This short story is completely fictional and duly inspired from real life. The character of Karthik Tyagaraj has been modeled on one of my very close friend at college.
It was thirty minutes past nine in the night. Looking at his watch, Vinay swore under his breath and walked faster. He walked with his head high and eyes drawn together, possibly in anger. Even in his petulant mood, he noticed how huge his college campus was. Adorned with huge buildings, one for each department, his college was undeniably one of the biggest and prestigious in the city. A cement road ran inside the campus to walk around and was better than the muddy road that led him to the college gate. The road curved beautifully to the right with endless patches of greenery on either sides and at each corner or a curve, huge trees stood with bent branches providing the shade to the students. Getting off the road to his right, he walked into the patch of grass without hesitation. He knew, if he was caught treading on the grass, he would be punished but it was a shortcut to the hostel and he couldn’t take the longer route. Not tonight. Vinay glanced around nervously to see if anyone was around and walked faster. When he reached the end of the green patch, he jumped across the flimsy steel fencing and got on the cement road again which leads straight to his hostel. He walked briskly and his legs carried him automatically as if his brain was occupied somewhere else and had given standing instructions to his legs to carry him home. He was numb with cold anger and like a huge white cloud blotting the sun, his brain was unwilling to think straight.
The boys’ hostel was a huge horizontal block with four floors. The walls look prehistoric and rusty as if wet mud has been splashed all over the walls and has not been washed for years. The ground floor was reserved for the first years and remaining floors were occupied by the senior students. Each Floor had twelve rooms in all with common rest rooms at each end of the corridor. With three students in each room, the hostel boasts of more than 150 boys with different ranges of hormonal fluids running in them. The ground floor was allotted only to the first years and for a reason. Vinay pushed the door to his room and walked in. A skinny lad, who was his roommate chirped-
“Hey! Where the hell have you been? They took you out?”
“ Yes and they will pay for it.”
“Relax man, happens all the time. Let’s go and have some dinner. I have been waiting for you.”
“No, you have your food. I am going to the first floor.”
“What the... Are you out of your mind? That’s like walking into the lion’s den holding a placard over your head: Fresh meat.” He said with an animated look on his face.
“I know. But I am going to meet Karthik sir.” Vinay replied with a determined face and walked away from the room.
“You are crazy...” his roommate shouted back, shaking his head sideways but Vinay had already closed the door behind him and walked towards the staircase. The staircase was old and steps were broken. It had no railing to the side and everyone walked to the right, towards the wall to avoid slipping down. Getting to the first floor, he felt his insides getting squeezed by an invisible hand. This was where all seniors stay and walking in here was like taking a swim in a lake swarmed by crocodiles. As he took few steps forward, a senior walked by with a couple of books in hand.
“Good evening, sir” Vinay wished him with a nod of his head. The senior walked by without looking at him. It was customary for the first years to address their seniors by ‘Sir’ and wish them every time they come across any senior. He knew the senior would have roughed him up if he had not wished him or addressed him with respect. He walked slowly in the corridor, muttering good evenings to anyone he came across.
“Hey! Come here” He heard a voice behind and saw couple of seniors sitting on the wall beckoning at him. He walked towards them and as he went nearer,
“What’s so special in you, boy?” asked a tall guy in his shorts and T.
“Good evening, sirs.” he said nodding at both the seniors and continued- “Nothing special, Sir. Why?”
“Then why didn’t you button your hand cuffs? “
“Sir, but this is a half sleeved shirt.”Vinay replied with his eyes wide open with an incurious look.
“Oh really? We are blind then, I guess. Go and wear a full sleeved shirt, button your hand cuffs and come back. You have 2 minutes.”
“Sir, I came to meet Karthik sir. It’s urgent.” His voice was pleading, though he didn’t want to show it. He could see, both were sitting idly on the parapet wall and would not let him go easily.
“Did he call you or you came on your own?”
“Sir, he called me.” he lied.
