Chapter 79: Hunger Strike!

“What’s taking Sameer so long?” Rajani fretted as she waited impatiently outside the dean’s office.

“Why are you so worried?” questioned Alok, “you are the one who sent him to the gallows.”

“I did not!” Rajani denied hotly, “I only told the truth.”

“Yeah maybe,” shrugged Rajesh, “telling the truth may not always be the best thing. We need to deal with the situation in a diplomatic manner. But you preferred to play the smart card – tears.” He gave the girls a scathing look, “and escaped. Poor Sameer is will have to bear the brunt of the Dean’s and Fiscal’s combined anger what with his inability to give in to tears and having an ugly mug to boot.”

“What nonsense you speak Rajesh!” Rajani was affronted. She looked to the other girls for support. They nodded their heads vigorously.

“It’s no nonsense!” Rajesh sneered, “ask any of the boys – a pretty face and a few tears can be relied on to do the trick any damn time.”

“Shut up Rajesh.” Shikha snapped putting a restraining hand on Rajani’s elbow.

“Why should I shut up? Rajani should have shut up. Now if Sameer get’s expelled, it will be because of Rajani.”

“Oh no!” It was Reema. She burst into tears and pushed Rajani. “What have you done?” She pummeled a shell-shocked Rajani until HK stepped in between. “Reema, control yourself,” he admonished gently, “nothing of the sort is going to happen. Relax.”

“Oh Harry but what if he does get expelled?” Reema was panic-stricken. “His father will surely kill him.” She shook her head at HK’s skeptical expression. “You don’t know him. I have known him since childhood, he is…” she faltered as she spied Sameer exit the Dean’s office.

“Sameer!” she squeaked and dashed over to him, as did the rest of the class. “What happened? What did the Dean say?”

“The Dean said that he didn’t ‘buy my story’ and unless the ‘real’ culprit who actually trapped the cat in the drawer owned up, I would be expelled.” Sameer reported baldly.

Rajani’s knees gave way and she sat down on the stone ledge with a thump. “HAPPY?” Reema snarled at her.

The shocked silence was followed by a chorus of protests, “How can he do that? It’s not fair! Even we don’t know who put the cat in the drawer. The real culprit should own up to the crime.” The girls looked at the boys with deep suspicion and mistrust.

“Hey, hey, let’s not fight amongst ourselves over this shall we?” It was of course Harry. “We need to put our heads together to find a solution to the problem rather than point fingers at each other. Besides, it’s obvious if the ‘punishment’ is expulsion nobody is going to own up especially not the real culprit.”

Silence fell once again as none of them could deny the force of his logic and argument.

“May as well jump off the tallest building.” Sameer was the first to speak. Though he tried to project a devil may care attitude, desolation and despair was all too obvious. His classmates could think of no viable solution or even mouth any platitude to offer support to the unfortunate Sameer.

“Hey guys! What up?” It was a group of senior college students who wandered over to them drawn by their almost deathly huddle. “Who died?”

Harry pointed to Sameer.

“Really?” Intensely curious, the boys extracted the story from Harry and the others and instantly spread it across the college. Even a fire would have taken longer to spread. The crowd outside the Dean’s office swelled and grew. Chants of Justice! We want Justice echoed in the corridors and the garden beyond. When that didn’t work, they got restless and bored triggering creativity. Slogans and couplets – demanding, cutting, bawdy attacking reviling the Dean and Physics teacher erupted from all sides. The crowd continued to swell and grow as curious administrative and clerical staff from around the campus began dropping in for a ringside view of the joust that broke the humdrum of routine work.

But Fiscal and the Dean remained firmly ensconced inside the building and things appeared to reach a stalemate. Until someone (possibly the ‘real’ culprit – sorry it was too crowded to make out who exactly it was) had a brainwave, “Let’s all own up. Anonymously.”

Pages were torn from notebooks and there was a mad scrabble for pens. By mutual consent, the copied the ‘confession’ verbatim – I hereby confess to having put the cat in the drawer. Each confession was of course unsigned. The notes were collected from all and sundry and slid under the door of the Dean’s office. Only Sameer’s confession stood out. I did not put the cat in drawer – Sameer.

The security was called in to disperse the crowd but there wasn’t much that they could do – women staff was all but missing from their ranks and the girls jumped to form a protective ring around the boys. Some saner faculty members cautioned against use of excessive force and reinforcements were called in. The police arrived, later, much later and expressed their inability to do anything in the face of a peaceful demonstration.

In fact, it wasn’t even any demonstration of any kind – the famished boys and girls just huddled outside the Dean’s office in various stages of stupor and exhaustion. Someone had a brainwave (a lady faculty obviously) and called for tea and snacks to be served to the starving students, which was no doubt making them more unreasonable and recalcitrant.

The students nearly fell for it for the fragrance was all pervading and they were drooling before the serving began. But an aspiring politician student alerted them to their underhanded tactics under the guise of generosity and kindness.

“Don’t fall for their sneaky tactics guys. This is just a capitalistic move to divert us from our chosen path. Victory is within reach.” He thundered. “Don’t give in now. We will fast unto death but we want justice.”

“Justice! Justice! Justice!” The flagging spirits were revived and they rose up as one to defy the authorities once again and deny sustenance or sop.

Better sense prevailed and a team of faculty members volunteered to go in and negotiate a truce. The students parted and closed ranks behind them. After a while, the spokesperson emerged and announced that no one was being expelled (at least for the moment) but an inquiry committee would be constituted to look into the matter. After a thorough investigation, the real culprit would be handed out ‘appropriate’ punishment commensurate with the crime.

The students greeted this news with a roar of approval. They hugged and slapped each other while pale wan faces lit up with the glow of victory. “We did it! Good job guys! Okay Sameer? Rajani you?”

“Hey come on guys let’s eat first!” It was of course Petu. “What better way to celebrate than with food?”

For once no one booed or jeered Petu who was constantly eating or talking about food. Off they went laughing and chattering in search of sustenance and rehash and retell the eventful happenings of the day.

“All because of Rajani and her Bhai,” commented Reema, “if only her Bhai had come in the morning and if only Rajani had gone out as she had proclaimed…”

Struck, Rajani looked at her watch. Her heart dropped a beat – it was 3.30 pm. Where was Bhai?

Up next Chapter 80: A Cross Connection

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