Photo of AAU Credit: Dhiraj Das, posted on Agrian Adda Group on Facebook
Loneliness by Design Author: Rajeev Nair
It is surprising how often it takes news of death to make us recall people from our past. And so it is that the violent death of a dear lady brought out some faded-yellow memories of a library that, it seemed then, was designed for the lonely and lost.
The Central Library of Assam Agricultural University in the late 80s was a quiet place. I am not sure if things have changed much now. I have spent many a dreary night within the vastness of that shrine for research books, reading anything but about science. Although a student of Agriculture, I had this voracious appetite for news, maybe a hangover that never leaves the quintessential Malayali. In the pre-Internet era, news did not come easy. The library, then was the haven for news. My best day was when the Sunday supplement of The Telegraph – Kolkata edition would come in along with the bunch of the week’s newspapers. The Telegraph gave me what Assam’s own Assam Tribune or The Sentinel could not. And there cramming through the papers, right up to the astrology pieces (which many years later, I have cooked up working for a magazine), I would occasionally meet some of my classmates, studiously heading to the research publications and handbooks of Agriculture. Did I secretly sneer at them?
But it is in the silence of this library that my eyes met that of Ms X. She was a senior, and that meant, petty romance, innocent flirting or any such nonsense was out of the question. She was mesmerizingly beautiful, almost with Bollywood looks, and had a boldness and swagger that few in the university had. But alas, she was my senior. And I was anything but bold.
Being senior meant, the most I should have got from her were contemptuous looks, but by Allah, she used to smile at me.
I don’t know how it became a routine that I started walking her up until the ladies’ hostel gate at night, and turning away with a curt ‘good night.’ We spoke nothing on the way. I would be staring at the moon, the stars and the litchi trees in blossom, and she would walk, sometimes a few steps ahead, in total silence. Was she nostalgic too, much like I was being some 4000 km away from home? Did we meet at the library, because it was the designed for the lonely? And then… she graduated, and I was no longer the freshman.
My library days were replaced by visits to the ghetto called Kanchen Nagar for spurious booze and meat. I still followed news with passion though, but visiting the library was never the same again.
Some 25 years later, when I hear of her death, the sort you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, I recall those distant nights… And I feel something, not necessarily pain, for what I don’t know.