Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beneath stars , about stars

Beneath moonlight , she and my novel was all that I used to look forward to. We shared a habit . The habit of reading novels before we sleep. The slum did not have many children who could read novels . It did not matter. I was there for her company and she was there for mine. A silent companionship of 18 long years.
It all began at the age of 10 . We were in the same school . It was the only school our village had. Our parents used to work at the zamindar's house . We were neighbours  and shared novels that the zamindar's son used to distribute among us for free (knowing that we are the only one's who are enthusiastic about reading).
I used to study at night usually. Most of the slum children were asleep by 11 pm and hence studying at night was the only preferred option one had.
Every night Zaira used to come , walking like a sleepyhead , at her roof . As soon as she entered , we greeted each other silently. There were tacit inhibitions imposed . I believe there are still a lot of inhibitions in our society .
Whenever we were about to start a new novel ,  we used to show the cover of our respective novels from a distance and then begin reading . Till she stayed , I used to read my novel . While she left early , I used to sit for some more time and study .
Zaira was fond of reading philosophy and astronomy . She thought she could identify any constellation that wandered the sky. We devised means to teach each other whatever important we read via written letters. Letters that were thrown as planes to respective roofs. She would point out to the Apus , Aries , Cancer , Sculptor and Virgo .  I was startled by her ability to remember all the names and shapes of these constellations with such ease.
She used to give me  beautiful quotes , those that would inspire me for the odds and relieve me from distress.

The reception of information was not one way . I was good at mathematics and science . She gleefully credited all her marks in those subjects to me . Questions from her side used to come laden in the paper planes . While I solved them in no time , she bombarded my roof with more of them. Like I was amazed by her astute memory , she was amazed by my skills. Perhaps her speed of planes indicated that one day she will  challenge my speed, like one day I will be able to point to the constellation she loved the most.
To impress each other , this was the most that we could do . No matter how small it might sound , it was more than enough.
I remember disliking her habit of speaking while learning . During cold winter nights , the sound of her voice often disturbed me in my sleep . No matter how much I pleaded her to stop , she never did. In exams , when stuck at some point , her words that disturbed my sleep , struck me back and helped me to answer the questions well .
I knew , it all had to change one day. Zaira got married at the age of 28. I thought she would marry off around 20 , but she wanted to complete her education first and help her parents with the dowry too. She took a job at the slum school as a teacher.  Now , she could purchase her own second hand novels . Those that would help her sleep better and teach better.
I know how I felt sitting at my roof without my companion after the day she got married.
Today , in the foreword of my novel on astronomy , I dedicate it to the one who inspired every word of this .
To Zaira , my friend .

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