It was shortly after my sixteenth birthday. Those days, the latest buzz around town was with regards to proposals. Everyone seemed to be proposing to everyone else. In new school, in old school. New film actors, old film actors. I had recently switched to the Times of India (from the Deccan Herald) and that too was full of proposals. So here I was, just turned sixteen and not having proposed to anyone yet. It was so obvious that I was feeling left out.
She was a damn good friend. Actually came close to qualifying for “best friend” status. We used to say “hi” to each other at least eighteen times a day (yes, we used to keep count). Before school. After school. Between classes. During class, when I used to turn back to catch that mischievous smile and the ‘hi’. Or when I turned back to shoot paper pellets (made from carefully collected paper in which the guy at Richmond circle used to wrap roasted peanuts). Oh yeah, and for good measure, she used to wear contact lenses.
And I proposed to her. At least I think I proposed to her. I had no prior experience, as you might have guessed, so I didn’t (and don’t) know what a good proposal speech is supposed to sound like.
The next morning, there was a different air about school. Something seemed different. Not that I had liked it too much in the preceding few months, but today seemed especially gloomy. And the chill winter breeze didn’t help matters. And he was waiting for me at the gate. He was unusually early, i thought – for he used to usually come in not earlier than five minutes before the school bell.
He started with a cold stare, which soon turned into a glare. I was smiling. “How the hell can you do it”, he asked. “How the hell can you propose to my girlfriend?” Oh, so she was his girlfriend. I had heard that there was something going on between them but I didn’t know it was that serious. Rather, I don’t think I knew what girlfriend meant (I don’t think he did, either). For the next five minutes, it sounded like a prepared speech. Had he delivered it on stage, he might have won the school elocution. It was a pity that he was wasting such a powerful speech on me. I pretended to listen, and added seasoning to his speech with timely “ohs” and “ahs”. Soon, I was bored, and quickly drafted a mini speech.
“I’m a free citizen of free India”, I said.
“What?”, he sounded shocked.
“I’m a free citizen of free India and I have the right to freedom of speech and can say whatever I want to whoever. So what’s your problem in life?”
Onlookers later told me that he was on the verge of beating me. And that I was saved by the bell, literally. We soon took our places in the assembly line and then proceeded to class.
What I told you just now makes a nice story, you might agree. It could have been nicer, if only I knew where this girl is now. I’m told that three years back, she had taken a job in Madras. And nothing has been heard about her after that. I asked her friends in engineering. They knew only till the part when she went to Madras. I asked a few classmates from school. No one had a clue. I asked the girl who I thought was her best friend in school. She too said she didn’t know.
Most of my sources agreed on one thing though – that she had split with the guy who had almost beaten me up in school. Apart from that they knew little about her.
The story is that so far she is the only girl I’ve ever proposed to, or so I think (I’m sure i haven’t proposed to anyone else, so it’s either this one or none at all). And I don’t know where she is. Don’t have a clue. Not even the all-pervasive orkut has helped me find her. And oh yes, I’m still a free citizen of free India, though I’m a wee bit more skeptical now regarding the right to freedom of speech.