I really don’t know if there are people who would fall into my league yet I can vouch for the fact that sometimes my situation becomes something like accidently pouring a drop of kerosene oil on a handi of nicely prepared gorgeous chicken biryani! The goof up proves costly.
Has it ever happened with you that you are little confident of having prepared something and then the world comes crashing down upon realization that all the hard work was in vain and nothing could be done to assuage the damage?
I will explain.
There was a girl named Reeti (sorry, would not write her real name here) who had joined post graduation in English as one of my batch mates. I had noticed her first on the day of our counseling. She was dark in complexion with a chubby face and boys sitting in the last row of the counseling hall were laughing at her. The reason, I later discovered, was her problem with speech and pronunciation of certain sounds. She lisped and pronounced, for instance, the letter ‘T’ in ‘Tamaatar’ (Hindi for tomato) as ‘t’ in Hindi word ‘Tenduaa’ (for Leopard) and the letter ‘D’ in ‘Dream’ as ‘d’ in the Hindi word ‘Din’ (meaning Day). She had come from a small town and was economically not very sound as was evident from her attire.
Boys would have spared her the mockery and not nick named her ‘Totli’ had she been sober or docile but the fact that she loved to argue with them in the class on every topic of discussion and was almost like the character of Chatur Ramalingam, from the Bollywood blockbuster ‘Three Idiots’. In her over eagerness to please the teachers, she invited instant peals of laughter, winks and mockery from the male section of the class.
She loved to answer every question teachers asked or sometimes even repeated after them. Rather, I should put it this way- she had to attempt every topic irrespective of whether she knew the correct answer or not. Her lisping had every characteristic except one and that was ‘to speak hesitatingly with a low voice, as if afraid’. As one of the boys once remarked- ‘had she been a part of Jhansi Queen’s regiment, we would have attained independence back in 1857. The British soldiers would have run away’.
Even we, the girls, could not control our laughter at times but at least we were decent enough not to openly offend Reeti as she was a resident of the same hostel. My friends and I often exchanged Hi’s and Hello’s with her in the morning either near the wash basin while brushing teeth or in front of the bathrooms waiting for our turns.
It was time for examination- the days when I began looking like the word horrible personified, thanks to an absolute disheveled look with eye brows undone, dark circles under my eyes and a lost look about me due to lack of proper sleep. I had always feared examinations despite my hard work and preparation.
The icing on this appalling cake of examination was Reeti’s threat of suicide on that very day of the paper I dreaded the most and had least confidence about- ‘Literary Theory and Criticism’! I was involved in last hour studies for the paper at 4 am in the morning in the corridor of our lobby when Reeti’s roommate, Priya, came rushing towards me. I was taken aback since 4:00 am was not a time for somebody to disturb me at all considering only people like me who feared exams, were awake the whole night and went off to sleep for an hour or two at about 5:00 am after revision.
Priya- ‘Sonal, I am glad I found you awake. Reeti is sitting motionless and not uttering a word.’
A cold shiver ran down my spine and I forgot everything about the paper. Visualizing police visiting the hostel clicking photographs of REETI’s dead body and questioning all of us; press cameras, news coverage and imagining the worst possible, I rushed to her room. Yes, she was sitting still without any movement. I observed her stomach which was moving in and out and heaved a sigh of relief upon seeing her breathing. I tried to coax her into uttering a word and after a truly strong effort of ten to fifteen minutes, she did speak finally –
‘I haD calleD up my father yesTerDay nighT and TolD him I will noT appear for Today’s paper as I am noT prepareD for iT buT he scolDED me and askeD me never To speak To him again if this is whaT he haD To hear afTer geTTing me enrolled in an insTiTution of such repuTe even though againsT his wishes…’
Reeti began sobbing and then wiped her nose with the sleeve of her night gown.
‘I will noT live, I will commiT suiciDe.’
‘Oh my God,’ was my response. I imagined myself in her situation for a second but the result was a poor imagery because of two reasons: first, my parents could never say such a thing to me and secondly, even taking remotest of possibilities into account, if they had said it, I’d have called them up again and fought- ‘why had they asked me not to I call up again! I would, I would!’
I tried reasoning with Reeti- ‘look, this issue is not something to commit suicide for.
I continued: ‘If your father scolded you, it simply meant he cared. You had told me earlier that you came here against his wishes, so imagine, if you say you cannot cope, he’ll obviously feel let down and frustrated at having spent so much and getting to hear this at the end of it all.’
Then I went on and on till my mouth went dry and I was tired. Reeti had not spoken anything after uttering the suicide word last. It was 5:00 am by then. I awoke my friends, Neeta and Riya, and told them about the situation. Neeta said- ‘nautanki hai, forget it. She has not prepared and hence trying to create a drama so that nobody blames or mocks at her if she does not appear for today’s paper.’ It struck me suddenly that my friend could be right.
But what if Neeta was not right!
I took Reeti’s father’s mobile number from Reeti’s diary after she finally stood up and agreed to go to the toilet. Immediately I dialed that number from my mobile. When the call was finally answered in a sleepy voice after five rings, I apologized. Her father was worried at having received a call so early in the morning. I gave my introduction and after informing him of the current situation, asked if he had scolded Reeti yesterday. He denied it and angrily desired to speak to his daughter. I requested him to handle the matter calm headedly and to just ask his daughter to appear for the exam.
I handed the mobile to Reeti who was by now nervous and reluctant to speak to her father as she never expected him to be made aware of the whole scene. However, by the time the call was disconnected, she was smiling and my mobile balance read a perfect Rs. 2.25. She had agreed to write the paper upon her father’s assurance that even if she failed, she could appear for it the next year and that he was not angry at what she had done. She turned to thank me and said- ‘I was not prepared so was very nervous’.
I did not say anything and left her room for my own, fell on my bed with a sigh and closed my eyes for some time. I really felt like cursing Reeti for wasting my time. My friends were consoling me- ‘we had told you to let her be. She is a great drama queen. We always knew that.’
I knew that too but didn’t know one thing and that was if I too should have resorted to creating a similar scene due to lack of preparation!
I managed to get decent marks in that paper but shudder to think that the recipe for my disastrous performance was perfectly prepared that day. The worst part was that the news of my generosity and selflessness was spread like a wild fire and I became a butt of ridicule with all my class mates- girls and boys alike- who started calling me ‘Totli’s darling’ from that day onwards.
And why am I sharing this story with you today? Because somebody shared with me details about her affair and about her boy friend who she fears would consume poison if she does not say yes to his proposal.
I resisted from giving any advice. I am not buying it. I have deadlines to manage and lots of work to do.