(This story was written in the year 1989, right after a trip to a place called Rourki with some of my college-mates. The experience has real-life connections… somewhat…)
Titir woke up with a start. A giant hand was chasing her in her dreams. She was running… running for her life!
She was perspiring, despite the shimmering winter chill that the departing winter was leaving behind. She touched her brow. The right side of her forehead felt heavy as lead. She tried to sit up, only falling back with her head reeling. She covered her eyes with her hands. Then opened them after a while. Slowly, steadily, holding onto the bed post, she sat up.
She looked around. Faint daylight peeped in through the curtains. Nisha was asleep, sound asleep beside her. Who were on the other single bed? The maze of the mosquito nets obscured her view. Perhaps Tiara and Oli, her other two classmates. It was impossible to decipher with their heads covered with blankets.
The nippy dawn beckoned her. Titir pulled out a shawl from beside her pillow, where she had kept it last night, and wrapped it around herself. Her first step was wobbly. She could not yet walk steady. She had the hangover.
She waddled to the door and pulled down the latch without a sound. Then stepped out.
Soumitro sir’s door was closed. What time could it be? Perhaps 5.30 am. Daylight was feebly sneaking through the mystical murk outside. It was rather chilly today.
Titir walked up to the washroom. She looked at herself in the mirror. The face looked the same, unchanged. Nothing on her face appeared dismal.
Suddenly a faint call of a cuckoo filtered in through the dawn, upsetting her tangible thoughts, beckoning her soul. She quickly splashed water on her face and wiped them off with a towel. She didn’t feel like brushing her teeth.
She tip-toed hurriedly out of the bungalow and into the daylight outside. Then sat down on the clean set of stairs. There was nothing more relishing that an after-college exam holidays. Titir hugged her knees and wrapped her shawl around her bare toes. They were beginning to get cold.
The garden in front of her was neatly manicured. The lawn was mowed and flower-beds ripe with spring flowers. Dewdrops clung precariously onto the leaves and the shimmering blades of grass. Golden marigold flowers hemmed the graveled pathway. Beyond the gate was a hilly road that led to the main town. Beyond the road lay a grey and green field — so vast, that a shepherd and his herd at a distance beyond the fog looked appeared like a picture. The field stretched for miles before abruptly halting before a range of hillocks. Hillocks are typical of this part of Bihar’s topography. And the hillocks still lay asleep, camouflaged in a blanket of mist.
Gentle breeze fluttered around. Her head still felt heavy. The hangover of the night before had persisted. It should. This was Titir’s first attempt at liberation.
Soumitro-sir had advised her repeatedly not to drink so many pegs on her first attempt at drinking. She paid no heed to his words. “I’ll drink to get drunk”, she had defied him and announced before she began.
Not one, not two… but she consumed seven pegs of whiskey at her first attempt!
She was in no hurry… neither were the rest. She wanted to experience the feeling of getting drunk slowly. After the first two pegs, she started having difficulty shifting her eyeballs. After three pegs, she wanted to lie down. Her body felt heavy. Her conversation was getting slurry. She got into a heated debate with Alta-di on a topic that had no pertinence.
Even after five pegs, Titir was fully aware that she was in control of her inner mind. The debate wasn’t making any sense, since Alta-di too was down with four pegs.
After seven pegs Titir stood up. The whole room swayed! Wonderful, she thought!
Step by step she started walking toward the washroom. Someone was helping her. But if she looked up to find who that was, she would miss her step. How would she pay attention to both? So she obeyed her instincts and followed the lines on the tiled floor to keep a straight direction. “I am intelligent”, she could think through a smirk.
Whoever held her hand was decent enough to release her after she held onto the wash basin and left her with herself in the washroom.
She looked up at herself in the bathroom mirror. It swayed. She focused her eyes on her face. No, nothing had changed. Her lips, nose, eyes were still in the same places. Why did she feel they were altered?
She turned the tap and splashed cold water on her face. She felt better. Then turned around. However, working on an instinct, she turned back to the basin. She had a fraction of a second to turn the tap. A torrent of liquid came rushing from within her… one torrent after another…
The cuckoo was cooing. Titir looked up to see the bird. She couldn’t. The call was resonating through the valley and the hillocks. She had noticed you can never see a cuckoo bird. They are screened so dexterously among the leaves. You can only hear him. And the male cuckoos coo continuously, the sound reverberating through your soul until you are compelled to lift your thoughts to a heavenly trance. The soulful cooing can melt the hardest hearts. The female coos in spurts…. often answering to the male. And her voice creates a tantrum in your soul until you drop everything that’s unimportant and start looking for what you’ve lost.
Titir found a close association with the cuckoos. They made her be at peace with herself.
She suddenly remembered something from their conversation last night and felt amused. In her drunken state, she kept repeating the phrase: “Thank you, Sagar… Thank you Sagar….”
Sagar was Alta-di’s younger brother. An engineer, employed at a multinational company. A bachelor. A young woman’s dream alliance. However, why was Titir so thankful to him she failed to realize instantly.
Then she remembered. And smiled. Just before the trip Nisha had repeatedly informed her: “Look, Sagar in an engineer… a nice catch… Think! Think!”
At some point Alta-di too looked sideways at Titir and quipped: “My brother sings very well…”
She had laughed. But her inner self became scared. She had never experienced such an unbridled excursion before this. She had agreed to go. Not to establish her inference on her newly derived definition of mankind, but to rebuild her age-old hopes on human beings.
Getting drunk was one of her big experience. She never felt scared to push herself to the brink of vulnerability. Everyone was drunk that night. Her defenses were flattened. Anything could have happened.
She realized it was Sagar who walked her to the washroom last night. Titir picked up a pebble from the stone steps she was sitting on and threw it onto the road in front of her. She knew why she was so thankful.
After a hearty breakfast that day Soumitro-sir asked, “Shall we go now?”
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