“The clock hand is about to strike eight
The word I dreaded to hear and is sure I have to bear is ‘late’.
Only God knows, what would be my fate.”
What a rhyme! I would have patted my back if this rhyme would have not been my true comeuppance, this morning. It is already 8’o clock in my watch and I am still battling against the laps of air on my father’s bike. The morning prayers would have already started. Don’t know what that Hungarian Horntail would do to me.
“Papa, a bit faster.” I say softly because I know this all late-kate thing is my fault.
“This thing, which we are riding upon, is a bike, not an aeroplane, Nishu. So please abide by its speed and try to be a bit quicker tomorrow onwards.” Says papa.
I sigh quietly because this ‘being a bit quicker’ is as likely as the sun setting in east. Although I have developed a quite thick hide by being a habitual latecomer, it is the first day of my 6th standard and I truly wish to exercise my right, to choose my seat by arriving early. I had somehow managed this last year. But this year, it’s out of question.
The magnified sound of principal’s new academic years speech is resonating in the environment. Huh! Even the prayers are over.
My father waves me goodbye and I enter the school gate.
As expected, the latecomer’s queue is shortest today and to my dismay, no girls of my class are late. So, I’m gonna get no choice. Not even the 2nd last. Unless… someone is absent. Fingers crossed.
After getting my diary blotted on the very first day of school, I trudge off to my new class in a new building.
“May I come in, ma’am.” I ask. Mrs. Rennu aka Hungarian Horntail is my new class teacher. In previous classes, she used to teach us maths. And since that the very time we all dreaded of 6th standard, when she would be our class teacher. She’s very popular for her strictness and punishments.
“Come in.” Says she without even looking up from the register. “I am excusing you because it’s your first day in this class. From tomorrow onwards, no irresponsible behaviour shall be entertained.” Finally she glances at me. I’m standing in front of the class looking for a spare seat.
“Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am.” I answer.
“I’m speaking to the whole class. Is this clear?”
“Yes ma’am” All the students choruses in union.
I’m still standing in front of the class looking for an empty seat. To my extreme good luck, no students are absent today and neither of them but me are late. And thus no seat is empty.
“Without delaying any further, we…” Mrs. Rennu began her monotonous prologue without even looking up from class register. But stops abruptly, looking at my unorthodox position in the class.
“It seems there is no place for you in our class, is it?” She seems amused. Some other students too sniggers at her pun.
“See if Rashmi wishes too share her comforts with you.” Rashmi? Some new student? I crane my neck to have a look at the girl, this dragon is pointing too.
“Last row. Last bench.” Last bench! This is best thing that could have happened to me. I struggle between the rows, avoiding tripping over the bags of students on either side of aisle.
At last, I have the first glimpse of my partner; an another poof of my fabulous luck today. On my designated seat, sits a girl with shabby hair and dirty uniform. Her eyes are bleary as if fighting exhaustion in the very first period. Skin perspiring beneath the layers of grime despite the cool weather and the fan circling overhead. And despite that, the thick slimy mucus rimming her nostrils. Yuck!
However, digesting this unappetizing disgust I greet her.
“Hello” She replies me with a toothy grin. I take my seat beside her.
Mrs. Horntail does our roll call and marks our attendance. And then she begin with our first chapter in Mathematics- Integers. I have already completed it, so I’m able to solve all the problems and this is first unsarcastically good thing that happened to me since morning.
My partner lazily drools through out the class. Her pages remains void of any scribbles. She dosen’t bother to try any questions. And her being seated on the last bench helps her a lot in this situation. I guess she deliberately made this choice.
I maybe a latecomer but I am never a back bencher. By the way, I would like flatter myself that am the topper of the class this year.
Mathematics is followed by physics and biology. Everything goes as usual, except that I’m not able to enjoy teacher’s attention to which I’m so accustomed to.
On the other hand, my partner seems to be craving for invisibility. And this desire of hers is continuously thwarted by my raising hand for answers. I see her getting anxious.
Next, we have Hindi class. Vibhuti sir is our new Hindi teacher. In primary classes we had an another teacher. He teaches in the senior classes.
Our first chapter is a poem, ‘Rashmirathi’ written by National poet, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. It is my father’s favourite and he have made me memorize a few paragraphs of it.
So when he asks who would like to begin reading, I automatically raise my hand. I read the first and second paragraph, followed by Aayush who read the third and fourth. And so the process of reading continues.