“Fourth room to the left.” he said dismissively and Vinay left him after thanking him profusely.
As he turned his back towards them, his heart was pounding. Walking towards the door, he started musing about the state of affairs in his college. The first years or the juniors as they are called were treated much like slaves in ancient Egypt. They are expected to obey and respect the seniors without a whimper. In return, they are humiliated to the extent of frustration. Many first years have contemplated to run away, not able to withstand the ridicule and humiliation in the hands of their fellow students. A few manage to rebel back and get thrashed or mobbed immediately. Some of them befriend the infamous rogue seniors but end up getting trapped in the never ending gang wars between students. Shaking his slightly, he thought a nerd stood no chance against these bullies of college. Standing in front of the door, he took a deep breath and knocked slowly.
“It’s open.” A voice called out from inside and Vinay knew it had to be Karthik Sir. The voice had a touch of arrogance. Pushing the door, he walked in and said-
“Good evening, sir.”
Karthik was lying on his bed with just his shorts and a bare chest. His hair was unruly as if he has spent most of the evening kissing his pillow. All windows were closed, draped with thick curtains and completely shut. The room doesn’t seem to have any outlet for air and that might explain the stench inside the room which was of cigarette ash and unwashed clothes. It was however brightly lit by the lone tube light albeit hanging on just one side vertically.
“Sir, I need to talk to you...”
“And you are Vinay?”
“Let the door be open. Okay, tell me. “
“Sir...I am... ”and Vinay gulped hard with stammer.
“Relax and tell me.” Karthik said without getting up from his bed. His both hands were behind his head and he looked on lazily with disinterest.
Vinay looked at the ground for few seconds and lifted his head to see Karthik looking at him now with little curiosity. He ran his tongue on his lower lip, which had dried up in fear. Taking another short intake of breath, he began to speak when the door opened and a stout man with a dark skin barged in.
“Good evening, sir.” Vinay looked behind him and nodded his head.
“Evening huh? This looks like evening to you, doesn’t it? It’s already thirty past ten here mate.”He replied with a sneer.
Vinay didn’t reply and kept a straight face.
“What? Wish properly.”
“Good night, sir.” Vinay said with exasperation levels increasing hundred folds. He can’t afford to show it in his face lest he is made to sit here all night practicing how to wish properly.
“Are you trying to tell me to go away and sleep? Is that what you meant just now? He thundered and it was evident, there was a mock in his burly voice.
“Chill. He is with me.” Karthik said it simply and the stout beast of a boy simply shrugged.
“Go on, Vinay.”
“Sir, today after college, I was walking back to the hostel when I was stopped by seniors near the buses. I, along with few others was made to do all the usual things. It’s the same every day. Every evening, till the buses start, we are held up there by the seniors, ragging us and making fun of us. I really don’t mind the ragging and that’s not the reason I came here sir.” Vinay said with a slow voice, looking at the ground all the time. He continued after a short pause –
“Today, I was taken out in one of their buses, to their flat.”
Karthik sat up on his bed and ran both his hands through his hair. His fingers combed through his unruly hair, while his ears pricked attentively.
“In fact, this is not the first time I was taken out. I was taken to their flat earlier too and was made fun of each time. It is very humiliating.”
Tears started taking shape in his eyes while his voice had started breaking up amidst his constant gulping down the nonexistent saliva.
“Today, they made me dance for them. Without clothes, sir.” He paused to let the gravity of the issue sink in and continued-
“I don’t know what kind of pervasive pleasure they derived, but I feel like puking when I think about it. To hear their inane comments and dancing like a bar girl, that’s not why I joined this college sir. On top of that, I was slapped by one of the senior there for refusing to dance. I had refused because it was getting late to come back to hostel but he had still slapped me. For raising voice, he told me.”
“Do you know their names?” Karthik asked with no emotion in his voice.
