Memory is a bitch! Or else why would I be reminded of this particular incident? A distant memory from Valentine’s Day in 1997. I was in Class 9th and like they say in Bangla in my ‘prime’! I was heavily into extra-curriculars, led and represented my school in several dance competitions. So much was my outing on the stage that my father had begun to worry! I was never the topper and ranks meant little to my parents…but the constant excuse of staying back late in school for rehearsals was enough to tell my Dad that I am perhaps away from my books for most of my time. I was of course notorious too…the same year I left my Dad standing in the queue outside my classroom during the annual PT meeting and rushed to meet a few friends in the portico! Must have been some urgent meeting about yet another competition or something. When I returned I was yelled at…the grades weren’t all that bad but I went back home crying!
Many friends, teachers, a few juniors and generally people who have known me from my school days will perhaps vouch for this…I was a popular kid in school. Of course I didn’t have juniors sending me flowers and gifts, that was reserved for a certain more spectacular girl in my girlie gang! If you remember this, you will smile…but yes, I was a popular kid as far as ECA and especially dance was concerned! Even in that we were a gang of girls (I studied in a girls’ school till class 10th) who were a safe bet for all competitions. Give us the job, and we’d bring back the cup! We were heavily into inter-school competitions and performances around the town was a regular affair. Of course, it was also a matter of fun in those days when boys in khaki from the school down the road watched out for all girls in blue in white!
Somewhere, somehow my outings on the stage picked up an admirer. I still don’t know where and how! He wasn’t a school student, had he been one I would have passed it off as a teenage crush. Rajesh, if my memory doesn’t fail me that was his name, was a guy who at that time came across as an ‘uncle’! I was 15, going on 16 and anyone above 20 and with a name like his was definitely an uncle for me! For the sake of my failing memory let’s call him Rajesh. So Rajesh on the morning of 14th Feb came to school and during recess stood by the school gate and saw me with my friends. At some point I did spot him, but I dismissed him as some guy who was perhaps waiting for his sister. As school ended for the day he sent a girl to call me. I was standing with a few friends near the cycle stand. In those days we always covered each other, something that always worked! So a ‘stranger’ calls me to the gate and some of my ‘large and hefty’ pals would hang around just in case things got a little messy. In those days, they rarely did, but we liked to be suspicious and considered ourselves very smart! That day I told them, ‘I’ll handle it’ and walked up to the gate. Rajesh, a wheatish guy on the darkish side, with an ugly stubble on his face came up. He began with a cold stare, as if he was seeing me for the first time. I had to prod him to talk…and after a minute or two he began with a stammer and stutter.
‘Are you Rituparna Ghosh?’
‘Do you study in Class 9C?’
And then some mumbo-jumbo about how he had seen me at some competition, fell in love and wants to be ‘friends’ with me! Those were the days when social networking sites were not invented…boys met girls in school outings, exchanged phone numbers and called each other in the afternoons. The popularity of a child or the presence of a potential ‘crush interest’ was judged by the number of blank calls parents answered. So an uncle-kinda guy wanting to be ‘friends’ with me was so so boring! I rolled my eyes, sighed ‘not again’ and walked away. He kept calling me…but I didn’t care to listen! All this while my ‘large and hefty’ friends hung around near the basketball court. But they had their eyes on me. ‘Oh some useless guy wanting to be friends with me, nothing important!’ I said.
That particular day I dropped 4 of my friends home. We used to have an ambassador in those days. So ferrying my friends around town I reached a little late than usual. I didn’t talk about Rajesh to anyone, come to think of it, I didn’t attach any importance to the guy! But I did tell my parents in the evening..
Mid February was also the time when our final exams began. That evening I sat down with books and soon forgot about the guy. Two days later, on the evening of 16th Feb I sat down to revise for my Geography exam the next day when the bell rang. My room being closest to the door I got up to open it. We live on the first floor of the house (the ground for the largest part of our stay and even now remains empty) and outside our door is a little landing that leads to the stairway. It must have been around 6-7, but the light on the stairway hadn’t been switched on. I opened the door to a dark stairway and a voice that stuttered my name! I knew who it was!! I slid my hand on the wall where the switch was and lit the bulb…there he was, the stubble had grown darker and he was standing with a bunch of flowers and the biggest card that Archies Gallery sold in those days!
‘Oh damn, this freak had followed me home!!!!’
I banged the door on his face. By then my mum had come out of her room, thinking its Dad. I looked at her and said, ‘It’s that guy from school!!’ She panicked!! Two women…alone at home…and a freak of a guy standing outside!! The drama that evening had just begun! Just as Rajesh was walking down the stairs, spurned and perhaps dejected for the second time in the week, my Dad’s car rolled into the driveway. So depressed was the guy that he forgot he’d come on an Enfield! He left his bike parked outside my house and had begun to walk the other way. My mother in the mean time, leaned out of the window and shouted at our driver, ‘Stop that jacket-wala!!’ And then to my Dad she said, ‘It’s that guy from school! He’s follwed her home!!’
My Dad is one of the most volatile person I have seen in this world. Even my boss is no match to his temper! Something clicked and he cornered the guy. At 45, he was hurly and burly but not the kind who’d get into a fist fight with anyone. Don’t remember if he warned Rajesh, but the next thing I heard was the garage being pulled down. Locked, in the dark, Rajesh was held up till the cops were called.
A year earlier there was a little accident at home and my mother suffered 25% burns. 1996 was a difficult year for us and especially my mother as she learnt to walk again after having broken both her legs in a bid to save herself. But this new development was enough for her to stand before her daughter and protect her. She walked down and I ran behind her with a chair. I wanted to stay back for the drama, but a firm ‘Go upstairs’ from my Dad was enough to send me up to my room. In the mean time, half of my Dad’s factory staff came home! Mr Ghosh had called for the cops, what could it be?? A little later, the cops arrived too and the shutter was pulled up.
Rajesh was questioned before my parents and he said precious little. My parents told the cops my story. The supercop (the senior most) came up to our drawing to ask me a few questions. Giving a police statement about a stalker was the highlight of that year!! I mean how many of my friends had done that, huh?? Anyways, the drama didn’t end there…Rajesh was taken to the police station and a case was registered.
I couldn’t contain my excitement! This had to be shared! I couldn’t wait to go to school! But my folks put their foot down! ‘This guy knows which class you’re in, your home too! God knows what else he knows and long he’s been following you?!? Don’t mention a word to anyone! Be very, very careful!’ Now that didn’t sound good at all! C’mon I wanted to gloat in the glory of spurning a stalker and sending him to jail and my parents weren’t allowing my two minutes of glory!!! But then I let them have their way…
Rajesh’s brother and father called up Dad the next morning. Apparently the man was a perpetual stalker and had a fleeting heart! He often lost it to girls who didn’t know he existed. Similar instances of police complaints in the past had his family worried everytime he stepped out of the house. They’d tried to reign him in with love and threat but it mattered little. They assured my parents that their son wouldn’t be seen anywhere close to me and with that the police complaint was withdrawn.
I don’t know what happened to Rajesh. He didn’t stalk me anymore. I stayed mum about it and today I really don’t remember if I told my pals about it. But really, years later as I write this post today I hope Rajesh has found his Valentine somewhere.
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