It was with pride that Adya studied literature. She listened to the lectures carefully. She read many things from the library apart from the texts. She made crisp notes on each and every text in her syllabus. She began to formulate an idea about literature that was entirely her own view. It was a theory that she cherished. Although it puzzled her many a times that anybody should go such a long length to draw out a resemblance or a worldview which afterwards critics tried to reformulate in plain English, she was sure that the art of writing was a pleasant profession and worthy of attention. So she toiled in the library to sum up the meaning that emanated from the pages she read. It was also necessary to learn to reproduce what she had read so that the results showed her intelligence.
It was also important for Adya to prove herself equal to the lame boy at home. She had her father’s moral support but she was still far from being a man. She aspired to be equal in caliber to the boys who roamed about the streets in her colony and had the daring to whistle inquisitively at strangers. But she was stuck here. Here she was in a girl’s college and not yet able to score the highest marks. It was a bitter truth that she had not yet exceeded in caliber the girls in her class; doing better than boys was a far cry. She wanted to feel free to judge what is good and what is ugly and what is useless and what is unnecessary or drab and so forth with as much confidence as she saw boys in her colony do when they commented on others. It was a queer feeling and rather unnerving that she could not offer an opinion unless it tallied with others’ opinions. If she thought differently she got no hearing. And she clammed up fearing being snubbed if she said something outlandish.
The boy at home who could not walk properly was a very bright and affectionate boy. He was clever in studies and made everyone in the family happy with his good-natured words. He was an epitome of politeness and Adya’s heart always filled with warmth whenever she sat together with her brother and sister. She showered all her affection on these two as if she was in charge of them. When with them, she even had the privilege of being able to say any outlandish thing whatsoever without being chided.
But when she was in the hostel, far away from that boy, she grew in her heart a rivalry. It was an untold fear that if this boy proved to her parents to be someone dependable, he would actually defeat her. She wanted to be the most dependable and most capable child in the family.
Madhu was always a hindrance in this goal. Madhu always scored the highest marks. Adya was tired of facing this question: How come she managed to do better than her in the exams when in every other way Adya proved to be the best student?
There are two means of judging intelligence or character for that matter. One is the imaginary dimension and the other is the symbolic dimension. The latter is governed by verbal signs. Madhu was adept in the use of these verbal signs. Madhu always wrote better answers, talked less and prepared her assignments with diligence. The teachers were bound to give her more marks because of her performance in the exams. However, Adya stood out as the cleverer girl in the classroom. She was the first to follow the teacher’s instructions; she had a good grasp and quick reflex; she answered the teachers promptly and with a bright smile to add to the charm and indeed all the teachers expected her to top the class. But in all those three years Adya had always fallen short of Madhu’s performance in the exams. Adya feared that even in the final year’s final paper she might lose out to Madhu.
Home was not the right place to discuss her fears. She was not even willing to disclose her fears to her teachers. She needed somebody to talk to.
Finally in a delirium she started talking to Tushar.
“Adya, the world is full of beautiful things that we all share. We don’t have to possess all of these things. We only need to preserve them and generate more beauty if we can.”
“You always talk about beauty. I am not talking about beauty. I am talking about success!”
“You will be successful if you maintain your beauty in every way”.
“Which way? I am growing impatient for an explanation to your confusing talk. You talk in riddles as if you expected me to solve them. I cannot solve them! Do you understand?!”
“Riddles are not meant to be solved.”
“Then what are riddles for?”
“They are meant to be appreciated. They are riddles only because they are new combinations of thought. There is nothing to solve them.”
“Ok. Let me go now. I have had enough of beauty and enough of riddles. Now I want something positive, something to show to the world. I want the gold medal.”
The gold medal also vanished.
Picture credits: www.walkingtowardsthelight.org
Dr. Anuradha Bhattacharyya is the author of the novel One Word (2016) that has won the prestigious Best Book of the year 2016, awarded by Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi. She has published 3 books of poetry, 2 novels, 2 academic books and has been featured in various international poetry magazines and anthologies. She is also an awarded short story writer. She is Associate Professor of English in a government college in Chandigarh.