Mysterious Disappearances
Chapter 5

By Nirupama Akella

A Case of Hostel Talk

The alarm went off and someone sleepily said loudly, “Lata, put if off!”

But Lata Naidu -- a heavy sleeper was dreaming that she had become a fairy and was vanquishing a demon in his stone castle.

“Lata! Please! Turn off that alarm,” Malti said loudly. She was lying in bed, blanket over her head. She was awake and aware of all her senses and surroundings but unwilling to sit up, yelled in vain. Lata continued to sleep contently with a smile on her face. Outside, the black sky had dimmed to greet the Lord of the day. The stars had long before scuttled away in the depths of the sky, and now, the birds -- sparrows of different shapes and sizes, handsome pigeons and rude crows nosily flapped about and chirped, cooed and cawed in varying pitches. Two white beautiful doves settled on the side window sill and made a terrific noise with the flapping of their snowy white wings. In the lawns outside, the gardener was already at work, trimming the hedges -- which had already been cut the day before - cheerfully whistling. The cleaning staff had already made their way to the college and Malti could distinctly hear the cackles of laughter, the hushed whispers, the clanking of breakfast dishes, the gentle swish of the broom and above all, the strident domineering tones of Matron.

 It was five o’ clock on the first working day of the new term in the college. Malti knew that she did not have to nip upstairs to grab a shower because thankfully the hostel was nearly empty! But, she did wish someone, either Lata herself or Jyotsana would put off the shrill ringing alarm which was doing its best at giving her a headache. But no -- Jyotsana’s bed was empty and neatly made, the sheet all tucked in and the pillow fluffed out and properly laid! “Her bed was made”-- Malti considered thoughtfully as the alarm continued to ring loudly – “Jyotsana had already got up!”

 Lata, miraculously opened her eyes. The alarm had finally managed to penetrate her dream. She, dressed as a fairy had opened her mouth to cast some spell on the evil demon, only to start ringing like a siren! She sleepily blinked and rolled over and reached out a hand to put off the alarm. The silver round shaped clock stopped trying to attract its owner’s attention, at last. Malti heaved a sigh of relief – “Good Morning!”

“What time is it?” asked Lata sitting up in bed, yawning mightily.

“About Fivish, I guess, and the college is teeming with activity. I vote we join them in their noble endeavor!”

“Where is Jyotsana?” Lata asked now getting up to start her day.

“No idea…” Malti admitted, folding her sheets now, “But I have a strong hunch she has taken her bath and skipped out for a walk before breakfast.”

“Thank God! They had the good sense not to change breakfast timings as well.”

Malti stretched and then went towards the door, bedsheet tucked under one arm saying, “See you at breakfast.” The door closed and left alone, Lata finished her bed making chore and prepared to have her shower. She was bending when the door opened again to admit this time a beaming fresh looking Jyotsana. She entered the room, smiling. Lata straightened and said, “Morning Walk?”

Jyotsana nodded and going forward, flung the corner window open, drawing the curtains. A cool breeze assailed her blowing her short curls across her face. She smiled wishing she had a bicycle and could just hop on and go sailing down the hill like the breeze itself.

“Lovely, isn’t it? So where have you been?” Lata asked.

“Exploring the college -- didn’t get a chance to see it yesterday. I was so tired!”

Lata grinned, remembering her own pleasure and excitement on seeing the massive structure of the college, on her first day.

“So, what have you seen till now?”

“Matron showed me the main building and the auditorium, pointed out the Old Church, the Teachers’ Quarters and nearly everything to me!”

“Ooh!’ exclaimed Lata examining her wardrobe, “Matron seems to have taken a fancy to you! So, what do you think?”

“It is wonderful!”

“You will have to sign up for some activity,” Lata said. “I have chosen swimming this term, Parul will be in drama, I guess.”

“I will get my time- table today.”

“Usually, all Junior College classes are held in on the first two floors of the main building… breakfast is at seven and it goes on till eight, classes begin at eight thirty, but I guess you know that already. Junior College Freshers will be meeting in the main common room!”

“Where is it?”

But Lata grinned wickedly, opening the door, “That dear Freshie, you have to find out by yourself!”

Jyotsana sighed thingking, “Lata was nice but all of a sudden she remembered that she was a senior while she, Jyotsana Patel was a Junior Fresher and had to indulge in some teasing!”

