As I read the letter the tears started rollingdownmycheeks. It brought up the painI trynot to remember everysecond ofmylife.
How canI forgive her? She left me aimless and hopeless. How canI not ache withsorrow? And how canauntyforgive her? Evenifshe is her daughter, she cheated onus.
I aggressivelythrew it inthe corner and layonthe floor. I had to press myheart withbothmyhands to stop it fromaching. I failed terribly. And I chocked before startinghowling, it’s impossible to cryout the pain. No matter how hard and for how longI cry, I don’t feelrelieved. It usuallyfades into sobs after few hours because mybodyretires not that the griefdiminishes.It was midnight bythe time I was sobbing. I uncomprehendinglystared into the sinister. Beneaththe faint beamofa bulb mymedicaldegree captured myattention. I contemplated it for fairlysometime before gatheringmyself. It took a lot ofeffort to pullup myunresponsive corpse fromfloor and to walk to the bathroom.
I reluctantlylooked at myselfinthe mirror.
I saw a shadow ofher inthe mirror, and whispered ‘As a gift to myself, I’ll never forgive you.”
It was dark whenI heard a clack sound. It took me a minute to realize, I was inbed at home. Todaywas the daywhenI willbe headingto the place whichis actually‘my home’ inthe literalsense ofthe word.
Pinegrove, a purelyresidentialcoeducationalschool, as youngas I am.
Feels like it was yesterdaywhenI first saw that place hiddenamidst the greenShimla hills.
It was covered withthick and beautifulgrove ofpines, situated onthe banks ofa brook inthe exotic valleyofKothar, inthe state ofHimachalPradesh.
For three months ofwinter break at the end ofeachacademic year I had to come and staywithmyparents. This year I was home for two weeks. Class 10 board exams finished in March. It was up to students ofschoolto decide iftheywanted to stayback and study. Almost everyone did.
Pinegrove is more than bed and board to me, it’s a place where I have spent allmy childhood and adolescence. It proffered me with my morals, beliefs, sight to see what’s best for me and also a very focused academic discipline taught me to give more than hundred percent in whatever I chose. It is where I belong. I could not exist in any other situation or place. Food, climate, people and there are so manyother commodities whichare concealed like emotionalattachment. I amvisceralto the place like a polar bear to Arctic Circle.
Stillgiving up the luxuries of parents’ home like staying up late, getting up late, eating in bed and watching television at any odd hour of the day bring a streak of disappointment the very morning of this day every year. I have to leave for school at the earliest possible hour before sunrise to avoid the heavy traffic in the city. The city where I think the number of vehicles almost equals the number ofpeople, not to mentionwhose count is more thanthe totalpopulationofAustralia, New Delhi.
The packingstarted few days ago and we were fortuitous enoughto accomplishit byquarter past tenlast night. Mumis a kind offreak whenit comes to organization. Everythingin the list goes in trunk in the same given order and had to bear torture ofverification quite a number oftimes. And everything is dualistic for her. She has to pack for two because my kid sister, myonlysiblingescorted me to schoolfour years ago. Thoughto Niya this is a muchmore devastatingexperience thanto me, she calls it the dayofexecution.Suddenlyother thanthe irregular snoringsound I heard the clack sound again. Mummust have wokenup earlyto switchthe geyser on, that means I canstillafford sleepingfor next fifteenminutes, or probablyjust lyingdowncalculatingthe pros ofgoingback to schoolwhichmight lightenthe pullinmynerves. I got dressed in a pair ofdark blue jeans and white hoodies which I bought this week and didn’t get much ofa chance to wear. Though there was no point buying it so close to the school date yet I thought this will be the set of civils for me this year. The circular clearly stated, “Students are allowed to keep no more than one set of casual wear”. It must have been difficult to pick one thing fromheaps of clothes for Sara, my closest friend but it was just a matter of choosing color for me. I had a very scarce wardrobe of different shades ofblue injeans, and different colors inhoodies. Mumand Nanhe will be going to drop us to school today. Dad has an important meeting to attend otherwise He is not a kind of a person who will send mumwith driver and kids ona 12 hour journey. I have to give himcredit for beingverypossessive. It was 5.30, everything was nicely fixed in the car boot and mumwas checking again, “… trunks, sleeping bag, donnas, pillows, badminton rackets, pithu bag … ”. My mind got side tracked onhearingthe last two words. This bagwhichonce I thought could fit ina babyelephant was now carryingmybooks.
