Almost all the examinations at Jamia were over. Most of the students had gone back to their hometowns for the summer holidays. Only a few students were left at the university who used to come to the library to study. I too had gone home for a few days but returned early because I had to prepare for a competitive entrance exam.
It was a usual evening for me at the Old Dr. Zakir Husain Library. The library closing time of 12 midnight was coming closer and the students were gradually leaving the library reading room. I, however, decided to stay till closing time because I wanted to finish the unit I was reading before I left for the night. It was 11:20 p.m. according to my watch, and almost all the students had left by that time. Only two or three students were still left in the room and it looked like they were getting ready to leave too. I thought of going to the washroom, so I stepped out. I usually sit in the library reading hall on the first floor, while the washrooms are on the ground floor. So as I was walking downstairs for the washrooms, the remaining students also moved out towards the staircase to go downstairs. While everybody exited the library, I stepped into the corridor that leads to the washrooms, humming one of my favourite songs, as I usually do when I’m in a good mood.
As I walked down the corridor humming a tune, I could hear the sound of somebody’s footsteps behind me. At first I ignored it and kept on walking. But the sound of footsteps got louder and I felt someone was walking right behind me. So I turned back to see who it was. But to my surprise, there was no one there. I was sure I had heard somebody walking behind me, and yet I saw no one when I turned around.
To make sense of the incident, I told myself that I must have been hallucinating. I hurriedly went into the washroom, did my business, and came out to have some water at the drinking water tap placed in the corridor. While I was leaning on the tap sipping water, I felt someone tap me on my back. That scared the living day lights out of me! I almost screamed with fear. I turned around and yelled, “Kaun hai?! ” (Who’s there?). Again, there was no one there but the empty corridor and the stillness of the night.
I rushed into the reading hall grabbed my bag and books, and ran out of the library hastily. As I walked back to my room, I tried to convince myself that the incident was nothing but a hallucination. But I couldn’t help be reminded of the stories I had heard from my friends about spirits of dead Jamia students who still roamed the corridors of the old library reading hall. They used to say that all the laborious hardworking students, who died young, still wander the halls of the library helping students with their positive energy.
I reached my room, had some water and retired to bed to have some sleep. But as hard as I would try, I was not able to fall asleep because of the disturbing thoughts of the incident.
The next morning, after very little sleep, I woke up late with a heavy head. The first thought intruding my mind was that of last night’s incident. I went for a shower with a heavy and aching body due to tiredness. I put on my clothes and rushed out to have something to eat. I was feeling famished. I had my lunch and headed back to my room to have some more rest. It was 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon when I woke up again. I decided to go to the library again to study. I had to finish a unit as soon as possible. I reached Jamia at the gate near Jama Masjid. The guard asked me for my student ID card. He let me in after seeing my ID card. I moved in and headed towards the old library.
Reading hall on the first floor was stuffed with students. In the day time there are always a large number of students in the reading hall. And because the reading hall on the ground floor was not functional, there was more rush in the reading hall upstairs those days. Luckily I found a chair and sat down. I took out my books and started unfurling the pages. The day passed; I was still stuck with the same unit because thoughts of last night’s incidents were still running through my mind and disturbing me. I was not able to concentrate.
Somehow till 7-7:45 pm, I managed to finish the unit and went out for dinner. I planned to come back by 8.30 and start the next unit. I instead came back at 9. The crowd was now considerably less because only students from the nearby places stay that late in the library. I settled myself down and started doing my work. The clock was slowly moving toward the closing time and students were leaving one by one. As the students were moving out gradually, something inside my mind was poking me about the expected repeat of the incident that happened the other day. I pushed these thoughts aside and kept on going through my book. When the last student left at about 11.30, I got really scared and started to wonder if I should stay here alone or not. Though I had convinced myself that last night’s incident was nothing but a hallucination, I was feeling rather cautious about the incident and decided not to go to the washroom that night.
I gathered all my strength and concentration and immersed myself into my book again. I was lost in my book when I felt someone walking past my table. I thought it was probably be the security guard on inspection and didn’t pay any attention to it.
But suddenly, somebody tapped my back and called my name, “Turab!”
I again got really scared and almost screamed. I turned around to look who it was calling my name. But again, there was no one behind me.
I was not even over the initial shock, when I turned around and saw a teenage boy sitting right in front of me across the table. I got so scared that I felt like I was going to faint. The boy opened his mouth and said to me: “Please, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you. I just want to talk to you. I want to tell you my story.”
My heart was already racing with fear, but when I heard him speak, I felt my heart would jump out of my chest. I was unable to speak even. But I somehow gathered all my strength and stuttered: “Www… Why? Why me? What do you want to say to me?
With tears in his eyes, he began telling me his story.
