A Non-sense Novelette
The Dark Past
Of the many vagaries of nature, one that is remarkably consistent is that boys at a certain age start yearning for prominence, for a certain amount of notoriety among his peers. Some strive to excel in sports, while others sweat out to develop nasty overgrowth of their muscles. Some become famous by simply pulling others’ legs including their teachers, or just by telling funny uncensored jokes. The meeker ones find easy ways like getting high grades in school reports.
Chandu could achieve none of these. In studies, he only managed to be on the wrong side of the average. He had no talent for singing or telling jokes and others pulled his legs. He was too scared of the reprimands to achieve glory through mischief. In football fields, he was never allowed to step in. He was so thin, his school mates never forgot to point out, that a strong breeze could easily help him soar to the sky.
There was this nice story going round that one day Chandu had lied down in a grassy field where the village washerman had spread out his washed clothes to dry and, unfortunately, Chandu had dozed off. Late afternoon, when the clothes had dried out the washerman gathered them, tied them in a bundle and took them home, only to discover later that Chandu was in the bundle folded up sleeping peacefully.
Not a true story of course, and the washerman denies it hotly, but you know how these things spread in the villages and Chandu’s status in the school remained as indifferent as ever.
And thus his secretly nurtured ambition to attain eminence remained unfulfilled till the day it was announced that the school, first time in its history, would be celebrating the Independence Day.
Humming with excitement, the school, for the next few days, had no business except that of the impending festival. The organizing committee finalized the programme over many cups of tea and, with a touch of ingenuity, added a side dish to the main programme by asking a student to give a short speech.
Chandu volunteered before anyone else could do so and was reluctantly accepted by the doubtful selectors, who seemed to have never noticed him before. Chandu prepared and rehearsed his speech. firmly restricted to ten lines by the selectors, in absolute secrecy. The selectors never suspected that their volunteer was to present those ten lines in English, instead of in Bengali as had been prescribed.
On the auspicious day, well attired in a spotless dress, his neat manuscript folded in his breast pocket, Chandu marched up to the dais, amid a round of applause.
“Respected teachers, my dear boys and girls–,” Chandu started well as he unfolded his manuscript just to make sure that he didn’t miss a line or two. That there were no girls among the audience in this boys’ only school was forgiven with another round of applause.
And it is at this juncture that disaster struck. Someboy must have switched the manuscript and to his horror Chandu found bold letters glaring at him, “Chandu, Headmaster Knows!”
Alas, like so many unsolved mysteries, we will never know what the headmaster knew and neither did Chandu for that matter. Alarmed, he looked up to glance at the headmaster, who was present on the dais, waiting impatiently for Chandu to finish, so that the main programme, his own speech, could begin.
The threatening gesture that Chandu received, to be precise not threatening at all but only gesture the headmaster made with practice acquired over the years, made him forget his lines altogether. The brief, tense silence was followed by lusty cheers and boos, when Chandu made his escape through the backstage.
The students had thoroughly enjoyed the performance and often requested him for encores in other programmes, but Chandu staunchly refused. This was the stage when Chandu turned inwards. He brooded and scribbled notes for himself, which he never shared with anyone. He was often seen pottering alone, lost in deep thoughts. In short, he developed all the classic symptoms that mark a future poet. This was the time when he raged a lonely frustrating struggle with rhymes, verses and words. This phase did not last long however, and as in case of so many of the esteemed readers of this chronicle, the fever abated and Chandu was back to square one.
(To be continued…)