Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 18

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I wrote my quarterly exams well, and so did Basha. I heard that Vandhana too, did well. She still refused to make it up with me though. I tried talking to her in school, but she refused to acknowledge my greetings. I went over to her home once and when she saw me coming, she slammed the front door shut. I tried accosting her when she went to the colony grocery store. She refused to budge. So I gave up.

"Write to her," Sethu suggested. I said no. I thought only lovers wrote to each other even if they met everyday. I concentrated on cricket and hanging out with the guys.

A couple of months later, I met Pravallika when she was coming from Vandhana's house. "Hi," she greeted.

"How are you?" I enquired.

"I'm ok."

"How is she?" I asked.

"She, who?" she shot back. She knew who I was referring to.

"Vandhana," I mumbled.

"She is fine. She is going to Charan's house right now," she said.

"Charan?" My blood pressure shot up.

"Yes, he's her classmate. They are preparing together for the mid-terms."

I was infuriated. Who the hell is this Charan?

"Bye, Sunnu," she said and she left. I was agitated over the whole thing.

I told Basha about this at the practice. "Oh no!" he gasped.

"What?"

"You know, Sunnu, she is down at the moment. If that wise guy shows some sympathy or even pretends to be sympathetic, she will fall for him flat."

"What do you mean by fall?" I asked.

"In love, my friend. Women are strange creatures, you know." I didn't know. I decided to take this up myself. It was between Vandhana and me.

The next day, I walked into her home, and found a smart looking guy sitting in the hall.

"Yes?" he asked me.

"Vandhana?" I asked.

"Please wait, she'll be here." She came out and was surprised to find me there.

"Hi, remember me?" I added some sarcasm.

"Hi." She had a serious expression on her face.

"You must be Sunnu, right?" the guy asked me.

"And you are Charan, right?"

"Yes," he replied and we shook hands. She was watching all this, bewildered.

"Am I disturbing you guys, or something?" I asked them. Her face flushed red.

She was embarrassed.

"No, we were just about to start with our revision," he said.

"Can I have a minute with you, please?" I asked.

"No, I am not interested," she mumbled.

"You mean to say, this is it? All the sweet talk about friendship and all?" I persisted.

"See, you lied and I hate liars!"

"You never gave me a chance to explain myself, Vandhana!" I almost screamed.

"Sunnu, I don't have the time to go through this all over again. Now, if you will excuse us, we have a lot to study."

There it was. The last nail in the coffin. She was so arrogant. She had insulted me in front of a stranger. I vowed that I would never see her again. I met Pravallika again after a week. She stopped me when I tried to ignore her.

"Sunnu, I know that you are hurt."

"I am not hurt, Prav."

"Ok, now, just know this. She regretted what she did to you that day, in front of Charan.

"How sweet," I couldn't suppress my sarcasm.

"Don't think I'm here to mediate and all. I just hate to see you sad. That's all."

Wow! "Why?" I exclaimed.

"Because you are like a brother to me."

In my mind, I saw a highway, and a board on it read 'emotional entanglement ahead.' "Thanks," I said. She smiled and left.

I was in my own world now, far from girls. I ran into Pravallika now and then. She even tied raakhi on me. Our annual exams approached and I was glued to my books. Dad didn't even allow me to walk Mickey. I studied hard. Sundar was doing fine in his eleventh standard. Prabhu and he were planning a trip to Chittoor in the summer vacation. I wrote to Sruthi about everything that happened in my life. In the beginning, she used to write back, but later on her letters dried up and so I stopped writing to her. I don't know why Sruthi stopped being in touch with me to this day. When I mentioned this to Basha, he just shrugged and gave me that wry smile and said, "Women! You know." Basha stayed with me in the nights and we studied till midnight. Occasionally we diverted our concentration and did small talk. He was careful enough to not to mention Vandhana in our conversations. She was, according to the school gossip, 'going around' with Charan. I was hurt, but never showed it out. I still had hope that she would not do such things without telling me. Biju and Sethu came home once in a while. We planned to learn swimming that summer. Barney's Dad had a huge farm a kilometre away from the Colony. It had a huge irrigation well and we planned to learn swimming there.

Pravallika dropped by occasionally. Mom liked her. She bought cookies for Mickey. She loved dogs. She embarrassed me by calling me her brother, but I got used to it. She was very mischievous. She made fun of Basha's hairstyle and I laughed at her jokes. Basha didn't get along fine with girls. He became very shy, but he gave lectures on how to handle women and all that. What no one noticed was that, at the back of my mind, thoughts of Vandhana were nagging me. I didn't quite realise it myself at first. Later, I understood that I missed her. We used to cross each other once in a while, but I never looked at her. I suspected that Pravallika was delivering all the information about me to her. I bumped into her on the day of my first exam in school. Charan was beside her.

"All the best!" I wished her.

"Thanks, good luck to you too," she said.

I noticed a faint hint of longing in her eyes.

Summer vacation started, and it started off on a sad note. Vandhana was going to Bangalore for the vacation. I waited for her to come to me and make it up. Nothing happened. So, as planned, we started taking swimming classes from Barny - Mr. Know-it-all. Basha, Sethu, Biju, Suresh and I went swimming everyday. Dad didn't know about this. He would have broken our necks if he had come to know about it, as it was dangerous to swim in the irrigation wells. Firstly, they were very deep, and some of them produced toxic gases at times. So, Dad warned us against swimming in irrigation wells. But actually, not all the wells were dangerous. They were deep, but if you have an experienced instructor, it is all right to jump and learn.

