Book in process – opening piece 2

That was my first day at my new boarding school. I had never really thought much about having to go there and what kind of changes in my life it may bring. Till last day before I left for the new school I was hanging around with my old friend Virendra and his sister. We had placed a bet on ghoonsa chhap and statue, and timing was whenever we see each other. When my mother packed my bags and saw me off along with my father on a rickshaw, I felt nothing more than slightly irritated at the thought of being with my father for the one hour ride as my independence loving nature never went along with his controlled and rigid ways. I do not remember much about that rickshaw ride but it must have been tiring as time of July is not a pleasant time in my city as weather is hot and humid and sitting in Rickshaw being pulled by another human being one can do nothing except wet his handerchief and wonder how does the rickshaw puller remains unaffected by it. Anyway, I was among the early ones to reach the school for enrollment. While my father appeared quite excited to see the new school and meet the teacher handling the process I wasn’t so impressed as it looked dull and deserted. It was a one story building with rooms on its three sides and fourth side covered with boundary. It had a big courtyard which wasn’t well kept as evident from the thick and long grass all over. There were couple of small guava trees and one hand pump at a corner but apart from that it was pretty naked and had an eerie silence. The teacher handling the process sat on a wooden chair and had a small table in front of him which had papers strewn all over. He asked me my name, gave a half smile to me and pushed a register towards my father for his signature. My father lapped at it like a baby on his outing and enthusiastically signed it off and began to make mundane queries like when will I get the books, class timings, facilities etc etc. while I just stood there without any interest as I hardly knew what is happening and how should I react to the situation. At the moment all I wanted was my father to go back so that I can be with myself. Soon I was taken inside by an assistant, shown my bed which was in a large hall which had more than 50 beds lying next to each other in two rows. Then for next couple of hours I was running from one room to another collecting multiple stuff being distributed like bed sheet, mattress, books, almirah etc. etc while my father saw with amusement and pride his son getting ready to start the big journey of his life. One could say from his eyes that his heart and mind was full of hope and expectations from this school and what it can do to his prodigious son. My city did not have many good options when it came to schooling. There were a set of government schools which were marred by too many students being taught by too few teachers, lack of facilities and more prominently sense of responsibility with both the student and the teachers. Most students used to come to school probably because their parents would not have much use for them in their business till they are atleast 13 or 14. A normal route was for the father to give his son a chance at making a life for himself by getting him enrolled into one of the government schools and keep telling him that he is making an investment into his studies and if there are no results it would be advisable to join him in the family business which will typically be either running some kind of store (general store, chemist, apparel) or may be a food grain trader. Most students will start showing their fate as their marks will sink with each class and they will struggle to pass through by using methods like cheating, bribing teachers of difficult subjects by getting tutorials from them or if someone is really smart by trying to leak the examination papers.          With connections with the right people like peons, assistants and some amount of money may be a couple of hundreds, anything could be made possible. But the wheat from chaff will be sorted out in the board exams wherein such tactics will fail to work which means the eventual fate of working with their father in the family business will become apparent to the student as well as their family with the board exam results. Apart from these there were some public schools with slightly better standards. The teaching staff in these schools used to at least create a notion of sincerity by arranging things like parent-teacher meet, insisting that books, clothes and all other materials required should be bought through them and finding ways of creating hype and fleecing money. The weak student’s parent will be informed in advance of their sons capability or lack of it so that when he eventually fails they can turn around and say, we told you so. Some of these schools used to go extra mile by not letting such students appear in exams lest they mar the performance of their school. Reputation of school was more important than the fate of student. Potential students will be picked out, given a demi-god status and their performance tracked with a microscope. Teachers will bring the papers of past years and make students cram solutions in case they are unable to comprehend the logic. The focus was very clear, student should get good marks even if they don’t understand a single damn thing about the formulae they applied. Anyway, the point was while these schools were the best option available for someone whose only hope of a future different than that preordained by the family one is born in, they were simply out of reach for those who don’t have a present to live for. My family was way too poor to afford to send us to these schools thus the only source of hope was scholarships from Government. The school I was getting into was one such place which was started by Rajiv Gandhi for the students of sub-urban and rural towns from low income families. So I guess my father was not wrong in feeling pleased and happy about his son getting inducted in this school as it meant he can be assured that his education is assured for next seven years and it will not be affected by financial constraints. In a life which always hung in balance, wherein challenges were always immediate and worries were never ending, any kind of stability on any front was a big source of comfort and relief. Of the many things that the man had to struggle to provide for, he can take off the expense of his son’s books, school fee and clothes. Which means that 15th of each month will not be a dreaded day for at least one reason, school fee. But these were not my thoughts nor were these my worries. The fact that there were schools with better dressed students and more clean looking students never really affected me. Also the fact that my school fee was often deposited after the due date didn’t concern me as well because no one at school ever really looked at me with this thought in their mind and if they did I never read it. Teacher of my school were always nice to me, partly because I was a good student and mostly because my father was a devotee of them. To him teachers were next to God as he would invite them over to our place, feed them with tea and snacks and indulge in discussions over my hand writing and how it can be improved. Of course I used to be very peeved at this as they would typically call me once they have made their conclusions about my hand writing and then provide tips and lectures on how it very vital to get good marks, specially in board examinations where teachers get tired of trying to figure out what student has written and a neat hand writing gets automatically favored as it brings a sense of peace to them for a while. I on my part just used to play the role, listen and nod while all the time thinking about my Kancha friends from the street whom I would left in the middle of a game asking them to wait for my return while they shouted at me that I never do and they will keep my Kanchas if I don’t in next fifteen minutes. In the hindsight may be it was better to lose a few Kanchas and chances of winning my opponents Kanchas then having to realize that payment of fee was a blessing I should be thankful for.

