Ch1 : 'Goodbye'
I was sitting in the A/C chair car coach of the intercity express. Beside me was a huge man who was snoring all his way to la-la land. My head was down and my eyes stared into the blur. My cheeks rested in my palms; I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Will I ever come back?” I asked myself. My mind went blank.
“Curd rice, lemon rice, cutlet, vada...” the waiter went on in loop. “Tina, what will you have for lunch?” Pa called out to me. I looked at him and just stared, not knowing what to say. I didn’t know if I was hungry.
“Should I get you some curd rice? I know you like curd rice, don’t you?” Pa knew I was shaken by the sudden change that was taking place in our lives. Melancholy enveloped my face. He came up to me and said, “This is part of life, Tina, and nobody wanted this more than you did, right?”
“I didn’t know my wish would be granted so suddenly. I don’t want this change right now,” I said, as I broke my silence for the first time in the train; tears cascading down my cheeks.
“It’s alright, my little one! We all must learn to move on. Be thankful for all that you’ve had; your friends, your school, your teachers, your home... and all the beautiful memories attached to them! It’s not easy, I know, but you can always come back to visit the place and your loved ones whenever you want.” Saying this, Pa smiled at me. This was exactly what I wanted to hear. “Really? Promise, pa? You will let me come back, no?” Some excitement clearly returning to my voice.
The not-so-good curd rice now started to taste delicious. The very prospect of visiting Salem again in future made me feel happy. Pa’s assurance was comforting.
“I maybe leaving the city for good right now, but I shall return someday really soon.”
Hi, I am Tina, and this is my story. :)
Ch2 : The Last Chance
It was 3 in the afternoon. We had a Chennai-Delhi flight to catch at 6 pm. The train was running late by half an hour. Ma and Pa were worried. Would we be able to reach the airport on time?
I was tired of sitting in one place for so long. I asked my brother to exchange seats with me. Gripped by nostalgia, my tears hadn’t run dry. My head was rested against the windowpane and my eyelids slowly began to close while gazing at the sprinting scene outside.
Every morning, I used to get ready by 7.20 to catch my school bus exactly 15 minutes later. That morning too, I was ready - my bags were packed, except this time it wasn’t my school bag.
“I’m going to the bus stop, pa.” My voice echoed in the empty lobby of the house.
“Okay, but come back soon. We’ll have to leave by 8.” Pa replied.
I ran towards the bus stop as if it were a race for my life. I was there in no time. My hands on my waist, I stood there and looked left and right. Nandini and Arun weren’t at the stop. I grew anxious and gave a hurried glance at my wristwatch. The crisp morning sun was staring at me and my heart started to beat loud – dhak, dhak, dhak, dhak– and as the beatings picked its tempo, I felt droplets gliding down my cheek.
It was 7.30 am.
“Holy cow. Did I miss the bus? Did the bus come early? Did I miss the one last chance to say goodbye? Noooo…!”
Still anxious, I looked in all directions when the pawn shop, which was nearby caught my attention. I ran towards it. “Yes, paati(Tamil word for an elderly lady/grandmother) would know,” I muttered to myself.
Completely out of breath now, “Paati, bus?” I asked. “No, not yet. The other two kids have gone to the next bus stop,” pat came the reply in Tamil.
The next bus stop wasn’t too far away, but it seemed like miles as I pushed myself to reach there just in time. Fifty meters to go and the bus appeared at the turn, near the water tank. I screamed, “Anna, wait, wait...,” as I waved my hand. Thankfully, the conductor took notice of me. “Seekron vaango(come soon).” He shouted in Tamil. I ran like a gazelle, putting in all my energy.
Phew, I was finally there. Completely exhausted, I entered the bus and asked the driver to wait for two minutes. I looked around and my eyes knew exactly where to stop. The seat wasn’t empty; I smiled and waved, only to realize soon that it wasn’t occupied by him. But that was where he generally sat. I looked around. Where was he? Agrrr… I looked like a fool now.
With hardly any time to react, I bid goodbye to all my friends who were present there. Thanked the driver and the conductor for their services and stepped down the bus.
Each step back home was difficult. My feet felt heavy, as if gravity was working hard to keep them grounded to the road. Emotions were grasping for a chokehold… my face buried in sadness – and in sweat.
Perhaps this was how it all had to end.
Suddenly I felt somebody’s hand on my shoulder. “Tina, we’ve reached Chennai. The train is pulling into the station.”
I looked at Ma and thought to myself: Maybe I shall never get to see him again…Maybe…
Ch3: Racing Against Time
“Hurry! I don’t think we’ll reach the airport on time.” Ma said.
“We just might. You never know.” Pa was hopeful.
“Do you need a coolie, anna?” A tall lean guy in red shirt and folded white lungi, appeared out of nowhere.
