The first time I saw her at school was during a rehearsal for the newly elected Student’s Union. She had won by a whopping majority and was the unanimous choice to be school pupil leader. I was to become the Cultural Secretary. She was in the 12th standard and I was in the 11th. Oh and I wasn’t that popular by the way – the winning candidate for that post was disqualified on some flimsy reason and they had chosen me. That’s how I came to be in the same space as her. Providence!
I clearly remember the rehearsal area – a small hall on the 3rd floor of our science wing. It was a mouldy smelly room and had no furniture barring a cabinet full of old exam papers. We practised there for three full days before the ceremony. Miss Usha used to conduct the rehearsal everyday for an hour before and after school.
By the end of first day we had all mastered our roles in the rehearsal but our ‘miss’ wouldn’t let us be. By the second day we had all become friends and we teased (read bitched) about our miss almost instantly. Rehearsals slowly gave way to D-day – I think I fell for her during the ceremony. Watching a school pupil leader march with so much confidence and looking pristine in her white outfit, I knew I had some special feelings for her. Who cared if I was a year younger? But I wondered if she would even consider me. There were so many trying to woo her! I’ve seen the boys waiting in line for her single glance! In our council room, there would be chocolates and flowers for her almost every day. But she couldn’t care less. She would break the chocolate into two big portions and share it with us. One half for her and the other for us. Many a time, we would even hear her shelling on some poor fellow through the door. ‘One more fallen wicket’ we would joke among us. That was Shradha. Fierce, intense and extremely beautiful inside out. I spent a year with her at school. I would wait to be with her, mindlessly laughing or chatting with nothing really serious in mind.
Being the Cul-Sec gave me the window to spend lots of time with her. I still remember how she would snatch my moped keys and take me for a spin around town. Sometimes when she did these things, I thought she liked me too.
A year had passed and soon it was the last day of our council team. We were to ‘hand the baton’ to the next council and again, we were back to the mouldy room for practice. Shradha was there just like the first day I remembered her. She looked bored. After a few annoying glances at her watch, she marched up to Usha Miss and asked if she could leave considering she knew it all by heart. But Usha miss wasn’t the giving in kinds. She made Shradha stay and that put her off even more.
Maybe I had timed it wrong that day. After the 1st rehearsal, we all took a 10 minute break. Shradha sighed in relief and yanked her tie off the uniform. Tossing it on her bag, she sat on the steps sipping water. I waited a few seconds, caught my breath and walked up to her.
“Boring huh…” she looked at me and said.
“Yeah… But this is the last time we’ll be together.. So it’s kind of Ok,”’ I said trying to rake in some emotions to get my speech going. She didn’t reply. She merely grimaced. Shradha wasn’t the mushy kinds.
“So listen… I … Wanted to… Tell you something,” I mumbled, running my fingers on the railings of the staircase.
“Hmmm,” was all she said.
Counting three in my head, I blurted… “I love you.”
Shradha sprang up with suddenly. She turned to me and shouted, “’Who the f… do you think you are?” and walked out of the rehearsal hall.
Her words echoed through that room. Usha miss was too stumped at the language but before she could ask “what?” I picked my bag and ran out. I didn’t stop running till I reached the bike stand. Falling on my moped, I burst out crying.
She had stung me with her words. So yes, I was a nobody after all. Shradha was right, who the f… was I? How did I dare to even tell her such a thing. I felt like I was going to throw up. Riding my moped hard so I could leave the vicinity fast, I reached home and sat in the cold shower for a good half hour, letting my hot tears blend in with the cold, stinging shower.
I don’t remember how the passing out ceremony happened. All I could remember was her steely gaze on me. I tried doing everything I could to avoid her gaze. I was glad the ceremony got over soon and I tried to worm my way out of the Assembly Hall. I thought I had escaped her. I walked into our Council Room. She was there ahead of me. Swinging the chair on two legs, she ran her hand over her head. Her curly hair went down and sprang back up. I turned to leave when she called me in.
“What do you mean you love me?’” she yelled. I didn’t want anyone else to hear her, so I kept shushing her up but she wouldn’t stop. I felt stupid to have revealed my feelings, but it was too late. I said feebly, “I have liked you since day the day I first saw you. I just couldn’t tell you.”
“Do you realize you are a year younger than me?” ‘she asked coolly.
