“I never thought that scoundrel would do this to his only son…” Gaurav’s grandfather’s voice trailed off and the old man could not bring himself to complete the sentence. The rising anger was accompanied by grief and helplessness. Tears flowed down his cheeks and he did nothing to stop them. His grandson lay in front of him fast asleep. The plaster covered his head and an eye as well.
Harshvardhan Jadhav had tried his best to stay strong for the sake of his ailing daughter but the sight of his only grandson, beaten up and bruised, tore him apart and he could not control his emotions any longer.
Preeti immediately rose from her chair and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Uncle, it is alright. Gaurav is fine now and very soon he will be back to normal. His father is behind bars. You don’t have to worry about anything. We are here for you.” Her colleague and friend Mala also sat next to the elderly gentleman and tried to pacify him.
“Imagine if you had not called the police on time,” the old man continued in between his sobs. “I would have lost my grandson. I don’t know how to thank you, beti. You saved his life. I just hope Tanuja gets better soon. I have not told her about Gaurav yet.”
Preeti wanted him to know that it was his grandson’s presence of mind that played a bigger role. “Uncle, if it were not for Gaurav, I would not have been able to do anything. He is a brave boy. Every time I called, he would always answer the phone and pretend like he was calling out to his mom. In hindsight, I feel it was all done deliberately. He knew that I could hear everything.” She stopped for a minute to look at Gaurav and then turned to his grandfather. “Anyway, it is over now. Once Tanuja is better and Gaurav is discharged, you must take them back with you. It is better to stay away from here for some time.”
“Yes. I don’t want them to go back to that house,” Mr Jadhav said as he wiped his tears.
Preeti smiled and nodded her head in unison. She moved closer to the bed and looked at the 10-year-old who was fast asleep under the effect of strong painkillers.
FOUR WEEKS AGO
Gaurav knew that his mother was not going to answer the phone. She hardly spoke to anyone these days. In fact, this was the first time he was seeing his mother so disturbed. Preeti was his favourite teacher but he was embarrassed to discuss his family problems with her. She had called to speak to his mother and he did not know how to react to her questions. He spoke to Preeti in the most polite manner “Sure, ma'am. I will call her now. Can you hold the line for a minute?” He kept the receiver down and called out to his mother.
On the other end, Preeti could hear Gaurav’s voice calling out for his mom loud and clear, but what followed after that was something Preeti could not comprehend. There were muffled voices, hurried footsteps, and then the phone was disconnected immediately.
She knew it was done on purpose.
Though her colleagues at work had warned her not to get too involved, Preeti was determined to get to the bottom of this. In the last six years of her teaching career, she had never come across parents with such lack of interest in their child’s academic performance. “An above average student like Gaurav cannot be getting these marks all of a sudden; he has failed in so many subjects.” Preeti discussed the matter with Mala. Mala did her best to appease her troubled friend. “I agree, Preeti. But I am not sure whether we as teachers can get involved in their family matters. You understand what I mean, right?” It may have been none of her business, but Preeti could not help noticing that there was something troubling Gaurav, and she could ignore it no more.
Though Gaurav was reticent for a 10-year-old, he had never come across as an estranged child. But surprisingly, there were visible difference in his body language and conversations of late. The boy only spoke when a question was thrown at him and he preferred to reply in monosyllables. He stopped mingling with his classmates and had no interest in what was being discussed in class. Gaurav seemed to be in a world of his own.
Preeti had called him aside many times and tried to make him talk. No amount of cajoling made any difference to Gaurav’s demeanour. It only got worse. He slowly became a latecomer and his homework was either incomplete or barely touched. But he was never aggressive or remorseful. The boy never reacted to criticism, even. This noticeable change in Gaurav’s behaviour irked the other teachers. One of them even complained to Preeti as she was his class teacher, “That child hardly says anything. It is becoming difficult to teach with him around!”
Preeti knew that she could not approach Gaurav with angst like her colleagues. That would push him away further. She decided to bring up the matter over an ice cream. The boy did not seem to care for any ice cream or small talk. He wanted to be left alone.
“Do you need any help with your homework, Gaurav?”
"I always thought that math was your favourite subject."
“Is anything troubling you? Do you want to talk about it?”
“No, ma’am. I am fine.”
“How is your mother?”
“She is fine.”
“Can I speak to her today?”
“She is unwell and is resting.”
“Can I send her a letter? Will you give it to her?”
