Home in the World

Navamalati Neog Chakraborty taught English as a professor in Kohima, Dimapur and Guwahati. She was Guest Professor in the Comparative Literature Dept. of Calcutta University. She is an artist, a short story writer, a poet, an editor, a bio-lingual translator of prose and verse and a critic.


 ‘And where is everyone?’, asked Rashmi as she stepped outside the school gates to join her friends.

‘They will be here soon’, said Vineet.

In the ordinariness of the school uniform they wore they were friends and their trust in each other was always a blessing. In the mess that life had made at home for Rashmi, school was an escape.

Vineet smiled at her. It was he who had rung up Rashmi and told her of their plans for the day. The finals for the eleventh class were over and as they would soon be in the twelfth class, which meant serious study time, they had all planned to meet for a contributory lunch, to be followed by a movie.

‘How many of us will be there? And do tell me about the amount you are collecting. I wouldn’t like to be a spoilsport, but you do know that it is just a year since I lost my father to Covid. I wouldn’t like to do anything that would mean squandering money and wasting time.’

Rashmi gave a friendly slap on Vineet’s back. ‘Why do you make a face?’

‘You have become such a different person of late. Earlier you loved fun and outings. We were in kindergarten together and since then I don’t ever remember you hinting on being careful about money. Come on Rashmi, why does a shadow loom behind whatever you say these days? Are we not friends? We’ll stand by each other till doomsday.’

Before Rashmi could make a reply, Vishal and Ankur entered. They informed them that the others will be unable to join them. Those who were in the Science stream had an unscheduled practical lab class and the Arts stream ones were held back for a Shakespeare paper presentation by Mrs Sen, the Head of the English Department.

‘Then let us go back home, we can always come some other time,’ said Rashmi

The three boys exchanged glances.

‘No,’ said Vineet. ‘Let’s go. Come Rashmi, don’t worry. I’ll be leaving for Mumbai next month and we’ll be unable to meet after that. Only the four of us are in the Commerce stream, the rest can choose a day and have fun as and where they want.’

As Rashmi had a faraway look in her eyes, he pulled her and said in a whisper. ‘Don’t worry about money, I’ll pay your share.’

Rashmi’s overlapping sighs spoke nothing about her unmoored grief. She never wept before others but she did miss her father so much. The last time she went to a movie at Inox, it was in the company of her parents. Why does time seem to be always in flux. Her father’s loss often made her traipse about the lanes of time. These days her breathing has grown ragged. She felt a disquiet break her down at the mere mention of her mother. How can she sustain her mother’s loss, her sorrows? Rashmi found her own self much more matured and sapped of that exhilarating vitality of her age. Nowadays she tried to gauge people’s minds at the very slightest of provocation. She told herself every now and then; it is difficult to string people’s minds with the light of reason. Take care. Your father is no more. Your father is no longer there to take charge of you and your mother’s life. She swept away a sob. She recalled how…they were neither given their father’s dead body to see and feel even once, or see to his cremation by the hospital authorities…that was the second wave of the pandemic raging like a demon over their locality and all over the world. That was the month of May 2021! Every house had a casualty if not more!

The four of them now walked out of the tall gates of the school compound, their satchels hanging back from their shoulders. Rashmi felt a deep sense of nostalgia, for the past days of her childhood. She has come with these friends not knowing what was there in their minds. Just one more year and they will be leaving this place forever. God knows where they will be. She herself had a great desire to study Economics at St Stephens College at Delhi. She had told her father about it. But she wasn’t sure about it now. Her uncle had, of course, told her that he will fulfil all her father’s dreams and that she shouldn’t worry in the least. Let’s see, she sighed, as she looked up at the sky with her almond shaped eyes.

Vineet’s car was waiting. The four of them got into it and Vineet asked the driver to leave. He said that he would drive the car and that he could go back home for lunch. ‘I will tell Dad that I said so, do not worry.’

‘But where are we going,’ asked Rashmi.

‘We’ll lunch at a nice place and later go for a movie.’

‘And where is your nice place Vineet,’ asked Rashmi. Vishal and Ankur also asked him the same question. He merely smiled and said that he had everything planned out. An uncanny smile hovered over his lips. As they took to the streets they spoke about their exams and the tutorial classes that would resume after the break.

When Vineet drove the car inside the gates of a posh hotel, Rashmi felt uncomfortable. She told Vishal and Ankur, that she will not be joining them after all.

‘I have come with my school-mates. But, by choosing this particular hotel, Vineet has shifted to a different level. I am not used to such places. The three of you stay back. I will take an Uber and go home. I hate to be away from my mother for a long time.’

Vineet held her hand and said, ‘don’t be a spoilsport, we will soon go home. If you do not want, we may skip the movie. Will that do?’ His face was anxious. Among all her friends, he was the closest to her. Almost a brother she never had. In fact, Rashmi had told him about this and he had ruffled her hair and had told her that he was her elder brother. A childhood attack of typhoid had taken two years of his life. Thus, although most of her classmates were seventeen plus, he was nineteen.

As Vishal and Ankur also insisted, she agreed to join them. ‘Okay, fine. But please do not spend a long time here. If my uncle happens to see me here, he will not appreciate it and I too will not be able to explain your choice to come here. Afterall we are mere school going adults.’

They laughed at her use of the word ‘adults’. ‘That’s a nice way to describe us.’

