Once upon a time, there was a boy called SJ. He studied in a school named SMA. Once it so happened, that he asked his mother for some money. She gave it happily for it was his birthday and SJ had wanted to give a treat to his friends at school. SJ was delighted on getting the money. In fact, he had drooled right there and then at the thought of the treat. Smartly dressed, he left for school. He was fair-complexioned and had neatly combed hair with a side-parting. So prim and proper he looked that it was impossible not be deceived into believing that he had actually taken a bath. In fact, he used to claim that he bathed everyday – even in winters. Anyway, not only was he a handsome young boy, he also could boast of a special privilege. He used to travel to school in a car. A privilege enjoyed by few. This, however, was not exactly special. What made his peers red with envy was the fact he used to travel in a car with a teacher. It was no ordinary teacher but one straight out of the world of fantasy. The prettiest young woman a boy could hope to have as a teacher. And our hero had her company outside school as well. He drools, even today, as he recollects those times.
He reached school in time and took his position in his class-row for the morning assembly. He mumbled the Lord’s Prayer – ate more words than he uttered. As he said ‘our holy-bread,’ his mind took a flight of fancy and took him to last evening when he saw himself eating fried squares of bread out of a creamy tomato soup. He liked the bread more than the soup – that too of tomato! A vegetable, he’ll hate in times to come. However, his mind returned to the Lord’s Prayer. But this time, he deliberately ate a word. In fact, most boys used to give that word a miss. No ordinary word, mind you. He mumbled, “All Indians are our brothers and...” That threatening word is best omitted from a young boy’s vocabulary. The prayer finished with a resounding, loud ‘Amen.’ After the prayer, there was some speech given by Bro Paul. Too much of English, in too weird an accent to pay attention too. It was all humbug anyway. Then started the school-song, “Hail school of sendmarryzaa ... ” The bit that was sung loudest by the young boys was a line inspiring them to grow “muscles more manly each day.” One of us has taken this line to heart. Incidentally, it was on this day that that boy had attempted doing push-ups. He did 20 at a stretch! Impossible for a boy of that age. Sounds fictitious, but true. As true as truth is true. Another stout, dark-complexioned boy, who had an oily-face, some strands of grey already, would think of the Congress. Nothing to do with politics. It is just that he always thought the word ‘comrades,’ in the school-song, was ‘congress.’ It was the time of Vajpayee. He too, that very day, had gone home and read the entire newspapers at one go. Honestly.
The assembly rituals over, the files moved to their respective – not especially respected at that time though – classrooms. Our hero’s mind had been wandering throughout the duration of the morning assembly. Once he entered the classroom, he took his seat. As per the rotation-policy, he had the delight of sitting on the last bench of the middle-row. It was a much sought-after seat. This seat is even more special than the last seats of the side-rows. The teachers, mostly old and lazy with knee-problems, would sit on their chair and teach. The heads of those sitting in front of the back-benchers would obstruct the teacher’s vision considerably. SJ had the added advantage of having taller students sitting in front of him. As soon as he took his seat, he started committing the highest offence as per the laws of the School Penal Code. He started to talk. The buzz of voices settled as the attendance began. Present mams, Yes mams, Absent mams all were uttered in different notes. Our hero, SJ, felt a sneeze to be building up and took out a hanky from his pocket. Sneeze over. He made a strange sound that caused the heads to turn around and attracted a glare from the teacher in his direction. Khrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr... No one had a clue as to what had gotten into him. Some faces looked positively afraid, some seemed amused. The teacher scowled, frowned and shouted at him. He stood-up and apologized. The matter settled. Had the teacher been in a bad mood, because of some issues at home with her mother-in-law, she would have set his name in The Conduct Book. That would have meant genuine trouble. However, a voice shouted out of nowhere, “Mam, today is SJ’s birthday.” The birthday-song was sung. He became the star-attraction for a while. Then all settled down.
Our hero lowered his head as he re-took his seat after the song and saw a crumpled note of Rs 50 lying near his not-so-well-polished leather shoes. It had fallen as he was taking out the hanky from his trouser-pocket. The note got his mind back on the treat. Till 10:10 am, he would have to wait. The four periods would seem four days. Nothing much would happen in the classes anyway. The second period was the drawing period, our SJ was thinking. This thought took him back to last week’s drawing period. He had no oil-pastels with him on that day. He had lent his own to his friend, who had forgotten to get them to class. The too-well-powdered drawing teacher had rapped the knuckles, of both, with a wooden-scale. Not from the flat side, that is. Forgetting, borrowing and lending are simply not allowed. They are inhuman attributes. Or maybe the goddess of wrath suspected that they had been lying. An attribute of the Devil, Satan. Besides, she had made our hero’s right ear red-hot. Her pointed, sharp nails were serious ammunition. However, on this occasion, the drawing period went by without any major casualties – a rarity.
