At the age of thirteen, a girl reading Nancy Drew, Sidney Sheldon and Mills and Boon would keep waking throughout the night, either reading her favourite author or dreaming about their characters. She had never seen the world as it is but as she had read about in books. For her the world was divided into two broad categories; angels and demons.
Those who would be good towards her were natural angels and those who despised her were embodiment of evil. Yet she didn’t have any good opinion about herself. She was neither an angel nor a demon but a comic character. She was a fool in her own eyes good at nothing except reading. So she was very lovingly nicknamed ‘Bookworm’ by her friends. She had no qualms with it.
Secretly, she was happy to be known as a bibliophile. She had a natural enemy and his name was Rohit. She had made cartoons of him when she was younger. He was a cute looking kid for elders. He was chubby with pink cheeks, a Murphy kid. On the other hand Seema was skinny. Naturally Rohit was more loved in their social circle.
Seema didn’t know how to challenge Rohit’s popularity in reality but she knew how to deal with it in her cartoons. She would make a fat boy, name him Rohit and give him all the evil attributes. Her small unpolished stories would begin with, “Rohit was a liar, Rohit was a cheat, Rohit was disliked by everybody.” By portraying Rohit as an embodiment of evil she got a sense of satisfaction. She would make figures with long teeth and horns and naturally for her, Rohit was all the negatives. The more the elders would admire him, the more she would hate him.
Once Rohit visited her place and saw a drawing book lying on the table. He picked it up and started rifling through the pages. He saw the ugly faces which were named Rohit. There was a caption to a picture Rohit; a dough of flour, a fat devil. He felt hurt and as soon as Seema appeared he flung the book in her face and ran away. Seema missed the hurt in his eyes, she could only see the fury.
A few weeks later, Seema went to Toh’s house at Chath festival. Delicious kheer was being served as prasad and she wanted it but Rohit served everybody, ignoring her. She felt left out and was burning with anger. When she asked Rohit to give her some, he said, “Instead of asking for kheer, you must help me serve the guests.”
Seema knew that Rohit said that deliberately, to show that he was working hard, while Seema was just whining for kheer. Seema felt a sudden surge of anger and when Rohit returned to serve other guests she put her leg in his way so that he tripped and fell, dropping all the kheer. He had to face his mother’s upbraiding for it and their war continued.
Seema secretly enjoyed these banters and battles. Sometimes, he would spoil her hair and run away. Sometimes they would actually fight, hitting at each other with their full force. On one such occasion, Seema got hold of his shirts’ collar and broke the top three buttons of his shirt.
Rohit was driven into tears and was looking for his shirt buttons to get it stitched. Meanwhile his mother came and it was a funny sight to behold, Rohit looking like a poor kid in tatters. Years passed and their fights slowed in pace but a bitterness remained in their heart. Rohit and Seema went to the same school but avoided each other.
She still thought of the world in the binaries of angels and demons. Yet she didn’t have any good opinion about herself. She was neither an angel nor a demon but a comic character. She was a fool, good at nothing except reading. So she was very lovingly nicknamed ‘Bookworm’ by her friends. She had no qualms with it. She secretly was happy to be known as a bibliophile. Until the day when she was nicknamed ‘Mirabai’ for she had no real friends, only a tree underneath which she would sit and read and read and read.
She had no other talents her only escape from the real world was her books. She hated Rohit all over again when Rohit made fun of her, not only in school but also in front of her family and the words which had never affected her in school brought tears to her eyes, rolling down her cheeks when her mother looked suspiciously at her and asked,” Why do they give you such names?” She had no answer. She tried to be good but was a social failure unable to make friends.
Seema got back a bit of her self-worth when she topped a Chemistry paper and got an upper hand over Rohit when he came asking for her notes which she denied him. She was very happy by showing Rohit his place.
The next day her doorbell rang and she had just got out of bed in an old T-shirt and pyjamas and thought it was the newspaper guy. It was him, six feet tall, strong and sturdy. She wanted to slap him for all his misdemeanour but she couldn’t. Rohit was a family friend and his family would intervene and insult me. They had never missed the slightest chance of making fun of her. Sometimes they would tell that I was too thin.
Her sisters couldn’t be friends with me because they thought I was a snob and my inability to help in kitchen put me at loggerheads with his mother. She had to feed us for three days when my mother was on leave.
I was thinking about all the annoyances big and small that Rohit had caused over the years. Seeing me wrapped in thoughts, he snapped his fingers on my face. I came back to reality. I gave him the rough notebook so that he would have to put in some extra effort to read my illegible handwriting. He didn’t even say thank you and rushed away with my notebook in his hand.
