“Until the summer break in May, everything in class 8th was going as usual.”… “There were a few new admissions in our class, one of which was Shweta Grover’s younger sister Shreya Grover who had come back from a reputed boarding school in Mussoorie. I also met my friend Latika in class 8th who had relocated to Jhansi from Gwalior. You remember she had come in our wedding also.” Amrita tried making Saksham recall.
“Yeah, I remember… Latika and I are facebook friends and have only 1 mutual friend which is you” he joked.
Amrita smiled a little and continued. “Even post the summer break, I did not face any issues with Shweta Grover until the day I saw Rohit.” Amrita took a pause.
“Alrighto… I can see a twist now… Please continue!” Saksham giggled.
Amrita continued “Rohit Agarwal… He was a new admission in class 12th. Goes without saying, he also belonged to a super rich business family and was completely a spoilt brat. The very first time I saw him was the recess time when he was talking with his few classmates. Tall, fair complexion, wavy hair. I looked at him once and then looked once again. Then looked once more… and a few more times… I felt something inside me that I had never ever felt before. My eyes wanted to look at him countless times. His charming smile, his shining eyes had taken me away. A new feeling had started showing colors. And this continued for weeks and months. Every day, my eyes searched for one fascinating look of Rohit Agarwal during the morning assembly, recess and when school got over. My heart used to skip a beat, but my eyes would beam whenever we crossed paths… Though our eye contacts rarely happened… But it had become my routine to look at him whenever I got a chance. I used to commute in the school van with Latika while Rohit Agarwal used to come on his motorbike. I used to never miss a chance to look at him when school got over as it used to be the last glance of the day.” Amrita gave a thoughtful smile and stood up to put her as well as Saksham’s cup in kitchen.
“Honey, please get the icecream tub from the fridge and continue” Saksham told Amrita and she scowled at him.
“Hey! Come on! Your story is so interesting that I want to hear it with some good taste in my mouth” he joked and told her to continue.
“A few months passed with these fancy feelings and one day I thought about sharing this with Latika. So I told her the whole thing on my mind during recess time and she exclaimed with joy to which I was surprised. She told me that she too has a crush on a boy in her neighborhood. “Crush!! This is called having a Crush??” I questioned her with a dumb expression and she scolded me “You silly! You stupid bookworm! Just stay inside your books only”. “Both of us were extremely happy as we had entered a new world at the same time. However, little did I know that expressing my feelings to Latika that day would turn my life a disaster for a period of time.”
“What!! Latika wasn’t a friend but a foe in your life at some point” Saksham gaped and interrupted.
“I am telling you the whole thing, if you would just listen” Amrita stared at Saksham and told him to shut up and open his mouth only to gulp his icecream.
“Latika is a true friend and would never ever backstab me, but we had someone who overheard us.” “A few more days passed and on Dec 8th, Monday we had a surprise visit in our class before recess.”
“Surprise visit… what’s that?” Saksham asked.
“Surprise visit was a rule in our school that the school seniors would come without prior information and check our bags and uniforms to see that no student is carrying any unethical or inappropriate stuff. This surprise visit would occur anytime in a month.”
“Okay… So then what happened?” Saksham told her to continue.
“Dec 8th, Monday was the worst day in my life so far Saksham” Amrita got a tear in the corner of her eye.
Saksham understood the seriousness of the moment and he took her hand in his hand and said “it’s all gone Amrita. You need to just throw it out of your mind… That’s about it my love.” He told her calmly.
“Yeah, that phase is over long back” Amrita wiped the tear and sighed, a deep one.
“If you wish we can talk about it later” Saksham said.
“No, I am totally okay and will talk about it now” She continued “So… Shweta Grover, who had become the head girl in class 12th, and a few other seniors, had come in our class for the surprise visit on Dec 8th. During the checking, the bell for recess had rung and few of our classmates whose checking was done had went outside to have their meal. Latika and I were extremely hungry and were waiting for our turn to get over so that we could have our lunch.
“Guess what have I got for lunch today”? I whispered in Latika’s ear to which she shook her head in No. “Your favorite aloo ka parantha. And there’s an extra one for you today. I told her smilingly and she whispered “Yay”… She couldn’t express her joy completely at that time because her bag was getting checked. After her, was my turn. I opened my bag for the seniors and they started their investigation. I was talking to Latika about something when a voice interrupted “what is in this box?” my house head interrupted us and showed me a red colored, tiny, heart shaped metal box. “I don’t know… This isn’t mine” I said surprisingly.
She passed it on to another senior and told her to check the box.
“Damn! What is this?” “How dare you bring such things in school Amrita?” My house head, once again asked me. I looked at her about what went wrong and I was totally taken aback by the thing that she held in her hand. I was surprised and shocked, both at the same time.
“What was it?” Saksham asked.
