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Life’s teachings

Aarti  usually went for a walk after dropping Medha at the bus stop. It was at the return when she met Mrs. Panicker. ‘How are you Mrs. Panicker?’,

Mrs. Panicker gave a lame smile and said, ‘Fine’ and carried on.

‘Someone not well Mrs. Panicker, why these medicines’, asked Aarti.

Mrs. Panicker sighed and said, ‘Sahana is not well Mrs. Mittal. She has severe viral infection. You know how it is. Her fever is not coming down. And she has been missing school for the past week. And summatives are up next week. I am worried’.

‘Don’t worry Mrs. Panicker, everything will be alright. And don’t worry about summatives, she will be fine by then. Also you can copy Medha’s notes, I will send it in the evening…..’, said Aarti.

‘NO, no Mrs. Mittal, we will manage, no need of Medha’s notes’, said Mrs. Panicker and hurried away.

Aarti kept on looking her way. From a past few days she had observed that Medha was left alone. Very few of  the colony children would talk to her. Most would keep a distance. What could be the reason?

In the evening Aarti went to Mrs. Panickers place laden with fruits and Medha’s class notes.

Mrs. Panicker opened the door but obviously she was astonished. ‘I brought some fruits and notes for Sahana’, said Aarti and stepped in. She saw a very weak Sahana sitting on the couch. And said, “hey Sahana….how are you darling, see I have brought you Medha’s notes, you don’t have to worry about studies now…’

‘Medha’s notes??, I don’t want Medha’s notes’, Sahana said and with teary eyes looked at her mother and said, ‘why did you ask?’

‘I didn’t’, said Mrs. Panicker but by then Sahana had rushed to her room.

There was a heavy silence in the room. And then Mrs. Panicker said, ‘Thank you Mrs. Mittal but we won’t be needing  Medha’s notes.’

Mrs. Panicker, will you explain to me why Sahana does not want Medha’ss notes’, Asked Aarti.

‘No, nothing like that, you know children when they are weak behave in weird ways’, said Mrs. Panicker.

‘I don’t believe that Mrs. Panicker. I have observed that from some days none of the colony children want to play with Medha. So there must be something. Please tell me Mrs. Panicker. I want to correct my daughter if she is wrong. Please I insist.’

Mrs. Panicker looked embarrassed but then began to speak, ‘Medha is of course, brilliant, sharp. Obviously her IQ is high but then…’

‘Please tell Mrs. Panicker, please don’t hesitate’, insisted Aarti

‘Medha thinks very highly of herself Mrs. Mittal and makes fun of others. You know my Sahana doesn’t speak very good English, so she teases Sahana about her accent. My Sahana is a sensitive child Mrs. Mittal and it affects her. Medha shows of her superiority in everything and that is why none of the kids like to play with her any more.’

Aarti was shocked. She mumbled a thanks and left.

Over the past few days Aarti just observed Sahana. And found out that what Mrs. Panicker had said was true. At every given opportunity Medha would boast or show her superiority and Aarti knew that, that habit of hers had to be set right.

Medha was excited. The next day was the open day at school. She wanted her parents to meet her teachers, especially she wanted them to meet Teacher Angela. Angela teacher liked her a lot and she knew that she would praise her in front of her parents.

She told her parents what to wear and instructed them to speak good english as Angela teacher spoke very good english.

It was then that Aarti had a brain wave.

The next day Medha proudly took her parents to Angela teacher. After the formalities were over. Aarti asked some questions in faltering English.

Medha was devastated and she looked around checking that no one was listening. Then she signalled to her mother but her mother ignored her completely.

The rest of the meeting went on like that and then they stood up to leave, when Aarti spoke, ‘Sorry my english is not so good’

‘Oh that is ok Mrs. Mittal. A famous person has said, Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language‘, she said with a smile and added, ‘one can’t judge anyone on their language, can you. It is the character that matters’.

Medha was thoughtful on their return home.

Aarti looked at her from the corner of her eyes. She hoped that she had learnt a lesson today. In the coming days she would learn some more.

 

Arjun learns a lesson

Arjun and Saket were playing cricket. Mishra aunty called them and said, ‘Arjun, Saket, It is so hot. Why are you playing cricket now?’

