My childhood was like a mini-tour even though my father never served in the army. He was a teacher in a private school of Dimapur, a place in Nagaland. I’m sure many of you must be having some strange perception about this place. At least, my friends from the later part of my life had. One question which was most commonly asked (among various others) with an at most stupid curiosity, “Do they eat dogs?” Like the all the previous instances, I’m not going to answer it here either.
My education started in Dimapur, in the same school where my father taught. My elder sister and I. My LKG was fun because of the colorful tiny table-chairs and our class teacher Miss Holi. During the lunch break, we used to gather and share food with each other’s tiffin boxes. Most of them brought sandwiches, omelets, bread-toasts, noodles and we had chapati-bhaji, paratha-bhaji, rice-curry and on rare occasion noodles. Other kids always liked the content of our tiffin and almost every other day we could find at least one kid who was happy to swap lunch with us. My sister and I ruled the lunch time. Maa always found the traces of alien food in the empty lunch box. Crumbs from the sandwich bread, the smell of egg, strand of noodles were found in the box which was packed with chapati-bhaji in the morning. She always advised us not to share food with them saying, “They eat beef and pork. Don’t share food with them.” But we never listened. The days when we did not get enough in the barter, we would go and stand in front of class X (their lunch time was different) waiting to catch my Father’s gaze. The wait was never long. Mostly, one of the students would point him towards us and then the whole class used to laugh. We never cared about that as Papa would then buy us snacks from the canteen. Life was good.
“Maa put one more chappati in my lunchbox,” I shouted while tying my shoelaces on one morning. Like all mothers, she was more than happy to entertain this request. Though no such request came from my sister. She was always a serious but clever kind of a kid. My school followed a system, at the very beginning, every student in the class had to keep the lunch box in the corner near blackboard. During the lunch break, we would gather it from there and keep it in our bag after finishing. Good practice but I noticed an irregularity after few weeks. One of the two chapatis/paratha from my lunch box went missing almost every day. On the first occurrence, I thought Maa might have made a mistake but the very next day the same thing happened and it went on for days. Someone was stealing my food.
I was reluctant to keep my lunch box on the spot now. I believed it was haunted. Even the barter system didn’t help. I was getting half of what I used to. I didn’t tell my sister about it and this became a routine. I enquired among my classmates and everyone denied taking anything from my lunch box. I also came to know I was the only one facing this problem. With time, I made peace with it as losing one chapati/paratha was fine as I was taking one extra to cover this loss.
After few weeks, I found one and a half pieces of chapati were left in my lunch box. Almost as if the lunch box thief claimed over half of my food. I was not going to fight it this time as well and asked Maa to add one more chapati in my lunch. This time she grew suspicious but didn’t ask much and life progressed thereafter.
It was years later that I came to know about this thief. As it had happened, in the PTA meeting of that month, Maa attended it for the first time. After the meeting ended, she stayed back to discuss something with my class teacher, Miss Holi.
“There is something wrong with Rohan. His diet has doubled within one month.” Maa was a bit concerned.
“How is that a bad thing, ma’am?” Miss Holi was baffled.
“No, the thing is he has lost weight forget about gaining. Does it work in reverse?” A genuine doubt.
Miss Holi couldn’t say anything.
“I am giving him four chapatis for lunch instead of two, surprisingly he only asked for it. I think he is either throwing it or exchanging with someone for toys. I keep on finding pieces of bread and egg which I don’t pack for his lunch usually. Please keep an eye on him Madam.” said Maa.
Miss Holi was still quiet but nodded her head. My mother thanked her and just when she was about to leave Miss Holi opened up.
“I’m so sorry ma’am. It’s not Rohan’s fault. Actually…actually I have been eating from his lunch box. What can I do ma’am? All other kids bring eggs, bread, noodles. Only your son’s lunch box has something different. I opened his lunch box once just to see but the smell tempted me to take a bite. But I could not stop there and it became a habit. I’m so sorry. I won’t do it again. Please don’t lodge any complaint against me. Please.” Miss Holi confessed.
Maa stood dumbstruck for a while. Miss Holi kept staring towards the ground, almost like a child.
“Stealing food is not ideal for a teacher Madam but that’s okay. I won’t complain and from Monday onwards I will still be giving him four chapatis and two of them will be your share.” Maa smiled and held Miss Holi’s hand in hers.
“Thank you, ma’am. But please don’t share this with Rohan,” her face lit up.
“I won’t but he should not be favored because of this.”
Miss Holi obliged and waved goodbye.
“Not fair Maa. She never let me sit in my favorite blue chair. It was the least she could do. Only if I knew about this back then.” I teased Maa and received a gentle tap on my head. Life is so not fair.