Thursday, October 19, 2017

Affection Interrupted

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sangeeta was my neighbour in Kolkata. She was fair and had red lips, a typical Punjabi girl. One day, while standing next to each other at a milk booth, we started talking. Thereafter, we became friends. She was 20. I was 18. Soon we began going out for movies, music shows and art exhibitions.

She worked in a bank. I was a college student. One day, after work, I picked her up on my two-wheeler. To get some privacy, I took her to the National Library, where I was a member. It was a tree-filled campus, with few people.

There were many places to sit. But we sat on a cement ledge, under a large tree, on a small hillock, surrounded by bushes.

Sangeeta and I started chatting. Feeling affectionate, I placed my arm over her shoulders. We continued to talk. Suddenly, there was the sound of dried leaves being stamped upon. A man, in a khaki uniform, emerged, and told us to follow him. He said, “These things cannot be done in public. I have to take you to the authority.”

He led us to an office, which was just beside the main library building. There, a bespectacled middle-aged woman sat behind a desk. He whispered something to her and withdrew. I immediately said, “Sorry Madam. We made a mistake.”

She remained silent and stared at us. Sangeeta did not say anything. She remained calm and cool. 

The lady asked for my library membership card. Thankfully, I had it inside my purse. I showed it to her. She realised that I was taking books regularly.

She again looked at us and said, “Next time, please don’t do such things in the library. It is a serious place. Scholars come here to do research.”

I bowed my head and said, “Yes Maam.”

There was a pause. It seemed as if the woman was deciding in her mind what to do. Then she said, “You can leave.” And that was it. We were free.

We rushed out of the office and grinned at each other. Then I suddenly felt angry: “What was the crime that we did? I just put my arm across your shoulders. What’s wrong with that?”

Sangeeta held my hand and said, “You are right.” Did it act as a deterrent? Not at all. We carried on holding hands and I placed my arms over Sangeeta's shoulders whenever I had the opportunity. The friendship lasted for two years. Then, we parted amicably. This mother-of-two now lives in the United States. Looking back, in ripe middle age, the question remains: In the land of Kama Sutra, why do we remain such prudes? 

(Published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions) 

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