This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 24 May 2014 and won INR 500
1. The Vision
I had a vision in my sleep last night, as distinguished from a dream, which is mere sorting and cataloguing of the day’s events by subconscious. It was a vision, fresh and clear as a mountain stream, the mind revealing itself to itself.
In my vision, I was walking in the forest, with deepest well springs of my being. Soon I was hemmed in with trees, I could hear the rising wind, for it moaned and whistled through the trees and the branches of the trees crashed together as I swept along. The keen wind was carrying a low, piteous howling; it was coming from somewhere far bellow in the valley, which was hidden from my sight. I did not know what to do, the less as the howling grew closer.
What I saw merely condescended to logic; I saw a beautiful flower, blossoming amongst the weeds. The howling became louder and sharper, that of flower. I grew dreadfully afraid; it seemed that even nature shared my fear.
My vision ended, and I awoke with a terrible feeling.
2. Rest in pain
I was initially placed on administrative leave over allegations, that I assaulted a 12-year-old student in the school.
When I went into the dining room, supper was prepared, but what I said then, turned into requiem for our appetite,
“I have a preliminary hearing tomorrow. There are two possible outcomes; either the judge confirms the remand or he finds no basis for keeping me.”
My wife asked me myriad questions about the whole event, but she knew me well enough to trust me, her support had fortified me.
I wish I were safe out of it, or that I had never come.
I only slept a few hours when I went to bed, and feeling that I could not sleep any more, got up.
“Sleep deprivation is a one-way ticket to temporary psychosis,” Smita said lying awake beside me.
“It makes me rage to think that this can go on, whilst I am shut up here, a veritable prisoner.”
She said, “Tomorrow, you’ll stand up against all odds, just like a deformed tree on the hill,” laying her hands around my shoulder.
I was thinking about our daughter then, her panglossian view toward me would be jaded. She deserved better than a child beating teacher as a father.
“God keep me, if only for sake of those dear to me!”
3. Dubiously diabolical
Prosecutor was hell of an actor; he began his speech in a gruesome way,
“If something such as an act of the devil exists in this world, this case is just that.”
He further continued, “Let me be prosaic so far as facts can be. Anmol suffered critical injuries after he was brutally beaten by his teacher. I express my regret, that victim is highly incapacitated to testify in front of court. The boy has already got one foot in grave.
Children are innocent. They are the future of any nation and the world. Beating children, even if it is for their good, demoralises them with spiritual harassment.
I conclude your honour, that this was nothing other than pure torture, whose perpetrator ought to have been tried by civil jury.
Though that is not the case, it must not be considered a cause for clemency.
On the contrary, the sentence must be absolute and unwavering.
I request that the defendant who is both guilty, and equally so, between whom not the slightest difference prevails be sentenced to three years of imprisonment and fined 1,50,000 Rs.
Thank you, your honour.”
I quite understood. My only doubt was as to whether any nightmare could be more terrible than the unnatural, horrible net of gloom and mystery which seemed closing around me.
Judge asked me, “Rajeev Mishra, you stand before this court accused of child abusing. Having heard all charges against you, how do you plead?”
I firmly answered, “Not guilty, sir.”
4. The cold flame
“Mr. Rajeev, you were having troubles with your pupils, is it not so? Are they hard to handle?” prosecutor asked me dubiously.
“I try to do my job as best as I can, with children who have changed a lot since I began.”
“But have you ever hit them? Have you ever hit a pupil?”
“Your honour…” defence attorney interrupted-
“A teacher punishes a child with good intentions and not to hurt him or her. Corporal punishment is sometimes important to maintain discipline.”
My lawyer was an intriguing man; half of his face was covered by spectacles, the two halves of his moustache never quite matched.
On our first meet up, he told me,
“I don’t want to cloud your vision with false hope. You being found guilty makes no difference to me, if I lose it’s your fault, if you win it is thanks to me.
You have to trust me, or you will end up behind bars.”
He sounded horrible, but at least he was honest.