The bell rang. The interval between two periods is ample time for students to do several things. Some pick up fights for fun, the serious ones perform the ritual of resting the head on the table to rest to be fresher for the next class, some do the same out of pure laziness. Some like our SJ transform into dacoits and starving children, both at once. Before the English teacher could enter the class, our SJ robbed tiffins of those who were gentle and pleaded for a share from the strong. However, he had raided one tiffin too many. While he was gobbling a sandwich, the teacher entered. SJ ducked with brilliant agility as a batsman does when Styen aims one at the head at 95mph. Our SJ, indeed, grew up to be a technically sound batsman. Has to watch his leg-stump sometimes, though. He had avoided getting caught but a fellow student gave him away. That big-boy, with bifurcated spectacles (a term that he had invented himself) was caught red-handed. That boy would go on to be a glutton of the highest order and would never return borrowed jackets. He told on our hero to avoid being singled out for punishment. Getting punished alone is almost as serious as an existential crisis. Getting punished in company is much nicer and at times, even fun. Our hero kept denying the accusation of being a glutton. Gluttony is another sin. The English teacher called him a hypocrite. The class laughed. The teacher yelled. Silence. Our SJ felt confused and lost. He was asked to stand near the dust-bin. He had enough time to mull over the recent catastrophe. He had been called a hippo-something. He got a scrambled head. He wasn’t fat by any means and fair too. How can he be a hippo! SJ spent the whole period thinking about the insult. There were a handful of girls in the class. ‘They would be giggling forever at me,’ he thought. After this, his thoughts acquired a will of their own. He had no control over them and felt dizzy. Thinking of the girls he recollected that once while bending to pick up a pencil-sharpener he had seen... He immediately throttled that vision. The incident had filled him with shame and excitement. Much to his relief, the bell rang to signal the end of the third period. He didn’t miss much. It was the English class. Useless subject. Worse teacher.
Only the Maths period. Then, there would be the treat. Our boy used to relish this period in the time-table. It was his stage. In times to come, he will be on the stage and own it. Maths was a piece of cake for him. Was it cake or aloo-bake! On this day, however, his mind was up to mischief. The teacher had written sums on the board. Difficult for the rest, not for SJ. Having dodged and passed them in no time, he felt like Beckham. His two partners were too disinterested to even attempt the sums. They had a bad reputation. Had SJ’s mother known about the company her son keeps, our hero would have had a nice time for sure. But it wasn’t to be. The three-tiny-naughty-tots! One of the two was telling strange things to SJ and the third. He seemed more experienced in that particular field. Our hero went red with shame at a proposal made by the senior pro. With giggles and hushed voices they coaxed each other to show and see. Our hero, like Hamlet, was in a dilemma.
Was it to be or not to be?
For him to see or not to see.
And show too! This incident has become a private legend amongst some. The push-up boy can be credited for it. Our hero denies it outright, though. It is like that eternal human quest to know the truths of the universe. It cannot be settled. However, there is a wry-sly smile on our hero’s face when he denies the charges. He shows his big-white front-teeth while doing so. This physical attribute adds to the specialty of his nose that points towards a straight mid-off. Finally, the moment arrived. The bell rang at 10:10 am. Our hero, by his pure genius, managed to rush out of the class before the rest. With his exemplary swiftness, he simply vanished out of sight. Perhaps, he wanted to buy eatables for his friends before the canteen gets attacked by a mob of hungry stomachs, which get 20 minutes of respite from the drudgery of the time-table. None had an idea of where he had disappeared. His friends went to find him at their usual spot. Our SJ went to the canteen. Asked the fat-bald canteen owner to give him chowmien. The owner asked, ‘How many?’ SJ said, ‘Uncle, one.’ The bald-man made a grumpy face. A fifty rupee note for a plate of chowmein worth five rupees! He gave our hero the plateful. SJ drooled as he inhaled the aroma of the dark-brown, oily worms. He carried it to an obscure part of the playground. There, away from the greedy-eyes of this cruel world, he dug into his treat. He took in mouthfuls and sucked in the ends hanging from his mouth. Our lion had tasted blood. He repeated the process as if his mind had been programmed to operate in a loop. On six more occasions he repeated the drill. To the canteen, into a jostling crowd of students, money, one plate, back to the corner, huge mouthfuls. What a treat he had! The punishments, the seeing, the filthy thoughts, hippo whatever, all were defeated by our hero. His weapon, his treat.
That very night, he had a dream as he slept wrapped in a blanket. Blankets become necessary when 1st September is turned into 1st January by a brilliant AC. This is what he saw (Saw too much, didn’t he?) in the dream. He is going alone to a swimming-pool to have a lovely swim. He takes position at the edge to dive. He dives. No splash of water! He gets immersed in something. Manages to pop his head out and sees something yellow all around. He realizes. Tears of joy moisten his eyes and his mouth drools like a stream. It is a pool of Maggi. A pool of saliva collects on his pillow.
On waking up, he feels happy. He vows to live this dream one day.
Mind you! He is not doing a bad job at all.