My first tale is about Abdallah and how he fell in love for the first time. Abu, as I’d like to call him, was a final year student at Madras Christian College. The college is a pristine piece of land nestled in the suburbs of Chennai city also known as Madras to those who share an emotional bond with the place.
A 400 acre plus campus of woodlands, shrubs and beautifully sculpted boulevards that sported tall trees on either side. The road below is coated in flowers during spring, colored leaves during autumn and mist during early mornings; before the sun drives it away. Perhaps in an effort to invite students and faculty to follow the road to their classes. Did I forget to mention the deer? Yes, those absolute majestic deer with proud antlers? The college boasted a healthy population of these. It was the campus of romance and if you spent three years of your life in this campus and did not meet love or romance under those trees, it would have done injustice to the 75-year-old trees that stood testament to the many countless affairs they have witnessed.
One does not come to MCC and leave without having experienced love and romance!
Abu was walking back from class to one of the three men’s residential halls on campus. It also happened to be Orientation day for the first year students. Abu allowed his thoughts to take him back two years when he was one of the awe-struck souls himself, in that big and imposing auditorium- the Anderson Hall! Everything was new and big when Abu first set foot on campus. The roads were wide and long, the trees were tall and huge, the buildings were imposing and life itself on campus was nowhere near ordinary. It took him a while to get used to the place and find his way around; but now that he was in his third and final year, the map of this place was embedded deep in his head and he let his sub-conscious lead him to his hall.
At First Sight
That’s when he saw her for the first time. Have you ever seen a flower walking? I’m sure Abu didn’t either, until that moment when he saw her that is. Time froze as did he. A sense of helplessness overcame him as there was nothing he could do but stand there like a granite figure as he watched her exit the hall with a bunch of students. He recognized the expression of awe and of being lost that adorned her face. He had the same on his brass two years ago. But somehow on her face, this expression lent an aura of beauty and cuteness.
She looked around trying to soak in the view in front of her, perhaps also in an attempt to not get lost. her hair neatly brushed back and a portion of it pinned at the back with a clip while the rest flowed with grace all the way down to her shoulder. As the wavy strands reacted to the slight breeze that was frequent to the ending summer, he knew he was in trouble if he did not look away now. There are some things in life that will always be impossible, this being one of them- to look away.
She wore a blue and white salwar khameez with a white dupatta draped across her shoulder. A thin gold chain adorned her neck and a sweet smile her face. A generous application of Maybelline made it seem like those eyes were a novel in themselves. She seemed to be having a conversation with one of the girls nearby and then at the mention of something funny perhaps, she let out a smile and quickly covered her mouth to hide the laughter. As those cheeks blushed, Abu by now had almost forgotten to breathe!
“Abdallaaaah” screamed a voice as he came up from behind Abu and jumped across his shoulder in a friendly gesture. “enna macchaaang, looking for fresher’s so you can rag them ah?” chimed in Karthik who also seemed to be taking a fancy to the first year crowd. “Deii” said Abu “stop messing around” and went back trying to find his lady love in the crowd. Karthik’s intervention had made him lose sight of her and now she was gone.
“Hey listen,” said Karthik “Warden is hosting a dinner at his place for the cabinet and senior students tonight, you going ah?” Abu was now back in reality and replied: “Wouldn’t miss it for the world“. The two head on back to the hall but Abu turns around one last time for a quick glance over his shoulder to see if he can spot her once again.
The Second Time
A month went by, or was it two? But there was no sight of that girl since then and Abu had almost given up hope of ever seeing her again. He had just finished his plate of biriyani along with a glass of grape juice at the college canteen. As he stepped out to head back he saw something that caught his eye. A few yards to his side was his junior, Melvin, who happened to be walking with a girl; wait a minute, was that? The girl in blue salwar was Melvin’s classmate??
Ever glimpsed the look on a man’s face when a spark of brilliance lights up in his mind? Hitler probably had the same look on his face when he decided to host the 1936 Olympics. ha! Melvin was going to have a really good night for sure. All throughout dinner at the mess hall, Abu kept an eye out for Melvin. All first-year residents sat in the middle and Abu would have no trouble spotting Melvin in his full sleeve shirt and pleated pants (which was the dress code required to be worn by all juniors as part of tradition).
When dinner was done and Melvin left to go back to his room Abdallah called Melvin to his room. Abu had other plans for how Melvin should spend the evening. “So, Melvin, tell me; who was that girl you were walking with today?” asked Abu. “Sir?” replied Melvin in a trembling voice trying to fake innocence from the accusation. “There was no girl sir.
“You prefer the hockey stick instead?” asked Abu.
“Merlyn sir.” Replied Melvin, almost instantly.
