On the day Srijan joined the residential school, a 14-year old boy was arrested from his neighbourhood for raping a 6-year old girl. Srijan’s parents decided to put him in a residential school when he reached class 9 so that he could devote his entire time to studying and thus prepare himself for the medical course that would in due course of time enable him to fulfil his ambition to become a cardiologist. In a world where people were becoming increasingly heartless cardiologists would be in great demand, his parents thought.
Srijan was not so clear about his life’s purpose and its relationship with the world’s hearts. But he knew clearly that his parents wouldn’t do anything without clear purposes. So he accepted New India Public School with his whole heart.
A few days in the school made Srijan wonder whether his parents had made a mistake. He was sitting on one of the steps leading down to the playgrounds pondering about what some of his companions in the hostel did to him. Dinner was over and most students were engaged in some indoor game or watching the TV or reading in the library. The playgrounds remained desolate.
“Do you think you’re a hero here?” Mohit had asked him just a couple of days after his admission. “Just came the other day and he thinks he has become a hero,” he turned to his friends before turning again to Srijan. “Stop composing poems and stop buttering the teachers.” Mohit looked menacing.
Srijan had already learnt that in the New India lingo “buttering” meant ‘flattery’. Flattery with the explicit purpose of getting certain favours. Srijan was not trying to flatter anyone when he indulged in composing poems during free time. He showed the poems to some of his teachers because he enjoyed their pat on his back. What’s wrong if someone finds my poems good? Srijan wondered why his companions were offended by a simple thing like this.
The problem started when Mohit pulled out Srijan’s vest from the hook and wiped his shoes with it before throwing it on Srijan’s bed.
“How dare you do such a thing?” asked Srijan.
“How dare you go around singing paeans to the teachers?” asked Mohit. “Don’t think the teachers can save you from us.” He wagged his index finger on Srijan’s face. “We are the dons here. The teachers are afraid of us.”
“Hey, Srijan, what are you doing here?” It was Mr Patnaik, one of his teachers.
Srijan did not want to tell his teachers about his problem. “Never complain about any student,” one of the senior students had advised him. “Complaining is taken as treachery in the hostel. If you have a problem with anyone you have only one of the two options: fight or flight. Complaining to teachers is worse than suicide.”
“The poem you showed me today was superb,” Mr Patnaik said. Srijan’s poem which he had shown Mr Patnaik was about stars and their twinkling light which made the night sky look like a blanket studded with silver spangles. “Do you know that we live in a universe filled with dark matter and dark energy?”
Srijan nodded his head. “I read about it somewhere,” he said.
“The stars are a good symbol,” said Mr Patnaik. “And your poem has some deep meaning.”
Srijan did not understand it really. He had not thought of such a meaning when he composed the poem. His teacher began to explain that meaning. Srijan listened intently. He was lost in the teacher’s words. Then he began to speak. Without realising what he was doing Srijan narrated to his teacher the reason that brought him to the lonely steps of the playgrounds.
“So, have you chosen to flee?” asked Mr Patnaik after listening to Srijan. “Is that why you are sitting here alone, in this darkness?”
Srijan wasn’t sure whether he was choosing flight. He didn’t want to.
“Maybe, it’s not flight,” said Mr Patnaik. “Maybe, you’re choosing to live a life that doesn’t draw much attention to yourself. You know you can write poems without drawing the attention of certain people?”
Srijan’s eyes widened. He understood what his teacher was trying to say. No wonder the stars choose to stay far away, thought Srijan.
Another story of mine set in New India Public School six years ago: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star