I am a 1997 batch B.Tech mechanical engineering student here at Jamia, he said. My name is Avinash. I was a hostler. I was a very laborious student. I used to do nothing but study all the time. I not only loved to study, but I also studied for the sake of my parents and their expectations of me. I was from a lower middle class family. I was the eldest of my three siblings. Thus, I had greater responsibilities of my family. They somehow managed my course fee and hostel expenses. I also earned a small income by giving tuitions to school children from nearby areas. Though it was very time-consuming, I had to do it to fulfill my basic needs.
First year of college was going great and up to the expectations of my parents. I was getting good grades in the midterm tests and performed well in the final exam as well. Then came the second year of college, which was a turning point in my life. I was young. I was ambitious. I had all the desires that young men of my age have. When I came back after the summer holidays, the new session had started. It was my second year. All of my classmates decided to rag the freshers. Ragging did not use to be that extreme at that time. We just used to ask their names and make fun of them in a light way.
Among the freshers we were ragging, there was a girl who left me awestruck when I first saw her. She appeared so innocent and sweet while talking. I instantly fell for her. That day only I talked to her and introduced myself personally.
After a formal introductory session, we started meeting very often. We used to go together for tea and sometimes for lunch also. I don’t know when it happened but I started feeling for her. It had become a daily routine that I would meet her, talk to her, and have tea with her. As a result, I started drifting away from my studies. I hardly ever went to the library. In class I stopped paying attention to the lectures. All I could think of was her. Tuitions were also getting disturbed. I often got late for the tuitions. Parents of the kids whom I was teaching started complaining about by tardiness. But I paid no attention to their complaints. I was in love and it didn’t matter what anybody said. I was foolishly in love without even knowing if she felt the same for me or not.
The results of the first sessionals were alarming enough to break the spell of this love thing. I got very poor marks in most of my papers. Even my teachers were worried about it. I remember when Ehtesham Sir called me in his chamber and asked about the reason for me getting poor marks. He said, “What is happening to you Avinash? You are a brilliant student. I am shocked to see your marks?”
I had nothing to say to him, so I kept my head down and just listened to him. My parents were not aware of what was happening with me in Delhi. For them, I was a responsible kid who would never embarrass them with anything of this kind. They were just expecting me to get good grades this year too. And here, I could not think of anything but her. Every day, I would go to class, attend all the lectures, take notes, would do everything while thinking about her all the time. Time was passing very fast. Final exams were just two months away. I hadn’t prepared well for the exams yet. I did not even write my notes properly. I was taking no care of all this.
Finally, the day came when this beautiful self-made castle in the air was to shatter. It was her birthday. Her classmates arranged a cake for her and they celebrated her birthday in the classroom. But I wanted to do something special for her on her special day. When we met, I greeted her and asked her if she would come with me to the community centre at NFC. She nodded her head in agreement and started walking with me. I had already ordered a cake for her with her name scribbled on top. I bought a bouquet of flowers for her too. During all this she looked at me a bit puzzled, probably wondering why I was doing all these special things for her?
We sat there in the corner near a huge tree. I took out the cake and put a candle on it. I lit the candle and asked her to blow it out. She cut the cake and put a small piece in my mouth. I did the same to her. It was my moment to reveal all my devastating feelings that I was carrying around for so long in my heart. I said, I have to tell you something? She looked a bit confused in her expressions, but replied: Sure, tell me!
Then I just blurted it out. I said, I have loved you from the moment I saw you. I love you like anything. I was not looking at her face while speaking. I just kept my gaze down. I don’t know how she reacted when she heard those words. After listening to this, she remained silent for a while and spoke very calmly and said: “Look Avinash! Please don’t get me wrong, but I never thought of you that way. I only thought of you as a best friend.”
At that moment, I felt something break inside me. I could not bear the sheer pain of rejection. Tears started dripping down my eyes.
“Why did you not tell me this earlier?” she said. “This would not have happened if you had told me earlier.”
I was numb; utterly speechless. I could not utter a single word. I just got up and ran away from her. She kept shouting, “Avinash! Avinash! Please listen to me. Please hear it for once.”
But I could not bear to stay there for a single moment. I reached my hostel; rushed into my room; slammed the door behind me and locked it. Then I broke into tears and cried. I wept and I wept like I had never wept before. I was left with nothing but my painful reality. Fear of failing in my exams; fear of punishment because I had not completed my assignments; and above all, fear of failing my parents. I had no one to blame but myself. I was the only reason for my failure. I was scared, I was worried, my head was bursting with stress. I could not think of any solution for my pain, except one. I decided to end it. I pulled the bed sheet off my bed and tied it to the ceiling fan on one end. With the other end, I tied it around my neck. All the feelings of regret were dancing around my head. What if I had studied well? What if I had done nothing of that kind? What if I had told her earlier? What if…
Avinash’s words were still echoing in my mind, when somebody shook my arm and said: “Arre so gaye kya? Utho library band honi hai?” (Did you fall asleep? Get up! The library is to be closed). I put my books in my bag, got up, and walked out of the library.
[This is a work of fiction]