In the third and final part of the series, Ashutosh’s personality as an extremely helpful but shy gentleman is revealed…….and how a string of incidents helps Ashutosh to regain his self-confidence, both as a student and a lover!
By Dr. Saumya Shankar Chowdhury | Illustration by Sid Ghosh
The path leading to the road uphill was well hidden from the main street amidst a few pine trees. A breeze was blowing mildly and the rustle of the leaves and the gentle swaying of the majestic trees gave a whistling sound. Ashutosh felt very happy indeed. And there he saw her again. It was the same girl who had sat next to him in the class. She was bending down and holding a shoe in her right hand. She had kept her shoulder bag on the ground. Ashutosh walked towards her with eager steps. He looked at her quizzically. In reply, she pointed at her right ankle.
Ashutosh could sense that the girl was in pain. She had sprained her right ankle and it was swollen. She could not walk. She spoke in Assamese which he did not understand and then she switched over to the typically pidgin Hindustani based dialect so commonly used or misused as a link language. Her face had gone red and her eyes were moist. Such a situation was new to Ashutosh. He felt pity for her and had a compelling urge to comfort the girl whose name he could not recollect. But all he could do was stare vacantly at her. The road was just a few yards away. Without a word, he started for the road to stop a passing car. Tears started rolling down Mridula’s eyes.
It was not dark as yet but the path was lonely and appeared desolate. The whistling pines which had a soothing effect on Ashutosh made a sinister impact on her senses. Ashutosh in the meantime had managed to reach the road. He had not asked her address and did not know what to tell the taxi driver. As he was contemplating to return to the narrow path where he had left her, a scooter came up the hill. He waved at it. It was Jeffrey. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Jeffrey saw him and stopped the scooter and Ashutosh explained to him the problem. Parking the scooter on the wayside, they went down to the path. Mridula’s sobs could be heard from a distance. Jeffrey, the smarter of the two, bent down at her and spoke in perfect English and tried to soothe her.
Ashutosh watched in silence, feeling all the more ill at ease, their conversation clouding his thoughts. He could surmise that the girl would not dream of sitting pillion on the scooter. Jeffrey decided that they would help her to the main road and flag down a taxi and escort her. Her house was in Bishnupur, not too far from the site of the accident.
They reached a quaint lane with a few cottages built in the Assam type mould. Her mother gave a shriek on seeing her, flanked by two unknown boys, both apparently not from their community. Her father was unperturbed and understood the situation. They would call a doctor to examine her ankle.
Mridula sat on the divan and the boys were asked to sit in the chairs. The identities of the guests being known and the initial horrors of the unforeseen situation put to rest, her mother brought them tea and homemade savouries.
Ashutosh was made the hero as he had passed by her in the narrow path and dashed off to call for help. Jeffrey was dignity personified and Mridula smiled shyly all the while as the neighbours started to pour in. The taxi fare of five rupees was paid by Mridula’s father, who started to talk about his Khasi acquaintances to appease Jeffrey, most of them turning out to be ladies in his office, much to the displeasure of the lady of the house.
As they were leaving Mridula’s house on foot to the place where Jeffrey had parked his scooter uphill, a familiar figure brushed past Ashutosh. Ranjan had just reached home from Edmunds College. He stopped at the gate as they were leaving, gave a look of surprise on seeing Ashutosh. Mridula’s brother shook hands with Jeffrey but Ashutosh kept on walking, his ashen face not visible to Mridula and her family. Ashutosh looked disturbed and it took a superhuman effort not to let Jeffrey see behind the masked face.
Ashutosh opened his umbrella and the withered remains of the masticated betel leaf and nut fell on his hair and shoulders, some of them finding their way into his pullover, tickling him and perhaps distracting him from his tormenting thoughts. Jeffrey offered to drop him home on his scooter and henodded.
Ashutosh was not to be seen in the lecture halls or the college precincts or anywhere in the neighbourhood in the days to come. He had stopped going out save for the occasional cigarette or a paan from the local vendor and that too he made sure no one was around to ask any disturbing questions. And yet, he was not altogether surprised to find Jeffrey at his doorstep one rainy day, with cellophane wrapped packets and an understanding look in his kind eyes.
Ashutosh clumsily opened what was the first letter to have been addressed to him in his lifetime. Mridula’s words were simple. As Jeffrey was sipping his tea Ashutosh read it again and again…..
When Dudul (Ranjan, your tuition mate and my twin brother) told me all
about you on that evening, I was very angry, but over the past few days, I have
understood the truth, the reason behind your actions. I was upset with Dudul as
he had failed to mention that you had reached the exam hall late on that day
as you had tried to help an old lady hit by a car to reach the Civil Hospital and
that you could not complete even one third of the English paper, which was
again not among your strong subjects. But your exam is round the corner. I am
hoping that you will use my notes to prepare for the supplementary and sit next
to me in the college in a few months as a real student. Till then, I will miss
Ashutosh lazily opened the packets and leafed through the notebooks, his downcast eyes lifting with a new found confidence. He had a week to prepare. It would be enough. On the day of the exam, he would suppress his altruistic nature, at least for once.
What's Your Reaction?
Dr. Chowdhury is an avid writer, who in his professional life is a medico for the past 20 years, currently with a Central government Public Sector Undertaking. His first anthology of short stories, Barak To Doyang, was published by the National Library, Guwahati, in 2012. Besides writing, he has a keen interest in music.