The first thing that Rohan noticed when he entered the campus of New India Public School was a network of cables and wires. Telephone wires, Internet cables, TV cables and intercom wires dangled in the air mingling effortlessly with one another. Above them all lay stretched tight and rather majestically the electric wires.
Wires played a vital role in New India Public School. In the hostel they did play an undeniably vital role as Rohan realised within a few days. As soon as the Supervisor, Mr Rathode, left after making a perfunctory but imperious announcement through the PA system that it was the lights-off time, all lights would go off, for some time at least, and then the wires would come alive. There was a frantic rush to the switchboard by the students who wanted to charge their mobile phones. Mobile phones were forbidden to the students in New India Public School, “a fully residential school for boys for overall development of your child’s personality.” But every student seemed to possess a mobile phone. At least, in Rohan’s dorm everyone except himself and Rishi had one. While the mobile phones were being charged the students busied themselves with various tasks such as peeling potatoes and slicing them for frying finger chips or getting Maggi two-minute noodles from some hidden stores; all in the dim light of the night lamp. All the while there were wires dangling from the ears of the students, wires connected to miniature MP3 or MP4 players tucked safely somewhere in their bodies.
“Multi-tasking,” Devesh said to Rohan. “Learning to do many things simultaneously is the secret of success.”
“What’s this strange smell coming from your mouth?” Rohan asked Devesh.
“Want to try?” Devesh dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a golden sachet.
“Paan Parag. Paanka oblivion and paragka elation. Try a little.”
“But,” Rohan was stunned, “this is not … good.” He wanted to say ‘not allowed,’ but he knew he would be ridiculed if he said it.
Devesh laughed and said to the others, “Hey, listen, know what? Paan Parag is not good, says Rohan the goody-buddy.”
“Good is bad and bad is good, buddy,” said Aditya. Aditya was an extremely stout boy, all of six feet in height. Rohan always felt intimidated by him, by his sheer size.
“Give him a dose of your kick, Aditya,” said Naveen.
“Want it, baby?” Aditya asked.
“Take it easy, man,” said Rishi, “don’t give him too many shocks at one go.” Rishi was lying in his bed which was next to Rohan’s.
Rishi was a small boy and Rohan liked him. He was amiable too.
“Why do they want to kick me?” Rohan asked Rishi feebly.
“No one is going to kick you,” answered Rishi very gently. “Kick means drinks. Aditya takes a peg every night.”
“Peg? What’s that?”
“Whiskey. You know what’s that?”
Rohan did not answer, but he knew what whiskey was: the drink of perverted people.
Rohan came from a small town in Bihar where his father ran a restaurant. When he completed his tenth class his father said it was better to study in Delhi where he would later get plenty of opportunities for higher studies and eventually better jobs. “Delhi is the place where a boy will grow into a man,” he had added. He had found out from his friends in Delhi that New India Public School was an excellent residential school exclusively for boys, with a totally vegetarian mess. Walking on the tessellated drive from the main gate of the school to the office, his father had said to Rohan pointing to the cross-shaped tiles below their feet, “Rohan, these are the stepping stones to your success.” Rohan’s eyes, however, were soon lost in the wires that seemed to dangle everywhere in the air.
Someone switched on one of the lights. Mr Rathode would now be fast asleep. The boys were now free to do whatever they wanted. Rohan noticed that Naveen had disappeared from the dorm as usual.
“Where does Naveen go almost every night?” Rohan asked Rishi.
Rishi smiled. “Promise you won’t tell anyone.”
“Ma kasam, promise.” Rohan had learnt that swearing by one’s mother was the accepted style in New India.
“Naveen goes to Ms Khurana’s residence.”
Ms Khurana was one of the teachers. One day Rohan happened to refer to her as Mrs Khurana and she, overhearing it, rushed to him and said, “Ms not Mrs, Ms – M S – is the modern way of referring to a woman. Mrs is outdated. Never refer to me as Mrs Khurana. You understand, Rohan?”
Rohan understood later from his friends that Ms Khurana was separated from her husband. “She’s not satisfied with one man,” one of the boys said. “She’ll be happy to entertain you, Rohan,” said another, “you look so innocent .”
“What does he do there?” Rohan asked Rishi about Naveen.
