Wings to Fly

Born in a middle-class family in Mysore, Savita had never thought in her childhood that destiny will take her thousands of miles away from her home town. Not even a distant relative or an acquaintance of her had ever travelled extensively in India, not to speak of going abroad. Her mother was a Coorg and father a Kannadiga. She had inherited all the sharp features from her mother including an oval-shaped face, dreamy big eyes, fair complexion and long curly black hair. She was very much conscious of her beauty and liked to get compliments for it. She was very soft-spoken. She was of medium height, something she had inherited from her father, and always wanted to look taller. Her mother was a teacher in a private school and her father was an official in a local court.

She was always attracted by textbook images of far distant places in India and foreign countries. She was fascinated by the flying of birds and dreamed of flying like a bird to explore the skies. As a child, she liked to draw pictures of flying birds. She liked flying kites too. Being an ambitious girl, she dreamed of flying to far off places and build her career.

She kept her desires to herself and quietly waited for appropriate opportunities. She was good at her studies and worked very hard. She got good grades in her examinations right from high school to college. She got a merit scholarship for her post-graduate studies in biology. It was only during the days of pursuing her post-graduate studies that she learnt about the opportunities for pursuing her higher studies abroad.

It was merely by chance that she met Saurabh, who had come from the US on a holiday, at her friend's place. He was a tall handsome young man in his late twenties from Hyderabad working as an engineer in the US. He was looking for a girl to marry, and was attracted to her in the very first meeting. Savita talked about the possibility of her higher studies in the US. Saurabh assured her that he would look for the opportunities for her.

Immediately after getting her M.Sc in Biology in first division, she applied for her Ph.D. research at several places in the USA. Saurabh had provided her quite a few addresses. She got very good reference letters from her teachers who were impressed by her research potential. She got admission and a research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Saurabh too lived in a place close to Pittsburgh. He helped her in completing all the formalities.

It was not easy for her to convince her middle-class parents to give their permission to travel abroad and live by herself in an alien land. They were very worried. Savita's teachers were somehow successful in convincing them. She prepared her travel documents.
She was received at the airport by Saurabh. He helped her to settle down in this alien place. He had found a one-bedroom apartment for her which she had to share with Kanta, another Indian girl doing her research in Anthropology. She was writing her dissertation and was planning to return to India in a few months. Kanta was engaged to Ramaoorthy, who was teaching in a university in Hyderabad. They were planning to get married on her return to India.

Savita and Kanta became good friends and shared the apartment happily.  Saurabh would visit them on weekends and take them to different places in and around Pittsburgh in his car. Saurabh wanted to propose to her but couldn't do it for a long time. One Sunday, all the three visited Wheeling in West Virginia. It was in the premises of Palace of Gold, Saurabh and Savita were sitting in the rose garden very close to each other. Kanta was taking pictures of the temple. Saurabh mustered his courage and proposed to her. Savita was overwhelmed with joy, she quietly pressed his hand with a smile. She had wanted to hear these words for a long time. Saurabh kept on staring at her face, and Savita was looking at her feet. They did not notice Kanta who was watching both of them at a distance. Kanta came rushing over, smiled and leaned over both of them from behind and threw her arms around them. All of them laughed.
Saurabh's parents desired the wedding to take place in India at an early date. Savita wanted to complete her research work before getting married. Saurabh agreed to wait.

Savita had to register for several courses and did very well. After completing her course work successfully, she started working on her dissertation. She had to spend a lot of time in the laboratory. She got totally involved in her research and wanted to complete it as soon as possible. Her research supervisor Prof Thomas Spencer was a distinguished scholar of international repute, and an excellent teacher. He was respected by all his students and colleagues alike. Though in his mid-forties he was unmarried. Perhaps, he never had time for it. He would spend most of his time in the department and laboratory. It was a challenge to work with him. He would make all his students work very hard, and had very high expectations of his students. She was his first Indian student. He had two other foreign students one each from China and Japan.

His student from China, Lee, was about to complete her research work. She had got a good job in her home country and was planning to leave shortly after defending her dissertation. His Japanese student Machida was very bright and also very hard working. He had published quite a few papers in reputed journals. He used to work long hours in the laboratory.

Savita was highly impressed by the intelligence of Machida and the amount of hard work he was putting in. Machida was in his late twenties and had done his M.Sc from the same university with distinction. Prof Spencer had a very high opinion of his intellectual attainments. Machida would voluntarily come forward to help Savita in different ways. He helped her in her experiments and spent hours discussing her research work with her. Savita was indebted to him for his enormous help. He had rented an apartment in Hobart street but  would spend most of his time in the laboratory.

