By Savitri Narayanan
“Such a fascinating world, these computers,” said Meghna with a dreamy look in her eyes, “The whole world at one’s finger tips! I would love to be a computer engineer!”
Class XII results were out so it was their last day in the school. End of all those years in the school classrooms, end of friendships, of sharing lunchboxes and geometry boxes. It was time to part ways, to explore the world of higher education. Meghna and friends had planned to meet up in the school canteen for one last time.
“With your kind of marks, you’ll have no problem about admission,” said Veeresh with genuine admiration. Meghna was one of those students who sat in the front bench, raised hands to answer any question and won any competition. “And your Dadaji will surely pay all the college fees; computer engineer you’ll become surely!”
Meghna came from a land-owning family in the hills who had a hold everywhere, in places of power; Veeresh on the other hand came from a middle class family where his father’s salary from a nearby factory was the only regular income. Having nothing to fall back upon, Veeresh and others like him looked for ways to earn some money and also to continue their studies.
So, when his neighbour Ramu kaka was looking for a help in his shop, Veeresh volunteered. It was a small shop in the market where he repaired household items like mixers, electric irons and ceiling fans. An electrician came around ten o’clock and did the repairing work in the adjoining room while Veeresh attended to the customers. In the evenings, Ramu kaka himself came to the shop and attended to the customers so that Veeresh could get time off to attend his classes. So, Veeresh was pleased to have the best of both worlds – combining his studies and earning some money.
“Hi! Veeresh! How good to see you!” the gentleman walked in with a loud greeting, “So you’ve become a Ramu kaka!”
Veeresh tried to place the heavy-built sardarji in his flowing beard and big smile. He was at the cash counter working on the purchase list while the two assistants attended to the customers.
“The other day I met Umesh at some function and he told me that you own this shop here,” the sardar pulled a stool and sat down. “We are planning to set up a small shop too -on the second floor; sports items!”
“Gurmeet Singh!”exclaimed Veeresh as the face of his classmate reached out across a decade, “How fat you’ve grown! Looks like you’ve married a good cook!”
Years slipped back as they sat catching up, exchanging news about friends and families. The teenagers who parted ways in the school canteen had grown into adults, got married, become parents and professionals. Some had turned businessmen, some joined services while some like them had become small time entrepreneurs.
“By the way, are you in touch with Meghna?” asked Gurmeet Singh.
“That ambitious student? The computer girl?” asked Veeresh as her studious yet fun-loving face came back. Meghna was more than a friend. She was a true friend, a support, the kind with whom one could share one’s problems without fear of ridicule. Veeresh thought of her off and on. “Wish we could be companions in life,” the thought often crossed his mind but didn’t dare to connect. ‘Knowing her potential, surely she must have reached high places by now’ he thought. “A twelfth pass mechanic, a small shop-keeper- what did he have to offer her!’
“How’s she, Gurdeep? Did she become an engineer? Or married one and went to America?”
“No, she didn’t marry and didn’t go anywhere”, Gurdeep cut him short, his tone turning sober, “She stays on Gandhi Road, employed by some MNC. Wait till you meet her; this Sunday lunch?”
Sleep evaded Veeresh that night. Meghna kept coming into his thoughts- her kaajal-lined eyes glued to the computer, hands scribbling notes in the journals; in the badminton racket poised to start a game for the college tournament; her curly hair in a ponytail tucked under the helmet, riding her kinetic to the university.
“Can’t wait to see if she’ll recognise you!” said Gurmeet as they waited for the door to open, “I only told her that an old friend is coming along. You were a ‘special’ friend, isn’t it?”
“Come in! Come in!” welcomed the cheerful voice as the door opened slowly. It took a while to maneuver the wheelchair, the front door and the welcome courtesies. “Please be seated, be comfortable,” she said as she led them to the living room.
Freshly shampooed, dressed in a green and yellow salwar kameez, Meghna was full of cheer and warmth.
“Hmmm, aren’t you Veeresh?” when they settled down, she took a close look and asked, “No change at all! The same boy from the riverside….”
Veeresh’s family lived close to some river somewhere and that river always cropped into his recess time conversation which in school earned him that nickname. Over the small talk over at lunch, time fell away as they reconnected across the years. Both, Veeresh and Gurmeet were amazed to see how Meghna had taken the road accident in her stride and gone on with life.
“It took only an instant for my scooter to skid on the road and break my hip,” said Meghna as she mixed fruits into the custard, “But I completed my engineering and got a job. Here I am, earning dollars working from home –all thanks to new technology, my caring parents and a few good friends!”
“And your determination!” said Gurmeet.
“You were always a fighter,” added Veeresh, “Especially in the badminton court; the way you argued when the shuttle fell on the boundary line!”
The friendship that grew in the village school’s classrooms and playgrounds found new dimensions as Veeresh frequently escorted Meghna to Shamji Park, Lal’s City Library, Eros cinema and the City mall.
“What’s it that you miss, Meghna?” asked Veeresh one evening as they sat in the park savouring an ice-cream, “What’s it that you really miss in life?”
“What are you really asking, Veeresh?” Meghna looked away as she found it difficult to meet his eyes.
“I have been wanting to ask for a long time; I am looking for a life-mate,” he tilted her chin to meet her eyes, “Have you ever heard of a wedding in a wheelchair?”
Her cheeks turned as red as the western sky even as the tears flowed down like a river.