It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen her in days. He had. They were together for most of the time they spent in college between classes, lab sessions and breaks in between. And yet, it was almost as if she was galaxies away mentally. She seemed to be taking notes in class as usual. When asked about something that had been discussed in class, she participated as she always did. And yet, he couldn’t help feel that there was something going on. And if he were honest with himself, he knew what. It was evident in the way her entire being came alive in the evenings, when she sang.
Why the hell was it bothering him so much? Arjun clenched his teeth and tried to focus on what NK-Sir was saying. And yet as he looked at his third year senior, he couldn’t help remember that NK-Sir too…
“Agarwal, pay attention. Surbhi Singh daydreams can wait.”
He looked at NK-Sir but avoided the other pair of eyes that he knew were trained on him.
“If it is bothering you that much, tell her how you feel.”
Arjun looked up to see AV-Sir looking at him seriously and rolled his eyes. And though the words were uttered with sincerity – he couldn’t help wonder if AV-Sir actually meant them.
“There is nothing to tell. Plus, I really do think I would be wasting my time.”
This time AV-Sir remained silent even as he sipped on his tea and then sank into the thin faux-leather seat next to his, the half-full Styrofoam cup cradled in his hands.
Arjun turned to look at him and sighed. There was no point overthinking it. He needed to know first. Later, he could decide to analyze why he cared and what he would do with the information. “I think she likes you.” He said quietly. “And I am not joking.”
AV-Sir frowned and shook his head. “Arjun, you are being absolutely…”
“I am not. I know people. And most of all, I know her.”
AV-Sir stared at him intently for a few minutes, his face revealing nothing. “Has she said something?”
Arjun burst out laughing. “Kaveri Gupta isn’t going to tell me if she is falling in love with someone. Not even if it is with me.” He shook his head as the dense fog lifted from his head. “Damn, I am behaving like I am in love with her! I am not.”
AV-Sir continued to stare at him but this time disbelief was evident in his gaze.
“I mean,” Arjun shrugged with a sheepish smile. “Perhaps, there could be more. I mean…fuck….oops, sorry Sir. I know you don’t like to use such language….” He trailed away at that and peered at his unofficial hero. “You really never feel like swearing?”
AV-Sir rolled his eyes. “Of course I do. And there are plenty of words which capture the essence without the need to be degrading to the most important women in my life anyway.”
Arjun’s face flamed. If Kaveri was in love with this guy, this was the kind of information that would cement that. But how would she know unless he told her?
Fuck, he swore guiltily in his head. He was now beginning to sound like a vamp from one of those horrible shows his mother watched all the time.
He shook his head. “No, it’s just that…all you people…” And in that moment, Arjun was glad in just a few days AV-Sir and he had established a relationship were he coul take the liberty to be this open. “…All of you make these insinuations…”
“Fine, my vocabulary sucks. You are all rather direct..but the point is you guys say all these things…it’s enough to make any man wonder. I don’t “feel” anything more or less than I always have. And I am saying this again, I really think she likes you. And while most of the first year female population “likes” you, I can assure you if Kavi does, it’s the serious sort.”
“I have a girlfriend.”
His eyes narrowed again as he looked at AV-Sir’s expressionless face. The little piece of information had been thrown at him too quickly, too forcefully. It didn’t make sense. “That’s not possible.”
“Thanks,” AV-Sir said wryly.
Arjun shifted forward in his seat. “Arre, that’s not what I meant. I mean, of course you have a girlfriend. I mean if you didn’t already, there is no way you could have gone through four years without one…”
He put his hands up in front of him to ward off AV-Sir’s annoyance with his verbosity. “All I meant was that if you had a girlfriend, I would have known. I mean I know too much about too many less significant people…”
“I am blushing.”
Arjun shrugged. “NK-Sir and I are proud to be the flag-bearers of the AV club.”
“Really, Agarwal, you need to stop. Flattery never helps.”
“This is hardly flattery, Sir. Flattery is when I compliment NK-Sir on his social skills. But okay. I will stop.” Arjun said earnestly. “You have a girlfriend.” He paused to consider the revelation. “I assume she is not from IE-V? There’s no way I would not have known if she was. So she is someone from back home?” He asked even as curiosity and relief course through his body in a joyful symphony. And then it dawned on him as suddenly as most things in – moments of serendipity almost. “Why aren’t you happier about it?”
AV-Sir frowned but this time the streak of red – anger or embarrassment – he couldn’t tell, was visible clearly. “I don’t like talking about it. Not too many people know.”
It was enough for Arjun to know that they had reached the end of the conversation on that topic. So he leaned away and breathed in deeply.
“If you really think she likes me…” AV-Sir’s voice crackled in the silence. “Tell her. That I have…”
If he wanted to be his dramatic self, Arjun would have vowed to remember this moment forever – the moment when doubt lodged itself in his skin and poked like a nasty, invisble splinter every time the conversation veered to this man and this girl. Why did AV-Sir’s voice sound like it pained him to let Arjun use the information? And heck…“No. If I ever want to tell her how I feel, it won’t be because I’ve covinced her any alternative is unavailable.” He knew he was contradicting himself – he had just seconds ago declared he didn’t feel anything different for his friend. But this thing that had creeped into his head about Kaveri was a treacherous lover. It was going to be the death of his sanity.
