That was also the last time she ever talked to me.
To this day, the conversation between my father and my first crush remains unknown to me. The consequence was very prominent though. She ceased talking to me, thereafter.
Academics had begun to recede into the background. My test scores suddenly began to nosedive. From a regular class topper, I had become mired in mediocrity – the attention I received from my erstwhile classmates, had begun to thin. Meanwhile, I was struggling to learn the basics of communication with the fairer sex. Like the rulers from Persia, I had suddenly come upon riches and diversity from a dry, barren desert (read: former school.)
As such – after months of unsuccessful attempts at communicating my intent, after moping around on cold wintry afternoons, I devised an intricate plan on acquiring the subject. It involved a very old friend of mine, who’d ended up in the same school and was equally clumsy and addled in his approach to life in general. He was to be my messenger – and after going over the masterplan for the hundredth time in class, I wished him Godspeed and he left the battle station. With bated breath, I trained my eyes on my friend as he made his way towards the target. With a certain measure of feline dexterity, he scurried across the shadows and reached her, just as she was about to board the bus. When he reached her, she gave him a puzzled and stern expression that would make a grown man’s heart shrivel. He never recovered from the blow. For the next ten minutes, I watched him nod his head vigorously, make certain indecipherable gesticulations and unsuccessfully try to talk – tragically cut short by her. I had clearly chosen the wrong medium for information exchange. She boarded her bus, while my defeated, despondent looking friend came back with ill tidings. He clearly looked more hopeless than me. The next few minutes were spent in unsuccessfully trying to console him. She had clearly taken more than his soul and his spirit. He would be, for the rest of his life, scarred because of this one unfortunate step of mine.
I had learnt my lesson. Of course, by the time I had begun to woo my now lover and critic (which would be six years later, when I was a chivalrous man; that has now given way to libations and leaves), I accepted my fifty-fifty odds and adopted a more efficacious approach. It was a headstrong, romantic kiss smack in the middle of a bar that lasted a full minute and was met with commensurate enthusiasm. It did help, that we had successfully consumed several bottles of Carlsberg and had feelings for each other, and that we were incredibly fortunate to be let off with just a mild warning. For two and a half years I had watched my relationship blossom, reach the pinnacles of happiness and then die a slow painful death – till we were reduced to shadows of each other’s pasts – in love with a lie we told each other with every passing day – in love with the bleak possibility of a future where we did end up together – until we had felt nothing at all. No hatred, anger, remorse or hope. For the first time in two and a half years, as I grabbed her by her wrists, I felt life in me again.
Back to school then.
After months of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – it was time for the entrances. The entrances represent a set of examinations that have the magical ability to make you the talk of the town, were you to, in any way screw them up. They are the portals to the esteemed institutions known as the IITs and the NITs. Graduates from the said institutions are looked upon as first class citizens, who can (supposedly) excel in roles where mere mortals are doomed to fail. They are legends who become the heart of a town’s folklore for centuries to come and graduates to be – occasionally narrated by a gathering of grey haired demure women, when they are not discussing about how one of their own has been acting suspiciously about someone else’s husband.
My level of understanding of Biology was as good as Bobby Deol’s acting skills. Or even worse, maybe. So when I scored an absolute zero in the Biology section in my Pre Medical Test, it did not come as a surprise. It came as a regret. It was at that very moment when I was seated at my desk, that I realised the importance of choice and the ability to speak up in time.
I would manage to screw up a couple more entrances, before managing to scrap through in the AIEEE – thus saving myself some grace, as I stuck my neck through the hallowed gates of an esteemed NIT (or so).
Of course, my father took about eight years and two failed relationships to completely forgive me for the goof up in the JEE. We never sat through a single football or a cricket match, we never shared more than a few words at the dinner table and we barely spoke for more than 15 seconds on a phone call since. The image of a peevish bald man, wearing glasses, silently judging me while I crashed from relationship to relationship, fell from grace in academics and pulled myself together and grew up – is the one that I remember. Unfortunately, now that we are floundering at the sixth position in the league, we have started watching matches, in which he overcompensates for the lack of enthusiasm when I was younger, and I am most often holding my head in my hands – as we concede point after point. Mending bridges, like we’ve always done as a family.
The time to walk through the gates of an institution that would change my story forever, was here.