“Yes, please, we’d require two of you.” Pa gave a glance at the coolie while arranging the entire luggage to one side. With just four suitcases and two bags, no one could guess we were shifting to another city for good.
When the other coolie came, ma asked him: “Anna, where can we get a wheelchair from? My…” Even before ma could finish her sentence, Sameer interrupted. “Ma, I am not a handicap. It is just an ankle fracture, for God’s sake.” He was visibly irritated.
“I’ll be with him, don’t worry.” I quickly added. “Oh yes, Tina. You two should start walking towards the taxi stand; it is just near the main exit.” Pa directed us.
It was 4:05 pm by the time we reached the taxi stand, maneuvering through the chaotic crowd. The airport was an hour or so from the railway station. We still stood a chance, however bleak, to reach the airport before the check in counter closed at 5:15 sharp.
Scores of taxi drivers pounced on us, bombarding us with the same question: “Where do you want to go?”
“Anna, we need to go to the airport. We have a flight to catch at 6 pm.” Pa informed.
“Please follow me. I’ll get you there in time. It’s difficult but don’t worry.” One brave taxi driver took up the challenge when no one else was ready to.
The meter was down and we were off. The scene was tense as we all sat with our arms folded, except the driver, who, of course, was driving with utmost concentration.
Silence had enveloped the taxi cabin. I looked towards pa who was sitting in the front. His face emitted no expression. I then turned towards ma who was sitting on my left. With her hands clasped, she sat there, anxious. I turned right, and Sameer was in his own world, all chill, listening to music on his iPod. What contrasting expressions! Amused, I thought to myself and giggled.
“I don’t think we’d reach,” ma exclaimed while glancing at her watch.
“Don’t worry, madam. I’ll make sure you reach the airport just in time. Trust me.” The driver assured us.
Just when he said this, the traffic came to a standstill. The traffic lights had gone off, blinding everyone on the road.
Me: “Oh… ooo…”
Sameer: “This is getting better!”
Me: “Pa, now what? Doesn’t look like this jam will clear anytime soon.”
Pa: “Don’t worry, it will.”
Me: “But what if it doesn’t?”
Pa: “Let’s hope for the best.”
He looked back and smiled.
Silence seeped in and everyone went back to their “tensed” expressions, hoping for a miracle. As for the driver, his eyes were all focused on the road. With one hand on the gear and the other firmly holding the steering wheel, he waited for that one opportunity to release the clutch and push that damn accelerator so hard that no one could ever stop him.
Would we make it?
Ch4 : Fly High
Steering to the left and right; dodging a car here, another there; and overtaking vehicles to the left and right whenever there was some space to squeeze through – the driver was doing all he could to keep his promise. Meanwhile, our situation was like the balls in a pinball machine – getting tossed around from one side of the car to the other side, heads banging on heads and windows – all to the tunes of the taxi driver. Trust me, it literally felt like we were in a movie!
It was 5 pm already. We either reach the airport in the next 15 minutes or witness the plane fly away. The taxi driver was in no mood to give up. We were soon approaching a signal; it was the last hurdle before we reached our destination. If we couldn’t cross it in the next four seconds, we were sure of missing the flight. That one signal was going to decide our fate.
It was now down to three seconds, as we stared into the orange light as if threatening it not to turn red. The driver pushed the accelerator to its maximum. Two seconds to go, and…one! Yesssss… we made it! Nothing could have stopped us from reaching the airport now.
The brakes screeched as we reached the airport just five minutes before the check–in counter was to close. Pa was ready with currency notes in his hand.
“Thank you so much, anna,” pa said while handing over two currency notes to the taxi driver. Ma also thanked him.
His hands folded, “I am happy that I could make you reach in time.” Pulling out the change from his pocket, he said, “Sir...”
“Please keep it,” pa smiled while arranging the luggage on the trolley.
“Thank you, sir,” feeling humbled, the driver said.
“Hurry now. Tina, please help Sameer, and give me your bag, I’ll carry it,” ma said.
“Na, it is not that heavy, I’ll manage,” I said.
While we were all rushing towards the entry gate, the taxi driver from behind us came running with a trolley. “Anna please sit on this, I’ll take you till the entry gate,” he said. Knowing that we had no time to spare, Sameer obliged and sat. The check-in counter wasn’t far from the entry gate. We all thanked the taxi driver and hurried inside.
Pa was sprinting with the trolley. “Please wait, please wait…,” he almost screamed, as the airline staff was just about to close the counter with the stanchion.
“Sorry sir, the counter’s closed. You are late by a minute,” informed the airline staff; a well-groomed young lad in his late twenties, dressed in a crisp white shirt, complimented by a smart navy-blue tie, and black trousers.
“I am sure we could be given a grace,” pa requested.
“Our train got delayed by half an hour and it was a ride coming here. It is just a matter of one minute. Had we been very late, I wouldn’t have requested. Please see if you could do something about it please.” We could hear ma explaining the airline staff our plight from a distance, as we slowly walked towards the counter.
