“My Disqualification” by Prosenjit Dey Chaudhury
It had been raining a lot. The sodden boughs of the high trees along the road were wrestling off all the water that was clinging to them. I came out of the institute of higher technical learning at the close of class. The rain, which had come suddenly in the afternoon, was in fact slackening but a spell of gusts had set in. The branches and leaves of the canopied trees rocked themselves furiously to discharge a barrage of spray at those who were waiting for a bus or other conveyance to take them home. The road was wet and lined with determined puddles and the rain was not going away soon. I considered it best to reach home at the earliest instead of waiting for the habitual but tardy bus.
I closed the umbrella and still held it over my head to shield against the buffeting, while at the same time scrambling hastily into the passenger cranny of an auto rickshaw that I managed to stop at a distance from the other waiting people on the sidewalk. All of them appeared anxious to find a quick means to take them home. It had been a long day and the accustomed lassitude in the afternoon had been somewhat mitigated by the onset of the rain, which, when it comes in a gentle yet insistent manner, introduces a soothing sense of escape from the unbroken, dry stillness in the air. Classes would come to an end in just a few days and then the terminal exams would begin, after which the prospect was open to explore the world with your skills.
Inside the snorting and darting three-wheeled cab open on both sides, I sat in the middle of the seat in order to reduce my chances of getting splashed from above and below. The wait at the traffic lights was longer than on other days as everyone was eager to reach destination by stealing the march of a hairline on everyone else. I could leave them to their ways and the cab to the driver because memory was humming the redolence of the years of my education. Isn’t it remarkable how, as I now recall the past, my mind must alight upon a time when I was in another mood of recollection? It was the end days in university that especially came to mind then. The years in school and college had all passed so tamely, it appeared from this distance; there was fun, there were lessons, and there was, of course, the raillery at the supposed gravity of my demeanour. The passage to university brought to every one a sense of sobriety at first, but as the final semester came closer, it became routine for the class to indulge itself in celebration at the anticipation of freedom on lofty wings born of a distinguished degree.
For the qualification acquired at the end of the learning period would open up doors to milieus in which legions of valued information technicians spend their time sitting before consoles in brightly lit halls or moving rapidly across smooth floors from one corner to another. It was not just an assured prospect but quite a giddying one. We were enrolled in a superior course of computer applications that made us privileged both for the moment and for the future. The lessons however progressed into a never-ending corpus of rules and terms that taxed the mind severely and provoked a wish to submit to the final examinations sooner than the prescribed date. Many of the other girls in my class tried to sink both study and self-contemplation into oblivion through levity and frolic. The capering got wilder, almost delirious, as the lessons approached their relieving end.
The others might well have deserved their long-awaited release from the bondage of learning and their passage into an exciting world made nevertheless rather domesticated by all the keys and functions in their heads. I had no objection to the revelry even if it should at times overstep certain bounds, but to me the idea of celebration was a serious one that belonged in a set of circumstances where work and play complemented each other. It was time to play after a certain onslaught of work just as it was time to work after a certain measure of play. I tried to keep my lessons first before me without letting the charge of pedantry or prudishness be made to my account. I guess I did not present the aspect of a glamorous scholar invested with all the trappings of good choice, luck and privilege that the others demonstrated so immediately. I thought I was lucky to be able to dress according to my taste and to educate myself according to my inclinations; any superfluous zest or means were to be put to the services of those I loved and those who were not so lucky as I was.
I wanted to learn more. I had no great desire to be satisfied with the induction of those codes and programs that you write out or type in endless combinations and thereby manipulate a sea of tools to serve your requirements in pleasing colours and frames on the screen. My wilfulness urged me to those heights where I could contemplate designing systems on my own at the behest of every whim that contained a measure of credibility. I wanted not just to manipulate with the knowledge of language and grammar but to plan and execute my own extended circuits, connections, modules and overarching functions, pursuing every recognizable potential to the limit. A few of the other girls—a frail minority, to be sure—did stay on to continue their education within other walls, which accepted you more for the sufficiency of your money than for the largeness of your sincerity. I am not blaming these institutions but I had not the means to pursue my interest in like manner at home and abroad.
