This post, ‘The Friendly roommate in white salwar’ is written for the ‘Ultimate Blog Challenge‘ and ‘The Blog Chatter‘ on Day 19. I am blogging for 31 days in October, writing short stories. Hope you enjoy reading the story.
The Friendly roommate in white salwar
The bricked colonial building stood on top of the sloping hill station of Shimla, surrounded by a line up of concrete houses with thatched corrugated roofs in the shadow of oak and pine trees. At nightfall, echoes were heard, voices whispering unheard stories and silent murmurs of wild animals that faded in the dark from a looming distance that disappeared in the hills.
The 18-year-old girl spent her first night in the British Gothic hostel that owed its naissance to the British rule and slept like a baby leaving behind her family behind in Delhi. The neo-gothic architecture played a haunting song from the Raj era flowing from the aerial views of thick forests, green mountainous slopes laden with pine and oak trees, dotted red-roofed chalets. The hostel lies behind the majestic Bishop Cotton School’s heavy iron gate and insignia stood tall and thriving.
The hostel corridor bore silence in the night and lyrical voices singing lullabies. Echoes of footsteps were heard behind as if a gentle tap bore a protective shoulder to the lone girl, Sayami, caught in her dreams. She loved to watch the towering pine trees that hid the white sky and whispering streams, and snow cakes covering the pathway.
It’s been one month since Sayami landed in Shimla. She was enthralled by the panoramic view of houses lining and jostling for space, nestled among the pine trees and cloud hidden behind the mountains. The row of houses are made of bricks on the slope and covered with mud and metal tin roofs. There were modern houses made of mortar bricks and modest dwellings that made the charm of Shimla. The stream of vehicles followed a straight line on the narrow road toward the hilly slope.
She waited for hours for the hostel matron to come and the petite, warm lady sat on her chair. “Come Sayami. What can I do for you?” She hesitated, “Ma’am! I filled the form for the single room. I am still in the guest room.” The matron gently nodded and looked at her with a sympathetic glance, “Sorry dear. The single rooms are taken. I can only give you a double occupancy.”
Sayami dragged her luggage inside where two beds with fresh white bed sheet were sprawled in the huge, white coated room. A tall girl wearing white Salwar Kameez lay on the other bed and her eyes decked on a book. Her face lit up at the sight of Sayami. “Hi, Didi (elder sister). I am Sayomi from Delhi. What a pleasant surprise. I thought that I’d be alone.” The girl who looked like a dream with near perfect white face, black jet long hair nodded and her smile drove Sayomi closer to her. She felt an instant connection with the tall, stranger girl.
There was something unusual about Sayami’s roommate. Every time, Sayami came back from class, her friend would recline in the same position on the bed, wearing the beautiful white Salwar Kameez and her head drenched in a book. Her face shone bright like the light that pierced inside the room. Sayami always asked, “Didi! You didn’t go for lecture today?” Her companion bobbed her head with a smile on her face.
There was a project presentation in college and Sayami was freaking out. Her roommate wiped the tears and sweat on her face and head with her pallu. No words were exchanged. At times, Sayami felt she was speaking to the four walls. When she came back from lecture, she was amazed to see that her ‘Didi’ has beautifully designed her presentation on the white sheet of paper with perfect drawings, pictures, and colors.
Sayami was elated, ‘WoW! Didi! Chalo! Let’s go for a stroll in Shima and I will treat you with hot ginger tea. Waise aap kuch bolti bhi nahin (You never say anything) but love your smile, spreading my life with joy and bubbling energy.’
Both girls walked past the old bungalows and row houses, old derelict churches, enjoyed the cold breeze that wafted, admiring school children walking in their crisp green uniform, laughing and prancing around in the snowflakes. Their steps trudged the slope, separated by metal gates and admiring the sky, view of houses, colonial buildings while the oak trees gave them shade from the blistering sun. They sat on the ridge to admire the aerial view of old estates and houses on the slope reaching to the hill.
The hot milk mixed with ginger boiled in the huge vessel and flowed straight into small glasses as the steam blew on their faces. Men and women, wrinkled faces and the whole youth spent in the business of selling fresh tea to warm cold hands and the stomach in the harsh winter while life was never easy on them. Sayami and her friend gulped the tea and the smile never waned away on the face of the former. She wondered how her ‘Didi’ can smile every day and takes life so easy. Even the tea sellers couldn’t take their sight away from Didi who spends her whole day sitting on the bed with a spark on a face whose glow was intact.
It was the end of the third year in college and Sayami was almost on the verge of tears to leave Shimla and her Didi who became a companion in her life. Her friends asked, “So, Sayami, three years has ended in the flick of time in the beautiful Shimla. You will miss college and hostel, na?” She wiped a tear from her eye, “Haan yaar. I will miss ‘Didi, my roomie who takes good care of me in our room, helping with project and exams.”
The girls expressed disbelief, “What bullshit are you saying? What Didi? You stay alone in the double room.” Sayami stubbornly said, “No! No! What you girls saying? I am mad or what?” The girls didn’t laugh and said, “No one stays in the room, apart from you. If you don’t believe us, go and ask Matron Ma’am.” She ran and knocked on the office door, “Ma’am! It’s a double room. My friends are saying that I stay alone and there is no other girl in the room.”
The matron was surprised, “What’s wrong, Sayami? Of course, you stay alone Beti (daughter). We gave you a double room because the single rooms were taken. She almost choked and thought what has befallen on her.
Sayami gently pushed the wooden door that creaked open. The most beautiful girl with the perfect figure was lying on the bed in her white Salwar that bore no stain and her face shone like the stars in the sky. The exuded a smile and didn’t bat an eyelid when Sayami stammered, “Didi! See what they are saying that I live alone in the room! Why don’t you say anything, Didi? Say something, na.”
Her eyes lolled in Sayami’s direction but the smile never faded. She didn’t utter a single word. Sayami inched towards the bed to touch her but hit the empty, white sheet on the bed. There was no one. Her Didi has suddenly disappeared. She smiled at Sayami from a distance where she became invisible to disappear in the mountains and looking for a new, innocent friend whose space she could invite herself.
Postscript: It’s a ‘real’ incident narrated to me way back in 2007 by my hostel mate Subhodeep as we sat in his room, facing Marine Drive spending the hours past midnight that ushered in the sight of sunrise in South Mumbai. Of course, I have never been to Shimla but my dear friend Devangini Chauhan gave me lots of inputs. Hope you liked the story.