“Let me see what I could do for you, ma’am.” The airline staff quickly spoke to someone and got back to us in no time.
“Okay sir, you may check-in.” He passed a smiled. Oh! He was cute, very.
Good Lord! What a suspense thriller the day turned out to be. We were completely exhausted. All the sorrow that had engulfed us, vanished suddenly. All we felt at that moment was a huge sigh of relief.
At 5:55 pm, we were seated inside the aircraft. As we were instructed to switch off our mobile phones before takeoff, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it out. My heart skipped a beat. ‘Aman calling...’ flashed on my mobile screen. Very reluctantly I received the call.
Aman: “Come back, woman.”
Ch5 : Salem
“Ma’am, please turn off your mobile phone. The flight is about to takeoff. Thank you,” the airhostess very politely requested me.
“Aman, I’ll call you once I reach,” I said and hung up. My heart was beating loud.
It was a two-and-a-half-hour-long flight from Chennai to Delhi. Ma was quite tired, so she chose to take a nap. Pa was reading a magazine and Sameer was in his own sweet world. And what was I doing, you ask? Well, I just sat there reminiscing my years in Salem, my birthplace.
Salem is a district in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, just four hours from the city of Bangalore. It is quite well-known for its mangoes and the Salem Steel Plant. Surrounded by hills and nature, the city thrives on its simplistic beauty. And as far as the people are concerned, I must say they are very warm and humble. I never felt alien being a so-called “North Indian” born and brought up there, except on one occasion. Let’s keep that for some other day.
I’m quite fortunate, you know, that I grew up in a culturally diverse environment. My school, GCMHSS, I have a lot to thank for. Situated away from the hustle-bustle of the city, the school was a unique establishment. During the monsoons, this place would become heaven. Picture being welcomed by the majestic mountains, occasionally covered by mist, every morning.
It was June 20th, 2007.
School had reopened for the class 11 students. The board exam results were out and our batch had passed with flying colors. We deserved an extended holiday and that’s exactly what we got. The school was already operational for the other classes when we joined. We were now super seniors. Oh, how awesome that felt!
Entering high school gives one a different high altogether! All of a sudden, you feel all grown up. And with all the perks that come along with it, our heydays had finally come. Our classes were now on the ground floor; we studied the subjects of our choice and, yeah, juniors now saw us in a different light. They started to follow us and look up to us! Huge responsibility.
Me: “Hey, hey, hey! Welcome back ladies. How are you guys feeling?”
Meena: “Great! This actually feels great!”
Krithika: “Ya, man! Can’t believe we are finally super seniors.”
The three of us were standing right next to the stage, waiting for the school to assemble for the morning prayer.
Meena: “So, we finally get to stand there, in the extreme corner, during the assembly!”
Krithika: “Ya… Now we shall know what the view is like from there.”
Tina: “Where is everyone else? Arun, Sharan, TK?”
Meena: “They must be hanging around somewhere in the campus. Haven’t seen them.”
Me: “They must be loitering in the corridors somewhere I am sure… (Looking around) Oh, there they are!”
Sharan and TK were giggling and hi5-ing each other. Must be on some silly joke as usual. But wait, there was someone else with them, too. But who? I couldn’t clearly see, thanks to the little kids jumping around.
Krithika: “Oye, who is that guy with Sharan and TK? Looks like a new student. Is he in your class? I am sure he is not in mine.”
Meena and I had opted for commerce while Krithika had taken up pure science.
Meena: “I don’t think he is in ours, too. I didn’t see him during the registration. He looks decent enough though.”
I looked at him and wondered who he was. Well, going by his looks, he looked very much a “Hindiwala.” Well, that’s how some of our “South Indian” friends addressed us who came from the north. But I knew almost everyone in the city. How did I not recognize this face, how?
Meena: “Chal na… Let’s go… We’ll ask TK about him later.”
Me: “Ya, fine. As if I care.” I lied.
I always had journalistic instincts in me. I was curious and detail oriented and I always knew everything or rather wanted to know everything.
“Who was he?”
Ch6 : The Summon
“Have you people brought your accounts notebook today?” Padma ma’am asked us. It was day 2 in 11th grade.
“Yes, ma’am,” we all replied in unison.
“Rupesh, I don’t see your book on the table.” Ma’am said in a stern voice.
Rupesh, all scared, started digging his bag, trying to look for his accounts notebook, which he never really brought.
“He’s gone today,” Meena whispered to me. And even before I could react, Padma ma’am was already looking at us; her eyes warning. Pin drop silence followed.
Nobody was a stranger to her strict and disciplined ways. Padma ma’am spared none, except for her favorites, generally one or two. Her laser-sharp eyes almost penetrated through Rupesh. She got up from her seat and slowly walked towards him. Rupesh continued digging his bag to avoid any eye contact with her.