I thought I was going to become the butt of all jokes in school now, once she talks about this to her other friends. I meekly nodded. “So, only my age bothered her?”, I wanted to ask her but then, I couldn’t even look at her, so I lifted my head with my eyes brimming with tears and said in a voice that seemed to come out of an abyss, ‘I don’t care, Shradha. I love you. Even if you don’t’, saying so I left the room.
After that moment, we never met. She had her boards coming up in a week and I was attending special classes for the next year’s syllabus. In fact, as I recall, I never tried to see if I could get to meet her at all. I missed all those cultural meets we attended and used as an excuse, so I could march into her class and bail her out of the boring math period (it was her idea of course. I remember how she laughed clapping her hands every time we did this). Now, I couldn’t even go near her floor because the ‘board students’ were preparing and no one was to disturb them. I consoled myself by catching a glimpse of her car waiting for her after school, to cart her away once the bell rang. I missed her so badly that it hurt. I couldn’t focus on school and even skipped going for a few days under the pretext of bad stomach aches.
I never heard from Shradha. I found out that she had topped the boards state level and had brought glory to our school. I saw her in the hallway every day after that, beaming at me from a gloss finished photograph, from behind the huge glass announcement board. The missing had turned into a regular ache now. A year later, I had passed out with flying colours, decent enough for my photograph to share the announcement board space with her, but that was probably the only place we would be together, I thought.
It is now eight years since I left school. I moved to Canada on my mom’s insistence. ” A change will do you good,” is what ma said when I kissed her goodbye at the airport, boarding the flight to Canada to stay with my aunt. My admissions and everything else was taken care, I was just asked to move to a different place to ‘feel better’ – to explore the world, and in my heart I thanked my parents who loved me enough to let me go figure out my life. I finished my undergrad and was almost through with my post grad when her email hit my inbox.
I found you on Facebook but couldn’t see a photo to place the name with. If this is you, then do reply.
That was it.. My heart was a balloon of happiness. I was grinning at her name on the computer screen in the University library. Mrs. Cole, the librarian, must have thought I had gone mad. I stopped the grinning, took a few deep breaths and started to type… Hi Shradha….
She had moved to Canada too, as I found out in our later mail exchanges! She was living on her own, working as a senior designer in a local vfx start-up. One thing followed the other and we finally decided to meet.
I was as nervous as I was on the day I proclaimed my love to her. We had decided to keep things simple now – 7:00pm at a local bistro. I was there dressed in a crisp shirt and pair of jeans.
“I hope I don’t look a mess,” I told myself. I was sitting at the table by the bar counter and tapping my fingers, when I saw her walk in. Shradha! What a transformation! She had chopped her hair short, styled it. Wore big hoops for earrings. Had a large tattoo on her forearm. It took me a good whole minute to connect this image with the one I had fallen in love with at school.
She shouted my name from the hallway. I waved meekly. She walked up to my table. It was too awkward to hug. A few pleasantries and some orders later, she spoke.
“’You know something… I don’t know why you mistook me that day when we last met, in school”, she said halfway through her steak. I liked you too, but we had to give things time right…? You seemed rushed…”, she added. I was baffled. Why wouldn’t I mistake her after all her yelling? Reading my mind, she continued, “Listen… What we had wouldn’t have been approved by our folks or anyone at that point of time. But now, here… it’s different….”
“Why did you want to meet me, Shradha? To tell me that my love was a failure all over again? I haven’t loved anyone since then and my feelings for you have not changed” – I found my voice. I continued, “That’s also why I ran away from home. My parents would eventually start looking out for me to get me married and I know I can’t let anyone else take your place in my life…”, I blurted without pausing. All the hurt flowed out like a dam that and burst open. I was glad it did because I couldn’t keep it down anymore.
Shradha saw the look in my eyes and laughed out loud.
”Do you still need me to tell you literally that I love you, you fool?” She said half laughing, like she used to do in school. I didn’t know if it was a joke, but it looked like Shradha had even sketched out a plan. “Let’s get married and then date,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes.
We both had nothing to return back home to and I knew my marriage would mean my parents disowning me. After eight long years of pining for her love, I couldn’t care less. So I said ‘yes’.
On the 15 of March 2014, Shradha Apte and Priyanka Gupta exchanged vows at the marriage registrar’s office in Canada, becoming wife and wife, finally proclaiming their love for each other before the world.