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.

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