Soon my father left after giving me a tight hug which was less out of his sense of separation from me and more because of the day he had full of excitement and hope. By that time I had begun to get tired by the whole process of collecting various things, arranging my bed and almirah and hearing so many new noises. The hall wherein our beds were laid out was now full of people, new and old students and staff members. It looked like a complete chaos I had come to as other students tried to spread out their bed, some of them were rushing around to collect stuff as their parents followed them giving instructions and checking and cross checking if their son has got everything that others have. Old students will hang around there appearing amused, making sarcastically funny comments about something or the other within themselves and giving a friendly but distant smile to us. As a result of having come earlier I had already finished all this and had nothing to do now other than watching others and feeling something which I had never felt before. I did not know if I was feeling bored or lonely but I knew that I did not feel like sitting in that hall as the noise and chaos was increasing every minute as some of the new kids had started to cry as their parents left them there. With so much noise outside and nothing really inside, I decided to leave the room and walk out. I came out of the room and saw the same scene there as well that of people running around and shouting at no one in particular. Outside there were even more bunch of old students who lived in adjacent rooms and were standing in the corridor watching new students and their parents run around. I found outside equally suffocating and decided to move towards the backyard of the hostel. The hostel being situated outside the city and close to villages, there were large tracts of open land around it. I maneuvered my way through the hall, escaping being hit from people carrying their luggage around, shifting and adjusting their beds or generally running shouting for someone or something. I reached at the back gate of the hall which opened to the backyard and quickly made my way out of it. It was much better here and a little peaceful as well though I was still feeling restless. There was a large ground with green grass spread on it and covered with a boundary. I decided to take a walk along with the boundary and would try to jump to see what is across the boundary. As my attempts at watching beyond the boundary did not provide results, I tried to climb up on it. I put both my hands on the wall and began to try and lift myself through my hands. Realizing that my strength is not good enough I tried the other trick. I raised my right leg and tried to place in on the boundary to get some support and then try and use my hands to lift myself up. I somehow managed to place my leg on the boundary though I had to stretch myself and all the support now rested on my left leg which was already on its toes. Soon I found myself in a very awkward situation trying desperately to keep my balance and pushing myelf up at the same time. My face began to get rubbed against the boundary wall and my breath was getting heavy and I almost felt I will fall as my left leg was not able to keep me up and my right leg had got stuck on the wall. Suddenly I felt a new strength flowing through my left leg as it stiffened easing pressure on my right leg. I was also able to push myself up and was finally found myself on the boundary wall. I smiled for the first time on that day as I looked at the vast stretch of fields ahead. I took a deep breadth and turned to look at my hostel. At that moment I saw a thin, tall and gawky person standing just next to me and peeping ahead of the boundary along with me. I suddenly found the source of sudden strength in my left leg. ‘It was you who pushed me up, isn’t it?’ I asked curiously. I broke into an impromptu smile as he nodded and threw a wide obsequious grin at me. He was shabbily dressed in a loose white paijama and a short hung over his thin shoulders. Bespectacled, his hair was well oiled and parted sideways and face bore an expression of a man with no pride or sense of self worth who is only too willing to please and looking for someone to follow the commands of. I didn’t typically enjoy company of people who can not take their own decisions and be ready to bear the fallouts. As living with me meant that there will be moments of desperation, anxiety and restlessness. There will be incidents when one will not be sure of the outcome or the consequences and in those moments lied the thrill of life, the fun of discovery and the agony of ugly surprises. The worst thing to have in those moments of fallouts was to have someone wailing around you, who needs to be protected and cajoled into believing that you know a trick out of the situation while you really have none other than a hope for a miracle or discovering something within you which you are yet to see. I intently looked at him trying to decide what to do with him as he kept flashing his smile at me. I looked at the aloof hostel building, the long unkept grass growing around its walls, its depressing red brick structure the paint on which had been coming out from several place with walls scribbled over with lines filled with enthusiasm and loneliness of kids who had probably learnt a new and prohibited word that day and decided to take him in with me as I jumped from the wall on the other side and looked at him asking him to join me. His eyes were filled with glee as he realized that he has been accepted and he immediately jumped over the wall to join me and began to look at me for directions. I quickly began to move ahead where I could see a field of paddy stretched ahead as he followed me. With each step our hearts were getting filled with joy and enthusiasm as we kept on moving from one field to another. We began to share the basics like names and where we come from. That was all we needed to know about each other, rest was meaningless. His name was Baizanath and he was from a village 40 kms from the city and his father was a landless laborer. I didn’t understand what does it mean to be a landless laborer as all I knew about villages was that it is the place where farmers live and