Literature & Fiction | 5 Chapters
Author: Rahul Koul
Rocky is a tormented soul, stuck between the ironies of life and its occasional beauties. His tumultuous journey full of unfulfilled promises, double-faced friends, and failure to seek or give love, makes him a social outcast. Living on his own terms, he is seldom bothered about the norms of society, its gatekeepers, or his pretentious relatives. Only people who ever mattered in his life, Mark and Radha too have been snatched away from him. From....
“A human being can do whatever he wants and achieve a lot throughout his career by his willpower and sheer hard work but somewhere in his mind he feels maimed by the underachievement of few things he could not do during his lifetime. From outside to the society, he is the successful, happy, fearless, unrelenting.… a complete person. But the truth is one he really knows and is deep underneath his mind.”
The Assistant Professor of Human Psychology, Dr. Rohan Mehta was explaining the need for maintaining a positive attitude to the class full of attentive students. This was his last day at the university, a job he had worked hard for. His students loved the way he used to incorporate the real-life messages in his talks, unlike others who would teach mechanically.
“No matter how much it is glorified for compassion and social principles, human society is full of fallacies. The underdog is always at the receiving end, even for the minutest defects, for want of perfectness deeply entrenched in the human psyche,” Dr. Mehta concluded amid thunderous applause by his enthusiastic students. For the last ten years, he had been teaching at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a Dutch and English-speaking university located in Brussels, the capital city of Belgium.
Rohan was grateful that despite being a non-local of Indian origin, he had gained the acceptance and trust of faculty members and students alike. As he walked past the portraits of great scientific and political personalities in the long corridor towards the main hall, he still remembered his first day at the university when he had to face resistance and taunts from the first batch of students he had taught. He could make out how students irrespective of their color or nationality would behave similarly with a nervous Teaching Assistant. As the years passed by, he had enjoyed the best camaraderie with everybody at the University. The trust of his students and friends among faculty had made life worth living, with no chance of a dull moment ever. Overall, the entire duration of his stay in Brussels was a wholesome experience for Rohan. Beautiful memories and amazing weather had together acted like a healing balm on the wounds from his dark past.
With his selection as Assistant Professor in later years, he had created many unique research modules, earning even more respect among his fraternity. The university offered him ample opportunities to attend conferences across Europe and the Asian countries of Japan and Singapore. He even traveled to South Africa for a workshop. In between all this, Rohan’s French had improved with each passing day and he could converse smoothly now like any other local resident. This was well thought of and in keeping with his future choices. He had consciously chosen French over Dutch and German as moving to France was always on the top of his mind. And now finally he was just a night away from his dream city. It was after three years of constant efforts that Rohan had been able to get through the competitive examination that had granted him a senior fellowship of $90,000 and a designation of professor at the University of Paris.
He was flying early morning by Air France flight to Paris where he had booked a room in HOTEL EIFFEL TROCADERO for the day to roam around and see the great Eiffel Tower. Sightseeing around the city was on the top of his list and he had already planned his first few days in detail.
The bags had been already packed over the weekend and the maid paid in advance. Most of his time during the stay at residential quarters on the campus had been solitary except for the occasional visits by the male students and faculty members. He used to host parties on the lawn where he would serve many Indian vegetarian delicacies all cooked by himself. His French guests had grown a taste for potato-cauliflower curry and red beans masala by now and would often demand their favorite vegetarian rice mix (called Pulao in Hindi). He was going to miss all of this now but he knew it was all over for him in Brussels. He had persuaded himself with the words that the world is a dynamic place and it’s hard to survive without keeping pace with the wheels of time. Emotions were something he had learned to manage by now.
It was his encounter with Miss Elisha Mertens that he wouldn’t be able to forget ever. She had met him at the university library while he was shuffling through the books. She was having trouble finding the book she was looking for and it was by chance in his hands, the Iliad, an ancient Greek epic poem. Rohan had just got swayed by her beautiful smile and English laced with a French accent. It was her soft and husky voice which he was attracted to. Her big eyes looked so innocent yet her gaze was so hypnotic for him. His short interactions with her would keep playing in his mind, especially at night when he would be alone.