Even this doesn’t excite my partner. So by the time teacher asks her to read, she is already half asleep, that I have to nudge her awake. Startled by this sudden attention, she hastily gets up, knocking down her book.
“Read the next paragraph.” Vibhuti sir repeats his statement, after she picks up her book and stand.
I know she must not have kept up with the class as she was dozing through out the period. So I try to indicate the line where she must read. But she is so nervous that she pays no attention to me and begins the reading from the start.
“Rashmi– Rathi” She stammers. The students jeers at her howler . Sir silences them.
“Is this where we are reading?” Sir asks.
Rashmi doesn’t respond. She keep looking at her feet, perspiring profusely. The point where her hands clutched the desk is already wet. She is very nervous. For the first time in the whole day, I feel sorry for despite knowing that it is her fault not being attentive in class.
“Read para seven.” Sir demands when she doesn’t respond.
Rashmi commences reading. She stammers a lot and doesn’t read in a good flow. This makes her quite self conscious and a lot more nervous. Her hands shakes and she sniffs in between. I think she is crying.
After finishing, she sit down looking at her book and burying her face into her palm. But I don’t try to comfort her as I don’t know what to say, or do.
When the lunch bell rings, I reluctantly ask her if she would like to join me. But to my great relief, she says no. So I leave with my so called friends, who didn’t even worried to save a single place for me; as if I really hoped.
“Hi Nakshita.” Calls Aastha as I approach their group. It includes Aastha, Neha, Roshni and me.
“Hi” I greet her back.
“Hey bro! Once again topper, yeah.” Says Neha enthusiastically. I just smile. Because I know what is going to follow.
“Yeah! Party! Nakshita is going to give us party.” Shouts Roshni.
“Party! Party!” They all leers together. I listen silently, till the turn is mine.
“Calm down guys. I won’t give you false hopes. I’m not gonna give you any party.”
“Nakshita, don’t be a spoil sport.” Says Roshni.
“Actually, I’m a spoil sport. So, no party.” I say, trying not to sound sulkily.
“Oh! Someone’s cranky today.” Aastha says with a sneer. “It is the effect of spending half the time with that Rashmirathi, isn’t it?”
“Not at all. Rather I had a very good time with her.” I answer, which is not completely a lie. Though she is not fun to be with, her invisible companionship offer me much space for myself.
After lunch, the rest of the classes goes on with its usual pace. Me being same myself and Rashmi the same oblivious herself. We don’t speak much.
At dispersal, my mother comes to pick me up. She always did.
When I step out of my classroom, I find her standing in the small group consisting of Neha’s and Aastha’s mothers and an another woman whose son is my junior. They must be discussing their children or local gossips or maybe how the household works are most tedious job.
When she sees me coming, she moves a little away from the group and waves at me. I wave back, languorously.
“How was your day Nishu?” She says, grasping my shoulder. “Oh! My child looks so tired.”
“It was okay, mumma.”
“Just Okay? Not good?”
“No aunty. Nakshita had had a very good time today. Right Nakshita?” Chimes Aastha from behind me. Her irony is not lost on me. I would have given her a good answer, if our parents would not have been standing beside us. I just glares at her.
“Oh! This bag is so heavy.” Says Astha’s mother, helping her shruging off her bag. “Do you carry bricks and rocks in your bag?”
The other women laughs out at this, while Aastha rolls her eyes.
My mother too tries to take my bag, but I gently pull away. “It’s alright, mumma. Let’s go.” I say with an exhausted pout. She smiles and nods. And then take my hand as we move away from the circle.
We walk home in silence. The day is too hot, with the afternoon sun stretching it to the extreme of endurance. My home is at a 20 minutes distance from school by foot. But today this 20 minute seems to drag out to eternity.
When at last I reach my lane, it is as if I can’t take any more step. I wish I were still a kid and mumma could carry me in her arms.
Even before entering the lane, Aashu’s house looms into view. Painted in all vibrant colors– yellow, green, violet, red, and with its grand entrance and fine patterns on its palisades, it symbolizes some haweli from Rajasthan. However rather than it’s display of pomp and splendour, it looks more ridiculous among other sober homes of the neighbourhood.
Aashu’s mumma is standing in the balcony; maybe waiting for him. Upon spotting us she asks if we saw Aashu coming. Obviously not. We inform her so and before any further conversations could be made, I drag mumma towards home. I can’t bear to stand in this heat anymore.
About 10 steps ahead, stood my house, flanked between Jigyasha’s and Sharma uncle’s residence. Jigyasha is my bestfriend. And till last year, we read in the same school and same class. But this year, her father got transferred to Delhi and so she has to leave. I really miss her.
