I missed out on a very important development that happened just before we started practicing laanat. Karan reminded me of it recently, and it’s strange because quite some time back, when I had thought of Chapter 6, I had kept this development in mind. I was tempted to change the sequence of the Parts in this Chapter to accommodate that development, but finally decided against it, and thought about putting it in this Part. Let’s see how it works out. This one’s the longest yet! All the best ...
I parked my bike in the Symbi parking lot and hurried towards class. A glance at my watch revealed that I had stuck to my usual timing, which unfortunately was about 20 minutes after the first lecture had begun. The closed door of my classroom was confirmation enough that the Legal History lecture had begun, and I didn’t have a prayer of getting in then. With my usual half-happy, half-disappointed sigh, I walked to the NCC canteen for a cup of chai and a smoke, a standard ritual of mine on everyday that I was late for the first lecture.
The campus was relatively empty, and I was, as always, lost in my thoughts, which this morning revolved around our performance of Laanat for the Rotaract Club the previous evening. It had been such a lot of fun, the run up to the performance, all our laughter, teasing Karan with MJ, Mayukhda’s violent outburst at Karan for constantly tickling him during a torture scene in one of our practice sessions, the actual performance!
I reached the NCC and ordered my chai and Classic Milds. There were hardly any people in the NCC at that hour, and it was at such times when I really liked to have a smoke. There was something in the perennial hiss of gas flames in the open kitchen, the frequent clangs of metallic dishes, the muttered conversations of the canteen staff, which was always somewhat soothing before the large crowds of students would come and take over the place. I pulled in a drag of my cigarette, gazing idly at the flaming cherry at the tip, which seemed to take on a new life with every drag, giving off steady streams of bluish-white smoke. Every now and then, the little cherry would be hidden by grey ash tinged with black, but I would know that it’s still there, as it would struggle to light up with every drag, and if I didn’t flick the cigarette first, the little cherry would throw off the walls of ash that would accumulate on it, and would burn merrily on until its inevitable demise.
On the day which had been our fist day of Laanat practice, I had called Karan in the morning, offering to pick him up from his place and go to Ruksana’s, the venue of our practices. His voice had sounded rather different, somewhat secretive and defensive as he said, “No, dude. I’ll come myself. You carry on.”
My suspicion had been aroused, and I had instinctively asked if this had something to do with Akruti. He’d told me that he was with her at that moment, and that they were now finally and officially seeing each other! The news had been not exactly shocking, and not exactly surprising. But it did make me feel something vaguely not good. I had put it down to my natural pessimism on relationships, had cursed him, congratulated him, and had told him to get his ass to practice.
I finished my cup of tea and stubbed out the cigarette. I wasn’t likely to see Karan during the day. I knew he was with Akruti, and a new couple typically spend all their time with each other. It was time for my next class. As I entered the main gate of college, I noticed three girls sitting on the katta next to the main gate, and one of them, dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans seemed to be looking in my direction rather intently. I vaguely recalled having noticed three people sitting in the same place on the katta on my way to the NCC, but it was only now that I realized that they were girls, and that the Black Shirt was staring at me. But I didn’t bother about it and went for class.
During the recess, I met Mayukhda, and we walked out of the Law School portico onto the ramp that was our campus. The Law School crowd stood around, and a few students of the Arts and Commerce College were also standing in their groups and chatting. Through the crowds, I caught a glimpse of those three girls, still sitting at that very spot on the katta, and Black Shirt was once again staring my way. I wasn’t too sure if this was merely coincidence, so I turned my back to her, and said to Mayukhda, “Da, something strange is happening.”
“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Mayukhda.
“I think a girl is staring at me.”
Mayukhda has certain typical exclamations. They are all somewhat comical, and Rono likes to imitate Mayukhda’s general expression while making those exclamations by clapping one hand onto his head, slightly crossing his eyes, giving a really goofy smile, extending his other hand in a questioning gesture, and making a sound which is the Rono equivalent of a long, drawn out ‘Duuuuhhh’! On this occasion, on hearing of my suspicion, Mayukhda went, “What the fuuuuuuck?!”
