Jyotsana sat in the college library, on the second floor of the main building, near the huge glass Windows overlooking the highway. Three weeks into the new term and she had come down with a nasty bout of flu and been confined to the Sick Bay area for the last week, where she had been carefully looked after by the two efficient college nurses. And now, on her first day back to the world of studies and schedules, her first class of the bright Monday morning had been cancelled because their computer science teacher, Mr. Hari had also succumbed to the flu virus. The replacement teacher had ushered them into
the library and here she had been sitting for the last ten minutes, sniffing and coughing occasionally, scanning the latest newspaper. Opposite some seniors sat talking softly about the up coming Cultural Event which was to last for three days, and showcase the college’s talents and activities. An annual event, Jyotsana knew that the event, appropriately titled FUSION had occupied prominently place in all the minds of students and staff alike. The event even had a commercial side to it, several stalls were to be set up and tickets were to be duly sold. Sister Prudence had once again proved to her colleagues and students her very enterprising and monetary sense.
Jyotsana sighed and blew her nose in her rather large blue handkerchief. She still carried faint traces of the virus and was still swallowing spoonfuls of medicine every night. She slowly scraped her chair and got up. The pounding in her head had started again- a sign of a head cold and she knew without doubt that this meant that she should head back to the Sick Bay. But her brain struggled to control the pounding -- “I will ignore you” she told the pounding severely walking towards the newspaper and magazine rack. Nearby her classmates giggled and buried their heads in the book they were reading together. The librarians, Mrs. Das and Mrs. Handi were busy chattering in mild whispers. The pounding decreased a little and she felt happy for small mercies. She had no intention of going back to the Sick Bay, a pale white washed building with colourful vibrant foliage climbing all the way up, just near the Old Wing, directly facing the green well tended huge lawns where merry go rounds and some stalls had already been set up.
A dismal building in her opinion, with bright cheerful wallpaper and flowers which had quite the opposite effect- giving it the appearance of an artificial garish bungalow! And after one week of delirium, she had eventually come to regard the two prim fat nurses with disdain and contempt. They always talked as if she was a mere object and not a living; breathing person- always using the wrong pronouns -- “are we feeling better this morning?” or “are we grumpy this morning?’, to one another leaving her real infuriated, and she had been glad when she had finally walked through the doors and headed for her hostel room. There, she found her room mates visibly; terribly excited about some cultural event which was to take place after some time.
Lata had kindly informed her that this year, the annual cultural festival had finally gone hand in glove with a small children’s’ fair. FUSION--- the cultural festival was to span for an entire three day period hosting a number of events like dramas, dances, academic seminars and much more and, At the same time entertain small kids on the merry go round and the stalls. The total money collected would then be donated to the Mission Charity Fund and diverted to improving the plight of the slum people. A very noble cause- but before she could have told Lata her view, Shiksha had triumphantly marched in spouting something about a research topic for her mass communication research project. All of them had argued, discussed and finally Shiksha had given the name of the Old Wing- Past, Present & Future as her research topic. Personally she had felt a little confused as to what Shiksha planned to research about an old church.
Parul had said in her husky voice. “at least now you will stop worrying about lights in the Old Church- this is your chance- research the church thoroughly.”
And from the next day, there had innumerable books on the Missionaries who set up camp in Dehradun, everywhere in the room. And Lata had decided to follow her self study timetable but come up complaints of its impracticality the very next day. The reason. Shiksha had softly explained to her that Lata foolishly had not put down any free time for her meals! And so, naturally was experiencing difficulty. Parul had got totally absorbed in the play that the drama group was staging for the three day Fusion -- ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’ by Oscar Wilde.
The pounding had started again and this time she could not ignore it- but instead of the Sick Bay, she would escape into the warmth’s of her bed after swallowing her tablet. She hurriedly put down an old newspaper edition, but not before glancing at a column titled, “Mysterious Disappearance At Mayfair Baffles Police” -- Shanta Ganshyam, Jyotsana reflected sniffing, no one knew what had happened to her- she had just vanished suddenly into thin air and now they had nearly forgotten about her! Each one of them had moved on, become totally absorbed in their studies and the upcoming FUSION- well…maybe not all of them, Jyotsana smiled thinly thinking, “ Shiksha was still convinced that Shanta had disappeared inside the Old Church! Maybe that unshakable conviction had led her to opt for the Old Wing as her research topic for her mass communications project! But what about Shanta’s family” Jyotsana continued mused silently walking towards the counter where the replacement teacher sat filing her nails.
