Valentine’s Gift

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For an instant it seemed like a mirage. This isn’t happening, they thought. It was definitely, according to them, Raguveer’s and Shivanshi’s first, and hopefully their last, altercation. The altercation had surprised them and the outcome shook the ground beneath their feet. In front of their own eyes the friendship of Ragu and Shivanshi tumbled down like a house of cards. The only question which everyone wanted to get an answer for, was – will they ever be friends again?

Both Ragu and Shivanshi were from New Delhi and from families having a legal background. Hence, to pursue law as a career was their obvious choice. This led them to take admission coincidentally in the same law college where they met for the first time, and soon became best friends. They not only became inseparable, they also came to know everything about each other. All their classmates admired them, and also wished that their friendship would turn into something more. However, fate had something else in store for them. Everything was going well until the day Kunal, a classmate, confessed about his love to Shivanshi. Surprisingly, she accepted Kunal as her boyfriend, and Shivanshi, under the influence of Kunal, started distancing herself from Ragu. Kunal was a hypocrite in reality, a devil in the garb of a saint.

Ragu knew everything about him and, as a true friend, wanted to bring the real Kunal out in the open and prevent Shivanshi from taking the relationship further. After many futile attempts Ragu finally decided that it would be better for Shivanshi to know the truth about Kunal. The consequences, whatever they may be, did not bother him. He found her sitting in the classroom reading a book. She looked up as he walked up to her, and before she could say anything, he told her everything about her boyfriend. Shivanshi freaked out at Ragu not believing even a word that had just been said. In the altercation that followed Shivanshi kept defending Kunal, whereas Ragu kept on saying what he had just said to tryand make her believe him. By the time the altercation came to an end a friendship that had developed into a strong bond over the last five years had crumbled to dust. This incident was a bolt from out the blue and soon became a subject for gossip around the campus for many days to come.

Three weeks had passed since the ‘incident’ with neither Ragu nor Shivanshi talking to each other. In the meantime the gossip-mongers had taken a back seat, but it was just a matter of time before they would come to the forefront again. This time for something that was more shocking than Ragu’s and Shivanshi’s friendship coming to an end.

A rumour was spreading like a wildfire through the campus. Anyone who heard it started wondering whether it was true or not. Unfortunately, it turned out to be true. A Disciplinary Committee was being constituted to take necessary actions against Shivanshi, who, according to the college authorities, had been caught red-handed by a faculty member breaking college property. The charge was quite serious in nature and, if proved, could lead to her suspension from college. In the history of the college this was the first time such a committee was being constituted. This incident was being considered to be a blemish on the spotless record of the college. The proceedings of a disciplinary committee are generally held behind closed doors with only the members of the committee and the accused person in attendance. The decision of the college administration to hold the proceedings out in the open in front of the students
was unexpected. When asked for the reason behind taking such an extreme step it was said that this incident has become a black spot on the spotless record of the college and that it was necessary to make an example of her so as to deter other students from indulging in such acts in the future.

Shivanshi became a recluse from the day she was caught. The only person she was communicating with was Vidisha, her roommate, who was more than worried by the
sudden change she was seeing in her friend. Unable to bear the sight Vidisha went
to the Director of the college and told him about Shivanshi’s pitiable condition and requested him to let someone else speak on Shivanshi’s behalf at the hearing. The Director, after a meeting with the faculty members, granted the request. On hearing about this respite granted to her Shivanshi told Vidisha that she believed in her batch-mates and that somebody would definitely
come forward to represent her. But it was easier said than done. Nobody from her batch was ready to represent her as no one wanted to get into the bad books of the college authorities. Hence, the only word she got to hear whenever she approached somebody to ask for their help was a ‘NO’. Even Kunal, from whom she had expected the maximum support, had a ‘NO’ for her.

13 February – the eve of the committee hearing. Time was running out, and Shivanshi had lost all hope of her getting exonerated. Her once bright future was now obscured by black clouds of hopelessness. Only a miracle could save her now. There was none in sight.

Vidisha knew that Shivanshi was innocent. And, she also knew that there was one person
who had the guts to stand up and represent her friend. All the other classmates, according to her, were simply cowards. Therefore, after Shivanshi went to sleep that night, Vidisha dialed a number, hoping for the best.

‘Hi! It’s Vidisha here,’ she said when the phone was answered.

‘I know that. What I want to know is why you have called?’ replied the voice.

‘I wanted to talk to you about Shivanshi and tomorrow’s hearing.’

‘I’m listening.’

