Not a Summer Love | Pooja Bansal
Rehaan’s eyes moved to-and-fro from one end of the station to the other. Fifteen minutes had passed since people had disembarked from the train, in fact the crowd was slowly thinning now, but she was nowhere to be seen. He felt his heartbeat drop, wishing that she would appear any second now – tilting her hair off her face in a swift motion, clutching her bag in one hand, while simultaneously setting her dupatta with the other. He sighed, as he missed the one sight that livened up his entire being.
He waited for a good two hours; the coolies had left to take rest under the trees nearby, and the station master was in a deep slumber as the wings of the old fan provided a rhythmic lullaby. Apart from him, only the stray dogs roamed about in search of some measly leftovers.
Rehaan drove the scooter back to the village. The hour-long journey seemed excruciatingly longer than usual, mostly because it was the last day of her annual two month vacation. He had been coming to the station since day one of May, when she would always arrive without failure with her two months worth of luggage in tow, and a smile adorning her kind nature. She would spend her entire summer vacation with her grandparents. It was where he had first seen her, when he accompanied his uncle to the big haveli.
While his uncle tended to the various plants in the magnanimous garden, she used that time to help him understand various concepts that were difficult for him. She was the first one to realise that he enjoyed learning new things, which is why she had convinced her grandfather to admit him in the local school. The old man bore all the expenses when he too saw the diligence with which Rehaan attended school. She was 5 years older than him, and she used her knowledge to help him with the entire year’s syllabus in those two months alone.
The two months they spent together created enough memories that helped Rehaan live until they next met. He wanted to write letters to her, but she knew that a letter from him could land her in deep trouble if discovered at home. Telephones were a luxury that only the topmost in the hierarchy enjoyed. With each passing year, he knew the relationship between them was changing. He was no longer the young naive boy who needed her guidance along every step. He had transformed into a handsome young man who turned the eyes of young and old, alike. Similarly, he now saw her as a beautiful and intelligent woman, someone he wanted to spend his entire life with.
Rehaan grew impatient with every passing day. Her disappearance had hurt him deep; it seemed to confirm his uncle’s opinion that he meant nothing more to her than a poor boy that she helped. Rehaan had strongly believed in the connection that they had developed, the covert glances they had spared and the meaningful silences they had spent their time in – the ones that spoke volumes about their dreams and aspirations, and the life that they hoped to live together.
A month later, her grandparents discreetly moved away after selling the haveli, leaving behind no speck of information to trace them, causing Rehaan to grow suspicious of the recent events. He had found it strange that after waiting for a fortnight for her arrival, her grandparents had turned unusually morose and melancholic. As sad as he was, he felt their reaction was extreme. While he had earlier attributed it to their old age, he now knew something wasn’t right.
The next morning, Rehaan took the first train to her city. He went to her college, but the clerk turned him away. He refused to divulge any details of the students to non-family members. The peon, on the other hand, seemed quite understanding. A few currency notes did the trick as he slyly penned down her address for Rehaan.
Rehaan knocked on the door of her house for the umpteenth time, little did he know that the earth beneath his feet was just waiting to crumble away.
Two hours later, Rehaan stood resolutely outside the two roomed…it would be a shame to call it a house. He thought back about the things that had come to light two hours ago. People had looked accusingly with a mix of disgust when he had knocked at her door, a kind old lady told him why.
Two days before she was to leave for her grandparents house, a few boys had eve-teased her; her refusal to comply with their wishes had led to her molestation at the hands of mere 15-16 year olds. They were five in number and easily overpowered her.
Her father had spent every last penny to stop the word from going around, but failed miserably. They were now living in this measly place to avoid the taunts and hurtful comments of the society. Out of shame, her grandparents had sold everything, and left to spend their last days visiting all the holy places. Her father was resentful of her birth, he was the same man who was proud of his highly educated daughter. Her mother hadn’t stopped crying since it all started.
Rehaan realised no one paid heed to the lifeless statue who was sat on the bed, her hands wrapped around her knees, as she stared lifelessly towards the wall. It was only when he proposed marriage to her, did she move her eyes to look at him. Her father threw him out – his high caste sentiments were hurt. How could a man from another caste, a low caste, five years younger in age – even think about marrying his daughter? He would rather his daughter marry an old, same caste, maybe father of three, widower.
She finally looked at him, his eyes full of determination, as his hand was held out to her. ‘I don’t want to spend another summer waiting for you. I have imagined living with you every season, growing old with you, sharing all my joys with you, holding your hand as we guide each other through every up and down.’
Ignoring the incessant glare of her father, and the raising volume of her mother’s sobs, she went to hold his hand, and walked out, moving towards a better tomorrow. She knew the next summer would be a better one with him by her side.
Written by Pooja Bansal