“What about Shanta’s three children -- for them it was just more than a baffling story,” Jyotsana thought. She tapped the teacher on the shoulder and excused herself explaining how she felt. A few seconds later she was out of the library door, into the corridor- down the stairs and into the open. She crossed the crowded canteen area and entered the quiet hostel! All the girls were attending classes. The cleaning ladies had already left. She slowly she reached her room, unlocked it and putting her bag on her desk, opened the kitchen cabinet above the dresser. She took her small white capsule and then collapsed into bed.
Parul entered the room, muttering angrily to herself. As the director of the play, she was supposed to be in complete control of the play. But unfortunately, no one seemed to be listening to her. The cast had been finalized last evening but still the costumes had not been ordered from the Boutique and not one of the actors had managed to learn their dialogues.The play was the first event to be staged next Monday and set the tone for the rest of the show! But Parul feared the worst- everyone would just walk out- and she would eventually lose the Presidency of the drama club! Even Ms. Choudhary, the Faculty Advisor to the Drama Club, had not been helpful and cooperative. She had not yet called at the boutique and ordered the costumes. Parul wanted them to be simple and to add to her list of woes her prop director and prompter had not been coming to college for the past two days. She was loosing control and the play was tethering towards complete disaster! Parul breathed deeply and then saw Jyotsana and softly closed the door.
But the light sleeper that she was, Jyotsana sat up in bed blinking hard. “Hi! I thought you had classes,” she said.
“No,” said Parul yawning. “But I have to go for drama rehearsal after lunch. How are you feeling?”
“Awful but not feverish! So, please don’t press the panic button,” said Jyotsana flinging her blanket.
Parul grinned and opened her cupboard, as Jyotsana continued, “How is the play going?”
“That bad?” Jyotsana said coughing.
Parul shut the cupboard saying, “I think I will put my foot down today -- being too patient, understanding and sweet is certainly not going to get me accolades on 24th.”
“So what is your plan?” said Jyotsana folding her handkerchief.
“Nothing much -- just tell them simply to tighten their laces and start giving their best. If they don’t, they are out.”
“Wow,” said Jyotsana clearing her throat. “So who are your actors?”
“Mostly seniors! With a few juniors thrown in,” said Parul eyeing her clothes.
“Must be exciting to act in a play!” remarked Jyotsana wistfully.
“There was talk of a dance drama being staged on the last day…..if you want I will find out for you,” Parul said taking a pair of jeans from the cupboard.
“That is so sweet…” Jyotsana broke into a cough. Parul moved away promising to do the needful.
Lata came out of the lecture room and joined the milling crowd in the corridor. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see spectacled Yvonne looking into her face.
“Do you have a minute?” Yvonne said.
“Well..I have an art class in exactly ten minutes on the other side of the college,” said Lata glancing at her watch. “What do you have in mind?” she asked the other girl.
In reply, Yvonne steered her by the elbow into a nearby empty class room and sat down handing her some paper., ‘Thought you might want to take a look at the Fusion publicity pamphlet.” She said.
Yvonne Gonsalves was a member of the Publicity team organized for the big cultural event. Along with Lata and a few senior college girls – she was responsible for all developing, and distributing all publicity brochures and leaflets to all media outlets. Yvonne was plump and short with a perpetual habit of running her fingers through her short brown hair. She was now doing it at supersonic speed and blinking rapidly. For the first time, the college had produced publicity video fils and distributed them to various television news channels. And on top of that, the team was writing a series of articles about the various events being organized during the three- day show.
“Lata,” Yvonne thought now looking at the Economics major critically. “She was not doing her share of work in the team – she, Yvonne had been writing the articles, running after Ms. Batliwala who was the Faculty Advisor and listening to her criticisms.” Yvonne sighed, “It was simply not fair.”
Lata took the papers and frowned. “Have the others read it?” she said thinking, “Yvonne was always bothering her with pamplets and articles—why didn’t she go and bother Tina who was the team leader? After all, she was just another team member and she had merely signed on to get the due certificate at the end of the show. But Yvonne was either stupid or mean – Yvonne disliked her and was now haunting her every day.”