Prof Spencer would occasionally take his foreign research students for lunch in different restaurants on the campus. He was fond of Chinese food. He liked Japanese food too. When Savita joined the department, one day Prof Spencer took all of them to an Indian restaurant. Savita didn't like the Punjabi food served there. She wanted to invite them to a South Indian restaurant. Prof Spencer suggested he would like to eat the South South Indian food provided it was cooked by her. Savita was very happy and invited them to her apartment for dinner on the next Saturday. Savita and Kanta cooked the food. Prof Spencer normally would discuss topics related to their research with them. But at the dinner hosted by Savita and Kanta, he made sure not to discuss research. Rather the conversations were about  socio-cultural aspects of life in India.  

Prof Spencer encouraged all his students to write research papers for publication, and for seminars and conferences. Savita was very nervous in the beginning about discussing her research work with him. She worked very hard and prepared several drafts of her papers, discussing them first with Machida, and later showing them to Prof. Spencer. He would read the papers and discuss each point in detail and make necessary corrections. This encouraged Savita. A paper written by her was accepted for presentation at an international conference to be held in New York. Machida's paper too was accepted. Both of them travelled to New York together in Machida's car. It was the first opportunity for Savita to present a paper in an international conference. A large number of well-known scholars from different countries were attending this conference.  Prof Spencer had to chair a session in it.

Savita presented her paper in a session chaired by Prof Anderson, a well-known scholar from Australia. Her presentation of the paper was very good. The paper was appreciated by the chairman. There was good discussion afterward. She answered all the questions with confidence. After the session was over, quite a few participants of the conference discussed her research work with her. Prof Spencer also congratulated her. Savita was delighted.

In her heart of hearts she felt indebted to Machida for his help and the confidence he had created in her mind. The more she thought about him, the more she found him attractive. Though he was not very tall, he had a pleasing personality. His face looked boyish and innocent. He was very soft-spoken and had a nice smile on his face. Machida too liked Savita's company. While driving back from New York, they stopped at a beautiful resort. They had lunch together. They relaxed by the side of pool on easy chairs. It was here, Machida held her hand softly for the first time. Savita liked his touch and closed her eyes. Machida said with a charming smile, 'Do you know something? You are very beautiful.' Savita just smiled.

 Things changed altogether. She was now spending more time in the company of Machida both in the laboratory as well as out of it. Machida would take her to different restaurants in the town for dinner. She visited his apartment too several times and tasted Japanese food. Machida too would visit her apartment very often. She cooked and served Indian food to him. She learnt more about Machida. He was the only son of his parents. His father was president of a private university in Japan. Machida was going to join the same university as faculty on his return to Japan. He wanted Savita too to join the same university, so that they can work together at the same place. It was a very complex problem. Savita was lost in her thoughts. She did not know what to do.

Machida defended his dissertation. He stayed on in Pittsburgh just for the sake of Savita. Savita was close to finishing her dissertation. Two months later, Savita too defended it. Both of them were awarded Ph.D degrees. Prof Spencer wanted both of them to continue to work with him as post-doctorate research associates in his new prestigious research project. The salary was attractive. Machida made it clear that it would not be possible for him to stay as he has decided to join the university in Japan. His father would not like him to delay any further. It was a hard decision for Savita to make. She had the highest regard for Prof Spencer and could not refuse his suggestion. At the same time, she was emotionally attached to Machida and her intentions were becoming clearer day by day. She simply said that it would take him some time to make a decision as she has to consult her family.

That night she had a long talk with Machida. He had proposed to her, and she was not clear how to come out of the mess she was in. She had been avoiding Saurabh for the last six months. She had the excuse of being very busy with her dissertation. Now there was no such excuse. After Kanta left for India, Saurabh could visit her just two times. He had found Savita very busy in her work. Saurabh wanted to ask her about her plans and tentative date for returning to India. Savita couldn't give the dates.

After talking to Machida for a long time, she made a final decision. She asked Saurabh to meet her next day. When Saurabh came, she mustered a lot of courage and told him that she respected him a lot and was grateful to him for whatever he had done for her, but she was not yet mentally prepared to marry him as she had decided to take a job in Japan. Saurabh was shocked to hear this. He couldn't utter a word. After a while, he got up and walked out of her apartment dragging his feet.

Savita watched him leave quietly. She had got new wings to fly away!


More by :  Prof. Omkar Koul

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