Arjun looked at her and said, ‘Dadi, its our vacations now and we are getting bored at home’

‘But beta, it is hot now, you will fall sick’, said Mishra aunty.

The boys kept playing.

After some time Mishra aunty called them, Saket, Arjun come, I have made some shikanji, It is so refreshing’.

The boys could not resist the cool drink and ran towards Dadi’s home

And while they munched on some biscuits and had some cool shikanji, Dadi was busy. She kept a mango in the centre of some funny apparatus which had a wooden plank with a knife attached to it. The plank had a depression in the centre. Dadi kept a mango in the depression and brought the knife down. Cutting the mango into two neat halves. Then she kept each half and then bisected them again.

‘What are you doing, dadi’, asked Saket

‘Cutting mangoes’, told Dadi simply.

‘Yes’, but for what’, asked Saket

‘For pickles. After I cut them, I will apply some salt and some haldi and keep it in the sun for some time’, said Dadi

‘Arjun, will  you help me in cutting these mangoes’, said she

‘Me, why?? I am not a girl’, said he.

‘And what do you mean by that’, Dadi asked

‘Only girls do this work. I mean all this kitchen work’, said he.

‘And what are boys supposed to do?’, asked Dadi.

‘Umm, drive cars, go to office….’said Arjun

‘Why then does you mom drive a car and go to office’, said dadi, And I have seen your father cooking sometimes’.

‘Oh that is when mom is sick or too busy’, said he.

‘Oh then why does Sanjiv Kapoor become a chef, after all cooking is a girl’s job’, retorted Dadi

All this was confusing Arjun. He had just assumed that cooking was a girl’s domain and had never thought more than that.

‘Beta, one should know or at least try to know everything. There is nothing as boys work and girls work’, said dadi.

Saket meanwhile was trying his hand in cutting mangoes. He squealed in delight as one piece flew and fell far away. After a few strokes but he was cutting fine.

Arjun’s hand itched to try tha apparatus once. But he felt shy. finally curiosity took over and he asked, ‘May I try it once’.

In no time both boys were taking turns and having a good time.

Dadi smiled. She had managed to put some sense in Arjun and whats more a full bag of mangoes had been cut for making pickle. Her work had been simplified.

Mummy hurried to make dinner, she had been late from office and she was sure Arjun must be famished. As such she felt guilty on leaving him alone the full day and if she didn’t give him food at right times she felt even more guilty.

Arjun came into the kitchen.

‘Wait son, just 15 more minutes and I will serve you dinner’, said she

‘No mama, it is alright, I came to help you. Do you need help in cutting vegetables??’, he asked

His mom meanwhile stared at him in shock.

 

 

 

 

To group or not to group…..

Jini moved in bed and then a hand popped out searching for her mobile. Pavan had already opened the curtains and the sunrays peeped in. ‘Good morning world’, she typed, ‘good to see the sun after the evil dust storm’. Pavan looked and sighed. Nowadays he was afraid to even speak to her lest it found its way in her whatsapp messages.

Sometime later he sat working on the report which he had to send immediately to Oman. As he switched on the wi-fi on his mobile, it started beeping. He let out a sigh. What was the need for so many messages. Often repeated on multiple groups. ‘Does anyone read them’, he murmured.

Jini  came in, ‘Hi, good morning’, she said, ‘somebody is grumpy….what happened?’

‘Does anyone read these junk messages which keep on forwarding from one group to another’, he said

‘But then some are useful’, she said.

‘Like if you drink two litres of water, your digestion improves and…..’,

‘Like you didn’t know already? And why do we have to have so many groups? There is my school alumni group, college alumni group, …….’, he said

But don’t you feel good to be back in touch with your friends?’, she asked.

‘Yes, it does but what is the need for my office colleagues group, don’t we meet everyday’

And then there is Nikita’s school parent group….what is the purpose of the group. I would rather exit that group’, he said.

‘oh no, don’t do that. That way we know whats going on in school’, she said

‘But all I see is silly messages and jokes’, he countered

And what about this building group. what is the need for that. I can just go and knock someones door if I want to ask something,’ he said

‘The owner created that group so that he can communicate to everyone in one go’, she said.

