"Move aside, move aside!" the warden rushed through the students who had packed the entire corridor. With him there was our school's lady doctor. She entered the room to find Rabzor lying there.
"His lower jaw is swollen, possible dislocation, we need to take him to the hospital urgently!" said the anxious doctor.
Rabzor was held by his hands and legs and was taken out of the dormitory towards the parking lot where a school van was at stand by. The same night six students were suspended with immediate effect. In this suspension, Jal House had lost both its captain and vice-captain. The night threw our house's future into uncertainty and very soon, my life was going to change forever.
My desire to study the two year IB Diploma Program led me to a boarding school in Dehradun. Coming from the background of non-residential schools, boarding school felt like a different planet. Each day came with a different surprise. One thing that was completely different was the idea of 'The Houses'. In a day board school, houses are only meant for competitions and colorful T-shirts on a specific day of the week. But in boarding school like mine, it goes beyond that. Houses have their one common hall and dormitory blocks.
What motivated us all to be on top of our game each time were the house points. Houses gained or lost house points on the basis of academics, sports, discipline, cleanliness and other extra-curricular activities. By the end of the academic year, points were calculated to decide who was the 'Champion House of The Year'. Every student wanted his house captain to lift the coveted 'Champion House Trophy'. Every sports game was played with zeal and players would give their all. Injured players experienced minor heartbreaks because they couldn't play for the house anymore. Even a rumour of cleanliness check
would turn all of us into patients of hyper OCD. Bunking classes and sleeping in dorms was matter of high risk and only few could achieve it. However, a famous saying used to do its rounds in the school, "You are not a thief till you are caught."
One of the 11th class students, Rabzor, was notoriously bunking every other class. His attendance rate was poor and soon he was drawing unwanted attention. Naresh, our House Captain warned him a lot of times, "Look, you are a senior and I don't want to become harsh with you. You better mend your ways or things can go really bad."
But Rabzor was a thick skin. In a normal circumstance, House Captain's warnings were taken very seriously, but Rabzor was someone who cared the least about what his bunking meant for the Jal House. Meanwhile, I kept myself away from in the following weeks, rumours started to spread that there is someone in Jal House who is challenging Naresh's authority and soon it turned into an ego issue. Things were turning hot and they sure did when during one of the surprise visits to the dormitories, the Dean of the Student Welfare caught Rabzor sleeping in his dorm during class hours. Jal house lost 10 points. The news spread like wild fire. The situation had gone tense. Hardwork of many had gone waste because someone decided to sleep in the dorm. Other houses started to mock us. Naresh was furious. We all knew that some strict action was going to be taken.
One night, most of the seniors of our house left the dining hall immediately after dinner. Some including me had stayed back to attend birthday bash of one of our friend. Some time later we left for our dormitories only to find teachers and the warden were standing at the ground floor and at the corridor above. One of the lady teachers was even crying, "How can they do such a thing!" Something had really gone wrong. I then saw Naresh coming out of Rabzor's room. "How dare he hold my hand!" I ran inside Rabzor's room to find him sitting on his bed in an unimaginable condition. I was aghast. His right side of the face was swollen to such an extent that he could barely open his eye. There were marks all over his body. Next to him was a cupboard rod. Just then warden and the lady doctor took him away. I could hardly believe what I had seen. None of us in our wildest dreams ever imagined that things would go this wild. That night everyone was seeing the ugly face of pride and honour.
Eye witnesses later told that Naresh and few of his other friends entered Rabzor's room to warn him sternly that he dare not miss a single class or sports hereafter. It felt that Rabzor was simply ignoring him so he threatened him. Further Naresh held Rabzor's collar. Instinctively, Rabzor held Naresh's hand and pushed it off. Some even said that Rabzor tried to punch Naresh. At this point, Naresh and his friends lost their temper and started bating Rabzor black and blue. One got on top of his head. Someone took the rod out of the cupboard and started thrashing him. Another held the legs. Luckily the thrashing did not last long because a lady teacher saw all of this at the ground floor and screamed loudly. Her scream caught warden's attention who immediately came to the scene and disbursed everyone. Later Rabzor was asked if he wants to file a police complaint but he refused.