Her uncle, aunt and her grandparents still live here. And her aunt is such a bizzaro. Always fighting with her in laws. Shouting and yelling. While in society, she try to seem so friendly and caring. A pure charlatan!
Sharma uncle is a very sociable, pious old man, living alone with his wife. He has two son, both of whom are settled abroad. Maybe his loneliness is the reason that he is very fond of all children in the colony. And in turn he is well respected by everyone.
While mumma unlocks the door, I slump against the wall.
“The day is really hot. I have made aam panna for you. It will protect you from loo.”
As soon as I’m inside, I threw my bag aside and sagged into the sofa. I closed my eyes and soon I began dreaming. I’m more tired than I guessed.
When I open my eyes, it is my mother’s hand massaging my hair.
“I know my darling is very exhausted. But first go and freshen up. Then have your lunch. And after that you can take a small nap. Go hurry up.”
“Yes mumma.” I say and leave for my room.
I quickly change into my pajamas. After washing my face and my hands, I head towards kitchen. It is hotter than rest of the house. But mumma still keeps it’s windows closed, to prevent dust from entering. Actually, there is a construction site just in front of my house, on opposite side. It generates a lot of dust and noise. Don’t know, how those labourers works over there, when it’s already so hot outside.
“You got late. Is that’s what made you upset?” Mumma asks, as she put chapatti and curry in a plate.
“A sort of.” I say. When she doesn’t speaks further, I add, “I was late, as usual. Got the last seat. That’s depressing. And was seated with the dirtiest creature, I have ever seen.”
“Nishu, you shouldn’t speak like that about anyone.” Mumma reprimands me.
“Mumma, not just dirty. She was so lazy. Always snoozing and not paying attention at anything teachers said.” I say defensively.
“Even then, you shouldn’t speak like that about anyone. You just see what they look, what they’re doing and talking. But you don’t know, if someone is different then why they are so. Do you? Not everybody has got the same facilities as you do.” Mumma says. And I let the matter drop.
Last night, papa made me sleep much earlier and woke me up alongside the birds in our neighborhood. As a result, today I’m at school much earlier than I ever did in my history. Alas! My record of being late-kate is broken. The whole school is silent, not to mention the voices of few students and the chirping of birds.
In class to my huge surprise, Rashmi is present. And the bigger astonishment is– she is unexpectedly clean!
“Hi Rashmi.” I say.
“Hi,” she says, rather self consciously.
I sit down and take out a copy of ‘To kill a mockingbird’ which I have got issued from the school’s library. The way Scout, Jem and Dill played the various games, made me remember my childhood with Jigyasha. We too made stories of our own and played multiple roles in it. And some characters were even played by invisible players.
I’m dragged to the present by Rashmi calling me.
“Umm, yes?” I say, deliberately pulling my mind out of the reveries.
“Actually—” She halts abruptly. I raise my eyebrows, encouraging her to continue.
“I was wondering– if you could please show me your Maths homework.”
My homework? Why does she want my homework? For copying? Or maybe, for some particular doubt.
I must not prejudge her, but I wager it’s the former one.
“Okay. If you have some doubts then you show me the question. I’ll try to help you out.” I offer her.
“Umm, it’s like… I haven’t done anything. Ma’am would punish me. Please.”
I never allow any to copy my homework, or my exam paper. But, there is something so earnest in her face that made me approve.
“Okay,” I say. But I regret as soon as it slipped out of my mouth. However, after giving my consent, I can’t back out. So, I hand over my copy to her.
Thanking me, she quickly begins copying my homework. By the time she finishes, classroom is filled with buzz of students who are about to leave for prayer.
“Thank you so much.” Says Rashmi.
I give her a forced smile because this is not a benevolence I ever wished to bestow upon anyone.
We are back into class after the prayer. The procession of roll calling is followed by inspection of our homework. We are asked to keep our copies on desk in front of us.
Row by row, every copies are examined. Students are praised and punished. And at last it is our turn.
Mrs. Horntail takes a single glace at my work and moves ahead to inspect Rashmi’s copy.
“Done the homework?” She demands.
“Yes ma’am” Rashmi says, pushing her copy an inch towards ma’am.
Mrs. Horntail picks up her copy. “From whom did you copy?” she says looking up at her.
“Ma’am… I didn’t—” Rashmi stammers.
“No lies, Ok.” She growls.
Rashmi doesn’t say anything. She just look down, fighting back tear.
