A touch of love

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It was a full-residential school, and a co-ed. There was a large, stadium-like ground near the center of the school, and there were smaller ones, partly hidden behind shrubs and trees, towards the corners of the compound. There was a small forest-like area, in the middle of which stood a Swaraswati temple. There were narrow, long corridors in the classroom buildings.

Milan Chowk - so named because the roads from the boys' and the girls' hostels converged at that point. That's where, sometimes, the lovers in the school met coming out of their hostels, and that's where they parted. A wide brick-paved drainage - more like a stream - passed along the Milan Chowk.

They'd be 9 or 10, some even 8, when they enrolled. Most of them away from home for the first time. Some'd still be wetting their beds. There was a park right by the school's main gate, and a tin-roofed visitors' waiting area. Some came and sat on the benches here or in the park, talking and thinking of home.

For many, home was a night journey away by bus. For boys that age, a night journey home was a long, long way. Yet, sitting near the gate seemed to offer some solace. Being only boys perhaps, they lacked words to express what they felt. But you saw it in their eyes, replete with a sense of longing and love for home, fixed at a distance outside the gate. Perhaps, it was a piece of that love and longing which the boys translated into the way they related with the girls.

The boys and the girls sat strictly in separate rows in classroom. There were boys' area and the girls'. No school rules barred a boy and a girl from sitting together. That was unwritten, unspoken rule developed from among the students. Interestingly, the 8, 9 and 10-year-olds put that into practice right from the first class.

Barely any word passed between them. Sometimes, what had transpired could have been as simple as "Can you pass that chair?" Nothing to educe love or to express it. Not that love can't be expressed in asking a girl to pass a chair. It could've been a smile that he received, or a frown or simply a nonchalant expression. Even the slightest non-verbal gesture fueled others' appetite to tag him with the girl.

Silently, boys and girls grew beside the other. And silently they fell in love. Even as ten year olds. In class five a friend, I remember, told me in earnest it was "his girl's" hairstyle he liked most about her.

There were love notes and letters. And rarely, messages on a pipal leaf - because its heart shape reinforced the expression of love - addressed on behalf of a boy by other boys, to a girl. Without his knowledge.

That place could have been a haven for young lovers. In summer, the grounds covered in lush green grass. Pines, pipal and sisau swirled. A stream cut through the hill that stood against the school. It looked white in summer. They could lie on the grounds, beside each other and, as the foliage of the trees rushled, look at the bright blue sky. They could look at the sun receding behind the hill at dusk.

But they didn’t lie on the ground beside each other and look at the bright blue sky. Instead, they met at the end of the long corridors after classes, and spoke in whispers. They walked, in the dim light of the nightfall, about the small grounds where they would be the only souls. Or they sat beneath the shades of the pines and sisau trees behind the Saraswati temple.

Because in school, these young lovers didn’t inspire sympathy or approval, they felt the need to hide, to remain in the shadows. Sometimes in the evening, students saw silhouettes of a boy and a girl parting at the Milan Chowk – two figures in the dark, a gulf between their bodies. What they said thinly could have easily evaporated into the air.

Their love sprouted out of silence, at a distance. It grew in silence, at a distance.

And then during Holi, boys and girls gathered at Milan Chowk. It'd be long weekend and many went home. Yet, many, specially the older boys and girls, stayed back.

Housemasters distributed balloons and colors. Boys hurled lolas at each other; they filled buckets with drain water and emptied on other boys. When their energy sapped, they carried boys, one at a time to the drain and dipped them there.

Boys rarely used lolas or water on girls. For girls, they reserved colors. Red, green, yellow blue all mixed up in a small, thin polythene bag. Girls would run. They scampered along the paths downhill and about the large grounds. Fistful of colors, the boys pursued.

They didn’t feel it necessary to restrain their shouts and laughter ringing in the air, or their carefree spurting. It seemed, what they strongly wanted, in spite of anything, was to feel the comfort of a touch. As if a touch was a necessity, after silence and distance. Necessity, perhaps, to communicate, to reinforce, to seal the love that had grown in silence and distance.

For those secretly in love, the expressions the touch evoked – look on her eyes, smile on her lips, a trace of anger and of scorn – became signs of what the others felt; the touch was a question, a reading of another's heart.

Sometimes boys pretended to smear colors on girls when they had no color at all. Colors were only excuse. Perhaps, so was Holi.

And for days to come, many boys' faces glowed with the thought of the touch, and what it transpired - an anticipation of love, a blossoming of love. 

This article was taken from Setopati archives. It was first published on March 10, 2015

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