NOTE: All characters and events are purely fictional.
It's 03:30 AM. Nibbling on lose strands of NC's (Night Canteen) special maggi, the mind wanders over the persisting dominant thought - 'Shall I call her?'.
It had rained yesterday, the last few days of retreating monsoon giving respite from those incessant days of heavy downpour usually associated with the God's Own Country. Last night's showers have bathed the hilltop in perfect viridian. The wind feels chilly against the body - probably the Backwaters T-Shirt is a little too thin to brave the cold, and jackets are never in fashion at kampus. Eyesight wanders towards the oblivion, soaking the NC-view of the carpet of lush green grass meticulously laid over the amphitheatre - shining like crystals in those white floodlights. The hilltop is covered with the usual dense white fog. The auditorium and the classroom blocks are faintly visible, braving against the natural limits imposed by aimlessly wandering clouds over the hill. Moon glistens right above the north tower, it's still a few days before it'd be a full moon again.
'She might be asleep' - thoughts continue. A bird just flew from the canteen's railing, landing on a parapet alongside the tiled, covered walkways below. 'Was it a nightingale?', colourful feathers of a few rare species are always a feast for the eyes.
The plate is empty by now - a few noodle strands spilled on the granite table giving away the contents of what was just gobbled up. A decision on whether or not to have a fresh cup of coffee is pending. 'Shall I try sending an SMS?' - the easterly breeze rustling past the ears suddenly seems to be slightly wet, it might be raining somewhere far away. A dog starts barking below the NC indicating human movements. A quick glance in the dials shows 04:00 AM - even the steel of the watch feels cold against the skin. "Hey!!" - the loud sound is more like a belch than a note produced by a human throat. More noises follow, and a group of human figures toppling over each other is visible towards the stair case. 'It isn't weekend yet, nor was it someone's birthday last night as far as I can recall' - a sudden thought flashes across - 'what makes them drunk? Must be those hostel L fellas'.
"You want maggi?" - one of the voices is really addressing me, coarse and sheepish, as if the syllables were smelling somehow. "Naah, I just had. I was about to leave, have a morning class guys. See ya!" - the pending decision on the instant coffee automatically happens in an instant as I get up and leave.
'It really isn't a bad idea to send text, I won't get a reply if she's asleep, what's the harm?' - the thoughts persist as the stairs seem to disappear behind the floaters, one at a time - as if it's the earth moving backwards, not the human body descending above it. Legs involuntary proceed towards the crossroads, sleep doesn't seem to be anywhere close to the eyelids yet. The cellphone rings, coarsely, disturbing the tranquility of space, as if messing up with the smooth flow of time itself, 'Why don't these cellphone companies close their business hours for at least a few hours in the night and leave us at peace?'
"Hey, we are meeting up in L. That sponsorship issue. We need to finish it tonight. I would be off on a biking trip over the weekend to Alleppey tomorrow with hostel guys. Come over now.", a fellow Council member explains. "I was about to sleep...". "Baah! Just come over." From the NC to L is a long descent, must've been at least a hundred steps - stairs do not disappear by themselves this time and every step seems to require effort. The large room of the double occupancy hostel is already hosting the other five from the Council and the air-conditioner seems to be working overtime to keep away the smoke of puffs being passed on from one hand to another. Mind is preoccupied with other thoughts, eyes are wandering outside the window losing themselves somewhere in the valley, and the watch is being anxiously peeped at after every passing minute. It's 05:15 AM, and a conclusion seems to have been reached. A decision to grab a quick cup of coffee is taken in an instant and the body suddenly finds itself absently running up the stairs in a crowd of six.
A lazy cuppa seems refreshing - resembling raising a toast to the first rays of the morning sun. People move away one by one. 'It's really late now to call or message her' - once again the thoughts return. Sleep is still far-fetched and a morning stroll in the fresh dawn pops up next on the unplanned agenda. A longer route, covering the entire walkway encircling the hill is chosen to return to the crossroads before proceeding to the hostel room. A few steps ahead, just before the library building, the breathtaking landscape on the right becomes visible. The valley seems to be rising up to meet the human form, partially lost. Clouds are hung in the sky below, like fluffy cotton, interspersed with patches of green - those partially visible spreads of rare flora down the hill. The first rays of the sun impart a unique diaspora of colours in the sky - vibrant shades of cobalt, white, orchid, crimson and viridian competing against each other before they'd vanish into a nearly yellow monotone a few hours hence. The floating mountains are visible as well - that rare sight of a few Western Ghats hills rising above the clouds resembling solid masses floating in the sky - indicating that it might remain a clear day today.