I was inclass 11 now. Results for tenthboards were not out yet but students were givenadmissionto streams based onchoices and pre-board results. Myparents decided medical streamfor me, not after tenthexams but probablywhenI was tendays old. Theyhad a misconceptionthat myprettyaverage grades are the output oflack ofeffort I put in. It never occurred to them that maybe I am not smart enough, maybe a med school is not where I belong. Dad had to push headmaster a bit to give me admission in med on 80 percent marks. Not that they were not good enough, but for the fact that fromclass of 50 students, 20 scored above 85 and there were only 15 places for science streams. They had to adjust one more. The thought of being the worst in sixteen students was killing me, and now I had to prepare for medical entrance exam. The cons easily outnumbering the pros agitated me a bit.We bid goodbyes to dad. He had a verystrange wayofshowingconcern. I think it was embarrassingfor himto show love bymeans ofanyphysicalcontact like a hugor kiss to a girlwho almost reached his shoulder, evenifshe was a daughter.
ThoughI liked it this way. He told me to always carryinhaler inmypocket and keep a spare one inlocker.
Asthma had been one of the many reasons for me going to boarding school. Pollution free environment prevented acute attacks so far but still I was bringing inhaler to use on
After four hours drive, at the time ofdawnwe were openingour journeyinto Himalayas, whose beautyonce fascinated me.
It was a greenalienplanet then, but graduallyit lost its charmfor me.
It’s surrounded by green pastures and sometimes on lucky mornings one gets to see snow covered mountain peaks. Travelling into the valley of Kothar, I always get a strange feelingas ifI amgoingfor a pilgrimage, one’s finaldestination. I don’t know what to make out ofit, to feelblessed to inhabit a place fullofdense pine trees and deodar forests or to hate the idea oflivinginthe same. To some the place maybe serene, but to me its just home.We left Dharampur road behind us enteringinto a lane whichI canbarelycallroad. To drive here one needs a lot offaith, selfbeliefand sheer old fashioned courage. Guess Nanhe was used to it. We finallyreached. The board painted white on black background saying, “Pinegrove” was clearly visible. Beyond that point, each and every thing was the property of Pinegrove. Once on the other side youare isolated fromthe outer world or for me youno longer need an outer world. Its like city of Ember, selfsustained just that this one is above the ground. There was a car infront ofus and withinminutes a queue started formingbehind.
The wait was due to the single steep road leading to the school which was at the floor of a very deep valley. The road only accommodated one car at a time to pass across the reception and main building to the car park which was located opposite to the dormitories and on the bank of the Brooke. A watchman came running and asked for student particulars. Nanhe shouted at the peak ofhis voice, “Samiya Mittal, Niya Mittal”as ifhis shoutingwillaccelerate the process.After few seconds we were goingdown. I had myfirst glimpse ofthat cityfor this semester.
It is difficult to conceive how the imagination ofour headmaster may have first perceived that this isolated valley miles away fromcivilization was to be the place for his new school. On a rural land at 5600 ft, forested with pine and evergreens, Pinegrove has developed over some 150 Acres. With its characteristics stone walls and blue roofs, the estate is a veritable wonderland oframblingpaths, trees, flowers and exotic birdlife. To the north, ona clear sparklingmorning, the snow clad peaks ofHimalayas canbe seen. Awayfromthe distractionofcitylife, here interests are concentrated withinthe idyllic environment.
Amongst the oldest buildings is the Chapel, the churchwhere I have lit more thana hundred candles over the years and the CentralDiningHallwhichis also the largest room, where Staff provides over 1700 meals a day. There is an indoor and outdoor sporting complex with solar heated swimming pool and squash courts. There is a separate building for learning resources centre other than the Academic and boarding buildings and this is the place where I have spent a quality time of my life surrounded by books. The Pinewood Hall, where plays, shows, films and lectures are regularly held is also called Rumpus room. The superb basketball court is the newest addition to the numerous playing fields and is used byme to assemble and admire the Brooke that scurried parallelto it.
