Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 6: Why?

Nandini felt like she was going to be sick. What could possibly be the reason for this? Why would Arnav want to frame Madhav? They were best of friends!

The world spun. She didn’t know anything anymore. She felt betrayed, confused, and angry, all at the same time.

She needed to find Arnav. She had to confront him.

She rose slowly, staggering. She turned around, her head pounding, the world spinning. She looked at the field to find Arnav standing, frozen, his eyes shooting between Nandini and the clothes.

Arnav’s mouth was open. He looked as if he wanted to say something, but nothing was coming out.

Nandini picked up Arnav’s shirt and stormed towards him. “Why, Arnav?” she said.

Arnav didn’t say anything. He stared at the shirt, and then at Nandini.

“Arnav?”

Silence.

Arnav!” Nandini yelled, sickened, the tears finally escaping her eyes. “Talk to me, goddammit!”

Arnav spoke softly and gently. His hands reached up. “Nandini, please,” he said. “Calm down.”

“Arnav, don’t mess around. These are your clothes.” She jerked the shirt forward. “That’s Madhav’s room.” She pointed up at the window. “I know what you did. Tell me why!”

“Nandini, you don’t know what happened—”

Really?!” she yelled. “Want me to spell it out for you? O.K., here: you got up in the middle of the night. You snuck into Madhav’s room. You opened his cupboard with his key. You know where he kept his key, because you’re his best friend. You took his razor, which was easy enough to find. You went to Laxman’s bed and slit his throat. THAT’S what happened. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t insult my intelligence. Do me that courtesy at least, because I know what happened. I want to know why. Why did you kill Laxman? Why did you frame Madhav?! You were best friends!”

 “O.K.,” said Arnav, his face going from one of despair and terror, to one of unmitigated rage. “You wanna know why I killed Dhule? You wanna know why I put your precious Madhav in jail? It’s because your boyfriend was a manipulative jock bastard!”

That took Nandini by surprise. “What?”

“That’s right. The guy you love so much was an asshole. He was the scum of the earth, and I hated him, and everything he stood for. He made me sick. I’d have spit in his face, but he’d probably have liked that. So, I did something worse.”

Nandini’s rage turned into confusion. “What?!”

“Didn’t you hear? Every day? ‘Oh, look, it’s Madhav and his pet!’ ‘Oh, look, it’s that hottie, Madhav, and his pet!’ That’s what I’d become. His pet. But I was so much more. I was his torture dummy.” He paused, “and in front of the teachers, and during exams, I was him.

“In fact, every word he ever wrote – ever – was mine! You thought he was smart? You thought he was sweet? NOPE! The sweetness was an act, and the smartness was me. He wrote my name in his exam paper, and made me write his on mine. If I didn’t, he’d beat me within an inch of my life. If I deliberately wrote bad answers, he’d beat me within an inch of my life.

Nandini couldn’t believe it. That was not her Madhav. That was not the Madhav she’d eaten sandwiches with in the corner of the football field. That wasn’t the Madhav she’d loved.

“And the last straw? You.”

That hit Nandini like a bus. “Me?”

“From the day you came, to this day, I’ve liked you. Whenever I went to bed, the one face that came to my mind was yours. You’re pretty. You’re funny.” He chuckled. “And, as you’ve proved today, you’re smart as hell. Way too smart for me.” He looked into her eyes. “I like you, Nandini. I may even go as far as saying I love you.”

She’d never known. To her, Arnav had always just been Madhav’s best friend. That’s it.

“One night, when it became time to have the shit kicked out of me, Madhav asked me who I liked. I didn’t tell him. He hit me, punched me, kicked me until I told him I liked you. After that, he began talking to you more and more and more. He deliberately made it look like he spent most of his time with you or trying to impress you. Everyone started teasing you two together. He knew it. He loved it. Then, he asked you out, and you guys became a thing. Every time you guys were together, he looked back at me, and winked. He thought you couldn’t see him. He thought you were stupid. The only reason he even talked to you was because I told him I liked you.”

The winks. The winks she’d loved so much.

This was too much for her brain. That can’t have been the only reason Madhav had talked to her.

“I have proof. You can talk to Jayesh. He was in on it. He always was. If Madhav ever had a best friend, it wasn’t me. Never. It was Jayesh. Who do you think started the ‘pet’ thing?

“If you asked him, he’d tell you in a heartbeat. He’ll tell you how every night at eight thirty, they’d pull me to Jayesh’s room and beat the shit out of me, regardless of whether or not I did anything to deserve it. Then he’d laugh, remembering. If you don’t believe him…”

He pulled up the shirt he was wearing. “You can believe this.”

Nandini gasped.

His body was covered with bruises. Some of them were fresh, as if they had been done last night. Nandini’s knees wobbled, threatening to give in. “No.” she said. “It can’t be. He wasn’t like that! Madhav wasn’t like that.

“Not in front of you, no. He was an angel in front of girls and teachers. As soon as he got into the boys’ dorm, he was the worst bully you’ve ever seen.”

Then, Nandini realized something. “But if you hated Madhav so much, why did you kill Dhule?”

“Dhule was a creep. He had it coming. But in the big picture, he was collateral damage. See, if I killed Madhav, the blame would immediately fall on me, because Jayesh would blame me. Once he got involved, Santosh Sinha would get involved. I needed to destroy Madhav, without putting me in the crosshairs.

“See, I’m smart, unlike the image he’s been trying to make of me. I proved it to him. No one found out. No one was even close.” He paused to regard Nandini with the coldest stare. It tore through her soul, freezing it from the inside out.

His lips twisted into a smile.

“Until you.”

Nandini was terrified. The fear gushed through her veins. The colour was slowly draining from her face. She saw Arnav’s hands reach into his pocket. She knew he was holding something in there. Instinctively, hers went to her pockets. She found her pen and notepad. Her fingers closed around the pen, and removed the cap, all in the pocket.

“I’d always known you were smart.” Arnav said. “If we were together, at least I’d know what I had. Madhav never did.”

He paused.

“I love you, Nandini. Nothing crushed me more than those days when Madhav gloated about how he’d stolen you from me, like you were a bag of cash. He never knew what he really had. I would have, if he’d given me the chance. I’d be so much better than him. But I’m sorry, Nandini. The police are here. I can’t have any loose ends.”

