by Nirupama Akella
Back to - Serial Novel Mysterious Disappearances-4 - 1st page
“Yes, Matron,” Lata said meekly, then hurriedly went back to her room, flung off the towel and went out again with Jyotsana in tow, locking the room. Lata kept the key as she told Jyotsana- “she, was a senior!”
‘Shiksha Malhotra and Parul Desai,” read out Lata slowly. Both the girls had taken the list from Sue Danely to hang it front of their room, in the designated area. Lata knew both the girls. Parul was a tall spectacled girl -- who had been a prefect in Junior College; was an active member of the College Drama group and also played the violin. She was a Psychology Major, and had been in the English class with Lata the previous year. Shiksha Malhotra, on the other hand was an enigma to Lata Naidu- a history major and, the College debating champion, Lata had never the opportunity to become friendly with her! She had occupied one of the rooms on the uppermost floor last year and so the only times they had briefly met were in the dining hall- the mass Church Prayers and sometimes in the wide college crowd during classes and of course, at the beginning of the term during the mass ragging in the hostel. Both -- Parul and Shiksha, Lata knew for sure were like her in the second year of senior college! She gazed at Jyotsana pityingly- Parul had no qualms about ragging, she knew.
“Come on, fresher! We better read those notices!” Jyotsana opened her mouth to protest on being called that horrible name but then shut it as Lata grinning remarked, “What’s up fresher? Planning to join the fish in the aquarium? They sure will be surprised- small as you are- you may seem big to them!”
Jyotsana bit her tongue -- she had been prepared for this. “Be cool, calm” she told herself mentally.
Lata laughed, “This is nothing, wait till the others get here! Whew,” she had spotted the notice board, “Looks like a lot of notices -- Sister’s been burning the midnight oil!”
They approached the notice board and started reading. Matron had been right, everything had been changed -- the meal timings; that is lunch was now from 12 to 2 in the afternoon, till the end of college so that everyone could not miss out on lunch.
“When were they before?” Jyotsana queried.
“ From 11 to half past one and tea was from half past four to five. Timings have now increased- tea now starts at four and goes on till quarter to five.”
Supper, noted Lata was at eight and lights were to be shut at ten for bed. Lata sighed, that was good, last year supper had been at seven and she invariably used to feel hungry by the time she went to bed.
These timings applied on weekends also- girls could go on weekend visits provided a letter was given by the legal guardian and was approved by the Principal. Hostel Parties were allowed, provided that these were supervised by Matron or a Staff Member. Visitors were allowed only in the reception and not in the rooms at any time- unless special permission was sought from Matron- visitation hours were from 2- 5 in the evenings only.
Lata sighed thinking, “all this was looking too strict, but wait there was more…”
Phone calls -- out of Station and country were allowed only on weekends and were to be supervised by Matron. Parents and Guardians had been informed that phone calls were permitted only in the evening time after six. Trips and Tours by the girls was allowed if due sanction was given by Matron and in those cases- the concerned girls had to be back before five in the evening. Laundry facilities would be provided by the hostel and would be included in the hostel fees. It was advised that each girl opened a savings bank account in the college bank branch. It was also advised that under no circumstances, was a hostel girl to reveal her identity and her details to any stranger and behave in a well dignified manner once outside the college premises.
When they finally finished browsing, they came back as Supper today was going to be served at nine -- after the arrival of a couple of girls. Lata muttered angrily under her breath, “Taking our money and starving us!”
She was feeling ravenous. With Jyotsana following her like Mary’s little lamb, Lata ascended the stas to the first floor of the hostel and spotted Malti looking sprightly and clean walking in the corridor.
“No one has moved in on my floor yet -- so its pretty desolate and gloomy,” Malti said.
Lata unlocked the door and they entered. Malti sized up Jyotsana as she sat down on Lata’s bed, “Well, so you are a fresher? First Year Junior College? , and then wickedly grinning as Jyotsana sat down on her bed, “So you like Mickey mouse, fresher? Got a crush on him? Then what are you doing here? You should go to Disney land! And maybe you will get lucky, Mickey may dump Minnie for you!”
Jyotsana remained silent as Lata burst laughing, “Honestly, Malti! Give her a break!”
