Aradhya was sitting lazily on the wooden stairs of the Central Library. The Central Library was a huge building with its entrance, decorated by trees and sculptures. The soft spring breeze from the nearby jheel blew around the trees and the long wooden stairs, where people would sit on lazy afternoons. The view was a pleasure to the tired eyes; on the right hand side was the green zone; a part of the basketball court would be seen, if one stretched her eyes towards the front and on the left, there was a long green path, which met its dead end in the jheel. It was one of her favorite haunts, not because of the whole paradise of books that the library provided her, but also, of its position and the views. She enjoyed coming here and it was the usual place where she would meet Abhirup. She sat,with her back, resting on the wooden fence while Abhirup was observing a sheet in his hands.
“When did you draw all these ?” Aradhya enquired, staring at the white sheet, with some lines drawn on it, along with some measurements.
“When you were busy traveling to Baroda “, he replied, carefully examining the sheet.
“What? You never told me you were working on this ?” , Aradhya replied, in a tone, which showed little fumes of anger.
“It was a surprise for you”, Abhirup beamed.
“I am not getting it …. What is this thing all about ?”
Before Abhirup could reply, his phone rang.
‘ I am sitting on the stairs of Central Library ; come over “, he said in a tone, asif he was expecting someone.
“So, is this the guy we are waiting for ?” Aradhya asked.
“Yes. Vivek.Instru 2nd year”.
“Will you please explain what the hell is going on? I was just not here for 5 days ; I come back and I find you drawing stuff, people coming over to see you for it ….What is J.U. up to which I don’t know ?” Aradhya was curious and a little irritated.
“Ufff…… you returned yesterday only…. Give me some time to fill in the details… this is for SRIJAN”.
S R I J A N ….. the words struck Aradhya’s brains like lightning bolts. Srijan, the tech- fest of J.U. In these four years of her life in J.U. , she has never been to SRIJAN. It was something which she was least interested in. A student of Comparative Literature, Aradhya thought that SRIJAN was merely something where these people from engineering would gather , talk about some scientific equations and that is it … she often wondered why it was called a ‘ fest ‘ .And now, suddenly, her boyfriend draws something, and that too for SRIJAN. Her heartwas filled with curiosity and wonder and before she could ask Abhirup the details, Vivek arrived. He came, shook hands with Abhirup , took the sheet and left in a hurry, saying, “Will call you once I take a look at the measurements.”
“Make it soon; we need a week to build it “, Abhirup ordered. Vivek nodded his head and left.
Abhirup looked back at Aradhya. Placing his hand around her shoulders, he said , “Okay.I will tell you each and every detail. But before that, how about some iced tea and chicken pakora from Ashirwaad ?”
Aradhya’s face beamed with joy and she got up from the stairs. They took the left turn,walked by the green road and arrived at the Ashirwaad canteen. The canteen……………oh how she missed it. They entered together.
“Oi je,ashun madam “, the dark , fat owner, with a huge belly smiled as Aradhya walked in. “ Tini toh praye khaowa e chere diyechilen ei kodin “. Aradhya blushed. The owner and his wife knew about them and they were quite famous as a couple inthe campus. That is what happens, when a beautiful, creative nerd from arts gets committed to a not-so- handsome, but popular mechanical guy of the engineering department. Abhirup, whose name was like a satire to his real appearance, was one of those lucky mechanical guys, who found their love in the beauties of arts. Abhirup went and ordered the chicken pakoras while Aradhya narrated her experience of Gujarat. Taking the plate, he accosted her and they went outside and sat on the round wooden benches. Aradhya placed the two glasses of iced tea near the plate and they started talking, facingthe jheel.
“Well, you see”, Abhirup started. “There is an event called ‘ DEATH RACE ‘ in Srijan. There, participants will be building robots and their robots will race in a certain arena. I am building that racing arena. I have drawn it and gave it to Vivek, so that he can fix the room forus. This year, we will be having the fest in our Salt Lake Campus. I need a week to make the arrangements. “
“Woowwww” ,Aradhya’s eyes sparkled with joy. “It will be fun, isn’t it ?”
“Of course …”
“Umm.. I was wondering … if I could go and see it … “
“What do you mean by ‘ if I could go and see it ?’ You are coming with me from the day I startgoing there and make the arrangements. “
“Yes baby,really. “
“What if someone says anything?”
“I am the co-coordinator of the whole event. Why would anyone say anything to my better half ?”
Aradhya blushed. She has always been the lady behind the veils. Now, she had to come to the forefront. Abhirup saw her worried expressions and said in a very caring tone, “Relax dear, it will be fun. Trust me.”