“Oh God, AV-Sir. We are both going crazy.”
“I’ve been out of my mind for a while. Speak for yourself.” AV-Sir chuckled morosely and then rose from his chair.
“Beer on your tab?”
“Did you turn twenty one since we spoke last about this?”
Arjun laughed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t think you are twenty one either. And we are still going to get that stall for Aarohan. Let’s not have Tiwari-Sir hear your legal opinions and get into another battle of wills”
“I know how to pick my battles,” AV-Sir retorted as he rose and walked away.
For the next several minutes, Arjun sat there replaying every bit of conversation in his head.
“That much enthusiam is positively nauseous, Agarwal.” AV-Sir commented softly as the rest of the Aarohan group filtered away from them at the end of the evening.
Arjun looked up at him and grinned. He was happy. He couldn’t hide it.
“I take it you have concluded that your Kavi doesn’t “like” me after all.”
Arjun’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets but he contained his amazement at AV-Sir’s ability to know him so well. “Goodness, Sir. You must think I have no life outside of my interest in Kavi’s likes and dislikes.”
“Ha ha.” Arjun laughed and then cringed as he realized that he had almost forgotten than AV-Sir was four years older and not exactly a friend. It was a good thing the man was so easy going. And he had practically encouraged this complete lack of reservation on Arjun’s part. But still there were boundaries one didn’t cross. So he sobered and straightened his spine – vowing to infuse more restraint in his interactions with AV-Sir – though these vows were rather easily broken and thereby had become almost a daily occurrence in his head.
“She’s not my Kavi, Sir.” He said softly with a small smile. Yet.
“But you are ready to admit that you wish she was?”
Arjun smiled broadly and winked at his senior. “I have been thinking that she may not be interested in you after all. She positively gets annoyed when I try to probe her feelings for you. I mean, no offense….but since you are not really available or interested…” He let his words trail away.
“No offense taken. You are right. I am not available. Besides, it is always better when you find a partner in a friend. So all the best with that.”
“All the best? Oh fuck! You are wishing me luck. To do something….No…no…” Arjun shook his head as his heart beat quickened. “Not Kavi, Sir. I cannot tell her how I feel. Plus I am not sure how I really feel. I mean I know I like her…Of course…she is a friend but..”
“Ok wait…let me,” He held a hand out in front of him and took a deep breath. “See…I can’t ask her out…”
AV-Sir frowned. “Why n…” and then the frown on his face into lines of understanding, sharp and keen in the middle of his forehead, right between his brows. “If you ask her for coffee, it won’t be any different from what you already do…I mean you are practically together every waking moment there is already.”
“You sound je…” Arjun began but then held himself back with a sheepish grin. “Sorry, let me say it differently. “I am awake now but not with her at this moment – so no we don’t spend every waking moment with each other. She spends many of those singing with you and heck, I am a little jealous of that.”
“You are there for all those sessions. Sorry you sing awfully else I’d be happy to have to join the little chorus.” AV-Sir pointed out in a flat, emotionless voice.
“True.” Arjun conceded. “Coming back to the point – Yes, generally speaking, you are right. Whatever I do needs to be more than just coffee…Or even a movie. We already did see one together a couple of weeks ago and it was…too ordinary” He shook his head. “No, it has to be something else.”
AV-Sir shook his head and smiled almost wearily. “You’ll figure it out.”
“You know, you would think I will. But…” Arjun paused. “You are obviously experienced. How did you ask your girlfriend out?”
AV-Sir’s smile faltered and once again Arjun cringed. Why did he have to bring that up when it clearly wasn’t received well? Why though, he wondered for the hundredth time?
“She asked me out.” The older boy said briefly.
Arjun chuckled. “Of course. AV-Sir, aapke charan kahan hain. I am never going to be that lucky. And with Kaveri Gupta. Ha! No way. I need ideas.”
The two men fell silent even as the auditorium cluttered and clinkered around them.
He hurried up the stairs, taking two at a time even as his breath caught in his throat by the time he had reached the end of the cemented ones. He took a couple of seconds to steady himself at the topmost landing and then pushed the little wrought iron door facing him outwards to open the way to a smaller passage leading to a curved metal stairway leading up to the terrace. As he climbed up, he closed his eyes and promised not to give in to the growing sense of discomfort. This bare bones climb almost always rattled him given he wasn’t very fond of heights in the first place.
Once out on the terrace – more a farm of solar panels on one end and water tanks on the other, he calmed down and hurried towards the place where he knew he would see him. And surely enough, seconds later, he was walking up to where AV-Sir was sitting on the parapet, his back to Arjun and legs swinging down from the edge. His favorite guitar was resting against the wall, face out. And around him…
“Jesus!” AV-Sir exclaimed as his shoulders jerked for a second before he turned his upper body, new ringlets of smoke circling up into the air even as the thin, long cigarette in his raised hand dimmed. “Agarwal, I could have fallen to my death here. Or worse – permanent disability. Are you crazy, sneaking up like that?”
