Harsha

To say it was hot, was an understatement. Even the kiosks selling lime juice soda had shut down for the afternoon and the vendors were taking a nap under their kiosks. The campus was empty save a few stray dogs and students.
Harsha hauled the book out of its hiding-place. He had put it in the anthropology section so that no one would find it. Linda Nochlin’s Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? was in great demand and Harsha was so broke, he could not afford to Xerox the book. Which is why hiding it behind the laborious and boring, History of Art by Janson was his little secret. Harsha being Harsha, in a moment of industrious zeal had washed his jeans (after many months) but as luck would have it, his library card was sitting in the recesses of his pocket. The pulpy mess that used to be a library card did not help matters and he only got into the establishment by bribing the prissy librarian with big toothy grins and puppy eyes.
Why she let him in was a mystery and Harsha’s soon to be girlfriend conjectured that the rotund spinster had a secret crush on the scruffy youth. Irrespective of these speculations, Harsha made his way, every afternoon to the library to copy out the passages he wanted for his thesis. He quickly found his place and sat down at the reading table.
Parul noticed that Harsha had not shaved today. He probably had not bathed either, given the odor of sweat and his uncombed hair. “Boys I tell you,” she thought adjusting her spectacles and trying hard to concentrate on the book before her. However, she felt her eyes straying back to the wafer-thin boy who sat before her, scribbling feverishly on his notepad. His powerful glasses and pinched face making his eyes look even bigger than they were.
Parul liked to hover, especially when students appeared to be furiously busy. Her shadow had fallen over the book and she was all but breathing down Harsha’s neck before he looked up, a bit startled.
“I hope you are not underlining?” said Parul in an imperious tone.
“No…no madam, ” said Harsha, his stomach growling loud.
“Arye baba! Do you, have it? Loose motions?”
“No…no madam”.
“Boys I tell you!” she said aloud to no one in particular and sashayed up to her desk at the head of the long room. Parul loved her elevated desk. Here she was the queen of her castle. The Library was her domain for the last ten years and she had no intention of quitting. But this malodorous youth was certainly ruining her afternoon. Parul decided that she would get rid of him early.
Harsha’s stomach growled once more. Though this time he tried to cover it up by dragging his chair out loudly and banging the book closed. All this was to avoid further queries from the librarian. “Shhhh…” Parul said for effect. It would not have mattered anyway since they were the only two in the whole library.
Soon the large hands of the clock above Parul’s desk scraped their way to five. It was time for the library to close and the peon Sanad Kaka, came in and began shutting the windows, as Parul busied herself at her desk. Harsha, went over to hide the book in a different spot this time and was just covering up his favourite book with another large volume when he felt the same prickly sensation of someone creeping up on him. He turned and there was Parul. Her portly form blocking his hasty exit. Harsha swayed and he almost fell over.
“Listen boy…I have been watching you. Have you eaten anything?” she said crossing her arms.
“No…no madam,” Harsha answered averting Parul’s probing gaze.
“Come here. Follow me.” Harsha complied, feeling a bit like a lamb to slaughter.
Much to the youth’s surprise Parul reached into her bag and produced a steel tiffin.
“Here! Eat something” she said, handing over her tiffin box to the boy. 
She could see that the boy was undecided. He was obviously starving. But he was too shy or too proud to accept her offer. She thrust the box into his hands and after muttering, he took it. “Thank you, madam, I will return the favour one day,” said the boy and disappeared.
Summer slipped into spring and the theory exams got over. Parul did not see Harsha at the library anymore and she began to think he was like any other student. That was until she visited the final year display at the Fine Arts College, an annual event before students left for their vacations.
Parul should not have been surprised, but she was. She found herself staring at a collection of tiffin boxes, placed on a pedestal gleaming and winking at her under the gallery lights. A neat label announced the title of the work as “Ma” The artist was none other than Harsha.