The boys had taken up their normal stance in the corridor watching and commenting on each student that passed by. The group, dubbed as “The Infamous Five” by their long-suffering classmates had the habit of belittling every student they came across unless they fit into their ‘standards’. Thus, earning the scorn and disgust of their classmates. Rachit, the group leader was a handsome guy. He was the apple of every girl’s eye and gossips revealed that it was quite hard to get close to him as a friend. Rachit knew the powers of his charisma, used them with abandon and patronized girls that came his way. A little wink here, a smile there and they all would be scrubbing the dust of his feet.
Even though he gadded about with them occasionally he very decidedly knew who he had chosen as his girlfriend in his heart. This had to be none other than Ketaki, the most glamorous girl in his college. She was a real beauty with dusky skin, sultry eyes and a slim figure to match. Her choice of clothes was classy and although she did use makeup it enhanced her beauty even more. Rachit was sure that his wheatish skin, appealing eyes and Hrithik Roshan-like charm along with a huge pocket to boast of would lure Ketaki. He only came to college to see her.
“Hey Rachit, here comes your lady love!” Vishesh announced with a snicker. Rachit snapped up his head, his eyes eagerly searching for his beloved. However, when the person coming from the opposite direction came into focus he grimaced and glared coldly at his friend.
“Shut up, Vishesh. You know I don’t like her!” He spat emphatically and looked the other way.
“Oh come on, Rachit…she is not so bad looking after all. You can say she is a—baby elephant!” Vishesh squealed laughing aloud. Rachit would have punched Vishesh right away if he wasn’t so much taller and brawnier than him. That is what you become if you are an athlete. The other three boys Yash, a brainy cunning guy, Anmol, a cricket fanatic and Ishan, the comedian all stared as Mitali, the girl in question, wearing a kurti and full jeans, passed by them and headed to class. Once she was out of sight, the four others broke up in a fit of giggles.
“Vishesh, Mitali is perfect for our Rachit, right?” Yash neighed.
“Yeah…she is perfect…for nobody!” Anmol rasped.
“Why do you think she wears those boring kurtis?” Yash mocked.
“Because she is a gorilla, that’s why!” Ishan put in and the boys again roared with laughter.
Rachit shook his head. “She’s fat…and she’s boring.” Rachit snorted.
“But she is fair, quite unlike Ketaki!” Vishesh teased.
Rachit flared up. “Don’t you dare compare that albino hippopotamus to Ketaki!” He growled.
“Bro, no need to explode…! We were only joking!!” Ishan said.
“Keep your jokes to yourself. And if you like that idiot so much…just go, marry her!” He shouted and stalked away. His stupid friends really ruined his mood. The other four grinned at each other and slapped high fives still unable to recover from the laughing gas that this single incident had sprayed on them.
Mitali sighed and picked up her books. ‘I think I sat too long in the library.’ She thought as she moved out. On the way down she accidently bumped into Rachit.
“Hey, sister…get lost!” He glowered.
She fixed him in a glare, pushed past him and walked away in a huff. Her sharp ears caught him mumble an imprecation under his breath but she let it pass. Her mind rapidly went back to the time when they had to perform workshops and were assigned partners. Having Rachit as her partner had been a little shocking at first, much to the envy of the other girls and she could sickeningly admit that she had been flattered.
“But not for long.” She repeated to herself as she descended the stairs. Mitali relived the scene when the partners had been announced, she had noticed the expression on Rachit’s face. He was crimson with embarrassment and gazed at her with pure disgust. Mitali was stunned. What had she ever done to him to receive such treatment? They hardly ever spoke to each other. So what was his problem?
