A novelette highlighting some of the pressing issues that young adults face in India
A social, cultural, family drama…
A romantic story…
A May-December Romance
Neha is a high school student. She is constantly pressurized by her friends to have a boyfriend, buy a mobile phone, and enjoy the life.
Neha has different meaning of enjoyment and her priorities are different. She doesn’t find mobile phone a necessity. She doesn’t feel the need for a boyfriend. But the peer pressure is getting to her.
To quiet the constant nagging, she introduces her imaginary boyfriend and cooks up a rather naughty story.
But, the story doesn’t leave her alone.
Gradually, she starts to fall for her so called boyfriend. It isn’t good. She falls for Rehan Ali. Rehan Ali is ten years older than her. He is the younger brother in law of her father’s cousin. He is sort of taboo for him. He is out of her reach. There is no way the two can be together.
But, the heart wants what the heart wants. She is living a confused and devastatingly depressing life. She is torn between the need to be a good daughter and to seek her happiness.
Does Rehan feel the same way about her?
Does she confess her feelings for him?
What happens when the family finds out?
Read on to find more.
The mathematics teacher was explaining cubic equations. The class was divided in their reactions.
The students on the front row scribbled furiously to stay ahead in solving the equation.
Those who were not very intelligent were trying hard to match up the speed so they would not miss a single step.
There were some who reluctantly dragged their pens on the notebook just to complete the work. The benefits of having completed work were many. One, if anybody at home checked their notebook, which was often, they would be satisfied with the completed work. Two, they would have more stuff to read from without having to solve it. Three, they would not have to stay a moment further in the class to copy the solution after the class was over.
Others did not even pretend to show any interest as they fidgeted in their seats frequently glancing at the wall clock.
It was the fourth class since the morning. The inability to focus for an extended duration, fading concentration, hunger, nature calls, and disinterest were some of the reasons behind students’ restlessness.
As soon as the recess bell rang, some student got up. The teacher had finished writing on the board and was gathering her belongings.
“Please be seated and copy the solution to your notebooks. 2-3 additional minutes in the class will not kill you.” She commented in her trademark tone laced with sarcasm. The sarcasm and rude tone is common in mathematics teachers irrespective of their genders. Perhaps the dryness of their subject seeps in their words and demeanor as well. “I expect exercise 7.2 to be completed by tomorrow. That’s your homework. We will solve exercise 7.3 in the class.”
As she moved out, the boys quickly ran out of the classroom. And the girls made their ways to their friends’ desks. The recess bell had started the official gossip break.
The classroom of the tenth standard in Ahmed Nagar Army Public School was soon buzzing with activities. Final board exams were only a couple of months away. It had a wide range of impact on the students.
The bright and intelligent students of the class, boys and girls alike, got busy completing their homework right away. Even during recess time, some were trying to solve the most complex problems of Mathematic while others were busy helping each other understand the theorems of Physics.
There was another category of students who were not geniuses but were inclined towards studies and did not shy away from hard work to achieve good grades.
And then there were others who were not interested in studies at all. They lacked both the IQ and the conviction for studies. Or they had other interests. They had other topics to discuss.
The students of 10th grade discussed two topics – board exams and the species from the opposite gender.
In all honesty, the first topic is not as important as the other … and that other topic continues from very initial days in schools that offer co-education.
It never gets old…
It never gets over…
It never gets boring…
There was also a group of five girls – Farah, Rashmi, Anita, Neha, and Komal. Initially, they had only a tiny part connecting them – they shared the same bench since the fifth standard. After knowing each other for a few weeks, they started walking home together after school was over. As they talked on their way home, a little friendship began to form. After nearly five years, their friendship had survived the test of time as well as their disparity.
They had come up with a unique name for their gang “FRANK” formed using initials of the names five of them.
And they really were frank. Their friendship had become old and strong. They shared everything and did not hesitate from commenting on everything, quite frankly.
