I can hardly claim to be an expert on the matter of love, but then can anyone? I do have my experiences though, and a fair share of them, albeit somewhat divergent from the usual boy-meets-girl-under-a-shower-of-petals variety. And what better time to recount one of the earliest such entries in my memory bank than the month earmarked for celebrating love – the Valentine month of February?
So, here goes…
Whoever claims love to be an autogenous emotion hasn’t spent enough time in the dormitories of a boys’ hostel. Love doesn’t sprout on its own and nor does it materialize out of an accidental eye-lock with someone from the opposite gender. In fact more often than not the start of a romantic relationship is the outcome of much strategizing, toil and stealthy support from ones comrades. This realization dawned upon me pretty early in life, even before I had completed my first year in the school hostel.
I was nine then, all impressionable and eager, trying to battle my fears and find a footing in the new world that my parents had injected me into. It was for my own good, I now understand, but back then it was like being thrown into a dungeon for no conceivable fault of mine. Be it the insipid mess food or the tiresome chores that hostel seniors kept bestowing upon us – from massage sessions that ran late into the night to manually washing piles of dirty garments – it was a very different world from the secure and protected one that I had left behind.
In little time I discovered that the hardships of hostel life weren’t exactly equitably distributed. They remained most severe until one managed to establish some sort of kinship with the influential seniors, a journey that was paced differently for different folks. And one of the most effective catalysts to hasten this journey was ones association with a pretty damsel in class. If you were ‘going around’ with a good-looking girl, you were seen to have arrived in life. The reverence you thus earned transcended the prevailing divides of vintage, age and the likes that marred hostel life. Seniors and juniors alike would talk about this achievement with a sense of shared pride as though you had managed some extraordinary feat, and you would find yourself elevated to a social strata that suddenly made life in the hostel far more agreeable.
Therefore, love, as I first saw it, wasn’t a natural emotion that surfaced within ones heart. Instead it was a necessity, a carefully thought through survival ploy that you worked towards with all your rationality and logic.The only thing that was left then was to zero in on the prospective subject of my affection. And it was near the basketball courts that I first saw her.
Our classes for the day had just concluded and the day scholar students were clamouring towards the parked buses to head home. The time between the dismissal bell and lunchtime in the hostel mess, about 20 minutes by the clock, was free time for us boarders. So, while some of us would escort our day scholar friends to the bus stop, others would while away time in frivolous engagements such as practicing our basketball shots. I had just shot a difficult 3-pointer into the hoop when I noticed a group of girls standing on the side lines. I recognized them as belonging to a different section, but the same class as me. My attention lingered especially around one of them, the one who had been keenly observing my antics and seemed visibly impressed by my last shot. As the group disintegrated and its constituents began walking towards their respective buses, I was sure I saw a glint in her eyes and half a smile on her lips. This was all I needed to set my pulse racing.
I was officially in love now! The first hurdle I now had facing me was to figure out the girl’s name, which I overcame by taking one of her section mates into confidence. The next few days were like a whirlwind and I was beaming with nervous anticipation and excitement. I would find myself outside her classroom two to three times each day on some or the other pretext yearning to catch a glimpse of her. When I would see her I would blatantly stare as though she were a mural on display, and much to my delight, she would stare back with her typical half a smile. Not a word had been spoken between us, but I knew that our relationship was well on its way. Once back in my hostel room, I would spend hours thinking about her, about her half smile, about the glint in her eyes when she’d looked at me, and I would twist and turn and blush in seclusion.
Then, one day the classmate of hers who’d told me her name and had become my close confidante by now, came up with the suggestion that it was about time I let my feelings be known to her. The medium of expression had to be something other than the looks we had become accustomed to exchanging. We began brainstorming and eventually came up with an idea that we were particularly proud of back then – a love letter written in blood! It had just the right amount of emotions, drama, pain, intrigue and shock value that the first expression of ones love warranted.
Through trial and error we discovered that pricking the index finger with the pointed end of a compass is the most efficient way to draw blood from the body. While the author does not recommend this process or even the idea to any prospective love-bugs, it did provide me with the most essential ingredient for writing the intended letter.The crimson streaked document was soon ready. The next day my friend graciously delivered it to the girl of my dreams. “She took the letter, read it and kept it with her. She didn’t say anything… not even a thank you,” was the observation that my messenger returned with, sending me on a frenzy of curiosity. I did not sleep a wink that night. I knew somewhere deep within that my proposal would be accepted, but a validation was needed. Moreover, I had played my hand and yet I had no visibility on when and how she would respond. It was like waiting for the results of a surprise class test. The uncertainty was excruciating and at one point I was even wondering whether it would have been any better had she torn the letter and said no upfront instead of making me endure the wait.
I had no way of knowing then that the wait was destined to be a short-lived one. It was the first period of the day and I was occupying my usual seat in class next to the window. Suddenly I saw my lady love walking towards my classroom entrance. She had a forlorn look on her face and right on her heels was a heavily built, strict looking lady. The similarity between their appearances wasn’t stark, but a close scrutiny would certainly track them back to the same bloodline. It had to be her mother. And suddenly a barrage of possibilities, almost all of them ominous, began racing through my mind. I was petrified. I could clearly see what was coming my way and I had little time to avert it. Something needed to be done and I didn’t have the luxury of time to plan my next steps.
Just as the teacher stepped towards the door to greet the visitors I jumped out of the window into the corridor and ran as fast as I could. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do, but at that moment I was running for my life. I was like a stag being chased by a hungry cheetah.
The escape proved only momentary though. I couldn’t run away from all my teachers forever and eventually I had to surrender. A series of reprimands and reprisals followed, the only silver lining being that my trail, conviction and punishments were all in-house. Her mother had given my class teacher and the principal a piece of her mind about the sorry state of affairs in the school they were supposed to be managing and left. I didn’t have to experience her wrath first hand.
As for my lady love, I never did speak with her and neither did she. A couple of days later she clarified to my friend that her mother had accidentally discovered the letter in her school bag. What transpired hadn’t been intentional and she too had been pulled up for her alleged role in the matter. But the explanation did not matter. Our relationship had ended without a single word being exchanged between us, and that was the reality. Her mother’s furious face kept surfacing in my thoughts for several days to follow, dissuading me from even considering any audacious acts on the matter.
Eventually I did manage to overcome the setback and get my life back on track. I found love too, and I found it again and again. I was even blessed to have experienced the ‘magical’ variety of it, but that is a subject of another story for another time…
Anurag Anand is the bestselling author of several books in the contemporary fiction, historical fiction and self-help genres. Some of his better known works include The Legend of Amrapali (2012), Birth of the Bastard Prince (2014), Where the Rainbow Ends (2013) and Love on Three Wheels (2015).