The whole day of the literature workshop was a nightmare for her. Rachit had not so much as looked at her. He did not even help her. Instead he whiled away his time visiting Ketaki and complained how much it sucked. Mitali had single handedly shouldered all the work. Rachit being mean enough not to help her was okay but Rachit treating her like an untouchable was unforgivable. Mitali bore all the humiliation patiently and was well rewarded when her workshop was deemed as the most successful. The teachers praising Mitali was like a slap to Rachit’s face. Ever since then the girls had also started harassing her…
It was 5 days before Rose Day. Every student in the college was excited. Rose Day meant that lectures would not be held and they could get off early to spend the time with their beloved. Like always everyone was nervous as well as eager to get a rose. Bold, desperate girls prayed fervently for a boyfriend while the others were more content receiving friendship roses. Also it was an ancient custom in the college to send secret letters to your crush conveying your feelings before Rose Day. Such days rarely aroused Mitali’s interest. She had never bothered about securing boyfriends nor did she look forward to them. That day she decided to leave early. She picked up her books and left. At that moment a folded page slipped out the library book and fluttered to the floor. Puzzled, she picked up the ruled sheet and held it open. It was a letter.
It must be no secret to you that I like you a lot. If truth be told, I liked you since the moment I saw you. I feel that you are the perfect person for me i.e a perfect friend, a perfect girl, if you know what I mean. But I never had the courage to express it to you, hence this letter. You are beautiful, talented and smart. There can be no other girl like you in my life. I love you. So…if you are truly interested to meet me and continue our talk please come to the canteen of our college on Rose Day, in the morning. I’ll be eagerly waiting for you.
‘Rachit?!’ Her mind echoed violently. Of all the people…the guy that was disgusted with her and the one whom she loathed for his snobbery, how could this guy…ever write her a love letter?! Her heart pounded in her chest and her throat was dry…parched of all its water. Something did not ring true. He had treated her with utter disdain every time she came across him. His friends mostly sneered at her and she knew well that she was the butt of their jokes. Then why the change of heart? Had he realized that his barbarous behaviour had hurt her? Had he truly realized her worth?
A volley of thoughts drifted through her mind but somewhere deep inside her gut feeling whispered, “Lies, Lies, Lies…”. She sucked in a deep breath folded the letter and put it back. Right now, a lot of emotions were overflowing in her heart. She would have to sit down and pragmatically think things through. For some odd reason, the nightmares of the workshop played out in a loop in her head. She headed for home.
As she waited for her bus a familiar voice assailed her ears. “Hey, Mitali!”
She looked up and smiled at the boy who approached her from the other side. This was Dhruv, who had shifted to this college recently. Dhruv, like herself was not much noticed since he was a reserved guy with rather average looks. Despite that, what fascinated Mitali were his dark eyes. They held a sharp, analytical look, like a sword being polished and sharpened over stone.
They had become friends over a period of time when Mitali had paid for his ticket during the very start of their college year. He was in the Science faculty, while she was in Arts so they could not meet except for talking and seeing each other in bus every day. Their friendship had progressed very well and Mitali always, regardless of the topic, confided in her friend. Dressed plainly as ever Dhruv took his place beside her.
“So how is it going today?” He asked.
“Good. I have covered some topics of Psychology pretty well.” She replied with a smile.
“That’s not what I meant. How was your day?” He asked, concern flickering in his eyes. He knew well about “The Infamous Five” and their aversion towards Mitali.
“As usual.” Mitali answered staring up at the sky. She hoped he wouldn’t be able to decode her anxiety, her expectation.
“You look keyed up. Did anything ‘special’ happen today?” He questioned. Of course. Of course he could read her, figure her out. He wasn’t the son of a private investigator for nothing.
“Yeah. Something has been bothering me. I’ll show you. It’s this letter.” Mitali admitted as she opened her bag and fished out the page. Dhruv snatched it from her hand and ran his eye over it. He remained silent for a few minutes and asked slowly, “Did he hand it over to you?”
“No. It fell out from a library book I got today.”
“That’s quite weird. So he actually sneaked it in?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s why you should pay attention to your surroundings. But he hates you.”
“Exactly. That’s what I thought too.”
“In that case…I don’t think he wrote this…You better be careful, Mitali. Someone is trying to trick you.”
