Sahib dropped Akshay and me at my uncle’s place. Upon ringing the door bell we were greeted by my sister. She sprang her arms around me. Pecked me on the cheeks and shrieked, “I knew this would work out.” All my attention was sidetracked from the pain and the accident. She was the most benign member of my extended family. My sweet little sister (we are of the same age, but it’s always the brother who feels bigger and conscientious.) Her dark brown hair waved with a gush of air that freed my tensed nerves. The freckles on her face were not a result of age, but a sign of fret and relief on holding her dearest brother tightly after such a long time. Her eyes, a shade darker than mine, were shut. She only opened those almond contoured eyes to look at Akshay. We had never had any sibling rivalry. We owed this to the fact that my uncle treated me as the son he always wanted and my cousin was overwhelmed by the distinction of being the only girl in the whole of Dehradoon who could address me as “Brother”, without offending me.
Lady Penguin Patch-up: You did not attend any rehearsals this week. It seems you fancy yourself as “Mr. Know-all Do-all”.
Kalsh: Not in the least Madam. It is just that I am busy with football practice.
Lady Penguin Patch-up: Now, is there something that you are hiding. You knew this would happen. I can talk to your coach. He will surely agree to an arrangement where neither football nor theatre suffers.
Kalsh: Madam it’s not that simple. What if I don’t feel like coming for practice? What if I don’t want to be in your play anymore? What if I choose to stick with being a soccer stud and not a sissy ballet dancer? You are smart enough to figure out that I did not volunteer myself. I got stuck with your crew. I was there for the girls!
Lady Penguin Patch-up: (she shifted to the seat beside me): Son, I know about that night. I have been in this business for 15 years. I have seen actors come and go. Tremendously talented dancers sweating it out to be the best, I have witnessed it all, but when I see you, it is different. You remind me of someone. You remind me that this is not a musical I am directing, but a story that needs to be told. Your perverted intentions are least of my concerns. But today if you give up dancing let me be clear I will lose Edward.
(There were tears in her eyes).
You have the gift. I can see it. Scintillating is the word for your performance.
Then one day I had a visitor. I was surprised because I had spoken to my folks back in Delhi just the previous night. They had not mentioned anything about a visit. So I thought that it must be my uncle who was my local guardian. He stayed up hill in the cantonment area. I hadn’t visited him for a very long time since I had been busy with the ballet. But to my surprise It turned out that I had an official visitor. I made my way to the visitor’s lounge during the lunch break. There I saw our school principal who was having tea with a lady, Lady Penguin.
As I entered he left, leaving me at her mercy.
“Hola amigo”, She said over the phone.
“Muy bien”, I replied stuttering halfway trying to recognize the voice.
She definitely knew the fact that I am learning (well actually), was learning Spanish once. She enquired about something else and I was dumbstruck by her accent which was essentially native Mexican.Finally I gave up and asked her name. I even apologized for not saving her number.
Lady: So you never went to the class after that week.
Me: I actually got busy with my work.
Lady: I see, but you looked so determined back then.
I was about to think of another excuse and had even come up with an interesting list of priorities but instead I figured it was more important for me to know who she was and how she knew all about me.
Me: Aap kaun hai? (Who are you?)
Lady: Mein Aria hun, Cervantes se. (in almost perfect Hindi)
Me: Oh my God! Aria, how long has it been?
Lady: Four years.
In 2009, I attended an elementary Spanish language course at the Institute de Cervantes, New Delhi. Aria worked there. She was a substitute teacher, who taught us for a week. I guess she must have been in her early 50s back then and had recently moved to India. Within the first week itself we had developed a very good student-teacher bond. I shared with her my dream to backpack across Latin America with an arsenal of certified Spanish lexicon. She wanted to learn Hindi and at least one other Indian language. Her travel plans included the whole of India and some South Asian countries. We had promised to check on each other’s progress over the years.
Aria: I have been good! I travelled to all those areas which were not marked as “Unsafe” by the embassy.
Me: Wonderful, you might have noticed I did not pursue Spanish after a few weeks. I guess once student life comes to halt, it is very difficult to resume learning. Maybe I am a bit too old to pursue my dreams.
Aria: Well my dad had his first driving lesson yesterday. He is 80.
Me: I see.
Aria: There is an elementary course in Spanish starting from the 18th and I do not get any incentives from Cervantes to sell their course.
I registered for the course and have been going there regularly.
– Written by Mahaveer Bisht
Pictures by Arpan Ganguli
Edited by ‘bhilash