It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, I am exhausted from doing nothing.
I have been saving the DVD of the movie Lootera for a day like this.
Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan was an enjoyable film.
I was curious to see how a director who had just made one of the best Indian ‘coming off age’ movies could make a high budget period romance, that too with such overwhelming critical acclaim.
The movie starts and drags along. I am impressed by the lead pair, frustrated by the pace and disappointed by the direction the film seems to be taking in the second half, then I see the female protagonist lying in her death bed looking out of the window in her room at a tree watching the leaves fall.
|A Scene from the film|
Just then I have a flashback, like a bolt from the blue.
I am transported to a world that existed 15 years ago.
It’s the post lunch session of our class, I am in the seventh grade, Harleen Kaur The girl with a golden tooth is asking me a doubt in algebra, I am amused by the way she keeps reffering to it as alzebra again and again.
Chaos everywhere, the class is being ripped apart by joyful screams emerging from all four corners of the room, a small group of boys is playing a game called ‘Chungi’ which is nothing but kicking a small circular string of cut rubber pieces of a cycle tyre tied together into a ball like form against the wall.
Sudden rush of adrenaline, I throw Harleen’s Alzebra book in the air and start screaming meaningless words into the air.
Harleen is stunned, she picks up her book and in the most unexpected twist rips it to shreds and starts screaming with me.
We both rush to the small stage of the class like a couple of drug addicts run amok and start hauling everyones bags and water cans and tiffin boxes.
Before we know it, we have gone from being a mad couple to a full fledged mob.
Madness ensues, Puneet takes out a bottle of ink and smashes it on the floor, two others follow suit.
Jyotsana is not allowing anyone to touch her bag, so Priya starts pulling her hair, Neha stealthily snatches her bag from below and more books go flying into the unsuspecting air above.
Within minutes there is nothing left to throw or break in the room,
Sunil the one we called the silent one gets up from his seat and rushes to the back of the room, yanking out the large steel dustbin he screams “Freedom, I love my mommy” !!! And he bathes himself with all the junk inside.
The whole class laughs.
We are barely seconds away from starting to pounce at each other when Miss Vibha our class teacher enters the room.
The chaos ends, we find ourselves in unbelievably awkward positions.
Sunil’s mouth is open and a piece of paper is sticking out of it, we all stand motionless.
Miss Vibha stares at us with utter disbelief, she probably blamed herself for our behaviour, first of all by announcing her engagement and subsequent resignation from the school she had gone ahead and broken the hearts of the 30 odd boys in the class who were madly in love with her and secondly her last class was a graphic depiction of the battle of panipat, a deadly combination I must say.
She pauses, we wait for her next move, we stay still even the muscles on our faces are contracted, its so quiet that I bet I can hear the sounds of a few eyelids twitch.
Harleen looks at me scornfully, I know what she’s trying to tell me – Its all your fault fatso !
And then Miss Vibha laughs.
We loved the way she laughed and it melted our hearts like a piece of wax.
“Clean everything up and I’ll tell you a nice story”. She says and takes her seat .
Vibha miss was the best story teller in the world and it took us less than five minutes to put things back in order.
“So, you’re ready”? She asks us, getting up from her seat.
“Yes Miss”. We reply in chorus
“There was once an artist from Greenwich Village named Behrman who lived in the same building as two of his two friends Johnsy and Sue”.
“Behrman was very protective of his friends but he didn’t like to show it, he dreamt of painting a masterpiece someday but never did anything towards that end in years”.
“He is a lazy fellow, just like you Thomas”. Vibha miss says pointing at me.
The class laughs, I’m not offended at all, and I blush uncontrollably.
“Johnsy was sick, very sick, dying of pneumonia, and she claimed that she would die when the last leaf falls off of a vine outside her window”.
Sue told this to Behrman who laughed it off as an irrational thought; yet he decides to see both Johnsy and the vine.
In the night, a very bad storm comes and wind is howling and rain is splattering against the window.
Miss Vibha moved to and fro in the class enacting the whole scene outside Johnsy’s window, like I said earlier she was a wonderful story teller.
We were all lost in deep thought, worried about Johnsy.
“The storm is raging outside but Sue closes the curtains and tells Johnsy to go to sleep, even though there is still one leaf left on the vine”.
Johnsy protests but Sue insists on doing so because she doesn't want her to see the last leaf fall.
In the morning, Johnsy wants to see the vine, to be sure that all the leaves are gone, but to their surprise, there is still one leaf left.
While Johnsy is surprised that it is still there, she insists it will fall that day. But it doesn't, nor does it fall through the night or the next day.
Johnsy believes that the leaf stayed there to show how wicked she was, and that she sinned in wanting to die.
She regains her will to live, and makes a full recovery throughout the day.
Blood returns to the faces of the students in our class, yes Johnsy survives and we were all happy.
I can see Neha clapping quietly in her seat, we were all relieved that Johnsy didn’t die.
The look of Vibha miss’s face clearly indicates the story is not over yet.
We wait and a minute later she resumes.
The next afternoon, a doctor talks to Sue. He tells her that Mr. Behrman has come down with pneumonia and, as there is nothing to be done for him, he is being taken to the hospital to be made comfortable in his final hours.
A janitor had found him helpless with pain, and his shoes and clothing were wet and icy cold. The janitor couldn't figure out where he had been on that stormy night, though she had found a lantern that was still lit, a ladder that had been moved, some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it.
Mr. Behrman passes away.
Johnsy, now fully recovered makes her way to the vine one day to see the last leaf that kept her alive all these days.
She discovers that the leaf that didn’t fall despite the storm was actually a painting, Behrman’s masterpiece, he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell.
The class is speechless, our eyes are filled with tears, we are torn between by our feelings for Behrman and we know that this would be the last time we ever saw Ms. Vibha ever again in our lives.
It’s been 15 years since that day, I can still recall the reaction of my classmates, how bowled over we were by Mr. Behrman’s act of kindness.
The last leaf is actually one of O Henry’s short stories published in the year 1907 after watching ‘Lootera’ a film based on the same story made 106 years later it dawned on me how the names, the people and the places might’ve changed but the central message of the story still stayed the same.
Like I predicted back then, I never saw my favourite school teacher again, I take comfort in thinking of the fact that she is in some part of the world touching the lives of hundreds of students like me with her beautiful smile and her wonderful stories.
I miss my teacher a lot, i remember her last words to our class, the bell had just rung and most of us were on the verge of breaking down into tears.
She paused for a moment, looked at all of us with a serious expression on her face and asked-
How far are you willing to go to help a friend?