He pulled a pen out of his pocket and pounced. Nandini pulled the pen out of her pocket and met the charge head on. She saw his pen before it came down on her. She caught Arnav’s arm, and brought her own pen down in a deadly arc. With a sickening crunch, the pen sank into Arnav’s forearm. He screamed, and his pen fell out of his hand. Nandini took a step back and pushed him away from her, grabbing her pen in the process. He fell to the ground, another scream escaping his mouth. She looked at her pen. A mixture of blood and ink dripped down its cylindrical body and fell to the ground. She threw it in disgust and ran.

She didn’t know where she was running. Her legs had minds of their own. She was in a daze.

After a while, her legs stopped running, and she realized that she had begun to talk. Her mouth formed sentences all on its own. By the time her mind caught up with her body, the principal, a policeman, Ashok and Ganesh were following her. She still didn’t know what she was doing. Somehow, she knew that a policeman would be here. She led them to the site of her fight with Arnav. Arnav was gone.

Unable to speak, she pointed to a small pool of blood that had been made in the dirt there, and at the pens lying next to it. The pool continued in a trail. Next to the trail were some footsteps.

Their voices were muffled, and Nandini didn’t have the energy to comprehend them. She saw the others run to follow the trail and footsteps. The policeman had his gun out.

She didn’t follow. She didn’t even realize what was happening. She slowly sank to the ground and fell. And fell.

And fell.

THE END

Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 5: A Pair of Underwear

She froze. Her body tensed up. She strained her ears. She needed to catch every single word.

 “Ganesh, what?” whispered Ashok, incredulous.

“Just listen. You remember anything from last night?” whispered Ganesh urgently.

Ashok chuckled. “Not much.”

“Exactly. Me, too. Until now.”

“Oh, no. What did you see?”

“A lot, Ashok.” He paused. “I remember looking out of the window, and I remember a pile of clothes falling out. I don’t know whose clothes they were, but I know I saw them. I also remember a guy walking out of Madhav and Dhule’s room almost immediately after the clothes fell. It wasn’t Madhav, and it definitely wasn’t Dhule.”

What?!

“Ganesh, you don’t know that for sure.”

“I do, Ashok. You tell me you didn’t see that guy. I remember talking to you about it.”

“Ganesh—”

“C’mon. Look me in the face, and without blinking, tell me you didn’t see a guy walking out of Dhule’s room. Tell me.”

A few seconds of silence followed.

“O.K., there was a guy. I remember that.”

Nandini had to hold back a gasp.

“And it wasn’t Madhav.”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on!” cried Ganesh. “Ashok, you’re lying to yourself. I rememb—”

“Ganesh!” Ashok’s voice was an urgent whisper. “What the hell are you doing?!”

Nandini couldn’t believe it. There had been a third guy. Madhav was innocent. Her train of thought pulled out of the station, and the roaring of its wheels on the tracks drowned out all other noise.

Unheard by Nandini, the conversation continued:

“First of all, the police have Madhav in custody for killing Dhule. Not some cheap, second rate private eye, the Police Force. Second, you were high! Nothing you say can be trusted. Nothing!”

“It’s not like we had cocaine, or LSD, or something like that.” Ganesh pointed out. “It was just weed. You don’t get hallucinations from weed.”

“Hey, here’s an idea.” Ashok said. “Explain that to the damn police!”

The third guy had thrown out clothes.

“But you have to admit, the guy who came out of their room was a third guy. Not Madhav.” Said Ganesh, but Nandini wasn’t listening.

“O.K.” said Ashok. “Maybe it was. But you have to be careful where you say all this stuff.”

But if he had thrown out clothes, the police would have found them. There was only one logical explanation. The clothes were buried.

“We have to tell the police.” Said Ganesh.

“Are you crazy?!” said Ashok. “Didn’t you hear what I just said?!”

How, though?

 “We have to tell the police!” Ganesh said. “Those drugs are nothing compared to murder!”

“I know that! Stop saying ‘drugs’!” said Ashok. “I just…”

The dorm entrances are always closed at night

“What?” Ganesh asked, but Ashok offered no answer. “That’s what I thought. You’ve got nothing.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Ashok paused, deep in thought. “Ok, let’s do the following: we’ll come up with a cover story. We weren’t doing drugs. We were studying. We’ll go to the principal, and tell him what we saw. If he asks why we didn’t say anything earlier, we’ll just say we thought nothing of it before, and now it seems important.”

Nandini’s train of thought stopped in its tracks. She realized Ganesh and Ashok had made a decision on what to do.

Shit, she thought, looking down the corridor. The longer she stared, the longer it became. She looked desperately for a place to hide until Ashok and Ganesh left. The rooms in the corridor were still under construction, so, at the moment, everything except the corridor was closed off.

“Got it? Alright, now get to class.” said Ashok.

Where could she go? The farthest she could go noiselessly was about a third of the corridor.

Suddenly, a thought struck her.

Slowly, making no sound, she started going down the corridor, paying close attention to Ashok and Ganesh’s footsteps. When she was confident of her distance, she turned around, and started walking towards them. She looked up – still walking – to see Ashok and Ganesh, and froze.

So did they.

“Oh!” yelped Ganesh, his eyes wide. Nandini gasped, and hoped they bought it.

“What—” started Nandini.

“Nandini! What are you doing here?” said Ashok, looking mad and frightened at the same time.

Nandini looked from Ashok to Ganesh, and back and forth a few times. “No, what are you doing here?”

“We…” Ashok looked to Ganesh, and his eyes widened. “NO! No, it’s not what you think. I swear!”

“I mean,” said Nandini, “You know what this place is, right?”

“Oh, shit!” said Ganesh, realizing what she was implying. “No, Nandini, you’ve got it all wrong!”

 “Nandini, on my life—” started Ashok, but Nandini interrupted.

“I mean, I support the LGBT community wholeheartedly. It’s just that… Don’t you have a girlfriend, Ganesh?”

 Nandini turned to Ashok. “And isn’t she your sister?”

“Nandini, hear me out—”

“I mean, she is not going to like this.”

Nandini!” shouted Ganesh. Nandini stopped, mid-sentence, conscious of her rapidly beating heart.

Don’t do that.” he said, advancing a few steps.

Nandini took a deep breath, internally yelling at her heart to calm the hell down.

“I… I’m sorry,” she said. “I judged you. I shouldn’t have. What you came here to do is none of my business.”

“Damn right.” said Ganesh. They left the corridor, and Nandini kept walking ahead. She got around the corner, and slammed her back into the wall. She peeked out, watching the two of them walk away, and then part ways at the end of the corridor. As soon as she knew they were gone, she slumped to the ground and heaved a great sigh of relief.

