I am Joy. I was studying for my engineering degree in a very reputed/costly college in Ooty. Putting an end to all guesses, I couldn’t be termed as smart from the general society perspective. Society feels that way as I didn’t get good marks in 12th exams. Didn’t get, sounds like somebody didn’t give me what I deserved. Ha! Ha! Nope, that was not the reason, studying of those text books, for the heck of scoring marks didn’t appeal to me and hence resulted in my low marks. Like any other family, my family had hopes of me doing well in life. My father being autocratic in nature wanted to make something out of his stupid son. He gave loads of money and got me admitted into this Engineering College.
I was not sure what to do with my life, and had heard Ooty was a nice place, decided to go ahead with my fathers plans without much of a fuss. I used stay at the college campus, which was run on the principles of a prison. Some of my early friends in college told that, the college was built on IIT principles and was the next best thing under the sun. Who cares?!! I didn’t make many friends later on.
The college had strict rules of attending classes and students going out of the campus. Hence, invariably I used to spend my energetic young age in classes drawing crap on my note books. I was what you can call as sub-dued individual.
It was during the start of my 8th semester classes, One day Ms. Ranjana entered our class as she was supposed to teach Operations Research (OR). Though, I had seen her around in the college earlier, that day, in the full view on the class platform, she looked very beautiful to me. She was wearing a simple Saree and no make-up. I watched her closely through out the class. In fact, my eyes were always concentrated on her and her movements through out the hour.
Incidentally, one of the subjects I like is Mathematics. God knows why?!! Aimless playing around with numbers and formulas to achieve nothing made sense to me. Somewhere, I had read, human mind will find a liking for something even when put in a no-hope place like prison. I can relate my scenario to this statement now. Operations Research was a subject which is application of Mathematics and it was very obvious that I would like it.
After the classes were over, I aimlessly wandered around the college, as per my general habit. Went to some quiet places, burned some cigarettes, played with ants, disturbed some grass. It was a summer day and had got dark an hour back. I wandered into Mess, had my dinner and went back to my room. State of my mind was what can be termed as “Blank”. I was on my bed, reading a national geographic magazine. It was a nice article about the mating habits of Lions. Suddenly, the thought struck to me that, Ms. Ranjana was “sad”. God knows why?!! How?!! But, a sudden clarity appeared in my mind that Ms. Ranjana was sad.
Over next few days, I attended all her classes with complete concentration on her. I also enquired about her with some class mates and seniors. It looks like Ms. Ranjana topped the gossip list in our college. It seems she was divorced from husband, and living with her daughter in staff quarters. Nobody had any conclusive stories though; it was like any other gossip in college. I started relating the “sadness” of Ms. Ranjana to this story and felt an element of truth in the rumour. This thought of sadness, bought me closer to her.
After 3-4 weeks of my concentration on Ranjana, I noticed that every 5 minutes, she would glance at me. Initially I was embarrassed, and used to turn my head in other direction. This was a surprise, which I had not anticipated and was not sure how to handle this. I started noticing that, Ranjana started glancing towards me more often. I cannot explain the emotions I was going through, but I guess it was a mixture of elation and fear. I was not sure what was happening and my next step in life was unknown.
I wandered around the campus with the same emotions for 2 weeks. During these 2 weeks, my boldness increased and I also realised that I had not studied even a bit of Operations Research. I shortened my evening walks to the mountain and started studying. Unfortunately, my concentration on Ranjana didn’t allow me to concentrate on the subject in the class.
As I was having my lunch one day, I felt a huge urge to see Ranjana. I finished my lunch quickly, went to my room and jotted down some doubts I had in Operations Research. I went in search of Ranjana in the staff room. She was surprised to see me in the staff room. I stumbled a bit while entering the room and with hesitation asked her about my doubts. She was very calm and gracious and explained me the solutions to the problems. But, I couldn’t understand very clearly what she was teaching me. I guess, my anxiety had increased my heart beats and clouded my mind.