“Tell me who allowed you to copy his or her homework. Tell me!”
Fear gnaws at my heart. Why me? People always do this and gets away without even a taint. But I who made such mistake for the first time—. What would this dragon do to me?
“Who let her copy their homework?! Accept your crime yourself and maybe your punishments be a little less severe. Although, I already know who he or she is.”
I sit still, clasping my sweating hands together to prevent it from shaking. My heart is beating frantically and I’m hot all over. God please save me!
A minute passed with a deathly silence hanging in the class. Everyone is anticipating, who most likely is the culprit.
“Get out both of you!” The dragon barks.
I look up. She is glaring at me. “Ma’am, I—” I begin defiantly.
“Yes, Nakshita and Rashmi. Get out of my class. And Nakshita bring your parents tomorrow.”
Why just me? Tear spills thoughtlessly from my eyes. I just hate this girl. This dragon of teacher. I hate myself!
Rashmi looks at me, tear brimming her eyes. “Sorry,” she says.
“Just shut up!” I hiss back. I am never this rude. But this girl is bringing my worst behaviour out of me. I hate her for everything!
My whole day is spoiled. When I reach home, I tell my mother everything.
“It’s not a big deal. After all, my darling was just helping.” She says casually. But it is a big deal for me.
Papa too says the same. Next day, he comes to meet that horrible class teacher of mine. And everything settles.
Rashmi and I are back to silence. A little unfriendly one from my side and I hope, a guilty one from her side.
A week passes. And I’m no more angry with her. But my resolve to never help her again is made for once and all. Not that she asks for it again.
Rashmi is still a bit drowsy in classes. But when she’s not drooling, she’s anxious; as if try to hold sand in her fist and failing to do so. Talking about homework, she does some, gets penalized for some. But to the greatest relief of mine, she is no longer shabby.
Today is Thursday and it is 3th period, English class. Pramila Ma’am is making us read our lesson. The reading began with our row, so according to trend of one para per student, I will have to read 9th paragraph. Alright, I’m ready. However, I am concentrating in what others are reading, because it’s an interesting story.
“Nakshita,” Rashmi calls me. What she has to do with me right now?
“Shush!” I hiss back. Pramila ma’am is very strict against students talking in her class. And I don’t want to be humiliated again.
“This word. What—” She says pointing at something on her book.
“Do want me to be expelled out of the class again?!” I ask, more harshly than I intended. I regret immediately but it is better than having to hate her after getting punished.
Rashmi does not bother me again. And the reading continues.
Now it’s my turn. I stand confidently and begin reading. I would like to flatter myself that I read very fluently. After I complete my para, I sit and now it’s Rashmi’s turn.
Rashmi too, stands very confidently and starts reading. Surprisingly, she presents a very steady intonation, despite the lot of pronunciation mistake. Some students are making silent jeers at her mistakes but she’s appreciably managing her nervousness. She’s not as idle as I thought. She is making efforts.
While she is reading, she encounters a word which she pronounces such that it sounds like an another vulgar word. Many students gasps. Other lecherous ones hoot. Rashmi pales; her calm demeanor shattered. Her voice wavers. But she still continues her last line (which is drowned in other sounds). Ma’am silences the class and further reading continues.
But I taste the sourness of guilty into my mouth. Maybe she was asking the pronunciation of the same word. Maybe I could have prevented her disgrace. I can see she was trying very hard. But wherever she needed help there is no one she could count upon.
A part of my brain says that, this balances both of our remorse. But the other, more dominant part says if I could have helped then I should have helped. And failing to doing so, can’t be taken as anything other than selfishness.
When the lunch bell rings, I brace myself for what is going to follow next. I’m going to apologize. Yes, it’s the most difficult thing to do, at least for me.
“Rashmi,” I say as she begins to take out her lunch box. She looks at me with surprised eyes. I was expecting contempt and disgust.
“Yes,” she says.
“Would you mind if I stay back with you.” I say. She shrugs her shoulders in approval.
“Which school did you read before this?” I ask her trying to steer the conversation.
She mumbles the name of some school; gyan something. First of all it wasn’t audible and secondly I didn’t knew any such school. However, I don’t ask her to repeat because she seemed quite embarrassed. Rather I say, “Good.”
Once again silence stretches between us. So I ask, “Who else do you have in your family?”
“My maa, papa, a younger brother and sister.” Again she seems embarrassed. I don’t know why. I’m I being too personal? So what shall I ask her; what’s your favorite color?!
“Where do you live?” I ask her instead.
