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A cloud trapped in a woman’s body! That’s what he thought when she first walked into that gloomy library…

He was annoyed. Rains always annoyed him. How poets romanticized monsoon was something beyond his comprehension. And that morning, the monsoon had succeeded in testing his patience to the breaking point. It was his first day at work. Not that he was enthusiastic about being a guest lecturer in an obscure college in the nastiest part of Trivandrum, but he didn’t want his first day to start off the way it did. The night before, he had decided to have a good night’s sleep and had set the alarm. And exactly when he had started falling asleep, a mischievous lightning had decided to burn the transformer, which meant no electricity for the rest of the night. It would have been alright if the rain had continued pouring the way it did before burning the transformer, but it suddenly decided to stop, letting different species of insects enter his room through the tiny slit in the almost closed window. In the early hours, before dawn, the rain had started pouring again, and when he had finally closed his eyes, hoping to have a peaceful sleep for a couple of hours, the alarm had started blaring right next to his ear. After a hurried breakfast, he had rushed out, to catch the bus that would take him to his destination an hour before classes started. Due to the rain, he had been struck in the traffic for nearly half an hour. Though he managed to reach the college on time, he was unhappy. And now, after three hours of lecturing kids who were not even remotely interested in literature, he was checking out the department’s library.

The library, if it could be called that, had a romantic touch to it. Tall, discoloured, termite eaten, wooden shelves, a low ceiling, windows grilled with rusty iron bars, an ancient 100 watt bulb and a grumpy librarian. A woman in her late thirties, angry with the world because her life is screwed up, he assumed. What he liked about the place was the perfect arrangement of the books. Nothing was out of its place. Each shelf was a ‘section’ and the sections had the books arranged numerically. He was checking out the ‘contemporary literature’ section when she walked in. He saw the grumpy librarian smiling at her. They exchanged pleasantries and she walked past him, to the poetry section. Without looking around, or wasting time, she picked up a hard bound volume, went to the gloomiest and dampest corner of the room, sat down and started reading, probably from where she had stopped.

He was amused. He could just look at a person and tell whether they were worth talking to or not. This woman surely looked intriguing. He watched her for sometime. Trying to guess what she was reading. The golden letters on the spine were fading and they were almost unintelligible. She was so much into it that he couldn’t help but wonder what it was. Outside, he could hear the other ‘children’, though he shuddered at the thought of calling them that, chattering away. Why was she not outside? Was she just fond of reading or did she just hate human company? Was she an introvert like him?

Of course, he couldn’t ask her. He was not very good at starting conversations. Especially with strangers. He walked to the poetry section and started looking at the books which were almost stumbling and leaning on each other, probably wondering why she had to take away that one companion of theirs right from the middle, creating the void. He smiled. She must be one of those pseudo-intellectuals, he thought. Pseudo! How sweetly and smoothly the word flowed out of his mind and tongue! Pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-feminist…they all had two things in common. The prefix and his dislike for them.

When the bell rang, announcing the end of the interval given for lunch and gossips, she got up, placed the book among its other hardbound companions and walked out. It looked like the world was invisible to her. Like she could choose what she wanted to see and acknowledge. He envied her. He admired her. He envied the way she excluded the entire world from her own mysterious world…the way she remained immune to the things happening around her…the way her eyes sparkled, hinting that her heart held precious secrets…the way she was silent…the way she annoyed him with that silence…the way she refused to get annoyed…her determination to never reveal her secrets and vulnerabilities…her distrust with everything and the boldness with which she showed it…her hatred for the world and for herself…
If not for that brief encounter, he would never have realized that silence has a thousand shades.



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