Thunder exploded and lightning blazed the dark sky. Yet she remained unperturbed and continued searching through the old iron bookshelves. Her eyes did not flit across to the window even once. At last, she came across a stack of glossy magazines with a green spine. A smile of relief flitted across her face. There were about 32 issues starting from January 2010 to August 2013, after which the English version of GEO magazines was no more printed. She let out a sigh and stared at those old magazines longingly because she was an ardent reader and missed them dearly. She placed the stack of magazines on the wooden bench and sat down to search for one particular issue that she wanted. She had all these magazines at home, except the one she was in desperate need of. Once, during a bus journey from Madikeri to Bangalore, she had absent-mindedly left it on the bus. She had never forgiven herself for that felony!
Savyasachi began glancing at the cover of each magazine which usually had the picture of the main topic of the issue and also the titles of the other four important topics printed at the bottom of the picture. After looking up at twenty cover pages she found exactly what she wanted. A wolf gazed back at her from the cover page. It had attractive eyes which had faint shades of purple. Right below it was the bold white title which read:
The worldwide search for a safe repository
Fortunately, the magazines were not tattered, clearly pointing to the dwindling number of visitors at the government library. She was overjoyed looking at the treasure which she had unearthed. Now, she was confident of making an amazing presentation at college on nuclear energy. Her joy gave way to anxiety when she looked at the time on her wristwatch. It was 7:50 pm. The library was open only till 8 pm! She quickly replaced the magazines and trotted down the stairs, clutching the only one she was interested in.
It is a miracle that mom has not yet called me.
Quickly she took out her phone from her sling bag and saw that there was no network coverage at all. Letting out a sigh, she went to the front desk, where a bespectacled stout librarian in his late fifties, looked at her alarmed.
‘What are you still doing here?’ he asked her disbelievingly. She smiled at him apologetically.
‘I am sorry Sir. I know that it’s time for you to close the library, but I lost track of time searching for this magazine. It’s very important for my presentation and I don’t have much time to come back tomorrow. Could you please issue it to me now?’ she asked as sweetly as she could. Her sweet tone had always worked wonders for her. He let out a sigh shaking his head.
‘I am not worried that you delayed me because I have to stay back here today. But how will you go back home? Didn’t you look outside the window even once?’
Even before he could finish saying his words, Savyasachi looked at the closed window pane and slapped her forehead. She immediately ran to the entrance of the library and saw the rain mercilessly lashing Bangalore. The road was nothing short of a river in full spat! A roaring thunder followed the almost blinding streak of lightning. Helplessly she walked back to the front desk. The librarian gave her a sympathetic look.
‘How far is your home?’ he asked in a concerned tone.
‘10 kilometres, Sir. I travel by bus,’ she said timidly. He clucked his tongue. A demure telephone on the table caught her eye.
‘Can I make a call?’
‘Yes, of course. If you are lucky enough it could still be working despite the rain because there is absolutely no signal on my mobile.’
Savyasachi picked up the receiver and breathed in relief when she heard the boring dial-tone. She quickly dialled her home landline number.
‘Amma, it is me.….Yeah, I am still in the library…..I am sorry I didn’t look at the time, but I found that magazine at last. How bad is the rain there?...... Ohh!!.... I don’t know…. Amma I know I am irresponsible, what can I do now?.....Hmmm… okay… alright, I will stay in the library. Yes, librarian sir is here and he is also staying back… Aaythu Amma! Don’t worry and tell Appa also when he comes home. In case the rain subsides I will call back and let’s see if Appa can pick me up…. Okay, I will take care, bye Amma,’ she said swallowing hard and placed back the receiver.
She knew that her mother was really worried and would certainly transfer it on her father when he managed to reach home from the office. Her father’s office was barely 3 kilometres from home and he would simply walk back home even if the rain didn’t cease. She smiled weakly at the amiable librarian.
‘Don’t worry. You can stay here for the night. This is the first time I am seeing such heavy rain in this city. Make yourself comfortable at the reading table. I have a tea-maker in my cabin on the first floor. I will bring you a cup of hot tea,’ he said and walked towards the stairs.
Savyasachi took out the sling bag across her shoulder and turned towards the row of reading tables. On both sides of the table was a row of four chairs and there were four such tables. She was about to take a step forward when she looked up once again at the second table. There was a man intently reading the fat book before him. He was the only living being in that huge hall except her. There was an eerie silence around them. She quietly walked to his table and sat opposite to him noiselessly. He didn’t even seem to notice her. He was a young man, probably between the age of 25 and 30. He had worn a light blue linen full-sleeved shirt and had rolled up the sleeves to his elbow. There was a slight frown on his stubbly face. His left hand was stroking his designer stubble and the long fingers of his right were rested on the book. There was no chance of knowing the colour of his eyes because not once did he lift his eyes from the page he was engrossed in reading.
