I was 24 yrs old and had joined as English teacher at St Mary school. The day I joined the school as a staff I saw him for the first time in staff room. He sat in a corner quietly reading some book. He was not someone who normally people would consider handsome. He was not much older than me, had heavily slicked his black hair back on his scalp, small beady eyes, not hugely built & average in height. I ignored him as he ignored me but there was something in him that made my eyes stray towards him. I asked the Sunita ma’am, the ageing maths teacher next to me.
“why is that fellow is sitting so quietly alone in a corner “.
She smiled at me ” its ok Manish teaches biology here and only eats with Anjali and avoids talking so that he has time for preparation of Civil services exam.”
As I was chatting with Sunita ma’am I saw a pretty petite girl my age with huge doe shaped eyes with long shiny hairs, a dusky beauty.
I nudged Sunita maam again ” who is that?”.
“She is Anjali chemistry teacher I was talking about earlier, she is the only one here who can deal with Manish’s irritable nature and moods”.
I turned to look at her again as she sat next to Manish there was something delicate about her and she had an angelic smile which she was bestowing Manish right now. The whole demeanor of his changed upon seeing her. His face had immediately lighted up, looked younger tension free. He looked as if drinking her beauty. She saw me looking at her, waved at me and gestured to join them near the corner most table in the staff room.
As I was new I wanted to mingle with everyone and was curious about Manish so I joined them as requested. I introduced myself as I sat down next to Anjali and infront of Manish.
“Hi there I m Deepti new English teacher”.
In response I got a curt nod from Manish whose eyes never left Anjali’s face. I felt as if I was intruding them. It was as if two had a whole world between them and had no space for a third. Anjali shook her head and said “Ignore him he is like that, he takes his time to open up to everyone. So tell me about yourself Deepti.”
So we began talking meanwhile Anjali had taken out her lunchbox and placed it just under Manish’s nose. He swatted her hand away to continue reading. Anjali stood up and issued a warning “Either eat up or I am leaving”.
I was amazed at how quickly he complied and started taking large bites gobbling them down with tea. Anjali admonished him gently”slowly darling the food is not going to run away and we still have half an hour left to the end of recess”.
Now even a blind could see they had something going on between them. Anjali sensed my curiosity and told me all about how they met at college while doing graduation in there respected field-How they waited for there parents to agree over the inter caste marriage for Anjali was Bengali and Manish was a brahmin.When the matter of families objection towards their marriage resolved, Manish begged for sometime so that he could focus on studies as marriage right now would distract them.
This year was his last attempt, last chance at cracking civil services exam. Bell ranged ending the recess till then Anjali and I had become close friends. We started spending time together all three of us for Anjali was never without Manish. As months passed by slowly Manish also started opening up with me. As I started getting to know him i enjoyed his company more and more. I could see what Anjali saw in him.
He was a sight to behold when he was passionate about any topic he loved, be it his subject or be it any current political news. How many times have i fantasized about his passion directed towards me. He was such a caring boyfriend too, he wouldn’t bring her roses or chocolates everyday but his actions spoke of his undying unconditional love. He would carry her student’s copies for Anjali or her handbag all the time. This action had made him butt of jokes student made of him and he knew about them but didn’t care.
He was also very brilliant I couldn’t fathom how he could have not cleared his exam in first go. God knows why i was getting attracted towards someone else boyfriend, maybe it was idea of their perfect love that attracted me at that time. I never wanted to come between them, they looked so good together. I didn’t want to destroy my friendship with Manish for he would surely cut off all ties with me if he knew about my feelings for him but I couldn’t help feeling little jealous of Anjali and her perfect looks, perfect boyfriend & perfect life.
I often helped Manish in his correction of notebooks and papers and we started spending a lot of time together. For some time I was noticing often Anjali would leave us alone. I even noticed her taking too many offs from work. Her appearance also started to change her wavy hair were now limp there were dark circles under her eyes. I would often find her looking sadly at Manish with tears in her eyes. I was worried that somehow she got to know about my feelings for Manish and maybe she was doubting us.
I was looking for an opportunity to talk with her but it seemed as if she was ignoring Manish and I both. I could see how this affected Manish, he looked distraught ,worried sometimes angry, to me it looked like he was at loss at what was he doing wrong. He was starting to eat less, talked only when necessary, snapped a lot at students, no one not me not anybody could make him eat more.
The day his results came out he had cleared his exam everyone came to congratulate him that finally his hardwork had paid off but he spared not a glance towards anyone and literally ran all the way to share the news with Anjali. I was just leaving after school when I was angrily dragged by Manish to an empty classroom. He was red faced looked like he was going to explode. For the first time I was scared of him but wasn’t it his passionate nature that used to excite me earlier so why was I now getting scared.
