Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chapter -2
    The boarding school was spread over 30 acres of land. At the centre was a square where a stone Buddha was sitting in meditation. Throughout his boarding school life he never heard or read anything about Buddha or why or who installed the statue. It was an icon that everyone needed to see and needed not to know.  As expected Buddha continued his silent meditation in M’s mind for many years till he could read Buddha’s biography written by a Vietnamese monk, at the age of 47. When he was studying in 9th Class, one of the duties assigned to him was to wash, apply oil and decorate Statue with white flowers picked from the tree which covered the statue like an umbrella.     In the sandy square in front of the Buddha statue he and other boys sat in the cool nights to speak about everything under the sun. They played hide and seek games in and around the square. On rare occasions dinner was served there on moonlit nights.  This place was swept clean by the 11th 10th and 9th class students whose areas were earmarked in their minds. There were many shrubs of red hibiscus flowers in the square and there were rows of small house-like wooden boxes of bee-hives.  There were many neem, pongai trees. The neem trees used to rain white and light yellow flowers in season and at other times its leaves.

    On the first day in the Hostel, the the sandy ground in front of the Buddha statue was full of excited, but anxious new students. There was one workman etching the names in metal dining plates and tumblers, as a mark of identification. The plates and the tumblers had to be kept in a common place and taken out only at the times of break-fast, lunch, tiffin and dinner and this required identification marks on the plates. Workman was charging 10 paise for etiching the names. M had only a five rupee note given by his mother. There was a small crowd surrounding the workman. He went and stood in front of the man for writing his name on his metal plate. The man asked for 10 paise. He had no change and had to wait for half an hour and thought and workman might have change after doing so much work. Still the man said that he did not have change for five rupees. Ultimately, after some time M’s name was etched on his steel plate and the workman said that since M had no change he need not pay. This simple gesture by a poor man was etched in his mind. He had the fortune of hearing about another man, a rikshaw-puller with a malnourished body, who very generously refused to take money from his distraught wife who rushed to a hospital carrying their child in her hands. It takes a hell lot of time to meet good human beings.  
      It was a day after 10th class examinations were over, when vacation started. He went to the city 20 km away from his school.  He would get a bus to his native place. He had Twenty one rupees. Ticket cost him eighteen and half and he had two and a half rupees. He had to spend three hours since bus started at six in the evening. He purchased one tamil magazine and decided to eat something. He walked some distance and went to the ‘Gowri Shankar hotel’ that looked big, neat and clean. He had not entered such hotels till that day. A lot of people were enjoying their food.  He ordered for a Dosai. It was very good. He saw the man sitting in a nearby table relishing a big elliptical dosai with many varieties of chutneys.  He thought of having another Dosai. It flickered in his mind that he might not have that much money. Still he ordered a special dosai. He still regretted that discretion even after 40 years.  

    When he finished, the waiter brought the bill, he had the shock of his life. He was short of money. He needed twenty five paise more. There was no way he could get it now. He was twenty kilometres away from the school and has to catch a bus within one hour. He had already brought the journey ticket. He looked around for a familiar face. He wanted someone to appear before him just then as in the religious stories and films. He could not see any known face. Only God could help.  Will the owner show mercy on him and let him go. His mental faculties failed. He waited for some time and pretended as if he was relaxing. His heart was pounding and it could pop out at any moment. How long could he stay there? He stood up and took the cloth bag in his hand and walked towards the entrance. He wanted to somehow exit the hotel without notice. But there was a watchman paid to keep track of the characters like his. He could not slip through. Watchman caught hold of his shirt color in front of everybody and pushed him towards his master at the counter. ‘Sir, this boy was trying to get away without making the payment.’ The man at the counter asked “where is the money, boy?’ Are you trying to get away? Come aside. Make the payment and go” He did not even ask as to how much is the bill amout. He did not care. He is sitting there to collect money not to earn god’s grace. M said “My parents are waiting at the bus stand and I would get the money and come back” It was a lie. Nothing more occurred to him.  The man at the counter told him to keep the his bag aside and to go and get the money required. He could not ask how much he owed or what was the amount he could pay. It was twenty five paise. He did not ask and M could not reply. There was a large crowd coming in and going out and everyone was looking at him. He was ashamed and could not look at anybody straight. He had to move out. He knew his parents were 547 kilometres away. M came out of the hotel and his heart was still pounding. He could have calculated the price of the Dosa before ordering it. He had an intuition that something would go wrong. But, it had happened. He could have resisted the temptation of having another dosai, which was in fact, excess.  “If only I had 25 paise more”

