It was 1968. I was a strapping young man (strapping young man or woman is strong, tall, and looks healthy and active a strapping young lad — here I was all but for being tall) doing my graduation from the college next to our house. I used to walk to the college with few books and a notebook and dutifully walked the distance up-to the classroom at the appointed hour date and time. The daily routine was quite set; I would start at 09.30 from home to reach the class by 10.00 AM and after the class, the canteen and the recess and library reach back home by 3.30 PM. The life was quite set, the balmy young days were like a bouquet of flowers and walk up-to the college was like walking on the clouds.
Still as I said it was 1968 in India and I was the youth of my time with all the inhibitions and prejudices that those wonderfully unsure times gave us. Somewhere it was instilled in those conservative times in us that looking directly at a young girl, a pretty one at that was a fault not of the level and station to which we belonged (Don’t you have Mother, Sisters at home type) and we must keep a safe, respectful distance from them so far as possible. To have or to say that you have a girlfriend was naturally an insult of high order and obviously we trudged away past this danger with careful steps.
As I said, I used to walk almost a Kilometer of distance daily up-to the college and a quite routine was set till the still waters of my Dull Lake (The allegory to Dal Lake is incidental) were shaken. Next to our house where there was a tri-junction, a girl would either overtake me or I would find her ahead of me. The hormones started working when I found that she overtakes me and then slackens her pace and with all the due respect to her, I started getting past her. Initially this happened quite naturally till a pattern started emerging. I also, after overtaking her would slacken my pace. This resulted in a routine where we (no intimacy whatsoever but silent, shy understanding) started overtaking and slackening number of times till we reached the College Gates. This was what we call, “So far so good”.
The due niceties were kept. No exchange of glances, no exchange of words, never brushing past each other and no effort to know about other were made. Though by now I could say that I knew her or perhaps she knew me but the matter rested there only. However I knew her by two very prominent signs that came in my focus. One was the clicking-clacking of her wooden heel which was a rhythmic pattern that helped me identify her. As if she introduced herself to me saying, “O Hello there, I have come!” The other was her knee length braid which swayed with each step of hers and made a marked impression on me because long hair in those times were taken as the sign of beauty of women. Above that to see was taboo to me as I have described above of our conservative mind-set. The decency prevented me to even plan in such a way so that she enters college first and I follow her to her class, lest it would be called that I was stalking her. The whole situation was entirely Sharatchandresque (Those who read Sharat Chandra, The Great Bengali Novel Writer and the torment of unrequited love would know).
This pattern continued for almost three years. In between, there were separations and reunions specially during vacations and summer holidays or sudden disappearance due to family functions (an honourable guess). The days after her absence when I heard that clicking of her heels, no words can describe my joy and my urge to stop her for once and ask as to where she was- but after all conditions or covenants of times were stronger then chains. We played many a games of introducing ourselves. I would after overtaking her would stop as if to tighten up my shoe laces and giving her a chance to go ahead. Not to give her a furtive glance but to give her preemption as if saying that yes I know you are there and I want to give you the honour of going ahead. And she understood this and glided past as if waving to my honour. The other day, when I was going to college after few days I found her going real slow and when I passed her , the spring of her step was so deafeningly clear as if she was calling, “Hey You, where were you so long” . I did not know that how I passed each day waiting for that sound of clicking heels but believe you me it was the sweetest sound of that age of mine.
It was 1970. Last year of the Graduation (3 years of graduation started then only) was going on. One fine evening, I was home when few guests came to meet my parents. In some time I heard Papaji calling me. When I went to the Drawing Room( as it was called where guests were received) I found a middle aged couple and their daughter. After greeting them I went to fetch water and order for tea when Papa called me again and asked me to sit down. Then the uncle asked me as to how my studies are going on and that I am quite regular in my studies. Obviously everyone felt and my Mom asked as to how he knew that. To this his reply was that his daughter and I go together to the College daily. This was as good as an accusation against me that I am keeping a girlfriend secretively and I was beyond myself to explain. Honestly I was dumb founded and highly embarrassed when the girl spoke for the first time that, “Don’t we keep crossing each other on way to College daily”? And I spluttered,” Oh the One with the clicking heel and long braid?”
My father asked me that “Didn’t I know her and I replied honestly that I know her by her clicking heels and long braid”, everyone had a hearty laugh and my Mom smiled and the evening, month, and years passed and this became the story of my youth where click of two heels kept me alive to my values and her grace. Few say that men are phatoos and women are courageous but the fact remains that we maintained the value of our times and dedicated to those times our passage of love and understanding.