“She was holding 2 cigarettes in her hand” Amrita replied looking down.
“Whatt…That can’t be true” Sakskam exclaimed with surprise as he knew that Amrita always suffocated as a passive smoker.
“My House head, who was my co-passenger in the school van, always admired me for my academic performance. I always used to ask her questions about Chemistry and Physics. She was a very composed human being. Hearing something like this from her, felt as if someone dear has blamed me of cheating.” “This isn’t mine… I don’t know how come this has landed in my bag. I swear to God” I pleaded to her. Latika also requested her that this is a big misunderstanding and those 2 cigarettes can’t be mine. I could see in my house head’s eyes that she is not able to believe it but she was bound to follow the rule as there were other seniors as well as my classmates who were watching. I could hear the silent whispers from every corner of my classroom. Everybody suspected that I can’t make that fault but they were helplessly watching.”
“Do you know what is this… Huh? What type of girl are you”? This was Shweta Grover’s voice and she was holding some torn paper pieces in her palm. She looked furious. I trembled with fear when I heard her voice and went speechless. She whispered something in my house head’s ear to which my house head was shocked. Shweta and my house head took me to the corner of our classroom and showed me what they had found inside the red colored ,tiny, heart shaped metal box.
“And what it was” Saksham speculated.
“They had put together the paper pieces to find out that it was a photo of a man and a woman in a vulgar position.” Amrita replied and paused for some time…
“Neither Shweta Grover, nor my house head showed the photo to anyone in the classroom but they told me that I have to come with them to the Sports teacher now.”
“Amrita is a very intelligent girl. She only thinks about studies. This is not hers. Please. Try to understand.” Latika pleaded.
“You’re nobody to decide that. We are taking her to the Sports teacher right now.” Come on everyone!” Shweta Grover dragged my hand and all the seniors followed her. I was crying profusely with bowed head. There were onlookers from all direction in the whole passage.”
“This has happened for the first time in our school history. You want to set a record for your juniors or what… Or you want to show people how cool you are by doing such shameful activities?” Shweta Grover taunted me. I looked at my house head to beg mercy but she gave me a helpless look.
“I was taken to the Sports teacher. Our sports teacher, in real terms, was as ferocious as a hungry wolf. No student, in her presence, could utter a word without her permission. She never differentiated between boys and girls when it came to beating the students. We had seen her slapping students so many times and used to get terrified by the sound of her slaps. I, until that day, had never been encountered by her because I had a good image among all teachers. So the Sports teacher looked at me carefully and before she could ask my house head about what wrong have I done, Shweta Grover presented the two cigarettes, the tiny box and told her the whole scenario. I was still crying profusely and was hell scared standing there. Sports teacher twisted my ear and asked in her typical harsh voice “what is this… Is it yours?” I screamed and denied knowing the fact that it won’t be of any help. She slapped me twice or thrice and asked again. I pleaded her and tried to explain that I am not that type of girl but she wouldn’t just listen. She dragged me towards the principal office. Teachers, housekeeping staff, my juniors, my seniors and who not… everyone was looking at this scene. Half of them were unaware of what has happened. But like the jungle fire, within minutes everybody on the floor came to know that a topper girl from grade 8th has been caught with 2 cigarettes in her bag. Those who knew me well, were sure that I have been trapped. Those who knew me only by my face, got a debatable topic. Rest, did not just care.”
“Papa was called in the school. The principal did not tell him anything about the incident on the call but only told him that there is a serious issue with me and she needs to discuss it with him. All through on his way to school, he was thinking that I have got injured.”
“Madam, this is a big misunderstanding. Those cigarettes can’t be hers madam. Nobody in our whole family smokes or drinks madam. We are very simple people.” Papa tried to explain to the principal who was in contemplation while looking down at her table with both her hands’ fingers clutched in each other.
“Mr. Tripathi, it is evident to me that your daughter is excellent in academics. I have never heard any complaint against her from any of my teachers. She has joined our school last year and has shown tremendous performance. But it is not just the two cigarettes that we have found, but also something more…” Principal said and forwarded one piece of the photo which showed a naked thigh area of a woman. “I trembled and almost puked when I looked at it… and I don’t know how embarrassed Papa would have felt.”
“As a student I have no doubt that she will keep performing excellently because she has got a good brain but we, at school, are not aware what activities she does after school hours. We don’t know what kind of friends she has got in her neighborhood and basis that, I think what has happened today is very shameful on Amrita’s part and is certainly intolerable for the school management. There are a few norms which I had introduced this year just to make sure that our students do not indulge into any bad activities and even if they learn it from outside world, we can’t let them spoil our school’s reputation. I have always been proud of my school, my staff and my students. What has happened today is disappointing for the entire school and I can’t handle it with ease.” Principal said all this in one breath with a stern expression and paused… before declaring my punishment.
