Book excerpt: Summer Holidays by Koral Dasgupta
Title — Summer Holidays
Publisher — Rupa
Price — Rs. 295/-
It was Mira’s first day at IIT Bombay. They both had to rush. Rishi packed his bag and hers, dropping a set of duplicate keys into her bag before they left.
‘You know how Kohli sends the ball soaring towards the boundary?’ Rishi asked as they rode his bike. ‘He stands erect as the ball comes from the front and swerves it towards the left like this.’ As they approached a crossing, the red lights turned green and Rishi took a sharp turn towards the left, emulating the skipper’s bat.
‘Are you mad?’ Mira cried. ‘If you get caught by the traffic police, the BCCI won’t be impressed.’
Rishi drove past the khaki-clad policeman standing a few metres away, writing something in a small pad in his hand. ‘…And here’s the end of another over.’ He stopped abruptly at the red signal, and his sister pushed him from behind, irritated.
When Rishi had dropped her off at IIT Bombay, Mira turned towards her new college. There were the guest houses on the left, leading towards Powai Lake. For a moment, she forgot about the orientation she had to attend and walked mindlessly through the buildings, standing between two called JalVihar and Padma Vihar.
Not that she didn’t know what an engineering college campus looked like. Her B.Tech days had neither been happening, nor boring. Just that everyone was a genius there. And everyone was in a hurry to prove that before the others. Competition was steep, teachers strict and schedules merciless. Most of the students there had a dream. Every project submitted was a reflection of that dream, which refused to shatter even when brutally criticized. But term exams were the levellers. The layers of pride and appreciation that the students wore as their second skin were ripped apart at the noticeboard that announced their results. Most of them had no idea what to say to their parents, who were waiting to hear that their child had topped! They would retire to the canteen discussing how engineering had ruined their lives. The flavourless tea poured into glasses carrying the smudged lip marks of the previous drinker felt far closer to their hearts than their choice of career.
The boy serving the tables tended to philosophize. ‘All you buggers will become big people someday, and when you come to visit the campus, you will give me fat tips. Year after year I see students sitting here and lamenting. Then they go get themselves great jobs even before they’ve left the campus.’
Mira always felt the boy knew more about the campus than any of the professors or students. Listening to his rants were, in fact, quite therapeutic at the end of a hectic day. No more than 16, he carried with him the heart of the institute.
‘Don’t ever fall in love with anyone here, Mira Didi!’ he would tell her. ‘These people won’t marry you. They just want a distraction from the academic grill. The lower their scores, the more their ego is bruised,the more their hatred for the teachers and the more praise they’ll shower on you intheir poetry. Don’t ever believe you are as perfect as they say you are. You are just a temporary perfection in their lives as long as they are students here.’
The canteen owner would shout at him for spending too much time at the table, and he would run. But everyone knew there was no bigger entertainment than hearing his rants, which were free and compulsory for everyone.
Mira missed him. He was the only one who seriously asked about her grades. He even scolded her when they were not up to the mark. Her father knew that Mira’s interest in academics was pretty self-driven. She didn’t have anything else to do other than study and he didn’t have to put in any effort in propelling her ahead. Soundarya Ma only asked if she had passed her exams. Every time she topped at school, Soundarya Ma would make a face. ‘A woman studying so much and also being a topper! God knows who will marry you.’ She would grumble and then dramatically lower her voice. “Men don’t like women who are more intelligent than them. I mean, it’s fine if you are more intelligent, but don’t let it show.’
With such parenting samples back home, she would look forward to those affectionately stern queries at the canteen. The boy too had perhaps realized that this shy, timid woman didn’t have friends.
Mira wished he was there that day; that he would suddenly appear from somewhere, shouting, ‘Mira Didi, why are you standing here and wasting time? Your classes are about to begin. Run! Where are you lost?’
‘Are you lost?’
The baritone came from behind. She turned, startled. A tall, young man was looking down at her from behind golden spectacles.
About the book:
People appreciate strong women who can break boundaries and achieve the impossible. But, if a woman is simple, innocent and doesn’t exactly relate to the complicated politics of personal and professional life, does that make her weak? Or her emotional power counts? What if her natural goodness manages to break such barriers that so called smart people chose to steer away from?
Summer Holidays is a comedy transcending familial relationships, where a charming boy stands by his demure cousin to bring her out of the introvert and help her gain control of her life. However, this is also the story of two women – one confused and the other feisty – trying their best to negotiate their own terms with the circumstances that life put them into and strongly so.
About the author:
Koral Dasgupta is an author, columnist, academic and amateur painter. She runs a boutique storytelling platform, http://www.tellmeyourstory.in, which hosts short stories and poems written by people from all walks of life, across the world. Koral is also an advisory member for Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) Mumbai. She teaches Marketing Management to postgraduate students, branding and consumer behaviour being her focal areas. Summer Holidays is her fourth book. Koral is based in Mumbai, India.
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