Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Cover photo by Amshunath Radhakrishnan
It made me sick. The little shriveled-up form under the shroud couldn’t have been her. Not bad make up, nor so many years of lonely living could be even considered as excuses. Up until that day, I had always believed that no forces could ever hide the timeless beauty of the divine Leela Banu, least to mention render unrecognizable. I was seeing her after forty odd years. The last I saw her was a day or two before she left Rani Lakshmi Bai Junior High, all red from crying or something. She obviously was sad about the whole parting issue, I assumed. She was that thick with the students. It was that week one of the boys from the eighth grade offed himself and the school remained shut for a week. So she couldn’t even say a formal ‘bye’ to any of us. When we were back, the eternally obese Ojis Borkar had already filled in and we never saw her thereafter.

My high school memories always starred Leela Banu in at least one of the lead roles. She was the singular most attractive woman I ever met my whole life.  She was quite a sight. All of the senior boys leched after her. Most of them would have become seasoned writers by now had they invested in their career path at least one tenth of the imagination they dedicated on her. She inspired most girls as well. (Heard Suman George got herself to becoming a teacher. That despite her heavy weight knockers, she didn’t exude even half ounce of Ms. Banu’s charm, she wouldn’t grasp.) Even forty years later I haven’t seen many women who inspired other women like she did. Banu was around for just a little more than two years. Within that short period, the influence she had on all the students, and few teachers as well, could only be compared to that of Pied piper, one of those stories she, in her classic sense of drama, narrated on numerous occasions. Back then, I assumed, she wrote it herself and secretly appreciated her terrific imagination. She narrated it in most classes including the primary section that even the losers in the fourth grade knew every detail. She was probably attaining some kind of twisted pleasure in doing it, ridiculing her loyal fans who worshiped her unconditionally, drawing analogy with the kids (or was it rats?) that followed the piper’s music in her story. Enchantment was one of her major life-goals, it seemed at the time. She spread her magic and then abruptly disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of all her young enthusiasts. She will return, I made myself believe for the rest of my days at RLB. But she never did.

I had heard about Banu’s illness a few years later; although I did not know how bad it was. Initially I thought it certainly had something to do with her leaving. But then, the case of Keshav Laul had not fully uncovered itself at that time. It was during my last year at the Junior High that I discovered the connection between Banu’s departure and the suicide of that eighth grader, which would rattle the many PTA sessions by storm for years to come.

Keshav Laul was one of the many under-age admirers of our darling teacher. He must have been one of the smart ones, because I remember him as the assistant school captain, one of those years- a tall good-looking bloke. I don’t know the details of how his case reached his parents (‘cause he didn’t seem like a tattle-tail), but the day his folks stormed into the Principal’s cabin to summon the teacher who “felt up” their son, Banu’s days there were counted. It must have been when the unsettling issue got out of proportion that the boy stepped on a passing cloud from his window on the seventeenth floor and Banu was subsequently asked to leave only to be detected with signs of mental illness shortly later.

Whether the Laul kid was bragging about a fantasy to his brother who took it to his parents or whether Banu actually had that unconventional streak about her, I couldn’t quite close. But then, the position she enjoyed in our minds did not err the slightest even after the disjoint set of events allied with each other making varying versions on its own, and spread.

One couldn’t tell the number of times the face of somebody like Banu graced one’s meditations because it never cease to happen. There was this one time I dreamed of her, dressed in a cloak and pointy hat, blowing on a pipe on the lanes of Rani Lakshmi Bai Junior High with a swarm of students dancing to her tunes following her in varying states of heightened ecstasy. That was after I came to know the truth about the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The first month after I got hitched to Kalpana, I tried to erase the teasing smile of Banu off of my memory swearing to a ludicrous oath of wholesome fidelity, but only in vain. It struck back full force continuing to partake in the virtual affair I so willingly cherished for the life from then on. Kalpana’s interest always remained within the confines of the sensation associated to her tragedy. You couldn’t blame her, ‘cause photographs never did full justice to the person that Leela Banu was.

Disturbed at the sight of her curled up stiff, moving away from the passive crowd and trying to recollect that handsome countenance, I knew not if it gave me the same sense of pleasure any more. In fact, I couldn’t say, as it was not the right time or place.

Banu was unforgettable. But the pain associated to her memory that I was almost succeeding in wiping off over the years, sadly returned. And this time it had a form, the upsetting distorted image of her tiny remains. 

(This short story was written for an online writing contest with NOSTALGIA as the theme and word-limit 1000, and was never entered. Check out the entry that actually made it... here...  THERE, ALMOST! )


  1. This is classy! Are you an author by chance!
    Storytelling is gripping.

  2. A very good story. Didn't realise it was a story until the end.


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