Love? Love is a cruel joke. A selfish illusion. It is something we pretend to portray to console ourselves over what a crappy world we live in. Look at Romeo & Juliet, Devdas and so many other examples…it always ends in death or misery. Love is a fad. Something to lessen your social insecurity. Usually an ice-cream would quell my anger or frustration but today it just wasn’t helping. Especially when an extremely lovey-dovey couple is seated across you pretending as if they are the very definition of love, the perfect picture. The way they giggle and laugh, the way they whisper to each other and feed each other off their spoon with small dollops of choco-vanilla or strawberry just makes me feel sick. I thought love was to make you feel like you had butterflies in your stomach? But it feels more like my stomach is empty and also add to that a splitting headache. The dark chocolate ice-cream I was having just didn’t help in lightening up the dark thoughts that pricked me tirelessly making me feel tiresome. I was better off being oblivious to this thing called love. I wish I was that 11 year old who thought girls were “ewww…” and love was “yuck!”. How blissful would that ignorance be? My hormones, however, had other plans.
I was 12 at the time when my childish perceptions changed. I had sworn that girls were our #1 competition and I actually believed in “girl germs”. It was drama class. Our teacher decided to engage us in a fun activity. Her idea of a fun activity was conceived as an “icebreaker” session. I guess she really loved gossip and eavesdropping on other people’s conversation as this activity required two people to come to the front of the class and spark off a conversation. The twist is that it was supposed to be a boy and girl. But wait, the twist doesn’t end there. The 1st couple she called up was a girl who had a mischievous grin and long curly black hair which she tied into a ponytail and then this smart, tall, lean guy with expressive eyes and a handsome smile(Yeah, it’s me.). I immediately refused and plead to the teacher to let me be in peace but she was a sadist. It was either upfront in class or outside in punishment. I was cornered and helpless. I sulked my way up to the front where the girl was waiting for me. I did not know much about her as she was a new admission. All I knew was that her name was Ayesha and she seemed snobbish. She shared my hate for the opposite sex.
‘Come on! Start. Say something.’ Said our teacher egging us on.
Why do they have the saying “Ladies first” if they never follow it. Sure I am the guy! So it is on me to start the conversation. Pretty sexist if you ask me. I looked at her and she smiled back. I was mulling over what could I possibly say to a girl whom I have never talked to properly in my life, for crying out loud I never talked to a girl. Should I ask her about her barbie doll collection? Or how about I ask her which is her favourite powerpuff girl? I stared out of the window for some inspiration.
‘The weather is nice today.’ I finally blurted out.
‘How do you say so?’ she asked raising her eyebrows.
‘Well…it is sunny and there is a clear sky.’ I said looking at my fingernails which apparently seemed to be unusually interesting at the moment.
‘What if it starts raining later?’ she asked again in a sceptical tone.
‘I saw the weather report last night. It said we’ll have a sunny weather for today.’ I blabbered praying for this torture to end.
‘They always say wrongly. Are you a fool to believe that?’ she snapped back unreasonably.
I honestly felt like strangling her then and there. The whole class was watching us and I saw some people smirking at me. I tried evasive manoeuvres like changing the subject.
‘I love movies.’ I tried tentatively.
‘Which is your favourite?’ she asked with what was clearly a sneer on her face.
‘Ice Age.’ I said telling her the first movie that popped into my head.
‘That’s not a movie. That’s a cartoon. What are you? A baby?’ She asked clearly enjoying herself.
I was about to swear really loudly at her but my teacher intervened sensing the friction and sent us back to our seats. Lucky for her. I was glowering all over. That’s when I decided, I hate her! She was spoilt, impolite and such a brat. She was not even girly. She was more of a tomboy. Her favourite pet was a snake. Can you believe that? What a weirdo. I hoped I would have nothing to do with her ever again. But fate decided to be the big brother I did not want it to be. Apparently I was a real chatterbox when I was small. So to make me keep quiet my lovely sadistic class teacher switched my place. That wasn’t what made her sadistic. She made me sit next to a girl and that girl happened to be Ayesha. Again I begged and pleaded but I guess all my school teachers were just pure sadists. We never talked to each other let alone even glance. We pretended as if the other did not exist. I thought we’d carry this ignorance for the rest of our lifespans but turns out that it was not to be so. It was a Tuesday. I usually get late for school and in the rush sometimes forget something and leave it at home. That day I had forgotten my tiffin box. As I was late I didn’t have my breakfast cereal either. I was very hungry. The other kids usually eat in the playground as then they can quickly finish off lunch and play some game. I sat in class with my head on the desk. I had a splitting headache and my stomach felt so sore. I must have been moaning in hunger.
‘Are you okay?’ asked a voice.
I lifted my head to see that it was Ayesha. She had this scared look on her face. She had come to get her water bottle.
‘Nothing. I just forgot my lunch.’ I said trying to act tough.