The dining hall was crowded with children and their parents, office bosses with their secretaries, young ladies crowding together after a shopping spree. It was a rich world! Rashmi thought to herself. The lives of her mother and aunts were so simple, so ordinary, so cramped and yet creamily homely. She craned her eyes to look around.

Vineet held her shoulders and the four of them entered the lift. She was a little taken aback when the four of them were within the close confines of the lift. With the crowd she had felt safer and now where were they going?

The uniformed attendant opened the door of the lift and took them to a room, where there were plush sofa sets, famous paintings adorned the walls and a huge round table on the other side, with executive chairs around…some six of them. Vineet paid him some tip and asked him to foresee to the light lunch to be served there. He hardly asked them what they would love to have. He seemed to have taken charge. With the aura of grandeur and rich surroundings, Rashmi was visibly afraid. Why did she agree to come. Had she not read a number of times, how class-mates rape their best friends. Vineet, Vishal and Ankur have so far always been the best of boys, but people change in a minute. They could have waited downstairs for the crowd to thin and would have found a place for themselves. Are they plotting to rape her? She held on to her satchel and felt the small knife she always carried with her inside the pocket of her bag. Worse come to worse, that will help her. She figured what she will do. I must not drink anything as it may be laced, or even eat anything at all. I must remain cool and feign interest and get the better of them. Rashmi pulled up her socks and tightened her school belt.

What, what else ought she to do. She took out her cell phone. Ought she to call someone? Should she call her uncle to tell him where she was…!

Vineet asked her if anything was wrong. ‘Why are you not your natural self. You are with us, in our company. We are friends, aren’t we?’

‘Yes, we are, that’s true. But what will people think! A girl in the company of three boys! And…I belong to a very orthodox family. You all have money but we have our respectability alone.’

Vineet laughed aloud. He looked at Vishal and Ankur and said…Just think, I never thought that our Rashmi would say that we aren’t respectable.

‘No, I didn’t say that.’ She was almost in tears.

On seeing her so disturbed the three of them changed the topic. Ankur asked her about her mother and if she had recovered from the viral fever.

‘Yes Ankur. She is fine now.’ Rashmi smiled. She was glad that he asked after her mother’s health.

‘Did you tell her about our celebration. I did, but I didn’t know that Vineet will be making such a to-do about this celebration. I thought we would just walk into KFC or to Dominoes, and that would be that!’

Rashmi, if you want, we can still go there if that would make you happy.

Rashmi was trying to guess this game. What was it. It was when Vineet took out a package from his school bag that looked like a gift and handed it over to her that she was certain about their ulterior intentions.  He had said…’Here Rashmi, here we have got a gift for you. The three of us are leaving the room and you can change into this. We three hope you will like it.’

They left the room. Rashmi sat paralysed! So here it is. It is surely a sheer negligee. Her mind pitched in ideas. Did they think she was such an easy game for them? She jumped out of the chair and decided to call her uncle…no, wait. Open the gift and see what these rascals have planned. I just cannot imagine that I have blindly walked into their trap! But then will they be so nasty. Will they commit so heinous an offence. God knows! Vineet being such a nice boy! Will he be just another rapist? Will they kill her and tomorrow her picture will grace the front page of the newspaper? Just another rape, another murder, another stupid girl duped! Her mind delved into all those gory news in newspapers that paint the rapist to be anybody. Just plain anybody. A father, an uncle, a friend, a servant, a teacher or a plain handyman or driver! She tore at the packed gift. Something was written. It was her name, in different handwriting. She recognised most of them. They belonged to her friends. And then it dawned on her, that it was her birthday…Oh wonderful! To be raped on one’s birthday! Can she climb out and escape through the windows! She ran and looked about the huge room. That’s nigh impossible!

She sat down again to open the half-opened gift. After she took it out and had shredded the last covering, she sat down to weep. It was ‘that’ very dress that stood at the corner designer’s shop in the lane opposite their school. She recalled her saying to her friends how she loved that pastel pink shade. That was all. She never expressed a desire to own it, to wear it, to possess it. She normally spoke to her mother about every single thing that drew her attention . But she had reined back all her desires about that dress. All her ear-splitting crescendo of laughter too had long died down after her father’s passing away. Nothing could nudge her to that earlier realm of happiness.

She arose and with her cheeks streaked with tears, she changed into the dress and packed her school uniform and school shoes into her satchel. There was a nice pair of white pumps too. Rashmi never carried a hairbrush to school. Her short hair was just combed into place with her fingers. She felt the knife once more inside her bag. Feeling braver and restored, she stepped forward to open the door.

When she finally opened the door hesitantly, it was difficult for her to have a brutal simplification of the thoughts and impressions that gushed out. There was a crowd standing there…not those three boys waiting to rape her! They were screaming at the top of their voice…happy birthday Rashmi! Her mother stood there with a broad smile and behind her stood uncle and aunt. Behind them were those friends who were supposed to be in the lab and those waiting to submit papers to Mrs Sen! They were all in an unbridled competition trying to wish her a happy birthday. The last in the crowd were Vineet, Vishal and Ankur.

Rashmi was all in tears. She didn’t realise what she ought to do, but the day had been decided for her. Life sure has uncertainties, but it also has other plans about finding a home for us, a home in the world around. She paid her obeisance to the elders and with a happy lilt in her voice she thanked all her friends. She then looked at Vineet and with a high five said, this will mark the first milestone of our journey together, brother!


Navamalati Neog Chakraborty

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