It so happened that a company that made pioneering information systems and tools used across the globe helped to set up a school of advanced learning and research in the city, and a small number of seats for students, along with bursaries, were allocated to those who gave proof of their merit in a fairly demanding entrance examination. In my opinion, the courses on offer had the content that answered my academic objectives; at least they would pave the way for the autonomy I was seeking. I prepared for the test and sat for it; those who evaluated my performance deemed me qualified enough to participate in the courses.
It was a more sophisticated ambiance that prevailed in this specialized institute of learning with respect to the quiet professionalism exhibited by the walls, the floors and the professors. The natural light filtered in through windows with Venetian curtains and artificial lights shone from behind glass panels; all the light was reflected in the multitude of screens upon the desks. The spaciousness of the laboratories made near silence reign even in the presence of a plethora of throbbing platforms, casings and instruments with wires of many kinds neatly set in or spilling out in a bunch. I was going to be tested for my skills and knowledge in the prestigious examinations to be, and thereafter I was to be put on trial, on terms that were by no means unfavourable, in and by the wide world of opportunities. As the lessons, training and demonstrations progressed, the other students seemed to have contentment written on their faces. Life seemed to be written out for them as neatly as a flawless program for the execution of a routine. I was also content. I did not wish to function like a program for the rest of my life, but for the bumps, starts and challenges that I might encounter in the future, I thought I was arming myself sufficiently with the value of my higher education.
Thus, taking me back from this institute, the auto rickshaw stopped in one of the inside lanes of the residential quarters where my family lived in a flat. It was still raining in a splattering way and I got out my umbrella again before scrambling to the stairway of the building. Mom would be inside and so would my brother; Dad would return from office after the passage of an hour. All the flats around were coloured dun yellow and each had its letter and digits imprinted upon level walls; this was where we had lived for a long time. The trees were quite dense in the locality and they seemed to cradle the dwelling units as so many nests in their branches. The buildings looked starkly lacklustre in contrast with the variety of the rich enveloping foliage although each home was furnished on the inside with accessories and comforts that took away the sense of monotony. Surely, I thought, life for me was going to move on from these surroundings. And why not? I would miss the family that was mine and they would doubtless miss me, but though I would no more live in that family, it would always be mine and my responsibilities would grow to encompass other families, mine again and those related to the person who was to be mine for ever.
As I write this, I still feel the excitement of the heady prospect that opened before my eyes then, the prospect of a new journey in life in a new world with my sweetheart at my side. He worked in the research department of the national affiliate of a certain global enterprise but was engaged by the institute occasionally to provide special lectures and demonstrations, for he was an expert in his field of circuit design and frontier programming. I shall not dwell on the beginnings of our acquaintance and the intimacy that sprung up between the two of us in very little time. There are many in this world who wax cynical at the notion that two people who meet each other and who then stay with each other are necessarily made for each other; all I shall say is that if the most righteous event was waiting to happen in our lives, then it happened the day that we found ourselves talking to each other longer than on any other day. We had never before spoken so fully from the heart to anyone else in such an effervescence of good feeling.
From that moment on, the casting of our relationship and its sealing was as imperative as the injunction that led me to aim higher than the rest in the making of my education. I learnt to love him and if it sounds silly to say that I learnt to worship him, then I state that I learnt to call him not my boyfriend, not my beau, not my lover, not even my fiancé, but my Would-be. He was my Would-be and nothing could alter that fact. As jerky as the title might sound, it summed up the feelings and purpose in my heart to my satisfaction, and gave to me what I thought was a distinct advantage over those who used more familiar terms to refer to their daylong or lifelong partners.
