Author : Asad Ali Junaid
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Dec 1998, Bangalore
I had flunked four.
My body went cold in one of the dimly lit, dusty offices of the Electrical Engineering department as I saw my sixth semester results in rolls of low quality printer paper. Every ounce of warm blood was draining out in a rush through my toes. I did not know how to react—I had never faced such a situation in the entirety of my student life.
The smile that Wardha had on her face as she took my note which ended everything flashed in my mind. She took the note from me without batting an eyelid, without the least bit of hesitation about me or my intent. Wardha’s reaction as she took my note and all the subsequent hurt, made the decision of ending everything top the list of those “what-were-you-thinking” moments in my life. Regret engulfed me. An irrepressible urge to slam my fist into the nearest wall started from within. I could only imagine alternatives where there could have been no hurt, no bitterness.
“Hi Sahir. What happened, actually?” Sandeep Gadwal, a good soul and my best friend in undergrad, asked me.
“I lost four,” I said, as a hollow tone replaced my voice. I wasn’t sure which sentiment should have expressed itself to state my dismal status.
“Oh, fuck…” Sandeep said.
Between us, the need for profanity did not arise often.
I had always been an above-average student, had never seen a “fail” against my name on any subject before engineering. I had earned my admission—on merit—in the prestigious Engineering College of Vidyakeerthi University (ECVU). I did not expect this from myself.
“You?” I asked him.
“I barely managed to clear all the eight subjects, got gold medals in three of them,” he said. A “gold medal” meant one had cleared the subject with the lowest marks possible. “Why are you purposely letting such things happen to you?” he asked.
I shrugged. Sandeep was not expecting a specific answer either.
Sandeep and I had the same amount of interest in academics during engineering—which wasn’t much—and shared the last bench in class. We went to class so that our names would not be on the attendance-shortage lists before the final exams—we couldn’t afford to pay our way out of them. We managed to clear our subjects every semester without needing any subsequent ones for doing so.
The sixth semester turned out to be a huge exception—for me.
It was common knowledge that the sixth semester demanded the most in terms of academic workload for electrical engineering. I was also an office bearer of the college student’s union, trying to discharge my responsibilities as earnestly as I could.
And then there was Wardha.
I understood then, that the consequences of my action had gone well beyond repair. While still in love, and knowing somewhere at the back of my mind that she felt the same about me—for a little time, at least—I saw her every day in ECVU with this someone else. My heart ached. Every day after that was agony.
Stories about love did not end like this… Or did they?
Sandeep had a fair idea about the turmoil I was going through. He had more than a few clues about the havoc that threatened to tear me apart. There was nobody who could help—neither him nor my parents. Nobody doubted my caliber or my abilities to do well in Engineering. There were different demons I was fighting and there wasn’t any doubt that I was the one being pummelled into submission.
I began to hang out with Sandeep from the second semester at ECVU. We shared a career ambition to head the photography division of Playboy. Neither of us could afford a camera or had got a chance to click even a set of fully clothed people until then.
Like most that landed at ECVU, the two of us had little cash to spare. I never wanted to ask my Dad for money and Sandeep only had his Mom to ask money from. We watched movies sitting in the cheapest seats, usually closest to the screen and ordered the lowest costing items at darshinis, Bangalore’s popular eateries.
Sandeep and I caught the same bus to and back from ECVU. Sandeep always managed to jostle his way into the ever-crowded BTS buses—our pathetic excuse for public transport—and get us seats. Footboarding was our only alternative to commute home if we failed to get seats. Overflowing buses, with people hanging on to them for dear lives, had become a common sight across the growing and bursting-at-its-seams city of Bangalore.
During this time, Sandeep and I started to prefer the Sidney Sheldons, Jeffrey Archers, Irving Wallaces, (and the Playboys and the Letters to Penthouse) over the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drews. We began listening to the Guns And Roses and the Metallicas and shared the same taste in movies—those which played in theaters and those which were legally not allowed to play in them.
And both of us spent sleepless nights smitten by Wardha.
Though Sandeep and I got along with everyone—from the front benchers of our class who stayed buried in books attempting to do justice to engineering, to the girls’ shy cricket team who lived, ate and breathed cricket—we made our closest friends from our batch in the mechanical engineering, Gopal and Anand.
Gopal was a simpleton, easily trusting and confiding. He gorged on oodles of ghee through the delicacies his Amma often made for him. He fancied he had a talent for singing but, fortunately for all of us, managed to keep it a secret through engineering. He was a God fearing, family guy and usually hung out with a horde of cousins outside ECVU.
Anand was the intellectual kind who devoured books and had a sharp wit. Both his parents were doctors. In fact, most in Anand’s family were either doctors or surgeons. Anand tried his best to not feel like a fish out of water in mechanical engineering or around girls. Women Anand’s “type” were a rarity at ECVU. Private engineering colleges had plenty of his preferred variety where they decked themselves with tighter and smaller clothes—which revealed more than they hid.
David from electronics—the singer and Thalaiva incarnate—was a late addition to our group. He was the most popular at ECVU for having the X factor to handle girls with an audacity that left all of us in awe of him.
The three of them, wanted to hang out and even attend classes with us in electrical engineering—for a variety of non-academic reasons. Sushmita Ma’am—of our electrical engineering department—topped their list of such motives. Whenever she taught in their department—which wasn’t often—the classes were full. Their departments did not even have the concept of attendance shortage each semester. Their students were free to walk in and out of classes as they pleased.
Gopal though, had a stronger motivation for his interest in electrical engineering. He—like Sandeep and me—had more than a mere soft corner for Wardha.
The three of us had perhaps ended up as a statistic in her life. But for some unfathomable reason, she was meant to remain more than that in mine.