Didn’t he hear me come? Why didn’t he look up even once? At least out of courtesy he could have smiled and said a Hi. After all, we were probably going to spend the entire night in this scary library! It would certainly be much better if we could get to know each other…
Savyasachi continued to stare at him as if willing him to look up any minute. Her efforts yielded no result. The moment she heard the heavy footsteps of the librarian on the stairs, she fumbled with the GEO magazine in her hand and opened a random page simply to pretend that she was reading. Out of the corner of her eye, she once again glanced up at that alluring stranger…
The librarian walked up to the table with a tray which had two modest cups of tea. He gave her a cup smiling politely and she returned the gesture.
‘Thank you so much, Sir. I am really relieved to have you here today. I don’t know how I could have managed it otherwise,’ she said with heartfelt gratitude.
‘Honestly speaking, I am glad that you both are here in this library. These days, hardly any youngsters visit this place and even if they do, it’s next to impossible to find them engrossed in books for more than half an hour. So I was indeed shocked to see you stay here until so late in the evening.’
The tea was piping hot and she was not used to drinking a steaming cup of tea. She placed the cup before her and once again looked at the magazine. The librarian went to the man and placed the cup next to his book. She was not looking at him but her ears were straining to hear his voice. After a few moments, all she heard was a brief thank you. His voice was barely even audible but she was certain that he must have said the two words with a smile. Casually, she once again looked at the librarian, casting a fleeting glance at the stranger. His left hand was now holding the cup, though his face was still bent down staring at the book. It really irked her.
What could be so interesting in that book?
There was no point in turning the pages of a magazine which she had already read.
‘Where is the section for classic English novels?’ she asked getting up.
‘All books related to English literature are placed on the last rack of shelves in the corner,’ said the librarian pointing in the direction of the racks.
‘Thank you again.’
‘I will bring some candles and leave them on the table. There is no inverter in the library and I expect a power cut anytime now. Later I will be in my cabin on the first floor. In case you need anything just call out to me,’ he said addressing both of them. Yet it looked like only she was listening to him. She gave him a nod and walked towards the book rack. There was no difficulty in finding the English literature section. She slowly scanned through the titles and picked ‘A Suitable Boy’ written by Vikram Seth. This was the fat book that she had been for the past few days reading at her home. She was about to return to the table when her eyes fell on ‘Gone with the wind’ written by Margaret Mitchell. This book was one of her favourites and it had been her comfort read ever since she had read it for the first time. Unable to walk away without it, she picked it up too. Carrying the two heavy books, she walked to the table. There were two candles and a matchbox on the table. The librarian had returned to his cabin and an empty cup lay near the candles. Mr.X was of course still concentrating on the book. The only change in his mien was that he ran his hand through his slightly wavy, thick black hair. He sported a short haircut.
Savyasachi placed the two giant books on the table with a soft thud. She began sipping the tea which was only slightly warmer than the room temperature. She walked around the hall looking at various sections until she finished drinking the tea. Later she settled on the chair opposite to him and opened the book ‘A Suitable Boy’. Skimming through the pages, she found the page where she had stopped reading the previous night in the comfort of her study table at home. She missed the warmth of her room.
Mom would have certainly made pakodas if I was at home now. The weather is perfect for it! I wish I was back home. He is literally getting on my nerves by not even looking up. Doesn’t he miss his home too? Shall I start a conversation with him?.... No! Girls don’t do it! Isn’t it usually the guy who initiates a small talk? I will come across as being too fast if I talk to him. Let him make the first move if he wants to, why should I bother?
Savyasachi returned to reading her book after much effort. Though initially, she was finding it hard to concentrate, later she immersed herself in the novel. Occasionally she could hear the sound of a page turning from the opposite side. The rain pattered outside but since the door of the main entrance was now closed, she could not hear the noise outside. Only the roar of thunder broke through that eerie silence. That was all! A young man and woman sat opposite to each other with their eyes fixed on books on a romantic rainy night…
The very next moment after that loud sound jolted her from the interesting novel, the four tube-lights in that huge hall went out.
‘Oh!’ she gasped. It was completely dark around her. She quickly picked up her bag and started searching in it to get out her mobile so that she could switch on the torch. But she dropped some pens and notebook from the bag during her frantic search.
‘Allow me to help you,’ said a deep voice from the other side of the table. She froze on the chair!
A small flame came to life before her and there he was! The mystery man who had awakened the curiosity in her mind. The first thing she noticed was his dark eyes and sharp features. He looked rugged with a light moustache and two days old stubble. There was a lighter in his left hand which was the only source of light between them. She could see nothing other than him in this big universe. This was the most intimate romantic moment that she had ever shared with a man… A hint of a smile crossed his face. He picked one of the candles and lit it up. Then he placed it on the table between them and smiled at her warmly. Savyasachi let out the breath that she had been holding and smiled back hesitantly.
‘Power cut is indeed a killjoy, isn’t it?’ he said casually. She simply nodded in reply.
‘I doubt that we can go back to reading our books in candlelight. By the way, what were you reading?’ he asked peering at the two fat books on her side.
‘A Suitable boy,’ she said closing the book. He creased his forehead for a moment.
‘A book by Vikram Seth? It’s indeed a big novel but worth the effort. I read it some years ago.’
