Lost. Chapter 7 0f Memories, a Novella
Written for NANOWRIMO
The new school in the big city that Boy had joined was very grand, with a huge building, sprawling grounds, strict discipline, and huge classes with almost fifty children, an Irish principal and Anglo Indian teachers. Teaching was exclusively in English, and speaking the vernacular was strictly forbidden. The boy was completely lost.
After being dropped off in the morning, the first challenge was finding the assembly hall, and then finding the spot for his class and section. After that he could just follow the group and hope for the best.
In assembly, the white man in a white gown droned something, and then a dark guy in a white gown barked something, and finally everyone shut their eyes and roared something in a sing song.
Boy understood the “Our Father”, and thought of his father; then “Daily bread”, which reminded him of his packed lunch, which, daily, was bread and butter, which he hated; and finally, “Amen”, which meant that they could open their eyes and start shuffling off, in formation, following the teacher, to their classrooms. The rest was gibberish to him.
Class was not much different. The lady would say things, and write stuff on a blackboard, and point at charts and pictures; but what it was all about was lost on Boy.
He would follow the example of his classmates and take out random books and copies from his bag, doodle on them with his pencil, and put them back later. Sometimes teacher would collect them, and return them later with red marks on them.
On many occasions, he was made to stand up and be sternly spoken to, with much wagging of fingers. Sometimes, he would be asked to stay back after class to finish something.
This overwhelmed him with an unnamed dread, helped along by a sadistic tormentor who filled him with stories of ghosts that appeared, and boys who were never seen again after detention.
Boy was certain that Eda, whose job it was to bring him back home, not seeing him, would go back; and he would get locked up in the school, to become dinner for the monsters his friend had warned him about.
This always made him start whimpering, to the amusement of his tormentor, a tiny curly haired brat. The kind hearted teacher would then let him off, and the sight of his waiting babysitter was of immense relief, as another day of confusing torture came to an end.
Boy had by now figured out basic reading and writing, and could speak a form of pidgin English, and vaguely figure out the Anglo Indian and Malayalam flavoured English that was the medium of instruction.
But the one instruction that eluded him was, “Make sentences”
What on earth was he to do? How do you make sentences? Which is the correct answer?
His constant companion Eda could see his tension, but could not help. When asked, quite naturally, as to how the other kids figured this out, Boy responded quite creatively.
“The answer is put up in the notice board, which is kept locked. It is only opened for a minute and those boys who can rush and read it know the answer. Also the monitor who puts it up knows, and tells his friends. And the teacher tells her favourites. “
Some sort of embarrassment kept boy from involving his parents in his troubles. When the first assessment card was handed over to be signed by his parents, Boy’s mother saw “1st term “on the cover, and immediately assumed her darling genius had come first in class. Only further perusal showed his rank, 50th. Not so bad, in a class of 50 students, and this was also mentioned on the card.
She however, preserved all those assessment cards, and displayed them to Boy’s own kids, thus ruining forever, his moral authority to exhort his children for better academic performance.
Boy’s homework continued to be in arrears, and class work incomplete. Notes to parents remained unanswered, and for a good reason. The parents were unaware of them. Demands from the teacher for meeting with them received creative responses, that father was on tour, and mother did not talk to strangers. Story telling came naturally to the boy from a tender age.
Circumstances helped him develop a survival strategy. After the monitor collected the exercise books, including Boy’s incomplete, incorrect or blank contributions, and stacked them on the deck; Boy would look for an opportunity and sneak up, retrieving his copy. Next day’s work would begin on a fresh page.
Every day on the way to school Boy would pray fervently to all the Gods he knew, and the new ones he discovered in school, that his perfidy remain undiscovered, bowing his head to every temple, shrine or mazhar on the way, making the sign of cross for good measure. The statue of Mary in the school landing would get special obeisance from him, on the assumption that she would have greater control of fate within those premises. He would also watch out for occult signs like the number of sparrows spotted, as, it was common knowledge that “One was for Sorrow, and two was for Joy”, and so forth.
But despite all these precautions and insurance, fate played nemesis one fine day.
Boy had had no opportunity for the sneak retrieval of his offending notebook, when the teacher picked up the one on top, leaving the evidence exposed. Now nature played villain, and a whiff of breeze turned back the pages of his notebook.
The teacher, was very surprised to view the results of this quite literal exposure, and examined the whole notebook. Then she proceeded to commandeer his schoolbag, and study all the exercise books in it. Startled by her discoveries, she summoned Boy up front, and holding his ear in one hand, displayed his note books to the class with another.
This was followed up with further corporal punishment, which was not only legal, but commonplace in those unenlightened days. There were visits to the principal, and letters sent home by post, which, due to some brilliant interception from Boy, never reached its intended recipients.
I believe this was the incident that made Boy such a committed Atheist for life.
Copyright (c) Soumya Mukherjee