The Search Continues
Jyotsana entered the dining hall at exactly eleven o’ clock for lunch and bumped into Shiksha, already near the buffet tables lifting lids and inspecting dishes.
“Hello! My class got cancelled,” Jyotsana said taking a plate.
“I have a one hour class on Contemporary History,” Shiksha said serving herself.
“How is History as a subject?”
“Interesting,” Shiksha paused. “I mean I find it fascinating…but then you must have a command over English language, be very sure of your facts and have the ability to analyze, explain, criticize…”
Jyotsana said, “I always thought history to be dry and boring.. I used to fall asleep during history classes in school…”
“Then your teacher who taught you history must be the one at fault -- history is like any other subject with its pros and cons! What do you plan to major in college?”
“Haven’t really thought about it!” said Jyotsana.
“You better start thinking,” said Shiksha. “Today is our lucky day -- pasta with cheese.”
“There is rice pudding too and potato chips,” observed Jyotsana lifting the lids.
“Mrs. Gopal must be in a good mood today,” said Shiksha.
Jyotsana laughed as both the girls walked towards the corner table with plates filled to the brim with steaming hot pasta.
“Here comes Parul!” said Jyotsana picking up her fork. Parul Desai looking quite dazed and tired had come into the hall. Shiksha and Jyotsana called out and waved to the tall figure in blue jeans and very soon Parul was sitting next to Jyotsana, eating and talking occasionally.
“I am starving,” was her first statement. “Lectures on pre natal development can be really exhausting! How was your day?” this was addressed to both Jyotsana and Shiksha.
“My history lecture finished just now and earlier I had a lecture on the role of Media in Modern society,” said Shiksha eating.
“Have any of you seen Lata since breakfast?” this was Parul eating a potato chip.
“She has gone out -- the economics class have gone out to attend some debate on Inflation,” said Jyotsana looking up from her plate.
Parul swallowed and said, “Any idea when she will be back?”
“Around one in the afternoon,” Jyotsana replied.
“And how was your day, Jyot?” Parul asked. “Have you settled in properly? Made any friends?”
“I don’t like Mr. Hari,” said Jyotsana. “He makes computer science so boring….and my Physics teacher should really be teaching Philosophy…he is in the wrong teaching stream!”
Parul said grinning, “I will mention it to Sister, I promise!”
“Rest is fine,” said Jyotsana smiling. “Yeah, I have made a few friends!”
Shiksha cleared her throat saying, ‘Parul, where is the report?’
Parul Desai, in the process of putting the fork into her mouth, stopped and stared. “Since when have you become interested in social work?” she asked Shiksha.
“Huh?” Shiksha was sure that she had misheard.
“‘Social Work,” said Parul. “Otherwise why in the world do you want to read my report on the slum people of the Dehradun railway station?”
“I never said that,” Shiksha defended.
“Of course, you did. Right now! Jyotsana heard you,” Parul said. “You said you wanted to read the report.”
“People, please eat,” Jyotsana said trying to play peacemaker. She disliked arguments and even slight disagreements. “Parul why don’t you eat the chips? Shiksha shall I get some more pudding for you?”
“Oh, shut up, Jyot,” Shiksha was evidently irritated. She turned her attention back to Parul, “I said ‘a report’. And you, assumed it was your social work report!”
“Naturally”’ replied Parul munching her potato chip. She said grimacing, “too much oil!”
“Care to give cookery lessons, Parul?” Jyotsana giggled.
Parul glared at her as Shiksha continued, “A report could mean any report!”
“I don’t have thousands of reports, silly!” said Parul.
“I did write a report on the…” Jyotsana softly broke in but was immediately shushed loudly by Parul, who stared at Shiksha and frowned trying to remember, “Ooh, you mean the report we made Jyotsana write about Shanta’s disappearance.”
“Congratulations!” said Shiksha. “You hit the nail on the head!”
Parul ignored the sarcasm and asked, “Why do you want it?”
Jyotsana pulled back her chair and got up. “Bye!” she said, “I have continuous classes now till two.”
“Finished so soon?” Shiksha queried in surprise. “See you later!”
Parul waved her fork as Jyotsana washed her plate and left the hall. Parul resumed the conversation, “Why do you need it?”
“I want to read it,” said Shiksha.
“I want to appreciate how Shanta disappeared,” said Shiksha giggling.
“Very Funny!” Parul snapped. “It’s in the second drawer of my table,” she said.
“And I need you to do me a favour!” Shiksha said firmly.
“Why do I get the feeling that you expect something from me?” Parul said frowning.
