IT HAPPENED THIS WAY..
He was always the restless one in the class. He never really paid any attention to me, trying to teach him Creative Writing. It was a batch of about 16 people and this boy was most fidgety and was always staring out of the window or staring and yes I mean staring at me with an engrossed look, wriggling in his seat and playing with whatever was available near his hand.
I would look at him and then try to include the whole batch in my sweeping glance and start speaking. Of course I would be nervous and a bit uneasy. But then I decided to continue with my instructions and concentrate on the rest of the class.
There were ten girls and six boys whose parents had entrusted me with their wards to groom their literary senses in 12 sessions of ‘6 successful ways to Write Creatively’ workshop. Parents wanted to keep them engaged and I wanted to open up a new world of creative ideas to them. Our school thought that as an English teacher and with couple of journals tucked into my belt, I was their best shot at facilitating the summer workshop.
Needless to say the money was good and our principal Mrs. Sethi had immense faith in me.
‘Ma’am, do we really have to draw a real tree or it can be anything’, Alok was looking at me in askance.
‘Not really a tree Alok, a tree which you can make to look like, say...a tiger’ I gave a beaming smile. Alok had a baffled look on his face. “Think it is a tree but draw it like whatever you want.” That managed to satisfy him, “Oh! Ok ma’am”. I picked up the worksheets and turned towards the window. There, now he was at my back and I could ignore him successfully.
However, throughout the three hours session I could feel his eyes on me. Tarun. Yes, that was his name. Fair, chiselled features, tall (being a 5ft-err myself, I always liked look up to people) but Tarun was an exception with his black staring eyes and beady looks, a lanky boy of 17. Everyone in the group was in their XIIth standard, and that included him.
At the end of the session, he would just move quietly out of the room, without saying even a courteous ‘Bye ma’am’ like others did. Every Tuesdays and Thursdays this ordeal continued. I would feel his eyes following me to every corner of the room, but I seldom maintained any eye contact with him. Only fleeting glances and to check if he was really writing anything. This was the only way to tackle this intrusion. I was quite happy with my problem solving expertise!
What irked me most was the manner in which he sat in the class. Legs outstretched and an arrogant look on his face. He would not talk to anyone and neither would he acknowledge any one greeting him. How arrogant! Obviously his parents were very rich and had pampered him to distractions and hence no courtesy or social skills!
Truth was, his glances made feel gauche like a teenager. I was never in the habit of grooming myself. A nice haircut, a nice and comfortable non-critical pair of jeans and loose shirts and my fancy footwear with sunflowers on them was all the makeup I ever needed. But I had ‘all that I would need for makeup if I was going to a party’, in my tote bag. I had even put in couple of accessories to be on the safe side and of course wanted to fit in couple of shoes but when the right loop of the shoulder strap started giving away, I stopped myself.
The word ‘hair’ had always spelt trouble for me. First the spelling (hare,here,hiar ..and I had been punished for every one of them till class 2) and the uncontrollable unruly thatch that I have on my head was independent enough to spell a lifetime of trouble. I actually left it to take it's own decision and that was as far as I would go to ‘groom’ them.
But now I really wished, I could make a bun and be like other women of my age and look a tad more beautiful than me. His stare! Uff, it was killing me. It made me feel very self conscious. Something about it gave me an unexplained feeling and I would turn and look at him, time and time again. I turned around in a mode of combat and looked directly at the group, “Today we will borrow ideas from each other and develop them. Please write your ideas in a chit of paper and give it to the one sitting next to you”. I was a genius! This would surely make them talk to each other and brainstorm some new ideas.
However, I crash landed back to the room with a piercing shout coming from some alien source “Ma’.....am, Tarun pushed me” it was Alia Nazeer. I looked with horror as I found Alia on the floor and Tarun looking at Alia with a murderous look in his eyes.
“Stop it both of you! Aren’t you ashamed of yourself behaving in such manner? Tarun , Alia come here at once” I was shaking with a mixed emotion. Fear anger and something I cannot describe now all rolled into one big ball of reaction. And that stare.
“I said COME HERE” I just hollered at them.
Both stood up and came towards me. I looked at them and quietly said “What’s the matter with you both? Why are you behaving like toddlers?”
“But Ma’am, I am not at fault,it was Tarun who hit me first” Alia let out a squeaky wail. I looked at Tarun hoping to see a brewing protest, but he just looked down and refused to say a word. I was really angry now. How dare he not defend himself! Standing there as if he didn't care! “Speak up Tarun, why did you push her?”
“I didn't. She had snatched my pen.” As if that explained everything! He still would not look up.
“What do you mean? How dare you push her! Don’t you have any manners? What have your parents taught you! Pushing a lady!” I was fuming and onto my ‘sermon others’ mode. “Your parents must think you are smart, but believe me you have rotten attitude. PUSHING A LADY! My God if I want, I can get you arrested. What arrogance! I say look up!”
Tarun refused to even budge an eyelid. The boy, who had stared at me for full three hours during the workshop, would not even look at me!
