The entire class erupted – laughter guffaws and hoots rent the air. Even Rajani joined in once her shakes had dissipated. She began to feel brave and victorious as she blossomed under the attention. Not that she had forgiven Sameer.
“What were you thinking Sameer writing on the blackboard that too before Physics class? You know how Sir is!”
“Exactly!” Sameer was unrepentant. “He wouldn’t even have noticed anything odd. He would have just erased and carried on as usual.”
“Yeah right. What about all the snickers and…?”
“Oh forget that,” Shikha jumped in impatiently, “what about the cat? Who put it in? And why?”
The girls crowded the boys who looked at each other in silent query – but nobody owned up.
“Sameer was it you?” Rajani asked.
“No! If it had been me would I have gone to the podium? No chance.”
“Because I am terrified of cats.” He snapped.
“Looked to me as if all the boys are terrified of cats.” Lata said in a loud aside. Titters broke out as the boys flushed and shuffled about.
“So that means, it must have been one of you girls who put the cat in,” Rohit wasn’t going to take this insult lying down.
“Or did you?” Shikha crossed her arms.
“That’s for me to know and for you to wonder,” he was rather pleased with his comeback and it showed.
Harry walked into the class. “What happened guys? Apparently Fiscal is on the warpath.”
Fiscal being, as you may have guessed it, the Physics teacher. He was affectionately called thus as he had the unfortunate habit of pronouncing physical (a word he was quite gaga over) as fiscal. And that’s what he became –Fiscal.
“Where the hell were you HK!” Rajani pounced on him as if it was his fault.
“Hey!” he was taken aback. “You? Didn’t your brother come?”
The class erupted once again while Rajani stamped her foot and threatened to burst into tears.
“Shush!” Her eyes filled with tears and her lower lip trembled. “Where were you? All because of you this ruckus happened. If you were here…”
“Yes Harry,” interrupted Gita sweetly, “if you were here you could have saved the poor girl from a fate worse than death, right girls?”
Girls automatically chorused Yes of course and burst into giggles. Even the boys (and Shikha) snickered. Rajani looked reproachfully at Shikha while a tear rolled down her cheek.
“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” HK pleaded.
There was a chorus of voices as they fell over each other in their hurry to be the first to narrate the hilarious and exciting events of the morning. Harry was trying his best to make sense of the hullabaloo when a peon entered. “Who is Rajani?”
A hush fell over the room as all eyes turned to her – she paled. “Me,” she squeaked.
“The Dean has summoned you. Urgently. Come on. Quick – follow me.”
Rajani stood rooted to the spot. “I didn’t do anything.” She said.
“Tell that to the Dean Sar. Come on. He will be angry if you are late.”
Rajani was unwilling to go but the others pushed her. “Go along. At least see what the Dean wants. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe he just wants to know what happened.”
“If he asks I will tell the truth.” Rajani glared at Sameer who looked sheepish. “Yeah sure go ahead,” he said with an air of bravado. “I also haven’t done anything wrong. I didn’t put the cat. I wasn’t teasing Fiscal I was teasing you. What can they do? Put me in jail?” he shrugged carelessly.
“Oh! Are they going to put me in jail? I didn’t do anything!” Rajani shrieked and burst into tears.
“No Budhoo.” Shikha said bravely even though her heart too was thudding madly. “Don’t be silly. And why are you so afraid? Like you said it isn’t even your fault. Just tell the truth when he asks.” She glared at Sameer and put a supportive arm around Rajani.
But Rajani wasn’t convinced or comforted. She was busy envisioning the worst.
“The Dean Sar will be very angry if you are late,” the peon added his bit.
Rajani dug her heels in and ultimately Shikha dragged accompanied her to the scaffold. It is likely that Shikha alone would not have been able to do much – the entire batch stood behind her and pushed her to the Dean’s office. But she had to face the Dean (and an irate Fiscal) alone. The Dean took one look at this shuddering blubbering tottering mass of protoplasm and came to his own conclusions.
“Sit down. Have a glass of water. Do you want tea? Tissue paper? Where are you from? What does your father do? First time at hostel? Adjusting well?”
Slowly Rajani calmed down enough to narrate an account of the morning’s events. The account went something like this:
“My brother’s coming to meet me.” Sniffles. “I didn’t do anything.” Hiccup. “I only went to clean the blackboard.” Sobbing. “Papa will be angry. Please sir, I don’t know anything about the cat. I am terrified of cats. Ask Papa or Mamma.” Freezing raising tear stained face “No! Don’t ask him, please don’t tell him.” Bitter sobs. “I am afraid of dogs too. It’s all Sameer’s fault, if he hadn’t…”
It spoke volumes about the Dean’s comprehension capabilities that he got the gist of the matter from that. Or perhaps he didn’t that’s why he cut her short. “Yes, yes we understand. Please don’t cry. You can go now and send Sameer in.”
For all Sameer’s bravado, he was shaking and shivering (he had on several occasions had first hand experience what his father could do if riled) as much as Rajani and yet was deprived of the luxury of bursting into tears. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth as he faced the firing squad.
“Can you tell us what happened this morning Sameer?” The Dean sounded most reasonable and polite.
Fiscal glared. Sameer cowered.
“I didn’t do anything Sir!” Sameer couldn’t help himself.
“Nobody is accusing you of anything yet.” The Dean shot a quelling warning glance to the simmering Fiscal. “We just want to get a clear picture of what happened.”
“We didn’t mean any harm Sir,” Sameer attempted to get a grip on himself, “We were just having a bit of fun…”
“Bit of FUN?” Fiscal roared and lunged at Sameer who cowered and backed away. “Your idea of fun is to give people heart attacks? Torture innocent animals?”
“Please calm down Professor,” the Dean too shot to his feet and forced Fiscal back into his seat. He turned to Sameer. “Well?” He said grimly.
“N…No Sir, the cat wasn’t me, I just…just wrote on the board to tease Rajani over her brother’s appearance” stuttered Sameer and fell over himself trying to explain, “rather nonappearance. The thing is,” he continued eagerly, “Rajani had been regaling us with stories of her exalted brother’s arrival today. He is studying to be a doctor at Manipal. She was supposed to bunk classes and paint the town red, but when she turned up in class today, we couldn’t help but tease her. I put a notice on the blackboard and she came up to wipe it off before Fis…Professor came in for the class. It was just a bit of harmless fun and tomfoolery Sir,” he added defensively.
“Hmm. And what about the cat story?” The Dean asked.
Sameer raised his hands and said pleadingly to both. “I know nothing about the cat. I could swear on whatever you want me to but I really don’t know anything about it.”
“But somebody must have hidden the cat in the drawer? It couldn’t have boxed itself in couldn’t it?”
“I guess not,” Sameer mumbled reluctantly as he scuffed his shoe. He looked up and met the dean’s eyes squarely. “But I swear it wasn’t me and I have absolutely no idea who it could be.”
Up next Chapter 79: Hunger Strike