She doesn’t answer, no less she tries to distract me by saying, “What’s the name of the book you were read, in the morning?”
“It’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’” I say. “Do you want to read it?” I add.
Again we are silent. I know, I’m supposed to say sorry and I’m procrastinating it. But I’m as ashamed to accept my mistake as she is to divulge her personal info.
But at last, I say it. “I’m sorry, Rashmi. Don’t look at me so surprised. And don’t say that it’s ok.” I add when she open her mouth to say something. “I know you were going to ask the pronunciation of some words that time. And I could have helped. But I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
When Rashmi don’t say anything, I continue, “I want to help you. Just like friends.”
I extend my hands towards her. “Friends?”
She gives me a genuine smile and we shake hands.
“No. No. It’s not kau-ti-on. It’s kau-shun.” I tell her the pronunciation of ‘caution’. “All the words ending with ‘tion’ is pronounced ‘shun’. Alright?”
“Yes.” She says enthusiastically.
I have begun to help her with all the subjects. And I’m quite surprised, that she is very good in Mathematics. But her major problem is English. It is a few days after our newly developed friendship, she told me that she is from a government school and studied all the subjects in Hindi. She sucks at English.
Thus I have begun to search the Hindi words for all the things in maths, science and Social Studies. And this is helping her a lot. Moreover, it’s fun even for me to know that ‘Gravitation’ is called ‘gurutavakarshan’ in hindi.
Mumma is right. “Never judge a book by it’s cover.” Rashmi, whom I thought idle and dull, is very smart and exciting. She grasps things quickly and now we are not only limited to some dull musings. We talk about other things as well. Like her friends in her previous school. And the bizarre games she played then. She plays badminton very well. And I love being with her.
“How did you get admission here? I mean with such English.” I ask. We are quite frank now that I don’t bother with much formality.
However this seems to bother her. She don’t answer. So, I decide to drop it. But she starts speaking abruptly.
“My maa is a maid over here.”
“Oh. Who?” I ask.
“Kamala devi.” Oh! That’s why, Mrs. Horntail didn’t call her parents. But why didn’t she tell me earlier.
“Does it bothers you?” she asks.
“Why would it bother me?” I ask, totally confused.
“Because my mother is a maid. And you won’t stoop down to befriend a maid’s daughter.”
“What?! Are you crazy?” I shake my head in disbelief. “It doesn’t matter who your parents are, even if they are criminals. Moreover, your mother is a hard working woman. How could you be ashamed of her? This does bother me.”
“I’m sorry.” She says, looking down in her lap.
“No. Don’t say sorry to me. Rather feel sorry. And always respect your mother.”
“Yes. It was she, who begged principal sir to get me admitted her. I gave school’s entrance in Hindi. And qualified it. But after coming here… it is different. I don’t feel, I belong here.”
“You know what, you do belong here. As much as I or anyone else does. Got it?”
Everything is going well. The school is once again fun, with Rashmi on my side. Finally, I have found a new bestie. But still, miss you Jigyasha.
It is already a month in this class. And our term tests are going to commence a week later. I’m prepared and so is Rashmi. She is a quick learner.
Apart from this, another interesting thing has happened this year. I have left behind my tag of late-kate and become a morning person.
As usual, today also I’m too early. The whole school is silent and classrooms vacant. Yes, even Rashmi has not come yet. I am disappointed because l have developed a habit of finding Rashmi waiting for me, when I arrive. But I guess, today I have to wait for her.
We are leaving for morning prayers. But still, there is no sign of Rashmi. Where is she?
Ma’am has taken our attendance. Rashmi has been marked absent. If I didn’t know Rashmi so well, then I would have assumed it is likely for a girl like her to be absent. But as I know her, I can say, it’s not like Rashmi to be absent for some simple excuses. Is she alright?
During lunch break, I look for Kamala aunty. Even she is on leave. What’s wrong?
Even mumma can tell, something isn’t right with me today. I didn’t knew, I relied so on my friends to cheer up my mood.
Once at home, I called Rashmi umpteenth times. But her phone is always busy or switched off.
Next day too, she is absent. I have stayed back in class during lunch, as I did along with Rashmi. While I’m eating, Aastha, Neha and Roshni approaches me.
“Hi Nakshita.” Neha says.
“Hi,” I greet her back.
“Where is your bestfriend?” Asks Aastha.
“She is absent.” I say casually. For them bunking classes is a casual thing after all.
“Yeah, we know. But where is she? Why is she absent?” Asks Roshni. I shrug my shoulder.
