Chapter 1

Tanushree Roy Chowdhury had just disembarked a flight to Charles De Gaulle airport from her native city New Delhi. As she finally reached the main gates of the Cité International Universitaire in Paris, Tanushree felt a sudden exhaustion coming over her. The long journey with all its turns had been gruelling. She decided to go straight to the Maison des Etudiants Suedois, where she had been assigned a room for the coming academic year.

Popularly known to the Parisians as Cité U, the campus was built after the First World War in order to promote the cause of international cooperation and peace. The area of the campus situated opposite to the Parc Montsouris was fenced off from Boulevard Jordan by black railings, and the buildings were more architecturally diverse than she had imagined. Looking out on the impressive structure of Maison International directly at the entrance, she immediately took a liking to the campus. A young woman noticed her struggle with her luggage, and offered to help carry it to the Maison des Etudiants Suédois. It was a picturesque little house painted in the colours of the Swedish flag in the far end of the campus close to the Charléty stadium. From her room on the fourth floor of the Maison des Etudiants Suedois she overlooked the Swiss house designed by Le Corbusier. She had read about the Swiss-French architect before and she knew he was also behind the planning of the Indian city of Chandigarh. Many hours had passed since she left her parental home in New Delhi to begin a new life as a scientist in Paris. Despite a slight worry for what was to come, she took pride and a feeling of self-fulfilment from being on her own.

After a long rest at home, Tanushree walked to the restaurant of the CIUP campus in the Maison Internationale. The canteen was full of students and some outsiders who had come to take profit of the reasonably priced food and the atmosphere. She tore off a piece of baguette, took some butter-fried courgette with grilled chicken, and some chocolate mousse for dessert. She went to sit at a long table in the middle of the restaurant and had hardly begun her meal when a man who was sitting across the table offered her water. The middle-aged man seemed to be in the company of a friend. Tanushree had heard a lot about the French courtesy, so she smiled towards the man and accepted his offer of water. For a long time there was no interaction between the two. Tanushree was focused on her own thoughts and food, and the man was busy talking to his friend. Then all of a sudden, the friend said goodbye to the man and left the table. The man immediately moved one step closer to Tanushree, and introduced himself to her as Xavier. He told her he was an engineer from the Ecole Normal Superieure, but he was having troubles finding a job. He asked Tanushree what had brought her to Paris. After a bit of conversation Xavier exclaimed ”What would a beautiful and intelligent girl like you say about taking a walk in the park?” Tanushree choked. Her feet just wanted to leave, so she stood up and wished him the best of luck and left. She knew she was being impolite and was treating him badly, but she panicked.

In the evening after playing the violin, her thoughts went back to Xavier. She was stuck! Stuck in her role as a nice and innocent girl! Why did she not dare to look into his eyes after he had asked her to join him on a walk? Yet her hands were trembling and the moment she saw him at the corner of her eyes again, she looked down on the floor. She was feeling a sense of anxiety and shame, a kind of guilt for the question. She did not even know him. Her submissive behaviour made her frustrated. She wished she could be the strong woman within her instead of the woman who never showed herself to strangers and who had not let herself be loved by a man for twenty-nine years. She who only was waiting to be noticed through the innocent and shy façade. She who had been locked in since high school and was suffocating slowly while judgemental people were stepping on her surface. She stopped believing in her ability to attract men in lower secondary school when she decided to be one of those strong and wise people who took their own path. The folly of a young girl. A few years ago she no longer could stand on her own feet, she gave up everything that she had believed in for so long and let her shy facade take over. If she only knew what she was scared of, everything would be fine. She was convinced that getting to the source of the behaviour would make a dramatic change both to her professional life, social life and love life. She had so much to be proud of! She had often been told she had a strong intellect, but she knew she had to work to get back to the level where she was when she gave up. She was often told she was pretty and had an interesting background. She had a loving family and friends that she was proud of. At an age of 29, she had already experienced many corners of the world and spoke multiple languages almost fluently. What was she scared of? Tanushree had to understand that if she does not show her knowledge and wisdom, people will step on it and the world will not go in her direction. She had to force herself out and convince herself that she was worth a much better life than what she was sacrificing herself for. It may happen that she once believed she could make it on her own, but she had grown and become wiser and it was time to show that she needed companionship.

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