“Well….Well….who was crying about ragging the Juniors? But, methinks I hear the supper bell ringing.”
“Lets go! I am starved,” said Lata spring up like Jack in the box.
They went out and Jyotsana followed switching off the fan and the light, then locking the door.
The trio descended the wooden stairs. Lata was the first to dash through the narrow corridor like a wild horse with her short curly hair flying about her like a halo. Malti followed suit at a slower pace remarking to no one in particular, “I wonder why we don’t get room service? With the fees we pay, they can afford it…”
Jyotsana brought up the rear. She followed the two senior girls into the dining hall. They were waiting for her at the doors.
Lata said, “We thought that you had decided to join the wall paintings in the corridor fresher. You would have made a nice portrait.” Running a hand through her hair, she continued, “Let me tell you fresher – one of the basic rules of survival in this hostel,” she paused dramatically as Malti asked, “Aren’t you feeling hungry now?”
Lata paid no attention and said, “Always be the first to reach the dining room for your meals.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Malti said, “but you are not the first one here.”
Lata took no notice but sailed into the dining hall like a queen with Jyotsana as the sole member of her entourage! The dining hall where they were some girls looking suspiciously quiet and gloomy.
“Are you sure this is the dining hall, and, not some graveyard?” Malti broke into the silence, loudly, “looks like this place has been spring cleaned -- now it won’t be cleaned for the entire term!”
“Nearly everyone who has come in today is a fresher,” Lata observed in glee, “Senior college but definitely a fresher in the hostel.”
“Look there is Mrs. Gopal!’exclaimed Lata, noticing the fat stocky figure of their cooking lady clad in a pale green checkered sari. The lady was shouting orders at her two assistants -- Naaz and Palak!
“And what feast are we consuming today?” queried Malti lifting the lids of the dishes
“Rice and some green curry -- I think it is ladyfingers….and then custard and slices of apple,” observed Lata.
They served themselves and grabbed a near by table.
“So, fresher, tell me about yourself,” instructed Malti Kundan toying with her rice.
And so for the second time Jyotsana Patel narrated her life story, chewing her first spoonful of rice.
“Whew! Nothing much to tell about myself,” said Malti eating, “Plain, simple life! One married sister, old parents, living in Poona.”
“My other room mates are Shiksha and Parul,” added Lata spooning her custard.
Maltisaid, “So, once we are back in the room, you have to entertain us, fresher!”
“What should I do?”
“Anything,” replied Lata, “dance, sing but not too loudly. I don’t want Matron hammering away at the door.”
“Jump, tell funny stories…” Malti supplied.
“Or if you are more creative,” Lata added frowning, “Bark like a dog, howl like a wolf… mew like the cat or even moo like the cow…”
Jyotsana involuntarily shuddered. She could not imagine herself doing any of the things described.
“Are you feeling cold, Fresher?” it was Lata now standing with her empty plate in hand.
Jyotsana shrugged then went to rinse her plate and mug and leave them on the massive drying board. They went back to the room and once inside, Lata looked at her pointedly and Jyotsana, sighing, broke into a dance.
“Stop!” demanded Lata, “This is too easy and we are not having fun! Do a snake dance, freshie!”
“But I don’t know,” Jyotsana protested but in vain.
“Improvise! It doesn’t have to be a typical snake dance,” Lata added kindly.
Jyotsana’s mind cleared. She had once seen a Hindi movie where the heroine did a snake dance and recently she had seen a screening of a Madonna Show on TV, where also, a snake dance had been performed. Trembling slightly, she waved her arms and wriggled in desperation.
“Keep shaking Freshie …. and you can do it….just be careful Matron doesn’t catch you -- or she will mistake you for a snake and throw you in the zoo!,” Lata was near laughter. Malti had covered her mouth to keep herself from laughing, as Jyotsana struggled to pleat her fingers and shake all the limbs of her body in perfect harmony.
“Alright freshie – Stop!” gasped Malti. “It is after ten and Matron will be along soon and so we better get to bed! I will be sleeping in the corner….OK….I’ve made my bed already.”
Lata stopped laughing as Jyotsana managed to free her wrangled limbs and collapsed into bed, exhausted! Lata turned off the lights.To be continued...