It is Monsoon of 1996 in a small town called Fort Songadh in Gujarat. A 10 year old Indian kid didn’t understand of love & obsession other than Sachin Tendulkar. May be it was just a stupid emotion or I had gone pervert at young age. Ok, I am confused here. I don’t know what it is.
Growing up in small town, I had lived in a man’s world. I hang out with guys, study with guys, play with guys, fight with guys and talked cricket & Sachin with them all the time. It was not as if girls were non-existent but they were like different species in many ways we did not understand. They looked different obviously but they also did things unlike boys – they never talked about cricket, they did not worship Sachin (Can you believe that?), they were always toppers in the class, always did their homework and scored high in disciplinary feedback as well. It was not as if there was any hatred but without any doubt, they were always “them” when we talked about anything on earth. Interaction with girls was limited to asking how much marks did they get in test which often was more than mine or asking for all kinds of complex stationery that we were are supposed to carry in schools. You can always rely on girls to have them complete but also backups in case of lost or stolen.
The story was not different on a monsoon Monday except that English test results were announced just 2 days after the test was conducted. Pankhudi & Khushi were class-toppers and a list of boys followed them including me in the top ten. However, an Indian parent only understands the 1st three ranks and others as failures. I was no different and hence test results acted as slow deaths to the grand killing in the final exam. As a result announcement culture, teachers used to call students randomly to give their papers and mentioned the 1st & 2nd ranker therein. Everybody’s attention used to be on the girls when their name was called. So, we knew the maximum marks below which we will lie somewhere. To everybody’s surprise, no special mention was made during their calls and instead to my shock and pride I happened to be the top-scorer in the test. It’s not that I haven’t topped in exams before but the graph was slowly going down as I grew older and these girls had almost unmatched dominance.
My romance with success was short-lived when everybody’s attention was diverted toward’s Pankhudi whose tears started to roll like ball running down the hill at Lord’s Cricket Ground. With reasons well-known to everybody, not many carried a sympathetic feeling towards her pain and I was not different. I glanced at her from one corner of the class to the other and see her crying by the wall and wiping her tears. And I looked at her again. Ok. Again. Wait, something is making made me look at her again. I don’t know why but now I did it again. The crying sight of a girl before was pleasant specially I beat them in their own game but this was getting really strange.
As things settled down and drawing class started, everybody went into their business but I was stuck in the same loop. In some 30 minutes of stupid and weird state of mind, I tried to see reason and rationale of my attention and I happened to realize it was the piece of cloth Pankhudi was carrying. It was a handkerchief. She was carrying the hanky (as I called at that age) in her left hand crumbled held by four fingers and the palm.
I suddenly was in a time-machine mode and travelled back with all the memories I have of her for 2 years she has been my classmate. The handkerchief was always there as far as my memory goes – when she was crying, when she went to collect the exam paper, when she writes in class, when she is drawing, when she is eating or sitting idle and even playing kabaddi or kho-kho. I had a sudden oh-my-god moment on the realization front that I have never seen her without a handkerchief. In a weird string of thought, I also thought that maybe she was born with it in hand.
As days passed and my obsession with snooping her on handkerchief habits had taken a crazy turn. I am now among the 1st ones to reach the class so that I can see whether she carries handkerchief with her in the morning, where does she keep it when she is taking out notebooks from the bag or when she is sharpening her pencil or drinking water from her Barbie bottle.
Handkerchief had become her identity and it had given me a signal that an extraordinary story was in the making.