“Well, he likes to eat non-veg.”
“You mean, Ms Khurana prepares non-veg and serves him?”
“Maybe, she doesn’t prepare it herself, she buys it from outside probably.”
“But this is a vegetarian school…”
“… that gives you overall development,” said Aditya who was listening to the conversation.
“I have noticed that Naveen comes back only in the morning, just a few minutes before the wake-up call,” said Rohan ignoring Aditya.
“Come on, Rohan,” said Rishi. “When will you understand?”
Rohan did not understand many things in New India Public School. It confused him so much that he finally gave a call to his father and asked to him to take him back to his hometown.
“Wait till I speak to your Housemaster,” said his father after listening to Rohan’s list of woes.
A few days later Rohan was summoned by Mr Patnaik, the Housemaster.
Mr Patnaik was also a teacher. All housemasters in New India Public School were also teachers in the school. In the evenings they spent some time in the hostels listening to the problems of the students. Usually the students did not take their complaints to any authority; they had their own way of settling scores among themselves. So the Housemasters sat in their offices for some time after dinner and left for their residences after taking an occasional round in the hostel. But Mr Patnaik was different. He did not sit in the office. He sat in one dorm or the other and chatted with the students for some time. Mr Patnaik was one of the few teachers that Rohan began to take a liking to. Rishi had once said to Rohan, “Patnaik sir’s one smile is enough for me to light up my whole day.”
“Rohan, why don’t you come for a short walk with me?” asked Mr Patnaik after chatting a while with the boys in the dorm as usual.
Rohan was surprised.
“Shall I come too, Sir?” asked Rishi.
“Sorry, Rishi, it’s a little personal, I’m afraid,” said Mr Patnaik.
“Your father tells me that you are unhappy in New India,” said Mr Patnaik as the two of them walked on the long stretch of playgrounds.
Mr Patnaik entered Rohan’s mind and probed it. Eventually Rohan laid bare his heart and soul to his teacher and Housemaster.
“Look at these walls, Rohan,” said Mr Patnaik pointing at the wall that circled the campus. “Do you think they can keep all the evil out there, away from the campus? We are quite far away from the city, at the end of the city, in fact. Those trees you see there during the daytime are in fact a jungle beyond which is Haryana. Does this distance from the city keep us far away from evil?”
Rohan did not quite understand what exactly the teacher was trying to explain.
“All the evil lies here,” said Mr Patnaik putting his right palm on his chest just above the heart. “Do you know how much of this vast universe,” he pointed at the sky, “is dark matter?”
“Ninety percent. An overwhelming ninety percent. There’s so little light in the universe, so few stars. Look at the sky.”
Rohan looked. A few dots of twinkling light scattered here and there. The sky in his hometown had more stars than these, he thought.
“From Delhi city you won’t be able to see any stars,” said Mr Patnaik as if he had read Rohan’s thoughts. “But that’s a different matter. Here there are at least some stars visible to us. Why don’t you also be a star , Rohan?”
Rohan looked at his teacher confused.
“You told me about all the darkness you saw in the school, at least in your dorm. But there are some stars even here. Even in your dorm. Rishi, for example.”
Yes, suddenly it occurred to Rohan that Rishi was quite different from the others. He did not possess a mobile phone, he did not join the cooking and eating orgies in the dorm, he did not complain about anything.
“Sir, you mean to say that you knew about all that was happening in our dorm even before I told you about them?”
Mr Patnaik smiled. Rohan did not understand the meaning of that smile.
“Become a star and you won’t feel like running away from darkness,” said Mr Patnaik patting Rohan on the back. “Go and join your friends now. It’s by staying with them that you will become a star, not by running away. Remember, New India community is a specimen of the society anywhere. You should grow up into a man in the society, not away from it.”
“Our baby’s got a new daddy,” said Devesh as Rohan entered his dorm.
“Did daddy give you milk?” asked Aditya.
Rohan felt disturbed by their questions as much as by the malice in the way they looked at him. Rishi looked at Rohan and winked. Though Rishi’s look was different, it did not console Rohan a bit.
Aditya came and stood right in front, too close to Rohan’s face and said menacingly, “Look here, baby, if you tell daddy anything about us we’ll puncture your balls, is that clear?”
