by Nirupama Akella
Lata fell off her bed and rubbed her eyes, in total confusion – “where was she?” Lata looked about her. Her brow cleared and she yawned. She was in her room at the hostel. Somebody was shrilly singing the Indian National Anthem into the intercom. For a brief second Lata wondered if she had gone mad or was it some national patriotic day like Independence Day. No, she shook her head, she was being stupid now, Independence Day was in August, and, as far as she knew it was the month of April. BOOM! Someone idiot was shouting into the mike. She gathered herself up and rose slowly massaging her elbow thinking, “it would teach her next time to “sleep roll!”
“Shiksha,” she began but then stopped. Her room mate was not in. The door was wide open and Lata cautiously peeped out only to be assailed by a crowd of sleepy girls still in their night clothes. Shiksha was leaning against the banister and grinned when she saw a confused Lata. “Good Morning!” she said.
“What is going on?” Lata asked.
“Some girls are obviously singing their hearts out…” this was Anu, rubbing her sleepy eyes.
“Even Parul and Jyotsana are not in!” Lata said.
“Silly!” said Shiksha. “Listen carefully!”
Lata cocked her ears like a spaniel on guard and listened as the singer went on gustily occasionally foreshadowed by some other girl booming away to glory.
“It’s Jyotsana,” she exclaimed. “Why do you suppose she is singing the National Anthem?’
“That’s not all,” said Anu clad in her pink night dress. “Didn’t you hear it? Some girls sang the most ridiculous of nursery rhymes like…”
Lata interrupted, “let me guess, I am a little teapot?”
“Even you heard it then,” said Priya Goyal leaning against the wall yawning. She and Anu occupied the cubicle next to big room number 5.
“No, but I dreamt about it,” said Lata.
Anu, Priya and Shiksha stared at her. The national anthem came to an end and then Matron’s strident voice echoed, “Girls -- Quiet please! Go back to your rooms now! No talking! Remember breakfast is at eight!!’
Lata raised her brows. “Is she planning to sing now?”
Priya giggled as Lata asked yawning, “That was so inconvenient. Had they taken leave of their senses? Why were they singing?”
“Ragging!” said Anu heading back to her room.
“I prefer silent ragging,” Lata said. “Do you mean to say that some idiotic seniors made them sing all that?”
“Hush,” said Shiksha heading towards their room. “Parul will get offended. Methinks she had something to do with it. Jyotsana had said last night that Hiran and Rajini had told her to sing the National Anthem on the intercom. Only I didn’t think it would be my wake up call!” Both the girls went back to the room and shut the door.
Downstairs, Matron faced the girls -- Juniors the actual doers, and, the Seniors the causal party. She tried to look stern and unforgiving but there was a trace of a benign smile playing on her lips. Gayatri Raghav had collapsed into a near by chair and was now dozing- hearing morning songs, whatever kind was not her idea of morning calls.
“Matron, we are sorry,” spoke Malti smoothing her night dress. “But we had to do some ragging -- we couldn’t let the freshers get away…”
“Yes,” Parul said. “After all we didn’t do anything bad…”
Gayatri opened her eyes, “Waking me up at quarter to five on a Saturday morning with a horrible version of a musical nursery rhyme, is not bad?”
Matron held her silence but her smile grew wider. One of the new comers haughtily said, “It was not at all horrible, Ma’am. It is sung that way!”
“Actually the chorus was blood curdling,” Matron at last spoke up. “Girls! I know this is ragging time and just fun. But you should have warned me and Gayatri at least…I was frightened out of my wits when I heard the intercom blast away ‘I am a little teapot’ And then another couple of perfectly ridiculous nursery rhyme. Good thing Sister does not sleep here!! And then Jyotsana had to sing the National Anthem -- a very good national sentiment indeed but I am sure the timing was not at all appropriate at all!”
Turning to the senior girls, she said, “What were you thinking of? Now I have to assign you some task as punishment.”
There were groans and Sue Danely held up her hands gesturing for silence. She said, “Girls, there has to be discipline in this hostel. You should have asked me first…”
“You would never have agreed to it…” broke in Chandra.
Matron ignored this intrusion and continued, “OK, girls on my left will clean the hostel windows tomorrow. And the rest will clean the windows of the old church today. Now go back to your rooms -- I think you have done enough mental and vocal exercise for the morning…” There was laughter in her voice, as the girls piled one by one out of the room. Matron grinned and then looked down at Gayatri. “Come on, get up…they have gone…” she said to the bent head on the table.
Gayatri Raghav looked up. She opened her eyes and yawned. She followed Matron out of the room.
The nine girls clad in their night clothes, climbed the stairs, complaining and accusing each other loudly.
“All this is your fault…” snapped Parul looking at Abhilasha Singh. She tucked her hair behind one ear, “I told you to tell the freshers to write a funny poem on themselves and pin it to the notice board…but No! That wasn’t fun for you, Abhi? Now I hope washing windows is your idea of a funtime…”
Abhilasha scowled and said, “I don’t remember inviting you Parul.”
“And tomorrow is Sunday – my sleeping day,” broke in Chandra.
“Don’t you sleep every night?” Sheetal Dixit asked stopping to look at the tall girl in braids.
“She means that,” Abhilasha said, “she does nothing else but sleep the entire Sunday.”
“How can you do that?” Sheetal asked Chandra raising her brows.
Chandra Shah stuck her tongue out. Sheetal shook her head and tuned in to the conversation as the freshers started complaining.
“Hey, what about us?” Nidhi Chawla was saying. Her voice had suddenly lost its quaver.
“Maybe she was allergic to teapots,” thought
Jyotsana and listened. Nidhi continued oblivious of Jyotsana’s thoughts about her allergies “We didn’t exactly ask for this -- singing was OK, but washing windows is not! This is not ragging but torture.”
“Shut up freshie,” said Uma Murthy twisting a strand of hair on her index finger. Sheetal looked at her with approval. Uma and she were roommates and seniors majoring in English.
Sheetal said, “Even we have to wash windows, OK. And don’t talk about torture….this was nothing! I usually wash the house windows as part of my household duties…”
‘Think of it as gymnastics and you, Jyotsana can view it as a stretching exercise…” Hiran said.
Parul intervened this time with a more academic subject, ‘And to make it worse -- I have this social psychology lecture…” She shuddered dramatically passing a hand over her brow.
“Is it so bad?” asked Abilasha turning around the corner.
“Yeah- I love Developmental Psychology but social psychology drives me nuts!” said Parul heading off into the corridor. “See you at breakfast. Come along Jyot” she said.
Jyotsana waved to the other juniors and followed Parul into their room.
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