“Did you know Anjali was seeing someone behind my back?” said Manish almost shouting.
I stood stunned and then shook my head in negative as I was too stunned & numb to speak.He looked furious pacing around like caged animal restless suddenly he just slumped down against the wall looking like every bit of his energy had drained out of him. I too sat down next to him and patted his arm to comfort him. He sat there still without any movement face between his knees & knees against his chest with arms over them. Suddenly he hugged me and said sobbingly “Pl ..please make her see sense. No one could love her more than m..me. I can’t think of my life without her. I can’t think straight right n..now. Help me please”.
I too started tearing at his heartbroken plea echoing loudly in the empty classroom. He was starting to get furious all over again. He wiped his tears angrily and slammed his fist hard over the teacher’s desk. His eyes hardened face steeled vehemently he said “I hate her, Deepti. She two timed me for that loser.Oh how could she?. She is too good for that loser.I loved her more than anyone more than her herself. No maybe she doesn’t deserve my love. I am done with her its over”.
By then I had recovered my ability to speak as I too was now starting to get angry. How could she play with his emotions like that I won’t let it happen for his sake I will try to talk to Anjali. Make her see the gods had blessed her with gift of love, she was so lucky to have it reciprocated & not everyone was so lucky.
Next day I went to her house to give her a piece of mind where i got to know she was ill and had been hospitalized at city hospital today morning. I rushed to see her at hospital so many emotions whirling inside me. No please god let her be ok. I realised then and there that i had come to rely so much on our friendship. Our shopping spree , our girlie talks and all those happy moments we shared together over so many cups of tea filled my mind.
At city hospital i got to know her chemotherapy session was going on.I was so stunned to hear this ,my tears wouldn’t stop flowing that it took me an hour to bring my emotions under control. That was the longest hour of my life. I felt guilty for even being envious of her life ever. How would I break this news to Manish ever if it was affecting me this much, even thinking of such a thought would kill him.
I waited to see her after her sessions.There she lay eyes close looking so small so fragile in her hospital gown.Very pale and limp when had she lost so much weight i again cursed myself internally for being so self centered & not paying attention to her.I cleared my throat loudly,she opened her eyes slowly as if adjusting to bright daylight and looked at me in distress saying
“I never wanted for you or anyone to know that I had lung cancer. Promise me to never mention my condition to Manish. His heart would break and he would never be the same. He should never see me like this. This life has been so cruel it asked very great prices for smallest of happiness. Maybe I will find my share of happiness in next “.
I was too disturbed to say anything seeing such a beautiful girl, my friend slowly day by day wilting away to death. It was something no one should ever experience. She told me she had deliberately created a scene at her house to show Manish that she loved someone else & she did not love him anymore. She thought that he would be able to bear the blow of jilted lover than a blow of his beloved dead. She wept at her unfulfilled dreams, promises and a life unlived.
I wanted cry with her but i had to stay strong for her to give her hope even a false one so that she can live her last days with hope if nothing else. She made me promise to take care of Manish always and started to wheeze. Anjali was now drifting in and out of conciousness doctors told me to leave as an emotional upheaval would be too much for her poor health.
I left the hospital feeling so selfish to think I could ever love Manish as much as Anjali loved him. How can anyone match up to her love for him. I was stupid as I was so in love with the idea of a perfect boyfriend like Manish that I confused it with love. Love was what they had for there’s was true love.
Next few months I tried helping Manish overcome his pain of feeling cheated and supported him as much i can. I even succeeded a bit in helping him and send him off to his training of IAS. I was feeling guilty for not informing him about Anjali’s condition when in august she passed away. Somehow he heard of Anjali’s demise, he left his training midway. It seemed he had lost the will to live, looked very depressive and had not been sleeping properly. I was worried that he may try to commit suicide. He was unconsolable he pushed everyone out of his life, he suddenly left his family his friends, his city one night. No one knew where he went, left no letters, addresses or any clue.
Even after 10 years I still wonder about him once in a while over a cup of tea some evenings whenever I get time from my mundane but happily married life. Where was he, is he alive?. Yes life moves on, no one stops living for those gone and only wisps of memories are left behind.
I along with my hubby and child went to Rishikesh in summer of 2014. There was this famous ashram we visited. To my surprise I thought I saw Manish but I could be wrong he looked different he was clad in saffron colour long gown. He now sported moustache and a long beard and his hair in a pony. I had to be sure it was him so I asked one of the person sitting next by me who regularly visited that Ashram. He told me he was Baba Manisheshwar a very good orator. He had done loads of social work and ran a charitably trust. He had renounced, all worldly things and lived here at ashram. I looked at Manish again there was a strange aura of content on his face. I could see at last he had found peace here.We left Rishikesh in the evening.