I fiercely refused to apologise. And why should I, when I hadn’t done anything wrong? My friends, Kusum and Shikha, were at their wits’ ends, not knowing what to do with me.
I was in my first year doing Physics Honours at Miranda House in Delhi. It was the Chemistry class, and all of us who were majoring in Physics, Zoology and Botany had to attend it. Most of the lecturers had allowed us to skip classes, promising to mark our attendance, since that was one way to control a boisterous class. Roll-call was simply a farce and two or three voices would simultaneously chorus, “Yes, ma’am”, when the names were called out. It was everyone’s idea of fun and nobody cared.
I was not the kind of person who could ever think of revolting. Brought up in an orthodox family, where my mom would insist on my wearing the traditional South-Indian long skirts and half-sari to the most fashionable college in Delhi, I could hardly have appeared to be made of sterner stuff. I never indulged in false roll-calls or casual walkouts, though these were quite common on the campus. Yet that day, for whatever reason, I said playfully “Yes Ma’am” when the Chemistry lecturer Pavitra Choudhary called out “Aruna!!”
Aruna was no great friend of mine, whom I had to favour with a proxy attendance. Pavitra simply looked up at me in astonishment and repeated the call. I dared not utter another word, and then she asked me my name. As she harangued me about ethics and morality, I kept quiet. Suddenly unable to take it any longer, I stormed out of the class. Of course, that was quite the done-thing in our college and nothing really ‘revolutionary’.
Pavitra lived in the college hostel and so did Kusum and Shikha. So they came to know that Pavitra had been annoyed about the whole incident and planned to take up the matter with the principal. My friends were worried. I refused to give in – “Let them take whatever action they deem fit; but then, why should I be singled out?” was my irrevocable stand and I refused to budge from it.
Then suddenly one day my student bus pass went missing. As I searched for it frantically, my friends, who had hidden it, piped up and said they had “found” it but would return it to me only if I promised to first apologize to Pavitra. I was angered, but equally touched by their concern. And so, in spite of myself, I gave in. I merely mumbled the detested word to Pavitra and fled.
I stopped attending the classes. Weeks passed. One day, as I was walking towards the University, I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned. It was Pavitra.
“Why don’t you attend the classes from tomorrow?” she asked.
I staggered and stared. She repeated once again, “See you tomorrow in class.”
Then she squeezed my hands and said, “I’m sorry.