“Stand up, I say.” Padma ma’am said angrily.
Rupesh slowly stood up from his seat; his head hung low.
“Why didn’t you bring your accounts notebook? *Pause* “Come on, tell me now.” *Pause* “I am asking you, Rupesh.” She demanded a reply.
“Tell me. Was the stationary shop closed or were you unwell?” With all these years in the teaching profession, nobody could fool her.
“Ma’am, actual...” Poor Rupesh, he who managed to gather some courage to speak up but was suddenly cut short. “The excuse better be a good one,” she cautioned him. Rupesh’s head sank even further and in a bleak voice said, “I forgot, ma’am.”
“How innovative!” Slamming the table, ma’am said sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Rupesh said. His voice all shaky.
He clearly had some courage. Had it been anybody else, he would have wet his pants by now.
“Last warning. Bring it tomorrow. Tina, give him a couple of sheets,” walking back towards the black board, she ordered.
Fifteen minutes into the class, ma’am was teaching us the golden rules of accountancy when she caught me by surprise. “Tina, get up and tell me what you have understood so far.”
I instantly stood up from my seat and before I could say anything, there was a knock at the door. Everyone’s attention got diverted.
“Please excuse me, ma’am,” a heavy voice politely requested.
“Don’t you know the class is going on?” Looking from above her specs, ma’am asked. She never liked getting interrupted.
“I’m really sorry for interrupting, ma’am.” It was that new face we had spotted yesterday.
“Come after the class.” Ma’am instructed.
“Ma’am, it is quite urgent. The correspondent wants to see Tina in her office right away,” he informed.
“What for?” Ma’am enquired.
“I don’t know, ma’am. I was asked to report to her office with Tina.”
“Tina, you may leave.” Ma’am said, giving me her permission.
Meena made way for me to move out of the desk. And as I walked out, I thought to myself, “This is strange. Why am I being summoned? And that too with this new guy who I don’t even know. Did I do something wrong? Did she get to know something?”
Ch7 : The Task
“Wonder why corres has called us. But whatever it is, I’m happy that I don’t have to attend that boring Math class.” The new guy went on and on, leaving me startled. “Dude, does he even know me? Going on and on like we were chuddy buddies or something,” I thought to myself.
“Oops sorry, I am Aman and you are Tina!” He turned around and smiled.
“Ya right, Aman. Thanks for the introduction,” I replied.
He seemed quite excited. This was evident from his walk. “Who on earth gets excited on being summoned by the corres for God knows what?” I wondered. Strange guy.
“Which batch are…” And before I could finish, pat came the reply.
“12th, Commerce. Such a sad batch man mine is. What do I tell you?”
“I know. But I love my batch!” I teased him.
“Ya, ya I know, with Sharan and TK. Fun guys, lucky you,” he said.
“Ya, right,” I replied.
We soon reached the office. Corres was waiting for us and so was the princi.
“Good morning, ma’am” we both wished them. “May we come in?” We asked.
“Good morning, both of you. Come, come. Come inside.” Corres said
“So, Aman, how is it going?” Princi had a huge smile on her face. Looked like he was already her favorite.
“Good, ma’am.” Aman replied with a big smile on his face.
“I’m sure you guys have introduced yourself to each other,” Corres asked.
“Yes, ma’am.” We both said in unison.
“Now, the reason why I called you both was that I want you two to host the most crucial part of our annual inter-school fest. I’m sure you are aware about the fest.” Corres asked, and we nodded in affirmation. And with this, I finally took a sigh of relief.
Scripts were handed over to us for practice. “We have a lot of faith in the both of you,” Corres told us and asked us to leave.
As we were walking back towards the senior block to rehearse, I said: “People hardly change school in 12th grade.”
“Ya, but I had to. I am basically from Bangalore. My mother knows the kind of brat I am and she knew the princi, so she sent me to Salem. Such a sad city this is.” Aman went on. “If you simply talk to a girl, people start staring at you as if you are committing some sort of a crime.” Looking at me and walking backwards, he continued: “What? ya! It is true only... Chuck...You tell me, since when are you in this city?”
“Oye, oye,watch out.” I cautioned him.
“I am okay, I am okay.” Aman almost fell. Regaining balance, “So you were saying,” he asked.
“Since my birth.” I said.
“Nooo. You are kidding me, right?” Aman said in disbelief.
“I am serious and I love my city in spite of its flaws. It may not be a metro city, but it is peaceful.”
“Ya, right and everyone knows everyone here, so we can’t even roam around without being noticed. Where are you basically from?” Aman was very talkative. The princi had very rightly warned me.
“Delhi.” I replied.
“What, man? Somebody as cool as you should be in Delhi right now. What are you even doing here? Girls here don’t even talk to guys. Is this even a co-ed school?” Aman wasn’t really impressed by the scene in Salem.
