- “Ma, I am in the middle of a meeting. Can I call you back?”
- “It’s urgent…. Please call back soon.”
- “Wait, what happened?”
- “It’s about Bubai. He suddenly returned from hostel today morning and announced that he would not go back! He even said that he does not want to study engineering anymore! Ever since then, he has locked himself up in his room and has refused to speak to either me or your Baba on this. Will you please speak to him once? I am sure he will tell you what the matter is.”
- “Ma, don’t worry. I will talk to him right now and let you know.”
Devika was very worried. Her brother had dreamt of being an engineer ever since his childhood. He had been ecstatic when he cracked JEE last year and gained admission into one of the best engineering colleges of the country, of which she herself was an alumnus. What could have happened that he was ready to leave engineering within the first year of study?
She could no more concentrate on the client meeting in progress and postponed the rest of it to another day, with an apology. She dialled her brother’s mobile number which kept on ringing without any answer.
It took 30 minutes for her secretary to arrange her affairs at office, reschedule her upcoming meetings and book her into that day’s evening flight to Kolkata with an open return. Meanwhile, Devika managed to speak to her brother over phone.
- “Hey, Bubai! I called you at least 10 times in the last 15 minutes. Why weren’t you picking up?”
- “Hi, Didi. I was sleeping and the phone was on silent mode. Sorry.”
- “Why have you come home mid-week? And what is this that I hear about you not returning to college? What happened, Bubai?”
- “Nothing Didi. I have realised that I do not find it interesting enough to devote my whole life to it. So I thought I must change track before it’s too late.”
Devika was not convinced. Till last week, he had sounded excited about his classes, professors, campus, friends, subjects and life. He was not speaking the truth. Being 12 years older, she had been his elder sister, role model, guide, best friend, confidante – all rolled into one. They have always been very close to each and instinctively knew when one of them was lying.
- “Let us talk face to face, Bubai. I am coming home this evening.”
- “Are you kidding?! You do not have to drop everything at Mumbai to come home just to talk to me. My decision won’t change. So please do not waste your time.”
- “Whatever I do for you is not a waste of time, my dear brother. Don’t you know how much I love you? See you soon.”
She reached her ancestral home in Kolkata late that evening. After a quick pranam to her father and a tight hug to her mother, Devika went to meet her brother, whom she found asleep in his room.
After freshening up and finishing her favourite dishes cooked by her mother, Devika settled down in her parent’s room. “What is going on? Last I saw him; he was so excited and happy to be going to his dream college! What went wrong there? Please tell me in details.”
Her father began, “Everything seemed all right in the first few months. He used to call us daily and give updates. I also managed to video chat with him once or twice. He told us about how the faculty still remembered you as a meritorious student and was happy to have your brother join the institution. He had also seen the trophies you won for the college, which had your name in them. He was really glad to have followed in your footsteps.
Then his calls became infrequent due to rising pressure in his classes. I am learning so many new things – is what he used to tell me during every phone conversation. He also topped the first surprise class quiz. Then suddenly today, he returned home with all his bags and baggage, refusing to go back, to either college or hostel. Ever since, he has not spoken much to us. We asked him the reason many times, but all he says is that he has lost interest in the subject and wants to study something else!”
Devika assured her parents that she would solve everything.
The moment Bubai saw his elder sister the next day; he was overcome with an inexplicable feeling of both joy and despair. She was just the person he needed at that time and yet, he did not want to look into her eyes for the fear of spilling his gut out. Devika hugged him tight and cradled his head on her breast. She could feel that her brother trembling. “Bubai, don’t worry. Your Didi is here and she will make everything right again. You trust me, no? Please tell me everything.”
“I hate engineering college. I will do anything else – Bachelors in Physics or a Diploma in Mass Communication or anything else. Just please don’t ask me to go back there again.”
Devika disengaged herself from the embrace and looked into his eyes keenly. She knew her brother could never lie when she made direct eye contact. “You can do anything you like with your life. I will always support you. But, why do you want to leave engineering? Was it not your dream?”
Bubai did not want to give her the real reason; he felt too ashamed, mortified and angry just to think about it. He had to hide it somehow from his sister. “Didi, I don’t like engineering. I don’t think I am cut out for the profession. I was thinking…”
“Oh c’mon, Bubai, you can never lie to me. I heard you were doing well in the subjects. What is the real reason? Is it some girl?”
“Girl? No, nothing like that!” He kept staring at his sister with defiance, as if to prove that he was not lying.
Attempting to keep the shake away from her voice, Devika asked, “Were you bullied there? Ragged by seniors?”
Bubai flinched involuntarily. It was all Devika needed to confirm her worst fears.
She hugged her brother tight. Her eyes filled with tears as she felt his pain in her heart. ‘I will not have him scarred like this; I will do anything to rescue my darling brother,’ she promised herself.
