Seher came out of the building. It was the close of the day; twilight was beginning to flair its dominance. Most of the girls who came out of Sharma Mathematics classes were in groups, few were accompanied by the opposite gender. But Seher was alone. With a scarf covering her entire face, she walked to her Vespa. She quickly sat and raced off. Nikhil tried to approach her from behind. But before he could gather the courage to speak, she was long gone. Nikhil was left all by himself as he watched her crush go away. All the poor chap could do was to adjust his pair of spectacles on his nose bridge and pretend that nobody had seen his yet another failed attempt.
As Seher took the usual right near the Jalebi shop, Ashu threw away his half burnt cigarette and unlike Nikhil, he began to follow Seher. At first, she thought that the guy was minding his own way. But after a couple of left and right turns, he was still following her. She had reached the ring road. Driving on the dimly lit service road, it was still a ten minutes ride for her. Every other night, she would get frightened from the creaking noise of fireflies. And tonight, when the sound of Royal Enfield had taken care of fireflies, she did not know what to wish for. She could have tried accelerating, but she was smart enough to know the capacity of her moped against a giant bike with thudding sound. She decided to get stalked rather than dashing on a cow sitting on the dark road.
It was not a new experience for Seher. She had been stalked many a time in twenty one years of her lifetime. She was fourteen when she learnt that riding a bicycle meant watching the road as well as her skirt; for there were perverts all around. A year later, she was returning home from school. She was in tenth standard, appearing for the boards for the first time. The monumental pressure of the society had caught up with her parents too. She was monitored 24x7. It was expected of her to come back from school in time, to study, go for her tuition classes, come back, study, have dinner and then sleep early so that she could wake up early for another tuition class. Not that she was a shallow student, but neither was she a machine. She had cultivated her own ways of relaxing. While others diverted to music or sports, she resorted to walking back from school. That way she could really have some time for herself with studies literally behind her, locked up inside a bag.
One monsoon afternoon, she was walking back as she held her bicycle by her side like a romantic partner. She was cherishing the weather as she enjoyed the gentle touch of breeze on her face. She wanted to let go of her pigtail but her mother would have asked her more questions than she faced in the weekly test. She compromised on the open hair front. Little did she know that in future, compromise would mean letting a guy stalk her while she prayed to reach home safely.
Seher's new habit of walking back on the monsoon afternoons was not covert. Guys from her school and some even from other schools were aware of her route map and timings, adding to the profit of local bhel stall in the process. They would wait for a look of her and she would pass by, perplexed and musing, ‘That man must be making some good bhel. I would try it someday when there will be no guys hovering around.’
One of the road side Romeos decided to go creative. He started following her home. While other guys had also thought of same, no one dared to. This went on for a week but the guy’s efforts were futile. Seher had never glanced back, not even for a gander. But Seher's mother had. She observed it once when she was on the roof, after her homely chores. She did not say anything to her daughter but kept waiting on the roof every day. Once she was confirmed that the guy was indeed following her daughter, Seher was in real trouble.
– How can you not know he was following you? I bet it is why you got two marks less in the test.
– Why were you walking when we bought you the bicycle?
– And that guy got only seventy percent in his tenth boards. I do not want you to end like him.
– Did you even know how much I had to spend for your bicycle and tuitions?
– And did you know that he is a Hindu?
Questions and allegations turned Seher's life upside down. A guy she had not even seen had caused serious implications on her life. Her younger brother became her automatic chaperone everywhere she went to for the next three months. A normal tenth grader wished for good marks in boards so that she could ask her parents for a new cell phone or a vacation or whatever it may be. But Seher only wished one thing, to breathe a moment of solitude and enjoy her freedom.
Seher did get her freedom six years down the line. She was now upgraded from a bicycle to a stylish moped. She also had a cell phone with her. But her freedom was not like she had hoped for. After the fireflies and the freedom, she had really learnt to be careful for what she wished. She drove past a cow. ‘Should I accelerate now?’ She thought but decided against it. Slowly and steadily, she finally reached her destination. She stopped her Vespa in front of the gate as she waited for her stalker to move ahead. Unlike the first time, she got a good look of her stalker. After what happened to her in the tenth grade, she had made a mental note – analysing each and every one of her crazy stalkers, for she would seek revenge if things went awry.
Saving his face in the folder of her multiple stalkers in her brain, Seher stormed into the safe custody of her home. Her parents were waiting for dinner, so she had to put on a face. If she had learnt one thing, it was not to tell them about the vultures that follow her; or else she might end up getting married. As she chewed and gulped as fast as she could, she tried her best to forget the last half an hour of mental torture she had been through. She could not tell her parents about it and her brother made sure that she never met a guy. Once done with dinner, she rushed into her room. She needed an exodus and the internet showed her the way. Under the alias Mansi, she logged into her digital life where she could be whatever she liked. But it was not easy for her there either. She had started to like a guy and she had no one to spy her. She could talk to him, ask him out and talk to him. There was one little problem though. Her alias had not many friends and she had no real pictures of her to display. So, her crush would not befriend her.
Eventually, Mansi was left with no option. In the moment of desperation, she began to follow her crush, like the pages he had liked and keep digital tab on all his social activity. If only she knew that the guy she was stalking now was her crazy stalker six years ago...