‘You must be aware of the fact that no one is ready to represent Shivanshi tomorrow
at the hearing.’
‘Yes, I am. So?’
‘So, I want you to represent her tomorrow,’ said Vidisha.

‘And why should I do that?’ asked the voice.

‘Because everybody else is a coward, and you are the only one who has the guts to
stand up against the college authorities.’

‘What if I say that I too am a coward and that I lack the guts to do what you’re
asking me to do?’

‘You know that’s not true. Shivanshi is a wreck right now, and I can’t see her like this. Please yaar, it’s a request. Please do it, and I’ll be indebted to you for life,’ pleaded Vidisha.

‘I need some time to think,’ replied the voice, and the line went dead.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on February 14. An hour before the appointed time students and faculty members started streaming in to the auditorium. By the time the clock struck ten the auditorium was jam-packed. After all it was the first time, and probably the last, that disciplinary proceedings were being initiated against a student.

The members of the committee had been kept under wraps until now. At ten they came
out in the open and took their seats on the stage. They were the Vice-Chancellor, the Director, and three faculty members. Shivanshi was called upon to take her seat on the stage in front of the committee. Shivanshi wanted to run away, but there was no place to go. She wanted to cry, but there were no tears. With no other option in sight she stood up, went up on the stage, and took her seat. The moment she had been dreading for quite some time had finally
arrived. This is my nemesis, she thought.

Vidisha was sitting in the audience. She closed her eyes in prayer when she saw Shivanshi take her place on the stage. Her eyes snapped open when her mobile started vibrating in her hand. She looked at the screen and smiled. Her prayers had been answered. It was a message, which read ‘I’M RDY 2 RPSNT HR. TRY ND TK A 15 MIN BRK, ND BRNG HR 2 D CAFÉ ASAP. TEL HR NTHNG.’ She mouthed a thank you, and looked up towards the stage. The proceedings were about to begin as the V-C picked up the microphone kept in front of him. How to get her out of here, she asked herself.

‘Ms. Shivanshi Mehra, is there anybody here who would be representing you or should
we start the proceedings?’ he said, his voice echoing in the auditorium.

This was her chance. She stood up and, wasting no time, said, ‘Sir, I apologise for speaking like this, but there is a person who would be representing her today. That person wants to talk to her before the hearing commences and has requested for a fifteen-minute break. I would be highly obliged if you could grant this recess as a student’s future is at stake here. Please sir, it’s a request.’

The V-C consulted his colleagues for a couple of minutes before granting the ‘much needed’ fifteen-minute recess. Vidisha motioned Shivanshi to come with her, but she kept sitting there transfixed with shock. The only question she was asking herself was who was this person? Vidisha had to grab and pull her out of the chair. Shivanshi, who was still in a state of shock, did not resist.

‘Who’s that person?’ Shivanshi finally managed to ask, her voice barely audible.

‘He’s someone who has the guts to go against the tide,’ replied Vidisha.

They kept walking swiftly till they reached the cafeteria. The cafeteria was deserted but for one person who was sitting at a table sipping coffee. Shivanshi recognised the person as soon as she saw him. It was Ragu. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she had a lot of questions to ask him. Ragu knew what was going on in her mind, and wanted to answer each and every question.
But due to the paucity of time, he came straight to the point.

‘We don’t have enough time. I just want you to tell me everything that happened on the day you were caught. From the time you woke up till the time you were, supposedly, caught by the faculty member. I want to know each and every thing, and make it fast,’ he said, and fell silent.

It took Shivanshi approximately ten minutes to tell Ragu everything about that day. She also added that, according to the college authorities, she had broken some rule of the Student’s Handbook, which she was unaware of. When she finished Vidisha asked about Shivanshi’s chances of coming out clean.

‘After the hearing comes to an end today, it’ll be they who’ll have to wash off the
dirt from their own hands, and not Shivanshi,’ replied Ragu.

Heads turned and eyes widened on seeing Ragu enter the auditorium with Vidisha and
Shivanshi. Ignoring the stares the three of them took their respective places Vidisha in the audience, Shivanshi and Ragu on the stage in front of the committee. Everyone in the audience had started talking to each other by now.
The V-C was forced to bring the gathering to order before he could initiate the proceedings and settle the matter at hand.

‘Are you the person who would be representing Ms. Shivanshi Mehra?’ he asked Ragu.

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Ragu.

‘For the record, what is your name?’ asked the V-C. The proceedings had finally begun. ‘Raguveer Dutta.’

