Ayesha Ansari was very nervous.
She had just five minutes left for her interview to start but she couldn't find the right address. Lost, she stopped in the mysterious corridors of JNU to ask the address.
Nobody paid any attention to her. All ignored. She was bewildered and confused. Wondered why?
All were talking in English but the accent was more confusing. It was neither English nor Bihari, Bengali, Hindi, English and what not. All mixed and with twenty-five per cent really good English.
‘Common room…please guide? I have to attend the interview…I am from OBC
/minority/backward region category. Where is the common room?' She almost cried.
‘Where are you from, girl?' asked a girl with uncombed hair, dirty jeans, cotton kurta, and a cigarette in mouth.
‘Me Ayesh Ansari from Jalmahal, Bengal.'
The girl laughed. She wanted to show that she was modern and advance and she was a rustic village girl.
‘What are you interviewing for? Guard or peon?' The ill mannered soiled clothed girl again laughed.
Ayesha Ansari did not reply as she did not want to spoil her interview. She and all seemed to be political activists. Another girl, tall and slim had some pity for her and replied, ‘Take a right turns at the multi story building and you will see there a ‘Q' for interviews.
‘Thank you,' she said very coolly.
‘The sign board is in English not in Bengali!' the girl took a long puff and muttered.
Her friends pulled her and whispered some nasty things about her.
It was the first interview of Ayesha Ansari's life. Four old men sat opposite to her. She could not understand whether they were professors or migrants of some drought hit areas.
Uncombed dishevelled hair, floating beard, dirty trim fit jeans, long dirty kurta. One of them was puffing a cigar and two others were taking black tea. She was taken aback by their mannerism.
She had a different notion about the graceful attrite of professors.
She was taught to wish people before an interview. ‘Pranam, sir.'
‘We are four here,' retorted the man sitting in the middle chair. He was around sixty years old, wore thick glasses and a loose jacket.
They all unitedly smiled at me in sarcasm. It was the English-class-to-Indian-class smile. The smile of superiority and arrogance that she wished them in Indian sanskaras.
‘Pranam,' Prof. Mukherjee said tersely.
‘Directly from village to Delhi,' good break. Said Prof.Mandal,
‘OBC, minority, woman and the backward region category,' said Prof.Siddiqi.
‘Dada Sunil Gangoupadhaya should be here to interview her,' all laughed together.
‘Her category and backward region are her final merit,' said the Prof. Mukherjee.
‘OBC, minority, woman, backward region category, Jalmahal Bengal,' asked Prof.Siddiqi, scrutinizing through her file.
‘Yes sir,' she was bewildered by their response.
‘Can't you speak a full sentence?' Prof.Yadav said in a rude voice.
‘Yes, yes, but I am afraid due to your high scholarship,' she said meekly.
‘So…why you want to join JNU?'
There was hushed silence. All looked at her like wolfs.
‘I want a good university, good city and scholarly environment for my future,' she replied in a wavering voice.
All smiled at her answer.
‘What is good about JNU and Delhi?' Asked Prof. Mukherjee.
It was enough for her in English. She switched to Hindi. She was not comfortable in English. They will laugh on her English and she was sure to be rejected by them.
‘This University has a big name in Bihar, Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand etc., states,' she said.
‘Can't you speak English?' Said Prof.Mandal.
She observed her slip-up on their smiling faces. She had said it because she was more at home in Hindi. But here the panel was more interested in showing their wrong accent English rather than knowing her correct Hindi.
‘Prof. Siddiqi even raised a question, how did she get a call for the interview?'
Prof. Yadav perhaps realized her tension and nervousness and said to her ‘JNU desists Hindi as the medium of instruction.'
With her own mother tongue Hindi, she felt very panicky. Now she was trying to find out the easiest way to leave that place and go back to Bengal. But suddenly one Professor Yogesh Bhardwaj entered the room.
‘Bengal se ho? He said.
She was surprised but relieved.
‘Yes, sir. Bengal.'
She wanted to touch his feet. All four English speaking revolutionaries were staring at her and looking at each other with twisted brows.
‘Tell us about yourself and achievements.' Bhardwaj Sir said.
