Chapter 99: Collage Begins

College was a kaleidoscope of colors during Collage – so much so that the campus felt unfamiliar and strange. Their green and grey campus that was largely deserted (except for pockets) and quiet turned into a vibrant colorful bustling fair festooned with banners and lights. Loudspeakers demanded their attention from all corners while delicious mouthwatering smells commanded them to another.

“Chole bhature!” The girls were quite unable to believe their eyes. “That too Punjab special!”

“We want two plates.” They ordered rather ambitiously. Service was quick and before long they were staring admiringly at twin rotund crispy balls. It had been so long! The chole looked delicious too – they couldn’t wait to tuck in. Balancing the fragile plate and braving the steam Rajani broke into her bhatura. She slipped it in her mouth and closed her eyes in sheer bliss. “Mmmm. Just like home.”

Shikha swallowed hastily and was about to follow suit when a deep male voice interrupted their reverie. “Hey! I ordered first!”

They froze. A tall handsome guy towered over them but was glaring at the caterer. “But Sir you weren’t here. So I gave it to them. Give me a minute, fresh ones coming up right away.”

“I am starving!”

Feeling as if they were somehow to blame (and quite charmed by his looks and accent so reminiscent of home) Shikha offered him her as yet untouched plate. “Please take this.”

His eyes dropped to them. He smiled. Their hearts fluttered. “Oh no! Thanks. It will be ready in just a minute like he said.”

“No. Please take it.” Rajani staked her claim. “We were so excited to see Chole bhature that we ordered two plates. One plate is more than enough for us.”

His smile widened. He accepted the proffered plate from Shikha and attacked it. “Thanks! I haven’t eaten anything since,” he stuffed his mouth as the girls chewed daintily and looked on sympathetically; he swallowed, “last night.”

Rajani started shaking. Shikha hurriedly relieved her of the wobbling plate.

He laughed delighted they appreciated his witticism. “Hello. Myself Manu from Patiala.”

Chole bhature and a guy from home!

They fell over themselves exchanging introduction, notes and antecedents. For some strange reason they instantly gelled with this unknown stranger.

“Is Manu your real name?”

He shook his head.

They looked at him expectantly.

He finished his plate and took up the other plate that was ready by then. The girls looked at each other in surprise but prudently held their tongues.

“Well?” Rajani prompted. “What’s your name?” His apparent reluctance to reveal his name piqued their curiosity.

“Manu.”

“Your real name.” She insisted.

“Why do you want to know?” He said busy with his order. “Want to send a marriage proposal or what?”

Rajani stiffened. “Come let’s go Shikha.” They walked off.”

“Hey! Hey! Hang on I am coming too.” Quite unfazed and unrepentant, Manu dumped his plate and followed them. “Care to show me around your college?”

“No.” Rajani was blunt.

“Oh No! You took my comment seriously?!” He made a tragi-comic face. “Actually I hate my name.”

“Which is?” Rajani was like a dog with a bone.

Manu shook his head. “No!”

“Fine! Nice knowing you Mr No!” Shikha piped up. “Let’s go Rajji.”

“Hey Rajji wait!”

Rajani looked askance at his familiarity.

“If I tell you my name will you show me around the campus?”

“What about your friends?” Shikha asked.

“I am all alone,” he said wearing a woebegone expression.

“Liar!” muttered Shikha.

“Please!” Manu clasped his hands and pleaded.

“We’ll see. Name please. If it is Gabbar Singh…”

Manu threw up his hands in despair. “I knew it! That’s why I didn’t want to tell you my name.”

Shikha and Rajani looked at him disbelievingly, “Is your name Gabbar Singh?”

“Just as bad.” He scratched his head.

“Well?”

He cleared his throat. “Mangat Singh.”

Rajani’s shoulders shook.

Shikha looked at him suspiciously. “How come your name is Manu? It should be Mangu?”

He shrugged. “Guilty as charged. It is Mangu. I hate that too. So I changed it to Manu Singh. Now everybody at home calls me Manu.” He added for good measure. “Want to talk to my Mother?” he held out his phone.

“You are crazy!” Shikha backed away.

“I am kidding! So shall we have a look around? Great campus.” He looked around approvingly. “Not like ours. Congested and in the middle of the city.”

“Which college?”

“Not college, school in Patiala.”

“Oh there you are,” it was Harry, “We have been looking for you all over.”

“Yeah we were coming and then we got distracted by the Chole Bhature stalls. Did you have some? They are awesome!” Shikha smiled at Harry and Girish. To tell the truth she was happy to see even Girish. Manu was too smart for his own good. And the way Rajani was simpering…

“Come Rajji let’s go.” She flashed a smile at Manu. “Nice meeting you. See you around.” She pulled Rajani by the arm. “Come.” She said in a stern undertone.

“Bye!” Rajani blinked at him regretfully.

He half waved half saluted them.

“He is so handsome!” Rajani drooled.

“Maybe. But terribly over-smart. And he didn’t even pay for his chole bhature. We paid for his and ours. Stingy guy.” Shikha grumbled.

“He must have forgotten. Doesn’t matter.”

“How can he forget? I bet it was all a ruse to get chatting with us. And such a hog he is. Two plates while we had half each.”

“Oh come on Shiks! Don’t be such a grump. He is a big boy. Huge. He needs his calories. Not like me.” Rajani looked down at herself.

“Oh forget him. And by the way you are still scrawny. So eat while you can!” Shikha laughed.

“Where were you girls? Out enjoying while we slog it out?” Sameer complained.

“We just stopped for a bite of special breakfast.”

“What did you eat?” asked Sameer.

“Chole bhature.”

“That’s it!” Sameer emptied his armload of posters into their arms, “I am off for my share.” He ran off unheeding of their protests. “Be back right after!”

“Hurry! Participants have begun arriving. Who is in-charge of accommodation? Girish?”

“No. I am in the welcome committee. I will guide them around campus as well.” He smiled as envisioned being flocked with clueless helpless girls – he would be their savior! They would be shouting and screaming Girish Girish Girish! He wore a beatific expression.

“I think you better sit right here and take care of accommodation,” a knowing experienced senior Abishek thrust him into a chair and handed him a register. “I will welcome the guests.” Nobody was taking that privilege away from him, especially not a fresher.

“But…”

Ignoring Girish, Abhishek turned to Rajani and the others, “Why you guys are still standing here? Go and put up the posters. How will the participants know where to go? Put one of each at the two entrances and at each of the hostels. One of the program schedule and one of the Registration Room.” He rolled out a poster bundle and let out a yell. “Heyyy! Who did this one? It’s room number 4201 not 4021!”

Up next Chapter 100: Colors of Collage

A/N Yoohoo friends – DM here 🙂 For readers of SS – Do check out From DM’s Desk’s sometime tomorrow around this time. I meant to post it today but you know DM- baat niklegi toh door talak jaayegi – I still have to wrap it up 😀

Have a super weekend. Dont forget to leave me a note – you don’t know how much it means!

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