‘As you must be aware, Mr. Raguveer, that Shivanshi has been caught by a faculty number redhanded. Do you have anything to say in her defence?’

‘Sir, with all due respect, I am aware of the charges leveled against Shivanshi, but I deny that she was involved in any such act as is being alleged. The charges against her are quite serious in nature and, if proved, could lead to her suspension from the college for an indefinite period. I would like to say that the allegations against her are based purely on baseless and frivolous grounds.
Sir, the charges are criminal in nature, and according to the principles of a criminal case it is the prosecution that has to prove beyond doubt the charges leveled against the accused. The defence comes into play only when the prosecution is over with its deliberations. Therefore, it is not me, but you, who has to prove beyond doubt that Shivanshi was involved in the act as is being alleged by you,’ said Ragu, and took his seat.

Everyone present was left dumbfounded. No one had expected Ragu to challenge the committee so brazenly. There were mixed reactions. The committee members were transfixed with shock. They wanted to admonish Ragu, but words failed them. Many in the audience lowered their heads in shame, admonishing themselves for not having enough courage to stand up against the authorities like Ragu did. Ragu, according to them, seemed to be fearless and not concerned about the consequences. Vidisha felt that what she had done was right, and there was no way now to stop Ragu from bulldozing the committee. Tears started to form in Shivanshi’s eyes, only this time they were tears of happiness. She now knew that the odds were very much in her favour. They all now waited with bated breath wondering what the committee would have to say now, after they were openly challenged by a student.

‘Very well. We’ll do exactly what you want us to do. Prove beyond doubt that the allegations against her are true,’ said the V-C, fuming with rage. He motioned to the Director, who in turn picked up the microphone and started reiterating the events of the day.

‘On February 1 Mr. Anand Jaiswal, a faculty member, found Ms. Shivanshi Mehra standing near a broken window of the Academic Block. The said window was in good shape that very morning. By doing so, Ms. Shivanshi has broken Rule 11.8 of the Student’s Handbook, which enumerates the offences and penalties. Does it satisfy your doubt, Mr. Raguveer?’ asked the Director.

‘The time she was caught?’ asked Ragu.

’11.30 a.m.,’ said the Director, ‘now what do you have to say in her defence?’

‘I’d like to say that Shivanshi is being falsely implicated, and that I can prove it,’ replied Ragu, standing up. ‘Shall I?’
‘Go ahead.’
‘Sir, if we take into consideration whatever has been said right now, it would be clear that the college authorities are themselves saying that Shivanshi had been found, and not caught, as is being alleged, by Mr. Anand Jaiswal. Secondly, if for an instance I agree that Shivanshi was caught, then the fact that she was caught by Mr. Anand Jaiswal is purely a work of fiction.
Thirdly, I deny the fact that Shivanshi broke any rule of the Student’s Handbook.’

‘Could you elucidate, Mr. Raguveer?’

‘Yes. It is said by you that she was found standing near the broken window, which was in good shape that very morning. This clearly shows that nobody saw her breaking the window, and that she was only found standing there. The college has no such evidence or witness to prove that it was Shivanshi who broke the window and not anybody else. As a matter of fact, it could be anybody from the college who could have broken the window. It was Shivanshi’s bad luck
that she stopped at the window to see what had happened when she was found, and not caught, by Mr. Jaiswal.

‘It’s being said that Mr. Jaiswal had found her standing near the broken window at 11.30 a.m. Not only is his finding Shivanshi at the scene, but also his being present there himself at the said time purely a work of fiction. I don’t know what he is trying to prove by falsely implicating her. To prove whatever I have said I would like to ask Mr. Jaiswal a few questions.’

Mr. Jaiswal came up on stage and sat on a chair. Before the hearing had begun he had been pretty confident about getting Shivanshi suspended from the college. He wanted to get her suspended because she had proved him wrong during one of the lectures, because of which he felt humiliated in front of the whole class. He was seeking revenge, and this incident proved to be the right opportunity to do so. But after hearing Ragu’s tirade against the allegations his confidence was shaken. He doubted whether he would be successful in his enterprise or not.
Sitting on the chair, in front of the whole college, he started fearing what was
next.

‘Sir, your name?’ asked Ragu.

‘Anand Jaiswal.’

‘Do you teach any subject to the final year students?’

‘Yes. I teach Medicine and Law.’

‘What are the timings of the classes?’

‘Monday to Friday. 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.’

‘Sir, does this mean that you had been taking a class on 1 February, a Monday?’

‘Yes.’

‘Are
you sure?’