Allthe students have their ownelectronic keycards withindividualdigitalsignature as allthe areas have electronic keyaccess entrance. This keyalso serves as anID Card. There are manyother buildings supportingacademic and non- academic activities.Sitting in a valley as it does, physical activity is the daily bread of life for all pinegrovians. Though there are few magical spaces for repose and quiet, where students are free to sit and reflect, and those are myfavorite spots inthe whole valley. Mumdecided to leave me at the receptionto take care offees payment and she went to unpack the stuffinrespective dorms.
The school reception had an appeal of the modern mountain house as it is unruffled and rustic, to make you relax and rejuvenated at the very first look. It doesn’t work for me though. Also the untreated timber beams and raw, rough rocky walls standing in contrast to the sleek, contemporary fixtures and modern and urban interiors look marvelous. Certainlythere is plentyofcharacter ineachand everypart ofPinegrove.
Headmaster was the first familiar face I raninto, his words, “All set? Tie your seat belt we have an entrance to crack Dr Mittal” metaphoricallymeant welcome back to hell. I could see allmyprejudices turningrealnow.
I had no idea ofmess I was entering.
He was ina chattymode whenMr. Mathur, our physicalinstructor joined the conversation. I made a narrow escape whenI saw Sara’s mumat the fee counter.
There she was, a bit taller and skinnier thanI last saw her. Witha new weird hairdo, allsmiling, holdingmy hands so tightly that probably they were crushed by now. Sara, my wild funny mischievous friend, the only child of her single mother, citizen of Canada and owner of a very beautiful heart. We were together since grade 1, shared socks, slept in same bed, gave eachother head baths for past 10 years. But now was the time to part to different streams. She was inarts now. It was hard to imagine sevenhours everydaywithout her for next 2 years.
“ What’s wrong with your hair?”, I asked.
“Mumtrimmed them with her teeth, for a party”, she said giggling.
“Halloween party I wonder”, I said winkingand she chuckled. Her muminterrupted whenshe was givingdetails about the originofthis hairstyle, I conveyed greetings and moved to the fee counter citingmumwillbe waiting. I handed the cheques signed bydad and collected payment receipts.
Was about to leave whenMiss Renuasked ifI willbe takingextra coachingfor medicalentrance preparation? Oh, how could I forget that.
“Ofcourse yes”, I said huntingfor the envelope withcashinmybagsayingmiscellaneous.
It’s a good amount of money I thought to myselfcountingnotes. One has to be opulent besides beingexceptionalinstudies to be a doctor nowadays. “How many students are taking coaching?”I asked wonderinghow manycreatures willacknowledge diminutive workingofmybrain.
“Let me check”, she said and went up and downonthe computer screen.
“Three have paid by now, including you”, she smiled at me handingthe receipt. A veryapplaudingsmiles as ifsaying“congrats you are the lucky one”.
The figure washed another horror over me with this number of students I will be under constant surveillance of the teacher. Why was god doing this to me? What wrong have I done to deserve this fate? I was trying to overcome the despair when Sara banged into me again; it was hard for her to walk, because she had that amazing speed, requisite to be a bird I wonder. Probablyher soulchose aninaccurate torso.“Levelthree. Dorm three, first bunk on left, bottom ones yours”, she rantowards the revolvingdoor at the entrance saying, “Mum’s in a hurry. She has a flight to catch”. “Give my regards to her” she was alreadyout ofthe door before I completed the sentence.
