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The Bully Pulpit

A Short Story / Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan

Ashokar was a tall, lanky student in Venu’s school. He was too tall for his shorts, but that didn’t stop him from occasionally sporting the jock look. Ashokar was a few classes senior to Venu, and the two seemed to enjoy a cordial relationship. Beneath it however, Venu often felt tense and afraid. He couldn’t put a finger on why that was. Perhaps it was how Ashokar looked at him, greeted him, or played cricket with others in the school courtyard. Venu would frequently notice Ashokar intently staring at him, while in conversation with his protégé, Sundar, who happened to be Venu’s classmate. It was widely known that Sundar and Venu did not get along. Venu couldn’t put a finger on that as well.  

Sad Venu

“What’s the matter, Venu?”, enquired his aunt Jhansi as she saw him skulking in his study room. “Nothing. I’m just tired”, he said, attempting to deflect her attention. But he couldn’t control his sniffles. “Aiyayo, Vasantha, come here”, Jhansi exclaimed. “Venu is crying and doesn’t seem well. Something is wrong”, she emoted. 

Venu’s mother, Vasantha, and his aunt tried to get to the bottom of the matter, but they gave up after a while and started to walk away. “Ashokar pushed me and hit me”, Venu mumbled. 

“What did you say?”, exclaimed Venu’s mother. Venu could no longer control his tears. Between breaths, he recounted what Ashokar had done to him as he left school. 

“Where do you think you are going?”teased Ashokar as he cut into Venu’s path. Venu was heading home from school later than normal one day, as he took some special classes. “I’m going home Ashokar. I had some special classes today.”, replied Venu. “Oh, special classes, eh? Just for you?”, said Ashokar with sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “No, there were a few other students”, Venu replied in a muted voice, as the tall, gangly Ashokar leaned into Venu’s face. Venu quickly looked around and saw that there were very few people around. He made a mental note that this was a premeditated move from Ashokar. Venu swallowed in fear. “Leave me alone”, pleaded Venu as he looked at the gate watchman, hoping he would notice. The watchman averted Venu’s gaze and conveniently pretended to be busy with something else. Venu had observed the watchman and Ashokar in frequent friendly conversations.

“I have been meaning to teach you a lesson for a while now. I don’t like how you treat Sundar”, Ashokar threatened, as his hands moved closer to Venu’s chest. “That rat“, Venu thought to himself, as he pictured the cowardly and envious Sundar call in the school thug to teach him a lesson.  

Venu crashed into a brick planter as Ashokar shoved his chest. Thankfully, his backpack cushioned the fall. Ashokar menacingly approached Venu as he struggled to get up. In an instant, Venu decided to run as fast as he could out of the school. Having achieved his objective, Ashokar did not chase after Venu. 

“Oh my god”, exclaimed Venu’s aunt Jhansi, as Venu finished recounting his experience. She vowed to visit his school and talk to the principal. Venu’s mother agreed with her and they planned to make a trip to his school. Venu didn’t want to stop them, as he couldn’t fathom a way to deal with Ashokar by himself.

Ashokar was a man of few words. Venu thought Ashokar compensated for it by surrounding himself with cronies. Ashokar contested the school election, but lost as his campaign was quite silent. Venu thought that Ashokar didn’t take the loss too well and led to the incident a few days ago. 

The daily School Assembly was in progress. Miss Kannamal paced up and down as she led the students in the final song of the day. She was a master teacher of the Bhagavad Gita slokas and her signature sing-song style made her popular with the students. Before Miss Kannamal dismissed the students, the Headmistress came on stage and made an announcement.

“It gives me no pleasure to do this”, she said sternly, as she gazed around the assembly. “Kamakoti is no place for bullies, it’s not a place where you play rough with each other instead of using words to solve your problems”, she declared. Venu trembled with excitement. Was she going to name names?, he thought to himself.  

The Principal called Ashokar to the stage and told him to apologize to Venu. The assembly was abuzz. Ashokar shamefully mumbled a few words, and ran as fast as possible back to his line. Venu was pleased at how his mother and aunt had advocated for him. In the back of his mind, he wished he had done so himself. For now, it was time to celebrate.

Venu in Celebration

Little did he realize that the story was just about to begin.

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