“I know. But who would want to do this, Dhruv? I mean…everyone knows Rachit hates me. Didn’t they think that I would figure it out?”
“No. Right now I can’t say anything…”
“Hey, let us discuss this later. Here comes our bus.”
“Affirmative. I’ll keep this letter with me for further scrutiny.”
“Sure. I wouldn’t want to be caught dead with this in my bag.”
The next day when Dhruv met her at the bus stop in the morning he immediately said, “Mitali, I’ve figured out a part of this letter. I phoned my friend Sarvesh, he is in Arts, yesterday and told him to give me the maximum info about Rachit, something which you never told me!”
“I can hardly be expected to keep tabs on the person I hate. Anyway what did you find out.” Mitali asked curiously.
“Rachit likes Ketaki. Anyway looks like Rachit just doesn’t like her…he absolutely is in head over heels for her. Apparently, Ketaki has reciprocated his feelings in her own way. ” Dhruv replied.
“That’s to be expected. Glamour girl will fall for glamour guy. What is new in this?” She responded keeping a look out for the bus.
“Don’t you see? This is the focal point of our case.” Dhruv muttered a little annoyed and expounded:
“Rachit will definitely not write a love letter to you. He will mostly write one to Ketaki. But Ketaki to has a horde of boys who covet her. I am sure that this letter was sent to you by one of the boys who knows of Rachit’s hatred for you and his admiration for Ketaki. Someone who likes Ketaki and wants her for himself. Someone who is envious of Rachit. Someone who is close to him…”
“You mean…it could be one of ‘The Infamous Five’?” Mitali asked, stunned.
“Yes. All of them know about Rachit’s obsession with Ketaki. They know how much he hates you. One of them has done this. But there is no proof of who this person is. Somehow we need evidence to nail this guy. Some handwriting proof…How can we get it?” Dhruv wondered.
“I know! Notes. We can take photocopies of their notes! It will definitely give us an idea of who our culprit really is!” Mitali burst in.
“Excellent! But who will take those copies? Neither you nor I can do it.” He asked.
“You do have some friends in Arts faculty, right? Why don’t you ask them?” Mitali suggested.
“You’re right. I’ll see what I can do.”
That afternoon, after college Mitali was busy reading her favourite novel. The ring of her cellphone on the rexine sofa reverberated like an earthquake. She quickly got up and received the call.
“Mitali! I have found the culprit. I have nailed the thief!!” Dhruv hollered excitedly in the phone.
“Really?! Who..who is it?” Mitali asked breathlessly.
“I cannot tell you on the phone. I’m coming over to your house.” He answered and hung up.
Barely 15 minutes later Dhruv hurriedly elbowed his way into the house and asked her to shut the door. They made their way into the hall where he sat down and pulled a bunch of papers from his bag.
“My friends handed these to me this morning. I got all the five’s handwriting samples. Here have a look.” He informed laying out the papers for her to compare. On examining the first two papers her face went white.
“This—this is…this can’t be. This looks like Rachit’s handwriting! But it isn’t…” She stuttered.
“That is right. I had my doubts when I glanced at the letter and the notebook handwriting. So I consulted a handwriting expert who is my father’s friend. He confirmed that this letter is not written by Rachit. It’s evident that it is forged. Have a look at this now.” He said quietly as he handed her another photocopy.
“The writing matches!! Although this letter is forged the person did a really poor job of copying the handwriting…but who is this?” Mitali cried excitedly.
“It’s Vishesh.” Dhruv whispered.
“Vishesh…? But—!” She started, alarmed.
“Didn’t I tell you that the center point of our drama is Ketaki? I snooped around a bit today during the recess. From what I heard I am pretty sure that Vishesh is our man. He likes Ketaki but as I said she doesn’t reciprocate. Vishesh is probably envious of Rachit as he is better looking and has more money in his pocket, thus he can support a high maintenance girlfriend like Ketaki. He staged this whole game to play both of you down. If Ketaki finds out that Rachit ‘likes’ you she will be heartbroken. Obviously she will seek support with Vishesh. Rachit will be disgraced forever in Ketaki’s eyes, while your reputation will be tarnished. The only person to gain from all this is Vishesh.” Dhruv explained somberly.
