“Taking 30?” I heard. I was deep asleep but could recognize Ramesh’s voice. I could see him holding a Rs 20 note and one Rs 10 note in his hand which he took from my purse. That question was asked without expecting any answer. He walked out of room taking the money. That’s all I had in my purse. Our purses although called personal belongings but it was shared among friends more than the college study center. Not only purses, all our clothes were shared too. I still find Ramesh’s shirt in my cupboard although it is since 13 years I left hostel. I went back to sleep as it was a Sunday. It does not mean that I get up early everyday but I never stopped trying to miss the first class. Then suddenly I saw one of my friend staying in neighboring room came running and shouted “Parents”, I was not much bothered as my parents just visited me last week so they were no expected to come. Then I heard the sound becoming louder. I removed the bed sheet from my face as I had covered my body from head to toe to avoid mosquito bite and morning chills. That crazy friend was jumping in front of me shouting “Parents!, Parents!”. I got up without much excitement and said “What do you want?” with an angry expression. He said “You idiot, Ramesh’s parents have come. I saw their car coming inside hostel premises”. I started jumping our of scare in the exact same manner as he was jumping. Immediately took all empty beer bottles and kept it side the toilet. Came running and carefully took out all posters on the wall and kept then under the cot. I had assigned my friend the task to search all cigarette butts from all over the room and throw them in toilet. Then took out all censored magazines and hid them under our study materials. Lighted one pack of incense sticks and cleaned all bed sheets. I never did this much of clean up in life in this short time. Went running and washed by face.
By the time I started looking decent after wearing a pajama and a kurta I found Ramesh’s parents on our corridor. I said “Namaste Uncle” and went near to them. Then saw his grand mother who was 90+ years old was coming behind with the help of her crutches. I took the packets they were holding and came inside room for final inspection and kept the belongings in Ramesh’s portion of the room. By the time I turned back after keeping them, they were in front of the door. I called them inside, held grand mother’s hand and helped her sit on the cot. Asked her “Why did you walk all the way to 3rd floor. We all could have come to ground floor and you could have saved the pain of climbing up the stairs for three floors.”. She smiled and said “ To see my grandson’s room I can climb empire state building”. I smiled at her but could not understand the emotion.
The first thought and word came from them was “Where is Ramesh?”. I was clueless. I just remember that he emptied my purse and went somewhere. I said “He must be somewhere around, let me find him”. My friend sat there and started talking to them. I never know how to talk to elders and continue talking. My friend was good in this matter. When he goes to my home, he talks more that I have ever talked with my parents.Now my mission was to search Ramesh. I went to the corridor of my floor and asked my hostel mate in second floor about Ramesh’s whereabouts. He shouted “That drunkard would have lied on some roadside.” and he was continuing Ramesh’s character analysis. I shouted “Parents!!”. He understood immediately and stopped. “Parents” was a magic word in hostel to alert anybody, anywhere at anytime. All become the best person in this world after hearing this word. Although I do not disagree with my friend that Ramesh drinks a lot but he was no saint as well. I went to different wings of our hostel and searched and could not find any clue about Ramesh’s whereabouts.
Informed everybody to let Ramesh know that his parents are waiting for him in his room. Came back to room to see what is going on. When entered the room, I found Ramesh’s father was taking the books one by one and reading them. If he takes 3 more books then one censored book will pop out. I went and said “Uncle, I could not find Ramesh anywhere. He might have gone to lab to finish his project before semester. I am ordering for your lunch in the mess, just want to clarify if you have any dietary restriction”. This was enough to divert uncle’s attention from those books. He said “No dietary restriction as such. Just tell them not to put much chilly as your grandmother can not digest”. I said “okay” and in the mean time noticed one cigarette butt under the chair where uncle is sitting. I gave a dirty look to my friend whom I had assigned the work to clean up all cigarette stuffs. Somehow I put my foot under the chair and dragged the cigarette butt our of the room. Although whatever I told about Ramesh finishing Lab work can never be near truth as far as I know Ramesh, but not finding him and his parents waiting for him here made me try my luck there too.
Went to the laboratory, found none other than the strange supervisor there. If he sees then he will ask me to do something so I ran away from there. I went to the entrance of hostel where there are some tea shops to see if Ramesh is sitting there but no luck there as well. I was hopeless. Came to the room, on the way informed the mess manager about extra three plates of food with less chilly for parents.Came inside room and found Ramesh’s grand mother lying on Ramesh’s bed. She asked me to come and sit beside her. Sat there, it felt heavenly. She put her hand on my back and said “So, How is Ramesh managing here. Is he able to express his emotions? Not sure when he will learn to talk? He can’t utter a word clearly and can never do any harm to anybody. Not sure how he will survive in this cruel world. He never says no to anything. I have never seen such an obedient child in my life.You all must try to help him. Not sure how he is eating here. You should take care of him”. My parallel thought process was running with exact opposite understanding about Ramesh. He is the one who shouts most, he had been thrown out of class 3 times this year and has been punished for his foul mouth. But one quality nobody can ever deny that he is gem of a person. he can give his life his friends. But more than these thoughts the most over powering thought in my mind was, where is he?
