A strange sense of calm seemed to descend all around him as he lay, flat on his back, on the lawns of a park, late one September evening. The final rays of the disappearing sun had painted the sky with brilliant hues of yellow and orange. Overhead, a flock of birds flew past as one, taking the shape of a big, slightly irregular ‘V’. The only discernible sounds were the chiming of a church bell in the distance and the even feebler ones made by the automobiles on the nearest road. The grass felt cool and moist beneath him and the air felt pure on his tongue. Soon, his thoughts took him far away – to a different place and time – memories of which, were still fresh in his mind. ***
It seemed like just yesterday, when Kailash, who hailed from a small town in Tamil Nadu, had arrived at the sprawling campus of one of the private universities of Higher Education in the city of Chennai. Like so many of his peers, his eyes held dreams of a great four years of learning and fun – one in which he would make his family proud and also secure for himself a great career as an Engineer.
As a high school student, Kailash had shown a great aptitude for physics and mathematics. This, augmented with hard work had ensured that he consistently topped his class. His teachers and relatives had advised his father, a local businessman, to get Kailash to join an Engineering course. And so, he had applied for a seat in Computer Science Engineering in one of the famous universities in Chennai and had subsequently heard from them, on account of his excellent academic performance.
He fondly recalled his first day in college. He was seated, quiet and shy, at a corner bench. Having done all his schooling in a small town, his conversational skills in the language of English were limited, despite it being his chosen medium of instruction. Consequently, he felt amazed at the fluency and confidence of his new classmates, most of whom had had the luxury of city-based schooling.
“.. I play the guitar…” one of his new classmates was saying, at an introduction session organized by one of the professors.
“God, what a show-off..”
This was spoken in low tones, in his native tongue – Tamil. Kailash looked up and caught the eyes and the friendly grin of Shriram, who was seated nearby.
The first year went by rapidly. Kailash was still shy, by the standards of his classmates, but had definitely perked up since that first day. Unlike many of his classmates, Kailash showed an actual interest in Engineering. Needless to say, he did well in all the tests, and thus came to be recognized by most of his classmates, even the ones with the apparent “airs of superiority”. He found himself lending his records and assignments, helping his classmates do some last minute preparation and in rare instances, even correcting an inexperienced lecturer.
On their part, his new friends helped him improve his spoken English. Kailash was fond of reading since childhood, sticking mainly to works in Tamil. However, he now began borrowing and reading many a book in English. This served to pass many lonely holiday afternoons in his hostel room and also helped improve his vocabulary.
He and Shriram had become inseparable friends. He especially recalled the evenings after classes, when they hung around the grounds and managed a quick game of cricket with the other students. Kailash was’nt particualry fond of the game – but he joined in for his friend’s sake. Shriram also introduced him to the game of Table Tennis (TT). And so, during the monsoons, when the grounds were unfit for cricket, they were to be found either at the TT courts or sitting down for a quiet game of chess. Now, this was a different matter altogether.
Chess was something Kailash liked to think he was the ‘expert’ at, having played the game since his childhood. As a boy, he had spent many an evening playing with his uncle – who was a State-Level player. His uncle, who was a perfectionist of sorts, had never ceased to correct Kailash’s moves and strategies, thus helping him get better each time. So, it was Kailash’s turn to play coach to Shriram here.
The inter – college sports championships were something he always looked forward to. Shriram, being an all-rounder in the game of cricket, had made it to the college cricket team. Kailash would always make sure he watched every game in which his friend participated. There was many a time when their team made the final and needless to say, Kailash would always be there to encourage his friend.
This gesture was reciprocated by Shriram, when he made himself available for every important game of Chess played by Kailash in these championships. Kailash had reached many a final and had also won a couple of times – Shriram was always present to partake in his moment of joy and pride.
Shriram lived with his parents in Chennai, while Kailash stayed at the college hostel. He visited Shriram’s home often and sometimes even stayed over during the weekends. Shriram’s mother’s meals were a welcome change from the somewhat unappetising fare served at the hostel. Kailash never ceased to be amazed at the sophistication and knowledge-ability of Shriram’s parents, especially his mother’s. This was in complete contrast to his own parents, who rarely ever ventured out of their town and his mother, who knew little beyond her day to day duties concerning the family.
There was yet another memory which Kailash held close to his heart. This concerned an incident that occurred on a day towards the end of the first year. On this day, he was a little earlier than usual and thus had arrived to an empty classroom. He walked to his desk and began drawing up a study plan for the upcoming exams. He was so absorbed in this activity that he hardly heard her enter the room.
