Surya went to his classroom feeling downcast at having not being able to speak to the owner of those bewitching eyes. All throughout the lecture, all he could think of was about this girl. Her face loomed in his memory like an unfinished painting which was destined to be a masterpiece. His gloom was not lost upon Thushar, who at the end of the lecture asked, “What is bothering you, dumb head? You have been moody during the whole class”.
Thushar was not a person who admitted defeat at the mere sound of a war-horn.
“There is something bothering you, of that I am certain. You could tell me the reason and get it off your mind or brood over it and be unhappy the whole day. It is your decision”, he quipped.
By this time, Surya was so confused and chagrined that he needed no further invitation to blurt out the whole incident. Thushar was awfully quiet throughout the narrative and wore a very serious expression on his face once Surya finished his story.
“This is nothing but silly infatuation”, declared Thushar. “It happens to everyone at this age. The prudent thing to do is to forget the whole thing including your wide-eyed beauty and concentrate on your studies.” He was brutally straight-forward and his thinly veiled sarcasm hurt Surya slightly. He nodded his head and kept quiet.
He did not meet the girl the whole day but not for the lack of effort on his part. He searched and looked around like a gazelle smelling danger, all day long. She was obviously a junior student who had joined the college recently and they had classes throughout the day. Surya longed for another meeting with her, but could not yet make up his mind as to what he would do in case he met her again.
He thought about saying ‘Hello’ and introducing himself, but decided against it. Thushar’s words rang at the back of his head and Surya hated himself for not being able to counter the logic behind Thushar’s tirade.
The college stood in a 15-acre campus and the academic block was the biggest building in it. Towering high at 5 stories and surrounded by manicured lawns, the academic block was an imposing structure. The library was the second largest building and was adjacent to the academic block on the eastern side. Surya and Thushar particularly liked the walk from the academic block to the canteen, since it resembled a boulevard. Gulmohar trees lined the walk and shed blood-red flowers onto the concrete path making it look like a red carpet under the soothing shade of the trees.
Surya, Thushar and a bunch of their classmates were sitting and chatting about a new movie one afternoon under one of these Gulmohar trees, when he met her for the second time. One week had passed since that fateful rainy morning and since then Surya had not stopped looking for her. Even though he had not been able to find her, he had described her fairly accurately to the junior boys in his hostel and had obtained her details. Her name was Tanvi. She was an Electronics engineering student and was staying in one of the new ladies’ hostels that had sprung up around the college campus. Surya had also made a few unsuccessful rounds on his bike in front of that hostel hoping to catch a glimpse of her. So it was with surprised elation that he watched her walk past him.
Surya nudged Thushar and pointed her out to him. He took one look and gave a derisive snort and continued to chat with the group. Surya was angry and swore at Thushar under his breath. He got up, made an excuse to go to the canteen and followed her. He could feel Thushar’s eyes burning holes at the back of his head and he knew better than to look back and confront that disapproving glance.
Surya had felt fairly confident when he was walking towards the canteen. But all that confidence oozed out of him, like sand in a sieve, when he entered the canteen and was replaced by wave of anxiety when he finally saw her in the canteen. There were ten rows of tables in the canteen, with an aisle in the middle. She had chosen the table closest to the serving counter. She had a book open in front of her and a glass of lemonade by the side of the book, from which she took sips intermittently, all the while having her eyes fixed on the pages of the book. He walked to the serving counter while trying his best not to cast a glance at her. He pretended to be suddenly interested in a sambar-stain on the canteen wall and tried to discern a pattern out of the stain. It seemed like the portrait of an emaciated man with a goatee.
Surya reached the serving counter and was at a loss. He was not hungry nor was he thirsty. The canteen-boy approached him with the usual disinterested expression as though he dared Surya to order anything.
“One coke”, said Surya.
While the canteen boy was going through an elaborate process to bring the bottle of coke, Surya cast a furtive glance at Tanvi. Her hair was perfect. Everything about her was perfect. She was the perfect girl with perfect, beautiful, round eyes. He longed to run his hands through her hair. But when he realized the turn of his thoughts, he was ashamed of himself. “Is my attraction to this girl merely a carnal infatuation?” wondered Surya.
Suddenly Tanvi looked up from the book and caught Surya staring at her. Surya was embarrassed and quickly averted his glance and became interested in the sambar-stain once again. But he could see out of the corner of his eyes that she was studying him. He would have given away his most treasured earthly possession, his motorbike, to anyone who could tell him the expression on her face at that very moment.
The canteen boy banged the coke bottle on the counter and croaked, “Ten rupees”. Surya felt his hands quiver when he took his wallet out of his pockets. Was it a result of excitement or fear, he was not certain. He paid for the coke and turned to leave. She was looking at him still.Surya felt that he should speak. But he felt his throat dry up and he could hear his heart pound hard and if it could go any faster it would have found its way out of his rib cage.