Lata showered quickly, slipping into dark jeans and a matching loose shirt and went back to her room to try to coax her unruly hair into some semblance of stylish neat braid. She did, eventually mange to braid it, with the help of hairpins and actually marveled at her great aunt who had thought that her long hair was manageable and smooth. “My hair,” Lata thought, “is in direct competition with a sparrow’s nest of twigs, and dry leaves”

. She finally moved away from the dresser and then put on her sandals and glanced at her time table. Her first lecture was Economics III -- that is Indian Economics for an hour in Room 18 -- then Art I in Room 9. Lata sighed and took out her long book for notes and a pen. She yet had to choose her second subsidiary module -- it would have to be Philosophy, Home Science or Mathematics! Lata didn’t quite like the idea of burying her head in notes of philosophy nor learning how to make vegetable pulses soup for diabetic patients, so maybe she would choose Maths, not that she had any particular fondness for numerals but now it seemed to be the lesser of the evils!

Outside, a general loud ceaseless chatter and laughter attracted her attention and putting the papers on her desk, she went to join Jyotsana at the window.

“Hostellites are arriving!” remarked Lata, noticing familiar faces, “There’s Mamta Gulati -- the Student Leader… then there is Shewta Ganji….Divya Shah who is the local MP’s daughter and….there is our other room mate, Parul…”

Jyotsana looked curiously at the bent black head standing on the steps. She spotted spectacles, rendering Parul Desai like a beautiful innocent butterfly, lost in a sea of flowers! Adding to her notion, was the bright vivid green salwar suit with yellow border and cuffs, with matching dupatta of silver green and golden hue worn in the latest style copied from, “probably a Hindi movie,” Jyotsana thought. Parul Desai was unnaturally tall and it was hard to believe that this studious looking girl was a violinist and an active member of the college drama club. “She,” decided Jyotsana gazing interestedly at the now straight shapely figure of Parul talking to Matron and hastily scribbling on a pink form, leaning on one of the pillars in the doorway, “did not in the least look musically inclined. But “Appearances can be deceptive -- All that glitters is not Gold.”  

But somehow, she had always imagined musicians or budding young artists to be of a dreamy countenance wearing hanging loose pale colorless clothes -- not dressed in the height of fashion!

Lata nudged her, “She’s come just in time for breakfast,” then continued with her commentary, “There’s Renu…Geeta…Anuradha…”

Jyotsana moved away, as her object of fascination, Parul Desai finished filling up the form and disappeared inside the building. Presently there was a discreet rap on the door, and it was gently opened by Parul. Jyotsana saw that from near, Parul Desai did exude an aura of being celestial! Parul had a creamish spotless fair complexion with dark unnatural black hair cut stylishly to a blunt cut, which curled inward -- the ends falling upon each cheek -- heavily fringed eyebrows and lashes unfortunately hidden and camouflaged by a pair of silver tinted lightweight spectacles. Jyotsana suspected that Parul was, wearing mascara and why not? After all, Parul Desai was a second year senior college student.

She came in noiselessly shutting the door behind her, “Thank heavens, I am here at last. Guardians are sweet but can be terribly tiring and boring,” she announced huskily coming into the middle of the room and looking about her.

 “Her lips,” Jyotsana observed, “were painted a pale subtle pink- she did look highly glamorous and artificial- was she all beauty and no brains? Parul Desai,” her mental train of thoughts continued, “was not beautiful but definitely attractive. I wonder how old she is? 21/ 22? Wonder what she is majoring in?” It was hard to imagine Parul to be an Economics, English or a major in any suitably serious subject. “Parul looked frivolous,” thought the first- year junior college hostellite, “maybe she aimed to become a film actress.” Any moment, Jyotsana expected her, to brandish a Turkish cigarette and smoke in typical “filmi” style!

Parul surveyed the room and said, “This is a much nicer room Last year I was in this poky, stuffy room, on the second floor with third year students who made my life miserable. At least this year, I am with second year girls. Hello! Lata Naidu, isn’t it?”

Lata nodded smiling and said, “Yes we are lucky to have such a wonderful room…there is still Shiksha to come…”

“Shiksha Malhotra,” Parul queried, “She was in the room opposite mine… we were sent to hide Matron’s shoes during ragging -- so childish but we did it and poor Matron had to go without her black working shoes for two whole days before she found them in the back garden behind the main building under the hedge…” Parul laughed. “Of course at that time we were stiff scared and could not enjoy ourselves….you were involved in the skeleton scare weren’t you?”