Rohan could not sleep. Not because his dorm-mates were busy with their usual nightly activities but for some reason he did not know. He got up and went out. He decided to take a stroll. The safest place would be behind the hostel where no one usually went. There were only some trees in that little area between the hostel and the outer wall of the school. As Rohan reached the end of the hostel building he heard some muffled sounds. He stood and listened. It was a strange sound indeed and yet strangely familiar. Hiding himself behind the wall of the hostel Rohan peeped. In the dim light of the moon that filtered in through the leaves of the trees, Rohan saw one boy standing bent down with his hands on the wall and another boy standing as if his waist was glued to the back of the bent boy. The bent boy was naked below the waist and the standing boy’s pyjama was lying at his feet like a bizarre curlicue. The sound produced by the standing boy reached a climax and came to a sudden end. He withdrew himself and pulled up his pyjama. The other boy too put on his pyjama which was lying somewhere nearby. Rohan realised that the boy who had stood bent was quite small, maybe from class five or six, whereas the other one, Rohan recognised, was from class twelve.
In a flash Rohan understood the meaning of what he had witnessed. He was about to turn and go away feeling revulsion when he heard, “Who’s that?”
Even before he could answer anything Rohan was caught by the back of his nightshirt.
“Why did you come here?” asked the tall boy.
“I was just taking a walk.”
“Behnchod! Don’t give me that shit. You were spying on us?”
Rohan did not answer.
“Listen, fucker,” the tall boy said wagging his forefinger furiously, “if you tell anyone what you saw you won’t leave this school with this little dick in any useable condition, understand?” And he snapped his wagging finger on Rohan’s penis. “Get lost now. Vanish from here and don’t show your ugly mug here anymore.”
Rohan did not look up at the sky to see if the stars were still twinkling. He could feel something darkening somewhere deep within him as he walked back to the dorm where his mates would be busy frying finger chips or cooking two-minute noodles.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” Aditya was telling the others. “Shall we plan an outing?”
Rohan listened. They were talking about jumping over the wall and going to the city after dinner. Rohan had already learnt that an auto-rickshaw was always available if the students wanted to make a nocturnal trip to the city. All they had to do was give a call on their mobile phone. Mr Rathode had already been bribed by Devesh, so he wouldn’t peep into the dorm tonight during his usual round. If Mr Patnaik came along Rishi would tell him that the boys were in another hostel discussing the lessons for Monday’s class test.
“Hi, baby,” said Aditya who suddenly noticed Rohan. “Where were you? Went to drink daddy’s milk?”
“Hey, Rohan, why don’t you join us tomorrow? We’ll watch a late night movie at PVR Priya, collect packed burgers and eat them on the way back.” Devesh said. “Just fun. And you’ll grow up a little too. Why don’t you join us?”
“Let me think,” said Rohan.
“Oye,” said Aditya. “That’s a good sign. Our baby’s started thinking, thinking of joining us.”
“What do you mean ‘let me think’?” Rishi asked.
“Nothing,” said Rohan. “There’s nothing to think. I have decided. I’ll go with them.”
“I’m not going,” said Rishi. “You can stay back if you wish.”
“I know, but I’m going.”
The next day Rishi tried to understand what was perturbing Rohan. Rohan refused to speak.
In the evening Rohan learned how and where to jump over the wall, creeping through the barbed wires that were already displaced conveniently by experienced wall-jumpers.
Aditya, Devesh and Rohan crept slowly towards the wall with the barbed wires. Naveen was walking in the shadow of the trees towards the residence of Ms Khurana.
“It’s so dark,” said Rohan as he stood outside the wall unable to see anything for a moment.
“You’ll get used to it,” said Devesh as he held out a hand to guide Rohan.
Rohan did not take the hand extended to him. He was not a baby, was he? However, there was something deep down in his heart that was pulling him back. But he had to go ahead; this time, at least. As he sat in the auto-rickshaw that was waiting at a little distance, his gaze went up for a moment to the sky. A few stars were still visible.
[Disclaimer: All the characters in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.]
Note: I posted this story seven years ago in a blog. Now I'm posting it again making no changes because I feel the world has not changed anyway as far as literature is concerned. The original posting link (which got 1887 Brownie points) is given below: