“Wake up Rajiv, you’ll be late for school”, Mrs. Sharma shouted from the kitchen. It was quite unusual, she always used to come to his bed, coax him to wake up by fondling his hair, which Rajiv found exceptionally irritating and would spring up. The last time she had not woken him like this was when his grandfather had passed away.
The thought that he had lost the love of his mother made, the ten year old more uncomfortable. He waited for a few moments hoping his mom would come. But when the door made no signs of moving for several minutes, he reluctantly sat up facing the window. Tears rolled down his cheek. He knew it was not his fault. Rajiv was sent home from school for ‘unexpected rude behavior’. It was not his fault that some mischievous boys had dropped the teacher’s pen into Rajiv’s school bag, and he was “caught red-handed”, and taken to the Principal, who wouldn’t even listen to Rajiv’s pleas and sent him home and he would lose ten marks in his monthly-test as punishment.
He had decided he would not step into the school again. However, he knew he had to do it. Atleast for Ramu’s sake, otherwise the poor fellow would die of hunger. Ramu was Rajiv’s best friend, with an insatiable hunger. Everyday all the boys in his group had to share a part of their lunch box with him. The boys in turn would be spared from being bullied or saved from other bullies of the school. Ramu was a person of high influence, he also knows many seniors. There are rumoursthat teachers also are afraid of him. Ramu liked Rajiv because he used to bring the tastiest of food to school everyday.
Pushing himself off the bed, he walked into the bathroom. Brushed, took a quick shower and got into his uniform. It was the shirt that Madan had deliberately spilt sauce upon. But he had not minded it that day; Madan had the beating of his life from Ramu for it. All the memories flashed onto his mind as though the world would perish the next moment. He dragged his school bag into the dining room. Mom had cooked idlis for breakfast. He ate two of them, and looked at his mother who was sitting alongside him. “You’ll need another”, she said. Rajiv suddenly started crying. “Mom, I did not do it…It was somebody else who dropped the pen into my bag…I did not do it, I swear” he said sobbing. “I know my child, I know…do not worry, you will get over it. Now eat quickly or you will miss the school bus,” she said consoling him. She dropped him at the bus stop and then drove to her office.
Rajiv thought mom ought to have spoken to the Principal about the whole event. He never spoke to anyone in the bus that day. Half way it started to rain. He kept looking out of the window and thought it would have been so much better if he had not been to school the previous day at all. Once the bus reached school, he walked out quietly and rushed into the building. He was too scared to show his face to anyone. He was afraid that someone would make fun of him. Nevertheless, that was inevitable. It was Girish, the boy from another section “Do not worry about yesterday man, and come here”, he beckoned. “Next time you want to steal something, do it big man. Like the teacher’s hand bag.”
“I did not do it! Somebody else did it!” defended Rajiv.
“That’s what all the thieves say; my father told me.”
It was like pouring oil onto burning logs. Rajiv somehow held himself from crying. He entered the classroom with a dull face. Everyone in the class turned their attention towards him, which made him very uneasy. He felt like a man who was being guillotined in front of a large crowd. He quietly went and sat in his place and awaited the teacher.
The first class was Mathematics. To much of his dismay, Rajiv hardly got a problem or two right. He was engrossed with what had happened. Somehow, time flew and the class ended. Next up, it was Hindi.
“Ravan Seetha ko apaharan karke Lanka nagar legaya.” (Ravan kidnapped Seetha and took her away to Lanka).
However, Rajiv hardly listened to anything that was going on in the class. He searched around for some friendly face but ended up getting harsh and hostile looks, which seemed mocking at him. He turned around to find the teacher right in front of him with a book in his hand. Mr. Murthy, the teacher was quite jovial and was one of the few people around Rajiv who really believed that it was beyond his capacity to steal. Rajiv suddenly stood up, shocked. It was impossible to get away now. He expected more punishment, this time more mean, more corporal and would probably be thrown out of school for good. A thousand thoughts arose into his little brain at the same time. The teacher just smiled and gave him a moment to assess himself. Then he asked, “What has gotten into you, Rajiv? Were you searching for Seetha back there?” The whole class burst into laughter. It took Rajiv more than a few seconds to grasp why everyone suddenly started to laugh. At his first impression, he thought that they were all sniggering at him. Only a little later he realized the joke and laughed too…something he had never thought of doing the rest of his life. Just then, the bell rang and the teacher left.