“I will have to report it to your parents!”
“No, don’t!” He said.
“What don’t? I have to!”
“No they are not there.”
“So what? Who is in charge of you now?
“No one, I am staying with my uncle.”
“So I will meet him, give me his no.”
“No, please don’t.”
I was now quite pleased with my assertive self. “Nonsense, Give me his number.”
He now looked up and gave me a quiet look. He took out his mobile without moving his glance from me. Something in his glance disturbed me, but I was on a roll. I made the call and reported the whole incident to Tarun’s uncle with a word or two about how values in children should be instilled from home etc.
I was still quite disturbed at the manner Tarun had behaved. It was as if he wanted me to make the call. Anyway I was quite satisfied with the steps I had taken and so was Alia. We all went home, quite happy with the outcome of the day.
For next two sessions Tarun didn’t come to the class. I was a bit uneasy but chalked it up to his arrogance and the way I had ticked him off. But something in his glance had a compelling message. I was quite upset by the end of the day. I had a record of the students’ phone nos. and decided to give a call to his uncle. The man sounded quite understanding and promised me that he would make sure that Tarun would be there the next day.
I suddenly remembered that Akash lived near Tarun’s home. On my way home, I stopped at Akash’s place. He was quite surprised to see me. I called him out and asked him, if he knew anything about Tarun and his absence from the class.
“Ma’am I really don’t know."
"Did you meet him?"
"Ma'am he has been staying with his Uncle, since his parents' death 2 years ago. That is all I know.”
“His parents are dead! But ..” I could barely speak.
“Yes ma’am. They had died in a car accident about two years ago. Tarun used to be a very jolly fellow. He would often play with us in the evening, but after his parents’ death he stopped talking to anybody in the locality. This house is his and his Uncle and his family came over to take care of him. I don’t know anything more than that.”
I was now feeling quite hollow now. I was stunned. I hurriedly thanked Akash and came out of his house. My natural impulsive unruly sense urged me to go forward and visit him. But something stopped me. May be the memory of those stares were they trying to say something to me? I decided to go home. Needless to say I could not sleep that night. Tossing and turning I remembered his look when I was lashing him with my emotive speech. His eyes! Oh God I had to stop this.
Next day, I left a bit early and stopped at Tarun’s home. I was now quite sure that I wanted to get to the bottom of this matter. It was a two storied house with a beautiful garden in the front. As I knocked on the door, I found my hands were trembling. The door opened “Ji Boliye?” I stared at the old man who had opened the door.
“Tarun se milna hai” I croaked.
“Ji, aap kaun?”
“Mein uski Teacher hoon”.
“Ji Baba to ghar pe nahi hain.”
“Aaur koi hain ghar pe?”
“Saablog Dilli gaye hain”.
“Thik hain, Tarun ko boliyega ki main ayee thi”. I turned to leave and walked my cycle to the gate. But something made me turn. I could feel that glance again. I looked up and saw a shadowy form at the window. I tried to make out but I already knew who it was.
I parked the cycle at the fence and rushed back to the house, impatiently pounding on the door. The door opened and I just pushed the old man aside and tried to locate the stairs. “Aap ander nahi ja saktey” ,the man shouted. I just glanced at him and asked “Sidhi kahan hai?” and then noted the old iron staircase by the French window. Taking two steps at a time I reached the second floor and tried to guess which door would lead to Tarun’s room. I barged in....
“What the hell!” I could barely speak. He was staring at me with muted eyes. I moved towards him and touched his shoulder. He flinched and moved away.
“Who did this?”
“WHO DID THIS?”
“It’s none of your business”.
“Good, when did it happen?” Had he not been so badly injured, I could have hit him myself for the silence.
“Tarun, either you speak to me or I call the police.”
“I love you." Holy God! He was trying to act cheesy.
“That’s good, now shall we try again?”
“When and how did this happen”
“I fell down the stairs.”
“Bull, how and when?” His cheek was swollen and so were his eyes. One side of the neck was blue and black. His right hand had numerous scratch marks and was swollen below the wrist. It was not a fall, for sure.
There was a long pause. I stood up went towards the door.
“The day you complained” I whirled around, my heart pounding and hands went clammy.
“And?” I whispered.
“This is ok. I can live with this” He was staring at the carpet.
“Of course you can.”
I looked at him, “How often does this happen?”
He looked up then. His eyes had lost its glare and had a shine to it. He again looked down.
As I slowly mounted down the stairs, I saw the old man standing at the base and wiping his eyes.
“Baba ko bacha lijiye, woh mar jayega.” I looked at him and just nodded unmindful of the words as he kept on with a stream of expressions, now crying profusely. As I walked towards the door, numerous thoughts were racing through my mind.
I took out my cell and dialed Mrs.Sethi’s number and then made the second call to my brother at the police station.
Today,Tarun is working in an IT farm in Pune. He is scheduled to leave for Germany this week. I always have a smile on my face as I keep down the phone after talking to him. He still maintains that he loves me. So do Geeta and Ruman,his wife and their six year old son.