“Well, no comments.” I said and we sat next to the stage to rehearse.
“What are you two doing here?” We heard an angry male voice from behind me. “Tina, why are you out of your class? What work do you have with a 12th standard fellow? This is not acceptable in the school premises.” He yelled.
Aman and I looked back. My jaw dropped and my pupils dilated in fear. “Oh oo…!”
Ch 8 : Protocol Dilemma
“Sir we are practicing for the fest. Corres has asked us to.” Aman quickly informed.
“Did I ask you?” An angry, tall and stout man in his 50s pointing his finger at Aman, said.
“Sir, actually Aman is right. We were asked by correspondent ma’am to rehearse our scripts for the fest.” I politely yet hesitantly replied.
“Why ma you girls do like this? Does it look nice, you both sit like this and that too without any teacher overlooking your rehearsals?” Sendil sir, giving a piece of his regressive mindset.
“What do you mean, sir?” Aman quickly reacted. He was visibly agitated at sir’s comments.
“Don’t back answer. How dare you, man?” Sir was furious. Aman controlled his temper and so did I.
“Tina and Aman, are you people just talking or even rehearsing your parts?” Nandini ma’am, who was passing by the corridor, enquired. She was our angel in disguise!
Sir quickly turned back and asked, “Ma’am, you are with them, supervising?”
Not wanting to drag things further, Nandini ma’am replied in the affirmation. Sendil sir gave us both a tough look and left, murmuring something to himself.
“See, this is what I was talking about. Disgusting.” Aman expressed his anguish.
“Chuck let’s just finish this and head to our classes.” I tried to divert our attention back to the job in hand.
Aman and I met for half an hour every day to practice and better our already good coordination. Both corres and princi were happy with us.
DAY 1: THE FEST
Our opening act went off really well. Both of us were appreciated for our sync and coordination. But the final test was to come on day 2: The awards ceremony. The major challenge was to collect names of all the winners (of nearly 40 competitions) before the ceremony commenced. It was scheduled for 4 pm sharp, and there was not much gap between the last set of competitions and the ceremony itself.
“Aman, Aman, Aman, Listen…” I ran towards him with a file in my hand. Aman was concentrating on his file with a pen in his mouth.
“Did you get the final list of the winners yet?” I asked.
“Not yet. Karthik will bring it. Until then let’s just tally the other winners on both our files.” He said.
Five minutes to go for the award ceremony, and there was no trace of Karthik, and we were yet to receive names of six winners from two competitions. Also, we had to get ready, wear our blazers and take our positions on either side of the stage.
Aman ran to his side of the stage while trying to wear his blazer with a file in his hand. My blazer, I was told, was with Shwetha who was supposed to be waiting for me near the stage. “Mahakam…?” I ran towards the staff room, which was right next door. Thank God, Nandini ma’am was there. “What happened?” She asked.
“My blazer... Shweta isn’t there.” I exclaimed. I couldn’t have gone on stage without it. I would be screwed.
The stage was set and the dignitaries had taken their seats.
“You go take your position and be ready. I’ll bring one for you, don’t worry.” Nandini ma’am tried to calm me down.
Three minutes to go.
Aman was looking for me at the opposite end as I ran to take my position.
Two minutes and princi made an eye contact with Aman, directing him to start. My heart was beating so loud that I could barely hear anything else. Where was Nandini ma’am? I looked left and right. I grew anxious and started to sweat. Aman took to the stage. “Oh God! This is it.” I started to tremble. The opening lines were mine.
“Should I just break the protocol?”
Ch 9: The Fest
“Here, here, Tina. Wear it quickly.” Nandini ma’am came running. She was just in time. Phew.
Aman was already on stage. He noticed that ma’am was helping me put on the blazer and judged that it could take a few more seconds before I could join him.
“Are you guys having a good time?” He asked the audience. “I couldn’t hear you. Come on let’s be a little more louder this time, boys and girls. Are-you-having-a-good-time?” “Yessss.” Everyone in the audience screamed. “Hi, I am Aman Keshavan and please welcome my co-host for the evening, Ms. Tina Mehra.”
“How did he know my surname? I don’t remember telling him.” I stood there surprised for a second.
“Go Tina, go…” Ma’am prompted me.
“Thank you, Aman. Respected chief guest of the day, Dr. Aarthi Sundharam; correspondent ma’am, GCMHSS; principal ma’am, GCMHSS; teachers and my dear friends - a very good evening to one and all…” And it was smooth sailing from there on. Nobody could guess there was any problem. Aman’s compering was seamless, and in no time the trophies on stage vanished and only three were left whose recipients we still didn’t know.
“Where the hell was Karthik?” I thought to myself.
“Tina…” Somebody whispered. “Tinaaaa… here,” the voice instructed and I turned towards my right and there he was, gasping for air. He passed on a chit to me. I opened it. It contained the results of the group dance competition. I quickly skimmed through it and looked at Aman.