She sat there for a while, thinking.

The killer buried the clothes. He first threw them out of the dorm room, and then buried them. How? The murder happened in the middle of the night. The dorms were locked all night. There was no way the killer could have gotten to the clothes from inside the dorms in time to bury them properly.

Unless…

The dorms had bushes under them, right? Right?

If they did…

The killer threw the clothes out of the window. He waited until the morning. It would be too dark to notice any clothes in the middle of the night. Then, at 6 a.m., when the dorms opened, the killer quickly buries them under the bushes. He runs up to the form and gets into bed just in time for the dorm parent to wake them up.

If they didn’t…

Then I’m screwed. she thought.

One thing was certain, though. Madhav was innocent. Ganesh had seen a third person. She had been right all along.

She had to tell Arnav.

But what about the bushes? If the clothes had to be buried, the evidence on them must be incriminating.

She decided to check out the bushes. She got up, and walked down the corridor. She ran down the stairs two steps at a time. By the time she reached the end of the staircase, she was running. She told herself to calm down. If she was seen running, she’d attract attention. That wasn’t something she wanted. She had to physically strain the muscles in her leg to keep them from darting down the fields.

She knew where Madhav’s dorm was. From a distance, she identified the window. She dropped her eyes in a straight line down from the window, and—

Yes!” she whispered excitedly. Along the wall of the dorm was a line of shrubs. She ran to the bushes under Madhav’s window. She dived into them head-first, throwing dirt around, frantically looking for a single piece of cloth that could lead her to Dhule’s killer. She didn’t care about the dirt under her fingernails. She didn’t care about the dirt flying into her eyes. She only cared about the clothes.

She felt it before she saw it. She tried to pull the shirt out, but there was too much mud on top of it. She clawed at it, and found it. But it wasn’t just a shirt. There was a pair of pants and a pair of briefs, too. The full package. All covered in blood.

But whose clothes were they?

The launderers always wrote the name of the student on the shirt when they washed it. All she had to do was find the name.

Nandini turned the shirt over, her hands trembling, her heart pounding. The fruits of all her efforts were in the palm of her hand, waiting to be eaten. She pulled the hem of the shirt up, and read the name. The handwriting was bad, but it was still pretty easy to make out the name that stopped her heart: Arnav Nair.

No.

Never.

Not Arnav!

Maybe the killer borrowed his shirt?

She scrambled for the other clothes. She checked the pants. Arnav Nair.

She slowly realized her folly. Arnav was also a suspect. He was a boy. He was in the building when it happened. He could have sneaked out of his room.

But he had no motive! Why would he want to kill Laxman Dhule? And he knew that the blame would inevitably fall on his best friend!

He knew the blame would inevitably fall on Madhav.

The killer went out of his way to frame Madhav.

Oh, no.

What if the motive had nothing to do with Laxman? What if Laxman was just the closest person to the real victim of the crime? What if it was never about Laxman in the first place?

What if it was always about Madhav?

These thoughts raced through her head. They made more sense, but less sense. Every question gave rise to more.

She eyed the underwear. Pants and shirt could have been lent, but no one lends underwear. The answer was written in front of her.

It was all down to a pair of underwear.

She picked them up, and read the name.

Arnav Nair.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 4: Guilt

Nandini tried her hardest to get close to Ashok and Ganesh, but wherever she went, everyone around her went silent. It was as if all of them had had their vocal chords ripped out of their throats simultaneously.

Everyone stared at her: half of them with disgust, the other half with pity. Their eyes burned holes in her soul. All of a sudden, she realized what a terrible, selfish person she had been.

Since the murder, all she had thought of was Madhav. Not once had she thought of Laxman Dhule.

Laxman Dhule: food connoisseur.
Laxman Dhule: sixteen-year-old student.
Laxman Dhule: body in a morgue.

He had been loved, too. Maybe not by anyone in this school, but someone out there loved him. He had his whole life ahead of him. Probably a career as a food critic, or even a restaurant owner.

Now, nothing.

She hadn’t even thought of the fact that his parents were abroad, and wouldn’t be able to fly in until tomorrow. They would have to sit in their home, thinking about their child. Their only child, with his throat slit, and his head in a puddle of his own blood

She forgot all about her investigation. The guilt drowned her, almost choking her. She pushed through the throng of people. Some made way out of pity. Some yelled, “Oi, watch it!”

All she ignored.

Blood rushed in her ears. Tears came to her eyes. A lump formed in her throat. Her knees wobbled, and wanted to give up. She clenched her fists and went to her spot in the football field: the only spot where she wouldn’t be disturbed.

Once she reached, her legs gave up, and she fell to her knees. The tears began to stream through, and her fists unclenched. She let her body fall to the floor. She began shaking violently with each sob. When she had finished crying, she let her eyes open.

She stared at the spot, remembering the first time they were here.

They’d been good friends for months, and they used to talk to each other a lot. Everyone kept teasing them together. Every time they were given any work together, the class would break into the chorus of “Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaanaa Sanam.” A year into this friendship, Madhav asked Nandini, very casually, if she wanted to skip lunch and eat snacks in the football field.

She remembered eating sandwiches out of Madhav’s tiffin box. She remembered laughing at Madhav’s jokes. She couldn’t remember the jokes. Just laughing at them.

After the laughter, there was a moment where they looked into each other’s eyes. Then, Madhav began to lean in, and Nandini didn’t stop him.

She remembered how happy she had been that day. She remembered how happy her friends had been for her. She remembered the wink he gave Arnav when they were together. He thought she didn’t notice them, but she did. And she loved them.

Now, there were no winks. Laxman Dhule was dead, and Madhav was in the Juvenile Detention Centre.

She couldn’t be in this spot any more.

Nandini picked herself up and darted from there. She ran faster than she had ever run. She wasn’t really looking where she was going. The only notion in her head was out of here.

She ran straight into Arnav.

She fell over, Newton’s Third Law of motion dropping her on her ass. Arnav also went hurtling to the ground, and landed with a painful “Oof!”

Nandini got up, exasperated. “Arnav!”

“Yeah, hi.” Arnav said, dusting the dirt off his butt.

“Did you get anything out of Jayesh?”

“Nothing.” He said, examining his butt for any sign of lingering dust.

“Arnav, I—” her words were failing her. They refused to come out. She began crying again.

Without thinking, she fell into Arnav’s arms. Her tears began to fall onto his shirt.