“Jesus – really? Itna pseudapa? Kam se kam Banaras mein toh Bholenaath ko yaad kijiye, AV-Sir. And I did not sneak up. You would have heard me if…” Arjun shook his head. “Fine. Sorry. But I am shocked. You smoke.” He couldn’t help the rush of disappointment that curled his tongue and sharpened his words. “How many more things are there to know about you?”
“I don’t smoke all the time. Just…It’s not an excuse and I am not proud of it. But I don’t know why I am supposed to explain myself to you.” AV-Sir’s voice hardened and then he looked away. A second later, he crushed his cigarette in the little Styrofoam cup he had by his side.
Arjun stepped forward and leaned against the wall next to AV-Sir. “I’m sorry. It’s just that smoking is such a…” He shook his head. He clearly wasn’t required or expected to lecture his senior. “I wanted to talk to you about something but if you are preoccupied, we can talk later.”
AV-Sir didn’t look at him but nodded. “Let’s talk later if that’s okay.”
Arjun nodded and smiled. “Sure, Sir.” He pushed himself off the wall and started walking away, his brows knitted in a frown even as the now old doubt prickled in his fingertips again. He was almost at the door when he heard AV-Sir call out to him again.
He turned to see AV-Sir waving to him still without looking at him.
Smiling, he jogged up to the wall and waited as AV-Sir turned to look at him, half a smile on his face. “Let’s talk now. Perhaps it will help me clear my head too.”
“Everything is okay, Sir?”
AV-Sir sighed softly but said nothing. Arjun didn’t push him further. Instead, he jumped right to the topic he had come here to talk to AV-Sir about. “I’ve figured it out. And I am so stupid I didn’t think of it earlier.”
AV-Sir looked at him quietly for a moment and then said, “Music.”
He grinned. “See, it was that simple. Why did I not…”
“But you sing atrocious Hindi songs to her, for her all the time. If anything it makes things worse I think. I am not sure this is the best direction to be headed in. Unfortunately, you are…well…tone-deaf is the official phrase.”
“I’m not exactly auditioning for Sa Re Ga Ma you know?”
“But if you are trying to impress Lata Mangeshkar…And before you say anything – I don’t think she sings as well as Lata Mangeshkar – I use the thespian’s name as a placeholder here.”
Arjun grinned. “You can’t complain you don’t know me.”
“Well, if you don’t like how easy it is to know you, you might want to speak less freely about…”
“And you are all snobs. Kavi, NK-Sir, you.” Arjun interrupted. “I thought you were better. But apparently I know nothing of you – which is evidently by design.” He said wryly, unable to look at the cup holding the sodden death-stick.
“Well-played.” AV-Sir commented and picked up the Styrofoam cup and put in on the other side where Arjun couldn’t see it anymore.
“But,” Arjun held up his hand. “I am not an idiot. Of course I am not thinking of singing myself…” He let his words trail as he smiled sweetly at AV-Sir.
AV-Sir shook his head. “You are crazy. And I think I have given you too much leeway. You forget who the senior is here.”
“Arre, Sir. Padosan style. It will be perfect. Kishore Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Saira Banu…” Arjun stopped as he saw the geniality leave AV-Sir’s face in a whoosh even as his expression fled his features and once more, nothingness took over. Goodness, how had he not noticed this side of AV-Sir? “What, what did I say?”
“Nothing. But this is a stupid idea. You are actually suggesting I sing while you lip-sync…First…it’s stupid. Second…it’s ridiculous….Why would you want anyone else in on your moment?”
Arjun paused at that. He hadn’t thought about that. “You might…no…I mean…sure you will be there…but it’s just for that song…then you can leave…and…I can declare how I feel.”
“Too much information, Arjun.” AV-Sir said looking away. “And do you want to do something serious or this…spectacle…”
“I have to be me.” He shrugged.
At this AV-Sir smiled. “You’ll drive any woman crazy but it’ll be one fun ride.”
Arjun grinned. “Awwww-Sir. That is the best thing you’ve ever said to me. I almost want to give you a hug.”
“Touch me and die.”
Arjun chuckled loudly even as AV-Sir laughed softly and turned around to jump back on to the terrace. “Let’s go get chai,” He said as the two of them walked back into the hostel building.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Kya Karein Kya Na Karein
Singers: Udit Narayan, Chorus
Music: A. R. Rahman
Roz roz hum, sochta yahi
Aaj humko woh agar mil jaaye kahin
Toh aisa bolega, saala, waisa bolega
Khullam khulla uspe dil ka raaz hum kholega
Woh saamne chamakti hai, saans hi atakti hai
Aur yeh zubaan jaati hai fisal
- Two more parts to go in Chapter 23. I know this is slow. Thank you for your patience and I understand if you don’t have anything to say as long as reading is not too tedious :)
- Next Update: Dec 5, 2016, late night IST
- Please excuse typos!