“I love it!”
Riya had to admit, after a week had passed and she had comfortably settled in, that senior school hadn’t turned out to be as bad as she had thought it was going to be. Many of her friends from junior high who hadn’t turned up on the very first day also came and joined in her section, so the count of unfamiliar faces decreased, and she even began talking to some of the newcomers. Somehow, all apprehensions had eased and she got used to the new, if hectic, routine of lectures, presentations and practicals.
One of the girls who had been newly accepted into the school had brought her sketch book along, and was showing Riya a charcoal sketch of a daffodil in the morning, and hence the exclamation.
“I love it! It’s beautiful!”
“Thank you.” Kriti bowed in a grand gesture and smiled, but had to stop her theatrics short as the bell for the morning assembly went off and everyone started preparing to leave. People adjusted their badges and ties, rubbed their shoes on the back of their socks to renew their shine, stuffed notebooks and stationary into bags and zipped them, and in a few minutes streamed out of the classroom to join the others moving solemnly towards the prayer hall.
Morning assembly was, to put it accurately enough so that nobody thinks otherwise, a unique experience for everyone present. Not speaking in the macro sense of course, for then it would amount to nothing more than the monotonous routine of school prayer, pledge, news headlines, activity of the day and then dispersal. But for a single individual, one morning assembly can be an extremely boring affair one day for he/she has nothing to do, an extremely tense time duration the next day if there’s a class test in the next period, or a nervous wreck if he/she is supposed to be up on the stage and contributing his/her bit to the centuries old morning ritual. In a nutshell, there’s a different part of the kaleidoscopic cosmos that we are concerned with during each morning assembly, and only come back to reality when the P.T.I. taps his finger on the mic and asks the indifferent faces to pay attention to what was happening on stage. Therefore today, for Riya, the morning assembly was nothing more than a bore while she contemplated whether she ought to be giving little Shreya a book or a toy for her birthday. Combined with the headline for the day that she caught, reporting that lead content in the colours of Chinese toys were responsible for recent reports of lead poisoning in kids, she decided Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider would be a good gift. Shreya wasn’t in that age group anymore to be putting toys in her mouth, but the book would add a teasing element that Riya was looking forward to. She smiled to herself as the activity of the day (spin-a-yarn, duh!) proceeded, thinking of how her sibling would make a show that she didnotwant a book for her birthday, but later would be found oblivious to the world, lying on her tummy with her face buried in the book.
Yellow house won the activity, as usual, and then the school captain dispersed the houses systematically. With slow steps she followed the line, and climbing the stairs that elevated the corridor from the hall, came face to face with the one guy in class she thought she did not want to see eye to eye. He was standing in the defaulters’ line, so probably some part of his uniform was not up to the mark.
Serves him right,she thought. For what? She brushed the second thought away.
The next class was physics, and when Anurag came a little late and excused himself, all forty one pairs of eyes followed him as he took the backseat and took out a notebook from his bag. When Rupesh sir cleared his throat, everyone got back to listening and taking notes. Once the teacher starts speaking is when the real school life begins. Somebody coughed politely to give the cue; another dropped a pen and bent down to pick it up, managing to shift the bench in the process and producing a significant amount of metallic screeching. Stifled giggles and shared grins did a round and notes written on chits were exchanged. Riya suppressed the urge to check her MSN account, for physics was one of the classes she thought was good at and didn’t want to undermine her self esteem.
The class was on speed, time and distance, and after writing the conversion values for different units of distance, turned away from the board.
“Light-year and parsec are units of distance, not time. Light-year does sound like it represents the year, but is actually the distance travelled by light in one year. So when I say the distance between two astronomical bodies is X parsecs…”
“Excuse me, sir.” A single voice from the back produced the effect that teachers can only dream of producing in their classes. There was pin drop silence. Everybody turned around to look, and Riya almost literally rolled her eyes when she saw who it was. Why isn’t this surprising?
“Yes?” Rupesh sir, in his long and illustrious career as a teacher spanning fourteen years, had not been interrupted very often during his lectures. And it reflected in his monosyllabic answer.
“It’s ‘parsec’, sir.”
“Yes, so?” His brows furrowed.
“I… I thought you said ‘parsecs’ instead of ‘parsec’, sir. Units in physics are not used in the plural.”
“I know what is and is not used in physics, and I presume everyone present here is intelligent enough to not pay attention to minor slips of the tongue. I expect you to not interrupt classes and waste my time.”
“Sit down.” And judging by the way he said it, he might have been thinking of keeping him standing for the whole class.
The rest of the class passed in total silence, with only the sound of chalk on blackboard being audible. Rupesh sir walked out almost as soon as the bell rang, and gradually the volume rose to the normal level. Sohail, one of the few who had graduated from junior high from the same school, got up from his chair and walked up to Anurag as soon as theatmospherewas normal. Everyone, Riya included, was turned sideways to hear what he had to say.
“You’ve got nerves man, pissing Rupesh off.” He grinned and offered his hand. “I’m Sohail.”
Anurag shook his hand briefly and offered his name. “You won’t be in his good books for a long time by the way you messed with him for such a thing.”
Anurag shook his head. “Yeah”, he said with a resigned voice and looked up, making all the others quickly turn around and resume swapping notebooks for the next class, “I tend to have that effect on people.” Riya was amongst the quickest ones to look away to avoid his gaze, but she heard him just fine.
“What’s wrong with you, huh?” Ajay, sitting next to Anurag, asked and gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.
The rest of the day passed without any incident, and Riya found herself sitting in the air conditioned biotechnology lab, waiting for the last bell to ring as she toyed with a DNA helix model. The whiteboard/ makeshift projector screen was in front of her, the lab instruments in the white ceramic tile covered area on the left and to the back, and the life-size windows were to the right, offering a clear view of the lobby outside. If she had been sitting facing any other direction, probably she wouldn’t have seen what happened in the lobby outside when the bell for the junior section rang. But she sat with the windows to her right, and happened to turn at the precise moment when something unexpected took place. Young kids streamed out into the lobby to reach the main gate and be collected by their guardians or be taken to their respective buses. In this crowd entered Anurag from the left, where the stairway leading up to the senior section started and stood patiently, gazing into the junior section on his left and directly in front of the biotech lab’s windows. A small boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, walked up to him, handed him what, judging by the little colour that caught Riya’s eye, was the house badge whose absence had caused Anurag to be detained after the morning assembly. He bent down to come to eye level with the kid, shook his hand and waved goodbye as he turned around and ran towards the exit. He straightened up, adjusted his backpack and followed suit.
The world shook. “Come oooon… let’s go already!” Suniti shook Riya by the shoulder and pulled her up from her seat. The classroom was almost empty.
“Mm hmm”, she said and picked up her sling bag, unable to shrug off the memory of what had just happened. To put how she felt in words, it felt like an astonishing discovery.