Both the girls laughed. Then Parul turned to Jyotsana, “You are a fresher aren’t you? I made it a point to know everyone, in the hostel last year -- part of my ragging activities…last year the third year seniors ragged us real bad! Lucky you weren’t around then! But still, we won’t do a bad job!” she said and grinned. “So, tell me about yourself! And didn’t anyone tell you freshie, you are never allowed to choose your bed in the room, the seniors assign it to you…”

 Jyotsana looked dismayed, and Parul smiling amusedly relented, “Alright then, stay there! I’ll take this bed,” and she flopped down on the bed near the door.

 “Now that she was talking, Parul Desai looked more human,” thought Jyotsana. She sat down on her bed and patiently began to recite her life story for the third time.

“Wow! I never had a wealthy person in my vicinity,” Parul said grinning. She then opening her suitcase to begin arranging her clothes and said, “By the way, as you know my name, I guess you do know that I am a Psychology second year senior college major with English, Social Work and Philosophy as my subsidiary subjects! I am a member of the drama club, so if you want to join, you better ask me! Lata, what activity are you enrolling in this summer?”

“Swimming.”

Parul arched her fine eye brows, “So your aunt finally agreed then?” “Lata’s anut,” remembered Parul, “was highly traditional and orthodox who felt that a woman’s place was in the kitchen serving her husband.” Aloud she said, “That is great! How are your brothers?’

“How do you know that I have brothers?”

“At the ragging session, last year,” said Parul making her bed -- a pale blue sheet with white checks, “remember, all of us had to introduce ourselves and chat for ten minutes about our families. You talked about your brothers and I remembered.”

“Yeah” said Lata remembering, “Well, they are fine….I am sure they will be gratified to know that their dubious fame has reached the ears of a very attractive hostellite!”

Parul laughed, “But I must not keep you from breakfast! Go on and I will join you.”

“Are you having a shower?” asked Lata thinking, “she looks clean enough. Anyway if she does decide to hop into the shower, she ought to make it quick. Parul” Lata remembered, “Spent hours in the shower – probably trying to make herself look ultra- white.” Lata smiled. “Now her aunt would approve of that. Her aunt complained about her brown complexion as if it was her own decision to paint herself chocolate brown! But,” Lata lifted a cautionary imaginary finger in her mind, “Parul is my roommate and I should not be spiteful and make fun of her.”

As if reading her mind, Parul said with a small laugh, “Don’t worry Lata! I will not lock myself in the bathroom for hours. I am not taking a shower.” Parul grinned observing the puzzled look on Jyotsana’s face as she took in the pleasant barbed exchange of words between herself and Lata. “But you won’t understand. Now Shiksha is like me.”

Jyotsana continued thinking – “who said hostel life was boring? It was an exercise in mental stimulation!”

“I had a shower this morning before we set off in the car. Great to be back again Lata,” said Parul. The senior girls shook hands and grinning looked at Jyotsana.

Parul, now took to room arrangement -- arranging the table to her liking, ‘There!” she had pushed it more to the left so that it did not bump into the door, “How’s that?”

“Beats me why you never opted to major in interior decoration. You don’t have the mental ammunition for Psychology Ms. Desai,” Lata remarked amused.

“I imagine you know a lot about that Lata,” answered Parul screwing her eyes. “I am aware of your constant struggle in Economics. You, unfortunately lack what I have in abundance…”

Lata interrupted, “And what is that? Vivid imagination to write fantastic long answers!”

Parul giggled and addressed Jyotsana, “Don’t be alarmed. This is hostel talk Freshie and we, Lata and I are champions at it.”

Turning to Lata, “Yes, if ever I want to change careers, I can always become a bestseller novelist. But, seriously Psychology is my area of study, Lata! I plan to go in for a doctorate some day.” Parul ran a hand through her hair and said brightly, “so, I’ll just freshen up, brush my hair and then join you in the dining hall! This salwar suit cost a fortune! And I want everyone to see it…..even the gardener!”

“You want to give him a heart attack?” Lata laughed. Parul stuck her tongue out.

Jyotsana was watching the two seniors and thinking, “What kind of place is this? This hostel talk sounds bitchy! But I think I should say something. They may think I have suddenly taken a vow of eternal silence.”

“Your salwar is lovely,” said Jyotsana to Parul thinking, “no hostel talk here!”

“I thought your likes were confined to Mickey Mouse, freshie!” Lata said loudly, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.

Jyotsana grimaced inwardly and thought, “If it wasn’t for this hostel- talk, it was ragging!”


Serial novel Mysterious Disappearances - 5 Continued here......