“Aman, finally the wait is over. The results of the group dance competition are right here in my hand… in this chit” I announced, as I slowly walked towards him to share the info I had.
“Must have been a really tough one for the judges, I’m sure, otherwise why would they take so long to deliver the results to us.” Aman said.
Aman looked at the chit and held the mic close to his mouth, “so the winners of the group dance competition this year are... … any guesses?”
The crowd went crazy and threw several names at us.
“Okay, so let’s begin with the second runners up team.” I said.
“Excellent job, Aman and Tina. You both did a great job. I am proud of you both,” Corres walked up to us and congratulated. We passed each other a smile and thanked her for the kind words.
“I knew there was some confusion going on and some chaos happening backstage but despite all that, you both did a fantastic job.” Princi seemed pleased with us. “Keeping calm in situations like these and to be able to use your presence of mind is something that even experienced anchors fail to pull off at times, and this was your first. I am impressed with both of you. Keep it up,” Princi congratulated and left.
“Good job, Aman. You were great. You saved me. Thanks,” I said turning towards him.
“No, man. We are a team. You were amazing too! Never saw that kind of energy during practice. You were so spontaneous.” Aman was trying to be humble and kind. As for me, I’ve always been bad with compliments; “thanks” was all I could manage.
Deep within, I guess, I had developed a soft corner for Aman. I did make friends quite easily but this one seemed different. He was different. He’d become my buddy! He was a lot like me in many ways, yet had his own unique attributes that made him, umm, adorable? He was mature yet there was a pinch of innocence about him, which was really likeable.
I spotted Nandini ma’am. I excused myself and ran towards her. “Had it not been for you, ma’am, today would have been a disaster for me. Thank you so much for being there,” I expressed my gratitude.
“No, child. Don’t thank me. You both did a great job.” Ma’am smiled.
The fest was the best thing that could happen to us as a batch. It united us. Right from planning the event to executing it to near perfection, we worked togetherlike a well-oiled machine. What took us 12 years to experiencing such camaraderie, I wondered. But like they say, better late than never. I was loving the whole experience. Also, the G14 was born, which went on to become oneof those legendary gangs in the history of the school!
“Tina…” Krithika called out to me.
“Go, ma, enjoy.” Nandini ma’am said, smiling.
The Gang had assembledin front of bus number 4, giggling, chatting and pulling each ’other’sleg.
“Okay, so we are meeting tomorrow at 12 pm sharp at the multiplex. The show starts at 12.30, so everyone please be there on time”.”Arun was our event manager and, yes, an efficient one too.
“Alright.” The 13 of us said in unison.
“But tomorrow is pakkaholiday no.” Meena reconfirming.
“Now only princi announced in front of you, idiot,” Vishal said in a typical Tamil-ish accent. He was always up to take Meena’s case.
I wanted to invite Aman too. Poor thing, he did not like hanging out with his batch, but I was reluctant. What would the rest of the gang feel? Would they like it if he joined us tomorrow?
Ch10 : Surprise Surprise!
“Ya, mumma. Will be having lunch outside today. We all are catching up for a movie and then lunch.” I informed her.
“Okay. Who all are going for the movie?” Mumma interrogated.
“Everyone.” I told her.
“Everyone? Don’t give me those vague answers. When will you be back home?” She was ready with her next question.
“You know the gang, ma. And I am not too sure when I’ll be back. But may be around 5.30-6.” I said.
“That’ll be too late. Make it as soon as possible. Have you informed pa?” She asked.
“Yes, ma! Told him about our plans yesterday only.” Wearing my shoes, I replied.
“And…” Before ma could shoot another question, “No more questions, ma, pleaseee. Now I have a mobile phone too. You can reach me anytime!” Saying this I dialed Meena’s number.
Mobile phones, or cell phones, had become a rage only recently, all thanks to reliance, who spoilt us with free plans. Almost everyone in our batch now owned one.
“This woman will never receive my call in one go.” Irritated, I said to myself and called her back. “If she didn’t pick up the call now, she’s gone.”
“Aae sorry, yaar. Phone was on charge.” She said.
“No worries, I am leaving now. You better be ready. Do not be late this time.” I warned her.
“Haan, Haan,don’t worry. I am already ready. Just have to comb my hair.” She assured.
I picked up Meena and reached the multiplex sharp at 12. Poor thing, only Arun had reached by then. He had already bought the tickets for all of us.
“Hey, Arun! Where are the rest?” I asked.
“They are on their way only. You think they’ll ever be on time?” He chuckled.
Just two minutes later, Krithika reached. Her dad had come to drop her. “Have fun, kids.” Uncle said and drove off on his bullet. One by one, everyone started arriving.
“Aae, Vishal, for what all this showoff and all? As if you came on aPulsar.” Meena, trying to settle old scores.
