With a panting breath, Tanushree stepped on the metro towards Gare du Nord to be able to catch the RER B to Orsay ville in time. She sat down on an empty seat in the back of the compartment and took out the novel by Rozsa Hajnoczy she was reading the previous evening. Ever since she visited the university on one of her trips to India a few years back, she had felt a strong affinity to Santinikeetan, and reading about the experiences of the foreign professors that Rabindranath Tagore had invited to teach at the university thrilled her. The train compartment was smelling musty as usual. Deeply absorbed in the book, she suddenly noticed someone watching her from across the aisle. She looked up and recognized the young man. It was one of the frequent visitors in the Swedish house she had seen a few times for the past couple of months, a friend of Maximilian’s. She often saw him having dinner with his friend on the fourth floor. He seemed like a very cheerful and polite person, and it appealed to her. Smiling at him swiftly, she returned to her book, but felt him looking at her from time to time throughout the train journey as if he wanted to start a conversation. Before getting off she quickly looked at him again to her surprise and smiled. When had she become so daring?
To break her daily routine, earlier that morning Tanushree had decided to go for a walk in Montmartre before work. It was early autumn in Paris and the red and yellow leaves were beginning to wither and fall from the trees. From the top of the stairs at the Sacré Coeur she had seen a thin morning mist lying over the city. From the height where the church was situated she had been able to distinguish both the Eiffel tower and the Pantheon. At that moment Tanushree had looked at her watch. It was already seven thirty in the morning. The morning walk finished abruptly. She had booked the flow cytometre in the lab for half past eight, and could not risk being late. Tanushree had walked briskly down the flights of stairs leading to the metro station to begin making her way to the lab.
Much of her free time the past weeks had been spent thinking and wandering around the city, and she had not really come to know anyone in the house. She had made acquaintances at the lab, but most of them seemed to be settled in their own lives. They had their own friend-and family circles in the area and showed no need to socialize with their colleagues.
Tanushree walked up the narrow stairs to the roof terrace of the Maison des Etudiants Suédois, where the music studios were situated. On the top floor there were two small studios that were partitioned from the terrace and the music room with a sound proof plexiglass door. She closed the door carefully and heard the welcoming sound of a well-tuned violin from the room where she used to rehearse. The piece sounded familiar; it was the Gigue from Bach’s Second Partita, which she had been practising the evening before and left on the note stand. She sat down at the table on the terrace to listen. The violinist was skilled; he played the quavers with ease, evenly and at high pace.
Suddenly, it became quiet. The violinist had noticed her through the dark glass door to the room and was hurrying to pack up his instrument. Half a minute later, the door opened and to her surprise, the young man whom she had eyed in the train earlier that week, came out and she talked to him for the first time. ”That sounded great. You are quite an advanced violin player” she said.
”Sorry for using your sheets, I just hadn’t played that gigue for a very long time” he replied. She did not know whether it was his twinkling green eyes and shining brown hair, the fact that he was bold enough to play the violin pieces she had left on the stand up in the rehearsal room, or that she had sensed his eyes looking at her that morning in the train that made him interesting. She could feel herself blushing as he addressed her, and she had to lower her gaze so that he would not notice her weakness.
“How long have you been playing the violin?” she asked.
“It’s a long and complicated story, but I started playing when I was five.” he replied shortly.
“A long and complicated story?” she asked.
“Yes, I had better tell you some other day. My name is Joshua Salisbury by the way.” He stretched out his hand to greet her. “It was nice meeting you” he said hastily before walking down the stairs.
Later on that evening as she was walking down to the fourth floor after rehearsing, she found Joshua and his friend Maximilian sitting by the long wooden dinner table with almost empty plates and half empty glasses of wine. Joshua asked her to join them for a glass of wine. Maximillian told them that he had some work to do and disappeared into his room leaving the two of them on their own. “Tell me about your long and complicated story with the violin” Tanushree begged.
“Well, I used to spend hours and hours rehearsing every day when I was younger, and I was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London. It was a wonderful environment to be in, everyone loved what they did and the teachers were very inspiring. Many think that it is an elitist school, and in many ways it is. There was definitely jealousy, but most of them were not at all as competitive as you would think. They just didn’t have time for it! They were people who had been practising hard since they were children and never learnt how to make somebody else’s misfortune their own happiness. We were young, we had high expectations, the frustration and the stress had not left their traces yet. There were days when I practised for ten hours and I really had a passion for it, but it was a tough life, both with respect to studies and music and with time I started feeling that there was so much I had missed in life! Things that other people did at my age…I felt the work I was putting down would never be appreciated if I didn’t make it to the top, and if neither me nor my audience would appreciate it enough, what was the point of continuing?”