“Hello ! Hope I am not disturbing you…”
He looked up to see Aparna, standing close by. Not that he had never noticed her – he had stolen many a surreptitious glance at her, always falling into a trance over her fine features. It seemed to him that she had the face of an angel – the stray curls of her neatly combed hair, only seemed to add to the effect. But he had never dared speak to her – until this moment, that is.
He now faltered, swallowed and mustered all his courage.
“Sure – Oh, I mean, not at all – tell me.”
She smiled at his nervousness.
“I was wondering if you could help me with this program. I thought I had got it right, but something seems amiss – it does not give me the expected output..”
“Anything for you!” he almost added.
Whenever he looked back upon this incident, he liked to flatter himself with the theory that Aparna, in fact, was not so much looking for his help as an excuse to talk to him. This was because Aparna, like him was one of the top performers in his class and was not likely, in his opinion, to require anybody’s help with her course work.
Be that as it may, this incident served as a foundation for what was to become another strong attachment in Kailash’s life. As he got to know her better, he found that Aparna had other qualities which he admired – she was intelligent, sincere and self driven. Soon, he found that he could relate well with her as far as academic learning was concerned. They thus bonded over books, computers and eventually many cups of tea at the college canteen.
As days went by, Kailash often wondered whether what had begun as a casual friendship had blossomed into something more intimate. When questioned by his friends on the matter, however, he denied that he had any ‘feelings’ for A. In view of his academic ambitions, he decided that he best leave the question unanswered for the time being.
Time seemed to fly fast for Kailash and soon, he was in the third year. It was now time for some important decisions. Many of his classmates had begun preparing for campus interviews, which promised them a job in some of the biggest IT firms in the country. Kailash, however had decided that he was going to pursue a post graduate program. After long discussions with one of his cousins, who had just completed his Phd in the US and who, by far was the most educated in Kailash’s family, and due to the influence of Shriram and Aparna, who were planning on similar lines, Kailash decided to seek admission to the MS program in the US.
This of course entailed that he appear for the GRE and TOEFL exams and perform well. There also remained the matter of communicating his decision to his parents and coming up with strong arguments to defend his case. This proved to be harder than it seemed at first – since his parents, especially his mother, were very reluctant to send him away to a distant land. However, in the end, he managed it and spent three very busy months in preparation.
Upon obtaining his score, Kailash, together with Aparna and Shriram prepared the list of colleges to which he wished to apply. Then began the anxious period of applying to the colleges, and receiving acceptance rejection letters from them. After this tormentors period, which included deep discussions, introspection and thought, he decided upon a university, keeping in mind the fact that they were offering a 50% scholarship.
The final year had its share of memories – with most of K’s time spent on the project to be submitted. Being a programming enthusiast, he also took it upon himself to develop part of his university’s public website. Soon, K found himself preparing for the final semester – he remembered keeping himself as busy as possible, just to not let himself dwell on the fact that he would soon have to bid goodbye to all of his friends.
Alas, all good things come to an end eventually. Kailash, Shriram and Aparna soon found themselves at a farewell party thrown by their juniors. Kailash gave a very emotional speech at the event – thanking all his friends and lecturers alike for ‘making him the person he was today’. On the same day, Kailash said his goodbyes to his friends and promising to keep in touch with them,left for his hometown.
He now looked back fondly upon the last months spent at home. His mother’s cooking had tasted more delicious than ever – she had made sure she included atleast one favorite dish of Kailash’s in every meal. He had also spent a lot of quality time with his father – visiting his establishment often during working hours and sharing a quick bite to eat with him. He also met his childhood friends often – for a game of cricket or chess in the evenings.
The last few days were spent in the hustle and bustle of packing. His parents accompanied him to the city of Chennai, from where he was to depart. He fondly recalled his father’s proud and mother’s tearful face at the airport…
After about 16 hours of journey time, he set foot on a land, the likes of which he had only seen in the movies. It was in complete contrast to everything he knew – the roads were incredibly clean, the climate mild and the streets, almost empty. This was in sharp contrast to the overcrowded lanes and by- lanes back home. The excitement he felt for the new life he was about to begin more than made up for the fact that he was extremely tired and jetlagged.
This was about a month ago. He had 15 days to spare, before his classes began – he spent this time in getting to know the new place and people better. He was also in touch with Shriram and Aparna, who had also travelled abroad for studies, albeit to different universities. Soon it was time for school to begin. He remembered being completely awed by the huge campus area, his new classmates and professors on the first day. He had just settled in to the system of learning here – which was quiet new to him and had begun to take the course work seriously…
But all that seemed insignificant now. He left the wetness on his chest spread and soak his shirt. The pain, which had seemed unendurable at first, now appeared bearable. Slowly, darkness began to engulf everything around him.
“If only I had not resisted…..”, he thought. “The brute had after all, only asked for my phone and money…”.