Savyasachi gaped at him literally! This was the first time she had heard a man say that he had read a novel and that too one as big as that book (1535 pages, to be precise!). She could no longer suppress her curiosity.
‘Which book were you engrossed in?’ she asked instantly. He could sense the urgency in her tone.
‘The Arthashastra,’ he said almost apologetically. She chuckled at his answer.
Why on earth would he read The Arthshastra by Chanakya in 2015??!!
‘Are you a History or Economics student?’ she blurted out. He looked at her amused and it was now his turn to stifle a laugh.
‘Nope! But I can understand why you asked me that question,’ he said with a lopsided smile which set butterflies flying in her stomach. She looked down embarrassed that she had probably crossed her line.
‘May I know your name?’ he asked slowly, trying to keep his voice as smooth as possible. She looked up and locked eyes with him.
He leaned forward and shook his head.
‘Savyasachi?... interesting! Are you what your name says you are?’ he said crossing his arms. This was the first time anyone had asked her that question because until now people only asked her the meaning of her peculiar name.
‘Do you know the meaning of my name?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yes indeed. Savyasachi means ambidextrous. A person who can effectively use both hands. It's also one of Arjuna’s names because he could use the bow in both his hands with equal skill. So are you ambidextrous?’ he asked with genuine interest. She smiled shaking her head.
‘Not at all! I tried writing with my left hand but my handwriting was nothing less than a disaster and I gave up seeing that horror in my book,’ she said grinning. Her smile had an innocent charm to it which he found strangely attractive.
‘Are your parents very much into mythology? Why did they choose this name?’
‘My father is a huge fan of Mahabharata and had developed a strong liking to this name. He had made up his mind to name his child Savyasachi irrespective of its gender. He always recollects the way my mother vehemently opposed his decision but he did not budge and eventually she had to give in. Yet it did not take long for her to make peace with my name.’
He listened to the history of her name with rapt attention without even batting an eyelid as if it were a matter of national importance. She was more than happy to keep him interested in the conversation. The fear of night was washed away in the honey glow of the lone candlelight.
‘I think your name becomes you. It is as unique as you,’ he said intently. She almost blushed at his compliment. She knew nothing about him except that he read Arthashstra and had finished reading ‘A Suitable Boy’. Yet she was spending the night with him in candlelight discussing the story behind her name! Once again there was silence between them which was really unsettling for her. It was as if the silence brought them uncomfortably close enough to set their hearts racing. The darkness intensified their intimacy further.
‘What is your name?’ she asked breaking the silence.
‘I thought you would never ask…’ he said in his gravelly tone. A flash of lightning lit up the hall for a second and a roaring thunder followed it. He could feel her shudder softly at the sound.
Savyasachi looked at him a little puzzled. She had never heard that name before.
‘What does your name mean?’
He leaned back on his chair and stroked his stubble.
‘Aatish means fire or a dynamic personality.’
‘Wow! Then you are exactly what we need in this darkness. A raging inferno to fill this darkness with light,’ she said with her eyes twinkling. His eyes narrowed a bit.
‘You sound very poetic. Do you write poems?’ he asked as if he knew the answer. She averted his eyes timidly.
‘Not many, just a few…’
‘Ah! I was right. This is the first time I have come across a poetess in my life,’ he said winking at her. Even that silly gesture made her heart skip a beat. Aatish took a look at his Fastrack watch under the candle flame and let out a sigh.
‘What time is it?’ she asked trying to change the direction of their conversation.
‘Ten minutes to nine.’
She rolled her eyes and cupped her face in her hands. Aatish watched her keenly. Previously, he had noted that she had worn a short-sleeved light purple kurta over beige cotton jeans. She had no accessories other than the wristwatch with a big dial and the colour of the belt of her watch matched that of her jeans. Her hair had been loosely plaited on the left side. There was nothing distinct in her appearance which could grab someone’s attention, yet there was something alluring about her. It was just that he could not figure out what it was. Suddenly she looked up and caught him staring at her. He was gazing like a panther eying its prey. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
‘I think you are a student. What are you studying?’ he asked trying to strike a casual conversation with her. He too felt awkward at being caught red-handed.
‘I am studying in final year engineering. Today, I came here to find a magazine which had a really interesting article for a presentation that I have to make on Monday,’ she said coolly.
‘Was engineering your field of interest when you chose it? Or did you also succumb to parental, peer and social pressure?’ he asked in a mocking tone. She looked at him evenly.
‘I am happy with what I am doing. Are you an engineer too?’ she asked flatly.
‘One can say so…’ he said wryly.
What sort of an answer is that? Anyways, none of my business!
‘Which is that other book?’
Aatish tried to sound perky with some effort. Savyasachi moved the book towards him so that he could take a better look.
‘Its ‘Gone with the wind’ by Margaret Mitchell. My all-time favourite!’ she said beaming as if she had written every word in that book. He turned a few pages and smiled at her enthusiasm.
‘I think this was also made into a movie. I have heard about this book but was never fortunate enough to read it. Why do you like it so much?’