“Yeah, see for yourself. Over my shoulder, 5 o’ clock, group of three girls. Look for the Black Shirt in glasses.”
After a few surreptitious glances, Mayukhda exclaimed, “Fuuuuck! Yeeeeaah, Dude!! She’s staring at you!!!”
“Do I know her?” I asked Mayukhda, who was my go to guy every time I needed an ID check.
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve never met her.”
“Hmm… Oh well, let’s chuck it. Why would any girl stare at me?” And we moved on to better things.
Over the next few days, my suspicion turned to certainty. Whoever this girl was, she was totally staring at me. She would look out for me, and once she spotted me, she would sit on the katta and just keep staring! Mayukhda had spread the word of this girl to some of our friends, and often somebody or the other would turn my attention to the fact that she was staring at me again! Her inevitable presence while I was on campus, and her incessant staring at me, eventually earned her the title of my Stalker.
One day, Mayukhda and I were chatting on the katta sometime in the morning. There were few people about, and the katta was mostly empty, meaning there was a good 10 yards to our left and nearly 20 yards to our right of clear katta. The three girls came out of the Symbi Food Court, and suddenly came over and sat right next to us, such that one of them was literally rubbing shoulders with me! After a few minutes, the girl next to me traded places with the girl who would stare at me, and suddenly, I was within breathing distance of my Stalker! Mayukhda was saying something or the other to me, but I had pretty much zoned out by then, and all I could hear were bits and pieces of the sotto voce conversation of the girls. Suddenly, I heard my Stalker ask the other two, “Should I ask him? Should I ask him?”
I immediately turned to Mayukhda and said, “Da, it’s getting pretty hot out here. Let’s move to class.” I don’t know why, but I felt somewhat hounded by this female, and I wasn’t quite ready for a first contact yet.
As more days went by, the Stalker kept changing her tactics at getting me to notice her. She would keep positioning herself in a way such that she would be directly in my line of sight. In the process she kept reducing the physical distance between us daily. I would often have to keep away from certain portions of the campus, because I knew she’d be sitting there, waiting, watching! I’d often have to sneak out of college through the parking lot at the back of college, and sneak in the same way. Mayukhda had even devised a system of spotting me on campus – if he wanted to check if I was on campus, he’d look for the Stalker on the katta, and then look in the general direction where she was staring, and sure enough, there I would be!
Finally, one fine day, after much pacing around in an area about 9 feet from where I was standing, she finally approached me and asked, “Hi, are you Vikram?”
“Well, it’s Bikram actually,” I replied, trying my best not to burst out laughing nervously at this first contact with my Stalker. Mayukhda, who had been standing next to me, excused himself and walked off, much to my chagrin, and I was left alone to face this girl. But it turned out that I had very little to say. In the next 20 minutes or so, I knew all about her parents, her three sisters, which sister is musically inclined in what way, that she herself had been learning to play the guitar in Muscat where she was from, and all kinds of other sundry details. She even wanted to jam with me, having heard that I play the guitar. She mentioned that she’d like to learn from me, but I told her that I didn’t know how to teach guitar, but I had the numbers of a couple of people who did. She seemed only to want to play / learn with me, so after some amount of convincing, she finally took the numbers I gave her, with a heavy look of disappointment. But that look disappeared behind a very sunny smile as she said goodbye and skipped off.
I turned around, and a feeling washed through me as if I had just been through a heavy impending ordeal, except in a good way. Sagar and Mayukhda sat a few feet away, on a circular portion of the katta built around a large tree. They both had conspiratorial grins on their faces, and as I walked upto them, Sagar asked excitedly, “Dude, your Stalker! You finally spoke to her! Tell us what happened man!”
“Her name is Kannika,” I said in a daze, the reason for which I have never understood.