“Because it is a favour silly,” said her roommate. Shiksha toyed with her spoon before continuing, “You have to clean the Old Church windows, today, right?”
“For my sins!” Parul confirmed dramatically. “But why do you ask Ms. Malhotra?”
“I was wondering Ms. Desai,” said Shiksha. “Whether…..you would check out the church…for me real well?”
“You want me to act as your agent?”
“I can think of other pleasing analogies,” said Shiksha. “I think Captain Hastings is the perfect analogy!”
“And why exactly do you want me to do this?” this was Parul spooning her pudding.
“Well…” said Shiksha slowly. Leaned forward she succintly related her conversation with Shalu Brar in the morning.
“The police searched the whole college and found nothing,” said Parul cleaning out her pudding bowl with her spoon. “What makes you think I will find something?”
“But you will do it?” Shiksha asked.
“OK, no problem!” said Parul. “See what a sweet girl I am!” Parul giggled. She got up as Shiksha asked suddenly, “Who told you that the police found nothing?”
“Sister’s secretary -- Nandita Sharma -- seemed they submitted a copy of their report to Sister on Saturday,” said Parul.
“Oh!” Shiksha said turning this new piece of information in her mind.
Parul said loudly, “Plan to just stand there holding an empty plate?”
Shiksha started out of her reverie, “No silly! Lead the way!”
They washed their plates and bowls and left them on the draining board and still talking left the hall.
Lata ran up the steps and burst into her room. Shiksha, lying on bed reading Jyotsana’s report looked up.
“Oof! It was awful,” said Lata flopping on the bed.
“I trust our debate on inflation did not go well,” said Shiksha.
Lata rolled her eyes and got up.She loosened her hair and opened her cupboard remarking, “Oh, it was fine in the morning….but how much can one listen to some old men with great white beards, drone and complain about inflation and globalization…I lost interest in the second half…..but Ms. Sona found it highly entertaining….she wants us to write a paper on it tomorrow in class. I hope someone took notes of the debate….else I will just be able to write my name on the sheet tomorrow and I don’t think Ms Sona will be pleased.”
“So, who sat up throughout the debate and copied every single word that was said?” asked Shiksha sitting up in bed, and threw the report on the table beside the bed.
“Shewta naturally……..the number one in our class,” said Lata.
“I take it you don’t like her.”
Lata shut the cupboard frowning and said, “She is a rat----I don’t trust her an inch…so sugary sweet.”
“But you are going to read her notes tomorrow.”
“Fortunately unlike you,” Lata paused to open her drawer and continued. “I am a diplomat and believe in tact and diplomacy…. I prefer to let Shewta be under the impression that I am her greatest friend and the sweetest person alive on earth….so,” Lata straightened closing the drawer, “she will be eager to share her notes with her sweet friend- my motto is “to be always on the good side of number one’s of the class.”
“I call it hypocrisy,” said Shiksha slowly. “But each to his own.”
“Right! I am honoured that you agree. But where are the others?” said Lata arching her brows.
“Parul must be cleaning the windows in the old Church and Jyotsana isn’t back yet from classes! You missed lunch! It was good,” said Shiksha grining.
“No regrets! We had lunch in the auditorium canteen, courtesy of the organizers- simply delicious.”
“How is inflation?” Shiksha asked grinning widely.
“Gorgeous! Wished you were there,” Lata said giggling..
“Idiot!” said Shiksha and smiled.
“Indian Inflation is sure to put inflation rates of other countries to shame,” said Lata laughing and approached the door. “Oh, I made a timetable for self study. Your input would be appreciated.”
“Sure,” said Shiksha. “‘And Lata is Indian globalization all set to follow sister inflation?”
“Idiot!” was the reply and the door banged shut.
Shiksha sighed and flopped back on bed. Her classes had finished at half past twelve, and since then she had been reading Jyotsana’s report on the disappearance of Shanta Ganshyam -- and now she knew all the facts -- it was very clear to her that Shanta had indeed disappeared inside the college but where, how and why? That was puzzling- Shanta had three kids- she wouldn’t simply disappear into thin air without telling anyone- then her thoughts drifted to the conversation she had with Shalu in the morning. Shiksha bit her under lip- Shanta had come to the college for work, and cleaned the hostel floors but then had mysteriously vanished without a trace! Shiksha turned on her side and thought hard- so if she finished cleaning the hostel- her next step would be towards the Old Wing which was her work domain- remember, her brain cautioned her sternly -- she was seen entering but not seen leaving……….