His questions sounded so personal and intimate. It was as if he was more interested in her than the book.
He can simply ask what the story is about.
‘Well, it’s about the life of Scarlett with a backdrop of the civil war. It excellently describes the courage and steadfastness she displayed in the face of adversity. It also captures her emotions well and the way she crosses every hurdle in life.’
Aatish rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward raising an eyebrow.
‘I asked why you like this book.’
Savyasachi thought for a moment and caressed the loose ends of her plait.
‘Hmmm… at the heart of the book is the love story of Rhett and Scarlett. He is the ultimate bad man practising all possible vices and yet he is extremely charming. Nobody could understand her the way he did, but she took a really long time to feel his love…’ she said softly, almost lost in her thoughts. She spoke to him with so much emotion that he could feel himself being dragged into her thoughts.
‘Which is your favourite book?’
He ran his hand through his hair.
‘I read a lot. I don’t have any book in particular as a favourite but I do like a lot of them. I simply start reading any book which I lay my hands on. Reading is one of my addictions which I can’t live without. It intoxicates me,’ he said huskily. His voice sent a shiver down her spine. Every time he spoke, she didn’t want him to stop.
‘I am impressed that you are so much into books. You are really interesting,’ she said impulsively. The very next moment she was amazed at her own audacity for being so upfront with a stranger.
Stranger??!! Is he still a stranger to me? Doesn’t feel so…
Aatish laughed at her words. His laughter was not in merriment, it was dark and rude.
‘Interesting?! Is that what you really think about me? But she always says that I am very boring,’ he said wryly.
‘Who?’ she blurted out.
‘Who else? My girlfriend,’ he said shrugging. Breath was knocked out of Savyasachi. Suddenly she felt the darkness of the room close in on her. She looked away into the distance and took a deep breath discreetly. His last two words had almost broken her heart. Yet she composed herself quickly and smiled slightly without giving away even a small hint about the turmoil in her heart.
Why didn’t I think of this before? He is certainly old enough to have been married too. Therefore, it’s no wonder that he has a girlfriend. Why is it bothering me so much? Stupid Savya!
Aatish was sensitive enough to note the faint changes in her facial expression. Her eyes betrayed the smile on her face. For some unknown reason, he felt sorry and guilty too.
‘I never keep a steady job. I work only if I am interested in doing it. I hate to work under a strict framework of rules, it suffocates me. She is not very happy about my reckless attitude and is always trying to have me settled in a steady lifestyle. My family also wants the same. Nobody tries to understand me…’ he rued. She nodded trying to empathize with him.
‘I don’t know what to tell but I can understand how you feel,’ she said softly. His lips curled into a harmless smile.
‘You don’t have to say anything, you are too young for this. The simple assurance that you understand, makes me feel better. Thank you.’
‘You are welcome, Aatish,’ she said smiling back. His name lingered on her tongue like a dewdrop on a flower. His eyes once again grew intense.
‘Say my name again, Savyasachi.’
He said her name with a touching tenderness. Instantly she realised why he told her to do so, exactly for the same reason why she wanted to hear him say her name again.
‘Aatish,’ she said softly. He closed his eyes, trying to hold onto that moment forever. He let out a long drawn breath and opened his eyes. They both were trapped in a whirlpool of bewildering feelings. To distract herself, she opened her sling bag and took out a chocolate. It was a Cadbury’s Five-star, her secret indulgence! She tore open the golden coloured wrapper and cut the chocolate into the half. Wordlessly she offered one half to him.
‘Do you always carry one in your bag? You must have a sweet tooth,’ he taunted with a smile crinkling the skin around his eyes. She grinned back.
‘Chocolate is my weakness. I would do anything for a chocolate cake,’ she said unabashedly. They both bit into the comforting soft chocolate. The whole time, he kept admiring the way her long fingers held the melting chocolate.
After a while, Savyasachi began scraping the candle wax from the table and began moulding it into a small ball. He watched her amused and they both indulged in some careless banter about the weather.
‘I think the rainy season is the most romantic of all seasons,’ she declared concentrating on the wax. Without thinking, he moved his hand forward and stroked her fingers lightly. His casual touch sent shock waves through her body.
‘There is always romance in rain…’ he said in a drawling tone. She swallowed hard trying not to swoon.
This is crazy! I shouldn’t fall for him. He is already committed!
Savyasachi’s rational mind was screaming in protest, yet she could not fathom the strong allure of this handsome man.
I should stay away from her!
No amount of admonition could stop him. They both hovered around the lone candle flame like moths. It was a peril that both of them found pleasurable. Though they did not know where this night led to, this journey was certainly both mystifying and passionate beyond comprehension. Looking into each other’s eyes in the golden glow of the dying candle, they left behind their past and did not dare to step into their future. It was a moment of living in the sheer intoxicating present...
A strong gust of wind forced open a closed window pane and blew over Savyasachi’s face. Many strands of hair escaped her loose plait and danced over her face. She moved them away from her face and tucked them behind her ear. With dishevelled hair and dreamy eyes, she looked picture perfect in that faint light.