    He, on his way, looked around for a known face in the large crowd milling around the bus stand and on the streets of the big city. Thousands of people were moving but M had nobody to seek, plead, or beg in order to redeem his honour with the man at the hotel counter. He feared of someone from the hotel pursuing him relentlessly for making the payment. It was a terror, he could not forget till he sat on the bus and it started moving.  He was feeling so insulted and he blamed himself for yearning for another Dosai only for the taste of it.  He could never go to the hotel again to get the bag after making the payment or redeem his honour.  


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

       Chapter 1/ Arriving in the hostel

       On the fifteenth day of April 1968, Mugugesan’s mother took him to the boarding school. He was nine years old. He was a silent boy who obeyed his mother’s words. The boarding school conducted an examination to select the students. He was there to write the test.  The dress worn by the teachers consisted of white kurtha and white dhoti, made in thick khadi cloth. It looked odd. They were very diffierent from the teachers whom he had seen so far.  He did not know that khadi half-trouser in blue and half-sleeve kurta in white khadi would be his uniform for the next six years. He had to wear it day and night for whole duration of his stay in hostel and school.  Hostel dormitories and the  school class rooms were in the same areas and only time and ringing of the school bell  determined the place where he would be present. All persons looked strangers and there was a swamiji in saffron clothes.  Murugesan felt very uneasy but would speak little. He nodded when his anxious mother asked whether he found this place good and would it be fine.

     Mother and Murugesan waited for the results of the admission test. At 3 in the evening they were called.  The teacher incharge of the admission to class VI told his mother that M could be admitted in the category II which meant that they could only avail fifty percent concession in holtel and school fees. They had applied for availing of hundred per cent concesion in boarding and school fees. His mother explained their financial constraints and handed a letter of reference from an old student of that school pleading desperately for concession. Ultimately, she had to relent. There were only very limited seats for 100% concession and they have already been filled.  Though the amount of fees was very small she could not afford to pay such a huge part of her yearly income for educating her son. She had a daughter too to look after.  

     After admitting the boys, they were told to come after 5 days. As the town from which Murugesan hailed was 500 KM away from the boarding school his mother went to the nearby city and purchased a metal trunk and plate, tumbler and other articles of daily use for her son. They stayed with a family of another boy admitted in the school. They could not afford to stay in a lodge or hotel. He knew that his mother had no money left except for travel to the hometown.

     Next morning M was left at the school by his mother who returned to the home town. One of the teachers told him to play in the swing. He has never played in the swing so far. It was very high. For a long time to come he never went near the swing. It was only when he was in 9th class he could sit on the swing. He aimlessly roamed around the school. Other boys admitted to the Class VI were scheduled to join the school after 5 days. M was told to sit alongwith the boys of Class VII for a week. He felt very ackward in the class of seniors. Mostly he remained quiet. He was slowly tuning to the hostel and school life in the absence of his parents.  He was not aware as to when he would be able to see his parents and sister. There was a bronze bell ringing of which indicated each activity in the school and the hostel. For the rest of his life, most of his activities were determined by ringing of the bell in the inner corridors of his consciousness. Even at the age of 50 he heard the school bell ringing at five in the morning, the time he woke up almost everyday, wherever he slept. At eight in the morning the bell would ring in the stomach. It took another five years and a wife and children to discipline him in order to wake him only after six in the morning and have his breakfast only at eight thirty.

     On the fifth day boys admitted to Class VI came to the school and there was more new faces.  Some children cried when their parents took leave of them. Some boys had to be physically separated from their parents. M also felt like crying. His eyes were full of tears but no one noticed his tears. Even if some one noticed, none came near. He thought of his mother. She would be away in her work. Would she care to remember? He wanted to ask. Nobody would give him the only answer he knew.