The girls did not pay much attention to studies, except Neha Hassan. Neha belonged to the second category of students. She was not very bright. She was not dim-witted either. She was studious by nature. Besides, her father was very strict when it came to studies. In particular, she liked the subjects in Computers and Mathematics. Incidentally, her friends had more interest in boys than studies.
Anita, Farah and Rashmi were tall and healthy. They belonged to the army families and represented the bold and beautiful category of girls. Komal and Neha were of average height. Komal had a nicely proportionate figure. Her complexion was not very fair, but she compensated that by applying make-up.
“I like Irfan. Everyone else, keep your eyes off him. He is mine. ” Farah declared boldly and loudly.
“Wow… did he say something to you?” Rashmi asked. Farah shook her head, slightly disappointed.
“Sanjay has given me a letter. He had shared his feelings for me. We are going to the Goodies Park on Friday, our first date.” Rashmi said excitedly.
“I and Akshay will also come along.” Said Komal.
“Why? Do you want to ruin their privacy?” Anita teased.
“No silly… If the park staff spots a boy and a girl together, they immediately understand that we are on a date. They keep an eye. Some also get hold of us and question us. If there is a group of four, then the group does not attract more attention than is necessary.” Komal explained.
Rashmi agreed to it immediately. “It’s on. I’ll wear my black see-through the top and red tights. You make sure that wear some other colour.”
“Well, I bought an off-white sleeveless top from Amazon. I will wear it with a black miniskirt and black long boots. Anita, you should also come with us.” Komal offered.
“No … Sudhir and I have movie plans. We are going to watch an English movie. It will be a lot of fun.” Anita said with a naughty smile and the four girls gawked at her with open mouth.
Anita was the most ‘experienced’ and bold among them. Expert, as she had had boyfriends since and used to talk about them boldly without censoring anything. Her stories had a strange impact on the group. Besides, the teenage years are like walking on the slippery ground. The hormones, the self-discovery, the infatuation towards boys are almost unavoidable. The other girls were also convinced that having a boyfriend is a must. They had managed to find boyfriends in the class. Perhaps the boys had similar pressure to get a girlfriend. Their biggest hurdle was over. They had just begun to feel proud of their achievements. Now, Anita’s plans for the English movie forced them to reconsider their criteria of accomplishments.
Pleased with the effect she had, Anita turned towards Neha. “Neha, don’t you have to say something? Don’t you like any of the boys in our class or in senior batch? If you say, we can arrange a boyfriend for you, hook you up with somebody… do your setting…”
Neha had nothing to say. She kept quiet.
Neha was the simpleton, and the most average looking in their group. She was thin, almost frail. She has a nice complexion and sharp features but was from the traditional definition to be called ‘beautiful’. Her height was alright. And her thick black silky hair was done in a bob cut. She had a calm and composed air about her. She carried herself with simplicity and grace. She was quite different from other girls of her age who found ways of putting a fashionable and modern twist even to the school uniform.
It was her nature. Besides, her parents were a little strict. She was not interested in the nuisance of the boyfriends, dates, make-up etc.
She was not interested in the boys of her class or seniors. It was not as if she was very conservative and serious for her age, or had no emotions at all, or had no crush. She liked her English teacher, Sir Javed… She liked the sports teacher Sir Chaudhary… and she liked Rehan Ali …
She did not need any ‘settings’ to meet any of them. She never felt the urge to meet them privately.
She was a silent and smiling audience to the four girls. She continued to scribble on her notepad until Anita found something else to ramble on.
Ahmad Nagar was divided into two parts by the national highway road passing through the heart of the city. For the longest period of time, people referred to ‘this side’ and that side of the road. The school was situated on a military base. Even the area that surrounded the camp was relatively secluded and quiet. There was a bank near the entrance of the camp. The civil localities began after that.