Prosecutor continued, “Your honour, assailant’s behaviour towards pupils is questionable. I have received complaints from parents, here is a petition. At this tender age, children exhibit somewhat rebellious nature; but they don’t deserve to be crushed like this. It is sadistic to use scales and sticks as pedagogic tools to make children disciplined.”
There are times when silence is golden; but silence can be taken in many ways. It was time for me to break the silence,
“Rebellion in youth is necessary fact of life, candidly a sign of strength. In other words, I respect their rebellious nature. But as their mentor, I’m obligated to contain that fire of contrariness within the bounds established by society.
Now, I am a tolerant man, but my patience has its limits.”
Grief demands an answer, but sometimes there isn’t. The consequences of this hearing were dire, my future was jeopardised permanently. A cold flame had set ablaze the conscience of people, they had gone raving mad. Family members and locals also staged a protest outside the school demanding strict action against me. But can anyone criticize decisions made in despair?
I guess it is just some men’s fate to face the great darkness.
5. Boisterous ballad
Prosecutor summoned his first witness,
“My lord, I would like to introduce medical testimony to prove that bruises and physical injuries of victim were caused by defendant.”
“Permission granted”, said the judge.
Dr. Rakshata approached the witness stand and swore the oath,
“I swear by the almighty god that the evidence I shall give, shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Prosecutor asked, “Dr. Rakshata, may I ask you about the physical condition of victim?”
“Anmol is severely injured. Injuries involve physical blows and scratches. Abdominal tissues are damaged. Boy has bled a bit, and there are several wounds. But he is under a good care; we have taken all the measures to save him. He is still unconscious, but he will make it. ”
“It is very reassuring to know that boy is going to make it. But doctor, what do you think can be cause of those injuries?”
Doctor replied, “It was a vile act of violence. It seems that boy was hit by heavy blunt wooden object and beaten several times.”
Prosecutor asked “Is it possible that victim was beaten by a teacher?”
Defence rose to object, “My lord, prosecution is putting word into witness’s mouth. It is a cleaver theory formed by assumptions, which is irrelevant.”
Judge agreed, “Quite so. You will have to do better than that, prosecution.”
“My lord, I withdraw the question entirely.”
“Thank you Dr. Rakshata, your candour is refreshing. I have no further questions to ask.”
The second witness intended to make whatever remained of my pathetic existence a living hell. He was a classmate of Anmol.
Defence objected, “Your honour, it is common for children to describe non existing details. Testimonial of a child cannot be taken seriously.”
Judge overruled the objection, “I believe that the children tell the truth, I don’t see any reason why this witness should not be qualified to give evidence.”
Prosecutor consoled him, “Hunaid, I know it is hard for you, but your statement can bring the justice we all have been waiting for.”
“Anmol is in my class and we had good time when we hung out together. We were supposed to leave together that day, I was waiting for him in foyer, but he never showed up. I went in searching for him. School was empty and quiet, the concrete walls sealed around me. I felt that something was about to happen or had already happened. A sticky fear crept over me. When I approached the classroom, I saw Anmol lying on the floor, all beaten up. His sight terrified me. I crouched down with the sound of my heart beating in my ears. And to my shock, I saw Rajeev sir standing there, he was panting heavily.”
Prosecutor asked impatiently, “Are you sure it was him?”
Defence said, “Child, I presume you know the meaning of word ‘perjury’? It means to swear falsely under oath. And are you aware that perjury is considered a serious crime in our country?”
Hunaid replied, “Yes, I am aware sir.”
Defence asked again, “Mindful of this fact, I ask you once more, is the evidence that you have given the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”
Hunaid said confidently, “It is truth…”
“Your honour, it is not true. I didn’t beat that poor child…” I screamed and burst into tears.
Judge said, “Mr. Rajeev, I need you to compose yourself.
If the defence so desires, I will adjourn for a short time so defendant may gain control of himself.”
6. Ticket to hell
“I am sorry sir, but you have to disembark the bus”, said conductor.
“I have a right to travel in this bus.”
“Not anymore, I want you to leave”, people were staring at me with disgust.
“I want a ticket to Vishakhapur.”