‘Absolutely.
You can check the attendance register. I was in the class from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. You can ask any student of the class to verify whatever I have said,’ said Mr. Jaiswal, and realised the mistake he had made. But it was too late.

‘Sir,  if you were in the class for an hour from 11 a.m., then how is it possible for you to have found Shivanshi at the ‘crime scene’ at 11.30 a.m.?’

Mr. Jaiswal had no answer to that. He knew he had been trapped. There was no way
out now. Everyone was shocked. Why is he doing this, they wondered.

‘I was informed that Shivanshi was standing near the broken window. Some time ago
she had proved me wrong during a lecture, and I had been seeking revenge. This
seemed to be the opportune moment to do so,’ said Mr. Jaiswal. He had no option
other than to tell the truth.

‘Who informed you, sir?’

‘Kunal.’

‘Kunal, who?’

‘Kunal Bagchi.’

Shivanshi was stunned to hear the name. It was her boyfriend who was the main reason behind the state she was presently in. Why? She wanted to ask Kunal this, to know why he stooped so low. She looked up at Ragu, and wondered what kind of a person was he. On one hand, she was stunned by the revelation that it was Kunal who had reported her, whereas on the other, Ragu, whom she had excoriated and ended their friendship once upon a time was here, standing against the college administration, not concerned about the consequences, to
save her.

‘That would be all,’ said Ragu, ‘and now I come to Rule 11.8 of the Student’s Handbook. Sir, if you don’t mind, can I see the said rule by myself?’

The Director opened the relevant page, pointed out the said Rule and handed the Handbook to Ragu. Ragu read it once, smiled, and passed it to Shivanshi to read. She read it once, and handed it back. Shivanshi looked up, the fear of getting suspended had returned to her eyes. One of the offences, which could lead to the suspension of the student from the college, was damaging college property. Ragu moved towards Shivanshi, took the Handbook, placed his hand over
hers and smiled. ‘Don’t worry’ was all he said.

‘This book in my hand is a piece of crap for us,’ he addressed the committee members,’ because we don’t know anything about it. The name of this book in my hand is Student’s Handbook, and the only people in whose possession this is are the college authorities. It is the students who should have one copy each of this handbook, but unfortunately, it is not so. Five years have gone by since our first day in this college, but not even now do we have this book. Even if for an instance I agree that Shivanshi has broken the window, the grave penalty this act is attracting was and is not known to us. We are not ready to comply with any rule of this Handbook until and unless all the students are provided with a copy each.

‘Therefore, in the end I would like to say that I have proved beyond doubt that Shivanshi
is not the culprit. The actual culprit is still out in the open, and it is your duty to bring him to book,’ said Ragu, handing over the Student’s Handbook back to the V-C.

After finishing his deliberations Ragu took his seat beside Shivanshi, who held his hand, hoping for the best. The committee members were stunned by what had taken place in the last two hours, and after consulting among themselves they announced that the decision of the committee would be conveyed to them a day later.

Soon after everybody was dispersed, Shivanshi, Vidisha and Ragu went to the cafeteria for a much needed cup of coffee. With a cup of steaming coffee they sat in silence for a few minutes.

‘I’m sorry, Ragu,’ said Shivanshi, breaking the silence.

‘For what?’

‘For the way I treated you that day. For ending our five-year old friendship. For
not giving you the chance to explain yourself.’

‘It’s ok. I’ve forgotten about it. Let bygones be bygones,’ said Ragu.

‘But why did you represent me after what I did to you?’ asked Shivanshi.

‘Because I can’t see an innocent person suffering for something that was done by someone
else. And, because I know who did it.’

This last statement shook the ground beneath Shivanshi’s and Vidisha’s feet. Both of
them kept on staring at Ragu for some time.

‘Who?’ both of them asked in unison.

‘Both of you would come to know in a day or two,’ said Ragu, finishing whatever was
left in the cup.

The decision of the committee was announced the next day and the rest was history. Mr. Anand Jaiswal, who could not bear any more humiliation, resigned from his post citing personal reasons. Kunal was also questioned about the incident and, surprisingly, he confessed that it was he who had broken the window as a part of a bet. The reason behind his reporting Shivanshi to the authorities was that he wanted to break up with her, and this could be the best opportunity for
doing so. Every student of the college was provided with one copy each of the Student’s Handbook. A notice was also put up stating that not being in possession of a copy of the Handbook would not be considered as an excuse from now on. As for Shivanshi and Ragu, they did not only become friends again, but were now dating each other.

Abhishek Bose

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