Darjeeling was cold. Very cold. This had to be because it was the third week of December. After the annual exams, my father, who was then District and Sessions Judge of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, called me over, knowing my weakness for my first love – Darj, as today&’s generation call it.
So I got there via an Air Carrying Corporation Dakota, spending all of 50 rupees. After reaching Jalpaiguri, Dad and I drove to Darjeeling and found it emptier than before, much to my delight. He used to go to office and I roamed all over, trying to find places of new interest for a 14-year-old.
After evening tea with Dad, we went our separate ways, Dad to his daily walk and I to the Officers’ Club to play table tennis. And it all started there.
That night, I finally managed to beat Uncle Bhattacharya and was all but ecstatic. Suddenly, two things happened simultaneously. Uncle Bhattacharya went to the bridge table and I spotted a young girl with blue eyes peeping from the door that was ajar. As I had no one to play with, I signalled if she would care for a game and that brought her inside the spacious room. I took permission from said uncle and we started knocking about.
If I thought I was Ichiro Ogimuro, she was not less than Toshiyaki Tanaka (They were the No. 2 and No. 1 table tennis players those days). Soon I realised I was not even Sudheer Thackeray (then India No.1). By the time we were all but thrown out of the club, I noticed it was past 9-30 pm, late by Darjeeling standards on a winter night some five and a half decades back, when no one but Europeans visited Darj in the winter.
Ladenla Road was devoid of any living being. At the crossing of Hill Cart Road, I asked where she stayed. There was a short crisp reply — Hotel Mount Everest. I noticed her English had an accent and was not much better than mine. As we were to go the same way, with me staying at the Circuit House, we walked back together. Our paucity of English restricted our conversation and while I told about myself in broken English I could just figure out that she had come with her parents for a holiday from Finland. She said her name was Amy, a short form of Amgine. In fact, she had to spell it out several time for it to register.
I walked her to the crossing of the road going up to Mt Everest Hotel and the other going down to the Circuit House. And there we parted.
They say I am a terrible loser. So though I was wandering along known and unknown roads, I was trying to figure out the cause for my losing games to that girl. But found no answer.
The next evening I was hoping against hope that Amy would come. She did. Again we played a few games and again I lost the rubber. The next night was no different, with me losing again. On our way back, I stopped just next to Turnbull Church and drew her attention to the exceptionally clear night. The shining stars seemed to mingle with the scattered lights of the town and beyond and presented an exhilarating beauty. I was sure she would like it. I called to her and she turned — and then it struck me.
It was her eyes. Blue but lifeless. I could not see beyond her pupils, though they were apparently transparent. I was dumbstruck. Suddenly, she wasn’t enjoying the scenic beauty anymore and was walking towards Mt Everest Hotel with me following like a zombie, thinking more than walking till we parted company at the fork.
I stayed awake till late into the night and only when the first rays of the sun kissed the majestic Himalayan ranges could I nod off. Dad had gone to work long back when I went out. Sitting at the farthest corner of Birch Hill, I was analysing her eyes and somehow a parallel idea occurred to me. Why did I lose three consecutive nights? We had no coaches in our time so I had to find answers myself. Ogimuro or Tanaka or Thackeray were childhood fantasies but… Then it occurred to me.
That night at the Officers’ Club I avoided her eyes and won comfortably. In fact, I didn’t dare look at her eyes. When it was time to leave, we silently walked the distance and parted company at the predestined crossing. Not for once did she look into my eyes nor I at hers.
On reaching the Circuit House, Dad told me that we were to leave for Jalpaiguri the next day after lunch as there was an important case he would have to attend to there. In a way, I was relieved but felt obliged to inform Amy about my leaving Darjeeling.
So the next morning, immediately after breakfast, I walked up to Mt. Everest Hotel to say my goodbyes. The gentleman at the reception knew me because of my Dad and wondered what I was doing there. When I enquired about Amy, he was astonished and declared that they had no such guest. At my insistence, he checked, rechecked and even asked his bell boys and waiters, but to no avail.
All through the four-hour drive to the Jalpaiguri I was exceedingly quiet. Luckily Dad thought I was mentally down as I had to leave my beloved Darjeeling suddenly.
A couple of days later I was sitting in the office room of my Dad&’s quarters in Jalpaiguri enjoying the beauty of the Teesta through the glass panes that covered three sides of the room overseeing the sands across the embankment deep into the river. It was a leisurely afternoon and I had no thoughts in particular. But little did I know that Amy was lurking somewhere in my mind. Naturally, my mind drifted and concentrated on her. I started to think profoundly about solving the conundrum. And just then it struck me!
Conundrum or deep mystery, riddle, whatever you call it. Or anagram. I came to the solution of the problem that was eating me. Yes, Amy did leave a message for me somewhere! And I got it at last. It was in her name, which she had told me. Amgine! Flash it in front of a looking glass and there she was – Enigma!
Ask yourself, wasn’t she one?