God save the hockey stick! The Hockey Stick always got the job done. As has been proved from generation after generation of residents who have entered and exited the Halls. “Alright… now get lost” said Abu. The junior Melvin lingered around a while more, probably confused that his senior let him go so fast. You see seniors always loved to have long conversations with Juniors; it was not supposed to end this fast. But a second look from Abu made it clear he wasn’t joking and poor Melvin ran for his dear life.
Abu now turned to his diary and penned down something; a poem that he would only reveal to me years later. But it was touching none the less.
Dear Merlyn, I still remember, shrouded in misty fog was the day
the day I first met you and I didn’t know what on earth to say!
There you were, a brazen moon, as sky and sea came out to play,
I still recall that day and like a timeless classic, in my head replay!
I knew this girl was like no other, she was a gem and no man’s trophy,
life’s cruel to give me eyes, yet deny me courage to ask her out to coffee.
She was a humble soul I had to know, unlike Claire, Melissa or Sophie!
I turned around and walked back home, for I knew she was beyond my reach,
Yet try as I might, could not erase the gaze of her eye, intense as the Arctic freeze.
or her cheeks as she smiled, they blushed like the shade of a ripe dainty peach.
She was the answer to what a man’s soul should seek
beauty that expressed itself, as humble as it was meek.
who can compare? Not the Persians, Arabs or even the Greek!
And now she forms the very core of my thoughts
from morn to eve, I dwell on her face, distraught.
lo the day, when the glimpse of that darling I caught!
Am I lost, for I think of her everyday?
Rain or shine, wind or come what may.
It is an act of fate I’d say, for this girl is a gem like no other
and I when near her in anxious fear tremble and shudder
Yet I believe I’ve finally met the one,
come heaven or hell, I’ll love her even if all fall asunder!
A few weeks passed before Abu saw her again. But this time he mustered the courage to go up to her and talk. ‘Hey… Merlyn right?” asked Abu. Merlyn turned around surprised. “Yes.. how did you know?”
“Melvin never told you about me?” asked Abu sending a nonchalant glance at Melvin who was standing nearby. Melvin got the cue and bolted to safety. He’d have given Usain Bolt a run for his money in that sprint.
Seeing Melvin run like that, Merlyn was well aware who was talking to her and she said in a softer tone that before “you are Melvin’s senior“.
“No,” said Abu trying to sound all chivalrous “I’m Abdallah and Melvin’s my best friend“. Merlyn seemed to get the joke and laughed. It was the start of something sweet alright. I was the silent witness to all the drama that was about to unfold. Took the bugger three years to grow enough courage to talk to a girl, but I guess it was worth the wait. They looked absolutely stunning together.
Sometime later that week Abu asked Merlyn out for lunch. She stayed in one of the women’s residences on campus and they had strict curfew timings. She had to be back by 6:00 PM. He took her to dominos pizza and the two sat staring at each other while the pizza baked. I have to admit Abu had a pathetic taste when it came to choosing the venue, but it was not the venue in itself that was the highlight. It was how the two got there. Abu by his third year had brought himself a cycle and who on earth would have thought that he took her there on his cycle. She seated in front as he put his hands on either side and they cycled all the way to ‘camp-road’ to have Pizza! Like a scene right out from one of the 80’s black and white romance movies.
It was all the more surprising that it happened to be Merlyn’s birthday that day. And Abu gifted her a polished stone with their initials embossed on it. A&M – it looked splendid, engraved into the black shiny stone. It was obvious that the two never ate Pizza because Abu came back to my room with a box of large pizza and two slices missing. “You should do this more often” I encouraged him. Heck, as long as I get the pizza, do it every day.
On the evening of the following day, it happened to be the inaugural function of the college’s 175th-year celebration. The function went long into the night and Merlyn happened to be present. While we sat in our seats, some staring at the phones, passively scrolling through their Facebook feed, others furiously typing away on WhatsApp; anything to avoid the monotony of the speech that was going longer than expected. Abu sat there staring at the other side to where Merlyn was sitting. She, on the other hand, was engaged in conversation with her friends and never looked this side. “You’ll get a neck cramp dude,” I told him. “Go talk to her when dinner starts, for now, look straight will ya“.
Just as he was about to heed my advice, she threw a glance his way. That girl! She knew all along that Abu’s afflicted soul had been staring at her all along! But now she slowly and subtly pulled out the black stone, now hanging as a pendant on her necklace and toyed with it, then looked up at Abu and gave a shy smile. Oh, the joy of falling in love for the first time!
I am sure that had his body allowed such a feat, Abu’s heart would have shot up his throat and launched up into the night sky to explode like a firecracker for all the world to see.
And so it was that this year too, Love blossomed on Campus. Abu and Merlyn did not disappoint the effort of the trees. It is amazing what a little bit of love can do for a person. It can bring so much purpose and resolve in life, as I saw happen with Abu. Every action he took from then on was based on how it would affect their future together.
This is my first tale. I will be back with the second tale tomorrow.