Neha Hassan came out of school with her four friends. After 2-3 minutes’ walk, Farah and Rashmi separated from the group for their homes. The next was Anita’s house. Komal accompanied Neha to the civil point – a point which marked the boundary between camp and civil area. She took the left turn, waved her hand to bid adieu for the day and entered the gate of her house.
Neha was the only one who lived on the other side of the road and much farther away from the school. She needed another ten minutes’ walk to reach home after crossing the road.
On the other side of the road, the complete breadth of one block of road was occupied by Paradise Plaza – a residential society, a shopping complex and entertainment plaza. It had a bakery on the right corner. Then, a tall building which was a movie theatre having three screens. After the theatre, there was a gift shop that housed everything from children’s games to women’s imitation jewellery. After the gift shop, there was a small restaurant in the left corner. There was a hardware shop next to the restaurant. The shop was the best place to get desktop computers and laptops repaired. Next, to the electronics shop, there was an internet café. The last shop was a hair salon.
The hardware store and the Internet cafe were owned by Rehan Ali. He had completed hardware engineering. Since childhood, his favourite pastime was to break things and then mend them. After graduation, instead of doing a 9-5 job, he decided to do his own business. He had set up a small repair shop. In 3-4 years, the shop was established and was doing good business. The internet café was also quite popular and generated a steady source of income. Occasionally, he got tenders to set up network connectivity in small firms or colleges. His house was in the residential area of the same complex. He had established the business and his reputation on his own. At the age of 25-26 years, his success was remarkable. His made for an interesting tale to inspire other students.
Neha visited the hardware store quite frequently. She was quite a fan of Rehan Ali.
She still remembered how and when she met Rehan for the first time.
It was six months ago. She was fifteen years old at that time. The new school session for class 10 had just started. Since the eighth class, she had Computer as a subject in her school. When she reached the tenth class, looking at her interest in the subject, Mr Hassan had suggested that she should pursue higher studies in Computers. That was when she requested him for a personal computer. Mr Hassan had told her clearly that he cannot buy a new computer. But he promised to get a second-hand computer. Papa, as she addressed her father, was a little strict. He had observed that kids were generally spoilt when parents fulfil all their wishes. He did not want to do the same for her only daughter.
Rehan and Neha met at a wedding. Neha was talking to her cousins when papa called for her, to introduce her to Rehan.
“Neha … meet Rehan Ali … Nageena’s brother in law … He is a Computer Engineer. He has passed out two years ago. He has a hardware shop. I have talked to him about buying a second-hand computer. He needs to understand the specifications that you’re looking for. Could you please explain it to him?”
“Sure…” said Neha with a sweet smile. She failed to contain her excitement.
“Great. I will leave it to you. I need to go and catch up with some friends. Rehan, please make sure that the computer fits in my budget.” Mr Hassan said.
“Absolutely, I will keep that in mind. You will get the best deal possible.”
Neha was surprised when she was left alone to deal with the situation. She had never had an opportunity to deal with anything independently. Even for buying a pair of shoes, she sought opinions from everyone present in the shop. She felt a sense of responsibility. She had the responsibility to talk to a stranger. She had the responsibility to explain the computer specification. She has the responsibility to make sure that she did not want anything extravagant. She had no clue about the budget her father had set, but she knew it could not be much.
Once Mr Hassan left, Neha turned to Rehan and smiled nervously.
“Hello, Neha. How are you?” he asked.
“I am fine. How are you?” she asked as her brain tried to recollect everything that she heard when they talked about the specifications of the computer.
“I am very well. How are the studies?”
“It is okay, I guess.” She replied still preparing her answer.
“Are you nervous about the board exams?” asked Rehan.
“I am not,” she blurted, then paused for a moment, and continued, “I mean… Exams are always tough. Why the board exams are made to look like a big hurdle in life? I don’t understand.” Neha replied.
She was shouldering the responsibility of making a big decision slash discussion on her own. She was trying hard to maintain her best sincere and grave look. In her head, she was looking and talking like her mother. In reality, she was still the sweetest teenager who was a little sincere of her age, and not annoyingly chirpy.
