Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 5

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The first activity of the day in Little Flower was prayer. We recited hymns like 'Praise Him in the Morning', 'Rejoice in the Lord Always'. It was a wonderful experience. More than two hundred students would sing in chorus, the sun would slowly climb up the sky, the hymns will ring in our ears long after wed stopped singing. I think the most important thing religion teaches a person is discipline. But we have to live with the fact that even such great religions could do very little to get someone like me to realise the importance of discipline. Somehow I have stayed away from religion and went to the temple only for the Prasad.

In the same year in Little Flower, I learnt the importance of being a man. One of my classmates was Raghu Ram Reddy. He sat next to me in the class. He was a skinny chap who had a toothy grin. He was particularly fond of using me as a punch bag. He used to tug the hair on the back of my head, punch me on my back and pinch me when the class was going on. Complaining to the teachers was out of the question as the guys felt that it was not 'manly'. I was not confident that I could better him in hand-to-hand combat. I have never hit anyone in my life except my younger brother, Suresh. That too I hit him when he was asleep. One day it went too far. Raghu Ram started entertaining his sadistic self that day in the moral science class- Miss Isabel's class that is- by periodically punching me on my sides. I couldn't suppress my grunts of agony and I had tears welling up in my eyes halfway through the class. Miss Isabel is an intelligent woman and she sensed that I had a problem, after taking a couple of glances at me.

"What is troubling you, Sunnu?" she sang.

I could feel the warmth in her voice, the care in her eyes and the compassion in her words. "Nothing", I wanted to say, but all I could manage was a strange gargling sound. I couldn't stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. One teardrop even managed to roll down my neck and lodge itself on my chest. I looked absolutely stupid. Raghu Ram was smiling and that aggravated my hurt. The whole class knew why I was crying.

"What happened?" Miss Isabel snapped at me.

"He has been punching me for the last twenty minutes," I blurted out. There was a hush in the classroom. The girls were watching in amusement and the guys were looking at me the way Caesar would have looked at Brutus. Miss Isabel turned around and picked up her cane. She seldom used it. I heard a strange noise. It was coming from Raghu Rams knees - they were shaking at an amazing speed and he had a dumb 'what will I do now,' look on his face.

Miss Isabel walked up to our desk. "Say sorry to him," she said calmly to Raghu Ram.

"Miss... I didn't..." he didn't even complete his sentence and 'WHACK!' her cane came slashing down on his arm.

The whole class was quiet. You could hear a pin drop. I was happy. I wanted to scream with joy.

"Sorry," Raghu Ram said, without even looking at me. Miss Isabel paused and gave me a sympathetic look. "Sit down, Sunnu," she said. I thought my troubles with that pest Raghu Ram were over. His face was pale and the tears had left marks on his face. Miss Isabel turned around and he turned sideways and stared at me. What I saw in his eyes curdled my blood. A chill ran down my spine. "Murder!" I wanted to scream. I knew the issue was far from over. I knew what was in store for me when the last bell strikes in the school. I started to pray to Lord Muruga, to Jesus Christ and to every other God I knew. I knew only they could help me now because none of my classmates would come to my rescue. I had violated the cardinal rule of the school fights - never complain to the teachers. It was five minutes to the last bell when Raghu Ram whispered in my ear, "You are history." Or something like that.

I had my intestines in a knot. A beehive of thoughts was raging in my head. 'What if I asked for protection from the teacher?' 'What if I stayed back in the classroom itself?' I glanced at the wall clock. Three more minutes left. Time flies when you are in trouble, you know. Two minutes. Raghu Ram had already packed his school bag and was waiting like a tiger. I started putting my notebook into my haversack. One more minute left. The whole class was blissfully ignorant of the slaughter that was about to take place any moment. I cursed myself for being such a weak guy. My palms were wet as usual because of the perspiration. This is it. "Clang, clang!" the bell started ringing. The whole class stood up to thank the teacher and started to leave. I was glued to my seat. Raghu Ram was not there beside me. He was gone. I picked up my bag and started towards the door. My legs felt weak. I spotted him while climbing down the stairs. He was waiting near the gulmohar tree. He had a huge smile on his face, as if he was James Bond and he had just saved the world. I stepped onto the ground and he started walking towards me. I knew I was doomed.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.