“Mr. Tripathi, I’ll have to suspend your daughter for a period of time as her punishment.” Principal said and paused again. The time stopped for me in that moment when I heard this and I dazed and Papa… he begged her with teary eyes trying to explain again that I am innocent “Madam, I believe there is a possibility that some other student must have placed it in Amrita’s bag to safeguard himself/herself?” He said.
Principal pondered and replied “Mr. Tripathi, you think I don’t understand how you must be feeling right now? I completely understand this incident has come as a great shock to you. But you have to understand our situation. We have a huge reputation to maintain. The entire school building is talking about today’s incident. Everybody has come to know that a girl student from class 8th has been caught with 2 cigarettes in her school bag. We have not disclosed about this photo though. This is not a trivial issue for the school either and I am bound to take a serious action on this.”
“And trust me… Had it been some nasty student in place of Amrita, I would have suspended him/her for at least a month. But I am suspending Amrita for 15 days only after which the winter holidays will follow. My teachers will make sure that Amrita gets information and updates of all that has been taught in classroom as well as the holiday homework so that her studies don’t face a loss. And considering your point, I will certainly investigate if there is some other student from her class who has planted these 2 things in her bag to save him/herself but Amrita is not allowed to enter school premises for the next 15 days. I am extremely sorry.” Papa was taken aback and I was totally knocked out with Principal’s decision.”
“After her final word, I flinchingly headed to my classroom to collect my bag. Tears couldn’t stop rolling down and my mind was banging recalling all that had just taken place. I could feel eyes staring at me from inside thw classrooms throughout the passage from Principal office till my classroom. The second last lecture of the day was going on. I asked my chemistry teacher to let me in. She allowed me and the whole class watched me coming inside and collecting my notebooks and books and pens and pencil box. I could sense that everybody is staring at me. There was a silence which I could hear. Latika whispered “What happened? Where are you going?” she had a tear rolling down on her cheek. “Come to my place or call me, I’ll tell you everything” I told her sobbingly and left. The only eye contact during this whole time I made was with my chemistry teacher who tried to be totally blank – faced. I came downstairs; Papa started his scooter and we headed to home. We did not talk at all during the distance between school and home.”
“ Maa was preparing lunch when we reached home. She was surprised to see both of us coming together at this odd time and inquisited about it. Papa did not hide anything from Maa and told her everything. She was startled and of course started crying. Nobody ate anything for the whole day. We all had picked separate corners and kept sitting and sobbing there.”
Amrita paused and looked at Saksham who was already looking at her. The icecream that he was eating thawed because he had stopped eating it long back. Amrita could see in his eyes that he understands what trauma she must have gone through. She inhaled a deep sigh and asked him “Do u wish to know what happened after this?” and he nodded. “Do u want to eat more icecream” She asked him. He got up and put the tub in the freezer. “I want to know what happened then”
Amrita continued “none of us slept properly that night. Maa was completely shattered. I too was melt down. Next morning, Papa prepared milk for me and tea for him and Maa and told her that today he’ll be coming home for lunch. It was actually a hint for Maa to get back to normal as soon as possible and make things look easy for me. He told me before leaving that he’ll try to talk to my principal and request her to cut down my suspension of 15 days to 1 week. I brooded over his idea and said him bye.”
“He did not come home for lunch and Maa and I wondered that he must have gone to my school. Latika called me up after school hours to know about my well-being and told me that everybody in school has come to know about the filthy photo as well. I cursed my fate and thought my life had been normal if I had taken a leave from school yesterday.”
“She also confirmed that she saw Papa outside the principal’s office but she couldn’t go to talk to him. Papa came back home at his usual time in evening and told us that principal thwarted his plea. He looked disappointed; Maa sobbed. I was sad that I let my parents down without doing that mistake but then I gathered some courage and walked up to them to say ‘sorry’. Papa hugged me on this and told me that he has full faith on me and he wants me to be a fighter so I must not lose courage; none of us should. So we all decided to come back to normal at the earliest. Next day Papa got train tickets for Agra for my winter holidays. Maa and Papa were planning this trip for a long time and just so as everything should seem proper and normal, Papa got those tickets so that we can have a fun time in between the phase of sorrow. But during my suspension period, few neighbors sensed something fishy because they did see me ‘not going to school’. Upon their inquiry, Maa told them that I got started with my menstruation cycle and unlike other girls, it is not normal and I keep having terrible abdominal pain therefore doctor has medicated me and suggested to be on bed rest for minimum 10 days. Fortunately, I wasn’t surrounded with very intelligent people in our neighborhood and therefore every neighbor believed Maa’s excuse. In fact, one of the neighborhood aunt got an Ayurvedic medicine for me and wished me fast recovery.”
To be continued…