Krishna sat in the kitchen, chatting with mother with his sister in his lap. Father called him and asked him to run to the shop and buy cigarettes.
Krishna remained indoors most of the time, these days. He was reluctant to go into the streets. But now he has no choice since his father asked him to go to the shop. To go to the shop he needs to go past the high school, which he felt was a torture. All his friends, teachers might be there. Apprehensively he took the money and left for the shop.
At eight a.m. in the morning, the streets seemed to be alive with the kids running to the school. The high-school street resounded with the din made by the kids. Girls and boys were all scattered all over the road, verandas and yard in the school, laughing, chatting, and catching up with each other. Krishna sneaked to an end of the street and broke into a run. It was a useless effort anyway, since he heard some one call from the veranda, “Hey, Krishna!”
Krishna turned to look at the caller. It was Narasimham! He came running and shook Krishna by his shoulders.
“Hey, why are you not coming to school these days?” he enquired.
“I will start from Monday onwards,” Krishna replied.
“Did you buy the text books?”
“No, not yet.”
“Be quick now! Otherwise there won’t be any left for you. Remember; don’t buy notebooks in the shop! They are much cheaper in the school stores. All the prices have increased incredibly.”
Narasimham was dressed smartly in a long-sleeve shirt, neat trousers and sandals. Krishna’s entire wardrobe consisted of a couple of shorts and shirts. They all existed nominally. The shorts were torn badly. His mother tried to repair his shirt and it ended up looking ridiculous! Krishna never asked for new trousers. He knew that shorts came cheaper than trousers. He only begged for a couple of new shorts. He argued, wept, threw tantrums and did everything he could possibly do. It was of no use. He saw the new textbook under Narasimham’s arm.
“Hey, what textbook is that?” he asked curiously.
“English textbook. I bought all the textbooks except Geography. It is still not available at the stores. Here, have a look,” he handed the book to Krishna.
Krishna leafed through the book. A nice fragrance of rose from the new textbook floated towards Krishna. He buried his face in the book for the fragrance.
“New books have such a nice smell about them, don’t they?” asked Narasimham.
“Yes, indeed! I love it.”
“Krishna, is it true that you did not top the list in the English exam last year?”
“Yes, I lost it by four marks.”
“Who topped it, then?”
“Really? Incredible! How much did she get?”
“Sixty eight! I got sixty-four.”
“Perhaps the teacher took pity on her since she is a girl.”
“Rubbish! She is really a very intelligent girl.”
“Yes, of course! Girls these days study so well!”
Krishna became a hero when the topic of marks and examinations came up. Everybody liked and respected him because he was such a clever boy, always topping in all the examinations. Otherwise seeing his horrible clothes no one would have ever spoken to him. He was feeling miserable, passing through the school and looking at all the kids going to school. He knew that he cannot study at the school any more and that knowledge caused him unbearable misery. His dad declared he could not afford to send him to school any more.
“How can you do that to him? If at this age we don’t send him to school what will happen to his future? Do something, send him to school,” his mother argued and begged.
“Do you think just by admitting him in school would clear up matters? He will be going to high school. Do you know how high the fees are in high school? Just admission fee and textbooks cost fifty rupees. Then papers, pens, notebooks! Where can I get that kind of money? Do you think I like doing this? It is all his and our misfortune. All my salary is just sufficient to feed all of us,” his father lamented.
Who would win the argument is yet to be known. But Krishna knew confidently that in his home it is his dad who had the last word. Hence he had given up all hopes of ever going to school and stayed indoors.
The touch and feel of the new English textbook again gave rise to swelling anxiety in his heart. Jealousy at the other kids who are going to school, disappointment at his helplessness smothered his brain like twin boa constrictors.
“Krishna, come to the school quickly. Do you know, this year we are divided into different sections? All our friends are in section ‘J’. You also should be in the same section.”
“All the way up to ‘J’? That many kids?”
“Not just ‘J’, but all the way up to ‘K’!” exclaimed Narasimham.
Krishna did a quick mental calculation and said, “That is eleven sections, just in grade 9. My God, so many students have joined this year!”
Krishna could not stand there any longer. He returned the book to Narasimham and turned to go. “Krishna, look at this picture,” Narasimham stopped him to show the book cover.A nice tricoloured picture, with farmers harvesting the crop, birds flying over the fields, very beautiful indeed!
The first bell rang indicating the beginning of the school day. Sakuntala strolled into the yard, looking like a goddess, her arms laden with books.“Hey Krishna, guess what! I got the highest score in English last year,” she teased him as soon as
“Don’t be so happy! I got the highest in three subjects, and in Maths I got one hundred percent,”
Krishna gave it back.
“English is the most important subject, for your information” declared Sakuntala, profoundly. “No, ma’am! It is the math that is the most important subject. For that matter, Telugu is even more important, and who got the highest in Telugu, may I ask?”
