In this world filled with false pride, we often see people going for the price instead of the value of things. People like expensive things without even thinking about it logically. For example, everyone likes gold and diamonds because it is not available in abundance, hence expensive and not because of its absolute desire. Leave the rocks and metals aside, people have even started developing a taste for fancy delicacies. Among friends, some have started to restrain themselves from ordering Bhajiya or Samosa whereas they are certain to order a Pizza or Burger.
If you ask me, I would prefer a hot Bhajiya/Samosa served with spicy green
chutney over any Pizza because I LIKE IT, but I think that just me.
However, this wave of opinionating oneself cannot be found in children, they experience reality in ways profoundly different ways from adults. Probably as they are not aware of that little piece of paper called Price Tag. They want what they like. Just put a toy in it or make it shine and they will want it. But as they grow up they become worldly wise.
“Uncle, take this and please give me one of those medals.” I requested Bharat Uncle when he came to our house that evening. He was a close friend of my father, the principal of the school where I studied.
“You don’t have to give it back beta. I will give you a medal when the school reopens.”
He said with such a conviction that I believed him. I shouldn’t have.
It was the fall of 1995, I had just made peace with my lunchbox’s mysterious behavior. The year had not been good for me. It was first year in school.
A place which I resented for a month but once I made some friends I started liking it, with the occasional resentment still surfacing once in a while. Fast forward to Puja and it was nice at least initially. Father had given three days off to tuition batches in which a majority of students were Christians. They were more than happy about it. I went to the Mela with our family. We ate that chilly rich Pakoda Chat situated at the road behind Durga Mandir. This chat had become kind of customary part of our Mela plans. I never agreed to a half plate order for me and I don’t know why but Gangu always liked this idea. Gangotri, my elder sister perhaps knew my habits better. As the chilly left me with a burning mouth, she finished my plate as well without a sip of water. I wondered if she had magical powers. After this not so friendly meal, we rushed to the toy stores where a major portion of the Mela budget would be spent. I was a disturbed kid from the start. I was easily bored after playing with cars and helicopters for a couple days and thereafter all I wanted was to open the car and take out the gears. Of course, back then I did not know that it’s a gear.
For me, it was a Chakri, which was my invincible weapon in the spin competition with my friends. Perhaps, my interest in opening the toys and looking in its mechanism put the thought in my parents’ mind that I might become an engineer. At that tender age, I had no clue that this was the first mistake of my life. Anyway, one day my father came home and I was still playing with toys during my study hours. Needless to say, my broken toys found their new shelter in the gutter and the sobbing me in my mother’s lap. Gangu, as usual, had buried her head in her book but could not hide that evil smile. She knew aptly when to study which made sure that her toys were safe but for how long.
“Dress them up, quickly. Their results will be announced today.” said my father and went straight to the washroom.
“But you had only asked me not to send them to school today.” the mother shouted so that he could listen inside. No reply.
“Yes, I said that because I thought I would get their report card as Rohan’s wound is not healed completely.” replied my father after coming out. By then Gangu was ready and mother was dressing me carefully.
“Yeah, so what’s changed then?” mother asked with curiosity.
“He secured the first rank in the class.” said my happy and proud father. I could not believe it. Perhaps that’s the only time I have managed to do it so far.
“Okay, go now. I will prepare Ghee wala Halwa for you today.” my mother rubbed my nose gently and then waved me from the compound gate.
Eleven days before the exam I topped, I was playing in our compound (It was not a crime as I was in LKG then) in which three families lived. Adjacent to the main gate, there was a beetle shop. Didi, the owner of the shop adored me. She would often give me chocolates and cherry. She had three daughters, Binita being the eldest. She was probably 5-6 year older than me. Binita would join me and we used to play together. Even though she was much older, her maturity level was kind of aligned with mine. She used to carry me on her back and roam in the compound or on the road nearby the main gate. That day also she carried me around but after putting me down, she asked me to carry her on my back. As naive as a 3-year old kid could be, I agreed to it. As soon as I tried, I fell down with my face on the rocky terrain of Nagaland. My lower lip smacked against a pointy rock. When I got up I saw blood pumping out of my lower lip like a fountain. It was split into two halves. Binita ran inside crying and I entered the compound. Didi came running with a towel when she saw and called my mother. They rushed me to the nearest hospital. My father had gone for a home tuition. He reached the hospital when informed. I got five stitches…”five stitches on the lower lip” which would later become sign of my identification which I earned for myself.
The exam became pointless for me and for a moment my father decided that I wouldn’t appear for it. A happy outcome amidst all the pain. The bandage left very small passage in my mouth and I was limited to take a liquid diet. Later, my father changed his mind and I wrote my exams with a stitched lip, literally. Under the given circumstances, our parents weren’t too optimistic about my results.
Stitches were removed and the bandage was taken off when I arrived at school on the result day. However, the wound was not healed completely and I was still on medication and diet. Everyone in the school was standing in the assembly area. Top ten rank holders of each class were used to be rewarded. I saw my classmates marching to the stage and coming back with a shiny medal wrapped around their neck. Boy, I was excited for my turn. When my name was called, everyone clapped louder and longer than they did for my other classmates. I went to the stage and taking the cue from my classmates, as they did earlier, bent forward a little. I was waiting and waiting for that shiny medal to be placed around my neck but instead, they handed me a book-sized rectangular box wrapped in a gift paper. All my excitement was gone in a moment. I paused for a while before walking back hoping that the medal would come but ‘Uncle’ the school owner tapped me on the back and my class teacher escorted me back to the queue. Everywhere I looked, there were medals. Even my sister got the medal but not me. It would have been a greater tragedy if the item wrapped underneath had been a book. Luckily, it was a box of chocolate.
I met Bharat Uncle after completing my twelfth standard. He had left the school after the session of ’95 after his wife passed away. He came back to Bihar and opened a new school. I touched his feet and he almost did not recognize me. We had dinner at his house and next day before boarding the train I touched his feet again. He gave me hundred rupees as blessings.
“Uncle, keep this and instead give me one of those shiny medals.”
Of course, he did not remember.