Manasa woke up to a pleasant day. The sky was clear and her room was flooded with sunlight. She was about to step out of her bed when her phone rang. It was Piku. She was screaming with excitement. There was a surprise in her garden which she wanted Manasa to come over and see immediately. It was a large pumpkin. Manasa stretched out her hand and removed the leaves from over the green and white pumpkin. Piku had discovered it in the morning. It had grown unnoticed in the spread of its creeper. It must have been more than 7 kilos heavy and the rough skin was glistening in the sunshine deceptively.

On her way to the college Manasa sat ruminating. A large fruit that was nourished by the delicate creeper must be a weight on the earth. It had no strength of its own. No personality. And on top of that it is hollow from the inside. The skin is thick. Why should anyone be so mad about pumpkin growing surreptitiously in the backyard? It was not worth gloating over. And yet Piku was so excited! From now on Piku would spend her entire week observing the pumpkin.

She reached the college. There was a crowd of students on the college green. Manasa saw Badal floating over everyone. He and his associates had gathered to speak to the students about their recent exploits, it seemed.

Like Manasa, Badal was a final year student. He had campaigned for the elections to be president. Manasa recalled most of his agenda. “We will establish a library in the hostel this year. We shall install gym equipments at our personal expense if necessary but we shall never rest in peace until it is done. We need a hall. We must get a hall. A hall must be built if necessary. Within 3 months, by the end of summer, there will be a gym ready for you all.”

He went on to say a few nasty things about his opponents. All his words were etched in Manasa’s memory like a deep scar. She loved Badal’s opponent Tridhaman. He had also campaigned for the elections. In his agenda he had offered to get cleaned a large part of the pond in the campus that was ruined by hyacinth and filth. He had urged the students to volunteer for the cleaning. There was no mention of expenditure involved. “These are risky mentions”, he had confided to Manasa.

Now Badal has won. It has been four months since he was elected. He was now calling for another proposal. Manasa stood at the edge of the swerving crowd to listen. Her tentacles alert to catch any inconsistencies. And knowing Badal better now, she was prepared to hear some more insults to her friend.

Badal began by singing a patriotic song. He urged the students to join him. There was an uproar of discordant singing. Some of the teachers rushed out of the staff room in panic. Then they waited patiently for the singing to stop; for the whole meeting to come to an end. Only then could they resume classes.

Badal stopped singing and raised his voice above the din. “Last year, what happened? The principal’s car was upturned in the middle of the night. We discovered it in the wee hours of the morning. It lay with its four wheels facing the sky. The red paint was scratched all over. The glasses were broken. Who did it? Let’s not ask. Everyone knows the facts. And then the principal was asked to resign.

“We have never done anything wrong. Have we ever said anything unfair? Have we ever asked for anything unfair?”

Manasa recalled nothing of the incident of the principal’s car. She walked away from the crowd and Badal’s voice became distant. In her mind his earlier claims rang clear: library, gym, at our own expense if necessary. She was reminded of the insults. The way he had shut himself up in a corner room of the hostel on the day Tridhaman and his party boys went searching for him. It was the only room which had independent access to the lavatory. Badal remained in hiding because he feared being killed. Or could it be shame?  And all this went unrecorded by the students. He won because they liked the thought of a library and a gym in the hostel. They overlooked his bad manners.

And now he was making up the story of the principal’s car; the story of asking him to resign. Whoever sent him such notices? Not possible. Manasa realized that Badal would never build a library or a gym. ‘With our own expenditure’, he had promised. There was no truth in it.

She had accosted him with ‘why are you promising things that you cannot afford? Nor can the principal afford it.’ He had winked and replied, “It’s my trump card”.

Tridhaman was right. The only way to clean the dirty pond was to go knee deep into it with axe and shovel. He had asked for voluntary action by the whole campus. No one paid heed to the honesty of his claim. Everyone wanted miracles and Badal knew their psychology.

Manasa left the open and entered the college canteen. There she found her group of friends. Tridhaman sat among them and smoked a cigarette. Seeing her at the entrance, he waived to her. She growled at him for smoking. He just laughed in his mouth. She said, “Badal is at it again. He is explaining away his inability to conjure up the library and gym.”

Tridhaman retorted, “Whoever said he had promised a library? He never said that. This is the era of doubt. You must doubt your own ears. You must have heard it wrong.”

“I can reproduce him word by word. These are facts that he denies. He promised an expenditure which was obviously impossible.”

“Forget the truth, Manasa. This is called post-truth politics. Let’s have some noodles.”

“Piku has discovered a large pumpkin in her kitchen garden. She is all gaga over it. It is always in nature to bring forth small fruits on large trees and large fruits on weaklings like the creeper. Is it truly natural? It is as if the trees live for themselves while the creeper is sucked out of its strength in affording to support the overgrown fruit, a hollow one at that.”
“A pumpkin shouldn’t bother you, Manasa,” said a friend.

After some time everything became quiet. The teachers went to the classes and delivered their lectures to the docile batch of students. Tridhaman and the friends were waiting for this signal. They would also go to their classrooms. They stood up to go out of the canteen. One of them went to the bill counter. Manasa also stood up.

Badal and a few of his closest friends had won their bread again and they sauntered into the canteen patting each other’s backs. Manasa looked at them with fascination. She could not see any sign of worry. If they were sincerely interested in leading the college towards some concrete goals, they would have worn worried expressions.

Her eyes fell on one of the boys wearing a white shirt and a green sleeveless jacket over it. She blinked and was struck by the resemblance.

She jerkily walked over to the group while her friends looked at her open mouthed. There she took a deep breath while they speechlessly observed her. She pointed a finger at Badal and declared charmingly, “You are a pumpkin; you know? You are a pumpkin!”



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