“Yes sir. The one who slapped me was Kiran. One who forced me into the bus was Raju...”he replied when Karthik cut in-
“Ah, the bloody nerds! You went to the JKD apartments?
Vinay nodded and was about to speak when the stout guy who has been listening attentively, chirped in-
“KT, this is heights of stupidity.” Karthik was called KT by his friends,which stood for Karthik Tyagaraj.
“ Yeah, these are the same guys, who wet their pants during exams. Now, they are acting like heroes.”
“I know. Unbelievable! Last year, they were all shivering like rabbits in front of our seniors. Bloody nerds! ”
“Sir, what do I do? I am afraid to go to the college or even out of this hostel.” Vinay spoke with caution. He knew, he was complaining against those who were of same class of KT. They were probably friends or even worse, would tell them that he had spoken here. But his fears soon evaporated when Karthik spoke-
“You are a fool! Why did you let them push you over? Now you come here and cry like a kid and expect me to go bash them up?”
“You felt humiliated?” He asked quietly.
“You want them to pay for this?”
“Say it. Yes or no? “
“Keep your phone switched off. Don’t talk to anyone about this. If anyone tries talking to you about this, tell me.”
College never differentiates between good news and bad news. Both kinds spread equally fast. It’s like an undercurrent which flows through the wires across the college. A lone guy in his twenties stood near the door and frantically tried calling on his mobile but in vain. He kept trying continuously but couldn’t get through the lines. It so happens every time that mobile signals goes down when you need it the most. He tried again, when someone from behind called him-
“What’s wrong, Dinesh?”
“Signals are always down at JKD apartments. Hell, I have tried all their numbers. None of them work.” He said with exasperation and frustration.
“But what’s the hurry?” He was obviously confused at the alarmed face of his friend.
“These guys just shot themselves on their own foot and they don’t know yet.” he said as he went on trying the phone.
“Cut the smart riddles, dude. What happened?”
“That baby faced junior, you remember? Vinay? He lodged a complaint at the hostel warden against these guys. I heard they took him to their flat in the evening and fooled around. Now he has gone and complained. These guys are screwed and nobody has told them yet.”
“Holy god! They would be rusticated from the college if the issue reaches the principal.” He exclaimed with his eyes opening widely as if to take in the information through his eyes and continued- “Dude, the signals are eternally down there. It’s just nearby, isn’t it? Let’s go and tell them. Take out your bike.”
“I don’t have my bike” he said sheepishly.
“What do you mean, you don’t have your bike?
“It’s at the pawnbroker.” He replied in a timid voice.
“Oh you fool. Okay, let’s go in mine.”
They drove to the JKD apartments, a small 3 storey building which was mostly occupied by bachelors. Couple of families also lived at the apartments. But it was usually inhabited by students in group of different colleges. Parking the bike near the gate, they ran to the second floor and banged the door open. The sight which greeted them didn’t surprise both of them. Four boys in their early twenties were sitting in a circle and playing cards. The hall looked clamoured with clothes, books and junk. A huge pile of unwashed clothes lay to the corner of the room and that added to the general stink of the closed room with less ventilation.
“Today seems to be my bad day. Not one card is good enough.” Kiran mused to himself, looking at his cards with utmost concentration and noticing the two guys at the door, waved a lazy hand at them and said-
“Hey guys, joining the game? The stakes are high though. We are playing at 500 rupees per game.”
“Forget the game, you brainless fool. You better arrange twenty thousand rupees at least or start looking for a different career.” Dinesh said, who had just barged in, screamed in a quiet voice.
Raju looked up from his cards for the first time with an amused look and said- “Ha! Midnight jokes are fun, aren't they?” and went back to his cards with a disinterested look on his face.
Dinish was silent for few seconds and looked at the four boys, totally immersed in the game. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he spoke in a straight voice as if he doesn’t care anymore-
“Guys, you are in trouble. That bastard had gone to the hostel warden and spilled the beans. Tomorrow, you all are either dead or you would wish you were dead.”