The beauty of imperfection silhouetted in innocence…
Aatish was probably in the danger of turning into a poet himself.
‘I think we should close that window and secure it tightly. Otherwise, the rain droplets might land on the books,’ she said in a concerned tone. He nodded in assent and stood up. He frowned when she did the same.
‘I will go and close the window. You can stay here or are you scared to stay alone?’
His tone was not mocking but with genuine concern. She giggled at his words.
‘I am not scared. I only wanted to help you,’ she said outstretching her hand to pick up the candle.
‘No! Wait! The molten wax will spill on your fingers.’
He found some old newspaper on the table and folded it to make it a stiff piece of paper. Then, he made a small hole in it and slid it to the middle of the candle from below.
‘That’s better,’ he said and handed her the candle. His actions filled her with warmth.
Even mom never did this for me before! Is he so caring about everyone or just me?
Savyasachi pushed aside those thoughts and walked carefully protecting the flame from the wind. He walked next to her, maintaining as much respectable distance as he could in that darkness. Yet she was quite mindful of his taut physique which was almost touching her, but actually not. When they reached the rows of windows on the wall, it was not just one but two windows which were open and the window panes were dangerously swinging with the wind as if they intended to crash on the rods of the window.
‘You close that one, I’ll manage this,’ she said and placed the candle carefully on the bookshelf. The thunderstorm had not ceased even a bit and it continued to wreak havoc in the Garden city. With some effort, she pulled the window pane closing it and secured it firmly. The rain had sprayed a little on her purple kurta, also her hands were completely wet. She was surprised to see that he was still struggling to close the other window. Since he was exposed more to the rain, his shirt was almost wet, completely soaking his hands and also his face.
‘Shall I help?’
‘No… I can handle this. It’s a little tight…’ he said still struggling. Then, at last, he was successful in closing it.
‘There!’ he said with a triumphant smile. Showing him a thumbs up sign, she went to pick the candle. After two steps she slipped because the floor was slippery due to the rain. Her hand involuntarily pushed the candle blowing it out. In that darkness instead of touching the cold and wet floor, she landed in his sturdy arms. Her face hit his hard chest. She gasped when his arms circled her waist protectively to stop her from falling down.
It was completely dark and quiet. She was breathing hard and his breathing was heavy. Her heart was pounding so loudly that she could hear literally hear it. Her right palm was exactly above his heart and she could feel his erratic heartbeat too. They could smell an enticing fragrance of the wet earth and the rain combined into a heady mixture. Soaking in the warmth, neither of them moved. She wanted to melt into him and he wanted to take her into his arms. After a moment, he slowly released her from his hold. They could only hear the music of each other breathing heavily. A flash of lightning lighted up the hall only for a second. It was more than enough to see the pure desire in their eyes.
Once again his lighter came to life and the golden flame revealed the unadorned passion glowing in their eyes. Though she wanted to lower her eyes bashfully, she continued to brazenly gaze at him in longing. Aatish was very well cognizant of the fact that he should not be playing with her emotions, yet he could not pull away from her. They were both equally helpless and formidable! He ardently ran his finger along her cheek and she closed her eyes giving in to his touch. He had a maddening urge to kiss her soft lips and he knew she would not protest.
Stop it! You cannot be with her. Things will never work out between the two of you!
Aatish instantly withdrew his hand and stepped back. Savyasachi was rudely pulled back into reality. She lowered her eyes in embarrassment and pain. He quietly picked up the candle and lighted it using his lighter. Wordlessly he moved ahead and she followed him to their reading table.
‘I am sorry,’ he apologised earnestly once she sat on her chair. She still did not look up at him.
‘It’s just that… we were a little carried away. I can totally understand and you don’t have to be so embarrassed.’
Hesitantly she looked up at him and smiled weakly.
‘I am sorry too.’
‘You don’t have to be. Moreover, I think it is this weather which is to be blamed. As I said before, there is always romance in rain,’ he said and winked at her playfully. They both laughed leaving behind the embarrassment. To make the situation even less mortifying, he once again picked up the book ‘Gone with the wind’.
‘Which is your favourite line in this book?’
Aatish flipped through the pages while asking her that question. She did not have to think long before answering.
‘There is a line in the end: “Had she ever understood Ashley, she would never have loved him; had she ever understood Rhett, she would never have lost him.” I really like that line. In simple words, it says everything about her heart and its pain.’
Suddenly his eyes began to twinkle and his lips curled into a lopsided smile.
‘Will you narrate this story for me, Savyasachi?’
Every time he said her name, her heart leapt with joy. It was as if she was hearing it for the first time in her life.
‘Err… it’s quite a long novel,’ she said a little unsure. He held up his wrist and pointed to his watch.
‘It’s only 11.05 pm. We still have an entire night to be spent here. We may as well entertain ourselves if you don’t mind.’
‘Okay. But on one condition, you will have to tell me the story of ‘A suitable boy’.’
He shook his head sheepishly.