She decided not to push him and wrote a letter to his mother Tanuja, giving her contact details. She emphasised on the urgency and hoped that Gaurav’s mother would respond once she recuperated.
Four days passed and there was neither a phone call nor any reply to the letter. Confrontation seemed to be the only way forward and she made a quick trip to Tanuja’s boutique near the railway station. To her disappointment, the store was shut. Upon enquiry, one of the sales girls in the neighboring departmental store informed Preeti about her absence. “Tanu didi has fallen ill, I hear. She has not opened the store since the past 10 days. We do not know anything more.”
No one chose to speak about the father.
That evening Preeti boarded the train to Pune with her relatives to attend a cousin’s wedding. As the train left Nagpur station, conversations of the impending wedding and festivities pushed the thoughts of Gaurav to the back of her mind. She decided to bring up the matter with the headmaster, Mr. Ramakanth Shinde, as soon as she was back in town.
A week flew by and the summer of 1995 was almost coming to an end. Very soon, the town would receive its share of the monsoons.
Preeti was back on campus and she was surprisingly greeted by Mr. Shinde himself in the corridor outside the staff room. He looked eager to share some news with her.
“Preeti, I wanted to tell you. One of your students, Gaurav, has discontinued his course. Last Thursday, his grandfather came across to meet me and insisted on collecting his transfer certificate.”
The teacher could not hide her disappointment. “But sir…”
“I am sorry, we did not know how to contact you. It looked like an emergency. The gentleman said his daughter had suffered a serious injury and was hospitalised. Once she recovered, they would be moving back to their hometown. They have apparently made arrangements for Gaurav to continue his classes at the local school.” He paused and looked at her quizzically. "By the way, did you know any of this?”
“No, sir, I did not have a clue. In fact I was waiting to discuss the same with you. Did he mention anything about Gaurav’s father?”
“Yes, I found it quite shocking. I believe he is an alcoholic and had left Tanuja and Gaurav around five years back. Mr. Jadhav says that his son-in-law has now started to create trouble for the family. It didn’t look like he wanted to discuss it, so I did not probe.”
“But we should help them, sir. I need to talk to Gaurav. I need to meet him.”
The headmaster’s voice rose. “It is their personal affair, Preeti. We cannot interfere unless they ask us to.”
“Sir, we have to. I think Gaurav is in some sort of trouble. It is all my fault. I should have acted sooner,” Preeti shot back.
Before the head master could complete his sentence, Preeti ran towards the telephone in the staff room and dialled Gaurav’s number.
The phone rang continuously without a response. She tried again and this time it was answered by a feeble voice.
“Gaurav, is that you?”
“Ma’am…” She knew the boy had been crying.
“Are you okay? I heard that you were leaving…"
There was no response.
“Gaurav, I am coming to see you now. Can you hear me?”
Her question was followed by some disturbance at the other end. It sounded like a chair was being dragged followed by hurried footsteps.
Gaurav had dropped the receiver and it sounded to Preeti like he was scrambling to his feet. He had not disconnected the line. She opened her mouth to call his name once again and that is when she heard the male voice, loud and clear. The tone was harsh and aggressive.
"Who are you talking to? Is it that wretched teacher? Tell that whore that if she tries to poke her nose, she will also end up with a broken back like your mother. Wait, you little coward, I will tell her—”
“No, dada, no! Please!" Gaurav pleaded with the voice.
“Let me go, you coward!"
“You idiot! Move out of my way or I will—”
Suddenly there was a loud scream and Preeti was startled. There was ruffling of paper followed by the clanking of metal. It sounded like something was being thrown at the boy and his cries got louder with each blow.
Preeti immediately disconnected the line with her index finger. She could feel herself trembling in shock, but she could not let the savage get away. What if this was her only chance to save Gaurav? She turned to see if the headmaster was around but he was nowhere to be seen. Preeti had to act quickly. She picked up the phone.
“Officer, I heard it. I heard it on the phone. Gaurav was crying for help! Please do something!”
Her words rang out in the quiet staff room.
An avid reader and blogger, sharing anecdotes is what Piya enjoys the most. When she is not dabbling with words, she is either day dreaming or busy working on Plan B.
Ananya is a design student and dog lover. When she's not busy drawing odd faces, she loves munching on some grape-flavoured Tang while keeping her stationery intact. She has a weakness for fine-nibbed black pens and