Moon light was seeping through the fine curtains, bestowing a golden glow inside the room. It was a full moon day. The rich, cold rays lit sleeping Rupa’s face, giving it an unearthly hue. She was deep inside a dark cavern surrounded by voices – voices, all male. Suddenly a deep voice spoke words very near her ears, words she could not perceive because the breath that warmed her ears had unnerved her. She came awake and sat upright with her heart thudding. Tiny beads of sweat formed on her forehead and twinkled as would embedded stones in a tiara. She had had dreams previously, – all pervading darkness. But this dream was different, and she had it repeatedly. A week had gone by; the same dream unsettled her. Ever since she happened to meet those students who had come to her college on a student exchange programme, she had become a disturbed person.
Beside her, Ratna, her elder sister was muttering in her sleep. Ratna was a nonchalant, no nonsense girl, worked like crazy on her projects and was rapidly moving up her career ladder. She had become the man of the house after their father had passed away. Mother always was terribly worried for her as her relatives kept picking on her over her daughter’s unusual work timings and her imperturbable attitude to criticisms. Ratna brushed it all aside saying that they were all jealous that despite her father’s untimely death they were affluent . Most of the days Rupa never knew when she came home. Ratna was on her cell phone most of her waking hours and at times Rupa could not make out whether Ratna was on her phone or muttering in her sleep. She said she overrode men and showed them how good she was in work. Rupa was awestruck. Ratna was a blazing volcano in their tradition bound family circle.
Both the girls were brought up in a household replete with restrictions. Rupa remembered her grandmother who held the reins of the family. Each one’s talk, clothes, habits and a lot more were closely monitored and strict vigilance was enforced. Ratna proved to be a rebel from the beginning. Rupa could only admire her courage. More than everything else they were prohibited from talking to boys, even with their own cousins, except in the presence of elders. Ratna defied everything. She played cricket with the boys without the elders’ knowledge, climbed trees with them and rode their motorbikes. With grandmother’s death, there seemed to be more breathing space in the house. But Rupa’s mother was no better. She proved to be a well trained daughter in law to mother in law. The same laws continued even with the full assent of their father.
The world seemed to had come to a standstill when her father succumbed to a heart attack. The unexpected turn was Ratna’s job soon after she completed her degree in commerce. Rupa could continue with her college education and Ratna made time in her busy life, to educate herself further, to enhance her career.
Rupa liked her college, a women’s institution. Ratna bore all the expenses. It was during her fourth semester, Rupa became part of a student exchange programme. Every girl in the group was excited. Students from a Mumbai university came and started staying in the campus. Rupa and group had to attend lectures together and interact with them. She went into a shell when she came to know they were all boys – and a boisterous group!
Rupa cringed when one by one they grabbed her hand for a handshake. Her grandmother would have considered it an outrage of modesty.
Rupa listened to the boys’ endless talk and found each of them had a different voice, tone and pitch, and way of talk. She had only heard her father talk, at close quarters. Not even her uncles came near them. She fell silent. The other girls were talking excitedly. They asked her when they were away, whether they seemed lively or dumb. She could not understand why anyone should talk so much in front of those boys.
There was one particular fellow in the group with a deep voice, who tried to converse with her and she answered him only in monosyllables. All on a sudden it happened a week before, at the social get together she was forced to join in, with the Mumbai students. She was standing in a corner so that she would not be on the way of others, and someone touched her shoulder and talked in that deep voice so close to her ears that she felt his breath brushing her ears. Before she could understand what she was doing, she pushed him roughly and started running. She fell down and someone picked her up. She was taken home. Her mother was so shaken that she did not leave her side for two days. Those who brought her home did not know much to tell her mother. Her mother gently asked her what the matter was, but she would not answer. She did not talk to Ratna either.
She had the dream that night and every night after that.
Rupa got down from the cot and groped her way to the study table, hit the chair and prevented its fall in time. “What are you up to at this hour, Rupa? I am trying to get at least five hours of sleep. Show some mercy on me,” Ratna gabbled and slept again.
“You must go to college today. It’s time you told us what’s wrong,” said Ratna in a compelling tone, the next morning.
“‘Let me come along with you,” she insisted. “The way you get up in the middle of the night, shaking like a frightened chicken perturbs me. Come make your heart lighter, Rupa, tell us.”
“That … b…boy was trying to talk to me,” stuttered Rupa.
“Trying to talk to you?” Ratna rolled her eyes.
“Yes, he came very near and I was frightened and it comes every night in my dream,” concluded Rupa.
Ratna sighed and their mother also seemed a bit relieved. “Is that all? Ok, I shall talk to your principal,” she said.
Rupa accompanied her unwillingly to college. Inside the campus she could hear the usual din from the ground, students enjoying games period. When they neared the principal’s room, she could hear the rise and fall of the professors’ voices from the adjacent class rooms.
Principal called them inside after they had waited for a few minutes.
“What’s the matter, Rupa? Are you not well?” The principal turned to Ratna. ” Is she alright now?”
Ratna nodded and explained what was wrong, to the principal, briefly.
“We thought that, being a bright student she would do well in this students interactive program. We also want our students to interact with people to inject confidence in them,” the principal observed.
Ratna lowered her voice, “It is not because she is visually challenged that she fears things. She has been so brought up in an old fashioned way, she fears life. I will help her get out of her fear. Meanwhile, please take care of her as you have always been doing and thank you once again for admitting her in your institution, along with sighted people, helping her with her notes and providing her scribes for writing exams. But please let her not be hurried into anything that she fears.”
The principal smiled her assent. “Oh! She’s such a brilliant student.”
She turned to Rupa and said, “Rupa, don’t worry. Hereafter nothing shall happen that will disturb your peace. The boy had already apologized saying that he talked to you that way because he thought you might not know he was talking to you, if he did not come very near. Most of the sighted people believe it to be so. He is here right now. I had called for him when I knew you had come, as he wanted to apologize to you.”
Rupa heard the deep voice telling her from a distance,” I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I think you are damn smart, despite your ..er… I mean .. er .. ..sight problem …. I saw your performance records and all, so, wanted to be friendly. Sorry again.”
The principal’s voice was heard again,” Are you alright now? Ready for the next semester?”
Rupa nodded, unfolded her white stick and followed Ratna out of the room.