Souvenir

2007, Delhi

Kirti and Vasu are standing along the road that eventually curves and leads to the college canteen. A car is stands next to them in which their friend, Shubham, is putting in the last of Kirti’s luggage. Vasu’s hand is holds the Kirti’s tiny fingers in one hand,  left hand in his right one while using his left hand to hold one of her numerous bags, many of which are now in the car. Kirti is using her right hand to wipe out a tear, one of the many flowing down her cheeks in an endless stream. She hates goodbyes.

The red car that Shubham’s Dad lent him just for this day is now standing at the front gate of the college, with Shubham at the wheels. He’s honking aimlessly at the car right in front of him, knowing that it’ll make no difference at all to the situation: it’s the last day of college, and every car going out today will have to get a clearance. Indifferent to all the commotion, Kirti, sitting on the front seat, is staring at the keychain in her hands. It’s a wooden artifact, and has just one letter written on it in great calligraphic flourish: V.

In a few days she’ll be flying to California for her master’s program in management, and this little key chain is going to be her only memory of Vasu. She couldn’t bring anything else, since it would raise questions in her extremely conservative family. So this little keychain is going to be her only souvenir of the year long affair with him. Of all the evenings spent walking around the campus for hours. Of their first kiss in the empty library at 2:15 pm when, in a stroke of chance, they found themselves completely alone in the chemistry section on the third floor. Of endless nights on phone talking about nothing at all: this little key chain, with V printed on one side.

***

Vasu is putting a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, in his backpack. This is his third copy of the same book; somehow guys in boy’s hostels are wont to borrow a book and then conveniently forget to return it, till of course asked for. This doesn’t work for Vasu at all, since he can almost never remember who borrowed which of his books, and is too ashamed to ask more than 5 people about it. He just prefers instead, to buy a new copy for himself when he can’t find one of his favorites.

The only other book in the backpack is a second hand copy — for a fresh copy could not be found — of “Life: A user’s Manual” by Georges Perec. On the first page just below the printed:

Look, with all your eyes look

there’s written, in beautiful handwriting:

For old times’ sake
– kirti

The book is in the backpack because he’ll will be reading it during his 16 hour long journey to his hometown, where he’ll stay for another three weeks with his family, before flying to Bangalore for his first job with one of the best software firms in the country.

2017, Bangalore

Aditya and Sapna are standing in the second hand section on the third floor. Aditya is an avid reader and a regular customer, and today he’s brought his classmate Sapna along, to show around the place. He likes to hang around the place for hours, especially the third floor; not just because he’s looking for cheap books: the section has books sold by people from all over Bangalore, and sometimes you can find rare classics in here that you won’t find anywhere else. But then, you need to have the eye for them, and quite a bit of patience. Aditya’s apparently got both, and usually finds something interesting on every visit. Except on this occasion nothing’s caught his fancy as yet.

He’s been staring at the covers on the far side of the room. Judging a book by its cover is a thing to be avoided, but then, almost everyone ignores the old maxim every once a while. He’s found a dark red cover in the third row from the top that looks interesting, and has just picked up the book: “Life: A User’s Manual” by Georges Perec. He knows about this book, in fact he’s been looking for this book for a while now. He checks the pages, they look okay. He flips the cover, and notices something written on the first page, in now faded handwriting:

For old times’ sake –
kirti

Aditya doesn’t mind this sort of thing, in fact he likes to have stuff with some story behind them. He calls Sapna and shows her his find. “Shame that the name is so faded, would have made quite an antique”, he says. “Well, maybe it is one exactly because of that.”, replies Sapna, half mockingly. Aditya gives her a sneer, but he’s already made up his mind about the book. In a few minutes, they both will move downstairs to the counter for payment and then go for a game of bowling across the street.

2017, New York

Kirti has just woken up. She had fallen asleep an hour back waiting for Mark to get back from the store with the gift they’re planning to take to one of their friend’s wedding tonight. The kids decided to play monopoly in the meanwhile while she found herself falling into a short nap that has been interrupted just now because the kids have started an argument.

It’s the rare Saturday when she manages to get an off from office. In the past few years, she’s built a successful career in investment banking here in New York. The firm she’s with now offers excellent opportunities for growth, but none for anything else in particular. It would have been really difficult with the kids if Mark, who she married 5 years back, wasn’t a freelance graphic designer who rarely needs to leave home.

Sleepy eyed, Kirti drags herself to the kid’s room and asks for an explanation. “The table’s unbalanced!”, shouts Rebecca, always the aggressive one. “Why don’t you put a piece of paper below the unbalanced leg?”, Kirti asks, rubbing her eyes. “Doesn’t work. The paper gets compressed soon. We’ve been trying that for a while.” says Paul with a snap, the younger one, calm as ever. “Okay, so you need something more solid. Why don’t you guys run to the garage and look for something?”. Delighted by the idea, and never missing an opportunity for action, both the kids make a beeline to the garage. Having resolved the little domestic issue successfully, Kirti moves to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

The kids are back in 5 minutes. “Mom, we found something just right.” shouts Rebecca. “What is it?”, Kirti shouts back, as she pours coffee into the cup. “It’s a wooden keychain, with mountains and all printed on one side and some worn out mark on the other. Can we use it?”, another shout. Kirti stops for a moment, trying to remember where the keychain is from. Mark was never too much into gifts. Who is it from? May be somebody from B-school? Dismissing that almost immediately, she thinks a little more. Somebody way back from college in India? She tries hard to remember, but nothing comes to her. She’s got a little headache from the lack of sleep and is now worried about getting late to the wedding as well. Mark’s surely gotten stuck somewhere. A forgotten keychain from distant past seems hardly the thing to be bothered about, “Go ahead and use it.”, she shouts back, and proceeds to the porch where she’ll sit for the next 10 minutes sipping coffee and waiting for Mark.

While putting the keychain under the unbalanced leg, Paul looks at the mark again and identifies it this time, “Oh it’s the letter V!.” Kirti’s now out of hearing range, and Rebecca’s not interested in the little details, “Just put it down there, will you?”. Paul adjusts it below the leg and checks the table. It’s perfectly balanced. Satisfied with the result, they get back to their game, on the little table, balanced with a little key chain, with V printed on one side.

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