Nikhat was busy arranging for the practical examination. This was the final day of a four-day schedule. As the Lab in Charge in the Home science Department she had to oversee the seating arrangements, collect the record books of the students and hand over the materials to them once the exam began. Home Science practical require extra vigilance, she felt. The students had to cook a few dishes in the presence of the external examiner and for this purpose they brought in stoves and portable gas cylinders. They were young and inexperienced girls and tend to be careless. There had been minor accidents before luckily no casualty. It was going to be a long day thought Nikhat while allotting students their working area. Just then someone called out-
Nikhat turned around to see Smita Jha, a student of hers, an examinee due to appear for the practical exam on that day.
“Yes, What do you want Smita? Why don’t you take your seat? The externals have arrived. They may walk in any time. Go to your seat.” Nikhat said in a soft tone.
“ Ma’am could I go home to fetch my Record book? I’ve forgotten it at home.” Smita’s voice indicated a nervous urgency.
“ How could you do this Smita? Where do you stay? Can’t you ring up and ask someone to get it?” said Nikhat.
“ My mother wouldn't know to locate it ma’am. My house is close by. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”
Nikhat thought of her own student days and relented.
“ Okay, but come back fast. The examiners won’t let you in if you are more than 15 minutes late.”
Smita was gone.
Nikhat got busy with her work. Everything went smoothly. It was time to wind up.
The external called out. “Roll no. 683……….. get your record book”.
“Roll no. 683…… Smita Jha …… Where is she?”
The name rang a bell in Nikhat’s mind. ‘Didn’t Smita go home to get her record book.? Hadn’t she come back?’
She went to the external examiner and said in a soft voice – “ Ma’am, the girl wanted to go home to fetch her record book and I granted her permission to do so. I got busy after that and the matter slipped off my mind. She hasn’t returned.”
The Head of the Department was upset.
“ Hasn’t come back? But you’ve marked her present and she has signed the attendance sheet.”
“ True, ma’am. I thought she had really forgotten her record book. She told me that she’d be back soon.” Nikhat sounded apologetic.
The HOD was about to say something when there was a commotion at the door. The gateman was standing at the entrance along with a uniformed nurse.
“ Madam” the gatekeeper called out. “ This nurse has been waiting at the gate since morning. She says that her duty hours are long over. She has to escort a student named Smita Jha back home. She wants to know when the girl would be ready to go.”
The external and the HOD were truly confused and Nikhat was at her wit’s end.
Addressing the nurse she said “ If you were at the gate since morning why didn’t you go and fetch her record book? And why do you have to escort her back?”
“ I do not know anything. The Chief Medical Officer of the hospital in which I work asked me to escort her to college, remain at the gate and fetch her back after her exam. I was relieved of my hospital duties for this very purpose. My duty gets over at two in the afternoon and it is now well past three. I cannot wait any longer.”
The whole thing now made sense. The girl’s father, for some reason, had posted the nurse to stand guard for his daughter and the girl had given her the slip. The external was amused.
“We’ll mark her absent since she hasn’t turned in her paper.” She said. Turning to the nurse, she added, “ You were on duty and yet let her slip past you. How would you explain that to your CMO?”
“ I swear on God she didn’t cross the gate. Not with me sitting right at the entrance.” The nurse was genuinely bewildered. “ Oh God!” she wailed, “ What do I do now?”
The whole episode now took a new turn.
A muslim girl came running.
“ Ma’am” she wailed, “my burkha is missing. And I cannot go home without my veil. My father would skin me alive. I had left it in my bag before the exam started.”
Smart girl that she was, Smita Jha had conveniently donned her friend’s burkha and made it past the nurse on duty. The college hired a full taxi and with Nikhat accompanying her to explain the situation, the girl who had lost her veil went home. Later we heard that Smita got married on the very day to a man of her choice.