Thursday, September 9, 2010

Love Dies

A few days back, my friend and I were looking at photos on the Net. On one thumbnail, I felt my friend stiffen with tension. Though she was looking at the photo, her mind seemed to be far away.

“What happened?” I asked.

“This photo reminds me of a college…the hostels…I visited that college recently…” she replied haltingly. She was touching the screen and tracing that photo with her right index finger. [I noted that the photo belongs to Raghuram Ekambaram a.k.a. kolipakkam - click here to see the photo.]

Then, she continued,

“The hostels are shaped like E. This looks so much like the center wing. Do you know…on one of those wings on the side of that E, the twelfth and last room used to be 113 on the ground floor and 213 on the top floor.”

“Used to be?” I queried.

“Yes, those rooms were demolished.”


“Some time back, a student who stayed in 113 got into a fight with the local people. It was rare, you know, for students to mix with people outside the campus. Some say that it was a business deal or a local love affair that went awry. One night, a group of locals came to that student’s room and hacked him to pieces. The college authorities hushed the case real fast. That room remained empty that year but it was allotted to a new student in the next academic year. On the very first day, when that new student opened the steel cupboard to place his stuff, he found within…a severed right hand.”

“Aw…come on…” I exclaimed.

She countered, “I know...Anyway, students then on refused to stay in 113 or 213…in the other hostels on campus, too…and, the college did demolish. I have seen the old photos with the twelfth rooms on that wing. It is not there now.”

“You goofie, every college has such tales. My college had the old chowki (chowkidaar or caretaker) in the red-and-yellow-shawl. This old chowki died in my first year in college. He was found dead near the X-ray lab a few days before Holi - an old man who was alone in life and death, and always with a red-and-yellow-shawl around his frail body. He used to be really friendly with students. During my second winter there, a student who was studying late at night left his room, to go to the loo, after latching the door. When he returned and unlatched the door, he found an old man inside, an old man in a red-and-yellow-shawl. Every winter, we used to have at least one student seeing him.”

I laughed and she joined in, too. After some time, I could feel that she had slipped away from me once again.

“Hey…are you there?” I enquired, touching her hair and tucking it in behind her ear.

“Can I tell you something…maybe, just another laughing matter…it might help, I guess…to laugh, I mean…” she asked me.


“I went there recently for recruitment. I heard another story in that college…”

“Ah…at least, you have called it a story…”

“Shut up, will you? Listen…”

Then, she told me the following:

On one Sunday evening long back, two students went together to the Saraswathi temple on campus. He (let me call him Arjun, she said) was not very religious, circled the deity, finished his prayer fast and sat on the cool marble temple steps waiting for her (let her be Swapna, she added). She joined him after some time. She looked weak and tired.

“What happened, Swapna?” Arjun enquired.

“Just a mild headache…I am ok…must be migraine…sitting here will help…” and she added shyly, “with you.”

After some time, she asked him, “Arjun, these steps are very cold, aren’t they?”

“Not really…are you feeling feverish?”

“No…but…I think I should go back to the hostel.”

He went with her till the gate of the ladies’ hostel. Before parting, he said

“You know, I have been thinking of getting married…asked my mother to find me a girl as soon as I leave and join that company.”

It was an old joke between them. Every time, she would reply with

“I have been thinking of going away after college…meeting new people, forgetting the old ones and allowing them to forget…”

The college rules did not allow them to touch each other in public but there’s a lot that looks can do, too.

Anyway, this time, she just smiled without saying those words and went inside.

Next day, on Monday, Arjun did not see Swapna in the morning classes. He asked the other girls in his batch. She went with her father, one girl told him. He felt angry with Swapna for not informing him.

Later, that day, Arjun received a call at the Warden’s house (those were the days before the mobile and even hostel-phones). It was Swapna’s father. Arjun could not hear him well and then, he heard Swapna’s voice on the line.

“Arjun, can you please come…”

Swapna’s father came back on the line and told him, now more clearly, the name of a hospital. He left immediately and met Swapna’s father outside the ICU.

“Her headache got bad. She called us and we brought her here. A few minutes after calling you, she became unconscious. The doctors tell me that they are draining her brain...aneurysm, haemorrage, something…”

That night, Arjun waited outside the ICU. According to the hospital rules, visitors were not supposed to hang around near the ICU. But, he waited near the ICU. The doctors and the other staff probably understood and did not make him leave.

He did not leave his post that night or the next day. Swapna’s family waited in the waiting room on the ground floor. On Tuesday, around 3 pm, a doctor approached him and told him to come back with Swapna’s father. They were told that Swapna is brain-dead.

Arjun took Swapna’s father back to his family, then went up again and requested the doctor for a moment with Swapna. In the ICU, Arjun stood next to her bed, touched her for the first time and said, “I love you, you know that, don’t you?” That was the first time they used that word.

Arjun left the hospital without saying a word to Swapna’s family. Swapna never had the chance to face the five stages of dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and Arjun felt that he had all the time for that.

A few days or a few weeks later, he realized that he was beginning to forget her. He felt angry with himself. But, no anger could hide the fact that the dead have no place and that only the living matter.

Swapna’s family tried to contact him. But Arjun had left that college and that city. He disappeared. Some say that there are days when the steps of the Sarawathi temple feel unnaturally cold.

At this point, her story ended, or I thought that it had. But, my friend continued:

“When I went to that college, a famous author was there for her book-release. The author read excerpts and at one place, she read from her book…love never dies

Then, that author did something strange. We saw her pointing at someone at the back. We turned to look but we could not figure out at who she was pointing her finger. The author was talking to someone there…

“Could you please repeat the question? Can you tell me your names, please?” the author said.

Then, the author addressed everyone “Interesting question from the two at the back. Arjun and Swapna would like to know if there is anyone here who actually believes that love never dies.”

Those who were familiar with that old story also knew that Arjun and Swapna always returned to mock those words.”

I held my friend in my arms…tightly…there is no point in hoping to hold her when she is not there anymore, right?

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