The boy looked smart in his white shirt, grey pants and the tie with red and blue stripes. His father stood by the door tapping his feet at the threshold as he skimmed through the newspaper. His mother was combing his hair as he tied his shoe laces. His dreamy eyes narrowed and his lips curled down slightly as he caught the strong smell of the coconut oil his mother had applied on his hair. He did not like the oil. It made him sleepy and got him in trouble at school for sleeping in class. As he got up from the sofa, suddenly he stopped in his track with a thoughtful look.
“Today is my birthday,” he announced. His father and mother looked at him, their eye brows raised. His mother was the first to speak up. “So what about it? We wished you as soon as you got up and you have already had some of the cake I baked for you.”
“And I have got you the Kodak camera you wanted,” his father added, adjusting his spectacles over his broad nose.
“I want to wear my new clothes to school,” he said taking off his socks and shoes.
“But you never liked having your birthday celebrated at school.” He knew that sharp look in his mother’s eyes. She already smells a rat, he told himself. He had to play his cards very carefully.
He tried to put on an innocent angelic look on his face and replied, “I realized the joy of sharing.” His mother still did not seem to look convinced.
But before his mother could continue with her questioning, his father stepped in, “If he wants to celebrate his birthday with this friends, so be it. Get him dressed in his new clothes and let us get going. It is getting late.”
Mother made a small pout but went in quietly to open the cupboard to take out his birthday clothes. He had a smug look on his face as he untied his tie knot. In a few minutes, he was all set to go to school in his blue checked shirt and dark blue pant. He caught the strong smell of lentil and spices as his mother handed him his tiffin box. “Not Sambhar rice again!” he sighed.
He marched by his father’s side, his school bag hung to his back and his lunch basket in his right hand swinging up and down as they walked through narrow road filled with stench of feces and urine. Here and there they could see small boys squatting on the side of the road, making their contribution of odorants to the road. It was quite a challenge in some stretches to maneuver one’s way past the buffaloes that were tied to one side of the road, keeping one’s eyes out for the traffic both ahead and behind and below as well to avoid stepping on something squishy squash.y
They stopped at a little shop just in front of the bus stand. “Which chocolate do you want,” his father asked him. Pat came the reply, “Get whatever is the cheapest. Just ensure we have at least and hundred and twenty chocolates or so. We have sixty students in class and there are thirty more from the other section during the Hindi period.”
“Money does not grow on trees does it? I wouldn't want to waste your hard earned money, do I?” Again the boy’s face had assumed the serene angelic expression. His father rolled his eyes; he hardly seemed to believe what he had just heard. But today was his birthday and birthday brought with it immunity from the usual scrutiny and questioning. It also meant he did not have to get squashed between people in a crowded bus in the sweltering June heat and land up in school literally dripping with sweat; his own and those of his fellow passengers. His father hailed an auto rickshaw and he got in and sat down one leg on top of the other, enjoying the breeze blowing against his face as the auto sped away towards the school premises.
Three hours later
The bell rang and a woman in her mid-twenties dressed in an elegant green Sari entered the class. She greeted the class in Hindi and the whole class broke out into chorus. Then someone mentioned about his birthday. She smiled at him, her pearly teeth glistening on her oval face and asked everyone to wish him in Hindi. There was again a chorus. Then he distributed chocolates to the students of the other section and went back to the seat. By now the first fifteen minutes of the class was over
Now it was the time for the part all students dreaded. “How many of you have not done your homework?” Ten boys stood up. He too was among them. She called them to come over to the front one by one. She asked each boy to hold out his hand and gave three sharp raps on the knuckle with the ruler and asked to go and stand outside the class. Finally it was his turn.
She looked at him with her large round eyes. He thought he saw a slightly cruel streak across those otherwise pretty eyes. There was a slight softening of expression. “Since today is your birthday, I excuse you. Go back to your seat. Do not repeat this again.”
As he returned to his seat, his gait had a merry rhythm and lots of energy to it. He kept a straight innocent face, while grinning from ear to ear inside his heart. The new dress and chocolates had served their purpose well.
Picture Credit : http://giftjaipur.com