Rocky had noticed that there was something different about Elisha who mostly used to remain aloof from the groups of faculty members. He too wasn’t much forthcoming about it but had joined a few of the campus-based discussion forums out of courtesy. However, he wasn’t really interested in going regularly to their meetings.
At first, she seemed reluctant to even talk to him but a few exchanges of smiles were enough to thaw their frozen vibes. She had got surprised to know that he was from India as she had a different imagination about the people there. Her grandmother had told the stories about snake charmers and elephants to her and that was her only connection to India. Following day Rohan had gifted her many books of Vedic literature and the two volumes of the contemporary history of India.
A few weeks later two would meet in the library often and get immersed in discussions about various topics. Rohan hadn’t asked any questions on her background and profile at university. It was a day before his last meeting with her that she told him about her marriage and that she was a science student who worked part-time at the library. There was nothing much he could have done about that. The feelings were mutual but she had to honor her father’s word and his choice of husband. Finally, he had let it go without saying much.
Half of the world had similar emotional and relationship issues irrespective of, ethnicity cast, creed, color, and religion, they had agreed once. They had not stopped meeting each other until it was her farewell at the university. The next day she had called him to help her with packing. Of course, it was an excuse to spend some more time with him but despite promising her, he went away on an educational trip to the city of Bilbao in the northern part of Spain. For those three days, he had never stopped thinking about her but couldn’t gather the courage to see her off. As expected, she was gone when he got back. It still used to pinch him a lot whenever he used to think of her.
Holding a glass of red wine in his hand, Rohan looked through the wide window that overlooked a beautiful garden. With all the greenery and flowers around, the place had a charm to it. Whenever his French friends insisted that the house deserved a family where children would play all day, jumping from stairs, running through rooms into the garden, he would crack a joke to deflect the topic. But he couldn’t help himself from getting into a relationship without knowing the person well and therefore, it never happened.
Maybe this time they would allocate the house to any of the professors with a family who would readily like to shift, he thought. In his recommendation, he had suggested the name of a history professor, Roberto Bianchi. The Italian born man had been repeatedly expressing his desire since the time he had heard about his French plan. He had confided reluctantly to Rohan that his wife had warned him to get it any cost. Rocky had assured him that he would personally put a word to the Rector of the Family Quarters about it.
In the last two weeks, he had been busy finishing the paperwork at the university and handing over the charge to his replacement. Students had thrown a farewell party and so had his faculty friends. There was another one at the house the previous weekend where he invited his acquaintance. He had to sell off a part of the furniture he had acquired over a period of time. The rest of it belonged to the university. Besides physical tiredness, it was his mental indulgence that had kept him busy mostly.
Having been through an extremely busy day, Rohan was relaxing at home. The handover process and farewell parties had exhausted him badly, and as he rested on the bed doing a recap of the day’s moments, his thoughts were interrupted by the continuously buzzing sound of the doorbell. He rushed to open the door, only to find nobody but a mysterious packet lying on the mat instead. He looked around and saw a DHL courier guy waving his hand and heading back towards the main road.
Prof. Rohan Mehta,
Department of Psychology, House no. 48, Campus,
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Who would be sending me anything and that too at this time? he thought. The box was tightly wrapped by the plastic sheet with his name and address clearly pasted on it. Wasting no time, he took the knife from the kitchen and cut open the sheet, baring the cardboard box that was again closed with cello tape. It took him a few more minutes before he could open it and see the contents. There was a folded paper on the top with a box of chocolates underneath. As he started reading the short letter, a smile lit up his face.
Mon Cher Rohan,
J‘espère que tu vas bien. Veuillez accepter ce cadeau d’un ami perdu depuis longtemps.
Félicitations et je souhaite tout le meilleur pour votre avenir.
Bien à Vous, Élisé
“My Dear Rohan, How are you? Please accept this gift from a long lost friend. Congratulations and I wish all the best for your future, Yours only, Elisha.”
The note was by Elisha from whom he hadn’t heard since she left four years back.
This wasn’t making any sense at all. How did she come to know that I am leaving and even if somebody told her, why this gift all of a sudden as they had a pact not to contact each other. He had stood by it despite the urge to meet her. There was no number on the parcel nor the sender’s address on it. Rohan should have ideally been very happy over receiving the package but perhaps the timing at which it had come was a bit disturbing.