Dew sparkles on the parapets along the sides, and wind seems to be hitting from all directions as soon as the Harvard Steps are reached. Thinking Point stands tall in a distance, leaves of trees above it over laden with water and moisture. The moment seems perfect - 'Wish I could take a walk down the hill, if only I had called or smsed her then itself'. A guard would hoist the national flag below the Harvard Steps in a few minutes, precisely when the hands show 06:00.
There are people waiting below the NC. Bike engines would be fired in a few minutes when they'd zoom off for the morning's basketball practice. It's fairly bright by now and lights in the NC are being turned off, one by one, excusing themselves to let the nature itself take charge for the long day ahead. The guard outside the hostel gate is packing up - it's time for a change of shifts. There are loud gunshots booming out of the woofers in the second room - someone is still busy killing someone else over LAN's Counter Strike. Psychedelic trance is heard from one of the rooms, doors are open, lights are put on, and the occupant is lying on the floor - 'Must've been with the L guys in that party' - logic concludes. A pair of hurried footsteps descend from the stairs - a short, slightly overbuilt figure in running shoes approaches with a loud "Hi" and retreats with the same quick velocity towards the gate, the grin suggesting that he is probably lucky going out for the biggest health discoveries ever by mankind - a morning jog. Middle floor is calm, thankfully, as the eyelids are getting heavier now.
The table clock displays around quarter to six. The day's class schedule is hastily scanned on the laptop - all classes in the first half, one in the evening - not a great Friday by any measures. 'She didn't have the first class, I could've called her at 03:30 itself, she wouldn't have slept by then' - the excel sheet for the other section's schedule provides the thoughtful conclusion with a heavy sigh. The inbox is spawned with Course Coordinators' reminders about readings and cases for the day's lectures, spams of lost pen-drives and external hard discs with promised five-star treats for obligors, winners of last night's 'Hollywood Special' Atharva quiz, some disgruntled soul's advice on how bikes should be parked in the parking area so that they do not disturb others etc etc. IP spams are full of invitations to join AOE, reminders of servers set up for CS, notifications of radios starting up, requests for hot videos, 'first-cut' pictures of a couple caught on camera sipping coffee at 2 AM in the NC, hoaxes of surprise quiz the next day etc etc. It's time to crash on the bed, with a half-hearted determination of attending the first lecture - personal stats are in doldrums and missing lectures could cost dear with grade drops.
There is a loud banging on the door. Amidst overflowing hatred for the visitor, personal cursings are mutely passed to the half-asleep brain regarding why everyday it is being forgotten that the door has to be left open before sleeping. "Give me the calci, fast, I've a quiz" - the visitor announces, speaking loudly, hastily as if he's about to miss an olympic medal. The table clock displays 09:05. The class is in ten minutes - 'Didn't the alarm go off, the thing was set for 08:45 itself!' - mute cursings to the cellphone follow.
The gallery outside the classroom is abuzz with people teeming in from both the doors visible just a few meters ahead, amidst heavy breathing caused by a jog up the stairs to ensure a timely entry. By the time the handle-knob of the door is reached and pushed in, a silence has already wrapped the classroom interiors and the door's slightest noise seems to be intrusive. The professor standing in the teaching well glances at the unkempt intruder in slippers, crumpled pajamas and T-shirt, almost at the same time as all other chairs in the class rotate to face this reality. The glance of the professor shifts to the huge round clock in the back - 09:18, it proclaims. Few other eyes turn to the clock too, as if replicating whatever is done in the teaching well below is a natural act, almost involuntary. The glance shifts from the clock to the intruder, and back to the papers on the teaching dias, suggesting that the moment is over. An air of indifference from all parties for the next split second announces the silent verdict - late entry is forgiven.
Emptiness of the stomach is belittled in front of the emptiness of mind about sourcing strategies of some Canadian garment manufacturer - after all, the case being discussed was never even looked at due to a 'busy' night. The class seems to be running till eternity, and every question thrown at students by the professor draws my involuntary response - the act of looking down with zero eye contact, even stooping a bit, scribbling random notes on paper, keeping the body perfectly still to ensure no creeks from the chair or any sound from the friction of slippers against the floors - nothing which can attract the slightest attention and re-direct the questioning towards this direction. The huge round clock seems to be running slow - probably because of its sheer size and weight, even the batteries aren't able to generate the required rate of rotation in the seconds hand. Eyelids droop sporadically, but a third row seat brutally snatches away the luxury of momentary rests.