“So…Vishesh wanted to disgrace me in order to get close to Ketaki? He wanted to use me as a tool to get rid of Rachit? That’s disgusting! I will never forgive him for this. He thinks ‘Mitali is innocent and stupid. She will never see through it.’ Alright, it’s time to show him who is the boss, Dhruv. We will play his game against him. Just give me a little while.” Mitali whispered her voice tainted with malice and foreboding
“Mitali, I want you to collect all the assignments of the girls and arrange them roll-number-wise, okay?” The new history teacher Ms. Sonali ordered.
“Good. Come to the staff-room later and give it to me” She said with a smile and walked out as the recess bell rang.
Mitali was the favourite of most teachers because she was sincere in her work and attended their lectures regularly. She collected the assignments as directed when she noticed that Ketaki’s assignment was unfinished.
“Roll No. 261? You haven’t completed your assignment.” Mitali hollered over the students chatter.
“Hey, Mitali! You have a problem if I haven’t completed my assignment?” Ketaki asked munching on a piece of bubblegum.
“I don’t have a problem with it Ketaki, but the teacher will.” Mitali answered calmly.
Ketaki strode up to the girl, leaned right across her table and yelled, “What did you say? What did you say, you fat goat? Are you seriously threatening me? Me? You do know whom you’re talking to, don’t you? Listen, you giant tub of lard, you maybe are the teacher’s pet because you always have your head buried in a book. You don’t dare tell me what to do!!”
“Fine. Your loss.” Mitali muttered sorting the assignments on her table. Ketaki walked out. As Mitali studied the assignment a cruel smile cut across her face. She quickly texted Dhruv.
It was a bright and sunny February morning. Ketaki walked her way toward the canteen, a letter in her hand. Her stride was confident, her face was heavenly and her clothes perfect. It would turn out well. As she stepped into the place her palpitations increased. Even at 8:00 in the morning it was near to full. She halted in the middle of the lobby and searched for him. As her eyes locked on her paramour a strange queasiness rocked her stomach. He did not come forward to her with a warm smile. Instead he fixed her with a cold, hostile stare. However, the person seated beside him took interest stood up from his seat and came up to her smilingly.
“Hi, Ketaki. Happy Rose Day.” He beamed, a grin pasted across his face. Many of the patrons turned to look, such was the thunder in his voice. Before she could speak he began, “I am really honoured, Ketaki, that you sent me this letter. It’s actually a moment of pride for me that you would choose me over so many others. I truly am astonished. Tell me what can I do for you?”
Ketaki was shocked. She stared at the guy for a few moments and then sputtered, “What?! What did you say, Vishesh? What do you mean? I never sent you any letter!!”
Vishesh who had moments before stood in front of Ketaki like a smitten bulldog now looked bewildered.
“You..you’re joking right?” He stammered.
“No, Vishesh. I did not write a letter to you. I came here for Rachit. He sent me this and called me here!” Ketaki replied still a little shocked.
Vishesh’s expression turned angry.
“What do you mean that you did not send me a letter? Look at this! Isn’t this your writing?!” He shouted thrusting the paper in her face.
“Ye-yes this is my writing but Vishesh believe me, I did not send this!” Ketaki blabbered in a daze.
“You are lying. You sent me this letter!” Vishesh yelled.
Rachit who had instantly recovered from his depression came to Ketaki’s rescue. “Hey Vishesh, if Ketaki says she did not write it, she did not. Don’t accuse her unnecessarily.” Rachit barked shielding her from brawny lad.
“Yeah. As if I would write a letter to someone who looks as horrible as you! I came here for Rachit, so leave me alone!” Ketaki snarled from behind her human shield. Vishesh lost his temper. He pounced at Rachit.