The next few days in school were very exciting. I got new information about Rohit that was worth a gossip and would give me an upper hand over him. Rohit secretly admired Shriya. It was turning interesting. Shriya was sweet, good looking and intelligent. I would have loved to be like her but I was a born mediocre. Even slightly bad at everything, except studies where I managed a respectable 75 percent.
Those were the times when students could fail in examinations so 75 percent was fairly good for a student like me. Though Shriya would always top with more than 90 percent. I didn’t know why but when God gives talents, he endows some people with all of it but to people like me he only gives an over-sensitive mind and mediocrity.
I thought to get my back by letting out Rohit’s little secret in his family. I went to get his sister and was about to drop the bomb called Shriya but before I could even start the conversation, Rohit’s sister Rohini began, “Aren’t Bengali girls a beauty? They are good at singing and dancing and they are so perfect.” Rohini was right, Shriya was a beautiful Bengali girl. She was good not only at singing and dancing but also at painting. I was disappointed the bit of news that I had brought was useless.
I waited to take my revenge but I hardly got any opportunity. Rohit would never talk to me. He would see through me as if I didn’t even exist. I got my notebook back through his sister. The notebook hardly mattered, I had the fair notes copy neatly done.
On 14th February, the romance was in the air. Girls and boys were in their best. The school uniforms smelled of sweet perfumes. Gifts and roses were exchanged. I sat on the stairs watching gals and guys having a wonderful time. Couples who were rumored until now could be seen exchanging gifts. The new proposals could also be felt in the air.
Even my besties had proposals this year. I somehow felt left out and sad. I didn’t realize until this day that even I secretly craved for a proposal but I had an image of being sincere and aloof. I had openly criticized love as a distraction. I felt it would hamper our studies.
Lonely and sad, I waited for our auto wallah to take us back home. But no one else was willing to return. They somehow didn’t want this sweet day to end and they were delaying the return. Nobody came near the auto. Everyone was enjoying their time with their prospective dates.
When suddenly I saw a scuffle between Rohit and Rishabh . It was unbelievable, after a depressing day something exciting was happening! I tried to overhear what was the reason for the fight. Rishabh shouted, “She is my girl. Avoid her.” I could without much of a stretch make out they were battling for Shriya. I suddenly felt jealous of Shriya. Rishabh was very attractive with brown curly hair and sparkling brown eyes.
Even Rohit looked handsome in the tight fitting white shirt and grey pants, our school uniform. A part of me wanted to intervene and stop the fight. While the other part was relishing it. I had another point against Rohit . He was fighting in school. I went home and made a sad face and told my mother what had happened in school. My mom immediately phoned Rohit’s mom and my work was done. I felt deep satisfaction. For the first time in my life I had something real against him.
The next day in school was normal, there was a little hangover of Valentine’s Day and the lovebirds were chattering. I was also trying to come to terms with my loneliness as my bestie was sharing her lunch with her new found love. I was lost in thought of how it would feel like, being in love or at least, be admired by someone, when I felt somebody standing behind me.
I looked back in surprise. Rohit was standing there glaring at me. “What you have done wasn’t right,” he stated, in a definitive tone. I knew what he was up to but I feigned innocence. “What are you talking about?” I asked. He looked down intimidatingly,”You shouldn’t have done this. My mother was extremely angry. She said she would not allow me to come to school if I behaved in this way. You have made things difficult for me.”
“You have made things difficult for yourself,” I said self-assuredly.
I don’t know what moved me after this banter, was it his glaring eyes or towering personality, I don’t know but a tear rolled from my eyes and as if by reflex, he wiped it. I couldn’t understand what happened. I am usually unapologetic for my behaviour but a faint sorry sounded itself through my lips and he gently added,” Please, don’t complain about me all the time.
I am sorry for what I wrote on your notebook and Rishabh isn’t a guy for you so better avoid him.” I was flabbergasted! The whole day in school I was thinking about this idiot Rohit. He was incorrigible. He had again written something disparaging about me on my notebook. I was hurt by his audacity.
On returning home the first thing I did was look for that rough notebook. I found it and turned the leaves to see what this rascal had written on the notebook, on it a small note,
Don’t misunderstand me for making fun of you. That’s the only way I can think of communicating with you. I wanted to tell it to you in person but I didn’t have the courage. I really love you. On this Valentine’s Day will you be may Valentine?”
Tears rolled through my eyes and I mumbled,”Yes, yes , yes.” .