I’m a proud alumnus of 3 separate Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) campuses in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. 24 years after the first day at Vidyalaya, even today, each JNV has its own special charm and unique influence over my day-to-day life.
In 1989, at the age of 12, I was selected for the 6th Standard admission at JNV Hondarabalu in Chamarajanagara district, and later in 1992, I was sent on a 2 year Student Exchange Programme to Shyampur near Bhopal. My 7 year stint with the Vidyalaya ended in 1996 when I passed the 12th Standard exams at JNV Galibeedu in Coorg district.
Between 1989 and 1996, I met some of my best mentors, made lifelong friends and spent 7 finest years of my life on the Vidyalaya campus. Like every alumni, even I have loads of sweet nostalgia and abundant reminiscences from the yesteryears. But today, what I share here is something beyond the normal recollection and personally, it was the worst heartbreaking and yet, most beloved episode from my life at JNV Hondarabalu.
The Day I Was Called a Thief, Almost!
It was 1991 and I was studying in 8th Standard. An early Monday morning, after the usual cleansing rituals, I had just returned to my dormitory. Standing next to my bed, I noticed a slight commotion near Shivaraj’s sleeping area. His bunker style cot was not far-off, and like me, even he was part of the 8th Standard troupe. But due to student-teacher ratio arrangement, we both studied in different Sections and had separate classrooms.
As I watched in astonishment, I saw Shivaraj frantically probing inside his baggage. Sitting next to him, his dear friends Nagendra and Bhaskar spoke in hushed tones. With a natural curiosity, I looked at them with a questioning eye and in reply, Nagendra stared at me with indecision. Clearly, Shivaraj had lost something expensive.
Abruptly, all three of them got up and had a short animated discussion in muffled voices. After a minute, they met their class teacher Mr. Naresh, who shared our dormitory. I looked around and saw similar surprise on the face of every student. They all seemed as clueless as me.
Suddenly, Mr. Naresh called my name and I was startled.
As I stood next to him with a bewildered face, in a gruff tone, he asked if I had seen Shivaraj’s missing 70 rupees. At first, I didn’t understand his words, but the very next second, it dawned on me. In a dormitory filled with students, I was singled-out for an enquiry about the mislaid cash. Clearly, I was doubted for stealing the money!
I had my own list of wrongdoings in JNV, but it all centred on skipping classes by calling sick while I was as healthy as everyone else in the Vidyalaya. Most students used this trick and in a place filled with homesick youngsters, it was an acknowledged activity. But now, with no apparent reason, I was implied as a thief and it was mortifying. I felt wrecked and miserable.
In that dreadful state, I did what any humiliated 14 year old would do – I cried.
It was the worst moment of my life in JNV and as I stood there shedding silent tears, hundred probing eyes of fellow schoolmates looked at me in disbelief. These are the very bunch, some of them dear friends, with whom I had to spend my remaining school life and I felt ashamed at the thought.
After the first accusing question, Mr. Naresh had kept quite. But the longer I stood there, the more I wept.
Sitting quietly on his bed next to Mr. Naresh, my class teacher Mr. Uttam was watching the scene unfold in slow-motion. After witnessing the dreadful event for awhile, out of the blue, he gently gripped my hands and with a tender affection, wrapped me in a consoling hug. It was warm, it was honest and more importantly, it felt fatherly. The unexpected empathy wrenched my heart further and abruptly, I wept aloud.
As minutes passed, in the protective cuddle, I felt secure. Slowly, as shielding his own son, he asked Mr. Naresh not to bother me anymore. He told someone to fetch me a glass of water, and as they ran towards the nearby dining hall, he wiped my tears with his towel.
At that very moment, the deep humiliating horror which had engulfed my heart vanished in a quick flash. Suddenly, I felt alive.
[All the names of persons are changed to protect their identity. Even today, 22 years after the incident, I still don’t know the reason for wrongfully indicting me for the missing cash, and I like it to stay that way forever]