He finished his story abruptly, smiled and stood up, as though he worried he had intimidated her by opening up too much. She was indeed a bit moved. This was not the picture she had of him in her mind. He had struck her as somewhat arrogant and over-confident for the past month and she never expected their first conversation to be so natural.
“So, you gave up playing the violin because of self-doubt?” Tanushree asked.
“So it seems, self-doubt got the upper hand. I finished my BMus with a first, but I just knew at the end of it that I wasn’t cut out to be a musician.”
“So what did you do after you graduated?”
“ I moved home to my parents, I asked them to support me while I figured out what to do next. I started reading books about human behaviour, it quite thrilled me. I knew I wanted to help people in need, and at the end of the year I had convinced myself that it was going to be through law.” Joshua collected the empty wine glasses and brought them to the open kitchen right next to the dining area. He opened the tap and started rinsing the glasses with the water running with just about the right force so he could still hear Tanushree’s voice from the dining table.
“That’s quite a jump…from Music to Law. “ Tanushree continued on the topic.
“Yes, I reckon it is…” Joshua paused. He came back from the kitchen to join her at the dining table again.
“Were there any other factors affecting your decision to study Law apart from your interest in human behaviour? The way I see it, you might as well have studied Psychology or Medicine instead.” Tanushree asked insistently.
“ Yes, there were. The decision to study Law came quite naturally to me because both my parents are lawyers. Even though they always supported me in my musical aspirations, they would every now and then ask me to keep my options open, just in case things didn’t work out. And of course, as both of them are very dedicated to their professions, they were overwhelmed by happiness when I announced what I wanted to do with my life. Another role model was my grandfather. He worked as a barrister almost all his adult life, and he would often tell me stories about his many interesting encounters with people and how much he had learnt through his profession.”
“So, you come from a family of lawyers. I dreamt of becoming a lawyer when I was younger too. Both my grandfathers were solicitors, both working with civil law cases back in Calcutta. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to meet them often enough to hear bout their experiences. In fact, I never met my paternal grandfather and my maternal grandfather passed away when I was only six years old.” said Tanushree.
For a moment Joshua just starred at her. She was not sure why. It must have been something she said, but before she could ask what was going on, he continued speaking. “What a coincidence! I can almost picture you as a lawyer with your inquisitive mind. So, I suppose you did not end up studying Law. What did you study?”
“I studied Neuroscience. I am a scientist.” Tanushree said.
“Ah, so you can make use of your inquisitive mind in your daily work. You have to tell me more about that some day. I had better get going back to the College Franco-Britannique now. It is getting late and I have to go to work tomorrow morning. It has been very nice talking to you.”
A few days later she saw him by the dinner table in the kitchen on the fourth floor of Maison des Etudiants Suédois again. She greeted him and Maximillian quietly. Their eyes met. Fearing he would notice she had been thinking about him, she could not smile, not even with her eyes. It was that fear again, even though they had a very open conversation the other day. Then Joshua came into the kitchen while she was preparing her aubergine pasta. He smiled and asked her how she was. She smiled back and said. “ I am very well thank you. How are you?” Afterwards he went back to the dining table and that was all the conversation there was going to be between them that evening. After dinner Tanushree went out to sit on the porch with her book. After a long day at the lab, the serenity of the Cité U was what she needed.
The weeks passed and Tanushree was becoming used to the routine life of work, rehearsal and lonely Saturday strolls in the city. She had made a few acquaintances in the house by now, but they were much younger than her and it was as if they were living a life she had left behind, many of them being first-time exchange students. After three weeks she met Joshua again. They met at the gate to the grocery shop Franprix. She was carrying two plastic bags and was on her way back to the Swedish house. The handles of the bags were being pulled down by the weight of the groceries. They were close to the breakpoint, so Joshua offered her help to carry, and he asked if she wanted to join him and Maximillian to the Jazz festival in Bois de Vincennes. She decided to accept.