Seeing me nervous he spoke,' be easy and take your own time.'
The four professors were looking at Bhardwaj Sir with contempt.
She made herself relaxed and spoke her prepared lines.
‘And you want admission in M.A. English. Why?' Asked Prof.Mandal
‘It is a very tough course. Need a lot of studies. Remarked Prof. Siddiqi.
She could not understand why they were against her?
‘I am from OBC, minority, woman and the backward region category or from a poor family will not work her.' Sarcastically uttered Prof.Siddiqi.
‘Can I explain my point in Hindi Sir?'
All were surprised on her newly acquired confidence in Hindi.
All remained silent. She explained her point in Hindi.
A small crowd of students, mostly seniors, had gathered around the interview rooms. New admissions always pull the students. She stretched her neck and looked at the crowd. She saw a very simple boy. Very tall and slim.
Six feet is very attractive for an Indian boy. His fair colour, sharp features, long neck, broad shoulders, long and athletic legs were enough to pull the attention of every girl. He was an applicant of the general cum merit category. He wore blue very decently stitched trousers and white shirt.
‘5% reservation for attractive looks,' a senior girl commented as he entered the interview room. All the girls there giggled but he remained unfazed as if he was used to such comments.
When he passed her, she saw his sweaty charming face from close. They made eye contact for a split second and he vibrated her heart. She was attracted towards him. It was love at first sight. She felt something deep inside her heart for him. It was the most attractive face she had ever seen in her life.
All is wrapped in destiny. He returned after few second.
‘Pen, please,' he said. She felt almost paralyzed.
She put out my pen from her bag.
‘I said pen, please,' She held the pen for an extra second. She wanted to look at his innocent face a bit longer.
She gave him the pen. He took it nervously and looked at her.
‘Good luck, speak in English with the monsters.' She said.
‘What?' He looked at her. She wished she had worn better clothes.
‘They prefer English speaking candidates.' she said. She couldn't take her eyes off him.
He caught her staring. After the interview, he walked up to Ayesha Ansari to return the pen.
‘Thanks,' he said.
‘Your pen was lucky to me. My interview was good,' he said to her.
A few girls tried to make eye contact with him but he ignored them. She wanted to speak to him more.
‘What is your good name?' She asked.
‘Good or bad, you know but one name, Yogesh Sharma.' He said and smiled.
Yogesh! She liked his simple name.
‘Your name?' He asked. For the first time in her life, a handsome Brahmin boy has asked her name.
‘Myself Ayesha. Ayesha Ansari.'
‘From Bengal,' he said and laughed.
‘From Haridwar UP..'
He was so attractive and charming that she wanted to continue talking to him.
‘Wow, you are really good,' she said.
‘Thanks,' he said.
‘Anyway, I have to go,' he said and lifted his hand. ‘Bye, nice meeting you.'
‘Bye,' she said, although her heart didn't want it to end.
‘Unless God blesses us both and we are both lucky,' he added and smiled.
‘Yes God will definitely bless us,' she said.
‘Yes. If he does, then hope to see you again. Else, bye forever.'
He walked away. Her heart sank. She wanted nothing more than both of them to get admission in JNU.
She stood alone in the corner of the verandah. All others had left. She saw the red brick-coloured building and forest around it where young cupids were sitting inside every bush.
‘Good Morning,' he said. His sober voice startled her. She had been scanning the university notice board.
She turned around. She had prayed for both of us to get admissions. She made it but his name was nowhere in the list.
She was very sad and shocked. She had only fifty percent but Yogesh Sharma had eight five percent. Fifty percent was selected and eighty-five percent was rejected. She never thought of this that her caste, religion and backward region will pay her so handsomely.
She joined the university but could not get a place in the hostel. One day she was roaming in a nearby colony in search of a room. She was shown a room in a flat. An inmate of the other room was a boy. She was hesitant but on her amazement, the resident was none other than Yogesh Sharma. She gave advance and took that room.
Perhaps she was in love with Yogesh. But it was useless. She could not control her feelings. Yogesh Sharma, the handsome Brahman boy, preparing for civil services and giving tuitions, most handsome boy on the earth, owner of an extraordinary intellect and speaker of mesmerizing lines and snatched her heart.
