Thursday, August 09, 2012

Chapter 4

     As he grew up, M’s interest in studies waned and his passion for things other than academics increased. The authoritarian commands of the teachers and tyranny of the syllabus had made his education a miserable burden that had to be thrown away at the first opportunity.  Fortunately, none prodded him to perform well in studies for there was no one to care for him.  The boys who excelled in studies did it on their own. When he answered many questions by the history teacher in 9th class, the teacher called him ‘History man’. He had finished reading Tamil, History and Geography books within the few days of obtaining the copies of the books. But he hated even to think anything remotely connected with arithmetic.
     His science teacher quoted from Kamban’s Ramayanam,  the verse describing in many soft sounding words, the beautiful women in disguise Takakai, who tried to seduce Raman (of the Ramayana).      He wanted to read such literature. But teachers would sincerely teach topics in the text books and only some teachers mentioned about other books and literature. He found Ramayanam a bit boring. He could not relate to the incidents nor the royal ways that looked so alien and unreal. Kamban’s poetry was the attraction and not the Ramayanam.   

     It was a practice in the school that whenever, it took time for the teacher to arrive for the class, one of the boys had to read aloud from “My experiements with Truth’. From sixth class to ninth class they had heard every line in the book many times over. He had unconsciously been imbibed with the details of Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle both in his personal life and in politics in South Africa and in India. Gandhi could unhesitatingly, reveal every thought and M felt shameful that he could not do so. His resolutions for speaking truth could only be fulfilled in dreams and not in reality. He identified himself with Gandhi for his handwriting was bad there was nothing else in common. Like Gandhi, he also did not try to improve his handwriting.
    When his science teacher in ninth class asked how many of the boys had read about journey of Kon-tiki, a boat, a norwegean explorer used for crossing pacific ocean in a small traditional boat and reached Polenesian Islands, he held his head high. He had read the book and liked the adventure. First time in his life someone appreciated what he had done. It was not related to academics.  Science teacer looked handsome, taught science very pleasantly and quoted from Tamil literature often and this impressed M a lot. M tried to copy his walks and looks. It was this teacher, Mr. V who imbibed an interest in Literature and Science.
    Mr.V also resided with the boys in the Hostel. He had a very small room which he shared with a Tamil teacher, Mr.L who was also a good teacher. But two good teachers are not necessarily equipped deal with adolescence, as he realized later.

     Mr. V also taught English for 9th class. He was very particular about his student’s handwriting practice. Everyday every student has to write at least one page. He would check the notebooks of the students at random and punish severely the students who failed to write at least one page. One day, during morning study hour (after morning prayers and before break-fast at 8).  M was pretending to read a text book. He had to do this everyday. He observed that most of the boys’ attention during the 45 minutes study hour was on things other than studies for it was a pleasant time that cannot only be wasted only in textbooks. Teachers on duty ensured that there was absolute silence, an inducement to sleeping. Boys kept incense sticks burning to ward of mosquitos.
     M, one day during study hour was worried whether the grape juice he had kept 10 days ago in a metal tumbler would become wine, as happened in the stories of Sindbad. Though he was tempted to open and see he decided not to open the lid of the glass for the next 20 days.  His scientific research was interrupted by his fellow student, K tapped his shoulder and said that teacher, Mr. V called him immediately. K’s mischievous smile was an ominous sign. He could not guess the reason, for he was not one of the favourites of the teachers. K was close to Mr.L and did many errands for him. The way K shook his head further terrified M. But he could not anticipate what was coming.

     When M entered his room Mr.V did not notice him. But another teacher, Mr. L welcomed him with a sarcastic smile by which he tried to suppres his anger which was visible on his face. He showed a handwriting practice note and asked him whether it was his. Before M could finish saying ‘Yes’,  Mr. L asked him “Whom you have written this letter to?” and showed him a letter  written in pencil. M had written this letter to an imaginary Love. But even if he had posted that letter, he was sure, nothing would have happened. The letter not dropped in the post box, an object of sin, became the invitation for god’s wrath. God questioned him through teacher.  Before he could answer, Mr.L slapped on his left cheek. It was so hard and painful that M’s head whirred and he stumbled for a while. When he regained his posture, Mr.L questioned him “Is there any girl?. He said “No” and it was a half-lie. Telling half-lies would make things bad.   Mr.V then said “I left this job to Mr.L. You could not bear my slap” He stated this with the relish of a prison guard speaking to a man released after his jail term. It was true Mr.V was tall and sturdy. M left the room in tears in his eyes and red imprints of Mr. L’s right hand on his left cheek.
   He later recalled that he had kept this confidential letter, written in Tamil in Roman alphabet inside the empty notebook for maintaining it secret and submitted it instead of similar notebook, by mistake. Name of the girl was real and she came in his day-dreams. He hardly knew her. She was a girl of his age, a neighbor in his hometown, not privy to his confidential dreams.  For years, he dreamed about many girls but never had the courage to give even a hint of his dreams to those whom he dreamed about. His dreams, if recorded on paper, were confined to flames, or if in his mind, died an unnatural death by aphyxiation.
     Boys asked him the reasons for the tears in his eyes and imprints of fingers on the cheek.  He could have announced his achievement like a knight proudly if his love was real or if he had posted the letter and faced any tragic consequence. He could not shamefully declare that he was a coward who expressed his love in dreams and enjoyed the bliss. He remained quiet.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

     Chapter 3

     Mahatma Gandhi had inaugurated the boarding school in 1934 when he was on a visit to Coimbatore. Mr.A, who founded the school, was a Gandhian, in thoughts, words and in deeds. M had almost seen him everyday. Founder’s residence occupied the central place in the campus.  He was a bachelor with frugal habits. He wore only white Khadi clothes, a full-sleeved kurtha (called Jibba,  in Tamil and a Dhothi (called vaetti).  M saw him doing vigorous morning walks on the school grounds. He was more than 60 years of age. There was a special soft glow in his skin. In the evenings, he sat in a bamboo chair in the sandy square listening in very low volume to the News in his tiny transistor (of foreign make, – of course a gift from someone). M was surprisied at the low volume, for M, a thirteen year old boy, sitting in front, could not properly hear the voice. Mr.A used an old broad-bodied Chevrolet car of the sixties, presumably presented by some one, whom he could not refuse, for it was the only thing in his life that was not in conformity with his simple life-style.

