Manu could not help but see her. Nandita’s face was turned towards the class window, sunlight lighting up her brown hair giving it a golden sheen. He thought she looked beautiful. Since the day he had seen her at the debate, he had fallen for her hook, line and sinker. Soon, however, he realized she was already taken. As most girls are. A boulder-like something had descended to the place where his heart seemed to be.
He took his favorite second last bench in class and dumped his bag on the seat. There was about half an hour till the first class of the day. Manu flicked through the timetable. Math. Phew! Since he had landed in standard 9, he had barely seen any other subject save Math in the first period. Well, so be it…life was only going to get harder…
A muffled sob caught his attention. He looked towards Nandita, who had hurriedly got up, her face red as a beetroot and stumbled towards the door. Dismayed, he realized that she was crying.
“Hey…what-” Manu reached her before he could stop himself.
Nandita looked at him as if he had just read her personal diary. By the looks of it, he had. Her face was a diary of sorts.
“What happened? You all right?” Manu had never had truck with girls before, much less sobbing teenagers. And the stricken look on her red face (if it could get any redder) made him feel awfully sheepish.
“Here, take this.” He said, not knowing what else to say and offered her his handkerchief.
In the very next moment, he regretted it. Not because she refused or ran away- Manu later wished she had-but because he realized an instant too late that it was his white handkerchief, which was no longer white, but had motley patches of yellow, red and blue.
He hoped fervently that she would not see it while wiping her eyes, but that was wishful thinking. He wondered if he should take it back. But that would be bad manners, right? Defeated, he just stood there, hoping for the earth to swallow him as her tears splotched his already stained hanky.
“You have a funny hanky, you know,” she said in a thick just-cried voice. “So insanely large-” Yes, men’s hankies were always large. Hadn’t she ever seen her boyfriend’s hanky? By the by, where was her boyfriend? “-and so patched!”
Manu shifted uneasily, wondering what to say. But then, she giggled. He looked up uncertainly.
“Why is it so spotted and with such varied colors? Did you spill paint all over it?” She giggled all over again. Although it relieved him to hear her back to her usual self, but he was at his wits’ end.
“Umm…actually you see…umm…I washed it with all those colored clothes and umm…some of them might have thrown away their color. One of my white shirts got spoiled as well.” He blabbered apologetically.
Instead of laughing as he had expected her to, Nandita stared at Manu for some length of time, making him uncomfortable.
“I like colored kerchiefs, you know,” she said suddenly and giggled.
Ten years later at a get-together:
“Nanditaaa!” Maria squealed and gestured to her husband. “Rakesh come! Meet Nandita and Manu! Remember I told you about their story?”
Rakesh scratched his head for a moment. “The…err…”
“The white hanky story! I told you last night!”
“Oh yeah! I remember! Manu, pleased to meet you! Nandita can’t stop raving about you and how cute you guys are!”
“Pleasure is all mine!” Manu said with a smile.
He still couldn’t believe how on that fateful day when Nandita’s ex-boyfriend had left her broken and in need of a friend, he had found her. And soon, they had matured into lovers and all for what? The white kerchief, no less! He still thanked his father for teaching him since the day he entered adolescence,
A real man shares the load.
And lad, you must learn to do your own chores. Household work is a collective responsibility. And remember, no work is exclusively men’s or women’s work.”
The work had come to him easy enough. He had always seen his father doing the laundry, while mother hung up the clothes. Nandita though had found it new and surprising since her family had well-defined gender roles. Soon, the two kids fell for each other. And their love story came to be known among their friends as ‘The Story of the White Kerchief.’