I started walking down the stairs towards the car park through the main building which is the academic building. We called it junior wing. Every floor had 3 classrooms. Teachers were in the respective classes meeting the parents. There was a queue outside music room, books were sold there. I had been in every classroomofthis building through years. An unfamiliar grieftranspired inme onthat thought. Maybe the most glorious years ofa humanlife, the adolescence would be soonbygone. I was lost inthoughts whenI saw few boys frommy tenth class. They hadn’t changed a bit in last few years. Probably fifteen sixteen was not the age for physical growth in boys. They saw me too and put their hands up for high fives. One of thempulled my hair and other patted my back. There was never enough of teasing for them. Though I didn’t mind. That was me – a people pleaser 24/7.You’llhave to do something extremely terrible to get me angry. I haven’t ever laughed thoroughly or cried thoroughly though. Sara always called me a sufferer in silence types. But my dad had a different theory. He calls me dumb, he says I don’t allow the sorrow or the painor the happiness to reachmyheart. I don’t know what that means but he is partiallyright, I amsurelydumb. I amthe most ordinaryhumanbeingimaginable. I doubt ifallmyteachers know myname. I amthe one who sit onthe middle seat ofa corner row everydayofthe schoolfor entire schoollife and hide under desk whentheyare electingmonitor. I was more or less like a shoulder for my girl friends to cry on. That was the only role I played in their lives. And with boys I shared a mutual understanding, neither of themwas interested inme nor was I interested inthemwhichreallykept things simple. IfI was to tellthe truth, I didn’t relate wellto people ofmyage. Maybe the precisionwas that I didn’t relate wellto people, at all. I wonder ifthe world sees the same things whichI see throughmyeyes. I was walking down the senior wing engrossed in thoughts. One could see the snow covered peaks from any of the classrooms on this floor, which were especially clear this morning. I was lookingtowards that intimidatingview, relishingthe serenity, the peace inthat silence that I first saw him comingout fromone ofthose rooms. When everything went still. The leaves of trees, the bird ready to fly from their branches the noise of wind and the beat of my heart. As if he was the core point of the universe, holdingus where we were. The gravitationalpullchanged its course. And I discovered that I had a heart ofa younggirl.
He was nothing like what I have seen before. Avery pale skin with touch ofpink around cheeks, a very naturalshade ofan inordinate blush for which anyone can spend thousands of rupees. Ablasé red for lips, a color for the lips of the male models you see on magazine pages, which probably are digitally enhanced. The long dark black eyelids which were softly falling as if the hair of the paint brush made by squirrel hair. Avery cute hairstyle, tousled, textured being carried with an extravagant grace. As he walked past me bemused by something in the book in his hands, totally heedless that how he was affecting sanity ofpeople around himwith his physicalattractiveness left a sweet smellthat made me believe that he was for real, not an illusion. I couldn’t move for a very long time, because I couldn’t make sense of it. I was lost, just like Earth would be if Sun decides to walk out of the solar systemone day. After few seconds as anautomatic set command alarmed, I spellbound started walkingtowards dormitories.I found muminNiya’s dormshe was arrangingher stuff. Niya wasn’t helping. Instead she was cryingensconced behind the quilt so that her matroncouldn’t see. Mumwas trying to tranquilize her with all the same things “Samiya di is there for you, we will come to see on next visiting weekend, you will have fun learning swimming, see all your friends are here”.
The words didn’t calmher and she was so little to put her feelings to words, to tellmumthat nothinginthis world makes up for her, that it was a hideous thingto leave a child onher ownat a tender age. But I have deserted those feelings waybehind and watchingher cry, was makingme somber. I left givingparticulars ofmydorm. I went down to car park greeting teachers and performing reuniting rituals of hugs and high fives with acquaintances on the way half unconscious. Almost 70 percent of the school area is sheltered with foliage, trees and dense vegetation. The path made its way through trees, which retain their old world charm. They have witnessed the British colonial rulers
back to the date of 1842 and are crucial to my fantasies of Victorian era. And the trees which unlike my parents have seen me growing. So all these outdoor trails scuttle like ones in the maze leading to one premises or another. One can experience the natural serenity in its accurate form on a field trip around this place. Pinegrove which has remained untouched by civilizations ifopened as a jungle safarican fetch heady more than the present dealing. Though right now lure ofthe place shrinked as my mind was stillconfound witha jumbled feelingofgrieffor Niya and dazzled bythe allure ofthat divine boy.Was he for real. Why haven’t I seen him before? Is he a student?
It didn’t take me longto track dad’s car whichwas standingnext to a black Mercedes as polished as ifhas come straight fromthe showroom. People were rich here. However they all appeared alike in uniforms.
Wellnow withone exception. Assuminghe is a student.
