Updated: Jul 23, 2021
Consonance and dissonance
The little Eden sans vicious fruits
With each passing year, the child loved his school more and more. At one edge of the big gate, there's a Cork Tree that welcomes you with the delightful fragrance of its flowers in bloom, while the fallen white tubular flowers lay a carpet for you to step in. The vast assembly ground bordered with Mahogony, English Oak and Soap Berry trees, the assembly hall with arched door and wooden panel flooring, and the grand tiled edifices and chapel in British architecture provides a lovely and lively ambience to the place. On special occasions, the kids assemble in the Assembly Hall, which has a grand piano planted on one side of the stage platform. Sister Audry plays the piano as the kids sing along loud.
Aged five, the child got promoted to 1st standard, and he loved the class and the ambience. Miss Annie, the class teacher, is a lean young lady who always keeps her chin up and hardly smiles. Though she is calm and gentle, the child thought that she is sad or upset with something.
The child has a beautiful garden at home, with lots of roses and dahlias. One day, before he started to leave home for school, he remembered his teacher when he saw the giant dahlias in bloom. He thought it would make her happy, and so, with his mother's permission and help, he took a big dahlia flower in the garden as he set off to school. Of course, he cared to keep it safe from damage, and on the way to school, he envisioned her excitement when he hands over the iridescent, deep purple and violet dahlia to her.
His mind was with the dahlia as the school assembly started with the prayer, "Father, we thank thee for the night, and for the pleasant morning light", followed by the pledge and finally the national anthem. His mind was with the dahlia when he marched with his classmates into the classroom after the assembly. He kept the flower ready as the teacher entered the room. The students greeted the teacher, and before things got settled, he moved forward and handed the flower to her with a sheepish smile. She received the flower, kept a stiff upper lip, said, "Thank you, " and walked out of the class with it. He expected she would return wearing it on her hair, but she returned without the flower. The child sat lost in thoughts while she was busy teaching some lesson from the Radiant Reader. At the first break, he ran out to check whether she has kept the flower on her table in the staff room. No, it's not there. Dejected, he returned to the class and abruptly, he saw the dahlia placed in front of the giant statue of Mother Mary in the corridor. The child felt disappointed as he believed that his teacher didn't like his gift, and just like the teacher, he kept his chin up the rest of the day.
His father was quite determined to make him a scholar and so was keen to arrange tuition classes for the kid after school hours. He met the class teacher, and she humbly refused the request. So he took the child to Marrey teacher, a graceful, old Anglo-Indian lady who resides close to the school. Marrey teacher's old tiled house is in a compound with lots of plants and trees. The furniture is of colonial style, and along with some framed photographs, a velvet Japanese painted wall hanging banner and an antique pendulum clock decorated the walls. There is a chime hanging few feet inside the front door, and the child loved its continuous soft chime.
Marrey teacher wears sober-coloured frocks and has bobbed salt and pepper hair. She welcomed the kid with a token smile and asked him to sit on a tall bench with a desk in front. She sat beside, on a cane chair with cushions. With her head bent, peeking through from above her thick-framed spectacles, like an interview, she asked, "What's your name, child?". The kid proudly and somewhat loudly told his name. It was followed by the unexpected immediate question, "What's your father?". Confused, he wondered whether she thought his father is an ape or something. Right then, she got distracted by something, and lucky for her, she hurried inside without listening to his reply. She would have died laughing if she heard the child feebly yet rather boldly mumble, "He's a man".
The child, who never sleeps in the daytime, tried his best to be awake at Marrey teacher's house. She makes him write while she frequently goes to the kitchen for cooking. Occasionally she would come to check the developments, chewing a piece of meat, like chewing gum. Once she leaves, he would be struggling to keep himself awake with the sound of the breeze on the leaves of the big oak tree that stands covering the tiled house and the lullaby of the melodious chime accompanied by the tapping sound of the acorns falling on the roof. Though he felt sleepy, he loved the place. Marrey teacher was too gentle and caring like a grandma.
When the child got promoted to the second standard, his class teacher, Miss Catherine Periera, agreed to tutor him at her home. The first day, back home from school, he was taken to her house at dusk. The kid got a bit disconcerted with the thought of being left at a new place, especially at a time of the day that he loved to be at home. The house is hardly half a kilometre from home, but the child felt it's very far. On the way, there are few flour mills, and he could hear 'Tharakaroopini' blaring on the radio from somewhere. The song made him sad, and so he loathed the smell of fresh flour and the sound of those flour mill motors. However, once he reached the teacher's home, he liked the place, as he found it lively and pleasant.
Boy students have to leave the school after the fourth standard, so they consider themselves 'senior' when they reach fourth. Within four years at the school, other than what he's taught, the child also learned that, for survival, it's necessary to react rather than to take things lying down. Though he is the most well-behaved boy in the class, he didn't let others outsmart or bully him.
His old nursery mate Deepti is the class leader. She has changed a lot, though not for the better. He didn't like her serious attitude that she pretends to be superior and do not even smile. When the teacher leaves the class, she instructs the class leader to note down the names of those students who talk. The class leader notes down the names of boys only, except her old friend Pravin. She would note down other's names, even if they sneeze. Once the teacher is back, she metes out the most 'severe disciplinary action' that one could imagine. Anyhow, the kid just loved the punishment. He's often punished and made to sit along with the girls.
Though the usual punishment is to make one stand near the wall, the teacher probably pardoned him as she might have rightly reckoned that he might have talked, provoked by his bench mates.