Someone punched me in the face and I thumped on the floor.
“You just bought yourself a ticket to hell. Keep the change…Now, how are you going- sliding or walking?” he threatened me.
My face was distorted, glasses shattered into pieces. I would fain have rebelled, but felt that it would be madness to quarrel while I was absolutely in their power. They stopped the bus and threw me out of it, as if I were a sack of potatoes.
I started walking, but the time and distance seemed endless, my knees trembled and my breath came around laboured as I toiled up. It seemed to me as if my feet were weighted with lead, and as though every joint in my body were rusty.
Meanwhile in court,
Judge announced, “Within the bounds of reason, I should like the defence to have every latitude. Defence may proceed.”
“My lord, the prosecution has very ably presented against my client, Rajeev Mishra; a case with the most overwhelming circumstantial evidence. Whether is theory or actual fact, however, you will decide for yourself.”
Prosecutor remarked sarcastically, “Your honour, I trust we are not to be deprived of the learned and stimulating presence of defendant.”
“I personally apologize for delay, my lord. He will be here any minute; probably got stuck in traffic.”
As you might have guessed, I could not make it to court that day. There are things dark and heinous in this world, things too horrible to tell our children. Next day my lawyer visited me in hospital, and after a long time in my wretched life, I heard good news,
“Boy has regained consciousness; in no time he will be out of bed. We are waiting for his statement.”
7. The wolves and the sheep
Anmol was sitting in the witness box, for he could not stand. His pale yellow face was swollen, his lips drawn back from his teeth, a sad glint in his eyes, saying I am the most miserable person in the world. He was constantly fidgeting out of nervousness.
“Go away! Leave me alone! Why can’t you leave me alone?”- Those are the words Anmol have been mumbling all his life. But little did they hear; theirs was the intoxication of the hunter, his was the terror of the prey. Bhargav, Nimesh and Bonny- three brats who used to bully him all the time, overstepped their bounds this time.
He had put his hand up in class, a declaration of existence, a claim that he knew something, and that was forbidden to him. They could give a number of reasons for why they had to torment him; he was too fat, too ugly, too disgusting. But the real problem was simply that he existed, every reminder of his existence was a crime.
That day he snuck around the back of building, to the bathrooms, where he felt safer.
He had pissed in his pants again. He rinsed it under the tap, squeezing out as much water as possible.
He heard footsteps outside, voices; he fled into the nearest stall and locked the door at the same time as outer door opened.
“Little Pig, if you don’t come out now we have to get you, Is that what you want?”
It was quiet for a while. Anmol exhaled carefully.
Just when he thought he was off the hook, they attacked the door with kicks and blows. The whole bathroom thundered and the lock on the stall door started to bend inward. He should have opened it, go out to them before they got too mad, but he just couldn’t. He stared at the bolt that was forced out of the lock with a crack, at the door that flung open and banged into the wall, at Bonny’s triumphantly smiling face, and then he knew…
They dragged him to classroom, where he was later found by Hanaid and me.
Judge declared, “On basis of evidence and facts presented in court, I find accused Rajeev Mishra not guilty. This event shall not be overlooked as tragedy, for it is a symbol of sickness of society. All three culprits, namely Bonny, Bhargav and Nimesh shall be taken under remand immediately.”
There was a sly feeling of satisfaction, justice being served, but I am angry about that boy, because I could not help him. I cannot give him back what they just took away.
I promised him, “When these frail shadows we inhibit now, have quit the stage, we will meet.”
8. The tree and the flower
“We both have scares of grief”, I said to Anmol.
He asked me, “Do they make us look bad?”
“No, they make us survivors. The world is full of evil, but if we stand by each other it would be ousted.”
Mesmerized by scenic beauty of sunset, Anmol said, “I always felt closer to nature than I did to any people.”
“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning. I apologize if you can’t understand a word I am saying.”
“No, I understand perfectly.”
I believe we forgot everything, except of course, personal fear, and it seemed to wipe the slate clean and give us a fresh start.
I looked at him for a while, and he reminded me of my vision. He is that beautiful flower, blossoming among weeds.