It had a dramatic effect on his audience. Kiran stared at him with his mouth open and his right hand got freezed in motion in the air. Raju threw his cards down in a knee jerk reaction to the news and his got drained of all colours. The other two boys were equally shocked and it took few moments for the gravity of the news to sink in.
“Are you serious?” Kiran almost said with a scream, wishing against hope that he was merely pulling his leg. Though, he could already sense that it was true or else, he would not have to come to his flat so late in the night.
“Yes. The news is all over the place. I heard it from the hostel itself.”
“Oh good god, what are we supposed to do now?”
“I don’t know. Hostel is a separate world, man. None of us can even go inside or push anyone there. In any case, tomorrow morning, the warden meets the principal at 10 in the morning.” Dinesh said in a defeated voice.
“I hate these soft kids. If he was not comfortable, he should have told us.” Raju lamented.
Dinesh let out a sneer and said- “Did it cross your mind that he might have been shy without clothes?” Raju didn’t reply but he had a grim face who said it all.
Kiran started picking his nose in nervousness and slowly said in a whisper-“We must do something. Can we go to the hostel now? Probably convince him to take his complaint back?”
“Hostel is a fortress. You or anyone of us can’t go in or push anyone there.”Raju said in a philosophical voice.
“But we have our friends in hostel right? Let me call them now. They would talk to that insolent kid and do something.” Kiran said while taking his mobile phone out.
“That’s useless. I don’t think the complaint can be taken back. Even if the boy himself goes and tries to take the complaint back, the warden would still go and put the issue in front of the principal. He is a mean ass. We need someone who can convince the warden now. But, who? ” Dinesh said with his hands on his hips and after a pause, he shouted with exasperation, “ Why the hell are the mobile signals down here?”
“Let’s go the balcony. Signals are better there.”Raju suggested and all of them walked slowly to the balcony. It was quiet outside with no wind and apart from occasional barks of random stray dogs, the night was very silent and sombre.
The cards game was forgotten in the palpable tension and frantic calls were made to confirm the news and hoping to get some respite or solution. After few frantic moments later, Kiran slowly spoke-
“I heard KT is behind this.”
“Karthik? Where does he come in picture?”
“It seems, he was the one who asked Vinay to go to the warden. KT and his gang were always at loggerheads with us. That bloody swine is getting back on us this way. I even heard that Vinay was afraid to meet the warden but it was KT who encouraged and motivated him to spill the beans.”
“That’s so spineless. He is playing with our career. What if we get rusticated? Or suspended? Oh god, I can’t explain it to my dad, if I get suspended. I hate this KT. I always did. I just hate him more now.” Raju lamented in a coarse voice which was at the point of breaking down.
“Shut up. Why did you have to bring a hostel junior to your flat” Dinesh said, reprimanding him.
Nobody answered or spoke for a long time. Various thoughts ran through their minds simultaneously and none of them were helpful to calm down their nerves. Dinesh took out his phone and called Karthik.
“Hello?” kartik answered in his arrogant baritone.
“Hey, this is Dinesh.”
“Yes, Dinesh. Anything important? Because I was just sleeping.”
“Oh, I will just take few minutes. I want to talk to you about that junior, Vinay.”
“What about him?”
“Look, everyone is sorry about what happened. I didn’t know how this happened. I wouldn’t have allowed these guys at all, if I had any clue. But what’s done is done. They are ready to apologize to the kid.” Dinesh said and paused for few moments to see if Karthik had anything to say. When he didn’t reply, he went on-
“Try to understand . It’s their career. If it goes to the principal, you know what will happen. Are you listening?”
“Yes, I am.” Karthik said with a small laugh.
“God be damned, Say something. What makes you laugh? ”
“It’s funny how people get reminded of careers and parents when you are down. Did those swines think of the boy’s career even once before slapping him?”
