Normally, I wouldn’t type in afternoon after lunch. The food induced sleep does not do justice to the author or the reader. But because I have an exam tomorrow, a free evening may do me good. Also, I have always had a passion for telling stories and the temptation of telling stories is hard to resists.
The story starts with me and a friend standing outside the hostel door waiting for the ambulance at 7:30 am on a Monday morning. He had been showing signs of appendicitis for last 3 hours and the hotel attendant had been too sleepy to open hs door for half an hour. I decided to accompany him because for my reluctance to attend a lab on Signal Processing. My friend, lets call him X to maintain anonymity, had not been interested in class room studies much and a gall bladder operation would be more interesting to him than the test in power systems which he gladly missed that day. When the ambulance arrived after an hour wait, I was pleased to find it preoccupied with two not-so-sick girls form the girls hostel who looked pretty in their sleepy eyes but annoyed because the driver had driven the van into the ‘boys’ hostel campus.
With some effort, I was able to help my friend climb the van which seemed too small for a company of four. Perhaps because opposites attract, we were able to be comfortable in that tight dungeon. Despite his pain, X too was cheerful as the rush of morning air had been hard to get ever since he came to hostel three years ago. An early morning ride with girls was a bonus for both of us. The curly haired girl sitting beside me looked to be 20 years old with a sweet smile and an unwashed face. She might just have woken up to go for a morning jog. Her friend sitting opposite me was the odd one out among the patients. She was pretty with a button nose and dove eyes. Her dress kempt and face glowing. An enthusiastic observer might even tell that she had taken time to apply lipstick and the mild smell of perfume early in the cold morning soothed everyone.
The day had started off beautifully with sun just warming up everything visible and guiding the birds to their exploration. Humans were still not out of bed though, and that is why we were able to drive faster in the scanty roads. Once the initial gush of blood was over, I tried comforting X with some consolations.
“Exam bahut door hai abhi, zayada problem ho ghar chale jaana. Chinta kyou karta hai?”
“Pehle se aath back-log hai, ghar mein ghusne bhi milega aab”, he said in a low voice with an intention to joke.
“Kyou aisa kya problem hai tumko?”, came a question form the girl sitting beside me who had been mostly quite through the journey.
“Shayad appendix hai, kuch din se dard zayada hi badh gaya hai”, replied X.
“Zayada Wikipedia padh ke hoshiyaar mat bano, pehle doctor ko dikha lo”, I tried acting the cooler one.”Aap log kaha jaa rahi hai? Waise mera naam Rohit hai aur yeh bimaar mahashay hai X”
“I am going to the dentist, not that anyone cares”, replied the girl opposite me in a slightly sharp tone.
“Ritika! Ritika has been having tooth ache since Friday. And they won’t give special compensation to the sick at hostel. My name is Priyanka by the way.”, said the girl who I now recognized as Priyanka.
“A sour mouth leading to sour words? Don’t worry, it’ll go away, your teeth don’t look too bad”, said X.
After this there was a long silence during which the ambulance raced pass cows roaming the highway without fear. The mist was lifting by now and the recycled air inside was warm to comfort. Midway the journey, the girls started talking in a language unfamiliar to both me and my sick friend who was now busy drawing images with vapor drops on the glass windows. I have always found listening to foreign languages very intriguing- the joy one gets when someone speaks one hindi or english word and he can solve live puzzle. I was attempting the brain teaser when Priyanka suddenly mentioned “Tihar”. To those unfamiliar with this abode of goons in India, Tihar is a jail in Delhi. Coincidentally ‘Tihar’ rhymes with ‘Bihar’- a state in eastern India which has been long infamous for criminal activities. Ritika, the girl with the tooth ache, made the small mistake of listening ‘Tihar’ as ‘Bihar’. The irony was that it fit the statement too awkwardly which went:
“All these criminals should be sent to ‘Tihar'(‘Bihar’)”.
To this unintended hormonal rush by her friend, Ritika replied:
“Yes. I don’t really know why there is such a rush of people form the state. It is increasing crime rate throughout the country you know?”, she said, this time in English.
This brought X back form his early morning doodling. He came from the state of Bihar and technically, so did I. I was born in the state of Bihar which later got dvided into Bihar and Jharkhand 10 years ago because of the demand of Santhalis. Outsiders, however, made little effort in understanding the technicalities. Having spent around 9 years of my life outside my hometown of Jamshedpur, I have had a habit of ignoring this foolery of people. X, who had been rather uninterested in his habitat until now spread his lips joyfully.
“Please don’t say anything inciting”, he said,”Rohit here has got psychiatric condition of psychopathy”.I did not know how to respond to this unanticipated situation. Should I be depressed? That would be too strange because I had been smiling my whole way. Should I be angry? At whom? When I could not think of any appropriate response, I faked a broad smile which I now think was sufficient. People often go on the words of others than their own judgment.