Back in school, fear had set in everyone's minds. Everyone knew that a line was crossed. No one deserves this kind of treatment. Also Jal house now had no official leaders and we were only half way through the academic year.
One night our house mentor, Mr. Deepak, called my classmate Stanzin and myself to his office.
"You both are the only students left in Jal House who are eligible to be Captain and Vice-Captain and I need someone who can maintain discipline in the House. You both have a good record and I am sure that you both will handle the responsibilty. Hence, Stanzin I appoint you as the House Captain. Sanchit you will be the Vice-Captain. Your names will replace your predecessor's names in the Honour's board tomorrow morning."
And so it happened. There were new names in the honour's board. In the same week, we took the oath taking ceremony in front of the entire school. We were given our respective badges and a red colour tie which was also called the Captain's Tie. It indeed was a bittersweet moment for both Stanzin and myself. In a span of one week, we had lost two of our dearest friends and now we were wearing their badges and ties. Previously, our lives were far more simpler. We enjoyed all the luxuries of a senior, but at the same time, we were not shouldering the extra responsibilities of a captain and a vice-captain. We used to live in our own world. We studied and played sports at our own terms and we didn't have the fear of the captain since he was our friend. However, I would be lying if I say that we did not enjoy leading 40 odd students day in and day out.
Things had started to come back on track as Stanzin and me had started to shoulder our new responsibilities and were getting used to it. However because Stanzin and I were of softer personalities than our predecessors, some of the juniors had started taking advantage of it. Students were not coming in time for breakfast. Dorms were not kept clean at all times. Juniors were bunking their classes. Rumours started spreading that all of this is happening because Naresh Bhaiya's fear is not there in Jal House anymore. Captains from other houses started taunting me. "Mr. Captain. Rise to the occasion before it's too late." "Why did you even become the captain when you can't handle the pressure?" Words like these stung me deeply and was humiliating. I needed to bring situation under control.
One day, I received a complaint that a group of class 7th students bunked their morning class. Most of them were from Jal House. After dinner I entered their dorm. I called the names of the students whose names I had received. They were all there. Without a second thought, I started scolding and shouting at them.
"It's because of students like you that our House's name is getting spoiled. Next time I want all of you to be there in your class 5 minutes before it begins."
It did not feel good. But I had to set an example and bring discipline back in Jal House.
Later in the evening, Pankaj from class 11th came in my room.
"Sanchit, I want to discuss something with you."
"Those class 7th students whom you scolded today were first time defaulters. Also they were influenced by their classmates of Prithvi House. They must have thought that it would be easier to put the blame on Jal House students since currently our name is tarnished with indiscipline. You should have inquired more before taking such a harsh step. Also they are kids. I am sorry, but I hope you understand."
After a moment's silence I spoke.
"Thanks Pankaj for telling me this. I can't tell you how guilty I feel. Come let's go to their dorm."
I entered the 7th class dorm to find those students sitting silently. I called out those students.
"Guys I am really sorry, I should not have done this. I don't know what got into me. Please forgive me."
Upon hearing this, they all came to me and gave me a hug.
At this moment, even I couldn't hold back my tears. I then spent sometime with them and asked them about their studies, challenges and life in general. Later I came back to my dorm.
When I came back, I impulsively looked at my table. There lay the badge and the tie. I looked at them and wondered that 'did I get into peer pressure and falsely rebuked my juniors for these? For these I have been frowning all this while? Why do I need to change myself for them? Why can't I be the same old Sanchit? Does this inter-house competition all that matters?
Suddenly the tie and the badge felt like horcruxes and that's when it dawned on me.
The monster that led me to spit venom on my juniors today is what took the 8 students out of this school earlier. The monster convinced me that competition comes before caring. The monster was not in the tie or the badge, the monster lied within.