Chapter -2The 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.