‘I am sorry but I read that book long ago and it’s indeed a long novel. I don’t remember the details of it now to narrate to you,’ he said earnestly. She looked at him evenly.
‘A deal is a deal. I don't agree unless you give me a story in return.’
Her mild obstinacy was enchanting and he simply could not refuse her.
‘Have you read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee?’
She shook her head in denial.
‘Perfect! I will narrate to you that story and to make up for the earlier disappointment I will also narrate ‘The secret life of William Shakespeare’ by Jude Morgan. I read the latter recently and trust me, both the books are really amazing,’ he said enthusiastically. She was more than happy with that deal.
Savyasachi began narrating her favourite novel with the right mixture of emotions it demanded. He listened to her with rapt attention without taking his eyes off her even once. Her voice sounded like a melody being played in the dead of the night. It was comforting. He loved the way her voice softened when she spoke of love between the protagonists. He had to use every ounce of his self-control to stop himself from kissing her flushed cheeks while she was mentioning the intimacy between Rhett and Scarlett. Sometimes he interrupted to comment on the events that were really significant in the story. This really pleased Savyasachi rather than irking her because it showed that he was not only hearing but also listening to her words.
Once she finished her narration, they both discussed civil war for some time. He was amazed at how well informed she was about the history of the war.
‘I don’t remember when was the last time I had such an interesting and intelligent conversation with anyone,’ he said clearly impressed.
‘It is not difficult to sustain such a conversation when both of us are so much into books,’ she said completely satiated with that experience.
‘You are right. Okay! Now, my turn…’
He first began telling the story of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It was a simple and yet a very intense story. Though he was clearly not very articulate and expressive like her, he made a decent narration. She liked the story and immediately announced that she would certainly read the book soon. Savyasachi was a huge fan of Shakespeare’s plays and therefore was more interested in his second story. ‘The secret life of William Shakespeare’ had made a wonderful effort to capture the private life of the literary genius. Some facts were so astonishing that she gaped at him wide-eyed.
‘I cannot even imagine the hardships he must have gone through to choose writing as his career. The truth that his father was quite opposed to his decision is understandable. It requires a lot of courage to tread on an offbeat path,’ she said appreciating Shakespeare.
‘Sometimes it is a curse to choose differently…’ he said coldly in a voice thick with emotion. She really could not guess why he said that but there was something intense hidden behind those words. After a moment he pulled himself out of his thoughts and smiled at her genially.
‘Have you ever been in love?’ he asked in his deep beguiling voice. She inhaled sharply and averted his eyes. If he had asked her ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ she would have easily said no.
Have I ever been in love? Not until tonight.
Savyasachi simply shook her head unable to tell the truth.
‘Why?’ he asked softly.
‘I am scared.’
Anyone else would have certainly laughed at her answer and that was what she expected from him. He remained silent trying really hard to know what she was thinking. He waited for her explanation tenaciously. Seeing his intense eyes and assured that he was not going to mock her, she mustered up the courage to unlock the fear in her heart.
‘I have read and seen many love stories. Some end happily while some have a tragic ending. I don’t think I will be able to handle a heartbreak in my life. It takes a lot of courage to be in love and I don’t think I have it in me. Above all I had never come across a man who could expel this fear from my heart and sweep me off my feet,’ she said letting out a sigh. Her vulnerability cast a spell on him and he did not want to leave her ever.
Don’t be a fool! I should not go anymore deeper into this. It will only hurt her more…
‘Love is not something to be feared. Someday you will realise its true meaning in life. I hope you find someone who will love and cherish you forever.’
He said those words with a pang of jealousy for her future lover, who he knew, could not certainly be him. She moved her finger across the candle flame playing with it. She felt it was better to not talk further on this topic because she was scared that unknowingly she might let him discover her feelings for him.
‘I love rain but I never got an opportunity to drench in it. My mother is always very particular that I shouldn’t get wet and fall sick. Somehow or the other every opportunity would slip out of my hands,’ she said throwing up her hands in irritation. He laughed at her gesture. Instantly he stood up and walked towards her side of the table. She caught her breath when he outstretched his hand to her.
‘Come now. This is the least I can do for you. Let’s fulfil your desire.’
She looked at him incredulously.
‘What do you mean? Now?? I am not sure if¬¬—‘
‘Now is the time Savyasachi! If you really want something, you should simply follow your heart. Don’t let your mind stop you. Your life is within your reach. All you have to do is simply stretch your hand…’ he said ardently. Passion glowed in his every word. She looked at his hand which held a promise of unknown pleasures. Her eyes were filled with a mystifying fear and uncertainty.
Hold his hand Savya! Give yourself a chance at life. Just go and live this night.
Savyasachi’s heart was not going to obey her brain today. His offer was too tempting to not accept it. He waited for her with bated breath. She took in a deep breath and held his hand. All inhibitions flew out of her mind. Aatish was elated as he firmly held her soft hand. He took out his phone and switched on the torch. It shone brighter than the candle and they both walked towards the entrance of the library. The librarian had only latched it instead of locking it as usual. He gave her his phone to hold and unlatched the door, without letting go of her hand even once. It was completely dark, but the frequent flashes of lightning kept lighting up the place every now and then. The rain had mellowed down a little. Nevertheless, it was still raining ceaselessly. Once outside he let go of her hand with a smile.
