15 days before the 5th semester exam of the 3rd year, Sameer as usual parked his bike and then trudged along with Dia towards the college. He saw his friends and greeted them but they didn’t respond back. They looked at each other and then saw Sameer again.
Sameer couldn’t understand what was wrong but he and his sister found a lot of them staring at him. Slowly, the students were gathering around in masses and looking at him. Sameer and Dia stopped in their paths and looked at everyone confused.
Sameer then turned around to see the principal, Mr. Mukherjee, who had noticed him. The latter walked towards him.
“What have you done Sameer? I didn’t expect this from you.” said the principal.
“What? What happened? What did I do?” Sameer asked.
“Come to my office.” the principal said.
The principal and Sameer walked towards the office. The latter could feel the tense atmosphere as more students gathered and were staring at him. Some including his own friends were following him to the office but stopped the moment he entered the room along with the principal. The principal went to his table and then turned to face Sameer.
“I just got information that our systems were hacked early in the morning, at about 6 am and the question papers to the exam had been downloaded.” said the principal.
Sameer couldn’t believe what he was hearing, yet still couldn’t understand why he was called to the office. He asked, “So why are you sharing this with me when you ought to tell the others? Investigate who did this and punish the guilty?”
“That is because you are the one who hacked our system.” the principal shouted in anger.
Sameer was trembling with fear. He felt the ground vanishing below his feet. He tried to defend himself, “I didn’t do it. Believe me… I…”
“Shut up. Just shut up. You were anyway a trouble maker in our college but still we didn’t mind it considering the fact that your performance has been noteworthy enough. This year I found you serious with your life and studies which is praiseworthy but I guess I was wrong. I should have known what you were planning all this long. The people who hacked the system were caught red-handed by the police after we got an anonymous call from someone. They revealed that it was you who paid them to do that.” said the principal, burning with rage.
Sameer started crying and helplessly begged in front of the principal with folded hands to hear him out, “Please sir, please listen to me. I did not do it. It is all a lie. I didn’t pay anyone. I… I have been set up…”
“I have no other choice. I could have handed you to the police but I didn’t want the college name to go down the gutters. Do you know how much I strive to keep the integrity of this institution proper? And just because of people like you, I am answerable to everyone. I have made my decision and that is final. Here, take this paper.” saying, the principal handed over a paper to Sameer.
Sameer took the paper from the principal’s hand and looked at it.
“What is this?” Sameer asked.
“This is your rustication notice.” said the principal, with clenched teeth.
The paper fell from Sameer’s hand, tears welled up from his eyes. He couldn’t believe this was happening.
Sameer looked at the principal and begged again, “Please sir. Don’t do this. Please don’t destroy my career…”
Suddenly, the door of the principal’s office slammed open. Sameer turned around to see that it was his mom and dad. They had got the news. Sameer’s father slowly walked up to him. He was enraged as he dragged Sameer out of the office and then began slapping him continuously.
The people watched in horror as Sameer begged for mercy from his father. The next moment, his father clutched his chest. Sameer noticed his father staggering and was quick to realize that the latter had a heart attack.
As his father fell on the ground, he cried out, “Dad… NO!!”
At the hospital, Sameer, his mom and Dia watched through the glass as Mr. Malhotra was attended to by a doctor and nurse. His condition was stable. Sameer was still thinking about what must have happened. Who would have set him up? His mom and Dia were not even looking at him. Taking up courage, he walked towards them.
“Mom… I…” Sameer started but was cut short.
“Shut up! Don’t you ever dare to talk to me. It is because of you that he is in this condition. You didn’t even think about us while committing such a sin. You didn’t even think about your father’s self-respect. What face will he show when the people who know him gets to know about this?” Sameer’s mother reacted.
“I didn’t do it. I have been set up by somebody…” Sameer tried to explain, however, his mother was in no mood to hear anything.
“I don’t want to hear anything. Dia, tell him to go away. Just tell him to go away. I don’t want to see his face anymore. Just go and leave us alone. Just go and die.” Sameer’s mother wailed as she said those words.
Sameer was in tears. He was also in shock at the final sentence his mother said to him. First, he lost his career and now, his family was also against him and not ready to listen to him. With a heavy heart, he walked away.
It was already evening, Sameer decided to meet Anita and explain the situation to her. He thought, “Anita may have heard the news already. I hope she gives me a chance to explain.”
He reached Anita’s home and went in, however, he was stopped by Mr. Patil.
“You! What have you come here for?” asked Mr. Patil, enraged.
“Please uncle. Let me explain.” Sameer responded in a desperate tone.
“I don’t want to hear any explanations. My dear daughter believed you and this is the gift that you give for her belief. I have seen the love she had for you but you have made a mockery of it. The college may have let you go with just a rustication notice but if you stay here any longer, I will call the police. I swear to God!!” said Mr. Patil.
Sameer started to cry again, there was no one left to listen to him and there was nothing he could do now. He walked away, went a few distance and then sat down on the footpath. He soon realized that he had eaten nothing since the time he had reached college. His stomach was burning with hunger. He saw how much he had with him, he had enough to buy something and eat, however, looking at a tea stall reminded him of those lovely moments that he had with his friends… with Anita… he was in no mood to have anything and kept the money back in his pocket. He got up, had some water from the stall and then walked away to where the road led him to.