PrEm Ji

INTERNAL COMBUSTION (Short story)

 

 

INTERNAL COMBUSTION

 

It was the first Friday of October and the morning sky was quite clear. I was sitting alone in the staff room, watching the hills, diminishing fast, just opposite of our College. Yes, sand mining kills our mother Earth…. We offer slow death to her!

I was in charge of the Head of Automobile Engineering Department. It was a crown of thorns! Attender Sajeev came in search of me with a note from our Principal… ‘A meeting with all HODs,’. He was dragging me into more problems! I could hear Lecturer Suja conducting a power-point presentation for the second semester students in the next room.

“What is an Automobile?” she asked them.

“An Automobile is self-propelled vehicle moving on ground,” one the boys answered aloud.

“Power is developed inside the engine due to?”

“Internal combustion”

Being a very dedicated teacher, she used to be very strict and we were very proud of her. It was nearing 11’O clock and I thought of having a cup of tea and an omelet from college canteen. Canteen owner Sasi might be waiting for me because I was one of his precious customers! When I was about to leave, two women appeared… clad in traditional Sari and in black Purdah, the attire for Muslim women.

“Sir… Can we meet Automobile HOD?”

“Sure… I am in charge of HOD… Please take your seat”

“Sir, I am Suma… working as a last grade servant…”

“Where?”

“At Regional Transport Office, Trivandrum… and she is my neighbor. My son Nikhil is studying in 4th semester Automobile Engineering. Sir, does he attend the classes regularly?”

More than 180 students were studying in our department and it was virtually impossible to tell the details of a student without referring to documents. Interval bell rang aloud and students rushed out of their classes. Suja returned to the staff room with some text books.

“Suja… She is Nikhil’s mother… Please furnish her the relevant details,” I told.

“O…Nikhil…, he didn’t even attend a single class during this semester. To be very precise, he discontinued his studies almost in the midst of 3rd semester. We tried to contact you on your mobile. But, it was dead and later we recommended removing him from the roll. A registered letter was sent to your home address last week. Did you get that?” Suja asked his mother..

Tears began to roll down from her eyes.... Tears are never-ending, flowing pain… Soon silence encompassed us. Her friend was quite embarrassed as Nikhil used to leave for college every morning and returned in the evening, along with her son Arshad.

“Sir... that mobile phone was stolen from my bag…  I had to purchase another SIM card”

“You could have informed us, Madam. Then, what about those letters?” I asked.

“Sir… For the past 11 months, we have been staying in a rented house, near to my office. Usually official letters would reach our permanent address… that is almost 20 kilometers away… Nikhil used to go there every Sunday and collect the mail,” she replied.

“Then, how will you get those letters which hurt his feelings?” I asked.

She didn’t answer my question.

“What is your husband doing?”

“He is no more…,” she wiped her tears with a hand kerchief.

“Sir, she got his job as death harness… My son, Arshad, knows the entire details… Sir, please summon him…,” the Muslim woman said with anger.

Arshad stood before us like a culprit, trembling with fear… He was unable to face those two mothers. He knew the depth of his fault.

“Sir… to be very frank, he had no interest in studies... He knew… his IQ was not enough to complete his course… Sir, he didn’t want to hurt his mother… Every day, he used to go to different places… He watched different movies and returned home along with me… Sir, how can I say this matter to his mother? How can I shatter her dreams?”  Arshad started sobbing.

“Arshad, you can leave,” I told him and started talking with her. “Don’t worry Madam… If you can convince him, then we will give re-admission in the next year. He can join S4 and complete his course.”

“Thank you Sir… I will talk with him, Sir.”

“You are welcome… Did you tell him that you were coming here?”

“Yes… Sir.”

“Where is he now?”

“He told that he would follow us,” she said while trying to contact him over mobile. “He is out of range… Sir”

“OK… There is nothing to worry…Let him take a re-admission,” I consoled her and they left peacefully.

“Sir, there is no point in giving him re-admission,” Suja said. “He won’t even complete fourth semester,” she laughed.

“May be,” I said while walking toward the canteen… “But, we have to.”

It was around 2.30 PM in the afternoon and I was busy preparing for the next class. Very tensed, Suja rushed to the staff-room.

“Sir… Nikhil committed suicide…”

“What?”

“Yes Sir… When she reached home, she found him hanging under the ceiling fan….”

“My God!”

“Siva Prasad got phone call from his brother. I will send him to you Sir,” she rushed back to the class room. Unfortunately, a heated up discussion was going on in the class.

“Madam... Nikhil lost interest in attending classes just because of our lecturer Babu Joseph,” one of the boys said.

“Don’t spread up non-sense…. Do you understand?” Suja got angry.

“That is true Madam. He didn’t allow him to attend classes for one week,” another guy said.

“Madam… we are leaving now,” the students left the classroom…

Some of them headed to his house… some staff members too… student union leaders also were among them… I thought of attending the funeral on the very next day as my house was quite far away from his house.

I called Babu in the night and we discussed the seriousness of that allegation by students.

“That is really stupid… I don’t even remember his face… if he had attended my class, his attendance must be there in the log book,” he told in anger and frustration.

“Don’t worry man…”

“You can say like that… I am the insulted guy… This is an allegation questioning a man’s integrity… anyway on Monday, you check the attendance book, whether he attended any class on that time... Bastards killed the lecturer in me...”

“Cool down Babu… I will take care of it”

Saturday morning… I was on the way to attend his funeral…

“Sir… please don’t come here,” one of my loyal students informed over mobile phone.

“Why Rahul?”