‘And what about this family group’, he began

‘Oh let it be, we all can be in touch through that group’, Jini said

The phone beeped again. Pavan switched off the wi-fi. Jini meanwhile was punching in a new status, ‘ To group or not to group is the question in the better half’s mind’

Pavan thought a little and then switched on the wi-fi, for the first time he punched in his status, ‘ I am a social animal who thrives in isolation, please don’t add me in groups’. Please…..please……_/\_

 

Life and an icecream

He sat by the corner. I could see that he was upset. I went and sat by him.

‘What happened?’, I asked

‘I hate my teacher’, he said.

My son as such loves going to school but somehow he was not able to relate to the new class and the new teacher.

‘it is a new class, you will take time getting used to it’, I said.

‘it is already one week’, he said.

I sighed.

‘Sometimes it takes a little bit longer’, I said.

He shrugged and then said, ‘ I don’t want to go to school’.

That hit me…hard.

‘See sonny, you have to go to school, school gives the basis to get a good job. And when you get a good job,  you can do as you please’. I said

‘Huh’, he said

‘What?’ I said

‘You are in a good job, aren’t you? But you crib all the time. About your boss keeping high targets, about your co-workers back stabbing. Whats more you can’t do as you please, so what is the use of having a good job, what is the use of going to school?’

I stared at him with my mouth agape. He had his point.

My son was growing up….he observed….a lot.

‘Come let’s have an ice cream’, I said

‘Mamma will scold’, he said

I shrugged and said, “I will have a sugar-free one’, I said.

We had our cone ice creams, he a strawberry, me a sugar-free vanilla.

‘You know life is like an ice cream’, I said

‘Huh?’, he said

‘Sometimes it is cold, sometimes soft and always it looks tough like the waffle here. but then it gives the crunch. So it is with life, it looks tough, it is sometimes hard, sometimes it is a breeze but the important thing is you enjoy each bit because they become memories’, I said.

He looked at me as if with new understanding.

‘Thats what you talk about with Suresh Uncle’, He said

I nodded, Suresh was my childhood pal. Whenever he came to town, we reminisced about bike rides and movies and of our dreaded Physics teacher and so on.

‘So enjoy this bitter-sweet moments’, I said

He smiled.

*fiction

 

 

 

SAVIOR -Part V

For earlier part click here

Kittu whenever he came to his hometown would try to put some sense in Mohan about the importance of education but to no avail. For Mohan who had always been pampered by everyone, who had got everything easily, studying was a pain. And so Raghav thought it was better if he started working than to become a wayward.

Whenever Kittu and Harish would get some holidays they would take their bicycles and roam. It was at one of those holidays that Harish told of his family. He told of his siblings, of how they were surviving amidst odds. A philanthropic father who served others forgetting his own children; of how he and his elder brother had worked odd jobs to support their family, of his sister who wanted to study but could not. Of how lovely she was, how modest, loving and kind she was. And at that moment Kittu promised Harish that he would marry his sister-Karuna once he got a job.

 

Kittu’s troubles were not yet over. There was a slump in the market and he did not get a job as soon as he graduated. And he did not want to go back and be a burden on his brothers. So he took up a job in nearby Mangalore. A job which seldom paid him. He was taken in as an apprentice but the statutory stipend was seldom paid and so he again took up tutoring to fund himself. It was after some months that he came to know of Bhilai-the steel plant in Madhya Pradesh that was going to come up and for which recruitment was on.

He was selected.

What followed was uproar. His mother was aghast as to how her son would manage alone in an alien place. Karuna fainted. Others felt that he had betrayed his dharma. It was Harish who stood rock solid beside him.

Kittu’s possessions were little but his dreams were not. As he travelled on the wooden planks of the India Railways from Mangalore to Madras, then to Nagpur and then to Bhilai, he fixed up goals to be achieved in the coming months.

The training was tough for others but not for Kittu. Life had hardened him and made him strong. His first home was in a tent until the accommodation was readied. The first thing he bought himself was not a pair of trousers but a bicycle which he would use to cycle himself from home to the plant and to travel about.

