It was not possible to not be aware of her. The situation was such; engineering colleges had very few girls applying in those years. This was a premier engineering college and that too not in a metropolis, but in the back of beyond. She was one among the seven girls who had taken admission the same year I had joined.
I am pretty fuzzy about whether I heard about her first from my classmates or saw her first in the local market. In my earliest recollection, somebody had pointed her out, “Look that’s Mamta, roaming with her boyfriend”; the tone was almost envious.
After about a year, I recall I was back in Delhi doing an unexciting internship in CSIR, Pusa campus. It was the fourth and final week of training, when, as I was about to get off the bus, I spotted Mamta. In a quandary whether to acknowledge her or ignore her, I got off without acknowledging her.
Then I heard somebody running behind me. I turned and saw Mamta smiling and gesturing me to stop. She breathed heavily, caught her breath and said, “Hello.”
“Hello,” I replied. “You are Mamta, aren’t you?”
“Well what brings you here?” I asked, acting cool.
“I am doing my internship here in Pusa Institute.”
I am not sure she knew my name, but the way she ran to say ‘hello’ made it clear that she knew me. We walked to the venue of her internship, after which I proceeded ahead. I don’t remember what we spoke, but we didn’t talk much.
After lunch that afternoon, as my guide was explaining something, Mamta walked in, surprising all of us. She wanted to go home. My guide smiled and allowed me to leave. Very considerate old chappie, I must say. She wanted to go some place, and I didn’t have a clue, as I was not much into dating. In those days, couples who wanted privacy went to Buddha Jayanti Park (in Delhi), a shady place, and I didn’t think that the very first day of an acquaintance necessitated that kind of a place.
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So we took a bus to a nearby market and went to a cold drink shop. She was chatty and told me about her breakup from a boyfriend, due to some intercaste angle and other issues. She liked talking and I guess she liked the fact that I was listening.
This went on for a week, where we would travel to work and travel back on the same bus. Nothing much happened except I got to know her life’s story and she didn’t have a clue about mine.
After college reopened, she visited me in class one day. In an engineering college, there is practically nowhere to hang out during the day. So we cycled aimlessly while talking, and then I dropped her at the hostel. I could sense that she had become fond of me. I liked her, though my feelings were still vague.
During a heavy downpour one afternoon, upon reaching my hostel, I overhead somebody saying that Mamta was involved in an accident. Later that evening, I went to the local hospital where she was admitted. She had been hit by a rash car driver and had broken her femur, which had to be operated upon.
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On seeing me, a friend of hers rushed, upset, and inquired why I was late. She told me that they had been trying to locate me after the accident and Mamta had been enquiring after me. As I entered her room, she gave me a forlorn look – perhaps the trauma, coupled with “look what happened to me and where were you.” The look caught me by surprise, and it was then that I clearly understood the intensity of her feelings.
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Mamta recovered slowly. She was discharged from the hospital and went home to recover subsequently. It had appeared that she would drop a year, but she came back and graduated. In the interim, we didn’t keep in touch. On graduation day, she was with another classmate while I was happy, and free from any commitment.
Post Note: When I got my first job, I got to know that Mamta was doing her post graduation. I was happy for her. Then one day, the headline of a local newspaper caught my eye: “PG girl found dead in hostel.” It was Mamta. How tragic, I wondered, and my whole time with her replayed in a flash! Her erstwhile boyfriend from college had murdered her in a crime of passion.