‘I’ll go get Miss. She’ll help you by giving money for canteen.’ She said getting ready to go.
‘No!’ I called out to her. ‘Don’t! I am fine.’
She gave me a strange look. She just stood there thinking and then suddenly reached into her pocket for something. She came near our desk and placed a biscuit packet on the desk.
‘Here. I have lunch. I just got this for snacks. You can have it.’ She said with a smile.
‘I don’t want. Take it.’ I said taking the biscuit and trying to shove it into her hands.
But she was too stubborn.
‘I don’t want it too. I am full. Take it or leave it. I don’t want it.’ She said shaking her head vigorously and pushing me away.
She left me there staring at the biscuit packet. I was really hungry. I decided to ditch my ego and take a bite. It was heaven. I never felt such relief in my life. Later after she came back I awkwardly looked at her. I wanted to say something nice but something was preventing me from doing so. Finally I mustered up some sense and tore a small piece of paper from my notebook and scrawled one word on it and pushed it towards her. She accepted it and smiled at the “tHaNkS! :)” that I had written. She whispered back the word “Welcome”. That was the day when my whole perspective about love and girls changed. I started to respect girls all the more. They were not the ego-centric bad creatures I made them out to be. They were human beings just like me with pretty faces and warm hearts. That moment of realization changed me forever and I have her to thank for it. I started talking to her little by little but never got really close. Just random talk. I got to know her favourite colour is blue. She likes the smell of petrol. Her favourite powerpuff girl was buttercup. In the next few weeks something weird started to happen. I was eating less, sleeping less and thinking more…thinking about her. I wondered and wondered what this strange feeling was. It was something new. Whenever she looked at me or smiled at me my heart gave a funny feeling. Then I finally realized what that feeling of butterflies in my stomach meant. It took me sometime to realize what it was but I did so finally one day. I was afraid to tell her. How do you tell things like these? Should I just go blurt it out? Then I decided to write a letter. My masterplan was to leave it in her desk and she would discover it and go “aww…”. I came to school the next day way earlier than usual. I had written her a letter which I felt sufficiently expressed my intent for her. I left it in her desk and waited with bated breath. However nothing happened that day. I checked her desk after school and there was nothing. I was disappointed. Did she see it and ignore it or did it get misplaced? Just to be sure I did the same thing the next day. And the next day. I did this for a week only to evoke the same result every time. I was heartbroken but curious to know if she read them. I just had to know. So, I decided to confront her about it. Everyday her Mom picks her up after school. She waits near the canteen, mostly having some snack. Her Mom goes to office and hence she comes sometimes like 30 minutes late always. I decided to use this window of opportunity. My house was just a few blocks away from the school. I pretended to get something to eat at the canteen and “accidentally” bump into her. As expected there she was eating her favourite, a chocolate donut, and reading a book. I grabbed a hot dog and walked over to her table as if to get the ketchup.
‘Hi!’ I exclaimed pretending to be genuinely surprised on seeing her.
‘Hi.’ She replied rather unenthusiastically looking at me.
‘This hot dog is really good. You ought to try it.’ I said munching on my hot dog and grabbing a chair to sit.
‘I am a vegetarian.’ She replied curtly.
‘Oh!’ I said sheepishly and then decided to take the plunge.
‘What do you think about love?’ I asked hesitantly.
‘It’s a waste of time and stupid.’ She replied not looking up from her book.
‘Do you watch movies?’ I asked her abruptly.
‘What’s your favourite?’
‘Jab We Met.’
‘See! You like those kind of movies but you don’t like love?’ I said sounding triumphant.
She snapped the book shut and stared at me.
‘That’s not real. It’s fake. Just like love. Love is only dreams.’ She said and her eyes and mouth narrowed as she spoke.
This was going nowhere. It is time to be direct.
‘Have you been getting any letters?’ I asked recklessly throwing caution to the winds.
‘What letters?’ she asked casting me a cold look.
‘I don’t know…love letters maybe?’ I asked grinning sheepishly.
‘Oh! You mean these?’ she said reaching into her bag and holding up the 5 letters I had left in her desk.
So she knew and purposely chose to be silent about them. Was this a test?
‘So? What is your reply?’ I asked looking at my fingernails again.
‘You call this a love letter? Look at this!’ she said incredulously showing me one of my own letters. It had the picture of Pikachu and the words “Pikachu luvs u” scrawled on it. I was too egoistic to convey that I loved her so I took the help of my buddy Pokemon Pikachu.
‘I think it looks cute and girls love cute.’ I said defensively but before she could say something she looked behind me towards the gate.
‘My Mom has come. Bye.’ She said firmly picking up her things. I sat there as she walked away. I bought myself a donut to cope with my disappointment.
We met the next day but she was in no mood to talk. It was cold war. It went on for the next few days to come. She would try to avoid me in every way possible. I finally managed to catch her alone after recess.
