It was 11:34 PM. There was an eerie silence all around. You could hear the mess workers cleaning up dishes after the day’s dinner. Some rooms at the end of the corridor had music on, probably celebrating a birthday or just completing an assignment and not wanting to fall asleep mid-way, a pretty common practice in the hostel. Occasionally a head or two would peek out of a room cursing the seniors who didn’t let them study, but they knew it was of no use as they wouldn’t listen anyway.
I was done with the day’s mugging and was setting up my bed to sleep. Prateek, my room-mate walked in with his night clothes, having finished brushing his teeth in the common washroom. He too looked sleepy, from the day’s work.
“What took you so long?” I asked.
“Nothing, took a long bath. You sleeping too?” he asked.
“Yeah man, too tired to do anything now.” I said.
“Done with Chandwani’s assignment?” he asked referring to the Integrated Electronics professor whose term work was due in 2 days.
“Yeah, about 5 problems left, will probably finish them by noon tomorrow.” I said. “I am more worried about Lakhani’s Term Work. The dude will give like 50 problems at once and expect you to solve them in a week with no leniency whatsoever.”
“I know right! he’s an asshole! another form of Satan reincarnated, only to torture us with assignments and term works” he said.
“Exactly!” I laughed.
Shriram Lakhani was our Neural Networks prof. and the HOD of the Information Technology department, our department. He was nicked “The Devil” and students ‘fondly’ referred to him as “Lalu” as there was a rumor that one of the students overheard a conversation between him and his wife and she called him that. The name pretty much stuck after that. He would live in the Faculty Quarters right near our boys’ hostel and would sometimes do a surprise raid on our hostel to check for alcohol and narcotic substances. Anyone caught, would be suspended that very moment. Some boys also had a rotating duty of keeping an eye on his house to check whether he left his house for a raid which would occasionally happen around midnight. The boy would alert the entire hostel and the other boys would then hide their bottles of alcohol, if they had any, on the terrace, below the eight 500-liter Surya Water tanks until he was gone and then bring them down again. Even in college, he was famous for his insanely hard surprise tests and the open class mark announcements he did later. No one liked him. Not even the faculty. His dictator style of leadership was too harsh and his methods of dealing with people weren’t that good either. In short, he was the most disliked man on the campus.
Me and Prateek had sorted our beds, shut down our laptops, called home and were ready to sleep. He switched off the lights and jumped on to his bed and within minutes was already snoring. I was still thinking of the submissions I was yet to make before the semester end exams and soon, I too was asleep.
It mustn’t have been long when we heard siren noises near the hostel. Loud and shrill. Now, siren noises weren’t new for us hostelites. The college authorities had asked the local police station to send a patrol van every night to keep a check on miscreants who may consume alcohol or drugs on the campus and the police had obliged. So, every night at around 1 AM, the police patrol van would come into the campus blaring its siren to check for the aforementioned ‘miscreants’, which was actually silly because of the fact that the siren itself would alert them and make them run away or hide whatever they were doing. But they still continued the practice anyway.
But this time, the siren was different. As one, there were not one but two sirens blaring, and two, the other one was long and slow, indicating that it was from an ambulance. I got up at once, Prateek, too had woken up, probably with the same thought as mine. I looked out of our window I saw a white police gypsy at a distance trailed by an ambulance heading towards the main campus, thus confirming my assumption. What was an ambulance doing at the college campus at 2AM? My mind was clearly imagining the worst-case scenario. Had a student overdosed? A late-night gang war gone wrong? A suicide!? It could be anything. I quickly wore my track-pants and came out to the corridor which was already bustling with students who had gathered near the main gate wanting to go to the main campus. The watchman had locked the gates and had strictly refused to let anyone go anywhere at this point of time at night. That moment, I had a realization. We had an emergency exit!
The emergency exit was an additional set of rusty old metal stairs that had been attached adjacent to the building in case there was a fire or any other mishap. I Shouted, “The fire exit! the fire exit!” it took 3 seconds for the suggestion to be digested and before the watchman could react, the swarm of now 200 odd students started running towards the fire exit and began to escape towards the main campus. The watchman gave me a dirty look as I came out. “Sorry uncle, aapka naam nahi aayega, pakka!” I said, assuring him he won’t be blamed for the incident and started jogging towards the main campus. I could see from a distance that the crowd had gathered near our IT department. My heart was beating hard. What could have happened at this point of time at night? We somehow managed to get near the front of the crowd. The ambulance was parked outside the department gate along with the gypsy. The police inspector was stood near the gate discussing something with the principal who had come with a kurta and pyjama unlike his usual formal attire. The constables were trying to control the crowd outside. Within minutes, two ambulance assistants came out of the campus with a stretcher with a red cloth. It took us some time to realize that it was actually blood! Some boys and girls puked at the back. When the body was being loaded into the ambulance, for the brief moment, the cloth fell off from the face of the body. “Lakhani! What the hell!” screamed Ajay who had the best view in the front. A wave of shock ran through the crowd and the talking became loud again as everyone wanted to get a look but before anyone could react, the assistants had covered the body again, loaded it in the ambulance and sped off. The entire crowd was in a state of shock…
(to be continued...)