The water was light - green in colour and transparent. We could actually see Barny's pet turtle move about in the bed. At first, we learnt to swim with the aid of car tubes, filled with air. We wrapped them around our waists and dived. Initially I was very scared, but I got used to going a few feet deep and emerging back, gasping for breath.

I realised that swimming is in the mind. If you are scared, you'll never be able to learn. We used to cling onto our tubes, afraid that somehow they might slip away. Barny was an expert swimmer. He guided the five of us. After a few weeks, we were confident of jumping in without the tubes and we finally overcame the fear. We knew how to swim now! It was a great feeling to have overcome the fear and achieved this feat. Next, we learnt the various diving techniques. The pumpkin was one of them. You jump from the top, with your arms wrapped around your knees. You drop into the middle of the well, like a pumpkin. The crowbar was another technique. You just jump straight down, with your body absolutely still. Your arms glued to your sides, with your feet pointing down, you slice through the water and go in deep. Diving headfirst was a problem. Whenever we tried it, our bellies smacked the surface of the water hard and that hurt. We learnt how to bend and move our bodies gracefully, with our arms together and dive in, like an arrow. We couldn't thank Barny enough.

Lots of cricket happened too. We played in a lot of tournaments. I divided my time between cricket and swimming. I was the number one bowler of Durga Colony now. We played against local teams as well as with teams from far off places like Vellore, Tirupathi and Madanapalle. In one of the tournaments, we met Babu's team in the finals. It was real fun. Although we were friends, there was fierce competition between us. I hated the way he smashed me all over the ground. The final victory was mine though when I bowled him with a beauty. They won the match as our batting crumbled. I was happy that I was doing a lot these days. We even camped on the Turtle Neck. It was beautiful. Lying down, facing the stars on top of the hill, with the bonfire making shadows on the rocks around us. Sethu was a bit scared about the whole thing, but got used to it soon. Biju brought parathas from home and I took potato curry. Barny bought cookies, tea powder and milk. We made our own tea at midnight. We chatted, sipping the tea and shouted at the shooting stars that fell across every now and then. I took Mickey along with me. He thoroughly enjoyed these outings. He kept vigil in the night, after we dozed off, and as always, he woke me up exactly at six in the morning by licking my ears. He needed to be home by six-thirty for his morning walk with Dad.

I was promoted to the ninth standard. So was Basha. Biju and Sethu were in the seventh. They had to face the common exams now. Vandhana came back from Bangalore. She was the Colony beauty and mostly wore jeans and T-shirts nowadays. I didn't bother to go to her place. Nikil asked me why and I gave him some excuse or the other to evade him. Pravallika gave me hints that Vandhana was interested in making it up with me, but nothing was concrete. What the heck, I didn't want to talk to someone who slammed doors on me. I didn't want to be friends with a girl who had the audacity to insult me in front of a stranger.

"Sunnu, sometimes you have to tone down your self-respect if you want friends," Pravallika said. I looked at her, incredulously.

"Prav, you don't know how it feels when one of your best friends slams the door on your face."

"Sunnu, I know, but I think you have to initiate the revival of your friendship with Vandhana."

"I have begged her. The ball is in her court now, so to say," I said.

It rained that July evening. Somehow, it was a blessing. I was alone at home. I sat in the veranda and gazed at the hills behind the Arts College. The rain spread a misty layer over the hills. The noise of the raindrops hitting against the roof sounded funny. It stopped raining after an hour of so. Darkness was fast approaching. I was glued to my chair, listening to the birds chirping and the rhythmic sound of the raindrops dripping from the trees into the small puddles on the ground.

"Hello!" someone called. I stood up. It was Vandhana.

"May I come in?" she cooed. I could hear her smile within herself.

"Sure, I haven't mastered the art of slamming doors on my friends' faces yet," I retorted.

"Cut the sarcasm, you idiot!" she screamed, walking into the house. There was no one at home. "Do you realise how much I have missed you, Sunnu?" she prevailed.

"That is news to me. By the way, don't you think that line was meant for Charan?"

She slapped me. I started laughing.

"Shut up!" she screamed, but she couldn't help it either and started to laugh.

We laughed together. She held my hair, tugged it and said, "Listen up, smart ass. I am not going to repeat this again and again. You were and you still are my best friend, ok?"

"Ok, ok," I said and added, "I reciprocate".

It was tacitly understood that we were not just friends anymore. Or at least that was what I thought. It was as if some imposing and invisible barrier between us had been blown to pieces. We felt closer now. We belonged now. For the first time in my life, I realised what it meant to be in such close proximity of a woman. She seemed more beautiful now than ever. Her smile generated high voltage electricity deep inside me. And I was not comfortable with this mysterious, exciting and deep relationship. I didn't even shake hands with her nowadays. It was as though she was transformed into an angel overnight. She had that exuberant glow on her face. She blushed quite too often these days. She giggled too often. She became a mysterious girl to me. She was hiding something from me.

I was going through one of Yendamuri's novel and suddenly realised that I had a crush on her. Too bad. I didn't want to go through such silly things in life. I wanted to be a mature guy. A no nonsense gentleman.... so I started restraining myself from seeing her. She was mad. "Why are you acting weird these days?" she asked me once.

"You won't understand now, but when you do, you will appreciate me." I delivered one more speech.

"Ok, Lord Buddha," she giggled.

I felt strange. It was as if I was suppressing a Himalayan urge, but I didn't understand what this urge was all about. It was so confusing. Basha had a stupid moustache now. He caressed it with his fingers every now and then, and said in a base voice, "The mark of a man." I sneaked into dad's room one day and used his shaving set. I tried to imitate the guys in the commercials. I cut my chin and wondered when I would be able to have a beard, like those men in the commercials.



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