After reaching home in the rain I wanted to meet my Would-be while the day was still bright, but realized that it was just too wet to move out with any measure of comfort. He lived quite a few miles away and my wish to be with him had intensified in recent days more than I could have foreseen. I could not see him at his home but once he knew of my coming he would in all likelihood go out as far as he could in order to meet me. He would have to negotiate not just the eddies and swirls in a considerable part of the roads and streets after the demise of the rain, but also the deep lakes that settled smugly in place of some of those ways. I had not the least inclination to get my Would-be soaked and, in any case, the all-crucial final examinations were approaching, for which I should be at home studying under the yellow lamp and listening at times to the dripping leaves against the walls. My parents had long before accepted his presence in my life and they would not have minded if I had gone to see him. All the same, they would worry about me on more than one account and I did not like to make them fret. I just longed to find the sanity and comfort in his arms that, among so many other things, made our love so right. It made such good sense to be together and to know we should always be together. Five months from the time when we hit up each other with the bubbliness of talk on that quiet late afternoon in the institute, he said to me, as we were sitting on a common bench in the shaded corner of a tea-and-sundries eating house, when it was again a hot but quiet afternoon with very few souls around—he said, “I love you, Poornima. Will you marry me?” A girl is not supposed to say an immediate yes in such circumstances but I was dying to break the millennial unwritten rule and tell him he was mine and no one else’s. Instead, I placed my hand in his, and he understood.
The final examinations of the institute, set according to rigorous standards by an international panel, were conducted on schedule. I emerged with colours that modesty may diminish but which a stubborn point of pride will insist did justice not just to my aspirations but to the reputation of the institute among other institutes in the field, enterprising companies and potential students. The continental chief of operations of the pioneering multinational company himself conveyed personal congratulations in a hand-delivered message, expressing a wish to see me in the presence of colleagues and partners and sounding my interest in a top-level scientific position within the international research division that he oversaw. Did this mean that matters were coming under my hands such that I might be the envy of most people? Let us see. I wanted to be close to my Would-be and the most dazzling position in society or the workplace could have no interest for me if it meant or implied our separation. Ideally I should wish to work under the same employer as that which took him, but if that was to stretch the notion of practicality a little too far, then I should certainly desire to do the kind of work that kept our separation as little as possible. He meant and means the world to me; everything follows from our togetherness, nay, I should say that everything else makes sense only in the light of our togetherness.
He told his family that he wished to marry me. Dear reader, I may not be as fair and shiny as the other girls who found immediate acceptance in the homes of their in-laws, but am I at fault if, on the basis of the traditional names given to denote the supposed ranking of my ancestors in society, my blood is certified not pure enough? God knows that I have tried to think well of everybody and develop my own potential so that I may do proud to my own family and to others. What great mischief have I done that I should be so instantly demoted in the very eyes of the one person that I love with everything I have got? They told him that they must know all about the rung and the ranking that my birth and my blood carry. Then they told him that they could not accept his marriage to an inferior. He persisted in his words that I was his chosen life partner and no other. One day he took me to his house. They would not see me in the front rooms. I sat in a small backroom that might have been used to examine those interested to enter the order of servants in the house. Eventually his mother and a couple of his uncles came to see me. They said they would accept the marriage but on condition that they should never be constrained to see me after the marriage. For all my other qualifications, I was disqualified everlastingly for their eyes and for their homes.
I wanted to be close to my Would-be more than at any other time in the past. He was being transferred to the south of the country for a certain period and our marriage could not take place until that time was over. Eight months to me was an eternity and I simply could not brook the thought of being alone even if my own family gave me support. I wanted to be with him every moment of the day. Our love for each other carried meaning even if nothing else had meaning. The comfort and peace that I found in his arms was priceless at this moment in my life; I cared for naught but his protecting arms and the home that we would make together. I formed a resolution to be with him in the south even if it meant making an effort to find a quick job over there to support myself. I wanted to be with him and I termed my quest to join him “Mission South”. I was successful. I found the means after a couple of months to be once more in his presence.
I am writing this in my room in a Toronto apartment. My Would-be is now my husband and we shall soon return home upon the completion of the present professional assignment. We work together and we travel together to countries where we have projects to undertake and finish for companies that wish to put in place intricate, streamlining systems of information. Having choice to make a home in more than one country, we have taken a decision to come back to this city and stay. In the spaces of the many enterprises in which we work, every one is equal. There are so many pressing issues that it is impossible to indulge in notions of fine or crude discrimination against those you see and work with. Yet there are other spaces in this world that I shall never be sufficiently qualified to enter and the thought does make for a grimace. Nevertheless, should I really keep brooding about it? Our children will grow up at least in a less stringent world. My hope for them is that when they fall in love, they will remember that love can teach you to shed other tears than those for the one you love.