Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 1

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I still remember my first day at the Little Flower Convent in Chittoor. I was about seven years old. I had heard a lot from my friends about how dreadful that place was. The auto-rickshaw pulled over to a jerky stop, and mom and dad gave me that 'Here you go!' expression. I got down, trying to keep my jittery nerves under control.

The school had a huge, imposing iron-gate, which had a small door within it. And there was this old man - a watchman - standing by the small door. He had a bushy moustache and a long, unkempt beard. He had deep-set eyes, but the funny thing about him was his conspicuous indifference to the things around him. He stood there, calm and composed, but his body language more than suggested that he did not give a damn about my entering the school compound. As for my family and I, it was a big day. Little Flower Convent, in those days was not just a school; it was a status symbol. But for the kids, it was an entirely different ball game altogether.

When I entered the school, the first thing that hit me was the noise. Kids were running all over the place, screaming and howling, and there were these nuns, clad in white robes, with a cross dangling from their necks. Dad nudged me to move forward and I walked into the headmistress' office. The headmistress was a lady in her late fifties. She had a pair of oval-shaped spectacles perched on her nose, and she had a very cold look. A look of someone so stuck to a routine of a life. She snapped, "What is your name, boy?"

"S-sunnu," I Stuttered.

"What is your father?" she shot back.

"He works as a superintendent" I said, somehow pronouncing the word right. Dad trained me a million hours on ‘superintendent’ alone.

She gestured to me to come over to her desk. I obliged. I could sense the proud smiles on my parents' faces as she touched my head.

"Are you a good boy or a bad boy?" she asked me.

Back then I really didn’t care, but hey that was ‘no-question’. Try asking, say, Carlos the assassin the same question. Anyway, as we are forced to co-exist among people with lesser IQ, I answered her silly question.

"Yes I am a good boy."

"Do you like chocolates?" she asked me.

What else do kids like? Bricks? So I blurted out, "Yes" and so it went on for about five minutes. And then suddenly, the expression on her face changed. She banged the bell on her table. I was startled and turned around and my parents had vanished; yet another victim of that dirty trick.

"Rajam!" the headmistress shouted and as if she was waiting for that call all her life, Sister Rajam appeared from out of nowhere.

I hated my folks. How could they do this to me? Leaving without telling me? Before I realised what was happening, I was whisked away by an ayah and was put in a classroom with an assortment of kids, some crying and some staring into empty spaces with a forlorn look in their eyes. Some kids were already in action, tugging at ponytails and making faces at unsuspecting victims. My life as a student thus began in Little Flower Convent, in second standard, section B.

If not for Ms Isabel, our moral science teacher I would have run away from school the very next day. She floated into our classroom like an angel, and attended to all the sissies who were still crying for their mom and dad and hey presto, they stopped crying. I still remember Ms. Isabel talking to me for the first time in her husky voice.

"So, Sunnu, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a dragonfly", I told her with all the conviction in my voice.

She let out a throaty chuckle, held my baby face and gave me a peck. Now, I never allow any ladies, other than my mom to touch me. But Ms Isabel was different. I wanted to complain about this behaviour to my mom, but then I didn't want to discuss my personal life with her. So I left it at that.

The guy who was sat next to me in the class was Trishanker, a tall, lean kid. He had a big nose and his nostrils were always looking skywards. We became good friends. We even shared my candy that came along with the lunch- delivered by Leela, our maid. Trishanker had an extraordinary talent for story telling as he had a wonderful imagination. That talent of his was going to help us in a big way in the days to come.

I used to go to school in a bullock cart, as there were no buses. We had to travel for about two kilometres to get to school and it used to take thirty minutes by this cart. I hated the idea, simply because I could not stand the sight of the bull dragging a load of thirty kids. Apart from the weight, the kids made a racket and the poor bull was jittery all the time. He used to puff and pant and whenever he paused to rest Venkatesh would crack his whip. I would cry and refuse to commute in the cart.

After a few days, my dad said, "It's the cart or you walk, every day."

That was so compassionate of my dad. "Fine!" I said, and regretted it the very first day.

To get to Little Flower Convent, I had to pass the municipal school. The municipal school was run by the town's administration and it was not an ‘English-medium’ school. The school was a free school. The students of this school had a nasty reputation of ragging our school kids whenever they got a chance and I was ignorant of this crucial detail.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.