Hardly before everyone could resolve themselves from the joke that had just occurred, Mrs. Shanthi came inside. She was more strict a teacher. The other day, she had even reprimanded Ramu and taken him to the principal. But he came back the next moment happier than ever before. Incidentally, when Mrs. Shanthi took Ramu to the principal, he was busy with some officials and was angry with the teacher for having brought such a petty issue to his notice. He quickly turned to Ramu and ‘just’ threatened him of dire consequences if he were to repeat his mistake again. He had hardly known what Ramu had done. “Rajiv”, it was the second time she had called out his name. “Err…yes madam?” he stood, unsure of what to say.
“I heard you were a bad sport at school yesterday, is it right?” she asked as if interrogating a criminal.
“Apparently, yes” Rajiv replied softly. It was very bold of him to do so. The class sent out low hush-hush noises. It indeed needed much more than vocabulary to speak like that to Mrs. Shanthi.
“I see you still don’t own up your mistake. I feel you will be one of those who will always learn it the hard way. Sit down now”, she said, and turned towards the wall to put up the political map of India to get on with her teaching. She had hardly read out a few lines from the textbook, the school peon, David, came inside the class and handed Mrs. Shanthi a memo. “Rajiv, you are required to meet the Principal immediately.” She read out.
Rajiv knew it. This is it. I’ll be thrown out of the school. Father will never allow me to enter the house again. I’m doomed.
He followed David quietly through the deserted walkway, head low, with pearls of water rolling down his cheeks. He decided not to go home if he was thrown out of school. He wouldn’t be able to stand the embarrassment and pain that he would bring to his parents. As he neared the Principal’s chamber, he noticed two students walking out of the office – one of whom he could recognize to be Girish and the other seemed to be a senior. They weren’t very happy either. But it didn’t matter to him at all. David pushed the door a little and patted Rajiv on the back, “Go in”, he said.
Rajiv reluctantly went inside. He noticed the proud display of all the trophies and awards that the school had won. Still higher, he saw the portraits of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawarhar Lal Nehru and also a few others whom he did not recognize. He then became aware of the English teacher, the pen of whose he had ‘actually stolen’. It was no more an issue, now that he’d be expelled. He then turned to the Mr. Gujral, the Principal, who gently smiled at him.
Wait. Did he smile at me? Really, smile – at ‘me’? He is probably happy he is throwing a brat out of school.
He took a few steps further and the world seemed to have suddenly started to go off balance. He felt he was falling, his vision blurred and suddenly everything went black. I’m dead?
The two people in the room rushed to Rajiv. Mr. Javed, the English lecturer felt his forehead and declared that Rajiv was running high fever. The Principal telephoned the ambulance and Rajiv was rushed to the hospital. Rajiv’s parents were also telephoned and asked to come immediately. Two other teachers also arrived to the hospital after hearing the news; Mr. Murthy and more surprisingly, Mrs. Shanthi.
“Nothing serious” the doctor affirmed, “the boy ran into a state of shock. He’ll be discharged tomorrow”.
The tension dismounted everyone. Rajiv’s parents had also arrived at the scene. Then Mr. Gujral, explained everything, “We caught two students today trying to steal school property. On tough interrogation, they also confessed to have dropped Mr. Javed’s pen purposefully into Rajiv’s bag. I was about to apologize to Rajiv about my hasty punishment, but he fell down suddenly and here we are.” He said.
“The boy has regained consciousness. You can see him now”, declared the nurse, walking out of Rajiv’s room.
Everybody rushed inside. Rajiv was overwhelmed at seeing them all. He sat up, suddenly and hugged his mother sobbing, “Mom, I was expelled from school…I’m sorry…” he cried.
“Hush…do not worry. Nothing sort of that has happened” she said. Mr. Gujral explained everything once again and apologized.
“We are all sorry, Rajiv. We all love you.” Rajiv looked up, uncontrollably surprised, when he saw Mrs. Shanthi utter those words. “Now you take rest, we’ve got classes to attend to” she continued.
Everyone left the room and Rajiv relaxed, turning to the window he noticed it was raining. It was raining all right but never to dampen his spirits again.