“Slap? I don’t think anyone slapped him.”Dinesh said looking at the other two and when they nodded guiltily, he said- “Okay, I was not aware.”
“Good. Then keep your uneven butt out of this mate. You will never know what will hit you, if you act smart.” Karthik said casually and cut the phone.
A chill ran down his spine and he simply put his phone back in his pocket. His face resembled a traffic police standing in the hot sun. Looking at others, he shrugged his shoulders and resigned himself.
After the initial flurry of activity at KD apartments, things simmered down a little. Dinesh and his friend left the group to their fate and went home to catch up with their forty winks. But For Kiran and Raju, the nightmare had begun even before they went to sleep. They were living their worst dream and the apprehensive feeling slowly started sinking deep into them. Kiran felt like gnawing at his knuckles to ascertain this was not his pre-sleep hallucination but decided against it. He knew Raju was more terrified than him and he didn’t want to alarm him more. He made few calls to his friends inside hostel. He made them half heartedly, with full knowledge of the lost cause. It was a fact, that hostel was almost impenetrable and few friends that he had inside would never be able to take on Karthik or his gang. Reaching the junior looked impossible as every route seem to be blocked by a huge invisible firewall. Kiran tried calling the junior but his phone was switched off. Couple of his friends in hostel tried to meet Vinay, in the hope of convincing him or intimidating him, but he was inside Karthik’s room and unapproachable.
With all his escape routes blocked, Kiran was left with no choice. He knew, if he doesn’t act fast, he would be facing the college anti-ragging committee tomorrow which would throw him out of the college without remorse. His parents would get involved and the day would turn worse from ugly. He took out his mobile and called Karthik.
“Hello?” Karthik answered in his usual arrogant tone of voice.
“Hi KT. This is Kiran here.”
“Oh the hero himself is one the line. How did I get lucky today, sir?”
“Look KT, Please help us.”
“How may I help you?” Karthik replied, imitating a pretty receptionist in a shabby hotel which brought squeals of laughter in the room. Kiran swallowed hard and continued,
“Look, let me speak to Vinay once. We want to apologize. It was just a good joke. We didn’t really mean to hurt anyone.”
“What do you think, I opened some kind of helpline here? Vinay is not here. If you want to apologize, do it in front of the principal. I am sure he will be sympathetic and surely forgive you for your mischievous joke.” Karthik’s voice was a sneer and yet Kiran couldn’t miss the anger in the tone.
His silent pleading was getting drowned in the screeches of people on the other side of the line and he was sure, most of the Karthik’s gang were holed up in his room having fun at their expense. In all probability, Vinay must also be inside the room and that was the reason, none of his friends in hostel could even go near him.
“KT... Listen to me...”
“That’s right. That was the real reason, I bought this phone. You know, to listen to your midnight snivel. Really, it gives me so much pleasure to listen to you. Please go on...” he said amidst silent sniggers and commotion in his room.
“Let me talk to Vinay.”
“Haven’t you been talking to him from close quarters this evening?”
“KT, please stop him. We are ready to apologize. What do you fucking want us to do? Fall on his feet now?”
“May be, you can try falling at his feet. But you may want to know, he is a good football player. Just saying, you know. To keep you clued-up.” The mock in his voice was slowly getting replaced by anger and cold spite.
“KT...” Kiran began when he was cut off by Karthik, who said-
“Shut up! Please shove your ‘sorry’ and ‘regrets’ anywhere you wish but let us sleep in peace. I had nothing to do with this. You have kicked yourself on your butt and now you are asking me to caress your sorry ass, so that you can sit like the naked emperor and admire his invisible robes. Isn’t it? Only this time, you can’t. That’s because, someone decided not to be your belly dancer. Have a good night, my friend. You have a long day ahead at the principal’s office.”
The cal got disconnected and along with it, all hopes in their lives just got snuffed out.