Mess boy came with three plates of deluxe lunch for parents. I cleaned up the table, served water in glasses and served the food. By then my friend had got cold drinks for them. They were reluctant to have lunch before Ramesh’s arrival. I said as he is not there in this place, he must have gone to nearby town to buy stuffs for his project. I convinced them that he will not come soon and by then food will become cold, so they must finish their lunch. They quietly had lunch although reluctant. His mother was not able to eat comfortably as not seeing his son while they are at his room was something not very pleasant. She was bothered whether he had food or not. I said, he had proper breakfast early morning.I knew I was telling lie but his mother was not able to eat properly. His mother asked repeatedly to take care of him, not to leave him alone anywhere and convinced me that he is not mature enough to handle situations alone. I promised them not to worry at all as long as I am there. Then after lunch I told them to take a nap and by then I will get him from wherever he is.
Went to the Pan shop and was about to ask about Ramesh. he said “Sir, Have you heard some students went missing in this river. Fire brigade has come for rescue.” I said “Okay”, and asked him “If he has seen Ramesh”. he said, “In the morning he came to buy one pack of cigarette and paid me Rs 30 and went.”. I said “Yeah, that was my money. But, where he went?”. He was unsure. I was going to senior hostel and then one senior came and said “Hey, 4 guys drinking alcohol on the rock at the middle of the river washed away as they released huge volume of water. There was an alarm but it looks like they did not hear. Are you coming there?”. I said, “No, Ramesh’s parents have come and waiting for him in his room and I am not able to find him from morning”. He paused for a while and said “ Did Ramesh…?”. I laughed saying “No way. he did not have money. he took money for me and spent the entire in buying cigarette packet, where will he get money to buy alcohol. No way. He does not drink in the day time”. I was not sure but I was trying to avoid answering him. I am extremely confident that Ramesh is not there in that gang. But something made me feel, it is not safe to have his parents in hostel for long. If this news will go to them they can never stay in peace at home leaving Ramesh here. I came running to the hostel and was climbing up the stairs. One hostel ward boy asked “What is this I am hearing about Ramesh Sir?”. I said “What? Ohh Yes, His parents are waiting for him since morning in my room and I am not finding him. What an idiot room mate I have got?”. I did not stop there and came running to the room. They all were ready to move.
I told them “It seems he will be late, you all carry on. anyway you will stay in your daughter’s house which is close by. I will inform him to go there and meet you all there. But you must come once while going back”. His father said of course. We will keep coming here. When my son got a friend like you, I must believe that he has good choice. I sighed and kept quiet. His mother took out several packets, some containing sweets and some had snacks. This used to be the main attraction when anybody’s parents come. We never let the person, whose parent’s came, eat a bit of it. I took them and kept it in his cupboard. His grandmother said “You all should share and eat but give little big share to my grandson. he is very weak. I smiled and acknowledged.
Took their belongings and kept on walking. One friend came shouting “Hey did you hear about Ramesh” and he stopped seeing his parents coming out of the room. I introduced them. He pulled me back and said “Hey, Ramesh was there in that gang of four who were washed away by the tide”. I said “No way, How can you say that. he never planned to go there. You must have mistaken”. I said, “Anyway, let me send Ramesh’s parents and then let us find out who were those guys”. I came running to join them on their way downstairs. “His grandmother hugged me on the corridor and cried. She said, “Never leave him alone anywhere. I do not know, how long I will live but I want to see him established. Please take care of him. All my blessings are for you”. I said, “Do not worry at all” but my brain had now gradually started believing that may be Ramesh is there. I was not sure what should be my action. I could only think off sending Ramesh’s parents back as early as possible. Went down the stairs and heard a noise.of one friend who was crying loudly, “Hey Ramesh, Pratik, Kushal and Monty washed away in the tide. They are dead man, they are dead”. I went running to stop them from shouting. I was confident now that my friend is no more but I can not stand in front of his parents when this news is relayed. I can not look at that grandmother’s face who gave me the responsibility of him. I can not. I want them out of the hostel so that when they get the news I will be nowhere.
His father called me and I went outside, controlling my tears, emotions and frustration. His grandmother thought my eyes are read because I am missing my parents and crying. She consoled me to focus on studies and repeated to take care of Ramesh. I knew he is nowhere and I have no responsibility now. He is free and I became hostage. Then I opened the door of the car and his grand mother went inside the car slowly. Then a bell rang.
Fire brigade vehicle with four swollen bodies of my friends. His father tuned back and saw four bodies lying. I sat there on the ground and there was a tear burst. His parents went running to see the bodies and his mother could immediately recognize Ramesh’s body which was eaten by fishes and bruises everywhere, as this body was hit on rocks due to heavy tide. She hugged the body, cleaned the face and cried loudly sitting on the road. His grand mother came running like a 2-year-old kid and fell twice loosing balance. She got up and ran till the body. She hugged the body and cried their. I was standing there and crying. Suddenly somebody slapped me. His father slapped me again and again. I was standing tall and rigid. “You knew everything and was trying to hide. You never stopped him from going near river. You killed my son. You are the culprit “ he said and he fell on ground. I tried to support him but he pushed me and hugged his son.
I was standing alone, watching one life which was finished unfinished.
– Stray Dog