For the first time in these four years, Aradhya was seeing a new dimension of Srijan. The mere miasma of equations completely turned into an exciting adventure,like the frog prince turning into a knight. Her ebullient demeanor started blooming, when she started to discuss the arena with Abhirup. Vivek managed the union room of his campus soon and Abhirup decided to start the work right away. He reached the venue around 11 am in the morning, with a carpenter, who was to make the whole arena. Aradhya set off for Salt Lake campus from Jadavpur,around 1 pm. She , out of her own conscience, bought two large packets of Oreo biscuits, some chips and a bottle of mineral water and took her seat in a crowded S9. She didn’t know the Salt Lake campus . Abhirup had advised her to get off at Chingrihata mor and from there, he would escort her to the place. Aradhya didn’t even know Chingrihata and was totally dependent on the kindconductor’s guidance. It took around 45 minutes for her to reach there. Abhirup was waiting for her. He grabbed her hand, and took the first right turn from the crossing. They walked past a lot of buildings , surrounded by trees, and finally arrived at a not-so- pleasing gate of the Jadavpur University, Salt Lake Campus. She looked around as they walked. There was a well maintained garden, on the left, where the students were not allowed to enter. A few huge buildings were standing in a very clumsy way, struggling with each other, just to fit in. Abhirup entered a building on the right, walked through the morose corridor and taking the left turn, entered a room. The walls of the room, outer and inner were decorated with political messages and graffiti. It was clearly the union room. A blast of sawdust chocked Aradhya’s eyes and throat as she entered. Coughing, she rubbed her eyes.
“That is why, I told you not to come when work is going on.You could have come after we were done for today”, Abhirup rebuked her. She ignored and randomly sat on a chair, throwing her bag on the floor.
“Phew !!” ,she said. Planks of wood lay scattered and some carpenter’s machines, the names of which were not known to her. Everything was covered with dust. In one corner of the room, the carpenter was sitting with his eyes closed. His eyes opened with alacrity as he saw them coming.
“Babu , kam shuru korbo?”, he asked Abhirup.
“Na na, rest nao. Ektu pore “.
Aradhya opened her bag and took out a packet of Oreo. Giving it to Abhirup, she said, “Here is it… I kind of had a feeling you will be needing these . “
“Do you havesome water?”, Abhirup asked. His dark face was covered with sweat.
“Yups “,Aradhya smiled , feeling happy that her stuff was being used in need. Abhirup drankhalf of the bottle and then taking two biscuits, he gave it to the carpenter. The middle aged man thanked him for the treat. Aradhya watched the whole scene. It was nothing but wood. She remembered how Abhirup had decided to make bridges and inclinations and for that , the wood needed to be cut in a specific way and theperfect angle should be made.
She had nothing much to do when the work was resumed. Abhirup was helping the carpenter and was measuring all the details.She watched and looked at them, how they were spending their time for the event. She couldn’t go out , for she knew nobody. Vivek was too busy withhis class, labs and other events. Everyone had their own share of work which kept each of them busy. It was a Tuesday and Srijan was starting on Friday. The event of Death Race was scheduled on Saturday and Sunday. They were getting alot of registrations for it and were forced to make a number of rounds, instead of two. Wednesday passed with Aradhya, in that room, in ennui while Abhirup kept on working . His best friend Bikram joined and together, they were slowly starting to give a real shape to the drawing. Aradhya supplied the food and soon, she started considering herself as a part of the event. She enjoyed watching how the whole arena was being built,starting from the scratch. She was slowly getting used to seeing a few faces,who would come, ask Abhirup if he needed some help with tools or take his advice and permission regarding the official work of the event. He was known as‘ dhai’ and people would call him ‘ dhai-da’ which later, was pronounced as ‘doi– da’ by Utkarsh ; except for Aradhya, none would call him by his real name.
Thursday morning, Aradhya received a call from Abhirup.
“Hey, I just got a great idea. Let us take an aquarium today, and we can fill it up with water, and use as a pond in the arena; it will be a great trap for the bots”.
Aradhya’s excitement was beyond words. She took her friend, Shrestha, who also happened to be Bikram’s girlfriend to the market, and following the measurements provided by Abhirup, they managed an aquarium, without fish and water of course. The two men arrived soon and the four of them took a cab and arrived at the campus. Going to Salt Lake campus was like a going on a journey itself, for Aradhya. This developing part of the city is quite different from the south,where she was born and brought up. Placing the aquarium was fun. They articulately adjusted it to the wooden planks. The arena had started to take a proper shape. It had several twist and turns, a part of it was covered with pebbles, it had several inclinations, some hidden short cuts and now a pond too. Once this was done, it stroke Abhirup, that they would need some earth. A few juniors were called up, and these people, finding no earth, brought a pot, with a plant in it. It didn’t take a single thought for them to break the tub with a hammer and now the earth , with the plant and its roots were at their disposal.
“S- T- O- P “,Aradhya cried. “Please don’t kill the plant. I beg you guys. I will separate the earth from the roots.” With tears in her eyes, she started to separate the earth from the roots. Having no option, Abhirup and Bikram , with due respect to her sensitivity, volunteered to help. Their masculine strength and their good use of tools, that were lying around, made the process a little easier and in half an hour, the plant was safe in Aradhya’s hands.