‘Stop! Don’t go. Love is real. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I keep thinking of you. I keep thinking of us. Even in dreams.’ I said hastily fearing she would run away.
She stopped and looked at me. She looked into my eyes. She looked so pretty.
‘You have been watching too many movies. I guess you love your movies too much.’ She said with an irritated face.
‘I would do anything for you. Anything to prove.’ I said stressing on every word and I looked back at her holding on to my gaze.
‘Anything?’ she asked seriously.
‘Yes. I promise.’ I replied crossing my heart.
‘Fine. Every single time you are the topper and I always get second highest marks, why don’t you leave a few questions in tomorrow’s test and score less than me so that I can be topper for once?’ she said with a smirk.
I was outraged! This was utter nonsense. I did not know what to say. My mother once said that if you have nothing good to say then don’t say anything. That’s exactly what I did. I walked away leaving her smirking.
‘Stop watching so many movies and get some sleep. You will feel better.’ She called back.
It was just a class test. But I have always taken my tests seriously. Always been the best. I have never tasted failure. My parents take so much pride and have big expectations of me. I can’t let them down for some silly ikky girl.
Tomorrow came and there I was sitting at my desk and looking at the question paper. I was delighted as always to find that all the questions were what I knew very well. A centum worthy paper. I finished the paper well before the time limit. 20 minutes to be exact. There were still 10 minutes left when I decided to submit my paper. I was flushed with success. Then something bizarre happened inside of me. I stole a glance at her from the corner of my eye. She sat there smiling to her self, one hand caressing her hair and the other busily writing the answer. She looked so innocent, carefree and pretty. This was indeed just a class test. A mere test that would not affect me in any great way. Compared to gaining her affection this seemed trivial. I took a deep breath. I took my pen and then dramatically struck off every single answer I wrote. There were 10 questions for 10 marks and I made 10 strike-throughs. I was that stupid, pathetic, hopeless and all other words that can describe my foolishness. Then I boldly submitted my paper and pretended as if nothing was wrong.
‘How was the test?’ she asked me after it got over.
‘Great! Centum paper.’ I replied with a fake smile.
It was the next day which changed everything. Papers were to be distributed and it was roll number wise. I was dreading my turn. The teacher picked up my paper and then stared at me wide-eyed.
‘Before today I used to believe there is only one fine line between zero and 10 , and that is the one standing beside zero. But thanks to Karthik, he has shown that there can be 10 lines.’ She said before handing me the paper.
The whole class was silent as it watched me receive the paper. I stared at my teacher as she asked me what was wrong. I merely replied that I was not feeling well. She gave me another stare as I meekly returned back to my seat. That was the most awkward moment of my life. I glanced at her uncertainly. She was simply staring at me with her mouth slightly open.
It was after school in a deserted corridor when she confronted me. I was just returning from the library.
‘Why did you do that?’ she asked me her eyes wide.
‘Because you told me to and I love you. You asked me to prove. I proved.’ I said meekly.
‘But why did you get zero? I just wanted you to leave one or two questions. And I never really meant what I said. I just told that to see if you become more sensible as I thought you would not do it. ‘ she said looking at the floor.
It was surprising to see such a haughty, stubborn and dominating personality look so subdued and sad. She really did feel bad for me. She cared.
‘Things don’t work like this Karthik.’ She said still looking at the floor.
‘Then how do they work?’ I asked firmly.
She was silent. The awkward silence enveloped us for a while. Then she looked at me.
‘Get on your knees.’ She demanded.
‘What?’ I asked quizzically.
‘Ada! You don’t get a yes until you get on your knees. Go down. I have seen this in movies.’ She said with a shy smile.
So there in the school in a deserted corridor I got down on my knees to propose to my 1st love.
‘I do! I do! Now get up before someone comes!’ She shouted.
That happened to be my 1st and last zero and I thought it was the best zero one can get. Our innocent love carried on from sharing lunch to gifting chocolates. It was pure, innocent and simply beautiful. But then she had to change schools the very next year. I was torn in misery. Her father was in the army so she kept shifting states and hence schools. I did not know what to do without her.
It was the last day of school. We only got a few minutes to say goodbye and we said it in the library after school as it was deserted then.
‘I am going to miss you so much. You won’t forget me na?’ I asked with a teary eye.
She hugged me tight and whispered, ‘I won’t.’
‘I love you Ayesha.’ I said unable to think of anything else more appropriate.
‘I love you too Karthik. I have something for you.’ She said.
It was a chocolate. Bounty. My favourite.I felt bad for not getting her anything.
‘Here. Take my address. Write to me.’ I said giving her a note with my address and my landline number.
She took it and gently kissed my cheek before leaving. That was the last time I saw her. I never heard from her ever since. I still keep that snickers chocolate wrapper as her memory…first love…it doesn’t go away so easily…
To be continued…