“Is that why you are going to the doctor?”, asked Ritika.
“Yes… umm, yes, that’s why I am accompanying him. He has been too aggressive in the last few days.”, answered X on my behalf.
“Maybe it’s the effect of the culture in Jharkhand. You know, a lot of them practice voodoo.”taught Ritika.
X smiled. The situation was getting out my understanding and if I had let it develop further, the cat would have been out of the bag. I pinched X hard and in a manner everyone saw it. The girls, now scared as holy goat, took it as a sign of aggression and quieted down.
The rest of the journey can be expressed easily as I had to go to the psychiatrist and act with Priyanka because the dental and psychiatry departments were on the same corner of the hospital. Also Rs 100/- for the medicine.
================= SCENE II =======================
Five days after the above episode, I saw Ritika at a coffee bar outside my hostel. She was standing alone with a cup in her hand as the show in old movies. When I approached the stall for a cup, she gave me a gentle smile.
“How have you been Rohit?”
“Good as a grave. And your coffee tells me you are recovering?”, I asked trying to act less of a sociopath.
“Yes, it’s better now. The doctor advised me not to drink anything hot but I don’t care.”
From a close look, she was the kind of girl I would like go out with one day. She was charming, true to herself and beautiful. Also, she could hold the glass in the most girly way possible.
“You know… that day in car, I was just acting….. I really didn’t need psychiatric help. I am sorry now, though.” I said, the hormones getting better of my reason.
“And you want me to believe you now?”she said looking rather angry and annoyed.
“Actually yes, but my brains say you won’t accept it, so I don’t know how to respond”, I said.
“I saw your facebook profile. Why would you call yourself ‘Rohit Vijay Sharma’?”
“Don’t know.. maybe identity crisis or maybe I need some counselling sessions, but I assure you a mental case is still far away!”
She smiled slightly at this and the bar attendant smiled seeing her smile.
“How do you know marwari?”
“How do you know that?”
“I saw your facebook page, you know a lot for my friends are marwari.”
“Well, I don’t write everything true on Facebook, but ancestrally I am a marwari. Have you been stalking me?”
“Not stalking you, I just wanted to see what the social life of a retard looks like. It must have been that X, you know, these Biharis, they always have a tricky mind.”she said.
“Come 0n! It has not got anything to do with him. You looked so beautiful that morning, you drove him to lye!”said I.
“You have the audacity to flirt with me!You are an outsider here, how dare you?”, she said in a girly bellow with a slight smile telling that it was only a joke.
“Outsider??And I am not flirting, please, just asking for sometime when we can both go out together… how about for a cup of coffee next Wednesday?”, I asked seeing her happy at the moment.
“I don’t know… my parents asked me to avoid guys form Bihar and Jharkhand. Event the girls in hostel talk so ugly!”
It was difficult to see her condescension in front of her but we swapped numbers and decided to go out next Wednesday.
I had been waiting for 15 minutes in the cafe when she arrived. It was evening and dark but her annoyed face shown clearly in the dark.
“That auto waala! Why do they get into the business if they can’t drive!”, she said uttering her first words on the table.
“He took half an hour to carry me form college to here!”her anger now reflecting on me.
“It’s a heavy traffic outside, don’t let it bother you!”I tried continuing the conversation.
“Yeah whatever! They shouldn’t let these biharis drive auto-rickshaw any ways. You are the only good one I have ever met!” she said
“That’s because you haven’t met a lot of people. Just clam down and don’t let it get to your head, these ideas are poisonous.”
“Don’t be patronizing me! I am a grown up girl and understand life a lot better than you! Truth is harsh!”
“You are behaving as if I asked you to take that auto. Just clam down will you?”
We ordered our drinks in silence. After which she moved to exams and marks. Then circled back to how the outsiders in college have increased competition. I could not take it any longer. Either she was nurtured ugly or had grown crazy because whatever she mumbled made little sense. I tolerated her on railways and how Bihar is responsible for overpopulation after which I got sick.
“I think have mixed wine in that Irish coffee I ordered. My head is spinning…”, I lied. At least it would get me a break.”I think I should call my friend, he is in a mall nearby”,I said taking out my phone.
“You are going to leave in 45 minutes!! I thought this was a date”
“Oh it was, but I am allergic to white whine. I will call you later, we can go out sunday”, I said now deleting her number.
I got a rickshaw and bid her farewell. She would never grow up and waiting for her to change would only be painful. Young minds once adulterated with the poison of regionalism are difficult to cure. This is what all of us are doing in the country but I am no philosopher.
I looked at the glittering road ahead, somewhere in these millions of Indians will be a better class of people be in company with.
–Inspired by ” A Cosmopolite In A Cafe” by O. Henry
The above story is not based on a true life but is derived from real life incidents occurring with different people. Readers are requested not to take it as an insult to their caste, community or region.