Arnav didn’t say anything. Madhav would have known what to say. He would have told her that it was going to be fine, that she was going to get through it. She would have been happier if Madhav was here.

She stepped away from Arnav and sniffled.

“I’m sorry.” He said, finally.

“It’s not your fault.”

His gaze fell to the ground.

“Was it the same for you?” she asked him. “Did they all shut up wherever you went?”

“Except Jayesh, yeah. He started calling me murderer ka chamcha.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. Till now, I was Madhav ka chamcha. Now, I’m murderer ka chamcha.”

“That’s not right. You’re not his chamcha.”

“Tell that to them.”

Her mind drifted to Jayesh. Being the son of Santosh Sinha gave him a certain power over everyone at school. Wherever he went, the looming shadow of his father’s influence followed. He would get angry over the smallest things. He would beat children up and then blame them. His father always backed him. This made him short-tempered and hot-blooded.

That got Nandini thinking.  

Laxman’s murderer had planned this very well. He made sure to do it when Madhav was the only other person in the room. The murderer forced Laxman’s face into the pillow as the blood flowed from his throat, so that he didn’t wake Madhav, or anyone else in the dorm. He made sure to wipe the prints off and put it back, not only exonerating himself, but putting Madhav directly in police crosshairs.

“You know what?” said Nandini, connecting dots. “I don’t think Jayesh could have done this.”

Arnav’s head snapped up. “What do you mean?”

“Jayesh is too impulsive to have done something so cold-blooded as this.”

“Cold blooded?”

She looked at him and nodded. Her mind was racing. Her heart was beating. Adrenaline flowed through her body, firing up all her crime-novel-reading experience. “If Jayesh is anything, he’s proud, and he’s got hot blood. He’ll go blind with rage before being cold enough to think through killing a guy.”

Her mind was racing faster than a cheetah hot on the tail of a frightened deer. Nothing could stop her now. She was circling Arnav, as he twirled on the spot, a bit confused. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”

“This murder was very well thought out. If Jayesh wanted to kill Laxman, he’d have been up-front about it. He’d have brought all his friends, and they’d all have beat him to a pulp in the washroom.”

Arnav opened his mouth and then closed it again.

“Jayesh didn’t do it!” She whirled around, and looked at Arnav with pride. She was pleased to find an expression of growing surprise on his face.

“You… you’re right…” he said. “That’s good thinking, Nandini.”

“Thanks.”

The guilt was still roaring in her ears, but she pushed it away. Yes, Laxman was important, but she’d made a promise. She was going to exonerate Madhav no matter what it took.

Her heart began to flutter. She felt the power returning to her legs.

“Go to Madhav’s room,” she told Arnav. “See if you can find anything that can prove that either of these guys was there. If you find anything, call the police.”

“Are you even listening to—”

“Arnav!”

Arnav’s hands shot up. “OK, OK, fine, I’ll go.”

With that, he darted off.

She couldn’t believe this. Their detective work was actually going somewhere! They’d eliminated one suspect already. Just one more to go, and they’d have their killer!

She still couldn’t shake her guilt. It loomed behind her like a stalker in a black hood.

She would not let her guilt take her. She would fight it.

She would find out who killed Laxman Dhule.

It was quite some time before she found Ashok and Ganesh again. She stayed a good distance away, keeping them in sight, but not staying too far. She followed them until the academic block before Ganesh grabbed Ashok by the arm and pulled him out of the crowd with great urgency.

Nandini waited for a while before following them into the deserted hallway.

“Where are you taking me?” Ashok said, as he was dragged away.

“Just come.”

A few fervent turns and a flight of stair later, Nandini realized where they were going. There was a secret spot on the third floor of the block, where neither students nor teachers come. It was a building-in-progress. This was where a lot of couples went to kiss. Why were they going to the kissing booth?

Despite herself, she had to stifle a giggle. Were Ashok and Ganesh a couple now? Or were they always a couple?

Nandini hid behind a turn in the corridor, as they stopped in the middle of a big room. Bricks and powdered cement were littered all over the room.

She was far enough for her to be invisible, but not far enough for them to be inaudible. Then, she peeked around the corridor.

“Are you going to kiss me?” asked Ashok.

“Just shut up and listen.” Ganesh whipped his head from side to side. Nandini snapped hers back around the corridor, and glued it to the wall.

Although Ganesh was whispering, the absence of other people made it much easier for Nandini to hear the words that sent her soaring through the roof.

Her legs began to feel numb once again. Her heart began to speed up, and her lip began to tremble. She knew that all her effort had not been in vain. All her stalking and detective work had finally borne fruit. Ganesh’s words made Nandini the happiest girl alive.

“I don’t think Madhav killed Dhule.”

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 3: Sanika Gandhi

Arnav’s face was frozen in a state of confusion. “You want to what?”

“Help Madhav! Your best friend?” said Nandini, a little annoyed.

“I know who Madhav is, thanks.” he said, rolling his eyes. “I meant, what did you say before that? Did you say ‘investigate the murder’?”

“Yeah!” she said, exasperated. “Have your ears stopped working?”

“Nandini, what do you think the police are doing right now?”

“Accusing Madhav! Seriously, Arnav, have you been paying attention?!”

“If there’s any evidence to show that Madhav is innocent, they’ll find it.”

“No, they won’t! They’ve stopped looking. They have opportunity and the weapon. I have to do this, Arnav, no one else will!”

Arnav stood in front of her, silent.

They were standing in a nondescript corner of the football field. It had been Madhav and Nandini’s “place.” This was where they’d go when they had a free class. They would sit and talk. Often, they’d be late to class because they hadn’t heard the bell, or ignored it.

Being back here without Madhav pained her. But this was the only place where she wouldn’t be disturbed.

“And I can’t do it alone, Arnav.” Nandini continued. “I need you. You know the boys better than I ever will. The murder was done in the boys’ hostel. It can’t have been any of the girls.”

Arnav was silent for a long time. Too long, it seemed to Nandini. Just say yes. I can’t do it without you, Arnav. Just, please, say yes.

“O.K.,” said Arnav suddenly. “Let’s do this.”

***

They sat down with Nandini’s pen and notepad, and began formulating a list of suspects. A little less than half the school had been eliminated simply because they were girls. They then realized that only one floor of boys could have done it, because the lifts are guarded by night. If anyone from another floor had come to Laxman’s floor, Madhav wouldn’t be their only suspect. Their suspect pool was down to one grade — theirs. They now had 84 suspects. Still too many.