The group of youngsters had fire in the belly and dreams in their eyes. Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement of temples of modern India ignited them.

Kittu worked hard. He and Savitri communicated regularly. Once he had accumulated enough, he along with his sister Savitri with the help of a third party bought their ancestral home from their aunt and uncle. If they had gone to buy it themselves, his uncle would never had sold it to them.

The look on Rukmini’s face was enough for Kittu. The family moved back into their home. And after a few days of holidaying, Kittu returned to Bhilai where a surprise awaited him. He had been chosen with some others to be sent on training to Russia.

He was proud. He sent message back home but there a  pandemonium broke out. The people of their community said that it was not right for him to go beyond the country, his religion would be lost. Some said that the family would be an outcast. Rukmini was in a dilemma. What was she to do whether to follow the dictates of society or let him follow his dreams?

Radha came forward then and said, ‘Amma where were these so-called pillars of society when we were thrown out of our home’

Rukmini got some strength from her words. But she was worried about how Karuna and her family would feel. True they were only betrothed but Karuna’s family may object to Kittu’s training in Russia. So she called upon Harish.

Harish upon hearing that Kittu had been selected for training in Russia, started dancing in joy.

‘Will your people have any objection?’, asked Rukmini

‘Objection, why? It is such an honour, Mayi. Why will they object?’, said Harish. Rukmini’s worries melted away.

 

Kittu returned from Russia with new vigour. The training had been good, now it was time for implementing what he had learnt. Also there was something more which he was looking forward to. His and Karuna’s wedding had been fixed two months hence. A wait of over six years was finally being culminated in marriage. He felt pride that a promise that he had made of marrying without any dowry to a girl who was good natured, intelligent and hardworking was going to be fulfilled.

 

Rukmini looked around with pride at the banner which read, KARUNA WEDS KRISHNA. The boy who had always given her trouble for food and otherwise was today getting married to a lovely lady. Even in her wildest dreams she had not imagined that the imp of a boy would strive to do something which would change the course of the entire family.

It had all been possible because his teacher had challenged him to earn his own tuition fees.

‘Ahh Rao sahib, welcome to the wedding of your pupil’, she said welcoming the visionary teacher unto the wedding hall.

———

And with this I conclude this series. If you have not guessed it yet, let me tell you that this is the story of my father. A person who fought destiny to pave his own path. He celebrates his 78th birthday in two weeks time. Please keep him in your prayers.

SAVIOR-Part IV

(For earlier part click here)

Meanwhile their two sisters had to be married off. And married off they were to widowers almost twice their age.

At that time Kittu pledged that whenever he married, it would be to someone who was good natured, intelligent and hardworking and not because her family had money. Money would be the least in his criterion, he decided.

His two brothers who had dropped out of school because of their family conditions took care of educating themselves nevertheless. The elder Raghav started his provision shop and the other brother Sudarshan also opened his own shop in another nearby town.

Kittu meanwhile funded his own education and gave the surplus to his mother. Now they were staying in a rented place which was far better than the shed they had been forced to stay earlier.

Kittu passed his Intermediate with flying colours and then was eligible to join Engineering but the question was how to pay for the fees. And so he opted for Diploma. His sister Savitri who stayed in the city invited him to stay with them. But the original problem still remained….how to pay fees. Though Savitri was fairly well off, he did not want to be a burden on her. Studies were hard too, so he had very less time to work but work he had to.

It was at that time he came in contact with Harish. Harish was a man of similar circumstances who had to work as a truck driver to earn some money. He and a couple of his friends all of them had been forced by situations to quit studies. And Kittu had a brilliant idea to start a ‘tutorial’ for them. He borrowed books on simple mathematics, geography, science and some scripture too. Whatever his students offered he accepted as fees he accepted. Someone gave a bag of rice, someone an old pair of trousers and some plain currency. And so in the Hall of his sister’s residence, Kittu’s adult education centre flourished.

Savitri’s husband Mani, loved Kittu as his own and so whatever good Kittu did, Mani offered his support whole heartedly. Owing to malnutrition at a young age on part of Savitri and advanced age factors on part of Mani, they did not have any children of their own. But there was this family whom they had befriended who had about six children and out of those six, one Mani cherished. The family would have gladly given him to Mani for it was difficult for them to feed so many. But the times were different then. Adoption was frowned upon and that too among different castes.