He picked up his coat and put on walking shoes, locking the house out. Walking towards the connecting road to the university campus, the memories of Elisha became refreshed all over again. It was the same road he had taken every day morning and evening to his department and back for the last ten years now. But never had he been in such a hurry, walking without a clear sense of purpose.
After taking about twenty-minute of a stroll, he was in front of the main building. The evening lights were already on and there was a small bunch of students roaming aimlessly in their winter jackets and burly coats.
He entered the section where the parcels were handled at the university. This was among the areas that used to close late with people working in shifts.
“Bonjour Monsieur, J‘espère que tu vas bien!” (Hello Sir, Hope everything is fine at your end!) greeted the man at the counter as he recognized Professor Mehta of the Psychology Department. Perhaps he wasn’t expecting him at that hour all by himself. Generally, most of the teachers had people running errands for them but Rohan was an exception for which he was respected a lot. His personality and humility had earned him a lot of fans among the administration staff as well.
“Je suis très bon. Savez-Vous d’où vient ce colis?,”(I am very good. Do you know where did this parcel come from?) Rohan responded with a smile on his face as he handed over the cover of the packet he had received.
“Laissez-Moi vérifier monsieur,” (Let me check, sir) the man responded back in a lazy tone while getting up to check the register that matched with the serial number of the receipt marked on it. Going by the time he was taking, it was clear that he was in no mood to do work and as if Rohan had compelled him to do so. Finally, he returned back with the details on a piece of paper.
Rohan checked the address and kept it in his pocket. Just when he was about to reach the door, the man at the counter called him back. “Sir, there is a phone number too. Sorry haven’t written it on the paper,” he spoke in his broken English accent. Realizing that he might have done his task in hurry, he had taken another look at the register and noticed it now.
“Merci beaucoup,” Rohan thanked him as he noted it down carefully. With a phone number in hand now, he had no reason to even wait for tomorrow to hear her voice. He hurried back home jogging and with his extra speed, it didn’t take too long.
Waiting outside calmly on the sofa near the cash counter at Mickey’s Gallery was Rakshit Singh, the handsome guy in his late twenties who was busy shuffling pages of a fashion magazine. While his 19-year-old girlfriend was busy going through the bundle of fancy clothes she had gathered from the latest fashion section, the young man seemed to have no problem with it.
However, the newly appointed Cashier cum Sales Assistant didn’t appear to be impressed with the couple as there was a visible age difference between them. The sharp middle-aged lady could easily see how the man sitting in front of her was being fooled by that girl who was checking out dozens of dresses inside the changing room. Wearing glossy lipstick and strong perfume, the teenager in a red short dress had an expensive purse dangling from her arm, she had noticed.
After staring at him for quite some time, she spoke reluctantly, "I have seen such girls coming around here often. All they do is shopping and enjoy it without caring for the men they come with. Is she your girlfriend?"
Rocky, as his friends called him, was shocked at the unasked outburst, especially the use of such words for customers as it was completely unprofessional. “Who are you to utter such bad words against another woman? How dare you?” he shouted back at the lady.
“Listen to me, young man. I am your well-wisher, just like your mother, and simply want to advise you but there is no need to become angry," the woman at the counter spoke again.
“We are in love old lady and you for sure are not my mother. How do you care? Spare me your philosophy,” Rocky replied to her curtly as he got up from the sofa, inching closer to her. He was even more furious this time.
“Love is the word invented by people like us to sell chocolates. Believe me, it’s all imagination. So go get a real woman. She may not be attractive but could certainly bring order into your life,” the lady continued.
Rocky shook his head in disbelief. Not able to control his anger, he banged at the counter with both hands, making a few things to fall off. Hearing the commotion, Devlina was out by now. She quickly held Rocky by his arm and moved him away from the counter.
The store manager rushed to the scene and dispersed the small crowd of curious onlookers, mostly customers who had already gathered around them. The woman was still staring at the couple as the manager yelled at her for unnecessarily poking her nose into their private affair.
"I am sorry, sir. Got carried away," said the lady who was genuinely remorseful about her stupidity, more worried about the job she had managed to get with great difficulty. She explained to her boss that she had a daughter too and was perturbed to see youngsters ruining their lives.