It was Nandini’s idea to break it down by motive. They found several motives to work with, but only one which would certainly cause a murder: a girl.

Sanika Gandhi was the most popular girl in the school. Not in the sense of Plastics from Mean Girls. She was actually a nice girl. Pretty, kind, and generous.

At some point or the other, even for the smallest amount of time, every guy had felt something when they saw her. The only guy who could positively say that this hadn’t happened to him was her brother, Ashok. One guy, however, was lucky enough to confess this feeling and get a positive response. Ganesh Iyer, the Head of Sports. Five-ish months ago, he had asked her out, and she said yes. They’d been dating ever since.

Laxman Dhule also had a huge crush on her. He felt like he had nothing to lose. One day, Laxman walked up to Sanika and confessed his love. Not a crush, or vague “feelings for her.” Love.

Sanika, being the nicest girl in the grade (and most popular), had become an expert at rejection. Nandini had never heard a nicer way of rejecting someone. She explained that she was with someone else, and that she did think he was cute, but what he wanted could never happen. Nandini had always respected Sanika for that. Envied her, even.

Laxman didn’t seem dejected. For the longest time, Nandini thought that the rejection had been so good that Laxman didn’t even feel bad. She thought that was the end of that.

Boy, was she wrong.

It could have been the fact that Sanika called him cute. Maybe that had translated to “Keep trying, and maybe my answer will change.”

A few days later, Sanika found a note on her bed. She opened it to find a poem — badly written, and more lovesick than a little puppy. It was sappy, cliché, and signed with a flourish at the end: Laxman Dhule. And that wasn’t the only poem he wrote.

At first, it was funny. After that, it got borderline creepy. Since Sanika was an angel on Earth, she couldn’t refuse the poems. She kept accepting and reading them. Laxman probably thought she’s liking them. Nobody liked them. He kept sending them, more every day.

He began to go farther than complementing her eyes and hair. That was when Sanika stopped reading. Still, he persisted. Sending four or five poems a day. Five days and a few tonnes of poems later, Sanika stopped being nice, and told him off. She told him to stop immediately.

He must have been really insulted. That’s what made him really repulsive.

He began spreading disgusting rumours about Sanika. No one really believed him, but if the wrong words reach the wrong ears, it doesn’t matter who believes.

His worst mistake was spreading a rumour about the biggest brute of the grade, Jayesh Sinha.

Jayesh, son of the legendary movie star Santosh Sinha, acted like he owned the school, mostly because he did. His father had the principal under his thumb, so Jayesh got whatever he wanted. That and his well-built body made him a fearful candidate indeed. Almost everyone hated him, but nobody said anything. There were a few who were smart enough to get onto his good side, and those smart enough to just stay away from him altogether. Laxman, however, was stupid enough to deliberately get onto his bad side.

“I saw them!” he cried to anybody who would listen. “Both of them, in an empty classroom!”

Only a few days before Laxman’s death, word had reached Jayesh. His anger was like never before.

Word had also reached Sanika, her brother Ashok, and her boyfriend Ganesh.

Together, they made up Nandini’s suspect list.

“But, Nandini,” said Arnav, after they had discarded several pages of weak motives and non-suspects. “We can’t walk up to them and ask if they killed Dhule. Especially Jayesh.”

“Of course not, dumbo.” said Nandini, excitedly flipping the pages of her notepad and scribbling. “They’ll all say ‘no.’”

“I mean, we can’t ask them anything about that night directly. We can’t do an interview like on all the cop shows.”

Nandini looked up at him. “You’re right…” she sat in the grass and thought about it a little. “We have to be discreet. We’re going to have to ask the questions without asking the questions. We have to observe.” She put her book and pen down. “This is all anyone will talk about for the next few days. We have to be fast. God knows when they’re going to charge Madhav. We have to be quicker than them. We have to find any evidence that someone else was in the room. We’re going to listen in to their conversations.” She looked at Arnav. “Tonight, you go to Madhav and Dhule’s room, and search that place.”

“Nandini, that’s a crime scene. I’m never going to get in there.”

“I don’t care.”

“There’s tape there saying ‘Do not cross.’”

“Are you listening to me? I don’t care! There’s got to be something in the room. You’re going to find it. Don’t get your fingerprints on anything in that room. Go through the tape, and get the damn evidence!

Arnav gave an exasperated sigh. “Fine!”

“During the day, you’re going to get as close to any of these three as possible. It should be easy to get Ganesh and Ashok together. I’ll take them. You take Jayesh—”

“Why do I get Jayesh?”

“Because I don’t like him very much.”

I don’t like him very much.”

“I don’t care, Arnav.”

Arnav didn’t speak.

“You take Jayesh. If you see him and his street gang hanging about, try very, very hard to eavesdrop.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It was a murder investigation – something she’d been dreaming of doing for most of her teenage life. She was Nancy Drew (or Nandini Drew, if you like) and she wasn’t going to stop until justice was served.

Today’s investigation was going to bear fruit. She felt it. It can’t have been Madhav. He wouldn’t do anything like that. Furthermore, he didn’t have a clear motive. These three were the only people with any motive at all. It had to have been one of these.

She got up from her corner, armed with notepad and pen, and walked into the day, regenerated. Nandini’s heart fluttered. She was trembling with excitement. One of these three would free her Madhav, and reunite them. One of these three would let her touch his face again. One of these three would make Madhav the happiest guy in the school.

And no matter what it took, she was going to find out who.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 2: Small and Insignificant

It felt weird to look at Madhav through a glass. Before this, every time Nandini had seen Madhav, she had been able to reach out and touch his face. Through the glass, it felt… wrong.

She had heard things about how imprisonment worked. Before they’d come to see him, she had known that there would be a glass. She thought she had been prepared. Now, looking at her Madhav through the glass, she realized she was never going to be prepared.

But it couldn’t have been him! Madhav was not like that! He had a bit of a temper, sure, but he wouldn’t… he wouldn’t! It was unthinkable, grotesque, monstrous. Yet there he was, sitting on the other side of a glass, the shackles biting into his wrists.

She took her seat beside Arnav, Madhav’s best friend. It had been his idea to bunk school and come here. He’d come to her after lunch, saying that he’d stolen their House Parent’s phone and scheduled a meeting with Madhav. She didn’t exactly know how he scheduled such an appointment, but his mother had been a detective. She put it down to that.