“Yeah…and Ms Batiawala has spoken to the local newspaper to place our ad and article in tomorrow’s edition…so we have to give it in today.”
“OK,” Lata said standing up thinking, “What did Yvonne want her to do? Tear up the papers?” “Umm,” she said. “Who is going?”
“Jennifer,” said Yvonne referring to the hazel- eyed English major.
Lata pretended to study the papers carefully.
“Well,” said Yvonne grining. “I wanted you to see them – since you are so busy and you never come to the meeting.”
Lata clenched her fists thinking, “What a liar – she never sees me as she never attends them herself. If she did she would notice that Lata Naidu attended all the meetings.” Displaying a calm she did not feel, she said, “When do we meet next?”
“Today at four in the auditorium to discuss about the stalls,” said Yvonne smiling. “Make sure you are there Lata.”
“But first I will kill you, “ thought Lata. Aloud she said, “Stalls? That is not PR.”
“ Yvonne sighed and said, “Don’t know…I entirely agree with you Lata on this,” Smiling Yvonne left the room and Lata followed her down the stairs to walk towards the art room tucked away near the auditorium.
Everything ranging from classes to hostel meal times was in chaos that day. Lata ran into Shiksha on her way back to the hostel after class.
“Shiksha”, Lata mused, “had cleverly not volunteered to help out in the event but had stuck to her own amusements, which mainly included reading fat dusty volumes on the Dehradun Missionaries in the library at all hours and surfing the internet for extra information. Shiksha was intelligent” Lata thought admiringly – “while she had been locked in discussions arguing with other PR team members, and Parul had been screaming hoarse and tearing her hair in frustration and Jyotsana had been out of action -- Shiksha had sat calmly relaxed in her surroundings doing her research and studying as usual. Getting up in the morning and seeing the light in the Old Church had become an obsession with her -- forming the primary subject of early morning conversation at the breakfast table.”
“Shiksha, Lata thought now climbing the stairs behind her – “would have put the Three Investigators to shame. Shiksha truly believed that the Old Church held the missing key to Shanta’s sudden and mysterious disappearance. That had been three weeks ago and the police had come and conducted a detailed investigation, left no stone unturned. But Shiksha still held the firm opinion that they had not searched the Old Church brick by brick.”
Lata sighed as her room mate opened the door and they both went in. Jyotsana was sitting in bed reading her Physics text book, while Parul lay on bed, left hand shielding her eyes.
“Hello,” Lata tried to sound cheerful but failed -- the economics lecture on Indian Import and Export had given her a headache.
“You don’t sound enthusiastic. How was your day?” Jyotsana’s sharp ears picked up on the dismal tones of Lata.
“When gave you the idea that economics was always fascinating?” Lata asked rolling her eyes.
“You chose it,” reminded Shiksha abruptly.
“Thanks for reminding me…… how is your research going?” said Lata.
“Pretty Good but now I have to actually go inside and see the building.”
Parul spoke up now, still in the same position. “So, what’s stopping you? You have been waiting for this since that woman went off to the land of Wizard of Oz,” she said.
“You are in a wonderful mood,” Shiksha remarked.
“Sorry,” said Parul sitting up. “I am so irritated with everything….”
“How is the play going?” said Lata.
“Wonderful,” snapped Parul placing her left palm on her brow. “Today Stella who plays the lead heroine decided she didn’t want to be Gwendolyn Bracknell anymore but wanted to play the part of the mother. I was thrilled! And I still have no idea when the costumes are going to come. And Jaya said she didn’t want to play the role of the lead hero because then she would have to disguise herself as a man.”
“You said the cast was finalized…” Jyotsana observed.
“They are the cast…. I feel like killing all of them…”
“Cool it, Parul,” Lata broke in grinning. “What does Ms. Choudhary have to say about all this?”
“Oh, she is a god send,” said Parul closing her eyes. “Just sits and points out faults.”
“You still have the week,” Shiksha soothed.She hesitated and then said, “I need a favour.”
“Great,” said Parul shortly. “Why don’t I just jump into the sea?”
“Please Parul,” Shiksha said. “Say you will accompany me to the Old Church.”
“When?” said Parul sighing.