“Take it home at your own risk”, Abhirup replied in an indifferent tone, not at all happy with the whole incident. It seemed very childish to him but he didn’t complain. “Whatever you do, just be careful, that the guards at the gate will not be happy if they see you leaving with a green plant, whose appearance is well enough to reveal that it belonged to the university”. Yes, that was a problem. Shrestha came to the rescue with her supply of packets. It was decided that while leaving, they would wrap the plant in the packet and once they were out of the gate, Aradhya would be free to take the plant in the way she wants. Aradhya was pretty sensible to plants and animals and she even made friends with the skinny dogs of Salt Lake Campus. Finally, things were ready on Friday.
On the eventful day,Aradhya met Abhirup at Sulekha and they took a cab. Her bushy curls were neatly arranged in thin braids; she wore a floral blue top and a blue jeans with snickers , looking like a pretty doll. It was 10 am, when they reached the Salt Lake Campus. They passed through the crowds of students who had gathered for the event and entered the room. Sand has been added on the arena too and the mud- prop was saved for the harder rounds. So, it was only earth for the pre-lims. Arijit and Souradeep were there already, managing the crowd, doingthe registrations. Utkarsh, an enthusiastic 1st year, was on theevent- ground, taking care of the announcements and all the important details.In the crowd of male organizers, Aradhya was the only female, roaming around like a butterfly, catching Abhirup’s eyes, now and then and clicking pictures. They separated the area of the arena and the surrounding space by a thick thread,from the rest of the room. Abhirup, Arijit and Souradeep were staying inside that area and even Aradhya was forbidden to go out. Vivek and Utkarsh wouldcome often, lending their help. The bots themselves were an attraction. Some were plain, made of wood, some were wrapped in colorful gift papers; some even had orange and fluorescent bulbs on their bots; some had flags, while some got disqualified even before taking part in the competition for making their bots,extremely big, in terms of width without even following the instructions ,given on the website.
Soon, the event started. There was a huge pressure on the group, controlling a crowd of over- enthusiastic participants. Aradhya started to consider herself as a part of the team and soon, rendered her altruistic hands. By 2 pm, half of the registered bots were selected for the harder rounds and the rest had to go back home, most of them , with their controls damaged or tyre punctured. It was around this time, when Utkarsh came and drove the crowd away from the room, making the room, free for the group to discuss the number of bots to take for the quarter final and also take a break.He was sweating and his voice was breaking down, but this didn’t stop him from ignoring his work. Abhirup, who was stealing kisses from Aradhya, in a secret corner, they have discovered, in the room, unknown to everyone else , decided to let her free and leave the room for some fresh air. Aradhya ran outside and came back with biscuits and water bottles which were shared with the group.
“Now, let us change the props for the quarter finals”, Abhirup announced.
“Mud?”Aradhya observed. Yes, it was the mud prop, that came to Abhirup’s mind. Arijit took a water bottle and started making the earth muddy. It attracted Aradhya’seyes and she joined him. The pool was set to be used too , but the water levelwas kept low. The door was opened with the declaration of results and the rounds continued. Three rounds followed and with each round, Arijit and Aradhyawould make the earth more muddy. It was around 5pm, when the event was declaredto be over for the day. The semi finals and the grand finale was scheduled forthe next day.
Aradhya reached at 9 am on Sunday,only to find out Abhirup, already talking to Vivek and Utkarsh. Siddhartha, a 1st year J.U., who had unfortunately been disqualified for his ‘big- fat- bot ‘ too was taken in the group and he too started sharing the joy, tension , anxiety and above all, the bonding. Utkarsh, Vivek,Arijit . Siddhartha and Souradeep had become Aradhya’s friends and the participants thought that she too belonged to engineering;nobody could even think that a girl from humanities was actually a part of the event of a tech- fest. She was being addressed as ‘ma’am ‘ by many ; she grinned and laughed about it when she would get a little space with Abhirup. Her bag was full of food , cakes, biscuits and chips and of course , water bottles. Utkarsh continued with his broken voice, and Vivek stayed with the group,helping to manage the event. By noon, Aradhya and Arijit had created a small shallow pool in the mud, which literally freaked out the participants and turned out to be a dangerous prop. In the semi- finals, the depth of the water in the aquarium was increased and a bridge of woods was created. With each new round, the pool and the mud became dangerous. By this time, Aradhya had slowly understood the tricks of the arena,and added sharp stones to the pebbles.
It was around 7 pm when the event ended and Abhirup signed the certificates and gave them to the winner and the participants. Aradhya never knew the tech-fest would turn out something like this. In these days, she had made new friends, laughing and cracking jokes with Utkarsh, Vivek and others; they were very amiable people and respected her. Fora moment, she never felt out of place. Srijan seemed to come to her in a new way. It was an experience of a lifetime for her. She realized why it was called tech-fest . but to her, it was more than that. It was more than being the center of attraction, it was more than being with her boy friend……….. it was about working together, sharing little stuff, even it be one fourth of a biscuit, planning to make an event grand, working all day and finally enjoy the sweetness of sweat in the end…. It was about making new friends, looking at the mirror, and seeing yourself in a new way… something different, something special.