Even before the teacher had completed the question, I had shot my hands into the air ready to respond. As a kid, I was introduced to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest with a pinch of Indian middle class values - the academic performance makes all the difference in an individual’s life; that is the be all and end all of social success. That’s it. There has been no looking back since then.
My hand, still hanging in the air was looking for the usual approving nod from the teacher to go ahead and respond. But much to my surprise, I saw teacher’s gaze lingering on something behind me. Impulsively I turned around. I saw another hand. A momentary silence engulfed the class. Even those classmates who were forever emotionally (not physically) isolated from classroom activities seemed caught by the suddenness of the actual events of the classroom. The teacher smiled and indicated the other student to respond. She answered, correctly. The teacher continued as if this was usual. The class continued as if this was normal. But I was wrapped in the moment unable to let this go off. This, after all, was the beginning of many things that had not happened before.
Merit list, topper’s stipend, teachers’ admiration, classmates’ appreciations – everything seemed to get divided between me and her; sometimes she winning the hearts sometimes me scoring the grades. A first of its kind in my life! Every passing day seemed more unbearable than the other. Adding to the woes were the ‘concerns’ of the well-wishers who never left a stone unturned to fill me with their unsolicited advice on how to deal with the ’crisis’. If this wasn’t enough, I figured out that the ‘new girl’ was affable. Yet I did not like her. Time passed. The change of season led to change of mood – everyone geared up for the excursion, also known as study tour for all official purposes. This year it was a trip to the sea.
The new girl was thrilled with the prospect of visiting the sea. Hailing from the mountains, she had never visited the sea. On the designated date, packed in a huge bus, 53 students, 5 teaching faculty, 2 non-teaching staff, 1 driver and 1 helper reached the seashore city that was renowned for its ninth century architectural marvels. It was a four day tour. The first two days went well – food, shopping, photography, swimming, gossips – but on the third day things took an ugly turn. The new girl was nowhere to be seen. A missing report was immediately lodged. She was last seen near the sea with someone. She did not know how to swim –a fact each one of us knew; she had herself mentioned it during the bus journey.
On the fourth day, the search team discovered a girl’s body near the beach. We identified. It was her. Post-mortem confirmed death by drowning. Everyone concluded that given her inexperience in swimming, she might have drifted into the sea and drowned. No foul play was suspected. Arrangements were made to bring the body and handover to the family.
We returned. Within next few months life resumed to normalcy. No one looked for or questioned about that the ‘someone’ who was last seen with the new girl. The new girl was no longer part of our everyday conversation. She was buried in the memory lane. I regained my undisputed glory. I survived, successfully…Uncle Darwin would be so proud!
Dr. Khusi Pattanayak is a PhD in English literature . After serving as university professor for few years she switched her focus to corporate world. As a Corporate Communication Specialist she is influential in creating innovative and targeted storytelling that enhances brand presence. Her love for stories has kept her close to the world of fiction. She is a Harry Potter and cinema scholar . She has many original and translated works published in anthologies and journals of national and international repute. She is a published photographer and a featured model.
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