The mind is free
Nilgiris has this habit of drizzling all day long, like a child pissing! I am walking uphill towards school, my raincoat drawn tight over myself and my backpack schoolbag, looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, wishing for that elusive rubber shoes that my friends seem to have the moment rains are on the horizon. This very exclusive footwear has managed to elude my father’s shopping list till now. I have pestered, begged, even thrown futile tantrums but have had to revert to that dumpy Bata Schoolboy that never seem to tear in spite of me playing football regularly with it on the factory ground after school finished. My father has a static answer to all my wishes, “I don’t earn on the side and I come from a poor farmer family in Midnapore, West Bengal. We do not need two pairs of shoes to run life, one does the job perfectly” As if that answers all my questions satisfactorily!!
On the way Sridhar catches up with me, gives a slap on the back of my neck, that being the latest fad in Sridhar’s class, and announces that Vijay Amritraj has lost to Bjorn Borg in the fifth set after fighting very hard. “Shit! Couldn’t the fellow do a little better” I asked and immediately received another slap. “What da, what are you talking, where Borg and where our man from Madras!, you think he was going to allow our guy to take the match?, you must be crazy!” I think I am crazy. I did not comprehend why no Indian won in sports anywhere. The Hindu kept repeating the phrase “gone down fighting” till I blurred my eyes while reading it. Anyway, important day in school because I had stood in the elections as decided earlier and today was the most important day when the results shall be announced by the Class teacher in our class sharp at 10.30 AM in the class. I reach school, get away from the clutches of “slappy Sridhar” and enter my class. Of course, I first look around to see if Pramila has arrived, the heartbeat naturally increases on spotting her. Anantha punches me on the arm, his latest fad, and remarks, “ Man, where in the name of sweet Jesus are you, man” I am still not comfortable with that kind of language but Anantha has been reading a lot of Archies and that kind of stuff and boasts that he and Joseph are soon going to a place called Dubai outside India that has people talking like that!
I ignore him and dump my bag on my desk. Nandini is weeping and some boys are trying to comfort her. She is forever weeping and there are always boys all around her trying to comfort her. Venkat and Sarita are quietly looking at a glass statuette that Venkat must have conjured out of nowhere to attract the girl’s attention. Venkat is our class trickster. Today it is Sarita who has fallen for his tricks. Poor girl! I am not interested in these very mundane activities of my classmates. I am searching now for Sakthivelu, the guy is not to be seen. He is the guy I feel shall be of some opposition to me. Ah, forgot to tell, he is also in the election that is taking place today. Actually, he does not seem that much excited as I am. Yesterday, we both were sitting in our “bush place” after school and I broached the topic and he told me a very telling observation. He said, “Can we tell anything about these guys, they are going to write the names of their favorite fellow and put it into the box, if we are never going to know what they are going to write in that, why break our heads over who wins,da.” It then looked to me that he had given up on this whole issue and like a true blue Bong I just could not let go of a chance on a public platform. Instead Sakthi asked me if I had the Hindi notes from the Monday class. He had not come to school that day. Sakthi stood first in the class and stood second till class 6. I wanted to do better than him but had no idea how to do it. I barely managed the second rank. My memorizations were giving up on me and Sakthi seemed unbeatable this year. But here he was not being interested in that thoroughly new contest invented by Balan Sir.
Ms. Manimala is reading out the results. Five have stood in the elections. Sharmila has secured 2 votes, Rama 2 votes too, Mahalingam 9 votes, I am perspiring by now, I look across at Sakthivelu and he has slid down in his seat for some reason and so to somehow balance the tension I sit straight only top find my name next – Sujit 13 votes. Whoosh goes my tension and instead a big disappointment sets in immediately. I have lost out to Sakthivelu again. In the meanwhile the class starts clapping on the announcement of Sakthivelu winning the first secret ballot I have witnessed and fought in my 11 year life. I manage a weak smile in the general direction of Sakthivelu. Murli pulls my head from the back and whispers in my ear that he did vote for me and that I should remember that favor when the cricket selections are on. There, now the guys who have voted for me will want to exchange favors with me. I can never understand this ‘give and take’ thing. I invent the reasons of my loss. Must be my colour. I am the only fair guy in the class. Must be because Pramila was the object of desire of most of the boys and I was very much up there in the stakes. Or so I felt!
It does not enter my mind that I must have lost to a better opponent who had better credentials than me. I have already built my defenses in readiness for my impending losses. I have also prepared the lies that I have to tell to save my honour at home or elsewhere if I am called upon to explain my plight. It also does not strike me that apart from me nobody is as much bothered with the outcome. Rama passes me a short while later as chirpy as ever. Sharmila has already resumed her giggly conversation with Fatima beside her. By the way, Fatima runs faster than me. I hate to say that to anyone. When the episode happened, only three fellows were around. I immediately gave a spiel about a cricket injury that cropped up as soon as I started running and limped off the ground. I do not like Fatima when she smiles at me and wags her finger in that know all style. She is reminding me of that episode!! Mahalingam is singing a Rajnikanth song and has clutched his fat pen like Rajani holds his cigarette. He too is oblivious to his defeat. Sakthivelu has left the class along with Ms. Manimala. Baba, what will I tell him! He always has high expectations from me. Also, I am terrified of him generally. I had very gallantly told him that I was in this election and I had a good chance of winning the election as I had put up my credentials very properly with a very ‘high falutin’ speech. I had noticed that Sakthi only said that he had been the Class Monitor in the past and we were a good class. So, he had a good chance of making it again. Baba was mighty pleased and spouted his “ Amra Bangali” bit. Here I am, again finishing second. I take out my compass box, remove my pencil from it and start making emoticons at the back of my English Book, my favorite solo pastime.
That evening clutching my bat and walking towards Ponnappa ground, I decide that I shall try and become the Cricket Captain. Here there was no election. It was all about getting Mr. D’souza to agree that I was the best choice. Now D’Souza Sir used to call me Imran, after the upcoming all rounder of Pakistan, and the reason for such a name I did never figure out. Already, Orange House had named me the 12th man in the House team that had students up to 10th standard. That was an achievement in itself. Here, other than me only Murli was in the fray and while Murli was a good bat, I was a good bat and a good wickie. When called upon to bowl, I also did that job decently enough. Last Sunday, in a match with Rajan uncle’s team, Rajan uncle is a district player, I scored 19 not out for Y.D Ravi’s team. I was a permanent member of Ravi’s team and we have a small club in which I had foolishly donated all my Amar Chitra Kathas. Ma had relished pulling my ears after this episode. Anyway, D’Souza Sir would not be impressed with words, I knew that, I’d have to perform in the next match before team selections of the class. There was not much to figure out in the selections. Most of the guys in the team selected themselves as the others barely managed to put bat to ball but the captaincy was a contest.
The match was on the coming Saturday afternoon. I could barely wait for it. My next chance at salvation!!