I Was Scared

Entry by: daddy

1st January 2015
'Oh you mountains, please be gentle'

I remember the day warden allotted a single room to me in the hostel, it was in early April the fifth to be precise, and the year was 1971. I was preparing for my final examinations of the second year when the warden asked me to shift to the single room. A senior girl had vacated the room a day before as she had shifted to her parent’s house. It was a boon to get the room, since the examinations were more than a month away and it would be good to study undisturbed by the perennial chatter of my roommate. I liked my roommate; she was thin as a stick, jovial, and a foodie but cared little about studies. Lately she had started talking about benefits of marrying young, as it was evident that she would not make it to the passing grades.
The college was in a sleepy ancient town at the edge of the desert. However, big trees surrounded the hostel and they provided welcome shade during hot summer days. It was early April but the sandstorms had already started screaming and beating the windows as if to find crevices for the sand to whistle in and just lie in peace. Electricity was another problem with sandstorms dislodging the cables from the poles leaving the hostellers with a salty sandy crust on the body. Showering was possible only during night or early in the morning since at other times the water tank and the pipes got hot and spouted scalding water.
I wasted no time in shifting my humble belongings comprising of two small attaché cases and a few books (I left a jar full of homemade sweets for my roommate). Those days there were no transistor radios, walkman, or TVs, if one cared for the cacophony, one could listen to the screeching valve radio in the lounge belting out sad romantic songs.
The room located on the far corner of first floor was small but quiet and overlooked the playing ground in the distance. The old trees near the room were taller and provided comfort during summer, the rustling leaves had a strange soothing effect on the nerves. It was a frugal room with one cupboard for belongings, a small washbasin, half a study table, and a small wooden bed. In any case, it was big enough for my humble possessions and provided the needed quiet environment.
After a modest dinner, I started to arrange my things and as I tried to push one of the attaché cases in to the top drawer, I realized that something was obstructing the case. I climbed on the study table to see what it was and came across a pile of envelopes stuffed with letters left behind by the previous girl. There were over 300 letters and I would have thrown them but the embedded curiosity in all females to take a peep in to the lives of others, made me preserve them at least till I had read at least one of them. This happened once I managed to store them away from the prying eyes of my friends who would randomly visit and ransack the room with their eagle sharp eyes.
The letters were without any salutation and a simple T for signature. T being the short form of Tara, the previous occupant of the room. She was a senior girl from a different department whom I had seen in the hostel off and on but was not even acquainted with. The letters were without dates. Needless to say that I read and re-read each of the letters many times in the next few nights. I made a lot of effort to put the letters in some sort of order depending upon the text with respect to locations and time of the likely events. I was able to arrange a few, some I could put in a probable order, but arranging those without context of time and space was not feasible. Her writing on the unlined paper sheets was like pearls, and the ink ranged from blue to green to red in no particular order. I came to know T layer by layer as a person of incredulous insight in to incidents of mundane hostel and college life, how they affected her inner being, and how they made her reach out to the paper and pen most of the days.
The letter writing in all probability had commenced when T saw one of the senior students of a different department coming to visit a girl in the visitor’s room of the hostel. She had seen this boy at the university library and found out that he was an honest hardworking student. She kept a peripheral interest in the boy thereafter and tried to cross his path occasionally at the university. The boy came to the hostel rarely, even though she found that the elderly warden was quiet nice to him and had offered him tea and snacks on one occasion. The girl whom he used come and meet was a book worm who could not see beyond her grades. The boy was a good student with interest in university sports and other extracurricular activities.
After a few letters, the boy became the recipient of T’s views and comments about happenings in and around T’s life. The letters were not a diary of mundane records of local, national, and international events but a detailed analysis of her feelings, logic, and rationale. I started spending considerable time reading the letters, so much so that I avoided going to the common room for gossip or hearing the radio. T had opened facets of her mind and heart in the letters, which were astounding to me since reading or socializing were not T’s forte. She was from an orthodox Christian family and was in the hostel due to her father's posting to an UN mission in Africa. T was happy to be in the single room and considered it to be her permanent home for ever, each nook and crevice in the room found a place in the letters as did the insects and birds and leaves of the tress visible from the room.
Since the boy had remained unnamed, I had to spend considerable time figuring out his identity from scores of boys who tramped through the hostel on various pretexts and track those who rarely made an appearance. Identifying the girl proved to be much easier since one of the letters had mentioned her department. I began keeping tabs on her visitors but could find no one who had not been a frequent caller at the hostel
One week before my examinations were to begin, I dashed in to a simple friendly looking boy in the lobby who went to the visitor’s room after greeting the warden and met the girl. My heart raced with anticipation as I realized that this was T’s boy from the letters!
I read all the letters again that night; they had come alive like a feature film and devoured my imagination like a forest fire. That night the sand storm raged out side, the windows creaked, the light bulb danced shadows on the walls to the witches tune, whistling winds forced sand under the door, but a strange calm prevailed in my mind.
I started finding more about T from other hostel mates; they were not of much help as T had kept to herself during the past year. She was a good student disciplined and friendly but had opened up to no one.
Someone told me she was unwilling to leave the hostel, even though her parents had come back to stay in the city. She had to be dragged out of the room by her parents, and when they took her away, she had not changed her clothes, washed or combed. Her things were not packed but just dumped in the car. No good bye’s, no exchange of addresses nothing, no one had seen her at the university thereafter.

Three days to final examination I sit transfixed on the floor scared.
Scared that I was transforming in to T, scared that even though I had found out who the boy was, it did not matter. Time and place, food and water do not matter, what matters is what I am going to write from my heart, from my mind.

Scared to put down the pen that had jotted the first few words of a letter to him… of the next letter and the next thereafter…….

On the tall snowy peaks,
The little lion cub is playing,
Oh you mountains, please be gentle,
Till the cub has grown his mane.
(A folk song from ancient Tibet)