My elder sister, Shreela had created history, when she became the first girl to join Engineering in Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi. It was the unfolding of a new chapter in the line of development for girls. I was in the 10th standard at that time. Didi is about 2 years older to me. Her discipline was Electronics and Tele-Communication. The media took her interview. A general feeling of wonder was the message that went out, in the then ambience of Bihar. 1500 boys and 1 girl was a tall order for Didi, indeed.
A new teacher joined BIT around the same time. Prof. (Dr.) Dikshitulu, was a wizard in his subject of Computer Science. He had just returned from USA to teach a new subject that was introduced in the institute. He shifted with his family, including his youngest brother, to the campus.
Our house was a sprawling bungalow in BIT with large open spaces all around. The backyard was a wealth of fruit trees and kitchen garden. The porch had flowering trees and creepers and the entrance had several flower plants lined up in a row. The neighbouring bungalow belonged to the professor and his family. His brother Krishna Rao Kalluri took admission with didi, choosing Electrical Engineering as his branch.
As the days passed, didi and her friends, 4-5 boys became a group. They were from Delhi and most of them were Punjabis. Her friends would drop in to our house now and then. Didi’s lab partner, Satyendra Bhola was a regular visitor every evening, after college hours. Having no school or college friend nearby, I too became friendly with them. Amongst them, was Vikas Khosla, who had a keen interest in politics and emulated my knowledge of English. I had Political Science in college so we shared a common platform of discussion.
Krishna, apart from being a BIT student was also a campus resident. He took to our house as a fish to water. He would come to meet ‘Shammi/Shammo’ and we would spend hours chatting away in the front porch of our house. To buy a pack of cigarettes he had to cross the ‘Power House’ as didi’s friends called my house and he would meet me up either on the way to the shop, or on his way back. He was from Andhra Pradesh and greatly impressed by my English. He used to read only Mills & Boon novels, before he met me. For the first time he started reading other books now. I was also happy to guide him, having been an avid reader myself since standard VII. Till today he attributes his knowledge of English to me. Tall, thin and lanky, he became a regular casual visitor.
Once when he came calling for me, my kakima who had come visiting from our native place, gave him the nickname ‘Shoru (thin) Krishna’. He was wont to keep a constant vigil on my whereabouts. If we met somewhere he would ask where I was going and why. Being simple and foolish, I would satisfy his every query.
That was not all. After college everyday when I walked up to Firayalal Chowk, for my bus, he would be there often enough. He offered me softy cone ice-cream. I would gladly accept the offer of course. Eventually, summer vacation came and I stopped going to college. In fact, we left for our native place Midnapore, West Bengal. When I returned back he told me that he never found the softies tasty anymore, since I left, and he stopped having them.
I remember how the BIT students would tease me, year after year, with the song “O meri Sharmilee…”. If I had to go to the co-operative stores, Hostel No.1 students would begin the song. Meant for final year students, this hostel was nearest to our house. As I walked along the whole length of the road, different groups of boys belonging to hostel no. 2, 3, 4, etc. would continue with the song to my utter embarrassment.
“Ni friendlu, ni laga allaripettaru”, translated it means – “Your friend is as naughty as you are”, I told this to him one day, as he walked along the road with another boy. I had picked up some Telugu from a girl from the campus and was trying to use my scanty knowledge with Krishna. Ha-ha-ha!
Engineering was a 5 year course in those days and time went by slowly and surely. Once Krishna and I had a fight. It so happened that a large group of students got into our bus midway between the BIT approach road and our homes. Some boys even climbed on, to the roof of the bus, with their legs dangling in front of my open window. Krishna was also in the bus.
I got angry and started shouting at the students. The latter answered back to which I paid no heed. Alighting at my stop, Krishna started scolding me. “Why did you talk to those boys? Couldn’t you keep quiet”, he began. I felt as if he was attacking me as if I was the one creating nuisance instead of the boys. Ruffled by what had transpired inside the bus, I answered back- “Who are you to decide to whom I’ll talk? Don’t act as if you’re my husband!”. The argument continued till we reached our home. Frustrated, I started crying, full fledged sobbing with tears streaming down my face, as Krishna watched on. After a while he says, “You look beautiful when you cry!” I was inconsolable and slammed the door on his face as I entered my home.
The next day, as we were returning from college in the evening, our ramshackle of a bus finally reached the BIT approach. I was at my usual window seat behind the bus driver. That 3km stretch would usually be without a single soul to be seen. From far I noticed a tall thin guy coming towards the bus. It was Krishna! When the bus came closer, I saw that he was standing with folded hands, as if asking for my forgiveness. I gasped. That meant he had walked all that way from the college building to meet me for a split second like this!
I recall another incident. In an adventurous mood, I had once decided to climb up the spiral stairs to the top of the main tower of BIT. I wished to see the beautiful gardens, the sundial, the upper lawn meant for VIP guests, and the lower lawn behind it. I had gone there to make a trunk call. When I was done seeing no one around, I quietly took the stairs. Halfway up footsteps could be heard as if someone was following me. Turning around I was face to face with Krishna. He was panting and sweating in fear. The bad coin, popping up at the wrong moment, I thought. From where did he materialise, I wondered.
“Tum idar kyun aaya?”, he demanded an answer, in his horrible Hindi. “Oh Krishna, why did you come here after me? Have you nothing better to do?”. What relationship I had with him, I don’t know, reader, but he took charge at the spot. He ordered me to get down immediately. I had to obey him. He later came home and narrated the whole incident. He feared that I wanted to commit suicide and was, hence, scaling the tower! I had to do a lot of explaining to everyone after that.
Krishna’s neice Radha was about 12years old, when he got married to a nice lawyer girl, several years later. Radha announced in front of all the guests that her uncle has a girlfriend called Sharmila! He must have been at a loss to reply to that. On Teacher’s Day in the year, Krishna wishes his English teacher even to this day. Sometime back he got my phone number, after trying hard, from a relative in Kolkata.
Who said I never had a protective male figure to take care of me? Who said I lacked friends on the BIT campus? He was my protecter, friend, student and admirer all rolled into one. His undemanding company is something unheard of. Remember how Bhagwan Krishna had appeared and saved Draupadi from imminent trouble? That was what Krishna was to me. His humility I will remember always. In a recent telephonic talk with him, he asked,”Tum humare baare mein kyun nahi likhta hai? Write my story.” I agreed and here I am.
Krishna Rao is retired and settled in his hometown Visakhapatnam. His wife is still working. His only child, a daughter, lives nearby. His grandchildren, a girl and a boy love playing with him in the weekends. God bless you, Krishna. Quoting from a song,
“Krishna Krishna, hay Krishna
Jag mag hua re angnaa.”
(Story penned on his birthday)