It was the year 2016. Karma was travelling along with her maternal uncle from Kolhapur to Bangalore to join in one India’s top IT institutes in a five-year integrated M Tech progam. Her mother Kamla Tai just bade farewell at the Kolhapur bus stand. Kamla Tai couldn’t accompany Karma since she was running a Vada Pav shop near the Kolhapur bus stand and that was her livelihood and family’s only source of income. Karma was a state rank holder in the class XII board exams and she got an excellent score in the Joint Engineering Entrance examinations (JEE) that fetched her an admission in the top institute.
Karma’s father used to work in Ichalkaranji near Kolhapur in the textile industry there and died of tuberculosis when Karma was in class five. Since then, the family lived in penury. Despite a meagre income from the Vada Pav shop, Kamala Tai ensured that Karma’s studies were not hampered. Karma was a bright student at school and was a responsible kid too. Karma used to support her mother by doing menial jobs dropping newspapers and milk packets every day in the morning in nearby households, before she went to school. When she returned from school, she helped her mother in the Vada Pav shop and managed her studies as well. Karma was a good sports person too and participated in every competition she could as it would fetch her some prize money that would be of immense help to the family. Karma and her mother’s struggle taught them life lessons, but their enduring spirit triumphed all the way. Kamla Tai’s life savings came in handy for Karma’s fees which seemed exorbitant for the family.
Tears welled in Karma’eyes when her mother hugged her finally in the bus stand and whispered in her ears, “ हुशार मुलगी, विजयी होऊन घरी ये” (smart girl, come home victorious.) Karma didn’t know how to say good-bye to the only person in her life, her beloved mother. She just could not give expression to capture a heart so full and a longing for her mother that was so intense. She wept profusely, only to be consoled by her uncle. Karma felt alone and her loneliness only reminded about what she read in her Marathi lessons in school, “A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings.”
Admission day at the new college brought in a ray of cheerfulness in Karma. She was enamored by the sprawling campus and amenities which she never saw anything like that before. The new environment made her a bit nervous and the huge crowd of students during the joining formalities only aggravated her situation. With an anxious curiosity she began filling the forms when her pen ran out of ink. A husky voice from behind her pleasantly said, “Hai, I am Rishikesh, do you want a pen?” She smiled with relief and took the pen and said, “Thank you, I am Karma”. In order to catch-up with rest of her classmates she quickly began filling up the forms. When she was done, she turned around in search of that handsome tall dark boy Rishikesh, only to realize to have lost him in the crowds. Karma slipped in the pen in her bag reserving it for an opportunity to meet the lad again. Karma’s uncle bought some essentials for her and left for Kolhapur.
Classes started the next day. Karma spoke to her mother, sought her blessings and went off to class. Karma’s single minded emphasis in mind was to outshine in studies, get placed well and relieve her loving mom from that shanty Vada Pav shop. Five years ahead looked long and dreary, but she was determined. Amidst her nervous calm, a pleasant whiff of sensation swamped her involuntarily and it was the dark, tall dashing Rishikesh. Karma tried to forget him, as the looming responsibility virtually engulfed her crush.
After a grueling first day morning session of hard core academics, Karma reached the student’s food court along with some new found classmates. The food spread overawed her. She had never eaten such sumptuous food from her plate ever. “Hai Karma, how are you doing?”; the familiar husky voice boomed from behind. Even before she turned, Karma could sense an intense rush of elation from within.
Rishikesh was ordained to be in Karma’s life, albeit not entirely. Rishikesh hailed from an affluent family from Vishakhapatnam. Rishi was flashy and outspoken and was generally all over the place, in the basketball court, in the dance club and even engaged in minor scuffles with fellow students within a short time in the campus. He was however, a very helpful guy and that struck a chord with Karma, besides his handsome gait. They studied together and Rishi taught Karma basketball which she picked up with élan since she was a state level kho kho player and her agility and explosive strength came in handy. An overwhelming academic rigor did not deter Rishi and Karma in some romantic indulgences. Karma felt secure in the midst of Rishi though she felt uncomfortable when Rishi used to flaunt their intimacy by putting his hand around her shoulders publicly amongst all her college mates. Karma would always free herself from the clasp and Rishi would argue that it is fine to boast in a campus where strength of women students is miniscule and make the boys feel jealous. Karma would often feel hurt on this argument and she would feel that she is being objectified and she wouldn’t talk for days with Rishi as a protest. Karma would also quarrel with her mates in the women’s hostel often on such issues. Karma’s bête noire was Richa, another classmate who was trendy in style and her showiness stretched in all arenas – dance, sports, academics and even the smoking circles with the boys. On many such squabbles in the food court, Rishi used to play a peacemaker amidst the girls and Richa would retort, “Girls do not have female best friends, they have Nagins”.