The staff of the college stayed in the quarters around 1.5 KMs away from the student hostel. Anybody can guess that the staff didn’t want to live in a Jail like environment. Near the staff quarters were some shops and this used to be the place where most smokers bought there cigarettes. It was around 7:30 PM in the evening and I decided to take a walk to buy cigarettes. I bought a pack of cigarettes and as I was walking back across the quarters, saw a big tree and stood below it. I lighted a cigarette and started taking long drags. I saw Ranjana walking down the pathway on the hill with her daughter. They were both dressed in track suits. I waited for some more time, under the tree, saw them entering the house. I could see the silhouette of Ranjana walking around in the house.
I dreamed of her the whole night.
No points for guessing, I started going to Gymnasium. I figured out in just 2-3 days that Ranjana and her daughter used to come around 7 and leave around 8. I scheduled my going to Gym everyday at the same time. I was in pretty bad shape by then, and had gained 20 Kilos compared to my days of 12th. It was difficult days initially and I didn’t dare to talk to Ranjana. Most of the people in the Gym would leave by 7:30. After 2 weeks of going to Gym, I dared to say a hello to her. She responded back with a Hello. I thought she was a bit conservative in the Gym because of her daughter. She used to chat and talk about things when I used to go to clarify doubts in Staff Room.
During this period, I felt she was getting closer and closer to me. We used to talk about weather, movies, college life, etc. in the staff room. Though it only used to be for 5 mins, I used to feel a high after the talk. I used to go for a walk around staff quarters and enjoy the silhouette of Ranjana once in a while.
One fine day, Ranjana came to college well made-up and wearing a beautiful silk saree. She was looking beautiful. I don’t know how my eyes, stopped from popping out of sockets. She looked very cheerful, and I felt was more cheerful when I went to ask doubts at staff room. The trend of her dressing up for college continued for next 2 weeks. We were nearing the exams, and I was worst prepared compared to previous 3 semesters. Anybody can guess my state of mind.
God knows why, I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning. I was full of energy and couldn’t let myself to sleep again. I went for a long walk on the mountain and was having a smoke. I was trying to think of what was happening with my life, I was in love, probably infatuated to an older woman. She was probably divorced and that didn’t matter to me. I started thinking clearly on what’s my future, and how I would continue with my life. I was sure; my parents would go mad hearing the news. It was funny imagining my father’s response to this news. I am sure he would have hit the ceiling in rage.
Next 2 weeks of life was filled with negative feelings. More or less I always used to think about good or bad and what does future hold for me. One of these days, Ranjana entered the class and announced that, she would be on a leave for 2 months and Mr. Selvatheertam would take our Operations Research to conclusion. Who cares?!! Needless to say I was disappointed, and Ms. Ranjana never glanced at me during the announcement. The rumour factory came with the news that Ms. Ranjana’s husband was indeed alive and abroad. It seems she was taking 2 months leave to go abroad.
My thought process of right, wrong and future continued vigorously after hearing this news. This is when, I realised; I even do not know Ms. Ranjana’s response. There was a good probability of me imagining that Ms. Ranjana finds solace in me. She has a daughter who is probably 14-15. For me, it didn’t make sense and the end was unclear.
In this confusion, I went for evening walk to the mountain. After lighting my second cigarette, In the sane environment of setting sun, I realised that I was not considering the whole picture. I was not sure, what will happen to my life?, where will I live?, whats my relationship with her daughter?, how will she react?, where will we work?, what will neighbours say?, what if society doesn't accept us?. There were questions and only questions, and there was no way I could think of getting my relationship to work.
I realised my childishness very clearly.
I could see the end.
I was getting sane.
I continued with my not-so-studious studies and went on with my life. I forgot about Ms. Ranjana and my love for her in a short time.
Today, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I am thinking,
“Was I really Sane?”
"Was I afraid of barriers?"
by Madhukar Hebbar
Note to reader: If you want to know more about Ranjana, read "Me and my friends" a short story.