As Devika stood at the threshold of her alma mater, memories came flooding. When she joined this institution, Devika, being a brilliant student, talented debater, champion swimmer, genius chess player and to top it all, unconventionally beautiful, quickly became the star of her batch. She received adulations and contempt in equal measure from her batchmates while she, in turn, scorned at mediocrity and tolerated the company of only the best. There were not too many like her, so her circle was limited - Anshul, the best guitarist, Ashraf, the best actor and Rohitabh, the star football player and the best-looking guy in the college. The four of them made an enigmatic group. She was the reason why the rest passed their exams, Anshul was instrumental in procuring the best gaanja in town for them, Ashraf used his connections to supply the best alcohol at the cheapest rates and Rohitabh’s good looks ensured that they had the maximum fun. Devika chuckled at the memory of how Rohitabh pretended to be gay, just to expose Kunal of their batch. “They do it the other way, can you believe it?” Rohitabh had doubled up in laughter, along with the rest. Anshul patted his butt and asked, “What else did he do to you, pretty boy?” “Before he could rape me, you guys arrived with the others, just to catch him with his pants down!” A second round of laughter followed.
The security guard’s question brought her back to the present. She smiled at him, saying she was an alumnus and wanted to meet the Dean.
“Good morning sir, I am Devika Sinha of 2006 batch, Computer Engineering Department.”
“Hello, Devika, of course I remember you. In fact, every faculty from your time remembers you as one of the most gifted students of the institution. How have you been?”
“I am fine sir, thank you. I did my MBA and got an offer from the Goel Group of Companies. I am their Vice-President – Operations now. It is all because of the training and knowledge I received here.” After exchanging a few more pleasantries, she decided to get straight to the point.
“Sir, my brother Debayan Sinha joined the college this year. He is also a very brilliant student and a very polite and friendly boy. But I must tell you with great regret that he returned home two days ago, saying that he does not want to come back here again.”
The Dean stared at Devika, shocked. “Why so? Why does he not want to come back?”
“It pains me to do this, but I want to lodge a formal complaint of brutal ragging by senior students of this institution against my brother.” Devika’s voice shook with suppressed rage.
“It is not possible, Ms Sinha. We have strict anti-ragging policy in place for many years now. There has been no serious complaint of ragging in this college. I am told that the senior students do engage in some harmless fun events with the fresher’s, but that is usually to acquaint them with the hostel life.”
“Please excuse me saying this, but this is not true. You may not have received any complaint but ragging has been going on in the hostel for ages. It is not just any harmless fun, but serious ragging, which can be harmful for the psyche of young minds. Even I have …..” Devika stopped in the middle of her outburst. Her heartbeat was racing and her mind was numb with rage and despair. She felt alarmed at what she almost said. “…I have faced it myself,” she completed her unfinished sentence.
The Dean jumped to his feet. He was exceedingly shocked to know that serious ragging had been going on under his nose all this while. “Ms Sinha, I assure you that I will see to it that your brother is not made to leave college because of something like this. I will investigate the incident myself.”
Devika accompanied the Dean when he called for an emergency student body meeting in the community hall. He informed the students of all four batches that Debayan Sinha, a bright first year student has made a formal complaint of serious ragging through his sister, herself an accomplished alumnus of the institution and he wanted the students to come forward with any information connected to ragging of this boy or anybody else. He also announced that the perpetrators, if they surrendered now, would only be censured but if were to be caught after investigation, would be handed over to the police since ragging was a punishable offence under the law. He also promised not to divulge the identity of the informant student.
Devika expressed her gratitude to the Dean and sought his permission to speak to the friends of her brother, to find out more for herself.
She first spoke to Saptangshu who, according to Bubai, was his best friend. “No Devika di, I did not meet him the morning he left. I came to know from his roommate. I thought he must be missing home or there could be some emergency. I did not notice any change in his behaviour. He was always fun-loving and outgoing as ever. In fact, he had many friends in the batch and also senior batches. He was trying for a place in the cricket team and used to spend a lot of time with the seniors.”
Devika quickly noted the names of the seniors with whom he was particularly friendly. She knew the system of ragging in the college too well. Ever since it had been made a crime and strict anti-ragging policies were put in place, ragging had been taken behind closed doors, in small groups. It always started with the friendly seniors gaining confidence of the nervous fresher’s and then smilingly, asking them to perform some acts for their benefit. To gain acceptance, the fresher’s obliged, sometimes reluctantly. Sometimes they were forced or blackmailed into following the orders of the senior students. This also ensured that none of the incidents were reported and in the stray cases they were, there were no witness to testify that these seniors were bullying the victim. The statement of all would be that they were friendly and helpful towards the victim.
Devika looked at the three boys standing in front of her in the Dean’s office with polite deference. “I hear, you are all part of the college cricket team. I also hear that you were friendly with Debayan.”
