If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Nalini came right from Uranus. She was a female form hacked out of the purest permafrost. Everything about her was cold, sharp and angular, the rhombus face that tapered into a pointed chin, the thin lines for lips, the beaked, Roman nose. Her hair parted keenly in the middle of her forehead and fell right-angled to her beam-like shoulders; her eyebrows slanted in synch with her dark, darting eyes. She was an edgy woman and edges ran all over her frame, her limbs, heart, soul and speech. Her voice had a clipped, metallic twang and strangely disquieting.
Nalini Nayan carried with élan the airs of a matador gory with bullfighting men. It was difficult to tell when she had begun accumulating her scars but it must have been early in her life and often. And now it all burned in her eyes at the slightest whiff of a human male. A stinging, icy hush followed her like a halo in the nooks and corners of Nut. The girls in her class would sit glued together, statues of demureness. Boys would huddle over the exercise modules, pretending to be mortally engrossed. The classrooms seemed to sprout barbed, invisible walls between the two sexes at the sound of her measured footfalls. Beyond the hapless classrooms, few dared breach the soundlessness of her cubicle at the far end of a corridor.
The Robot, as she was hailed then, spurned camaraderie between boys and girls and men and women of the race. She hated romantic associations with the unflinching venom of a black widow spider. She was known to have humiliated the parents of the girls who dared to be kind to boys and arranged speedy evictions of the aspiring Romeos —not a small feat considering the purely commercial ethos of the franchise.
Little did we know then, Chhotu and I, when we extracted ourselves from the drab late classes to move into her docile, benighted platoon, that we were moving ourselves out of a tepid pan straight into a crater of boiling lava.
The grovelling instructor of the evening session jumped at the chance to get even with us for the string of ignominies we had inflicted on him in the year gone by. The bugger passed on tar black character reports of the duo to rattle the bitter woman further. We had no way to know how vile the charges were, but apparently, we were a pair of filthy skunks seeking undue female company.
It was not exactly a party on the beach then, the class we installed ourselves in, this class crowded with coy girls. Our maiden rendezvous was defined by Nalini’s stormy spell, dipped in her foulest acid. She let loose a vicious hail of beamers on us without even an ounce of prologue. How little did she know of the mettle of the weather-beaten veterans she was up against! Not only that, she’d discover how hopelessly blunt her best weapons would prove, how ridiculously small her stock of ammunition, to be squandered in a matter of too few days. However, it was a war and the war was kick-started by her, and a war was a war was a war!
So not only we hit back the hardest but often tore her logic to shreds to the stunning silence of the class that had been awed by her hitherto. Then Chhotu began shifting gears, the worst was yet to come. He would start a blizzard of uncomfortable questions never before heard in Nut, session after session. Queries so exotic and obscure I was sure Blaise Pascal was turning in his French grave somewhere. What added salt, pepper and chilies to the injuries of Nalini was the fact that each questions had to pass through the ‘output device’ who never failed to give them an extra twist.
The ceaseless skirmishes inspired guerrilla attacks from humbler sheep of the flock too. No one was surprised when it flared into a climax one day when she walked out in a huff in the middle of it all. She shot off like a bristling arrow that banged opened the Director’s cabin and demanded that we be repatriated to the evening class forthwith, lock, stock and barrel.
The Director was a petite but one bored woman who hated troubles of all kind. She yawned through Nalini’s explosive discharge and advised her to take a break and go home. Meanwhile, the murmur in the classroom had now risen to a loud cheering. Boys and girls were laughing in unison. The Berlin wall had fallen on the floor in a heap.
The omnipresent attendant outside the Director’s door set the grapevine abuzz with startling bytes. It was reported that Nalini had fumed and flailed and had bitten and chewed her nails till they bled and she suckled on the crimson fluid in plain sight. The ‘blood sucking vampire’ of the Nut seemed to have been vanquished finally, or did I rejoice too early?
She started skipping her classes and her diminished appearances too seemed watered down manifold. Buds of bonhomie blossomed into coffees and ice-creams with classmates and before long we were staring into the face of the Term End Evaluations. Our superiority was firmly established but the vampire had been silently waiting for that very day. There was a general pandemonium when the scorecards were dispended and I had to blink hard to keep in focus the string of F’s in my score card; the floor under my feet spun. The time for Apocalypse had come.