     On one side of the square in front of the Buddha statue, there was this grey granite-stone building with its high ceiling that looked grand. On the ground floor, one of the rooms was occupied by the founder; another room at the other end was a sick room. One more room in between these rooms was the class room for 9th Standard. Boys in the 9th Std were required to attend to Mr.A when he rang the bell for them very rarely.  On the first floor was the Prayer Hall. Mr.A had used his enormous personal wealth and contributions from many others for the fourteen institutions that the school started with one Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi after the morning prayers held at Six in the morning. He knew Ramakrishna and Vivekananda through one of the disciples of Vivekananda, Shri Shivananda. He spoke intimately about Mahatma Gandhi with whom he had travelled at lot. He was passionate about all the three great men. He was inspired by them. M had on many occasions talked to him, heard him speak to the audience, about the opportunity we have, in this life, to serve the poor and the needy. He wanted each of the students to aspire for excelling in any of their chosen fields and told them that they have enormous potential to achieve great things in life and that they were born for this.  M had seen, observed and interacted with this great man for nearly six years, albeit from a distance. M was moved to tears whenever he heard about Mahatma Gandhi. Only after he grew up, M could realize that Mr.A’s life and words had influenced him in many ways than he could perceive. Mahatma Gandhi’s words had also trickled through Mr.A to him.
     Many years later, M read the autobiography of another Gandhian freedom fighter, Mr.Y, who had described and justified that Mr. A, then a Congress candidate for election in the district, was an ass in that he would carry out his responsibilities entrusted to him dutifully and faithfully. On that day, M decided that he would also become an Ass for it would be an honour to be an Ass like Mr.A, who was a symbol of sacrifice and hardwork.
    M had to get up at Five thirty in the morning, take bath and had to rush to the prayer hall by six. Mornings in the place were very cold for him. He had come from a hot climate. It was difficult for him to take bath in the cold water. Many smart boys occupied the water-taps in which water flow was better. M did not and could not compete with them. He had neither the inclination nor the strength for enterring into altercations with the other boys of his age. He always wanted to avoid fights. He could not also mouth epithets others so easily used.  He was weak and slow in doing everything. As if he was numbed by the circumstances. 

     On Sunday mornings, many boys were busy doing their routine chores like washing clothes. M had a lot of work. Nothing seemed very interesting. He was doing many things simply for the sake of it. He hated washing his dresses.  He could not know or tell why he hated it. He had made up all kinds of excuses like that he had no  detergent soap, had no money for buying soap or that he could do it later. Most of the times he had no money even for a haircut and there were other attractions like eatables. Even if he had asked for it, his parents could not send money immediately. None of the teachers or teacher-in-charge of his class ever asked him about the reasons. They also never spoke to him about his family. He was hesitant to initiate a conversation.  One of the teachers, Mr. Govindasamy, commented many times that his shirt was not very clean and asked why he did not use blue for the white shirts? He also called M the ugly queen-2. M swallowed the insults. After all insults did not harm him physically and those insulting were neither the Rishis and nor their words turn true once mouthed.  There was nobody to whom he could relate to emotionally.   He always felt that there was a lump in his throat that stopped him from speaking his mind.  In all those six years he never had more than three sets of trousers and shirts. It was a luxury to dream of more shirts or trousers. Many times he had to borrow shirts used by his class mates the previous day. They also resented this as the  shirts got dirtier next day and that increased their work. He almost never had a comb and borrowed it most of the time. He also never applied oil to his hair and missed the weekly oil bath.  He had a very small metal trunk, which was always almost empty for he had nothing to keep in it. 
     Sundays were the days when small vendors crept into the campus. Ice-cream seller was the most prominent. Another man always had collected crowds of students around him by telling stories liked by adolescent boys. He also sold some stationery, mostly Ball Point pens that were a craze at that time. M liked having ice-creams and on most of the Sundays he could never fulfill his dream of having an ice-cream stick. There was also a small shop manned by the students that sold many eatables and stationery. M could only visit the shop or the vendor of ice-creams in the hope of someone fulfilling his desire for eatables. He almost never had any cash with him. Students were not allowed to keep cash or dresses other than the uniforms. Many parents who resided in nearby towns visited their sons and brought them eatables and small cash. M’s parents were staying far away. It took at least eight hours travel by bus to come to him. One or two times his father and mother came and went within one hour. It was hard for them to come all the way from more than 500 kilometres just for a visit of a few hours if not minutes. One of his parents would come, very rarely. They would never come to-gether for that would involve more expenditure than they could afford.  He could see his sister or other relations only when he went home on holidays. There was a library in the school.  He started reading books. He read books that were beyond his age.  He read about chemical elements in the books borrowed from the library when in class 8, but when it was included in the syllabus in class 9 he started to look at them indifferently. That, he understood later, is the contribution of the system of education.  He discovered in books companions and friends and guides he lacked in real life. He read poetry, novels, science subjects, travelogues. His curiosity only increased.  He found that books gave him the confidence that he could survive lonely in the crowd with barely anything but doubts and unanswered questions.