“Meena *pause* do not underestimate the power of a TVS Scooty. No, don’t ever make that mistake,” all in good humor, Viki added, and we all giggled.
Vishal was humiliated but he knew exactly how to counter this one. His guards up, he walked up to Meena, removed his brand-new goggles in Rajnikanth style and said, “Aae, Meena *pause* (Now pointing a finger at her) enna raskala, mind it.” And we all burst into laughter.
“Idiot.” Meena smirked.
“Where are Sharan and TK? Somebody call them and ask no”,”I said.
“You guys go inside and settle down. It is almost show time. I’ll wait for them and bring them along. I have the tickets,” Arun said.
“I’ll stay with you.” Pradeep offered to give him company and he agreed.
The rest of us went inside the hall and occupied our seats. There were five empty seats right next to me out of which four were ours, reserved for Sharan, TK, Arun, and Pradeep.
“Sorry guys, we got late.” The theater hall was pitch dark by the time these guys came. I could only see their silhouettes. The famous Vico turmeric ad was now playing. One by one, they made their way to their seats next to me, giggling and making a mockery of the ad.
“Hi. What’s up!” The person sitting on my leftasked. I knew this voice, but it wasn’t Arun’s. Na, not even TK’s and not Sharan’s either. Didn’t seem like Viki’s voice too. I looked to my left and flashed my mobile phone’s light right on his face.
“Oye, you? How come you’re here?” I exclaimed.
I was pleasantly surprised. While I was really hoping Sharan and TK would bring him, I did not really think he’d turn up.
“Why, I can’t come?” Aman asked.
“No, no, not like that.” I said.
“This bugger TK told me about the plans and asked me if I would like to join. I don’t know much of the G14 guys but since you were coming too, I said yes.” He said.
Looks like my plan had worked! I’d subtly put it across Sharan to invite Aman that morning.
“Ha, very funny.” I said sarcastically.
“No, I am not kidding. I was bored also, so I came.” He replied.
“Alright. Alright.” I said.
“Guys, can you just shut up now? The movie’s started.” Everyone sitting on either side of us, yelled.
The movie wasn’t too long. We all came out of the hall discussing and critiquing the plot.
“What next, pa Arun? Where are you taking us now for lunch?” Prashanth asked.
“Arun is treating us? We can go to LRN.” Vishal taking poor Arun’s case now. LRN was a two-star hotel, BTW.
“Aae, Vishal, don’t speak too much. Go bring your PULSAR. And everyone, please follow us. I will be taking you people to a new place. One super place!” Arun was clearly in his best of moods.
Vishal and Arun started moving as we all brought our two wheelers from the parking lot. We would have hardly moved two meters when we heard a loud screech. We all applied breaks simultaneously. What we saw next, scared the wits out of us.
“Aae,that is Vishal...” Meena screamed.
Ch11 : The Message
*Zeek* the pillion rider’s shirt tore as the policeman tried to catch hold of his collar while the rider accelerated.
“Girls, you follow these guys and we’ll meet you at 4 point. We’ll come from another route. None of us have licenses.” Sharan instructed.
“Yes, yes. Can’t risk it. I am wearing a new shirt.” Pradeep said in a very serious tone. Instantly, we all looked at each other and burst into a laughter.
We caught up with Vishal and Arun. These guys somehow managed to escape, and Meena just couldn’t stop laughing. She’d got another shot at Vishal and I couldn’t help but give her company this time. You should’ve seen their faces. I felt bad for Arun though.
“Okay, Meena. We’ve had it enough. I am the hero, ok? Were the police able to catch me?” Vishal asked. “No.” He asserted.
“Vishal, the hero, please, buy me a new shirt now.” Arun said.
“Chill. In big, big cities, such small, small things keep happening.” Vishal attempts a famous Dil Wale Dhulaniya Lejaengedialogue in English, and majestically ruining it for us.
“Big SRK you are.” Meena teased him.
Soon the others arrived.
“Are you people okay?” TK asked.
“Ya, ya.” They both said.
“Arun, where is the super place man?” Heard Nirmal speak for the first time in the entire day.
“Right across the road, Nirmal.” Arun informed.
It was a new cafe. In less than five minutes, the place lost its tranquility. All thanks to us!
“Where is Aman?” Krithika asked.
I looked around.
“He had to go. Had some work it seems.” TK informed.
My phone beeped. *1 new message* flashed on the screen. I opened the message.
“Sorry, couldn’t come. Had some work.” The message read. It was from Aman.
“I know exactly why you did not come.” I instantly replied to him.
My phone beeped again.
I wouldn’t lie but I missed him through the evening. While he did have a valid reason for not being there, I was upset that he could not hang out with us.
“He messaged?” Sitting right across me, Sharan asked as TK looked at me.
I simply nodded in affirmation.
