Mrs Joshi never called herself a writer. Even in the years, when her sight failed, thoughts wandered, and the salt pepper bob of hair lost its bounce, she never called herself a writer. Amit knew better. He had known her better. In better times.
The first time he had met her was on the winding staircase at his college entrance. He always thought that it was too filmy. It stood there, like the grand trunk of huge oak, branches of corridors snaking out through the first floor, and students scattered like leaves all around it. He had run into her on his early days in college, a time when he used to attend lectures. She was fierce. Dressed in a blue and white salwaar kameez, that would become her staple apparel for work; she asked him what he was up to. He did not know. He was looking for the principal’s office, and was lost. She pointed out to the right corner, from the entrance and said “I do hope you can read. There is a board right there. Are you sure you cleared the SSC examination?” He went off without a word. Words had not yet become his staple weapon. Words, which she had not yet taught him.
The principal’s office was a huge room to the left sight of the entrance, past the clerical offices of the college. It was an oasis of silence in the middle of a humdrum that was college. The principal is the one person who can never enjoy popularity amongst students in a college. It has nothing to do with his character, which can be as affable and jolly as Santa; it is just against the rebellious hormones that run within the youngsters that walk these corridors. The office belonged to a Mr Keerti Shah, MA, M.Phil, D Lit.
Almost a decade since that day, Amit looked at the small, balding and pitiable man in front of him. The invite for the annual college fest lay in front of him. It was the 25th anniversary of the college. He almost felt a twang of pity for this old man. It was hard to believe that this was the same fearsome figure, who had denied Amit a 5 day break from college. Simply because the reasons were not convincing enough. A part of him wanted to remind Mr Shah of that incident, but it would be rude.
‘Please do come for the event. It would be nice to have a former alumnus visit us on our 25th anniversary…and one as prestigious as yourself, would be an inspiration to our students’, Mr Shah muttered.
Amit knew his recent spate of awards was a honeypot for social parties, events, but his college anniversary was a surprise. He was half afraid of attending events in colleges. He remembered the times when he had sat in the last benches of the assembly hall and jeered and hooted almost all of the chief guests. Actually, all of them, he smiled to himself.
‘Sir, I really do not know. My schedules are so packed these days. I will surely give it a try. Please, do not take offense.’ He fumbled.
‘Of course.’ Mr Shah mentioned. His eyes spoke their disappointment. ‘I understand. But please, it would be nice of you to come. We, teachers, do not get many opportunities to boast about our students. Especially, ones like you’ Mr Shah muttered. It sounded, pathetically, like the last request of an old man.
Ah, what the hell… ‘Sure, Sir. I will try and make it to the event. It would be nice to meet my old professors as well. Are they all well?’ He asked.
‘You know… most of them at least. Mr Kak passed away last week. Well, that is life.’ Mr Shah is not a man of sentimentality. He never was one.
But Amit was. He would never forget the years spent outside in the campus. The walks, the friends, the udhaari chais and the free lunches. The crushes, heartbreaks, poems composed and the delirious joy hidden in a smile. There was a time when life was simpler, when happiness was easier to come by. There were people who took young boys, and taught them about the better things in life. People like Mrs Joshi.
‘If you think literature is for easy going Casanovas, you are in the wrong class, kid’ She had snapped at him. He was late again, and she was known for her punctuality. He remembered the minutes of embarrassment, while his friends tittered at the back of the class. Dammit woman! There were girls watching. But Mrs Joshi never had mercy on students that did not respect English Literature lectures.
‘You will never be a writer, unless you are fearless’ she would go on to advise a year later. She had spotted him scribbling in his notebook a couple of times in the classroom. She took the notebook. It was 3 nervous, agitated hours, before she called him and gave it back. The works were filled with edits, and pointers. Since then, Amit had a critic and reviewer, as honest, and probably, more honest than any he would encounter in his life.
...To Be Continued