The very instant he gets punished, he would rush to sit with Karthika and Deepika. Deepika covers her mouth with one hand and giggles even if he moves, and though he wondered what she found so funny, he enjoyed playing the jester and loved to see her giggle. Karthika is soft-spoken, poised and elegant. The eight-year-old boy felt that he knew her for ages. Something made him sense she is inseparable and loved everything about her. The sweet smell of her hair, the fresh smell of her starched and ironed uniform, the twinkle in her eyes and the dimples on her rosy cheeks when she smiles, everything attracted him. He didn't know what's his feeling for her, but he loved her without knowing what it is.
He gifted her many of those 'precious' things from his valuable collection of vivid tiny glass crystal stones, blazingly coloured gilt paper strips, colourful feathers including a peacock feather, and flowers from the garden at his home. One day he gifted her a small bunch of colour paper strips, and he gleefully watched her delicately keep it safe inside her foreign-made, beautiful pencil box, with a gleam in her eyes. Soon it was lunch break, and when he hurried back to the class after lunch, he saw her at her seat with her head bent down.
He asked, "Karthika, what's wrong?" and from the quiver of her torso, he realised that she's sobbing. He held her hand and asked again, and the sobbing escalated. He gently lifted her chin to see tears rolling down her blushed cheeks. With one hand covering her eyes, gasping for breath, she pointed at Ramesh and said, " He grabbed and stole the papers you gifted me". Downhearted seeing her cry, he promised her that he would get her more of those colour papers the next day. Even though her sobbing slowly subsided, her tears broke the child's heart. In the evening before leaving the class, he promised her again, and on the way back home and at home, his heart was feeling heavy remembering her crying face. At home, late at night, he was busy preparing new paper bundles for her, as his mom kept reminding him that it's bedtime. He didn't stop even though he's sleepy and weary and continued his work with a bleeding finger which got cut when the blade slipped. He kept the bundles safe in his bag and dozed off, with the day's incidents replaying in his mind.
The next day morning, he was longing to go to school and gift the papers to Karthika. He saw her in the assembly and felt happy when she smiled at him. As Deepti didn't get an opportunity to monitor the class, unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to sit with Karthika. Yet, at the first break itself, he hurriedly approached her with a smile and handed over the paper bundles.
Her beaming smile and gleaming eyes warmed his heart, and when he happily returned to his seat, he could see Ramesh watch her tidily arrange the bundles in her pencil box. When she lifted her head, she, too, saw the villain watching her. The child's heart sank as she looked at him, tensed and helpless. While the teachers were busy with lessons, his mind was busy devising plans to thwart Ramesh from snatching away the papers. He finally planned to attack the villain with 'paper bullets' if he attempts any misadventure. Paper bullets are V-shaped thickly folded paper bits used as projectiles, fired using a stretched rubber band, like slingshots or catapults. At the lunch break, he skipped his lunch to keep watch and was busy making paper bullets. He stopped once when he felt convinced that he has enough ammunition. After the lunch break, right when the bell rang, the children rushed back to their seats, and he could see Ramesh rush towards Karthika. The vigilant hero took out his weapon and started showering the 'villain' with those projectiles. The 'villain', taken by surprise, turned away from Karthika, who was on the verge of tears. That very moment the teacher entered the class with her eyes on the kid who is busy with his weapon. Followed the loud command "Anuj stand up". The kid was happy that his plan worked successfully, and he didn't feel any guilt or regret.
She asked, "Why did you do that?" and approached him. She opened his pencil box and found many more of his ammunition in it. She repeated, "Tell me, why did you do that?". The child boldly replied, "He hurt my wife yesterday. He was about to do it today too, and I wanted to stop him.". With a hard to read visage, the teacher hurried out of the class. The class was unusually silent, and as the kid stood confused, the teacher returned with all the teachers in the staff room. Addressing them aloud, she said, "You know, I have a husband and wife in my class", and burst out laughing. She walked closer to him and rather loudly said, "Hello husband, please introduce your wife to the other teachers". The baffled kid pointed out Karthika, and as there was loud laugher all around, he was apprehensive whether it would make her cry. Her innocent, smiling face soothed his mind as it conveyed that she is sure he would never do anything to hurt her. "Any more husbands and wives in the class?" the teacher asked, followed by another bout of hysterical laughter before the crowd dispersed. She asked him to be seated and warned Ramesh not to repeat such odious deeds.
After a few more months its exams and after that he has to leave the school forever.
After the vacation, when the exam results were declared, he was taken to the school, and his eyes desperately kept searching her everywhere around. She came running towards him from the porch of the chapel and just stood beside him with a smile, thrilled and gasping. Holding hands, without uttering a word, they strolled around the ground watching the shadows of trees dance on the floor. Holding hands, they listened to a Koel's desperate call answered by its mate from somewhere far. Holding hands, they stood, watching the mahogany seeds spiralling down towards them from above. Soon he got summoned to return home. He reluctantly eased the grip from her moist, tender hand and walked back, looking back again and again as she stood watching him leave. The child felt like he is getting separated from his mother forever. It seemed like he lost his soul. With a weak smile to conceal his true feelings, he helplessly moved away as she kept watching him walk out of the gate and vanish. He could hear "Ishtapraneshwari" playing on the radio from some shop at the roadside on the way back with a heavy heart. Back home, the child lauded at home and the neighbourhood as 'the kid who never cries', ran to the bathroom and silently cried his heart out.
He loved the song, but the child's heart sank whenever he hears it from then on.