“Yes, ma’am. Debayan was a talented spin bowler and we were planning to include him in the team.”
“Call me Devika. Now, since you were so nice and friendly, you must have invited him to your hostel room for a chit chat. He must have gone, thinking you were the friendly seniors who were calling him to share tips about the game or induct him into your exclusive big boys’ club. You might have thought, let’s have fun with the fresher and indulged in some little ragging, didn’t you?”
Devika’s otherwise smooth and soft voice was steely and cold. She gave the three boys a long, hard stare, in order to intimidate them and force them into a confession. “What did you do to him? Parade him naked? Make him drink his own piss? Asked him to draw female anatomy? Made him watch pornography? Which one was your method?”
A few seconds that passed in stunned silence, seemed like hours to those present in the room.
The biggest in size of the three boys spoke up, “Sorry, D-e-v-i-k-a, this is not what had happened. We never invited him to our room. He only met us in the cricket field or the corridors. We could never even think of ragging him. He was going to be our asset in spin bowling.”
“Don’t you dare lie. Either confess now or I will have the police make you confess. That won’t be pretty, dear boys,” Devika snarled with hatred.
The Dean intervened, “Ms Sinha, please control yourself. You three can go. Now Ms Sinha, please understand, these students are few of the brightest in the college. I have questioned many students and even Debayan’s batchmates. Except that Debayan was known to speak to them and seemed to be close, there is not an iota of evidence against them. I cannot allow a police complaint unless the preliminary investigation revealed some sort of connection. You admitted that Debayan is not willing to make a formal complaint himself against anybody. Unless that happens, I am sorry I cannot help you.”
Throughout the journey back to Kolkata, Devika kept on twisting and turning on the lower berth amidst the mild undulations of the moving train. A number of voices from the past seemed to surround her in the chilled first class compartment.
“Devika, your secret admirer, Sandipan came for theatre auditions today. He auditioned for the role of Romeo, hoping to be your hero in the play.”
“Ashraf, I hope you have done what was needed of you. I need to get close to him, before taking any action.”
Rohitabh asked, “What action do you have in mind for your secret admirer, O Devika? I hope you don’t intend to date that fatso fresher.”
Amidst the roll of laughter, Devika said with a chuckle. “Wait and watch. It is my turn now.”
Didi, nothing happened at college. I just don’t feel like studying engineering. Please don’t ask me anything more.
“Sandipan, you are doing a great job. Please stop shaking so much or else, your dialogue will not be clearly heard in the auditorium. Do you want some extra practice?” Devika smiled at the face which lit up with happiness at this unexpected opportunity. “Let us meet at the common room of the South Hostel. It is relatively empty due to lack of fans and there won’t be any disturbance.”
No, Didi I was not ragged. Nothing like that happened. I have no complaint against anybody.
“Hey Sandipan, relax. Don’t be so scared and stiff. Have you never held a girl’s hand? I really like you. By the way, I know that it was you who sent that love letter. No no, I am not going to complain against you. I loved it. Come to my room tonight at 9 pm. Mine is a single room and the adjoining verandah is very easily accessible from the back garden.” Devika planted a kiss on his cheek making him all the more hopeful of that night’s adventures.
Why have you gone to my college and complained against ragging? I told you so many times that this is not the case. What? You spoke to them? Why Didi? No, I do not sound scared. No, they have not threatened me. Please Didi, I do not want to make any formal complaint against them.
“Look at his body! He has more tummy tyres than my neighbourhood aunty!” Ashraf exclaimed.
“He should not be wearing that checked Bermuda-type boxers, should he? They are an insult to our eyes.” Anshul advanced towards the trembling half-naked figure.
“Here boy, let me help you out of those. I have done this before.” Rohitabh winked at all.
“Please, boys. Be softer. None of you are supposed to be in the girl’s hostel. You should have waited till he pulled his pants down before you showed up. You ruined all the fun. I had to work so hard to bring him to this stage of nakedness.”
“No fun has been ruined. He will still do what we ask him to do. Or else, we will ensure that he is caught in the girl’s hostel and rusticated with disgrace. So come here my boy and shed all your clothing. Then, all you need to do for us is…”
“You are hijacking my part! I should have never involved you three boys!”
“Fine, Devika, over to you. What do you want him to do?”
Didi, please don’t ask me what happened. I cannot tell you. I can never say these things to anyone.
In her dream-ridden and befuddled state, Devika tried to reach out to her sobbing brother to comfort him, but found someone else standing - someone with a cute face and an eager smile; someone who was red-faced with humiliation but scared out of his wits; someone who left the college early next morning and whose father later complained to the college authorities. But no one knew who had ragged Sandipan. No one has seen him being bullied by any senior.
No one was punished.