"You! Yes you, yellow T-shirt." Dozens of eyes shoot in this direction heralded with the creek of almost all chairs in the classroom, everyone naturally replicating the act being carried out in the teaching well - the professor looking in this direction. A quick glance through the corners of the eye at the huge round clock shows 10:24 - 'Had it been running at its normal speed, probably it would have been six minutes ahead, ending the class' - a mute, cursing mind thoughtfully observes. "I've been observing you since the beginning of this class. Get out, wash your face and come back. You are spending your time sleeping in this lecture." Standing up quickly, stout and erect amidst numerous watchful eyes turned in this direction to witness the 'action' live, legs start moving cautiously towards the gate. The heart is rejoicing with joy - 'Baah! It was just because of drooping eyes. At least questions relating to the classroom discussion were spared!'
Human bodies rush towards the mess, stomping the amphitheatre grass - almost dried up by now under the warm, September sun - in a pursuit to grab plates before the closing time of 10:30, right when the class ends. After flickering through the non-edible remains of morning breakfast, the decision to grab a pack of fruit juice from the NC is taken to ensure reduced hunger pangs and droopings during the next lecture. The day is hotter by now, and beads of sweat on the temples and a slight prickliness here and there act as reminders of a bath overdue for days.
Mental faculties do not seem very supportive of the idea of attending the next lecture, but a cautious warning from a calculative brain about past history thrusts the decision of physical presence. People are yet to return with half-eaten, jelly coated toasts in their hands and the classroom gallery, in its wait for living beings, seems to be basking in some strange pleasure probably known only to non-living objects. Winds from the valley seem to join this invisible celebration of static existence of concrete, hissing against the gallery like an open tunnel, flapping a poster or two on the notice boards to keep themselves in wide view of the gaping bricks, observant windows and onlooking glass doors. Something is fresh about the day, the sun shying away behind the clouds reassures.
And the reason reveals itself, slowly, almost notoriously. Tall, slender, immaculate - the precision of approach probably magnified with the sleek, dark black, velvety gown covering a tender body sculpted to the most serene perfection of curves, volumes and bends. Air seems to be frozen into dried ice and the legs seem to be almost cutting across them - neatly, swiftly. The sprinklers suddenly seem to be overworking, rotating with probably double their normal speed, ensuring that the path is flushed into a carpet of lush green - grass blades competing against each other to get martyred below the small, elusive tip of the heels. The winds, idling away all this while, playing with worthless pieces of paper stuck on the notice boards, suddenly seem to change directions - shyly moving past the ears, barely managing to lift up a strand of hair or two, ensuring that the perfectly straight and smooth tousles do not move anywhere close to an entanglement within themselves. Sunlight, playing hide and seek behind the clouds, occasionally dares to show itself up on the small round earrings, dangling as if drunk, moving up and down with every measured step taken forward. A small, rectangular, metallic pendant seems to bask in the glory of its fortunes to lie carelessly on the supple skin between the halter neckline strips.
Time seems to have stopped, and so does everything else around, with the only exception of the approaching magnificence in front. People running towards the classroom, including those from the other section, seem to be frozen in space. Visibility seems to be impaired, with only a clear conical view in front with her at the fulcrum, and dissolving green all around. Sprinklers obey the sanctity of the new physical axioms suddenly wrapping the earth, turning their heads and water jets away just when they are to be crossed, ensuring that the waters do not dare touch anything else except the heels.
The stillness of time and space defies all laws of land, including the absence of any realizations of unacceptable personal grooming with unclean pajamas and T-shirt and an unshaven face, and the absence of any urgency to rush inside the classroom when the professor is already in. A quick smack on the head combined with a sharp, discrete, campus adjective spouted in the ears about the immediate requirement to get inside the glass doors suddenly disturbs the prevailing calm. Noises are back, visibility is restored, and tranquility is shattered. A distant hope, however, toys in the heart - probably there was a faint acknowledging smile visible on those coral lips for a fraction of second just before the 'moment' snapped, and probably it was in response to the smile at this end. Probably.
The next seventy five minutes of physical presence inside the hesitant classroom are an interplay of esoteric thoughts - mental musings of the possibilities which the seemingly apparent faint smile presented, reminiscences of the last few months at college and the numerous occasions of longing stares at her interspersed in them, remembrance of the lost opportunity of forming inter-section groups in one particular course last term, and the immediate possibility of a quick glance once again as soon as this class ends. Amidst resigned gapings at the slow, huge round clock already crossing the position where the hands meet at noon, the thoughts change into haste, frustration, anger and pray - in that order. It's 12:08, when destiny finally obliges, albeit, not completely - the other section has already dispersed with no lectures to follow. The opportunity is lost, and the good world has become bad again.