Every day she used to go to the university and he gave tuitions to students. In the night he prepared for civil services.
Sometimes they walked down the University roads together. He was with her for hours.
‘You made friends here?' he asked.
‘No' she said.
She could not tell him that you are her only friend here.
‘You?' She asked.
‘I am still trying to adjust,' he said. ‘I feel I don't belong here.'
‘Trust me, next year you will get admission,' she said.
Our flat was a ground floor flat. There was a small piece of land behind our flat. Yogesh was very fond of gardening. He was a lover of trees and plants. He planted red hibiscus, mango trees in the garden. Soon the small garden had lush green plants all around. She also started helping him in his hobby of gardening.
In this manner, time passes. Days, weeks, months and a year passed.
Next session started. He again applied. But again he could not get admission due to faulty admission system where merit has fewer points but caste, the backwardness of the region, gender etc., have more point. This system was a new kind of apartheid.
One fateful morning when she got up, Yogesh was not in his room. He had collected his belongings and left the flat.
She was shattered, devastated. In a moment, her world and dreams were crushed.
His phone was switched off. Her messages were not delivered to him. She waited for him at the entrance of the flat every evening.
Their neighbours could not understand her trauma. But they all saw it, "It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever."
After this, her personality changed. She became silent. She never missed any class. She sat on the front seats and took notes very seriously but never participated in any discussion or activity. She would sit in the flat and the garden for hours but never talked to anyone.
Sometimes she lurked on the university roads, hoping to see him again. Nights hit her hardest. She found it difficult to sleep alone. She lay on the bed where they used to sleep together. She ended up being more shattered and puzzled. She wanted to get Yogesh out of her mind but she failed.
She passed M.A. and got some jobs too. But she did not want to work in Delhi or in any big city. She got a job of a teacher in a village, Bhawanipur, Bengal. She preferred that job, where she could serve her own people and make them good citizens.
She reached the school. But she could not understand should she focus on the teaching or see the cracking plaster of ceiling.
‘Live with self-respect. Live for others, which are how one can earn respect.' This was taught by her father.
The school was a fifty-minute walk from the main kasbah of Bhawanipur. After passing through the field, she reached the grey-and-red school building. It was very old building, perhaps not painted nor repaired for decades. This was the gift of our much hyped revolutionary comrades and secular TMC. Rains create more havoc.
The school has three classrooms and a common staff room. There was no electricity although electric poles were there. The school has no toilet. Teachers and students have to go to the field to relieve. Ayesha used bushes or the field as do all the teachers of the school.
There was no fee; even then enrollment was very low. Indians have beggars inside. Without any fee, they want all the degrees.
Imran Ansari was the most notorious boy in the school. He was hardly eighteen but appeared much bigger than his age. He belonged to a very rich and politically connected family. Both Communists and TMC leaders used to visit his father due to his grip over his community votes. Ansaris were in meat and scrap business and were doing very well.
Imran was addicted to whisky. Imran spent as much money on whisky, almost equal to the school's entire budget. Imran was very short stature but his confidence and bullying nature made Ayesha seems like a kid answering his questions. Imran's family was insanely rich and rough. He had an Urdu accent, used to wear a skull cap and lived in a Muslim ghetto.
One day he did a horrifying thing with Ayesha. He bent forward and to hold of her waist. She was too shocked to understand this. Imran lifted her. All students giggled.
A part of frustration came from her heart. Ayesha has lived with this fakeness all her life. She was like a refugee for Imran and his fellow student's cum friends.
One day Ayesha got up very early and went to relieve in the fields. When she was washing her shit and her butt in the village pond, from the other side, a voice devastated Ayesha:
‘myadama kaal skula khulbe ?' (‘Madam will the school open tomorrow?') It was Imran.
Ayesha Ansari fainted. On regaining consciousness, she rushed to her room, collected her belongings and took the first-morning train to Haridwar to find out her true love.
N.B. In this story, all the characters, places and episode are imaginary. Any similarity, if any, will be only by chance. It should be seen as an unintentional lapse. Kindly bear this omission.