‘Thank you,’ she said breezily and ran into the rain. He watched her as she outstretched her arms and embraced the rain. She held up her face unflinchingly soaking herself completely. He left his phone carefully near the door so that it did not get wet. It was 2.13 am when he checked the time before placing down his phone. He watched her carefree laughter with a heavy heart.
If only this night would never end…
‘Join me!’ she called out to him over a roar of thunder. Wordlessly he walked into the rain and closed his eyes allowing the sacred drops of water drench him completely. Both were completely wet and there was about one foot of water flowing down the road. Suddenly he felt more water being splashed on his abdomen. When he opened his eyes, she was playfully kicking the water at him.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked stepping back. She relentlessly continued to kick water.
‘I am playing football! Wanna try??’
‘Oh really! Then here is my goal!’ he said and kicked more water towards her. They continued doing it like two reckless children. Their laughter joined the lonely thunder and filled the night. There was nobody to witness their fun except the rain, thunder, lightning and the sombre library. It was as if only the two of them existed in this big world. After what felt like an eternity they both stopped almost panting for breath.
‘I think we should go inside. We have played enough in the rain. I hope you are satisfied,’ he said cheerfully.
‘I will never be satisfied with the rain! I could spend this whole night getting wet!’
‘Of course not! Let’s go inside. I don’t want you falling sick,’ he said sternly. She laughed at his words.
‘You sound like my mother now.’
Aatish was not going to indulge her anymore. He held her arm and began walking towards to door. She rolled her eyes and followed him sulking. Switching on the torch on his phone they both walked inside. He latched the door and she walked towards their table. The candle was on the verge of being completely melted when she lit up the other one. Savyasachi unfastened her plait and let her loose hair fall over her shoulders. He ran his hand through his wet hair, shaking off the droplets of water. Squeezing some of the water out of ends of her kurta, he began lightly patting her hair. When he looked at her, she narrowed her eyes and looked away. He chuckled at her softly.
‘Are you angry with me? I think you have enjoyed enough in the rain today. I am sure that the weather is going to be the same at least for a couple of more days. Tomorrow again you can indulge in this pleasure.’
She frowned at his words.
‘Yeah right! You are going to be with me every day to let me play in the rain like this,’ she said sarcastically. Immediately the smile was wiped clean from his face and he looked grim.
‘I have something important to tell you. I know I am going to regret telling this to you, but I really can’t hide it from you anymore.’
He swallowed hard and looked into her bewildered eyes.
‘What is it?’ she asked softly when he did not say anything further.
‘I lied to you that I have a girlfriend. I never had one.’
What??!! Really? Are you kidding me?
The wet clothes were making her almost shiver in cold.
‘Why did you lie?’
He stuffed his clenched fists into the wet pockets of his jeans. But he did not take even one step towards her.
‘I didn’t want us to get any closer to each other. I wanted to keep you away from me,’ he said in a strained voice. Savyasachi’s heart was racing in anticipation. She could almost guess where this conversation was leading to. He was fighting a fierce battle within himself which was headed towards a defeat.
Go on! You have to tell her. She deserves to know.
‘I love you, Savyasachi.’
Breath was knocked out of her. The silence which followed his words hung like the mist on a winter morning. He did not stir from his place and continued to gaze at her in longing.
Is he actually confessing his love to me? Did he really do it just now? Let this not be a dream!
It was certainly not a dream and the man for whom she had harboured feelings in her heart was standing before her. In this huge library with none around, he had laid his heart before her. The rows of books were the only witnesses to this momentous night. She did not fathom if it was his confession or her own bottled up emotions which emboldened her. Savyasachi strode towards him and flung her hands around his neck. He gasped turning into a stone.
‘I love you too.’
For a moment he was torn between love and indecision. Then he threw away all other thoughts from his mind and embraced her. They melted into each other’s arms. After a few blissful moments, he released her from his embrace. She smiled slightly and looked into his eyes, but to her astonishment, they were filled with anguish.
‘We can never be together, I am sorry,’ he whispered. With these words, he had stabbed her heart with a rusted dagger. She staggered back a few steps in shock.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked meekly.
Aatish rubbed his face with his hands and let out a long drawn breath. It was time for the truth to be revealed and break her heart forever.
I am never going to forgive myself for this…
‘I don’t lead a normal life, Savyasachi. Every day in my life I am fighting for a cause. I have taken refuge in Bangalore only for a few days to remain undiscovered. I should never have let you walk into my life and endanger yours.’
Regret and pain saturated his voice. She looked at him incredulously. Not a single word what he spoke made sense to her. Tears trickled down her wet.
‘Who are you? What cause are you fighting for?’
‘I cannot reveal it,’ he said with finality which made her quiver. She tugged at his wet shirt looked up at him in defiance.
‘You owe me an explanation, Aatish!’
