I was in grade 10–fifteen-years old and a book nerd. I was denser than my brother’s ten-pound dumbbells when it came to the matters of heart. It was easier to do ten wrist crunches in a second than to make me understand the cryptic language of would-be lovers. I knew more about Maneaters of Kamaun, thanks to late Jim Corbett, than teenage boys and what went inside their ever-busy brains.
Having studied at co-education schools, I had quite a few male friends. But when it came to heart-to-heart, they steered clear of me. Though, it could have something to do with my ‘incident’ with the class bully where I knocked some sense in his brain, literally. Or, it could also be the light ‘mustache’ I had grown over the adolescent years. Whatever the reason, the boys in my previous schools avoided any chances of a one-on-one with me.
When I moved to Aligarh, the boys in the new school, however, were quite ill-informed. They knew of my love for old songs and painting. Also, I looked less like a lioness now that I had cleaned the facial hair. It was a welcome change to have friends who weren’t scared of me.
After my first month in the school, I was moved to section D, which was a teacher’s nightmare in the best of days. There was a gang who never took classes and were always found roaming the corridors. The most ‘influencial’ boy of the class, let’s call him A, was their ring leader. The teachers were afraid to report them. Others caused enough noise to raise the dead. Nobody listened to the teachers. Our class teacher was also the school vice-president and never available to know what was happening.
Somehow, I never got to see that roucous part of our class. Initially, I was too busy with catching up on the work done before I joined the school mid-session. Later, I began noticing that during empty hours (when the teachers were missing), my class sang–all of a sudden, A had developed a love for singing. He was good at it too. Often, he would sit on the bench behind mine and begin singing. Meanwhile, nobody dared to speak or may be they were too enthralled. He attended classes everyday now, which was a first. Thanks to his newly well-behaved presence and active participation in studies, our class was too well-behaved to believe.
Soon, the bench behind me became the hub for all wannabe singers. We often played Antakshari whenever there was time (a game of replying to each other in songs). In the hindsight, I have a sneeky suspicion that some of them were trying to impress me. I can’t be sure, of course, nobody ever proposed me.
Except one day after school, when I was dragging my bicycle towards the clear road that had enough space to ride it, A caught up with me.
Okay, before I get into the detail, let me clarify one thing–In small-town India, dating is not a thing. Arranged marriages are preferred and going out with boys is looked down upon. At least, that was the case at that time. So, you didn’t ask a girl out just like that.
You talked about the weather…and family…and things she liked to do in her free time…and about her friends (to gaudge if there was a potential competitor)…and how there’s nothing much to do in small towns… If the girl hesitated, and you still had brains left, you scooted. If she answered all your questions in a pleasant tone, you asked about her plans on the day when you wished to take her out and wait for her reaction with abated breath. If her day is free, you talked about your plans and if she’d like to join.
A followed all the required protocols. While we were stuck in the traffic jam caused by the several hundred bicycles and thousands of young adults pouring out of their daily prison, he talked about the weather, my family, my non-existent social life and my interests and the lack of things to do in a small town. (a pretty dull conversation, if you ask me). Then, politely, I asked about his interests.
A grabbed the opportunity with both hands and plunged, “I love watching movie. Infact there is this latest movie (he named a Salman Khan’s latest movie) that I’m planning to watch but I’m not sure.”
I was human enough to get curious, “Why not?”
“I don’t have company.”
That was my cue to say, “Really! I’d love to watch it too.” But as mentioned in the first para, I was dense enough to not understand the cryptic conversation and missed the cue. Instead, I got more curious. How could the other guys not watch a Salman Khan movie. He was the God of Indian adolescent tribes. His posters were up on every male wall I knew, “Why wouldn’t you have company?
I guess, A wasn’t ready for that. I had been pleasant enough so far and hadn’t winced even once during the entire conversation. So, in an ideal world, I was supposed to ask him the time and show up for the show. Instead, I am asking a probing question. So he got derailed, “Ahhh…because the timings clash with namaz…” (He was a Muslim and so were his friends.)
Again that was my cue to say, “Oh! No problem, I’ll join instead.” But I missed the cue again and chimed in, “Really? Then, I think you should go for namaz instead as well. A movie isn’t worth it.”
A nodded his head, forced a smile on his face and bowed out of the competition, dragging his bicycle in the opposite direction. He looked rather disheartened, if you ask me. But I could be wrong, afterall, I was too dense to understand the matters of heart.