The Girl (henceforth- TG) knew the only thing good about hitting rock bottom was - the only way she could go from there was up. She collected all the strength she could muster and decided to make a come back . So she went back nervous and very -very anxious, her heart thumping at a speed that she felt dizzy. “May be this will be over even before it starts”, she thought while climbing the steep stairs, “and I would collapse right here.” At some corner of her conflicting heart she almost wished that would happen and the ordeal may be over even before it began.
She gently knocked at the door and since it was ajar she peeped in. TG remembered the familiar face- the face of her Prof. that commanded respect. But the teacher did not have the similar familiarity to reciprocate from her burnt out memory. ?”- TG wondered if all of them had wiped out her existence from their collective memory. The Professor waiting in her trademark patient (and somehow being positively patient) manner kept looking at TG. “May be all those years of formal education does work that trick on at least some of them”- TG thought.
Standing there at the door of the class – her class- TG almost pleaded with her unrelenting heart to slow down and dared a hesitant glance at the seating area. Her eyes came across at least 60 young faces – familiar faces ..all of them surfacing from the bottom chambers of her vague, hazy memory to her present moment of ordeal- “may be if she looked deeper in their eyes at least some would acknowledge her existence.” As if to serve a proof to her claim to be present at the moment and place where she was present – an institution to which she had earned her position. TG could not help but wonder.
As a divine intervention from the heavens, it turned out that the Professor was in a rush to finish the topic which she had planned for the day and asked TG a simple question which did not call for any explanations at least at that moment. TG was equally simple in her reply – “Yes Professor, I am from this class” and taking a deep breath quickly walked right inside.
There she was – HB seated alone on the second row from the front corner. As TG hesitated for a second, HB shifted a little inside towards the wall to make space for TG, signaling TG’s first acceptance in her second innings at the institute.
The initial few days rolled on quickly for TG as she was too caught up in the string of official procedures and explanations- submitting innumerable copies of applications and certificates of medical records. After receiving the final green signal to re-join the institute, TG was immersed in catching up with the ocean of pending work (projects, presentations, and reports - assignments that had long back faded from the collective class memory (who copied what from where, which text was good and which one was not to the teacher’s liking…) as everyday students battled with perennial course work assignments that kept popping up like giant monsters ever ready to gobble them up.
TG knew it was a challenge. Slowly TG was faced with a greater challenge of a nature to which she had not clue how to solve. Although no body seemed rude, the class was coldly indifferent towards her. “May be they are too caught up in their own respective cycles of work, too comfy in their own personal zones of trust, friendship and hostilities. Who would like to make space for someone who was a fresher in this game of competition and jealousies -the rules for which had been long decided and the contending groups long recognized? Is that not the way our education system works? Training people to survive in this modern world where it’s a battle everyday. The institute was doing its job well.” TG knew she had herself got into this situation.
TG had sensed abrupt silences that fell when she had walked in the cafeteria or common rooms. There were surprised glances and cold vibes and TG knew the gossip mills were working overtime providing quick fix entertainment and optimum degree of kicks to tired brains and over stressed bodies along with their daily supplements of caffeine and nicotine. TG wondered if anybody really bothered to know the truth as different from fiction. If she could ever break that circle of ice where she was trapped- frozen and lonely very lonely.
It was around this time when TG had a chance meeting with HB in the university special bus on their way back home. As HB boarded the bus and looked around for any vacant seats, TG signaled her to come and occupy the seat next to her. That day as they traveled back few things fell in a perspective for TG.
Both of them talked about casual stuff for a while and then all of a sudden HB smiled gently at TG and said: “you know I never knew that you were the friendly types…..uummm I mean I thought you liked to keep to yourself.”
TG : “Do I come out like that?”
After few seconds of awkward unsure silence TG spoke first:
TG : “Actually I have been finding it so difficult to break in, you know….everybody is so caught up. I feel nobody wants to hear my side of the story.”
HB : “What is it TG?”
TG : “HB can you tell me what’s going on?”
HB : “I don’t know much yaar but I believe there are at least three versions of your story doing the rounds – a) you went on a long leave to appear for your civil services exams; b) you went to some overseas university and have come back for some reason and; c) that you had some relationship problem…”
TG knew that in a place like this there were broadly three category of people : those who eat, drink, sleep dreaming to crack the civil services exam, second are the types whose aim in life is to get a foren degree and the third are the types who do the above two and more to either catch a boy/girl friend or keep one.
She could now locate the insecurity inside those heads. However what appeared most important to TG at that moment was to find one courageous soul (HB) who was mature and sensitive enough to ask TG and not follow the herd mentality by believing the hear say. Someone who was self assured and genuinely wanted to hear what TG had to say about her reasons for long absence. Both of them found a true friend that day.
Years after that day, once TG asked HB about what made her reveal the truth to TG and she said that she wanted to follow her heart and not the rumors. Even today TG wonders about the need of modern civilized societies to spice up their lives with ill-founded rumours at someone else’s cost.