‘I know I do but I can’t. I came to this library because I knew not many will visit this place. It was the safest place to hide. I didn’t want to talk to you and tried really hard to keep distance but when you came and sat before me, I could no longer hold onto my indifference,’ he said in a helpless tone. Savyasachi buried her face in her hands and stepped back. It was killing him to see the way she was breaking down. Suddenly she looked up at him in horror.
‘Are you a terrorist?’
Despite the wretched situation, her words brought a wry smile on his face.
‘If I say yes, will you hate me?’ he asked unsurely. She stood there deep in thought unable to utter a word.
‘I know you won’t. So there is no point in lying about it. I am not a terrorist, but a revolutionary.’
His eyes twinkled with pride when he said the last word. A mild relief entered her distraught mind.
‘Being a revolutionary is no crime. Why do you have to hide your identity?’ she asked puzzled. He walked up to her and took his face in his hands. Tenderly he wiped her tears.
‘Sweetheart, you only see this world as black and white, good and bad. You have to understand that there are various shades of grey in between. I am right in fighting for a noble cause, but I have broken many rules to reach my goals. I am an offender in the eyes of law,’ he explained carefully.
‘There must be some way to make this work…’ she said tensely with expectation.
Aatish let out a sigh and placed his forehead on hers.
‘I really wish there was… but it’s impossible.’
A lightning struck and thunder roared at a distance.
‘Then I will come with you,’ she said straight away. Her eyes were glowing fiercely and he knew instantly that she really meant it.
‘You are saying that you will leave behind everything for me. Your family, your career, your life! Please don’t say it again, love. You have been well protected, nourished and cared for in your life. Not everyone is fortunate as you. I won’t let you throw everything away for me. This night was probably the first time that you were left unprotected but what I have seen is far worse. Innocent children, women, men were mercilessly slaughtered. I have seen my loved ones being murdered right before my eyes…’
His voice cracked on the last sentence. A tear slipped out of his eye and he let go of her. He was trying to control the emotions overwhelming him.
When was the last time I shed tears over them? I shouldn’t reveal my secret. Let her stay untouched by my suffering. She won’t be able to carry the burden of my pain.
Out of the blue, his phone began ringing. He was startled at the sound because he knew who might have called. There was no point in taking a look at the number because it would certainly be an unknown number. He took a deep breath and composed himself before answering the call.
‘Hello… there was no signal on my phone before, so I didn’t call… I didn’t notice… yes, I am in the library… the librarian is asleep… no, I am alone… okay… let me know,’ he spoke brusquely and cut the call. She was breathing hard trying to convince herself that this nightmare would end any moment and he would simply take her into his arms saying that all this was only a prank. They would again go back to laughing without a care in this world. When he turned to look at her, his face was hard and expressionless.
‘I should leave soon. I am too deep in this battle to back out. I should fight for their life, for justice. They need me, Savyasachi,’ he said fervently.
‘So do I. Finish your fight and come back to me. I will be waiting,’ she said with a steadfastness, that he stared at her in awe. Without thinking twice he pulled her closer to him. She felt an unfathomable gratification in his arms. He held onto her like she was his only reason to live. With wet clothes making them shiver, the warmth of their intimacy grew stronger. He slowly bent down and kissed her. The girl who had never believed in falling so madly in love was now kissing him back. No matter how much the memory of this moment was going to hurt them later, they gave in to the pleasure and kissed passionately. When he reluctantly pulled back, they were both breathing heavily.
‘You are not going to wait for me because I am not coming back ever. I want you to live a happy, comfortable and fulfilling life. You should remain warm and protected till a ripe old age surrounded by your grandchildren and a loving husband. I wish you were not so unique, then maybe I would not have fallen in love with you. I am sorry, love…’ he breathed. She did not say anything except being acutely aware of his presence. She could feel his comforting hot breath on her tear-streaked face.
Breaking the silence of the night, a car horn blared twice. Aatish gasped and tightened his hold on her. Once again he kissed her with a frightening urgency and locked eyes with her for one last time.
‘I love you and always will,’ he said with ardour filling his eyes. For an eternal moment, they stood there, lost in the depth of love. Then he turned abruptly and strode towards the door. Savyasachi stood there hoping that he would turn back. Her heart pounded fervently longing for him to come back. He did not look back even once and quickly walked out of the door closing it behind him.
Savyasachi was cruelly pulled out of her trance when she found herself standing all alone in that huge library. The loneliness suffocated her and she sobbed ceaselessly. She was crying over a man about whom she knew nothing and not even once had she seen his face in daylight. Yet seeing him walk away had left her shattered. She collapsed on the cold floor picturing the stranger who had changed her life forever. He had left something valuable which she would cherish forever.
One night at the library, you showed me what it means to love and to be loved forever…
BOON OF A CURSE
Meeting you even for a minute,
Is nothing but a curse.
For all that I do
After you leave is,
Miss you like never before!
Yet a fool that I am,
I never yearn for a boon,
I live for love!
If loving you is a curse,
I ask for just one boon,
‘To be cursed
With love for life…’
*** The End***