The Life and Loves of Rumana

Posted December 12th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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I have been thinking about Rumana* lately, which is extremely odd considering the last time I met her or even heard of her was in 1997. Rumana was my classmate and friend upto 10 th standard.

Most students at my school were not academically inclined. Not surprising because few of the girls ever considered a serious career, most of them were sent to school because it was free education for girls and it was something for the girls to do until they get married. Many of them talked in Hindi more fluently than in English and spent more time discussing the latest movies and fashions than looking at a book. Those who didn’t fall into that group were classified as the geeks—and there was a subtle distinction between the two groups.

Rumana was different. She managed to move between both the groups effortlessly, gaining the respect and affection of all her peers. She was smart, excellent in mathematics and physics and wanted to become a mathematician: an unusual ambition for a girl her age. She was bubbly, loved to sing and dance the latest Hindi film songs especially those starring Aamir Khan. She was a misfit in her family—her elder sister was quiet and reserved, her younger sister was snooty and slightly sanctimonious, while Rumana was a bright cheerful outgoing girl. Her family was quite orthodox and didn’t allow her or her sisters any liberty and I believe that the restrictions chafed her more than her sisters, She also had another differentiating characteristic. She was always in love.

Rumana first fell in love when she was in the sixth standard. She confided in P and me that this was it. P and I had not yet discovered boys as an interesting species till then. We couldn’t figure out what Rumana was talking about but it seemed important to her that we see the guy. The love of her life turned out to be the servant boy in one of the flats of the next apartment building. The love story was simple, Zaheer played the latest Hindi film songs and struck poses from the opposite balcony and Rumana fancied herself as the heroine of the song. Even at that young age, despite a steady diet of movies where the rich girl poor boy love story ended with the poor boy discovering a fortune, I knew that this was a recipe for disaster. We convinced her that this is not a good idea and told her to be hard hearted when Zaheer played the next song. Fortunately, Rumana seemed to realize that. The next guy whom she thought she had a fancy for was Imtiaz. He followed her everyday from school to home, calling out cheesy filmi lines and drawing I & R in big hearts all over the road. I thought he was quite creepy but Rumana thought he had some potential and could be made a better person by the love of an honest woman.

That changed when she met Aman at her after school religious class. I didn’t meet him but if Rumana’s excited descriptions were to go by…he should have been a supermodel. We came to know about Aman when she announced in class one day that she was changing her name. P tried convincing her that Runama wasn’t really a name that real people had. But “Runama” was adamant. We were puzzled till she pointed out that Runama actually contained the word Aman in it, backwards. By this time we knew the drill…the madness would last a few days till someone else caught her fancy. The interesting thing to note that all these guys were in the strictly seen but never spoken to category. Elaborate fantasies were constructed, dreams were dreamt, possible scenarios were discussed thoroughly but luckily nothing was ever implemented.

All that changed with Hassan. I knew trouble was brewing when Rumana rushed upto P & me one evening after school, she had been to another school in South Bombay to set up our project for the annual Science exhibition. I wanted to know whether she could set it all up and if the model set up for a petrol station made it in one piece. But Rumana had even better news: she told me was that St. Mary’s boy’s high school was assigned the same room as us. There were about 4-5 boys from St. Mary’s…very pleasant and nice, extremely smart ( incidentally they won the first prize in South Bombay Science Exhibition ). We were in ninth grade by then, I was interested too! Rumana with her big smile and attractive face was an instant hit with all the guys. I think they saw me as Rumana’s strict chaperone friend…a role at which I was very unsuccessful given that Rumana was already on her way to falling in love with the St. Mary’s team captain. Hassan was kind of a smart aleck , and clearly not looking at a lifelong soul mate. As far as I know they did meet a couple of evenings after school but Hassan stayed too far for it to be a regular occurrence.

Now if this reads like Rumana was a silly female, I will be doing her a great deal of injustice. For Rumana was an intelligent girl, the teachers trusted her , she was elected as one of the school prefects, helped anybody with difficult subjects, and was interested in lot of extra curricular activities. Falling in love was like a chronic illness with Rumana. Take that topic away and she was a very sensible articulate young girl. She would work hard for exams, stood in the top 5 in class and was an interesting conversationalist. Looking back, I realize that this was her way of attention seeking, probably because she didn’t get much at home.

A few months later, Rumana & I were talking on the phone when there a cross-connection and a third person popped up into the conversation. Before I could say “wrong number” and disconnect Rumana and Arun Bhalerao were yakking away as though they were childhood pals. When the phone was disconnected, I thought that was the end of the matter till a big (and when I say big, I mean ginormous) pink Valentine’s day card arrived at my house along with a packet of KITKAT. My father handed the card over to me – in front of 20 other guests we had. All of them wanted to know who sent me the card. I took a quick peek, it was addressed to Rumana from Arun. I reassured my parents that the card was not meant for me, ( my parents were the best—they did not ask me any questions after that. Can’t believe how trusting they were ). I called Rumana immediately, she had given my address to Arun- “my parents would kill me, if they found out, was her reasoning. That evening, P and I went over to give Rumana the card. We ate the KITKAT on the way and rationalized that it counted as delivery fees. When we delivered the card to Rumana we realized that the card was just a harbinger of more problems. Arun was going to come to meet her and she wanted us to meet go with her to meet him. P & I tried hard to dissuade her but we had no way of contacting the guy. Arun actually turned out to be quite a nice guy, only he was about 21 years old. He & Rumana went off to talk for sometime, but when he came back to drop Rumana, he turned to us and blasted us for being trusting enough to talk to strangers. We watched open mouthed as he yelled at us and left. I don’t think he contacted Rumana again. Weird but true.

By that time, we were caught up in the tension and the workload for the 10 th standard board exams. Once the study holidays started, we hardly got a chance to meet. Rumana did quite well in her 10 th grade and she joined the Science stream in a good college in town. Soon, we were all caught up in the excitement of going to college, making new friends, new subjects, new rules (or no rules). I used to run into Rumana briefly at the railway station where we exchanged half hearted promises to meet up soon and rushed into trains heading for opposite directions.

When we were in 12 th , I heard that Rumana has married. I had heard rumors of her having a boyfriend but didn’t pay much attention to that. Apparantly this time, it was serious. She and the guy –Murtuza, I think eloped to somewhere in UP and got married. I tried to contact her but her parents had absolutely disowned her and had no contact information for her. I later met Rumana when I was in first year of engineering. As I came home burdened with my drafter and a roll of drawing paper, I met Rumana coming out of a grocery store, dressed in a burkha. She never used to wear one before, so I was curious. She was also 6 months pregnant. We exchanged hellos but really had nothing to say to each other. I heard later that she had a son and then another son the next year. I never met her or heard from her later.

Looking back, I attribute it all to the way she was raised. She was so starved of some affection at home that she created these imaginary guys who would lavish love and affection on her. If she were exposed to boys at a young age or atleast more boys she would have atleast chosen carefully. It is not an uncommon phenomenon. when parents cloister the children more than necessary, the kids rebel by seeing the most unsuitable partner and ruin their lives. But when I think of what she could have been, I can’t help but feel that her potential was completely wasted. I hope she is happy, wherever she is and I hope she is still in love!

* name changed blah blah