“Trust me, he really wanted to join us, you know…” TK said. He somehow knew I wanted to hear that. He gets me. So much for being born on the same day as me.
After an amazing evening, we all headed back home. None of us wanted to leave but we all were bound by our compulsions and deadlines.You know how parents are, right?
“Hey, ma! See, I’m back home!” Putting my arms around mumma, I gave her a peck on the cheek.
“I have news.” Her voice sounded feeble.
Ch12 : Everything’s Going To Change Forever.
My world came to a standstill. I felt numb. "Are you serious? Are we really shifting to Delhi? How come? It is September already, and it is mid-term. How is this even possible?" I couldn’t digest the news that ma had just broke to me.
"It is true. We are likely to shift by the end of October. Things just got finalized today." Ma informed with a heavy heart.
I had been in such a happy space in my life. Why on earth was this to happen now? Our gang, the awesome times we’d been spending together of late, the new bonds, the new friendships, the new-found status in school, everything was pieced together so perfectly. I had just begun to live the best phase of my school life and the thought of it all coming to an end, so abruptly, was heartbreaking.
What about the future memories we’d planned together? The plans we had for our farewell? The plans that I had with my girls on how we were going to dress up on that big day, the plans we had as a group for our finale performance, the plans... I no longer would be a part of. These thoughts were emotionally draining. I was shattered. I broke down.
"Why did this have to happen now? Why, God, why?" There was complete silence at the dining table that night.
Next morning, I woke up and got ready for school. As I was leaving for the bus stop, pa came up to me and said, "Everything's going to be okay, Tina. Believe me. Just go out there and enjoy every single minute that you are going to spend here, because in retrospect, I only want you to feel happy thinking about all the good times you’ve spent here.” My head, which was buried low, now turned towards him. I hugged him tight and he kissed me on my forehead.
I wasn’t going to tell anyone from the gang about the shifting just yet, hoping that something would happen and the plans would get cancelled, just like every other year. But I guess fate wasn’t on my side this time.
October 30, 2016
“We’ve already started our descent procedure into T1D of the IGI airport, New Delhi. We expect to land at 8.45 pm, as scheduled. The weather in New Delhi is warm and the temperature is 29 degrees Celsius.
We wish you a pleasant stay in the capital and we hope to see you again very soon. On behalf of all our crew, thank you for choosing our company, this evening.” The captain made the final announcement.
The plane was about to land but my mind was transfixed at the events from that morning. I was navigating toward my platform at the Salem Junction when the Gang called up from the school’s landline. I was pretty composed, and trusted my emotions were in check. But I guess, I’d overestimated myself. I lost it the moment Meena broke down after uttering the three words, “Please come back” and an emotional Krithika took over the receiver. If onewas entreating me not to leave her midway because I was her first friend ever, another was worried about whom she’d share her bench in class.
They all took turns, expressing themselves between heavy sobs. I could never in my dreams imagine Sharan, TK andthe rest of the guys crying like babies in their rough, deep voices. Well, that's how we were nurtured - ‘Men don't cry’, right? But, as a matter of fact, they are way more emotional and sensitive than we give them credit for. And you know, there is something really nice and beautiful about them showing their emotions without any inhibitions. While Sharanhad lost a dance partner, TK wondered who he'd play football with. Arun even promised not to irritate me, and Vishal said he’d not eat away my lunch anymore! And The silent man, Nirmal, with whom I had the least interaction with in all these years, chocked as he said, “I will miss you, the gang will miss you a lot!” But the fact was I would miss them more. They just had to part ways with one person but here I was saying goodbye to everything and everyone I'd grown up with. My grief was manifold. “Please don’t go.” “Please come back.” They said helplessly, even though they knew that would not happen.It was the first time I genuinely felt that I meant something to each one of them given that we've had our fair share of differences, arguments and fights.
The sudden touchdown of tires and the jolt of g-force brought me back to earth—literally—from my reverie. The plane had landed. I switched on my phone and a message popped up. I viewed it.
“The Gang is no longer going to be the gang I knew. This place seems dead again, for the reason, which made it seem alive, at least for me, is gone. You better know I’ll be the first one to come visit you. I promise.” The message read. It was from Aman. A cocktail of emotions filled every single cell in my body, as I re-read the message word by word. “Why were you not in the bus today, you idiot?” I mumbled as I looked outside the aircraft window. “I wish I could have seen you for the one last time, I wish.”
On one hand there was this whole new life waiting to embrace me and on the other a beautiful past that had now become a piece of me. Well, such is life.
Epilogue: Life can throw curveballs at you when you least expect it to. The last 30 days that I spent in Salem were perhaps the best and the most memorable days of my life. So much happened, so many beautiful moments. Love, happiness, joy, sorrow, anxiety, fear, tears, I literally lived every single emotion through those days. There is so much more that I want to share with you and there is so much more I must cherish. I hope to relive them in Season 2. :) Will you give me a chance?