“You don’t know?” Says Aastha making horrified face. “Your friend didn’t tell you?”
“If you want to say something, say it and leave. Don’t spoil my time.” I say, rather annoyed.
“Okay. Your friend is a fraud and her mother a thief.”
“Shut up, Aastha!” I shout.
“She burgled in my neighbor’s house. Her mother. She worked there.”
“SHUT UP! Go away!” I say furiously. Roshni and Neha tries to pull her away.
“Yes, fine. I’m going. But you must understand who to make friends with. Not with someone whose mother is in police custody!”
They are gone. My head is throbbing. Is all this true? No. No. I hope it’s not.
At home, when I go to take nap, I can’t sleep. My mumma asks, what’s wrong with me. But I can’t tell her. Not until I’m sure what’s the truth.
Instead, I sit down to do my homework, to distract myself. But my imagination is wandering here and there. I can’t concentrate.
But the distraction arrives in the form of Jigyasha’s aunty. She’s once again yelling upon someone.
“You benighted, backward people! Don’t you even understand that this is a residential area. Well civilized people live here. It’s not a place for such uncouth behavior.” Says she.
“Sorry madam. It won’t happen again.” Says someone whose voice I don’t recognize.
“What sorry? For a boor like you, such an oafish behavior is in your blood. You people can never be cured out of it. You people shouldn’t even be allowed to live here!” Continues she.
I slip out into the hall and find my mother sitting on the sofa.
“What happened mumma? Whom is she shouting upon?” I ask her.
“It’s some labourers from the building infront. They were arguing among themselves and the noise disrupted our calm civil society.” Mumma says, rolling her eyes.
“Just arguing?” I ask skeptically.
Such a hypocrite she is! When she is fighting with her family members, then no noise comes, no civil society is disturbed and if these people arguing among themselves, then OH MY GOD! The whole sky has fallen apart!
Though I don’t voice my opinion but my mother seems to read my thoughts. She smiles at me and says, “Nishu, I know what you’re thinking. But this is how the world is. They oppress the weak. Impose their right and wrong upon them. Make laws to bind the weak, but themselves stay aloof.
“We call them uncouth, illiterate, boor, but do we ever think why they are what they are. She says it’s in their blood but I think it’s the life that
are leading. And we who keep complaining, have we ever tried to find a solution to it.”
“I understand mumma.”
Today, when I come to school Rashmi is there. I feel a sudden swell of joy within me. It’s now that I realize how much I was looking forward to meet her.
I approach her. But she doesn’t looks in my way.
“Hi Rashmi!” I say.
I perceive, she knows Aastha would have definitely told me what happened with her family. So I don’t pretend otherwise.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Fine.” She says without looking at me.
“And aunty?” I ask cautiously.
“She is also good.”
“Won’t you tell me what happened?”
“Why? Your friends must have already told you.”
“No, my friend hasn’t told me anything.”
“Does it matter? Would you believe me?” She says meeting my gaze for the first time. Her eyes are shimmering with anger which I have never seen before. I am taken aback.
“Yes.” I say.
“My maa didn’t do anything. She’s not a thief! For a whole day they kept her at police station. And even after the charge is clear, they removed her from the job.” She begins sobbing. I circle by arms around her and squeeze her shoulder.
“I’m sorry.” I say.
Throughout the day, I stay by her side against all the stares. After all a friend in need is the friend indeed.
“Rashmi, read your answer aloud.” Says Vibhuti sir.
The week passed in haste and exams are followed by results. I am overall topper. But Rashmi is Maths and Hindi topper and overall rank 4. A toast to our victory.
Vibhuti sir is so impressed by one of her answers that he has asked her to read it aloud in the class. Rashmi begins:
“ Poem- Rashmirathi, by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. Para-3
‘ tejaswi samman khojte ni gotra batla ke,
Pate h jag me prashasti, apna kartab dikhla ke
Heen mool ki oor dekh jag galat kahe ya thik
Veer khich kar hi rahte h itihaso me leek.’
The summary of this paragraph is, ‘The great people don’t seek respect and recognition by announcing their titles and status. They earn it through their deeds. People will prejudge you. They will make conjectures. But if you are brave enough, carve your own path out of difficulties without paying them any heed.’ “
The whole class is still silent as if enchanted. After all her voice is strong. It take them a moment to realize that she is done with speaking. And then the class resonates with the sound of clapping. Finally, my friend has proved them that they were not wrong to call her Rashmirathi.