Madhav smiled when he saw them. His eyes were red, with dark circles underneath them. He pressed the button in front of him. “How did you get here?” he said, the words coming out like croaks from his throat.

“What does it look like?” said Arnav, pressing their button. “We bunked.”

“Thanks for coming to see me.”

“Are you kidding?” said Nandini, reaching up as if to touch his face, and touching the glass instead. “I don’t like this. We need to get you out of here.”

“Really?” said Madhav, scoffing. “You and what army? I’m never going to escape this.”

“Who said anything about escaping?” said Nandini. “You’re innocent!”

“Try telling them that.” He jerked his head backwards, gesturing to the guards behind him.

There was something about them that filled Nandini with dread. When she had seen police officers in TV shows and movies, they always had an aura of authority around them that made Nandini feel safe. When she saw them in real life, she was relieved that such strong people were there to protect her, to avenge her. Now, everything about them seemed dangerous. The green uniform, the arms crossed across the chest, and above all, the gun. For the first time in her life, she understood the true extent of a gun’s destruction.

“They’ve got hearts of stone.” Madhav said, keeping his eyes fixed on her. “No matter how much I tell them that I’m innocent, they… they…”

He suddenly broke down crying. Nandini wanted to go to him, put her arms around him, hold him until the end of time. But the hard glass stood firm. “It’ll be fine, Madhav,” she said, trying her best to console him. “We know you didn’t do it!”

“That does me no good, Nandini!” he shouted, suddenly. There was a pause in which only Madhav’s sporadic sobs could be heard. “The only one who was in the room with Dhule was me! I was asleep, and the only person who could attest to that is now dead. And the worst part? They used my razor to…” his voice faltered. Nandini’s ears rang from the shouting. She sat there, shocked. Then Madhav spoke again, soft as ever. “to slit his throat…”

Suddenly, Nandini thought of something. “Wait!” she said, suddenly, “If they used your razor, their—”

“—fingerprints would be on it? Do you really think the police didn’t think of that?” he paused to sniff. “There were no fingerprints on the razor. None.”

“None?” said Arnav, “but that means—”

“It couldn’t have been me!” finished Madhav, “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But they just threw it right back at me. If it was really my razor, why are there no fingerprints? Not even mine! My fingerprints should be on my razor! Why wouldn’t they be, unless I killed someone with it, and wiped my fingerprints off.”

Nandini was stunned. She was utterly speechless. Her heart began to sink, deeper and deeper. Something nagged in the back of her head. What if…

She banished the thought immediately. How dare she even think like that? How dare that thought even begin to formulate in her head?

“But if you had killed him with it—” Arnav began.

Arnav!” Nandini cried. “How can you say that?”

“Wait, listen to me!” he said, “If you did kill Dhule, why would you keep the razor back in your own cupboard?”

“Overconfidence,” he said, the words thick with crying. “Oh, God, they think I killed him!”

The pain Nandini felt didn’t subside even afterwards, as she lay on her bed, staring up at her ceiling. She could feel her roommate Bhavna’s eyes. Even though Nandini didn’t see her face, she could feel the emotion like the stab of an ice-cold dagger straight into her heart: pity.

She hated it. She hated feeling small, and insignificant. She hated people feeling that she was small and insignificant. However, with Madhav in jail, she did feel that way. She knew he hadn’t killed Laxman. She knew it in her heart. But the testimony of her heart wouldn’t matter much in court. There was nothing she could do. She was helpless and hopeless.

She was small and insignificant.

She turned around until her stomach was on the bed. Her head hanging from the side. She stared at the space between her bed and her cupboard, when a lightning bolt struck her.

In that tiny space, the book she was reading last night sat discarded. It was a black cover, with a pair of glasses, covered in blood, with “Neha Kulkarni” written in big bold letters at the top, and the book’s name, in thinner letters across the bottom: Red Christmas. It was a murder mystery, and it gave her the best idea she’d had in a long time.

Her heart began beating faster. She picked up the book in her trembling hands. She sat up, and a smile appeared on her face. She dropped the book and grabbed her bag. She ripped the zip open and rummaged frantically, until she found a notepad and a pen.

She was going to help Madhav. She was going to be significant. She was going to make a difference. She was going to prove them wrong. She was going to change their pity into awe.

In neat, capital letters, she wrote at the top of the page: “SUSPECTS”

She’d read about it. She knew how to do it. She knew how to help her boyfriend.

She was going to investigate. She was going to work the case, and she wasn’t going to stop until she had the proof that the police needed. This was how she was going to stop feeling small and insignificant. This is how she stopped the pity. This was how she was going to make a difference.

And by God, was it going to be fun.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Categories
Hostile Hostel

Part 1: Mondays Can Be Murder

There was something musical in the rhythmic creaking of the fan. Madhav’s hand began tapping involuntarily on the side of his thigh. In his head, the rhythm turned into a song. He hadn’t realized it was all happening until he found himself humming the song.

Groaning, he rolled over in his bed. Across the room, he saw Laxman Dhule, motionless, his head buried in his pillow. The blanket was a mess, strewn to one side, revealing a big, fat leg. Madhav found himself wondering how Dhule was going to handle the Boards. I’d be surprised if he shows up… Dhule wasn’t exactly a model student. He was quite the opposite.

Usually, in the Aryabhatta Residential School, one was either good at sports, or academics. The exceptional students were good at both. Dhule, however, was good at nothing. It didn’t matter what work he had. He was never going to do it. Unless it’s eating, thought Madhav.

He didn’t mean that as an insult to his size. The boy was actually a food connoisseur. He loved talking about food in general, and how crap the food was at school. The way Nandini was about books, Dhule was about food.

Madhav’s thoughts went straight to Nandini, and a smile appeared on his face. He rolled around, facing the blank wall, and thought of her. Her flowing hair, her thin, warm hands, her way smiling that seemed to blind him. Especially their late-night chats.  

Unbidden, unforeseen, Madhav felt a wave of guilt wash over him. He hadn’t talked to her last night. He was studying… A second wave hit him, but this time, it was fear. All at once, he remembered what day it was.

Quick as lightning, he reached up to the windowsill for his watch. In his haste, he knocked aside his glasses. He turned the light of the watch on to properly read the time in the dark. On the press of a button, a pale blue light illuminated the screen of the watch, showing him the time and date. 6:53. Shit.

