Trees vanished from the forests that adjoined Sawan, thanks to the developmental activities of RSSB.
Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the godman of RSSB, visited Sawan only once. It was a couple of months after his people had taken over the school’s management. All the teachers and staff of the school were ordered to sit in the auditorium while the godman came with a retinue of policemen in many escort vehicles. The non-teaching staff like the gardeners and sweepers were all removed from the scene. Later on, Mr Tyagi told us that the godman was interested only in seeing how much area the campus covered. He refused to meet the students. When one of the little boys, unable to endure the suspense, succeeded in circumventing the teachers and prefects and moved out of the auditorium, he was chased back by a guarding policeman. I wondered why the godman was so afraid even of a little boy.
As trees vanished from the Asola-Bhatti forests, soon people started vanishing from Sawan too. Many members of both the teaching and the supporting staff were given quit orders on frivolous grounds. Many went to the court for justice. Others decided not to fight against such a monstrously powerful organisation as RSSB. Some searched for better alternatives in other schools and left on their own.
Even Ms Manimekalai chose to leave Sawan. She found a job in a better school. When she left Sawan, emotions choked me so much that I could not speak at the farewell function. I made some superficial utterances and ended my farewell speech quite uncharacteristically.
I chose to stay on. I chose to stay on recklessly in spite of all the bestiality I witnessed on the campus. The worst brutality I witnessed was an assault charge levelled against one of the house-assistants. A house-assistant looked after the hostel under his care. The house master, being a teacher, wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the details. So a house-assistant was appointed with fulltime duty in each hostel. This particular house-assistant had given a corporal punishment to a boy who was notorious for his recalcitrant behaviour. The boy was very shrewd and he knew one complaint from him was enough to get his house-assistant the sack because the new management was just waiting for some reason to fire any staff member. He rushed to none other than Ms Gurbuxani with his complaint. The grand dame asked him to give his complaint in writing which he did promptly. Within minutes the house-assistant got his marching orders.
The house-assistant was a man who had served the Indian navy for many years before retiring to take up a more relaxed job. He was good at the job as house-assistant though a bit harsh with his punishments. Notwithstanding the punishments, he loved students and would go out of his way to help when anyone of them was in genuine need of help. The punishments were his unique way of expressing his concern.
The boy who complained against him was quite a specimen. He was intelligent and had a rare interest in non-academic books of the kind which most students never took seriously. Because of that he had a cordial relationship with me. I counselled him to withdraw the complaint against the house-assistant. He evaded my counsel with a diplomacy that was sparse among students of his age. I understood that he had tremendous animosity toward the house-assistant.
When the house-assistant approached the manager with his explanation, the shrewd grand dame told him to give a written apology so that they could consider the repeal of his termination order. He gave the apology. The management instantly turned that apology against him. “You’ve admitted that you used corporal punishment and we have got the boy examined medically. He has serious injuries. We cannot keep a dangerous staff like you.”
RSSB had a close association with the Fortis hospital which was just a few kilometres away from Sawan. They owned the hospital partly. The boy had been taken there for a medical check-up and a medical certificate was produced to prove that he was seriously injured by the punishment. The house-assistant had no choice but to leave his job or go to jail. He decided to quit the job but requested for some time to vacate his staff quarters since his own house had to be renovated before he could return to it. The management refused to grant that request. But he continued to occupy the flat. One Sunday morning some women belonging to RSSB laid siege to his accommodation. They went inside and started throwing around his household properties. He called the police. When the police came, the women argued that he had tried to molest them and they were defending themselves. The police filed a non-bailable assault charge against him. He spent a couple of days in jail before his lawyer could prove to the magistrate that the whole thing was fabricated by RSSB. His daughter who happened to be at home on holiday from her engineering college had videographed the entire episode on her mobile phone. Later on, I watched that video clip and was shocked to hear our new principal, Mr Sanjeevan Bose, telling Ms Gurbuxani on phone, “Madam, they’re overdoing it.” That video clip saved the house-assistant. That video clip made me hate RSSB and all its staff including our new principal whom they had appointed.
Yet I decided to stay on. Recklessly.
PS. This is an excerpt from my latest book, Autumn Shadows.