“You bi*ch! How dare you insult me! First you write me a sickly sweet letter and now you’re playing games with me! Wait till I get my hands on you!” Vishesh growled grappling with his friend and trying to push him away.
“Don’t you dare call Ketaki a bi*ch, you Godzilla! Who knows , you could have forged that letter yourself!!” Rachit spat in as Ketaki squealed and backed away from the boys. At that moment two members of the group burst into the melee.
“Vishesh is right Rachit! This girl deserves to be called a bi*ch!” Anmol shouted brandishing a letter. For a moment the fight ceased and the two boys looked up at their friends.
“Ketaki!! Explain this! How dare you call me a fox!” Yash cried holding up a letter.
Anmol fixed the plastic girl with a fiery gaze. “Ketaki…we know that you’re beautiful and all but does it really suit you to call me a chimpanzee?! How mean hearted you are!!”
The next moment Ishan rushed in with a furious mob of senior girls in tow. He stopped and pointed at Ketaki. “Sister, here is the one who called me a gorilla!!” He cried.
The gang of rowdy girls attacked Ketaki pulling her hair and slapping her face. All this while the girl cried and pleaded to be released but the entire crowd of spectators was abuzz with whispers. The two boys resumed their fight. The remaining three boys attacked Rachit.
“You’re the one who started this, bas*ard!” Rachit snarled punching Vishesh square in the face.
That moment someone caught Rachit by the scruff of his neck and dealt a resounding thwack on his cheek. The whole canteen relapsed into silence. When the haze before his eyes cleared he was confronted by menacing glare of Ms Sonali. “Rachit! How dare you do this!!” She shrieked slapping a paper in his face. Looking at the contents he gulped to find out that it was a love letter.
“Ma’am I-I as-assure you…” He stuttered.
But the teacher was having none of it. She slapped him once more across the face and screamed, “Shut up! Do you think I don’t know your handwriting?! Do you think I am blind?! Do you take me to be some skimpy teenage girl that will fall for your tricks?! Shame on you! Shame on me for teaching students like you! I am going to report you to the principal right away!!” The teacher declared and stomped away in a towering rage.
“Ma’am please wait…ma’am…” Rachit sobbed pathetically running after his teacher. But the crowd held him back and moved toward him with murder in their eyes. All his friends…the college..was baying for his blood.
The next moment a cry rang out like the call of a saviour, “Stop!! Vishesh is behind all this!! He’s the one who has played the game”
“Catch him! I saw him too! He’s the one who sent the letters to everyone, because he wanted to be with Ketaki!!”
“Beat him! He’s the true mastermind!!” As a volley of voices rang out the focus of the crowd shifted and everyone at once crying foul pounced on the miscreant who was just in the process of getting away.
“I’m innocent…I’m innocent!!” Vishesh wailed as they belaboured him.
Outside, unheard due to the pandemonium Dhruv and Mitali laughed and laughed until their sides hurt.
“Today was my best Rose Day ever! Although I did not get a rose.” Mitali said with a giggle. Dhruv smiled at the girl.
“Well, let us go home now. Our work here is done.” She said and began walking away from him.
“Er…Mitali…wait.” Dhruv called uncertainly. She stopped and whirled around. Their eyes met. Dhruv fumbled in his bag and brought out a red rose, the stem wrapped in a letter. Shyly he presented it to her.
Mitali was awestruck. How did he know…what feelings dwelt in the depths of her heart for him? Over the year Mitali had grown fond of this eagle-eyed, sharp witted boy but she had never been able to say a word. And, yet now…
She accepted his little gift, blushing like the morning sun and unwrapped the letter. It said:
People often feel that only two perfect persons can make a perfect ending.
But that is a misconception, because today two imperfect people will make a perfect ending. After all even Maths has proved it “minus and minus make a plus!”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is better to have a beautiful soul than a beautiful body because a soul is immortal while the body fades.
So with this thought in mind, I ask you my friend
Will you be my Valentine?
A tear slid down her cheek, staining the letter. She looked up into his sparkling eyes and whispered:
“Forever. I do.”