I moved back to work. Nanhe and two attendants followed me to the dormwhichwas two levels above Niya’s and opposite to buildingofboys dormitories. I was thrilled to see that my bunk was placed next to the window overseeing the playground and the brook. And swimming pool was clearly visible filled with green blue water
concealed within walls with stairs on three sides and confined on one trivial corner of the huge play ground. All one can see is nearly naked stinky boys at the other end of the dormitory. Sara must have killed people for this awesome spot. She is a genius. I started unpackingstuff. Two shelves ina three shelfwardrobe were now dedicated to the books. I tried to hangmost ofthe stuffonhangers; it looked a bit spacious and organized just in case mumcame to check. Allthe extras went into trunk and the trunk was sent to the lockerroom. I was makingmybed whenit occurred to me that it was takingSara long. I was wonderingwhat was she up to.Sara was different fromany one of us. Her dad left her mumbefore her birth. Seeing the things that happened to her mother made her immune to boys however she was naive that she was one herself.
She played footballand never took painto waxher legs before a match. While other girls took dance lessons she played drums. She was always up to some mischiefand could get veryabusive duringfights. It was not a verygood thingto witness her fights, I begged her to keep her coolduringfirst few years. But eventuallyI got used to it and I think others did too.So anyways immunityto boys was the principaltrait that kept us together. I was lost inthoughts whenAmber came and reclined onmyfreshlymade bed whichhad lavender scent ofmum’s fabric softener. Most of the girls were back, perhaps because sun was up and girls that old are too petrified of bringing up the rear to their white complexions. They all congregated at my bed. Conversingabout holidays and other randomstuff, I secretlyhoped that someone would come up withsome news onthat book boy.
And Chaaya alleged as ifshe was hearingmythoughts, “ Oye!Have you guys seen the new admission, he is gorgeous. I almost fainted. He was like Ahhhhh!!!” And thenshe sighed withbothher hands onher chest.
I thanked God; he has this effect on other girls too. There’s nothingwrongifI appreciated himlike anyother youngwoman.
No one else had seenhimbut were verykeento get the details.
I didn’t feelnecessary to tellthemof my short acquaintance with him. Probably I would’ve lost track of words describing himand the last thing I wanted was to give an impression that I was intimidated by him. However, the confirmation that he would be studying in Pinegrove, among barely 350 students who convene with one another in thousands of ways eachday, filled myheart withbliss. At assemblyhall, mess, footballcourt, rumpus room, onstaircase, outside rest rooms, laboratories, dormitories,I will get to see him every day.
The affirmationofanyassumptions was now leadingto another set ofquestions inmybrain. Why one would start a new life, a new tussle in a new place altogether in the final years of high schoolMaybe he didn’t do wellin exams to get the desired stream. There is a hypothesis which is based on the fact that beauties usually don’t have brains. But people like himand Moon are so profoundlyblessed inthe looks department that it compensated for anyother flaws. Right at that moment Moonstrutted, “Hope he is in Arts then”, winkingat Chaaya. “I saw him first, so stay away from him”, Chaaya replied. Theykept the war onwithsarcastic comments and everyone around snickered. I excused myselfsayingmumwould be waitingfor me.
I peeked throughthe window theywere not inNiya’s dormas I expected; mummust be seeingher teachers. It’s a nice experience for mumbecause theyare fullofpraises for her. Niya is a veryintelligent girl. Everyparent wanted their kids to be like her.
Her foremost strength is her keenness to learn, she is always eager to know how, where, why everything happens. Answer to her every question leads to another round of
questions. But it worked pretty well between us. She always asks questions and I amall ready to give her answers. I don’t remember when I last shouted at her or scolded her. One ofthe reasons is that she never gave me a chance to do so and another is that she loves me more thanI deserve. I have never done anythingspecialinacademics, sports or any other recreational activities but still she thinks I amextraordinary. Last year in one of her essays she wrote that I amher idol. It’s in human nature; people can easily start forgivingmistakes ofothers whentheyknow how muchthe other personadores them.
I saw mummakingher wayout ofNiya’s class.
Niya was holdingher hand, was done cryingbut her eyes were stillred.
Mumstarted talkingto me and it was hard to see how she was holdingback herselffromfallingapart intears infront ofus, it was time to go. It’s safe to reachhome before sunset.