Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 3

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Little Flower Convent was a very tough school. If your boots were untidy, you would be given a 'kneel-down' in the playground under the merciless sun as punishment. If you didn't take down notes for the individual subjects, the teacher would pin a note on your back, and the caption on the note almost always had this message, 'I am an idiot. I didn't write my social studies notes.' I hated the idea because I was a victim of that silly practice. The worst part was, you had to go around the school, to each and every classroom, displaying the note on your back. One more thing that I dreaded was the vaccination camp the health department organised in our school. All, I repeat, all students were supposed to take those injections. The nurses who stabbed those injections on your back were not so gentle, probably because they had to do it to at least a couple of hundreds of kids in a day. Believe me, it is tough. Very few kids kept their calm, while most of them raised alarms that could be heard at least a hundred miles away. I never explored the potential of my vocal cords, but I sure was scared to death.

Just outside the school gates, there were at least five or six shops that sold the goodies. The merchandise ranged from sliced and salted mango pieces to slingshots. My favourite was hardboiled jaggery chunks coated with flour. We call it 'kamar kutt.' It is sweet, chewy and it is out of this world. My pocket money was one rupee per day and I spent half of it on 'kamar kutt.' On the first day of every month I used to get five rupees from dad, a fortune for a kid in those days, and I usually blew it on slingshots. A slingshot is a powerful weapon. It has a 'Y' shaped handle made of wood. And two pieces of extremely elastic rubber were tied to the two prongs. The loose ends of the rubber pieces were united by a piece of leather, which held your ammo, a pebble. The trick is to get your target right in the centre of the 'V' in the 'Y' and go bang. I was an expert shot and not many people know it, even to this day.

A notorious dog lived in our neighbourhood. He got his kicks by chasing and scaring the kids in our locality. When he was around no kid dared to trespass. Ramu, the vicious dog. I always had my slingshot in my sack that carried my books, and in a secret compartment of the sack, I stored a few pebbles. On that fateful evening when I was on my way back home from school, I ran into Ramu. I love animals and I knew that if I minded my own business and walked away calmly, they left you alone. Well, I was wrong. Ramu had other exciting plans for me. He squatted there, not even bothering to raise his eyebrows. I thought everything would go fine. It did, until I was about five feet away from him, when he suddenly sprang to his feet and let out a fierce growl, baring his teeth, and came flying towards me. I was stunned, but only for a second. I spun around and started running. He was too fast for me and I could sense that he was gaining on me. A chill ran down my spine. My mind was racing to figure out a solution. He would be all over me in another few seconds. I ran to a huge haystack on the side of the road. A bullock cart was parked next to it and the poor bull was munching on the hay. I swiftly climbed into the cart. Ramu stopped his race. He was scared of the bull, but I was not. He was standing there, growling and panting, and eyeing me fiercely. My fear subsided and anger took over. What the heck does he think he was doing? A thought crossed my mind. I opened my haversack and fished out my slingshot along with a pebble. I knew that at this range I could hit him ten out of ten. I inserted the pebble into the leather strap, held it firmly and stretched the rubber strip beyond my ears.

I aimed at Ramu's chest. I looked into his eyes. He had a curious look on his face. He was blissfully unaware that I was about to knock the daylights out of him as he just stood there, like a stupid jerk. Suddenly, I felt sorry for him. After all, he was only a dog and he canít think like we can. I put my slingshot back into the sack. I fished around in my sack and found the cookie that Leela had given me along with lunch. I had saved it for the long walk home. I slid down the cart. I was still out of his reach. I threw the cookie at him. At first he thought I was hurling a stone at him. He ducked and ran a few yards back, but the minute he knew it was a cookie, he pounced on it, and the cookie vanished in seconds. And the wonder of it all was that he was wagging his tail furiously. I still didn't trust him. You never know with dogs. I took a cautious step towards him. He was still wagging his tail. There was a glint in his eyes too. I took a couple of steps forward. He was still standing there.

Well, this is it. If I move another step, he might do to me what he did to the cookie. My heart was banging against my chest. My palms were wet with sweat. I held my breath and stepped forward. He yelped. This is it, I thought, I am finished! I am about to become the dog's supper. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes. Ramu was not there. I looked around and there he was, back in his usual position, squatting like an innocent pooch, waiting for another victim, or maybe... just maybe he won't trouble anyone again. He was hit, not by a slingshot, but by love. That incident seemed so trivial to me that day, but when I look back now, I think it holds within itself an unshakeable and an eternal fact of life. Love wins... always, and it hits you when you least expect it. Ramu never troubled me again. I don't know whether he troubled others. We respected each other and I shared my cookies with him almost every day, till the summer holidays. When I was back to school after the vacation, I searched for him, but he was missing. I bought him a collar too with the money dad gave me when I was promoted to the third standard. But I never saw him again. I made enquiries. Some said that he was run over by a truck. Some said the dogcatchers caught him. Whatever it was, I missed him terribly. It was a strange friendship, but it was sweet. I hope what they say is true - all dogs go to heaven.

Third standard in the school passed without much happening. It was a boring routine. School, home and homework and eat, play and sleep. I had no trouble at all with my promotion to the fourth standard. And life began.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.