Rehan could see through the façade she tried to put up.
“I like your approach to life. Exams are important. I believe you will do great in the exams.”
“I think so too. I am trying.” she smiled for the first time.
“What are your favourite subjects?”
“Mathematics and computer”
She replied and was wondering why he eluded the main subject they were supposed to talk about.
“What are your plans for +2? Do you want to study biology or computers? I mean if your aspirations are to become a doctor then should focus on biology too.” Rehan asked.
“No,” Neha said firmly.
“Okay. Looks like you are very clear in your head about what you want to pursue, your ambitions. That’s great.”
As Rehan said those words, Neha was struck by panic. He just praised her. She was not good at receiving praise. She remembered the reason she was conversing with Rehan.
What if I fumble while talking about computers?
What if I say something stupid and make a fool of myself? All the good impression he has of me, would be ruined.
Rehan was eyeing her, trying to guess the confusion that went about in her head. Then he asked.
“So, tell me what configuration do you have in mind?”
Rehan gave her a smile – a kind, pleasant and reassuring smile.
It gave her the courage – courage to talk.
“I think it should have a CD / DVD drive and Windows 10 operating system. The processor should be dual-core, at least. Quadcore would be too expensive. The computers in our school’s lab have 2.3 GHz processors. I don’t need much storage so even 250 GB hard disk space will do. RAM, however, should be 4GB. The new computers in our labs have 8GB RAM.”
She explained with a lot of energy, sincerity and zeal. Rehan was listening intently, just like he would with any other customer. He repeated the specifications once, to confirm that he had understood everything correctly.
“Would that be too expensive? Would it fit in the budget?” asked Neha.
“I will try to find the best match as per the specifications that you’ve given me; and the budget that Hassan bhai had set. We may not find a perfect computer, as we are looking for a second-hand. Let’s hope for the best.”
She got up to go back to her friends.
“If you need any kind of help for your computer subject, you can ask me. My shop is on the main road. It will be on your way to school.” He offered.
“Sure, thanks again.” Neha nodded and replied respectfully.
He was a distant relative and much older than her. The relation demanded some respect, after all.
Three days after the wedding, when she reached home from school, the computer was set on her study table. It looked to be in pretty condition. Mom told her that the deal was at a very reasonable price. She was happy with what she had.
Since then, she started working much harder in studies. If she had any doubts or confusions, she went to Rehan’s shop. He explained the toughest topics in the simplest manner.
They were related. But Neha and Rehan shared a different bond – that of a loyal customer and a businessman, of a sincere teacher and an obedient student.
Rehan was still the same as he was in the first meeting. Always talking softly, smiling and listening to her, resolved the issue in minutes, explaining the doubts. He had a lean physique. He had thick wavy hair that he kept pushed behind the hair band. The eyes of the very deepest eyes, which accompanied them on laughing.
The best part of that he did not treat her like a kid. He always addressed and dealt with her like an adult, an equal, an independent free-thinking human. That added to his charm. For any and every issue in her computer or calculator, Rehan’s name popped in her instantly. He was really good at his job.
Rehan has a soft, kind and friendly personality. Whenever Neha talked to him, she never felt that Rehan was ten years older than her. He treated her as equal. His attitude wasn’t reserved for Neha alone. He was just as friendly with his other customers. Perhaps this was the reason that there was always a crowd on their Internet café.
If there was a problem with the hardware, while he worked on repairing it, he would also share how to avoid the same issue in future, or how can it be fixed without visiting him? It seemed very strange to Neha. She thought that by giving tips to his customers, he was losing those customers. Once they learn how to fix things, nobody would come back to his shop again.
But she was wrong. His friendly attitude and well-being attracted more customers. Everyone trusted him.
And Neha was also one of them.
That’s 10% of the book. You can buy the book here.