Scurrying across the long corridor, lined by the ebullient lot of sophomores, Aarti, avoided all eye contact and shyly moved to the freshman classroom of Fine Arts. An exceptionally gifted artist, Aarti had been handpicked by the university chancellor after an earnest recommendation of the district representative of the small town of Buxar in Bihar.

Coming from an extremely modest background, Aarti had completed her high school in a hindi medium, government school. A devoted student, a compassionate daughter, Aarti was a blessing to her parents, who struggled hard to make the ends meet and pull a family of five. Aarti’s father a humble rickshaw puller, battled and strained hard to school his kids, to pull them out of the endless cycle of drudgery and poverty. 

Aarti, a small built girl with dark complexion, had keen, sharp eyes. Her most ordinary demeanor was contrasted by the inner treasures and talents that lay hidden. An ambidextrous artist, Aarti painted poems and stories, relaying profound thoughts seamlessly from brain to her skilled hands. She could paint with her eyes closed almost as if her third eye was guiding her through. Aarti adorned her modest house walls and her school classroom with beautiful Madhubani masterpieces. Everyone awed and appreciated at the dash of colour and life she had brought in their mundane lives. 

District MLA, was a kind hearted, principled man, who was particularly impressed by Aarti’s gifts and her silent, yet loud contribution to her surroundings. He sponsored her education, and got her admission in College of Arts ,New Delhi .Though ,Aarti’s parents had never dreamt so big ,but thanked God for the blessings and packed Aarti’s suitcase with possessions two, a set of wings and their blessings true.

Aarti, a naïve, small town girl, shuddered visibly as she stepped inside the towering gates of the alma mater which had carved and polished the giants of the art field. She knew, it was an incredible dream she was living, but dug courage from the deep pits of her being and rehearsed the conviction that this dream was destined to be true .Aarti, nervously entered the bubbling classroom, buzzing with energy and life. She quickly realized that her dress and appearance made her stand out from the crowd. She tried hard to cover up her anxiety and sat on a corner seat, barely exchanging acknowledging glances with her neighbors. With her vision affixed on the diary in front, she overheard others exchanging pleasantries and introductions in English. Unfamiliarity of English, added to her discomfort and compounded her awkwardness. 

Aarti was hoping for the teacher to enter and bring order to the class. To her surprise, a very young, dark, lanky boy wafted in and waved his hand signaling attention of his audience. The buzzing class, quietened and stared expectantly at him. Samir, the carefree wind, the skillful artist, the maverick who had won many a laurels for his exceptional work, was here to break the ice with the freshmen. He came across as a warm hearted person, whose modest background and welcoming words were a relief for many, including Aarti who gaped at him in wonder and awe. She was swept away by his aura and enigma. Samir, charmed his way into Aarti’s heart and for a moment she felt, she could survive this harsh world and even inch towards conquering it.

Aarti seesawed her way through the first few months of college. She made an impact by her work and learnt her lessons quick. Her work was acknowledged by the teachers and the art fraternity, but she realized that even after months, no one could associate with her. It was as if her background chained her down and she could not fly unrestrained. Some warm hearted souls smiled at her in empathy but held themselves back from publicly befriending her. This feeling of loneliness, fed on her self-esteem, and at the same time fuelled her fire for excellence.

As part of an international project, college management selected Samir and Aarti to collaborate on a piece of   work .Aarti could not believe her fortune. She was getting to work with the God himself and had a chance to make a small etch in his heart by her talent and work. From day one, Samir’s ease and style made Aarti extremely comfortable and she flowered in his company and could sense her self-esteem swelling. Aarti was a different person with Samir, but sprung back to her curled restrained self with others. 

With growing familiarity and comfort between them, Samir offered to take Aarti out to the adjoining college fest. This was an unexpected opportunity, as the God himself was asking for her company. Battling, conflicting feelings within, Aarti agreed and made an honest effort to dress up like other girls, more for Samir’s sake then for herself. She surely did not want Samir, the cool guy, to be embarrassed walking with a village belle. Walking with Samir, hand in hand, facing a thousand stunned eyeballs, Aarti was suddenly jolted by a bizarre feeling. She was numb, and could not feel her being. She was invisible to herself and to others too. Walking hand in hand with Samir, people did not see the reticent Aarti .Aarti’s coy, inhibited demeanor was invisible. She was benumbed by the strange feeling. Walking next to Samir, she saw an empowered, confident, beautiful girl. A buoyant, cheerful damsel glided, hand in hand with her admirer. The old Aarti’s meek, hesitant frame was shadowed and obscured by the love and acceptance from her God. The aura and glow of the new Aarti, blackened the old one, out of sight.

Spirited at winning the acceptance and love of her God, Aarti faced the next day with animated confidence and power. Blessed by the love of her God she felt like God herself as she had suddenly found the key to unlock her dreams true.

***

When was the last time you read some modern sea stories—stories of ships and the seafarers who man them? Tales of adventure, love, romance, piracy, intrigue... and human nature? Well, look no further.

These are twelve stories of the sea, but not necessarily for seafarers alone. They are for anybody and everybody who likes to read fiction. And a ripping good yarn, as sailors used to say once upon a time.

Written by a sea captain who has spent his entire adult life at sea, more than forty years on the waves and still counting, these are stories set in the 70s, 80s up till the present day.

Will you come aboard now? The voyage is about to begin.

Link to buy this book: https://www.amazon.in/Driftwood-Beetashok-Chatterjee/dp/9385854771 and also at selected bookstores all over India.


Author:Beetashok Chatterjee, ex-Claws Club member at ArtoonsInn.

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The story you've read is an entry for UniK-5, #Invisible, a room8 Writing event by ArtoonsInn.
Check the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/unik-5-writing-event-artoonsinn/

Photo By: Pablo Heimplatz

Thanks for reading.

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