Priya, the MBA graduate from Jain College, Gujarat, and all of 21 had just landed her first job as a receptionist in H R Corporate College in a tier II city in Gujarat, which is considered as one of the top 5 colleges in India.
Still coming to terms with the College cum Hostel environment which houses over 1500 students from different parts of Gujarat and India, she had just completed her 4th day at work. Working with her on the dark brown, 4ft tall and 5ft wide, well-polished reception desk was her colleague turned friend, Vishakha. Vishakha being the more talktative of the two, keeping Priya busy with her never ending chattering, which in turn was helping Priya getting acclimatized to the new environment.
“It’s already lunch time Priya, let’s have lunch. Aren’t you hungry?”, said Vishakha in a ravenous tone turning her lunchbox filled with traditional Indian cuisine ‘Paratha-Sabzi’ towards Priya.
“I still don’t get it. How do these students who have just passed out of 12th std, stay here for an entire year, manage to live like a family with their fellow students. Wouldn’t they be missing their families? I am sure they would be”, asked Priya empathetically.
“Oh Priya, don’t be so harsh on yourself by thinking over such things. These are just students and they have made this college their residence for just one year. They would be replaced by new students the next year, like it happens every year. Don’t you know the law of nature ‘Nothing is Permanent’?”, said a consoling Vishakha.
“Yes you are absolutely correct Vishakha, but I have a strong feeling that these students must be missing their parents badly and they can’t even do anything about it as this is a residential college!” sighed Priya.
“No no, it’s not exactly that way Priya. I know these students aren’t allowed to move out of the campus to meet their relatives, but their relatives can visit them every 2nd & 4th Sunday of the month during the student visiting hours 3-5pm.
Although Vishakha tried her best to persuade Priya that all the students lived in perfect harmony and as a family, hence it was not that difficult to sacrifice a year of their lives for a bright future ahead. But somehow Priya wasn’t convinced with the whole idea as she knew that this college was at least 15kms away from the main city and it was really unfeasible for parents and relatives to travel so far every 15 days. And top it up with those students whose relatives can’t even travel once a month to see them. That must be a so depressing.
The 2nd Sunday of the month was here and as usual all the relatives of the students gathered to meet each other in the massive reception area. The reception was specifically designed in a 20,000sft area, as every 15 days there would be a humongous gathering of more than 3000 people which included the resident students and their parents & other relatives. Everybody comforted themselves with whatever was available there, with chairs, sofas and some even sitting on the ground. Though the seating never mattered, as the emotions ran heavily on both the sides, the only thing that mattered was to see and hug one another and allow the feeling of love to flow out. It was like connecting a long lost river from a riverbed. Parents & siblings got snacks, sweets and some even got them ice-creams from the college canteen for the children. Priya was watching all this from the corner of her eye and thinking at the same time, that even though Vishakha tried to put across her point that there was no place for emotions over here as this was just a 1 year thing, she could still feel the vibrations & energy of love flowing throughout the huge reception area.
“Vishakha..” said Priya continuing, “I guess not all the students have got visitors today, still they have come down?”
“The thing is that those students who have visitors, they drag their best friends along with them to introduce them to their parents & siblings, so that they get to share their love & food and not feel isolated. This is what I was trying to explain to you that day. They all live like one big family!”
“Hmmm. May be you were right. But I can see a few of their friends asking something from the relatives, what must that be?”
Vishakha got a bit uneasy as Priya poised this question. Always in a humorous mood, she was not prepared to answer this. She took a sip of water from the blue water bottle which she carried from home, and gulping the water down her throat looked at Priya and said desolately, “Those students, who don’t have any visitors, surely aren’t the happiest bunch. They usually call up their kins and are content just by hearing their voice.”
“Poor children”, sighed Priya.
“Yes even I feel frustrated to see them robbed of their cheerfulness. We just have 4 public telephones over here, just 2 hours for the students to connect with their families, an elongated queue of more than 500 students, the student behind the one who’s on call constantly urging the other one to keep the phone so that he can get a chance to call, waiting for hours in the long queue and sometimes even returning back without even having called due to the miniscule visiting hours. Such is their plight that these children even ask their friends’ parents for their mobile phones so that they could give a missed call at their homes and get a call back from their family!”
Priya’s eyes got wet on hearing this.
Vishakha continued, “Although some parents are generous enough to hand them their phones immediately as they understand what emotions the child might be going through. But some others are really despondent. They look at the children from top to bottom and would inspect every aspect before handing over their phone, just for a Missed Call, as if they were doing them a huge favor by lending their stupid phones. And there are a few other heartless people who also have the guts to say an outright NO!”
Days passed by and Priya, like Vishakha, got habituated to the atypical life these students lived. It had been almost 2 months since Priya got hired for the receptionist’s job. It was the last Sunday of the month and as usual parents & relatives gathered around the reception area to meet their children. Priya just sat there behind the reception desk leaning back on her revolving chair. Just then she heard a voice really close to her reception desk. Supposing it to be the Warden’s voice, she instantaneously got up to greet her. She was relieved to find out it wasn’t her, and was delightfully pleased to see a woman handing over her mobile phone to an unknown student for that coveted ‘Missed call’!
“Who are you and where is your child?”, asked Priya intriguingly.
“My son used to study at this campus last year”, said the woman.
“Oh. Then I guess you entered the wrong campus ma’am. He might be in the campus next to that Yellow gate near the entry from the playground, as all the senior students are stationed there.”
“Yes I know I won’t find my son in this campus. Forget this campus, I wouldn’t find him anywhere in this world now”, stated the woman as she started crying profusely.
Priya was left shell shocked and couldn’t move an inch. “What!! I am really sorry to hear about your loss ma’am. But then you travel so far every 15 days just to lend your mobile phone to these children?” said a shaken Priya who had already developed cold feet and couldn’t stand the trauma the woman was going through but was equally stunned by the generous gesture the woman had been showing.
Wiping her tears, the woman said, “Yes. He was my only son. After death snatched him away from me, I couldn’t stop cursing myself as to why did I ever let him go alone. But then crying wouldn’t have brought him back to me. I was blinded by the death of my child, until one day I came back here and saw these innocent children who don’t get to meet their parents for weeks to come.
I could connect to their pain as I saw their desperate attempts to just get through a call to connect them to their family for 1 minute in over 15 days. I remembered the time when my child couldn’t call me due to the huge queues for the public phones and how other parents turned him away when all what he wanted was to give just one miss call to me. That is when it hit me that why the other children should suffer the same fate what my child suffered. And since then I have been travelling 30 kms every 15 days so that these unprivileged children can connect with their families over that “1 MISSED CALL”!