The relation of an alumnus to alma mater is something that can’t be put into words. From ancient teachers like Confucius, Aristotle, Plato to the medieval Leonardo to the modern greats, a pupil is known and respected by caliber of the institutes he/she attended or the teachers who taught him/her. So I had only one reply when I got the invitation to attend the Alumni Dinner of CEMB, preceded by a 3-day International Conference. It proved to be a 4-course meal ending with a dessert. The fact that it was the 1st Alumni Meet, 30 years after CEMB was founded, I couldn’t afford to miss it. In my opinion, the feelings at a 1st convocation, 1st alumni dinner, 1st love or 1st marriage (for those who are daring enough to enter the lion’s den after their 1st escape) cannot be replicated in life. To top that up, the organizers choreographed the whole program very well. Though not a bon vivant, I thought the dessert compensated for whatever deficiencies the first 3 courses had. It was the 1st of January and in the mid of all this, I saw her green eyes. Some start to the New Year, I must say.
It was during my 2nd semester in PhD when I first saw her. I vividly remember our 1st encounter. I was waiting for lunch with plate in my hand when she entered the dining hall. The curry from my plate poured down to the floor while my gaze was fixated on her. The dining hall was partitioned into male and female sitting areas. Naturally, she entered from the female portion into the kitchen while I was on the other side of the counter. For a while, our eyes met. Or so I thought. Then suddenly, she left the kitchen and the hall, walking into the lush green lawns to bask in the mid-November sun. I don’t remember if I ate my lunch that day.
For the next few semesters, it became a routine. I would go for lunch where she would enter from the other side, we would exchange gazes and moved onto our respective places. In all that time, our meetings didn’t last for more than 15 seconds. And that too in the full glare of the audience. Only once or twice I saw her in the corridors while going to my lab. I couldn’t invite her into hostel. And in a conservative environment like ours, going out was not an option. The thought of people staring at us while she sat with me in some restaurant, restrained me from going that route. She was agile I was lethargic. She was lively I was timid. She was smart I was a scientist. I don’t remember having any conversation with her. But I think her eyes spoke to me every day. And then she left or I left after finishing my PhD. Time went by and she fizzled out into the secret chest in the dark shadows of the haunted house amidst the forsaken graves of the buried memories that is my mind.
Now after so many years, there she was with her green eyes sparkling even in the dark of the night. Or was those lenses? One never knows these days. Rummaging through the neurons of my brain, I recognized her too late. She was at the other end of the hall. Sitting with her friends she seemed to be enjoying herself. How much I wanted to go and sit with her. I could have killed her friends at that moment. But I didn’t. Or I couldn’t. It seemed to be a very long night. And then it was time for a group photograph. Turned out the group was too big for the lens of the camera. So we posed in two groups and unfortunately she was not in my group. Afterwards, we tried to launch some sky lanterns into the air. While I was waiting for the hot air to fill the lantern, I saw her speeding in my direction. I knew it was the moment. Finally. In the few seconds that I waited there, I wove a web of a million permutations in which she would fall suavely. And then I was awoken from my reverie by the drop of molten wax in the lantern. She had gone. Forever. Perhaps. I wonder why I couldn’t get her while I could? Perhaps I was too heartbroken at that time. But now? I don’t know. I thought of searching her on Facebook. But then I know someone like her can never be on Facebook. One day she will read this post. Or her children. Or their children. We never know. She is Felis cembus. The dining hall cat.