The next Act of the tragedy unfolded in the director’s cabin where I delivered an impassioned, hoarse and teary speech-cum-ultimatum, citing the precepts and premises of fundamental rights. Before long and without much ado I was handed over my answer sheets in an isolated corner. I quickly figured out that the most of the F’s that my scorecard wore like jewels had sprouted from a single missing closing bracket of a program function I’d written. It resulted in another howling session where I tried to instill in them the fear of the national judiciary. Meanwhile, the vampire had quietly slipped away from her alcove amidst the hullabaloo. However, she was promptly summoned the following day, even if Nut was closed for teaching sessions, and asked to eat back her F’s.
It was a sultry afternoon and the campus was thinly populated. Chhotu was away on a more pressing business. To her credit, the vampire materialised at the appointed hour seemingly out of nowhere. She asked me to follow her to the creaky room and latched the door after us in one swift motion. She took a deep breath and proceeded to needlessly rearrange the dupatta over her bust for what seemed like an eternity. My pulse quickened as I looked at her cream-white face framed by short dark hair. Her mouth was half-open and I noticed she had a rather sharp set of canines. She wore a bewitching smell about her, probably a cocktail of perfume and her own glands. Her eyes had a bizarre glint in them as the thin red lipsticks spoke in an unusually thick voice, “You have two options, here!”
My heart was doing a Bharatnatyam against my feeble ribcage.
“You either retake the test which is going to be really tough, or…” She drawled. I heard the clock tick full six sedate seconds before she spoke again, “Or, I award you just Pass grades!”
Needless to say, I grabbed the second option right off her mouth, unlatched the bolt and was quickly scampering down the dark staircase. Later in the evening, Chhotu kept giggling uncontrollably when he learnt of the close encounter.
In a surprise development, Nut announced its first ever Campus Placement the following week. It was an industry first, people being picked from a programming institute, of all such places. To their credit, they did manage to attract a ‘leading corporate’ too. Chhotu was least bothered and he wiped off his fingers with the application forms nonchalantly after an unusually large course of Butterscotch. I too was skeptical off the bat but I applied nonetheless, the poorer partner that I was. As was expected, the recruiters almost left without recruiting even a rat except when the guy from Tata Unisys, the ‘leading corporate’, ran into a recommendation written by a redoubtable professor of IIM Lucknow, the beneficiary of that powerful paper being none other than me. Tata Unisys had already wound up, but they hurriedly recalled me to a discussion about the suitability of the job to me. Apparently, the chief interviewer was an alumnus of the famed management institute, and he revered the mentor who had penned a few paragraphs in my memory. As it happened, the Placement charade at Nut did end in a single recruitment. An organization of repute ended up choosing a man of disrepute.
But apparently, that was not how my Lady Luck wanted it to be. The newspapers sprang up another surprise on me the very next day. A state run bank had finally selected me as an officer after sitting over the results for more than a year, casting an eclipse on the lone success of the Nut.
The Nut was in a festive mood on the last day of the diploma programs. We noticed a white Matador van with a large ‘PRESS’ logo in the parking lot. The corners and stairs were crowded with extra potted plants. Friends and foes were all exchanging rosy, musical greetings. We, the hitherto enfants terribles, were being hailed with superlative sweetness. Someone summoned me to the director’s room and Chhotu followed me naturally, though uninvited. Director was her usual chirpy self. Seated against her were two distinguished looking men. Nalini was also there in a rather floral saree and to my shock, she beamed a smile at me!
“Meet our Man of the Day!” the Director introduced me to the men who were clearly from the ‘Press’. “He has been picked up by Tata Unisys, nothing less!”
“Excuse me, Madam,” I croaked, “What Tata and which Unisys?” I was keenly aware of the many pairs of eyes drilling holes in my face.
“Why? Whom else did they issue a letter?” Demanded the vampire with the usual ice in her voice now.
The men from ‘Press’ were gawking from one face to another.
“Of course, they issued me a letter! They thanked me for my interest in their company and at the same time expressed regrets for not being able to select me because I had cleared a semester with just Pass grades. They said it is against the Corporate Policy of the company to hire low-ranked candidates.” I tried to pour out the accumulated angst of many months in those few words.
“Do you have the letter with you?” The Director was duly incredulous.
“I tore it and put the pieces in an envelope marked to The Vampire of the Nut. She will soon receive it in her post.”
“Vampire of the Nut?” Cried the Director, but she crumbled on her own words realising the riddle.
The awkward silence was broken by a wicked giggling sound emanating from Chhotu that quickly grew into a ceaseless cackle. The faces present there were a rainbow of emotions in those few moments. But, I distinctly remember the Giggling Gladiator as he gazed straight into the eyes of Nalini Nayan who was ready to turn into ash and fly to Uranus in a whoosh!