grow fruits and grains which they come to sell in the market where my mother goes every evening. Also that one can really get vegetables very cheaply if you happen to buy it directly from some farmer who has come down to the city market for selling it as typically the sellers in city buy it from the farmers at very cheap rate and sell it at much higher prices in the city. Anyway, he tried in vain to describe to me that it means that his father does not have land of his own for farming and thus works for others who do for a daily labor wage. There was a lot much more which probably he wanted me to know and understand like the fact that it meant his father doesn’t really have work on a lot many days, is paid really low and that Baiznath must have had a very strong luck line and born with really auspicious star combination to have been able to make it to this school which will ensure that he gets food and education for the next seven years and hopefully will be able to do something which will ensure food and a shelter for his family for all the twelve months of the year. As we were moving from one field to another a shift in command was happening as Baiznath was slowly taking over from me in deciding where and how should we walk. We should not walk in the middle of the field as it will damage the crop and if the farmer sees me, we are likely to be chased. Walk on the clay path left in between called “medh” instead. Also he showed me a few weeds in the field and the plant of ‘behaya’ which has a quality of growing where ever it is thrown. Like a man with no real roots it is good for nothing though it knows how to survive in any situation. There was also the small plant of ‘chhui-mui’ whose leave can sense it if you show them your finger and quickly fold themselves up. But while it may be fun to show them your finger it is not advisable to touch them as it can cause rashes to you. I curiously absorbed all that he was saying till we reached a mango groove. There were a few mango trees there and a couple of straw beds and a shed. He told me that the shed is for the farmers to stay at night to protect the crops and the straw bed is what they use to sleep on. I began to climb the mango tree while he was explaining all this to me and soon I was on a low branch of it which was directly above one of the straw beds. I beckoned him to come over but he was little hesitant while I was feeling thrilled at having come so far from where even the desolate school building had begun to look like a get away in the midst of fog. It had begun to dawn and sky had turned deep yellow and sun was about to set. I stood on the tree branch holding the upper tree branch with both hands as I balanced myself on the lower branch. Baiznath anxiously gestured me to come down as if knowing something I do not. I had not felt so happy in a long time and I began to shake the branch I held and the one I stood on and began to look around with my face virtually exploding with joy and enthusiasm. I wanted something dramatic to happen at this moment as I felt ready to take on an adventure and desperately sought it. As I looked around I saw couple of strong built men running towards us with lathi in their hands. The spirit of adventure quickly fizzled as fast as it had grown as I looked ashen faced at Baiznath who had already understood what I must have seen. I quickly looked down and jumped over the straw bed and we began to run away. I was never much of an athlete but moments like these bring the best in you. As I ran desperately, Baiznath appeared more composed and kept telling me to not run so fast else I will exhaust myself soon. But I was not to hear anything from him as I just kept going on while he shouted from behind that they are not chasing us anymore and must have stopped once they saw that we were not really doing any damage to their crop. Soon we were close to the school boundary as I finally stopped to breath and Baiznath caught up with me soon. I collapsed next to the wall with my back against the wall, breathing heavily. Baiznath stood there looking at me, patiently waiting for me to regain composure. I was unable to look him into the eye as I felt ashamed as the way I had run and been afraid of the two men while he was always composed and relaxed. “But then he has lived in the village all his life and knows the tricks while I was doing it for the first time. Only brave men can take such chances. I had had to run as one should in situation they do not fully understand”, I told myself. Filled with these thoughts and ready to face his skeptical and judging eyes with rebel I looked up at him and instead found a set of concerned eyes along with the familiar goofy and obsqueious smile. I didn’t understand his expression but felt more at ease and stretched out my hand for him to help me get up. We quickly crossed the boundary and reached the hand-pump on the backside of the hostel. I washed my hands and legs which had gotten slightly bruised and muddied and drank for long to quench my thirst and anxiety as Baiznath patiently pumped the hand-pump. Once I was done I began to move towards the room gate. As I reached the gate I realized that I was walking alone and looked back to find Baiznath operating pump with one hand and trying to drink water from the other. Something struck me pretty badly inside as I felt very pathetic about it. Not for Baiznath but for myself for being such an insensitive creep. I quickly ran towards the hand pump and began to pump it as Baiznath stood surprised for a while before he broke into a wide smile which was neither goofy nor obsequieous but of genuine warmth and pleasure as he finally bent down to drink water and kept at it for a really long time as I began to tire out. I did not realize that it was the first time someone had done something to him like a human should do to another.


One Comment to “Book in process – opening piece 2”

  1. Keepinmg fingers crossed for the release of your book.
    So that I can buy for my friends to have a look.
    My friends to have a look coz they r not gonna buy.
    Be it good or be it bad but it will be worth a try.

    I know its a bad rhyme but every one can not be a poet…..
    The throne belongs to you.

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