Life in the campus moved rapidly and over two years just flew. Karma excelled in academics and was always on top. She not only earned a merit scholarship but also was a favorite student of the Professors. She was chosen as a Teaching Assistant which fetched her additional money which she managed to send to her mother every month. Rishi too was doing reasonably well and Karma now became his coach in a number of subjects. Karma would often play an advisor role to Rishi in an effort to tame Rishi’s brazenness and indulgences in some vices. Rishi loathed being lectured. In the beginning of their third year in the college, Rishi slowly started sliding down in his grades and Karma noticed some tangible changes in Rishi. He often appeared unkempt with dark circles around his eyes and often missing classes. Rishi was also noticeably violent and harsh in his arguments. He would never pick up Karma’s calls and Karma’s efforts to get him back on track often ended up in fights.
When the sixth semester grades were out, Rishi had three “F” grades which was a huge downfall. Karma got to know that Rishi was hanging out in the food court tuck shop and she rushed to the food court with an intent to be with Rishi and mitigate Rishi’s mess. She found Rishi in the food court with Richa sitting next to her along with few other friends. The sight of Rishi and Richa clutching their hands together with Rishi resting on Richa’s shoulders stunned Karma. Rishi mocked at Karma, “you were only my Besty and now, not even that.” Karma almost went into an unpleasant rage. Richa further provoked Karma with a mocking stare and gave a mischievous wink at Karma. Karma gathered herself in this despairing instant and began a chat with Rishi about his declining grades. Rishi all of a sudden erupted loudly and hurled water on Karma’s face from a left-over glass on the table. Friends around tried to control Rishi; Karma left the food court in a huff. Life seemed to come down like a ton of bricks on her as she just could not come to terms with the humiliation and drabness. She wept the whole night.
The episode got reported to the college authorities, though Karma herself did not lodge a complaint. Everyone in the campus, generally believed that Rishi was indulging in some substance abuse besides smoking and drinking. Rishi was let off with a minor penalty by the college authorities, since allegations of substance abuse could not be proved.
Karma decided to move on, though it was very difficult. To her surprise and disbelief, Richa was the one who comforted Karma the most. Richa taught her how not to take relationships seriously. For Karma, it was her first ever “Breakup” and it almost emotionally demolished her completely.
From her friends, Karma got to know that Rishi’s behaviour was further worsening. Karma and Richa together thought to intervene and put Rishi’s life back on track. But their intent was disrupted by a huge watershed episode in the college all of a sudden. The campus atmosphere sunk into a gloom when Rishi was picked by the police in connection with a brawl that Rishi was involved with a cab driver. Rishi was in an inebriated condition when the incident happened. The college authorities intervened and using their good offices, got Rishi out of police custody. Rishi’s parents arrived in the college and took away Rishi with them. Rishi never returned to college again. It was later learnt that Rishi joined another second-rate college through a lateral entry scheme to facilitate completion of his education.
Karma graduated with glory and won the Gold Medal besides many more accolades during the convocation. She was selected and placed in one of the top most multinational companies of the world with an incredible package. Karma’s mother Kamala Tai now lives in Bangalore in a posh flat along with Karma. Karma is today a Chief Software Architect in an IT Major company. Karma along with Richa and a few goodhearted classmates also run a very successful crowdfunding platform called “Sahyog” to reach out to needy and deprived students to provide need-based scholarships. As for Rishi, he faded into oblivion and still struggling to gather life. Karma indeed, does not fail to make a point!!
(The author is Registrar, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore.)