By the time I was in the fourth standard, I had, to some
extent understood the complexities of human life. Never
get into fights with boys taller than you. You can't build
a beach. If one of dad's friends offers you a candy, say
'No thanks' and look at dad, and hope that he'll nod, giving
his approval. Garden lizards are not supposed to be housed
in the cupboard. The list goes on and on. What I never understood
was why adults made their lives complicated. Why should
Mohan, our neighbour talk to Vani in the backyard at seven
in the evening? Why can't he just talk to her in the living
room where there was so much light? Anyway, life was turning
out to be interesting for me in fourth standard. There was
a new rule in school. If you are late, even by five minutes,
you will not be allowed to sit in class. Instead you will
be made to sit under the huge gulmohar tree in the playground.
When I was given this 'punishment', I was terrified. And
Trishanker started telling us stories. From then on, we
were late at least twice a week. The stories were born out
of cutting-edge imagination and creativity. They ranged
from the 'war between the red ants and the black ants' to
'Super bike'. The Super bike story was fantastic. The hero
has a bike that raises an alarm when the bad guys try to
harm him or his kin (for example trying to kidnap his pet
tiger). The bike also flew and competed with rockets. One
of the adventures of the Super bike was the touching story
of the bad guys killing the hero's mom and dad (the bike
raises an alarm which resembles the music they play on radio
when they mourn someone's death) and how the hero takes
revenge. Trishanker was godsend for the latecomers, a group
that strangely grew in size every day. The tree gave us
ample shade and whenever there was a break during the story
time we used to play book cricket, probably the only kind
of cricket where I scored three centuries in a day.
That day I was late, as planned and was sitting with the
gang listening to Trishanker's story. That's when I saw
Priya. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She was the school
beauty and there were a lot of guys longing for her friendship.
I forgot about her in the course of the day, but then, as
they say, man proposes, God disposes. My tuition teacher
Susheela-akka was also Priya's teacher. I was not aware
of this fact until Susheela akka told me two days later.
"Sunnu, you will be writing your math test with one
of my other students."
I just shrugged and said "Ok".
It was not ok. While we all went to Susheela-akka's place
for tuition, she went to Priya's place and took tuition
for her. I was not aware that Priya was that special student.
I learnt it the hard way. I went along. We reached a huge
house. Opulence was written all over it. Susheela akka rang
the doorbell, and after a few moments the door opened and
Priya stood there! She was wearing a maroon-coloured nightdress.
I froze in my tracks. 'Excuse me, is this some kind of a
joke?' I wanted to ask Susheela akka. My knees were shaking
badly and my mouth went dry. My tongue was stuck. I didn't
even respond to her 'hello', probably the sweetest in the
world. It would have done Edison proud. I drowned myself
in a huge couch. Priya had two kid sisters and they were
very shy. Susheela-akka was very busy talking to Priya's
mom and I was busy investigating the opulence of the place.
They had a strange box with a glass screen that had some
knobs under it. I came to know later that it was called
a T.V- television. Well, we had a Philips radio at home
and I was amazed by this T.V. The carpets on the floor must
be worth a few lakhs. I heard that her dad was a doctor.
They had a car too. My father didn't even have a bicycle.
God knows why!
"Shall we start?" Susheela akka's booming voice
disturbed my thoughts of the gross economic inequity in
this socialistic, democratic republic. I was too shaken-up
to take the test. I was staring at Priya all the time. Her
smile was special and illuminating. I was lost. I felt hollow.
I was in love! I decided that she was the one, the minute
I took a look at her handwriting. It was impeccable and
there was this rare touch of elegance too. She spoke very
little. Well, we took the test. Math is not my favourite
subject, but I learnt that it was Priya's first love. I
failed miserably in the test. Susheela-akka was furious
because I was her pet student. I couldn't care less. I lost
the test, no problem, but I lost my heart too. Now that,
is a real problem. I didn't have the guts to initiate a
conversation with Priya at school and she acted as if she
had never met me. I experienced the strange psyche of women,
for the first time in my life. Big deal! I didn't bother,
but I knew one thing for sure, she’d retain a permanent
place in my memory.
The school administration realised that sitting under the
tree as 'punishment' did very little to make us realise
the importance of punctuality. Therefore it was called off,
and sitting under the tree became sitting in the headmistress's
room. Now, that was horrible. So all the latecomers started
coming to school on time. Trishanker's storytelling shifted
to lunch hour. I always finished my lunch quickly and wait
for the gang. We never had ample time, as lunch lasted only
for about an hour, so the stories were serialised. Slowly
even that ceased. One fine day Trishanker left school. And
I missed him.