Today at 10: 17 in the morning I set him free.
I will come back to this later but first I would like to talk about Ms. Buksh.
I am sure she is not alive.
What a horrible thing to say about somebody; but I assure you I didn’t say that with malice. She was my professor and I loved her for her simple charm, and respected her for her intelligence. She was my Philosophy and Psychology teacher and I learned a lot from her, not just academically but also concerning everyday life. Common sense and the power of a thinking mind, self-expression and standing up for ones ideals and convictions… and much more.
I can never forget her kind face illuminated by an inner goodness.
She was also the Vice Principal of our college, always filling in for our principal who loved traveling, workshops and conferences. So, more often than not, our poor Ms. Buksh would be seen doing her duty in the office- receiving visitors, signing papers brought in by the office clerk, making rounds of classrooms… quietly watching, smiling, encouraging etc. etc. etc. The way things were going, it was obvious that we would not be able to complete our courses before the Board Exams. Then one day she said she would complete the course over the holidays. No summer vacation for any one. She herself was canceling a trip back home. During one of those lectures, I noticed that her beautiful thick mane of hair was fast becoming gray.
“How old are you Ms?” I shot the question without a second thought.
She was talking about ‘Abstract and Concrete’ and was too involved explaining the application. My question was rude and abrupt. She looked at me.
“Fifty-one” she said and continued with what she was saying.
That was a long time ago. So how old would she be if she was still around? Oh yes, I know.
For my BA, I again decided on Philosophy. Mrs. Zakriya was my lecturer now. I hope she is still around, but surely by now she would be quite old, probably nursing her old age buddies like arthritis, diabetes, B.P., or God forbid, amnesia. She was a very opinionated and self-righteous person. It was hard to like her but she was my teacher either way, so she was alright…
Coming back to Ms. Buksh… How old was I then? Seventeen, to be exact- and I was a bonafide aflatoon on top of that. She liked me, I was sure of that and for that reason, I never thought twice before putting any question to her. She enjoyed my spontaneity.
It was a beautiful Spring morning when I saw her sitting near those rose bushes, reading a book. It was still cold and sitting in the sun felt good. I had an hour until my next class. A clear blue sky and spring in the air was so inviting, plus a seventeen years young girl was feeling a little restless. So I went and sat down on the grass, not too close and not too far from where she was. After a few moments she put the book face down, in her lap.
“If you want to share, I am right here” she said.
I looked at her, amazed. How could she know? But I didn’t say that. Instead what came out was inappropriate.
“Why didn’t you get married” I got up and came closer, sitting almost touching her chair, looking up at her serene face.
“I didn’t find what I wanted. Or maybe I was not pretty enough to be noticed…” A smile flickered around her lips.
I looked at her face. “You are beautiful.”
She leaned back and rested her head on the back of the chair and looked up at the sky. I was sure I heard a faint sigh. Then she sat up again and smiled at me.
“OK, now out with what you came here for. ”
“Nothing much…” I lowered my eyes. “Mother says some family called on her. She says if the match is good, she would marry me off to that boy… What boy? He is a big fat man. I am only seventeen, still a student, but she does not understand that.”
“Do you have anyone in your mind?”
“I do not know. One of my brothers’ friends likes me.”
“Maybe. I am not sure. He is a lot, I mean a lot older than me. He comes to our town every month and my sister thinks he comes to see me.”
“What do you think?”
“It feels good when she says that. But I am only seventeen and want to be something. There is so much I want to do in life.”
She was quiet for a few moments. “Yes you are young. Plenty of time ahead of you to live and love. But know that there will be many more times when you would find yourself at the cross roads.”
She was silent again. And then started musing… “Its a beautiful feeling to be in love though.” There was a far away look on her face. “Our hearts break, then mend again and it goes on like this over and over again until we are face to face with what is meant for us.”
Was she talking to me?
Then she was back again. “Tell your mother you are not ready yet. Tell her you want to have your education first. You can do that if that is what you want. I know you can stand up for yourself.”
“I do, but we always end up arguing… big time… anything and everything. She does not like me.” I looked up, startled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that.”
She smiled. “I am sure your mother feels the same way about you. This is normal teen thing.”
“No, you do not know.”
She looked at me for a long time then touched my head. Her hand lingered there… and then touched my face and withdrew. I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
“Your class is about to start, but before you leave I want to tell you that I see a lot of myself in you, and I feel sad for that. But I have nothing to offer you as a blue print to draw your life upon. We cannot know until we experience a situation or a feeling, and we would rather ‘experience’ than listen to someone who may have already been there. You are beginning to see something that was always there but was not visible. Now it is staring at you, right in your face and you feel confused.”
She was quiet again.
Then, “Its a beautiful feeling, I would say if you ask me. But of course you do not know it yet.”
I nodded, then picking up my books, stood up. “Sorry, I spoiled your reading,” and started towards the building where my dreams were in jeopardy.
Half-way there, I heard her calling my name. I looked back. She was looking at me.
“Come back after your class is over. Look for me if I am not here. And give me a smile, this glum face does not suit you.”
Time has passed. I have faced many more crises in this journey, just as she had warned me. I arrived at many more crossroads when a decision had to be made. There were times when I found myself lost in the fog, looking for a direction. I needed her to help me out of situations, illuminating the way for me with her wisdom and commonsense.
She was a Psychology and Philosophy teacher but to me, she was a lot more. A graceful woman with a sterling mind.
She had said something else on that Spring morning that gave me a lifetime of heartache. If you know what I mean.
“You will not always get love in return- and that goes for everything, not just for the matters of the heart. But always remember that the love you feel in your heart is a gift from God. Be happy and thankful that you were given this opportunity to love someone. Just set him free.”
So I did.