He was nibbling the chalk when I positioned myself for another hour of Grade 7 Moral Science lecture at the ramshackle building that housed Shiksha Niketan, my alma mater and to which I owe my existence to. For kids in our generation, studies mattered a lot. Having been exposed to the phenomena that was cable TV in the early 90s we had come to believe in the principles of “equal opportunity” and thankfully, so had our parents.
We all wanted to be celebrities; all aspired to walk down the red-carpet with rapturous applause and blinding camera flashes. It seemed every soul in town had his wings on fire and wanted-not to do anything about it, rather to fly as long as one could and nestle himself in the vicinity of the heavenly fraternity.
In grade 7, we had simpler but equally important ambitions. It was during those years of tugging-the-elephant’s tail that I met the boy with the chalk. He always had a chalk in his hands. Nibbling, drawing and throwing was what he used them for and yet ended up with a stick of granular calcium carbonate in his hands nevertheless. It was not for no reason that we called him chikki anyways.
Ours were a typical small-town school complete with a massive playground, a number of 3 storied buildings, a huge stage with a small centre and a nun for headmistress or the principal as we used to call her. As a convent school pains were taken to inculcate the passion for English that the Queen loved- Shakespearean tragedies and Othelloesque complexities inside the brains of shallow river swimmers brought to the front in the sea. We were taught to hate Shylock and love Antonio. Anton Chekov and The Daffodils made for strange bed-fellows. Studying in a convent school has its own set of advantages though- you get to be near the serene church with high domes and a bountiful of solitude, you get to be taught Moral Science with the utmost care while “science” languished in the back benches and you got to be pinched and disciplined by the Christian teachers from the down south. All for the sake of education. We had our own computer lab you know, where we were taught basics of Basic and demonstrated the epitome that was Windows. Ah, how that picture of the 4 colored wavy-squares fascinated us! Our teachers in the lab took turns to demonstrate the power that was the OS and we took turns gasping about it. Days, those were.
Chikki had always been a recluse of sorts. On the school bus, he was always seen minus his head which danced with the winds outside the steel can that was the bus. He, with his distant eyes and long curled-up hairs that squashed around as if on springs evoke strange reactions from us, his partners in crime. Some felt his poor performance was the culprit some blamed it on his naiveté, while others simply did not care. Me? I used to feel I related with the naivety theory but felt more at home with the i-care-not disposition.
” He just is that way you know. Some people are born to take the back stage and they fret not about it. Why do you care anyways ballu?”- I used to exclaim when asked by ballu, my classmate and next-door neighbor. Little did I know that all of 15 years later I would bite my words so hard it would crack open a diamond.
Peering over the horn-rimmed glasses the man seemed at ease, yet not entirely so. His hands neatly tucked inside his cream trousers and feet tapping away to a muted music chitti looked nothing like himself, at least not what I had made him out to be. While I sat there listening, as he recounted his tale I could not help travelling back in time to that hot April noon when things were equally complex and yet not entirely so.
Miss Cornellia knew she had just had a moment of reckoning. Such was the blistering pace with which the events unfolded in that tiny square classroom of ours that none of us had the time to react. Silence, bucket-loads of it poured forth as we witnessed the tiny figure storm out, leaving behind the grating ceiling fan, the struck-by-lightening bunch of 15-year olds and a bewildered woman in a crisp red georgette saree.
An hour it took him to complete his story but the effect of the monologue lingered on in me and still lurks somewhere, hidden underneath the reams of daily ablutions. During times of intense contemplations and self-appraisals, it swiftly scrapes through the tunnels of mirages, patiently build over the course of time and spills onto my inane consciousness. I try not to think about it but such is the propriety of this silly mind that efforts to bury it under mounds of Old Monk seems but a futile effort.
To be continued..