The bell rang, everyone rushed out of the class. It was Sunday, our morning prep time was over and we had the next two hours to ourselves, before the bell would ring again for lunch. Until then, we could do whatever we wished.
Well, not exactly WHATEVER!
We could continue studying, read, listen to music, dance, play or just laze around. But one thing was for sure, no one would stay back in class. Every day of the week, from morning till evening, we had enough of classrooms to want it for another day.
I closed the book I was pretending to read (pretending for whom I wonder), and was about to rush out with the girls , when I noticed a few of them still at their desks. There was something off about their expressions, something not normal, something enough to force me to stay back and find out. Sneha was waiting for me at the door, I signaled her to carry on and that I would join her in a moment.
Now the class was empty, except for us. There were few seconds of silence, then they gathered to sit together. A discussion began, so I came closer.
‘I am so scared, what do we do? My slambook was under my pillow and its gone,’ said Mishti.
‘Mine too!’ exclaimed Nisha.
‘Mine has been missing since yesterday,’ cried Ritu.
‘We are going to be in a big problem. This bed check shouldn’t have happened. I was going to keep my book in the cupboard anyways. Just wanted to read it a few more times. Oh! what luck,’ Gauri continued.
Ah! Now I understood. We had a surprise bed check last evening. It was a usual routine for our school or for any boarding school for that matter, I am sure. We weren’t allowed to keep anything under our pillows apart from the holy books that some would have. During these bed checks nothing big was ever caught, at the most some candies or snacks which the girls would keep to munch at night. Whatever found was always confiscated but no one ever cried about it.
But this time it was different. The things caught were more than just snacks.
We were in the 10th standard, soon we would be done with our board examinations and who knew when we would meet again. Though our school did offer Senior Secondary education, most students chose to pursue the same from their home towns. It might have been this way, to ensure a few years with their family before they went away again for ever. I am not sure of the reason but this had been the trend so far.
The knowledge of never meeting again brought up some unknown feelings and we wanted to capture whatever we could of each other. Those days, slam books were a good means for this. We would fill in what we felt for each other and planned to keep it safe forever. The first half of the year usually went in doing so, as the second half would be spent in preparing for the final exams.
This was perfectly normal and as expected, but what was not a part of the normalcy was the slam books being passed on to the boys too. Well, who could blame us! We studied together from the 3rd till the 5th standard in Junior School and then suddenly got separated to Girls’ & Boys’ Schools. We were expected to completely forget about the friends of the opposite gender and it wasn’t fair. With no other choice, we continued our lives happily in our respective schools, but some friends are meant for life and you don’t just forget about them. The books were somehow sneaked into the Boys’ School and they had found their way back safely, to the owners, duly filled. All was well till last evening’s bed check.
‘Something needs to be done. We need to get the books back,’ said one.
‘We have to get into the Headmistress’ office. Everything taken from the dorms is always kept there,’ suggested another.
‘Her office will be locked. How are we even planning to get in?’
Something big and adventurous was being cooked and I didn’t want to miss out on it. I knew Sneha would be waiting for me but just a few more minutes would do no harm, I thought.
‘Hey girls, I can get you the keys, if you wish. I know where they will be. Once, I had seen Ma’am keep them, when I had gone to her room with the notebooks,’ called out Manisha.
Till now, she had been sitting there quietly. Either she was in for a thrill like me or her heart had gone out to her vulnerable friends, nevertheless, the suggestion she gave was greatly honored.
So it was decided. I had invited myself to be a participant to the plan. When everyone would go up to the dormitory for the afternoon nap post lunch, we were to stay behind. We would stand in the queue for the counting but not enter the dorm. Instead, we would hide in the small room right next to it. We would wait for the girls to settle in their beds then go down with the acquired keys to the Headmistress’ Office, get the slam books and rush back to the dorm. Teachers would be in their quarters and the girls in their beds. No one would notice.
We were not to share this with anyone and act normal till the nap time.
Everything went exactly as planned. We reached the office door, turned the key and the lock opened. Removing the lock, we gave the door a gentle push.
It didn’t open!
We pushed again, this time a bit harder.
The door didn’t budge!
Couple of more pushes.
The office seemed to have an internal lock.
Hearing the noise, the tailor master sitting on the other side of the office came to check. We had completely forgotten about him. Of course he was there, on all Sunday afternoons. In panic, we ran and hid in one of the classes.
‘Come out, girls,’ one of the teachers called out from the corridor.
‘Come out NOW!’ We heard another one.
Our fool proof plan had failed.
Letters were sent home, explaining our deed. We deserved it. But what they got wrong was our intention.
Question papers had been received that day which were kept in the office. We weren’t aware of it. When the teacher found us trying to open the door, they assumed that it was for checking out these papers. We tried explaining otherwise, but I am not sure they believed.
Two weeks had passed and it was time for winter vacations. Papa was coming to pick me up and this was the first time that I was not looking forward to it.
When my name was called out, I slowly walked to the exit dragging my trunk & holdall. Papa was there at the door but I was so scared to meet his eyes. How would I face him? How would I face my entire family? What would they be thinking of me? In the past 8 years, never had they received a letter of misconduct from my school. I had broken their trust.
‘Chalein?’ Papa’s voice filled my ears, finally, I managed to look up.
He had the same warmth and smile on his face. I don’t think I smiled back. Instead, I must have looked confused, as Papa put his hands on my shoulders and asked again.
‘Chalein ghar, beta?’
Tears filled my eyes. I had been so scared all along but everything felt fine. It was possible that the teachers were just scaring us, and they never actually sent the letters home. Papa didn’t seem to be aware. I wiped my tears quickly and hugged him. ‘Chalo Papa,’ I said and sat in the taxi that was waiting for us.
Mummy greeted me as usual, kissing both my cheeks, but Charu’s and Lucky’s faces reflected multiple emotions and the moment they were alone with me, they bombarded me with questions.
‘Didi, ghar pe letter kyun aaya tha, aapke school se?’
‘Papa and Mummy were very upset after receiving it. What happened?’
‘Principal se mile kya Papa?’
‘What did you do?’
So the letter DID reach home and they WERE aware!
They didn’t talk to me about it so I decided not to either.
Back then, I wondered why was I being rewarded with no questions, but today I understand.
I had learnt my lesson and they knew I did.
– Priyanka Pandey (2005)
2000s Priyanka Pandey