Meera was annoyed. She leaned back into the sofa, her eyes boring into the side of the lady guard’s head. 

It was a little past 10 in the night. Back at her quiet hometown, the world around slowed down after 8. Sundown was synonymous to quiet down. But the campus was different. There weren’t harsh lights like a metropolis. There wasn’t total shutdown like a suburb. Insti was just peacefully alive. 

Her knowledge was limited though, she had only glimpses of this after all, even after a month of being here. For a much more elaborate description, she’d need full access to the outside world, with unlimited time and a few friends to develop this research of life after 9:30. If only the lady guard wasn’t so cruel and unfeeling. She narrowed her eyes further. The lady guard turned then, half-amused, half-annoyed. 

‘Please let us out, we won’t get caught or anything. Please’, Meera thought. 

The lady guard unpityingly looked at her. ‘Why on earth do you think I make the rules here?’

‘Whoa!’ She stood up quickly. “Don’t need to tell me twice,” she muttered to herself as she rushed back inside.

It was day again. Two years ago, when she first started her coaching classes, she had been extensively counselled on how hard an undertaking this will be. They had been told that strong determination and hard work would get them into IITs across the country. This included having your life in some order. You don’t just come in after getting out of bed, and then continue sleeping in class. But for some strange reason, that is exactly what happened here. 

On a rather drab morning, she had the dubious privilege of sitting next to someone so elite. Apparently bathing was optional as well. She scrunched up her nose. 

“Chennai has a water crisis, dude.” He shrugged.  Surely the campus has enough water to spare one bucket a month?!

Communication was a problem. 

She sometimes thought about how things would have been easier if she had not refused to play dumb charades back in school. It was a fleeting thought, and fled whenever she remembered how a teacher had walked in on a classmate trying to flex her muscles, deep breaths drawn in, trying to imitate Salman Khan. 

Today, if the teacher had been here, her reaction wouldn’t be much different than then. Meera was now trying to explain to the hostel officers about the problems with the switchboard and the fan in her room. Her arms were flailing about; her face contorted in frustration. It was just keywords now, that was all she knew and she hoped they would understand. 

“Akka,” she pointed at herself, “room – socket,” she gestured wildly at the switchboard in the office,” bad!” 

She faintly heard the office door open and shut as she continued with her demonstration.  

“Akka, fan,” pointing at the fan,  Meera paused to recollect what her friend had taught her before she had to leave, “full azhagaa irikk”. She congratulated herself for her first few Tamil words and looked down from the fan above expectantly. Widened eyes met her own now unsure ones. 

“Madam,” a voice came from behind her. Meera turned around. “You can speak in English.” 

Meera experienced for the first time simultaneously the feeling of wanting to collapse in relief and being crushed by acute embarrassment.

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