“I don’t agree! I am sure English is the most important subject,” she insisted.
“No, it is Telugu. Ask anyone! I read in the newspaper that lessons to undergraduates should be taught in Telugu here after.”
“Oh yeah? As if you have read the newspaper.”
“Of course, I did. I read the newspaper daily. Our neighbours buy Andhra Patrika and I borrow it from them daily to read.”
The second bell went off, hurrying the children and the teachers into the classrooms.Narasimham was ashamed to talk to Sakuntala. He was one of the dull students in the class. Leave alone topping in examinations, he found it difficult to even scrape through them with minimum marks. Very self-consciously he remained silent all through the friendly banter. He suffered severe pangs of inferiority complex in spite of his very smart attire and Krishna’s poor clothes. He slowly
sneaked into the schoolyard without making a sound.
“The bell has rung, let us go to the class, Krishna,” said Sakuntala.
“I will come from Monday, next week.”
“I will show you who is going to top in this year’s examinations! I will not leave a single subject for you to top,” she challenged playfully.
“Don’t worry. Hereafter you will be the topper in all subjects and always.”
“Why do you say that?” she was surprised.
“Just kidding! Go on,” he tried to leave.
“Why are you not coming to my home these days? My parents asked many times about you.”
“Ok, now I am off, or I will be late,” she ran towards the school.
“Sakuntala,” he called her.
“What is it now?” she asked impatiently.
Why did he call her? Would he tell her his problems? Of course not!
“Nothing, sorry! You go on.”
She ran into her classroom. They were of the same age, two cleverest kids in the class. Very competitive and friendly, they studied very well. He remembered her handwriting. It was very shabby! His handwriting, in contrast, was very beautiful.
He stood frozen as she ran into the school. Slowly and quietly, returned into the yard. Verandas were empty. Thousands of kids seated near their desks were imbibing knowledge. He could not move out of the yard. He felt all his depression and misery return. He walked into the veranda.
“I am not moving from here,” he was determined and leaned against the pillar.“I will not go home again,” he decided again.
His life from grade 4 flitted in front of his eyes.In grade 5 one of the students took a false complaint to the teacher against Krishna. But the teacher correctly guessed the false allegations and punished the accuser himself. In grade 8 the Telugu
teacher asked the meaning of a difficult Telugu word. He was the only one in the whole class who could answer that correctly.
In grade 7 one of the boys stopped coming to school after the term holidays. The teacher marked him absent daily. Someone told the teacher that he would not come to school any more. The teacher on that day struck the boy’s name off from the register and remarked “discontinued” against it. That was the first time he had heard the word and its meaning. He began to sob when he thought of that word and it’s meaning,
“I am not going home,” he decided even more firmly. His face turned red with all the suppressed anguish and tears. The bell rang again indicating the end of the first period.
Krishna’s father came looking for his son. He spotted the boy in the school veranda.
“Here you are! How long have you been? Where are the cigarettes?”
“Where? What is there?” he looked around, unable to fathom the boy’s words.
“Now you have gone blind, is it?”
“Come on, tell me what is it?”
“Everybody is studying.”
Father looked at Krishna more carefully. He understood the son’s agony. “Is that worrying you, my boy?” he asked mildly. Krishna clung to his father’s legs and let go off all his restrained frustration. He bawled and wept forgetting his age, the place and the entire world. Sobs shook his little body and he felt his heart would break with grief any moment. Father empathized with the child’s sorrow and experienced all the trauma of the son.
“My poor baby! You are crying for that! Let us go home now, darling!”
“I will not go home,” yelled Krishna in helpless anger.
“What will you do here?”
“I will kill myself.”
Father hugged Krishna.
“Don’t say that! Let us go home now, darling.”
“This is my school.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Take me into the class room, now!”
“I will sell myself to send you to school, son, but let us go home for now.”
“Admit me now,” Krishna insisted.
“I have to arrange for the money.”
“After going home, you will say there is no money.”
“I won’t, child!”
“Then at least buy me textbooks.”
“But that too needs money.”
“OK, buy just one book then.”
“Come on, I will buy it for you, don’t cry so hard, darling. It kills me to see you so unhappy.”
Krishna clutched his dad’s hand, still sobbing, he walked towards the school stores.
Father thought hard. The only solution could he think of was to stop smoking. However much he tried, he failed in that. That will give money to send Krishna to school. There was no other option.
“I gave you some money to buy cigarettes, do have the money or did you lose it somewhere?” he asked his son.
“Of course not. I have it in my pocket. Why would I lose it, daddy?” Krishna said, still sobbing.
(The Telugu original enduku pareestaanu naannaa? was published in the forties.
Translated by Sharada, Australia, on thulika.net, April, 2007.)