There weren’t too many people on that railway station, given how small it was and how infrequently trains stopped there. She was already dreading the excess baggage which she’d got from home. Eatables, spare grocery, woollens for the far-fetched winters, fragile gift items as gifts to future friends she’d make and the list went on and on. She was already regretting being called the ‘responsible’ and the ‘organised’ one in her family. Twenty-two years old Meera was struggling to keep her stuff from falling when she noticed, form the corner of her eye, a kind face smiling at her.
“Do you want me to help you?” a young man offered help. The home-inculcated alarm alerted her instantly- “don’t talk to strangers and refuse all offers for ‘help’! You know what they will eventually lead to, Beta!”. “No”, Meera said, “thank you though”. She acted against her wishes, she realised she did want his help, not because she couldn’t manage her stuff but because she impulsively imagined his company to be a relief from the long tiresome journey she’d had. Her thoughts were interrupted by a chuckle. It was the same man again- “Alright then! Tough-independent-woman and all that jazz? Do take care though” and he started to walk away.
He reminded her of a guy she used to like years ago, probably she still did. He had the same laughter. Would it be too much if she told that stranger just how familiar he seemed? She decided to concentrate on getting to her new institute, the famous Florence Institute of Arts, where she had secured a full scholarship and was going to pursue her Masters in cultural-studies. How proud she was of herself! She never really got the time to congratulate her own self since the university had declared the results. It was her dream institute, situated in a sleepy hill station Maleguri. She started moving towards the exit. Little did she know her whole life was about to change in those two years. Upside down. Irreversibly, unknowingly, unintentionally and irreparably.
Shyam, 35 years old, a newly appointed cultural-studies lecturer at the Florence Institute of Arts was a jovial young man who, after completing his doctoral research at the University of Birkbeck in London, had consciously chosen to spend his next few years in the sleepy town of Maleguri. His interest in the cultural studies was a subject of amusement for men around him in India. Being an Indian man, he was expected to become an engineer, or maybe a lawyer, doctor, chartered accountant or some other ‘masculine’ professional. And what does culture have to do with being ‘manly’?- they used to say. Upon having received world-class education and exposure to philosophy and arts, he knew that if he wanted to settle in India, which he fully intended to, he could not live in a conventional native surrounding.
He had heard about the Florence Institute of Arts before and it seemed like the perfectly customised choice for him. He had been divorced once from a French wife and today she met this young lady who reminded him exactly of her. She was clumsy too. Fidgety much, but beautiful. He usually would have offered to help her a second time had she not resembled his ex-wife so starkly. Laughing to himself, he walked out of the railway station but his thoughts were still stuck on the young female struggling to safeguard her luggage. He guessed she would have refused the second offer of help too. Little did he know that she wouldn’t have! His life too, just like Meera’s, was about to change soon. Very soon.