It was Kittu and his troop who stood up for Mani and Savitri. They adopted the cherub and named him Prakash. And though the society gave troubles, Kittu and his friends saw that the small family wasp protected. For some time none of the shopkeepers gave any provisions, Savitri was not allowed to draw water from the common well, people spat on the path Mani walked, his business dwindled but after some time when people saw that nothing could deter Mani and Savitri, their opposition died its own death.

For Mani and Savitri, Kittu became even more precious. And for his students an example, that if you believed in something, you could remain steadfast on it.

His eldest brother Raghav meanwhile got married and he moved to another house nearby. Sudarshan was doing well too in another city. Raghav came to know of another shop available on rent and so he took it and gave his old shop to the youngest, the darling of all, Mohan.

Mohan though the darling of all was not that enterprising. Though circumstances were favourable for him, he did not study beyond his eighth grade.(to be continued)

SAVIOR- Part III

For the earlier part, read here

Next day it was a silent Kittu who went to school.

‘Well, young man, have you brought the school fees’, it was Rao Sir.

‘No, my mother could not arrange it’, he said.

‘What do you mean by that, if she couldn’t then you do’

‘What, ME?’ said Kittu, ‘What will I be able to do?’

‘Why??? You can’t do anything?? Have you seen boys delivering newspapers, have you seen boys singing in the streets and then earning some money…’

‘I am not a beggar, I will not beg’, said the defiant Kittu.

‘Then work,’ said Rao Sir, ‘it is better than bossing over others’. Rao sir who knew about Kittu’s behaviour at home said. ‘Do anything but bring the fees in two days time.’ And as an afterthought he added, ‘The Tent Company has returned and people are queuing up for seeing some moving pictures.’ Those days there were no movie theaters. There would be companies showing these movies that would move from place to place with their tents. In which those movies would be shown.

Kittu sat in absolute silence trying to digest whatever Rao sahib. Slowly the fact of their financial position was sinking in. Yes, they were now poor, so poor that most of the days his mother and sister had to sleep hungry. So poor that his or rather any of his siblings education could not be funded by his mother. So if he really had to study then he had to fund it himself.

But what had Rao Sir said later. The Tent Company were in town. So what was he to do about it?

He sat for a long time.

Rao Sir meanwhile was talking to Rukmini. ‘Forgive me sister, but today I was harsh to your son’.

‘Did he do something wrong?’, asked Rukmini.

‘No, but I wanted to make him realise what situation you are in. He is a bright kid who will do wonders but he has to be independent now itself for that. He has to learn how.’

‘But how….’, said Rukmini.

‘I have planted the seeds, let’s see what happens. Meanwhile take these two rupees and do as I say’, said Rao Sir.

Kittu could not fathom what Rao Sir had told him. Then he called upon Suresh his classmate, ‘Suresh have you been to the Tent’.

‘Yes, I have’, said Suresh proudly.

‘What do you do there’, asked Kittu

‘We watch films and we eat…. candy and peanuts and….’, said he with dreamy eyes.

Something clicked and Kittu ran. As soon as the bell rang, he ran. He had lots of work to do. The day was long and there were loads to do.

‘Amma, amma I have a plan’, said Kittu and explained to his mother what he wanted to do. He wanted to sell peanuts outside the Tent.

His mother said how difficult it would be for her to finance his project but she would do it for his sake. So from that day onwards she would fry peanuts and fill them in triangular packs of old newspaper.

And then Kittu would take those in wicker baskets and go sell it outside the Tent.

He could not accumulate his school fees in two days but he did do it in seven.

There were two-three people selling peanuts but Kittu had an edge. The people who did not come to watch movies would flock around him for he would sing the songs and enact dialogues for those who could not afford to watch the movies. Slowly his brother too started standing with him selling weeklies and booklets of the songs from movies.

When there were no customers Kittu would sit and study with the help of the light from the lantern. His brother would ward off flies from their stall while in turn selling booklets.

(to  be continued)