The Quiet One
by Chakresh Singh
“You might be thinking why I eat my lunch alone. I wish I could tell. Have you ever seen my lunch box, the white one? On the top of it is a picture of a boy, sitting in the sun under a tree with his back reclined on its trunk. But that is only the half of the picture. In the other half there is some English poem written in a miniature text. One surely can’t read it with naked eyes but it must be a beautify poem I am sure. You wanted to know why I keep quiet, it is because I believe there is a heaven beyond this classroom and there are plenty of trees unlike our school. I believe, there is a place where the day is bright and the shade of trees very thick and dense. I eat alone because I think of such a place my friend and I wish I were there. “
It is not that anyone thinks like that about my being so aloof in the class, it is just that I talk to myself all the times and I give elaborate speech in my head to the imaginary kids I know. Those in real life are not so submissive I must say. They won’t bow their heads and stand in absolute reverence to listen to my flights of imagination. They are energetic, fun loving and somewhat stupid kids of real parents. They are dumb as well, I guess. For why will they take every instruction of every teacher who comes and teaches us with no resilience what so ever? I am not like them. On the very first day at school, I chose the last bench on the side of the window in the classroom. From here I see the cycle shop outside our school building and every hour, new faces coming with their bicycles and getting them mended or filling air in the flattened tubes. From here I can wonder in the boundary-less fields of my imagination. From here I can skip the mundane classroom activities of making and taking notes.
It has been so for many years now. When I was in the Nursery sections, I was no different. Now I am in Middle section, still I am the same. Sometimes I feel, in doing all this what if I do not grow up ever? What if my imaginations mean nothing in the end of the school? Will it be so that the boring topper of our class, get into a good college and I won’t be able to get admission any where? Aah! Leave it. Why to think about all that? After all, those who get into colleges after school are humans only and they can’t be better than me. While I was busy in exercising my democratic-fundamental right of free thinking, our squeaky English teacher notices me being lost somewhere and looking from the open spaces of spectacles and face utter the following unpleasant and more than that very disrespectful words for a respected President of America who just finished a speech in the house of the commons: “Sid, are we on the same page?” “What page?” I was about to ask, but I knew it’s better to concentrate in reality for a change. “Yes, ma’am. Its page number 26!” The whole class roared into laughter. I realized she was not asking the page number, but asking whether I was listening to her all this time. “Aah! The third squeaky daughter of holy St. Aloysius!”, I said to myself. The first two being the Chemistry and the Drawing teachers. All three kept together make a perfect recipe comic drama of the seventeenth century English Literature. They bring these unheard phrases and try to mock the intelligence of the best brains in the classroom. But she wasn’t as good as me this time. I have master a skill of knowing what is going the classroom even while being deeply lost in my own world. It’s is a hard work of years I must say. “Ma’am you were taking about how Sindabad the sailor, left for the un-in habitat island of jewels and there he found himself surrounded my numerous poisonous snakes. He slips into a cave and waits for the night.” There was certainly something missing in my explanation and the whole class was willed with laughter once again. “Quiet!”, she roared. “Sid, if you are not interested in what is taught in the class why don’t you leave and go outside and roam around?” It’s funny these teachers make interrogative sentences and expect no answers to them. I wished I could ask happily, “Are you serious!” But I knew this witch. She would hang me upside down if I utter a single word now. She was visibly disturbed. Her ego was hurt. After all, my story was more interesting that the one written in the book. I knew she was jealous of my literary genius. The whole class for silent for thirty minutes of her lecture and just a few seconds of my speech made them enjoy the time and laugh like they naturally should. “Next time I catch you, only God can save you!”, she warned and asked to sit down. “God! Lift her please”. Though I am an ardent atheist but in the moments of utter despair even the best of the best atheists lose their religion. This I read in a Hindi novel, it was a hilarious thought but I experience it every now and then.
There were few broken chalk pieces laying near my feet below the desk. For the rest of the fifteen minutes of her lecture, I wished I could pick those pieces and one by one hit her face with them, making perfect aim all the time. I kept biting my lips with my teeth, as I often do in anger. How can someone infringe in my private life and disturb me and that too with so much authority! I hate being so weak in real life. Anyhow, time passes by. The ringing bell softened my heart to some extent. When she was gone, Atul came to me and said, “Sindabad, on an un-in-habitat island! What a story mate! Where did you get that?” we laughed. I said, “chal sussu kar kea ate hain”. It’s not that I was willing to pee, but the next class was of Social Studies and wanted to skip the first ten minutes the same old, “India is a vast country”, kind of lecture.
Atul has been a great friend all these years. He knows me very well. In our age everyone knows everyone very well. But he is a close friend. He always gets good grades in all subjects. I get good grades in subjects of my choosing. I love Mathematics, and I always get highest score in Mathematics in every examination right from the first class. Except for once, when I had small pox and I left section B of the question paper completely. I still think of that day and feel sad. Atul, knows that I am good in studies, I just do not put effort to do well and get my due respect in the class. Every year some new teachers come to teach and every year they make new perceptions about the kids. I have a reputation tough. Even the Principal knows that I don’t like to be in the classroom for long. Father, we call him. In his white robe with a short stick he was in the gallery of the third floor, when he saw me with Atul. “Yes, you two, why are you roaming here? Don’t you have class?” he asked pointing his nose towards us. I took the lead and walked in front of Atul and said, ’Good morning Father. We were going to the bathroom”. “Quick quick, hurry to your class room. Quick” is all he said and allowed us to wander for a little more time, while the rest if the class was getting submersed into the discussions of renaissance of France. We took a lazy walk to towards the end of the corridor. Looking inside class 7th B first door and then two windows and then the hind door, followed by class 8th A first door, two windows and then the hind door. I kept looking at the faces of the helpless students in all the classes that came across our walk. Helpless, weak, submissive kids I thought. “Hey Sid, I kept a chewing gum the teacher’s chair today.” Alut told me. We laughed. “Persia will look really sticky today”, he said and we laughed even more. The hind of our History teacher was disproportionately large. Once he was writing on the board something about Persia and looked back to ask Zafer, what was he laughing at? Zafer later told us, he was laughing at Persia of Mr.Siddique. Since then Persia came into picture. The joke has spread in the senior sections as well and now the whole school knows, where was Persia.
After about ten minutes we reached our class, we were allowed to enter without any question. I went back to my seat in the back benches and Atul, took his middle row seat. All the time we kept exploring the fields of Persia and could not find the sticky gum any were on the map. Atul kept looking at me, all puzzled and I kept feeling disappointed. After the class was over, somebody told that he did not sit.
It was lunch time now. I once again remained in class while the rest left for play. I kept thinking of the fields and the poem. Every day, I try to read it and fail. With regular brush of the tiffin box, while cleaning it, a fair portion of the picture has faded away. Mummy asks if I need a new lunch box, a steel one, I deny every time. I do not want anything else on earth but to read the poem that is written on it. The smell around the place of my imagination, and the poem as if dripping from the tree leaves as honey, is all I want to live with. No matter how notorious and at time ugly I get in my class room mischievous, I have a tender heart of the same nursery kid, who used to look out the school walls and think there is a place better than this.
The pickle, the parantha, and the alloo ki sabzi is what I generally bring in lunch. Many friends bring bread, butter and jam. But I do not like bread. I do not like paranthas as well, but they are better than rotis. I eat very slow and leave the most of the lunch, only to go home and listen to the same old concern of mummy, “how will you grow strong if you do not eat?” I feel, for a person like me, who lives in a fantasy world all the time, what use is muscles and strength. For who do I need to fight? And after all, I want too less. I just want to know what that poem says.
…..to be continued