He twisted around and crashed into the bed, exhaling loudly. He checked the watch again, looking at the date this time. SUN 25.3. One day. That’s all. One day. He wanted to yell and scream, he wanted to tear his hair out. He wanted to pound the walls until his hands were bloody stumps. These exams were going to be the death of him. He knew. The only thing he could do now-

Thump, thump, thump. The noise made Madhav snap his head around. Behind him, the House Parent loomed from the other side of the window. “Get up!” he shouted from the window.

Groaning, Madhav obeyed. Every muscle in his body ached, as if he’d just finished the most intense work-out of his life. Pain shot through all his nerves, as he lifted his back from the bed, only to have it flop back down, his head dangling from the far end of the bed. He wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. He saw the silhouette of the pile of books on his study table, and all the sticky-notes sticking out of the sides. He did not want to get up.

He heard the house parent slam the window on Dhule’s side of the room. Madhav slowly got up and put his legs beneath him.

He saw the House Parent come back into his side of the window, and shout at him. “On the light! And wake that boy up!”

Switch on the light, dumb-ass.” Madhav muttered, as he got up and walked across the room to turn the light on.

All at once, light flooded the room. Madhav closed his eyes, and massaged them.

On muscle memory alone, Madhav walked towards Dhule, and grabbed his shoulders. Shaking him violently, Madhav said loudly, “Oye, Dhule, wake up, or that dumb – “ 

Suddenly, Madhav felt something wet on his hands. “What the – “

His eyes focused, and widened. All words stuck in his throat. His legs felt like jelly. His knees gave in, and he tumbled backwards. His heart-rate quickened. His breath came up short, and hollow. He tried to scream, but it died in his throat. When he looked down at his hands, however, his voice came back, but only to scream.

Sir! SIR!” he cried, as the blood trickled down his hands, and slowly dropped to the floor.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Categories
Thoughts

The End of an Era

It’s the end of an era.

Sixteen years of my life (that’s all of it) have been spent here. Right here. In this colony. I’m not going to name it because of all you pervs out there on the internet, but the genuine ones know exactly what I’m talking about.

I won’t tell you exactly what this place means to me, because it’s going to end up being repetitive, boring, and cliché. Suffice it to say that I don’t think I’ve loved a place as much as I have this particular place. Not even my school (that’s right. That’s exactly what you read. Don’t @ me). After all that, how the hell did I even think of leaving it all behind?

Granted, I’m not going very far, but I’m still going, aren’t I?

Also, I know this is my second post in a row about going away, but the only other thing that has been on my mind is A Song of Ice and Fire, and If I start talking about that, I ain’t gonna stop, so it’s best that we leave that aside.

For the past month, I’ve been prowling the streets, investigating the exact nature of my relationship with this place. Every day, I’ve been breathing in the air, soaking in the rain, closing my eyes, and losing grasp of reality. My investigation has led me to the following conclusion: none of that is as good as it sounds.

The air is polluted, the rain makes it muddy, closing my eyes makes me sleepy, and losing grasp of reality is just not cool. Ultimately, it all gets a little boring. Just as it begins to get boring, suddenly it isn’t that boring. Investigation has proved that the source of sudden excitement is a bunch of people. Actual human beings. Who’d have thought?

Here, dear readers, I feel obligated to just give you a word of warning. The next few paragraphs are me gushing about people you probably have never heard of. While these people are some of the best people on this planet, I know it can get boring to see yet ANOTHER blog post of some teenager complimenting his/her friends. I know. I know. This is extremely cliché, but I feel a great need to do this.

These people have done so much for me that I feel useless. From the inside, my body will not let me survive if I didn’t write this.

I’ll start with the first. Ayush. This guy is just so much fun to hang out with. His friendly attitude, and iron-clad sense of honour make him my immediate choice for best friend, but the fact that he gets goofy in the middle of the night helps, too. A lot of people would have just drifted away from me as soon as they got to know me a little, and you stuck with me throughout. I don’t know where I’d be without you. Probably that same shell of a kid, holed up in one room, slowly fattening, and watching movies with the social life of a potato. Thank you for showing me that people can be awesome. And remember: Ball aega, toh pakad lenge.

If we’re going to be chronological about this, I guess Jatin would be next. Jatin is one of the sweetest guys I’ll ever know. I know I’ve been harsh towards you, and I know I might’ve hurt you many, many times. In the past. Let this be a public apology, and a declaration of what exactly you’ve meant. If anyone tries to tell you that you’re anything but the best, give them my address. I don’t think they’ll need their skin after that. Thanks, Chintin, and I’m sorry.

I’m not sure who’s next, so I’m just going to take a wild stab. I probably met all of the next three at basically the same time, but for now, I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say that I met Janhavi next (although I’m pretty sure I’ve bunged this whole chronology thing up). Haha, now where to begin with Janhavi… I guess I could go with the out of the blue weirdness that comes with being her friend, but the nicknames could be a cool place to start, too. I will not mention the nicknames either, because you guys have enough dirt on me as it is. The weirdness isn’t the pick-your-nose-then-eat-the-boogers kind. It’s the Janhavi kind. I don’t think words can describe it, but just hear her laugh, and you’ll get the basic gist of it. Of course, there’s a split part to this, like James McAvoy’s character in Split. While there is the weird Janhavi that squeaks at you and bursts out laughing, there’s also the serious, direct Janhavi, that can stick a pole through your gut and then drop a mic. Don’t get on her bad side. That’s going to leave a mark that you can’t get rid of surgically. Thank you, Jam, for being there even after you moved.

The second of the Three is Nikita. If Janhavi is Jam, then Nikita is bread. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more iconic duo. Also, if you’re have any doubts about the Bollywood world: who’s dating whom, who’s in which movie, and when it came out, you clear it up with Nikita.

Of all the drama I’ve seen unfold here, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one that Nikita hasn’t. She may not be a part of it, but she sure as hell knows about it. Nikita, know this: you’re awesome. I don’t think I say it enough. You’re funny, and you’re smart, and you’re awesome. You’re going to be a goddamn rockstar in whatever you do. Thank you, Nikita, for all the gossip everywhere.

That brings us to Tanvi. If you’ve seen Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you’ll know what I mean when I say she’s a slightly less intimidating Rosa Diaz. It’s like if you took the personality of Rosa and put it into the least intimidating look you can find, you’ve got the basic layout of Tanvi. She’ll threaten you, but you won’t feel a thing. But when she actually makes good on her threat, you’ll regret it. Tanvi’s the one you go for when you need any dirt on anyone. She’s also the one you go for when you need the worst advice ever. Thanks, Tanvi, for just generally being a badass.

