike – tears running down his cheeks – and literally begged her to come to a quiet place with him and talk things out. The entire locality was swelling with glee as they watched “real-life drama” unfold in front of them. It was too much for Sheetal. She hopped on to his motorbike without a word.
I would never forget that evening. When the door to my room burst open, I was playing Prince of Persia at my desk. Rahul’s terrified face was just about enough to jolt me back to reality. He and Sheetal had been to a park known as the “secret haven for lovers.” Soon a gang of local louts surrounded them, making rude remarks and threatening. Rahul somehow managed to send Sheetal back. Later the goons roughed him up and wouldn’t let him go until he gave them some money. While I felt sorry for him, I couldn’t but loathe him for leading Sheetal into this. Three weeks later Sheetal and Rahul were dating. Don’t ask me how or why.
In the meantime I was happily chatting away with Ranja. Every phone/chat conversation with my girl would light up my day/night. But for Rahul it was the exact opposite. The more he’d talk to Sheetal the more negative, irritable, stressed he’d become. This puzzled me, but I let it go. Through Rahul I got to know Sheetal. We’d share funny texts. She’d tease me regarding Ranja. It was friendly and warm.
But good times don’t last forever. I started feeling ignored by Ranja. She almost stopped replying to my messages. I’ve never felt as hurt in my life as I did when she didn’t even open a beautiful slideshow of photos I’d created just for her. I lost control. I panicked. I proposed her on Valentine’s Day through a wall post on Facebook. I knew she might not have liked the gesture. I knew she might get angry for me taking it out in the open. But what I couldn’t anticipate in my blackest nightmare was to be ignored completely. A cold refusal to acknowledge the whole thing.
Something snapped. I did something which even today I don’t believe I’ve done. I called her up told her she had a black heart. I’ll never forgive myself for that moment of madness. Needless to say, we lost touch after this. There was no way Ranja was going to take c**p from me. In hindsight I feel she might have fallen for someone else at this point, but … anyway.
I entered the first phase of depression of my life. The numbness was a real thing. It really was. I’d open my eyes in the morning and find it impossible to leave my bed. Rahul would almost drag me out. He’d force me to eat. He’d coarse, cajole, scold me into attending classes. I’d never be able to repay him for what he did for me over this period. In spite of what happened thereafter.
[To be continued…]