The radiance which the sun brought in the morning was hardly noticed by the two boys who looked like they haven’t blinked all night. It was not even half past seven when both boys got ready and left for college, a full two hours before the classes started. When life in college plays its cruel game, regret always ends up having the upper hand over optimism. In most cases, that emotion is temporary and vaporises when things simmer down. With a flicker of hope, they went to the college with the hope of meeting the junior or Karthik and set things right before the issue reached the ears of the Principal.
They reached the college canteen. Both sat nervously, waiting for Karthik. Before they left their flat, they had called up Karthik and requested him in the most pleading way they could manage, to hear them out once. After few endless minutes, Karthik walked in his grey shirt and black trousers along with Vinay. He looked fresh from a good sleep and the fresh shower he might have just come out of, reflected on his face. He just sat before them with his both hands on the table. The gold bracelet on his right wrist was shining against the steel coated table. Karthik looked at them with a straight face and without expression but they could feel the contempt in his eyes when they bore into them. Vinay sat beside karthik, sitting right at the edge of his seat.
“ We are sorry, Vinay. We really are...” Kiran started saying when he was cut of abruptly by Karthik.
“Close your stinking mouth, you kid faced hero! How did you dare take a hostel guy out of college? Whose bloody permission did you take before venturing into dark waters huh?”
“Look KT, it was just meant to be fun...” Raju offered meekly. The glare he got back in return silenced him for a long time.
Kiran looked at Vinay who looked like he had fried butterflies for breakfast and was about to speak directly when Karthik simply said- “Talk to me”
“We are really sorry for what happened. We just got carried away, KT. I must be crazy to hit him but I regret it. We all do. It was just fun at the start but we got carried away. Please KT, Principal will roast us alive. It will become ugly and our careers will go down. Please understand.”
Karthik managed a smile which still looked menacing and said “Do you even realize what you have done? Now the fear of getting expelled from college is making you squirm with regret. But do you know your actions last evening almost drove this boy to run away from the hostel?”
“We just didn’t realize what we were doing...”
“Shut up! “ Karthik said and continued, “Stop giving spineless excuses.”
Both of them looked down with dread. Raju felt his tongue tie knots to itself as he couldn’t make himself utter a single word of defense. He just looked helplessly at Vinay, who look flummoxed as well.
Mustering courage once again, Kiran looked up and whispered as slowly as he could,
“We promise it won’t happen again. Please understand. I don’t know what to say...” helplessly.
Karthik gazed at them for a long time and the silence was deafening. They were longing to hear something which might bring respite to their worst day of college. Karthik raised his forefinger as a warning and advised them,
“If I again hear or see you ragging any junior on this campus, that would be your last day here.” Kiran just blinked at him and nodded. Karthik glanced to his left and put his hand around Vinay’s shoulder. Vinay looked back at him with respect and enduring elements of confusion.
“It’s fine bro. Everything will be alright. Now run to the warden and bring your complaint letter back. If he says anything, don’t worry I will manage him. Just go and get the letter. Will you?”
“I said, it’s okay. They have learnt their lesson. Just get that letter back. Time is running short. College will begin soon.”
“But sir,” Vinay looked shocked and aghast at the possibility of his suggestion as if he rejected such an act which these two boys rightly deserved.
“Please Vinay...” Kiran interjected in a quiet whisper while Vinay looked on with a grim face. And then he understood. He nodded and walked away from the canteen towards his hostel building. The canteen was just near the college entrance and he had to pass through all other buildings to reach his hostel at the back end of his campus. After reaching half way across, he looked back to see if he was visible from the canteen and satisfied that he could not be seen. He sat down on the pavement and hurriedly took out his notebook. He tore a page and started scribbling. In just few minutes, he finished writing and folded the paper neatly in two halves. Sitting there on the pavement, he couldn’t help laughing. It was a happy laugh although it reeked of vengeance. With a smile on his face, he walked back to the canteen holding the letter in his right hand. This was the complaint letter he thought with a broad smile, he had given to the warden last evening. Or so they thought.