“The mob is so violent… Sir… They still believe that lie… If any of our college staff comes for his funeral, sure… he will be attacked,” he was talking in low voice… might be hiding somewhere…

“So, what should I do?”

“Sir, please watch a movie and go home,” he told coolly…

I contacted our Principal over phone. He advised me, not to go alone… I contacted Babu and discussed the matter again… the noose was getting more and more tightened…

When I reached our college on Monday, I was warmly welcomed by the angry posters stuck on walls… “Arrest Premji, the killer!” “Where is Babu the murderer? Arrest him” “Arrest Suja” “Is it a college or a mental asylum?” “Stop tormenting students for attendance”

“Nikhil, we will never forget you”… Some students were busy distributing Photostat copies of his photograph.

“Have you ever seen this guy Nikhil at least once?” One of the student’s leaders asked.

“Who knows him? He is just a martyr… a martyr has very important role to play in politics,” laughed the other boy.

Nikhil was absent during all the classes conducted by Babu Joseph as per attendance register…Why Babu alone, every lecturer… Poor guy is legally safe, I thought. Then Suja came like an embodiment of tension…

“Sir… have you seen the posters?”

“So what? Let them do anything they like… Suja, be cool… no more tensions… we are safe both legally and …”

Suddenly my mobile phone started ringing… Principal was on the other end… When we walked towards his chamber, I was busy measuring the depth of anger on the faces of students… They were staring us like aliens… Never believe the mob… Never believe your students too… how sad! When we, the entire staff of college, were about to start a meeting inside the Principal’s chamber, the student leaders rushed in.

“Sir… Not even a single staff form this college attended his funeral. Why?” student leader Kiran asked.

“You know the answer better than me,” our Principal told… “You people only threatened every staff not to attend… because his friends and relatives were violent… And now you are asking me, why?”

“At least you should have attended…”

“But, how... in a dangerous situation like this?”

“We would have protected you…,” Arun Sha said… “His dead body was buried only after the last bus had arrived there… We were so disappointed… none among our teaching staff was there… any lecturers… nobody… really disgusting Sir … He was a student of this institution… He deserves respect…”

Suddenly, some of them started breaking the glasses of windows…In just five minutes; they were stockpiling glass pieces… some stained with blood… They were acting like maniacs… When Police party arrived, everyone left quickly…

“Let whatever happen, we will go to his house,” Principal declared stubbornly and we supported his decision.

We started the journey in a rented bus. I used to get phone calls from my loyal pupils… ‘“Sir… please don’t come here… please… You are putting yourself in danger.”

We reached his home and there was a large crowd there at that time. They gave us some cool drinks. Later we went into her room… Suma was lying on a cot from Saturday, without even a cup of water…

“Suma… please get up daughter,” an old woman told her.

She got up and sat on the bed… poor woman started crying aloud holding the hands of our principal. He didn’t say anything… words are of no use sometimes! Some lady teachers talked with her and they said openly the reason why we were late. When we were about to leave, that house was rounded by a group violent youth and local political leaders… Everyone wanted to take advantage of the situation and they were showering filthy words on us.

“Everyone can leave except Automobile Engineering lecturers,” the crowd declared.

“There is nothing like lecturers of Automobile engineering among us… We are staff of our college,” Principal said coolly. But the mob was not at all happy.

Some of them spotted us… God! They were about to manhandle us! Their shouting reached its crescendo and we were totally helpless… We were not even allowed to get out of her home… Will they burn our Bus? Tension... tension was on every face among us… Suja was trembling with fear… I too was tensed…

“Why did you kill him? That too a student from scheduled tribes… You know… what you had committed is atrocity against weaker sections of our society.” a local Congress party man shouted.

“We are going to approach National Human Rights commission,” one of the student’s leaders reached there that time.

“That bastard is their HOD,” someone spotted me and in a quick move they tried to reach near me. But our friends made a human shield around me. “God! We are going to get crushed,” my mind said.

“Don’t touch him,” I heard a rumble from the house! “You people… please get out of my house”.

The crowd was literally shocked… Suma, mother of the deceased boy, stood there before me like solid rock. She stood like my guardian angel… She walked forward and the crowd moved out like the sea-water receding before Moses.

“You want to find out who is responsible for his death, don’t you?" She asked the crowd raging with anger. "I am only responsible for his suicide... I killed him,” she started weeping aloud… “I only forced him to learn Automobile engineering… Officers from my office advised me to do so… He could have easily become an Assistant Motor Vehicle Inspector if he would have completed his diploma. There is reservation for our community too, the scheduled tribes… Even the pillars of the Regional Transport Office get heavy amount of bribes everyday… God! My greed only killed him... I was just pressuring him though he was incapable to follow the tough syllabus…” she was shouting hysterically…

"Thank you for saving our lives..." I told her in a lower tone...

"Sir... Did you anticipate this would happen to my son?" She asked me and I was forced to remain silent...

Silence is better sometimes, otherwise you would be thrown into eternal silence forever!

"Sir... You might have had a gut feeling, otherwise you wouldn't have asked that question when I came to meet you...  'Where is he?'" She wiped her tears... "He loved me so much... and he succumbed to love, since he could not face me again..." 

I was watching the expression on the faces of that local crowd. Some of them started leaving deeply insulted… Our staff also quite relieved from tension…

“I killed him…I only killed him…”

I could listen to her cries echo within my soul while standing near the fresh grave…

"Are you a teacher?" The corpse in me, asked my splintered soul.

The dead-flowers, scattered around the grave, began to laugh at me...


July 15, 2011

 

 Premji

 

 



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