"That’s not what you are paid for," replied Manager with a grin on his face. "For God’s sake, just pay attention to your work. A week ago you were narrating to me the situation you have been through and here you are driving away clients who pay us."
Meanwhile, an uninterested Devlina took the cash from Rocky and paid the bill quickly at another cash counter. Visibly upset Manager apologized to Rocky and personally escorted the couple out.
"She is really mad. I really couldn’t understand what’s her problem?" Rocky murmured as they crossed the exit door.
“Come on, let’s ignore her,” Devlina said while handing over her bag full of clothes to him. "Let’s have our dinner at THE CAFE ROSE. It’s nearby."
It was the day off from Rocky’s call center job. And as usual, he liked to spend his weekends either roaming around the city with his friends or earning extra bucks by being a mule for smuggling contraband products. The rest of the time, he was with Devlina, the newly found love of his.
By the time they reached, THE CAFE ROSE was almost empty as lunchtime was already over. They ordered from the variety of cuisine on the menu. While his girlfriend loved eating Chinese Hakka noodles, Rocky asked for a masala curry and rice.
“What would have they done with that lady?” Rocky asked her while taking a sip from the glass full of buttermilk.
“Maybe she was fired immediately after we left,” Devlina replied casually. "Or maybe not," he added, carefully reviewing her earlier words. He was in deep thoughts, she had noticed.
Suddenly something happened and Rocky didn’t feel good inside. "You keep eating," he told Devlina while getting up from his seat, "I am going back to that store to set the things right." Leaving the half-eaten food on the dining table midway, he rushed out of the restaurant and walked all the way back to Mickey’s Gallery.
Devlina couldn’t believe what she had just witnessed. She couldn’t understand his care for a strange lady who he was shouting at an hour ago. Notwithstanding Rocky’s impulsive behavior, she continued to eat calmly without paying any attention to the waiters who kept giving her strange looks.
Rocky was back in 20 minutes, happy with the news that the store owners hadn’t fired the lady. He apologized to Devlina for his impulsive behavior and narrated the sequence of events at the store. Lady’s name was Manjula and she had been working mostly in a small town near Amritsar. Her only son was killed by a few goons and her husband passed away due to cancer. Her daughter had got admission to Fergusson College, Pune and she will have to work to support her.
"That’s really tragic," Devlina tried to show empathy. “Well, since you seem to be in good mood now, let’s visit the Phantom Mall nearby. We can enjoy the buzz there and also watch the late-night movie.”
“We can do that but I need to prepare for a presentation tomorrow. It can help me to move up to the next level,” Rocky said.
“Do you really want to spend your night, working on that boring project?” Devlina asked.
"It’s my work and that keeps me going. I don’t have free money, I need to earn it."
"Everybody works for the money you see. But one doesn’t have to kill himself doing that. We need to balance out,” Devlina replied sounding much like a rich kid with plenty of cash stashed in the purse.
“You sound very funny at times,” Rocky chuckled yet quickly sounding a compromising tone as he wasn’t sure of her response, “Just joking. I will certainly watch the movie with you.”
Devlina didn’t say a word. In fact, she was visibly upset about Rocky behaving strangely. At the same time, she had a face that could hide a plethora of emotions in a few seconds. She played the trick once again.
The lovebirds spent their rest of the day roaming around the newly built mall except for the few hours in evening when they drove to Devlina’s flat to drop off the two bags full of clothes. Despite Rocky insisting on staying back, she had cleverly convinced him to have dinner outside the cinema hall.
The movie, Yeh Raste Hain Pyar Ke began at sharp 10:30 PM and there was hardly any audience in the hall. Perhaps it had something to do with the bad reviews than the timing. Their feelings at the end of the two and half hour long romantic saga were too disappointing to be discussed. So, they quietly walked out towards the exit much before the display of THE END sign on the big screen.
Outside, the rain was making all kinds of sounds. It was the middle of the night and a strong storm was brewing with the thundering of clouds at its peak. The bike was parked near a garment store but even a 50-meter walk was enough to drench them fully wet. After waiting for a few minutes under the shed outside the mall, they finally decided to take the walk.