Lack of concentration is evident in the absent-minded flipping of slides to be presented during the next lecture due in a few minutes - someone just reminded about my absence in last night's group-meeting in which the presentation was made by other group members, and the group's unanimous decision to allocate the task of presenting to the absentee. The T-shirt seems sticking to the back with sweat, and the air inside the classroom seems sultrier. Tinted glasses of the classroom offer a disguised view of the outside - an emerald sky spread over a turquoise campus - as if it's one of those clear spring days.
Was it the presentations which ended early, or was it the huge round clock which somehow moved faster in order to make-up for its day's sins, the class ends at 01:22. The queue in the mess is still short, with a few plump seniors overfilling the plates with salad, probably in vain hopes to lose a few extra pounds by remaining on fibres. The group from L which was stumbling in the NC last night is visible at a corner - dirty shorts and Tees and uncombed hairs signaling that their mornings haven't happened more than a few minutes ago. A small bunch, all dressed up in messaged Tees, denims and shoes, some of them even sporting goggles inside the mess, is glued to the TV - the chatter box irritatingly filling the mess premises with loud cheers of a football game happening in some unknown location in a faraway land.
'She might have finished her lunch at 01:00 itself, she didn't have a class' - an uncomfortable realization blazes past amidst silent nibblings of a cold chapati. People have started pouring in now, the mess suddenly transforming itself into something of a busy marketplace in India. Amidst the incessant chatter of curious faces trying to figure out the names of dishes cooked by largely failed chefs and the hastened scuttles of 'conscious' souls trying to handpick measured calories and fats from the nearly monotonous colour of overcooked items, the mess staffs are roaming around hurriedly refilling empty containers. After a few more minutes of silent observation of this vibrant display of life in its full form submitting to one of the most basic of human needs, a quick nap in the comfort of the room is involuntarily given a higher preference over already waning thoughts of a bath.
The last, 03:15 class for the day seems to start and finish probably at the same time. Events like a mild scolding for not reading the case, standing absent-mindedly at a side when the project group is making a presentation in front of the class, stealing a power nap without being caught etc are wrapped in a package of hopeful thoughts about the immediate weekend, making time fly faster and the huge round clock saner.
'It's still an hour to go before sunset. How about asking her out for a drive to the beach?' - the hopeful part of the brain tries to argue with the rest of it, as it marvels at the novel idea generated immediately after the class dispersed at 04:30. Moving towards the NC with the rest of the crowd, a few light gushes of slightly cold breeze bring back the hopes of a cold, comfortable night which appeared remote a few hours ago under the ember sky. The head appears heavy again, probably registering its discomfort with some part of the head itself, caused by a busy past week. Alternating thoughts of a seemingly boring weekend, few unfinished individual assignments and hectic schedule for the next week occupy the mind, while the steaming paratha overloaded with extra greasy dollups of butter seem to keep the hands and the mouth busy. Vague hope of a remote encounter permits luxuriously slow intake of the NC delicacy and a long aimless chatter with curious creatures.
"Sea Queen?", the voice at the other end of the cellphone excitedly announces. "Who else going?", goes the reply combined with a swift, discrete glance at the watch - 06:20, the hands obediently project their glass wrapped realities. "Entire mid, get your bike. NC, 15 mins." - the decision is presumed at the other end.
The bike starts with a stutter, engine roaring to life, burning fuel rapidly to quickly proclaim its hot supremacy over most of the metallic parts below, till now wrapped with cold dew and raindrops. The sun has already given way to bright orange streaks interspersed with sienna lining the oblivion, retiring itself from a hectic hide-and-seek game the whole day, and promising a lazy return for a Saturday morning. The tires jerk forward with a screech, in a quick farewell to the crushed grass and mud below. The drive itself is as new as ever, the drizzle assisting the glide of the accelerator wire, and the winds helping the hairs align themselves to the blaze of the metal below - straight, swift, on target.
Drops of alcohol, left after a few gulps, seem sweet against the throat. The evening sea, visible from the corner table of the open-roof area of the restaurant, is wrapped with the usual tranquility caused by the weight of wishes and curses and dreams and opinions of numerous people who took a walk on the sands earlier during the day. The waves seem to carry the weird demands, mute ambitions, hesitant confessions and silenced truths to a better place, an infinite miles away, visible only as a silver line at the far end - somewhere to a world where they can be weighed, balanced out, and distributed equally amongst all living things inhabiting the small planet. The sound of the waves seem to produce interference beats against the ear when mixed with the moist breeze, reverberating with the thoughts of the overworking brain recently lubricated by ethanol. Mental rehearsals repeat themselves - of exact statements which would be uttered when that call would be made, of exact time and venue from where the bike would be started, of exact route which would be taken, of exact potholes which would be avoided, of exact food which would be ordered, of exact discussions that would be initiated. Mental commitments are made to place that call, some other day.