The newest admission to this gang of gold is Isha. Simply put, Isha is the nicest person you’ve ever met times ten. Granted, when you look at her taste in books, you may not think so, but as I always say, “Don’t judge a person by their book taste.” (I’ve never actually said that. It’s just generally a good practice to not judge anybody, full-stop). She’s the most kind-hearted of them all (sorry, guys, but c’mon…). But! Don’t let that fool you. I’ve made the mistake of annoying her, and guys, believe me when I say she does NOT like that. Let me put it this way: if you value your ear drums, don’t mess with her. If you do, for some stupid reason, she’s going to yell at you in a volume that would put a banshee to shame. Thanks, Isha, for tolerating me. Also, Teen Wolf sucks thanks bye.

Y’guys, I don’t know if I could have survived without you. You are the walls to the castle that has been my life. Your support is unfathomable. Your contribution is uncountable, even if you might not know it.

Thank you, all. You’re the best.

Categories
Uncategorized

One Last Look

He’s packing his bags, he’s leaving for good.
I’ve heard about this day all through my life.
The day mom and dad will send him away,
Off to study, very far away.

Of course, I didn’t think it would come so fast.
I’m 90% sure that day was two years away.
It seems only yesterday he was blasting his tunes,
And singing to me, almost completely nude.

Only yesterday, he was on his computer,
Headphones in, watching some movie.
I see him watching, not blinking his eyes.
I sneak a look at the screen, and surprise, surprise,
It’s black and white, it’s old as time.
Does he even watch movies from today?
These look like they belong in all-white halls.

Oh, man, he’s crying. This one must be good.

Come to think of it, he doesn’t cry much.
I’ve seen him sad, but not bawling so much.
Sometimes, he looks like he wants to cry,
But for some reason, he can’t. He’s stressed, buried

In books he doesn’t enjoy.
He’d done that a lot over the past year. Probably studying.
Throughout that time, he didn’t look at me.
I felt dejected, empty inside.

But the day his exams finished … well…
You should have seen him jumping around.
Once more, he gave a damn, he was happy.
And our music sessions once more began.

He brought more songs to our sessions,
And more clothes as well.
But I didn’t care, or mind much. I loved the sound of his voice.
A sound like raindrops in the middle of a Delhi summer.

His friends were fun, too, though they didn’t pay
Attention to me, but to him, they did.
They seemed to make me happy,
And when he’s happy, I’m happy.
Now, he’s going away, away for good.
Off to some school to expand his knowledge.
Why they’re keeping him, I don’t know.
I just hope they have another of me.

He’s packed his bags, he’s leaving for good.
He takes one last look at me.
He stares into my eyes, and I into his.
I want to say something, but I’m just him.
There’s not me without him, I’m going away.
I don’t think I’ll be able to handle his absence well.
One last look, and then, he’ll be gone for good.

Categories
Uncategorized

Apology

The Boards broke me. That much has been clear as my glasses. It may not look like they did, but it happened. The breakage wasn’t emotional or physical, it was literary.

My sentences are terrible. My prose is weak. My plots are dull. My characters are thin. My style is dead, and it’s all because of the Boards.

I don’t know if that’s how the Boards are, but my English teacher certainly hated the way I wrote. I’m sure she meant well. Except, now, instead of she hating everything I wrote, and me enjoying writing it, it’s become the opposite. Granted: I’ve left school now, but I still feel like she would have liked the things I’m writing. I certainly hate them.

Writing has become boring for me. Earlier, it was a means of escape, so I could get away from this crappy world, and make worlds of my own. Now, I can’t even start. Sure, I’ve started many times. I’ve had ideas that sound excellent. But every time I start, I hit Ctrl-A, backspace. I can’t – for the life of me – write something that I enjoy reading. I go, “Ok. Ok. Wait, what? Ew. No!” and boom. Back to square one.

For example, I had an excellent idea for a mystery story, but once I was done, I knew inside me that it was the worst thing I’d ever written. Everything was predictable. I hated my own writing. I’d begun to imitate the books I hated most. I’d begun to make every one of my pieces a worthless pile of cliché dung. I hated my work.

So, here I am. Apologizing. Of course, I won’t put anything here that I don’t like, myself, so I’m not apologizing for the content. I’m apologizing for the lack thereof. I’m apologizing for not posting anything at all, offering the explanation of taking some time to get myself together. I’m sorry.

I’m working on something quite cool, though, but it’s not perfect yet. Once it’s perfect, you’ll see it. Just you wait.

Categories
Uncategorized

Confrontation

It wasn’t going to be easy, she knew, but somehow, she had to confront him. She took a deep breath and entered the room. Her heart was beating at an alarming rate. Her palms were sweating. She was shaking from top to bottom.

Her facial features had always been a problem. She’d spent ten years of her life home-schooled by her father. From her fifth standard onwards, she’d gone to schools, and every year was progressively worse.

Her mother had been in the police force, which meant frequent transfers. You name a major city in India, there’s a seventy percent chance she’s spent at least a year there. Every new city meant a new school for her. Every new school meant new children, and with her face, you do not want new children.

Her face was best left undescribed. Suffice it to say that if you imagine the worst face possible, and multiplied it by ten, you wouldn’t be close to understanding how bad it was.

However, that didn’t stop her. In every city, every school, she was at the top of her class. There were bullies, and there were friends, but no impediments in her education. She was top of the country in both her tenth and her twelfth.

The newspaper never showed her picture.

Now, after four years of college, and a huge graduation party, she was in the U.S. to further her education. She’d gained admission in none other than Harvard University, in their Computer Science division. She was happy. But…

This meant new people. New people from a whole new country. She’d heard enough about racism to know that the U.S. would probably be worse than India. If someone with flawless features could be shunned because of their skin colour, she stood no chance at Harvard.

Now, she was here. At the door of her new lecture room. She hesitated before entering. Her face was to the floor. She had the hood of her sweater on. A student went past her, not noticing her at all. She stood there.

Top of a country with one and a half billion people. Twice. What did she have to fear? Why was her head down? Why was she ashamed? She stepped away from the door.

There was no reason. She didn’t have to be afraid. Twelve shools in twelve cities couldn’t keep her down. What chance did one measly University stand?

She picked up her head and walked in to see her professor. To her shock, his face was a sight to behold.

“Ah,” he said, “it seems our class has gathered. Hello there, I am Professor August Pullman.”
She smiled as she walked over to her seat. She pretended not to hear the whispers, “Are they related?”