By Anindita Baidya
The small pilgrimage town of Deogarh in Jharkhand, 2010. Pallavi, the professor of organic chemistry in a sub-urban Women’s college has a lot to reminisce about. She has a fulfilling life, a happy family, a caring husband, doting in-laws and two beautiful twin daughters.
Looking out of the window of the small but well ventilated staff room, she feels a maddening familiarity in the air. The climate, the sunshine, the spring leaves and the fragrance of the air are all very familiar and brings nostalgia and madness to the otherwise calm and composed Pallavi. This, she has been experiencing since years.
The familiarity of such days of spring, time and again, takes her to her teenage years, spent at the posh three-storey bungalow of her grandfather in Daltonganj, the headquarters of Palamau district. She has always been in love with the beauty of that place. She loved her Palamau. Her forefathers have been aristocrats in the district since the British regime. Her grandfather once told her that Pa-la-mau stands for the three blessings, which nature has bestowed to the place: Pa for Palash, La for Lac and Mau for Mahua. And thus the intoxicating, beautiful Palamau. And in this backdrop, bloomed the love of a coy, quiet and introvert teenager.
Good in academics though, Physics and Chemistry were the subjects she needed help in. So her father hired Dilip, a young lad, belonging to the neighboring Chhatra district, as her tutor. Dilip was a student at the Science College, staying at a nearby hostel.
Dilip was just her opposite. A very cheerful person, he was an outright extrovert and loved to talk, although he maintained a composed persona whenever he visited Pallavi’s mansion. He hardly talked to Pallavi’s mother, grandmother or aunt; he would rather nod in a tamed way to offer ‘thanks’ when one of the ladies of the house would place a cup of tea and two thin-arrowroot biscuits before him while he helped Pallavi in solving the chemistry or physics problems. He would look so embarrassed while accepting the monthly tuition fee from Pallavi’s wealthy father that Pallavi wondered whether accepting wage for one’s labour was a sin!
Time flew during those years. Pallavi was a student of Std VII when she made Dilip her mentor for chemistry and physics. As years passed by, Dilip became her mentor not only for these two subjects, but for practically all the aspects in her tiny life. Dilip was the toughest critic of her literature works, the essays, short stories which she wrote and Dilip was the most lenient guardian when she came home with a hopelessly low score in chemistry.
He showed her different ways of looking at the world; he explained to her why her mother was so very vigilant about her during her teenage years. Sociology suddenly meant a new interesting subject to her and she was awakened to the terribly hard life which the peasants in her Palamau, faced. Dilip showed her that the world was totally different across the high walls of her grandfather’s bungalow. Now and then Dilip would also talk about some uprisings by some people, here and there, aimed at, according to him, a better livelihood and opportunity for them. But Pallavi hardly could make out anything out of these incidents. Her life was restricted to the high school, her three or four girl friends and her family. Apart from the men in her joint family, Dilip was the only man she knew and interacted with.
During her first year in the Government college, Pallavi met Subhash and fell in love with him but the relation was destined to break in a year’s time, when Subhash’s father was transferred and the family left the place. Subhash bid good bye without any promise for future.
Pallavi was left heartbroken and lost. It was then that Dilip narrated the tale of his own love affair with a girl from Chhatra and how she was married off to someone else and how Dilip coped and life moved on. Dilip explained that life has to move on and it is okay to carry on with one’s life even when someone leaves you mid-way. ‘Good girls’ can break their relation too, it is okay. There is no point in lingering the relation at one side only. Therefore, Pallavi regained herself slowly. She knew, if her mentor could have had a relation which did not materialize and still carry on with life so cheerfully, it is not wrong for anybody to leave behind the past. Later, she learnt that Dilip had only cooked up the story of a girl from Chhatra, just to help her out of the dilemma!
By the time she was in the third year of Chemistry honours, she had developed an affinity for Dilip. She did not know whether she wanted to spend her life with him; but she knew that Dilip was a perfect person. She unknowingly imitated him and unconsciously picked up his mannerisms. Whatever his thoughts were, to her, those were the ultimate truth. For her, Dilip was the best philosopher she ever knew.
Gradually, Pallavi realised that she loved him and also believed that one day he would ask her to marry him. When, she did not know; but she knew that it would happen. She never spoke it out before anyone, not even mentioned it in her daily diary but she was his, she knew.
During a trip to her cousin’s, at Bokaro, she collected some dozen Archies’ greeting cards for him, thinking, one day she will hand them over to him. While at a college trip to Puri beach, she bought a delicate decorative peacock made of sea-shells, knowing that one day it would be her gift of love to Dilip. And her collection grew as her love grew and the wait grew longer. She did not know whether Dilip even had one iota of knowledge about her feeling.
During the spring seasons, Dilip would insist that they sit at the balcony of the second floor to have the feel of the fresh air and listen to the cuckoo while solving the chemistry equations and sums. Those special moments made a permanent place in her mind.
During her third year, as the final exams were approaching, Dilip’s visit became erratic. He would be absent from Daltonganj at a stretch and then arrive for a day or two. The family wondered why this person, now in his early 30s, having helped Pallavi in tiding over all these years of academics, now was being so infrequent when Pallavi was to just finish her graduation.
Her university exams finished and she all the more longed for Dilip. Throughout her examination, he was absent. Now that she was almost a graduate, her family already had started searching for a suitable groom for her. Pallavi did not know what her stand should be. If only her guardian angel was near her to help her solve her dilemma.
On a similar spring afternoon, as Pallavi was seated at that same balcony, she heard the panicked voices of the ladies of the house. She rushed down to the ground floor, only to find her aunt beating her chest and mourning. Pallavi’s brother, with a pale and frightened face told her that there was a landmine burst at the police station where her uncle had been recently posted and that her uncle along with most of the persons in the station had lost their lives.