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June 24, 2024

An Existential Tale of Childhood 5

By Pranab Ghosh

Childhood 1.6

Victor has been visiting me for six days in a row since he started telling me the story of his childhood. But he took a leave without announcing it before yesterday. Victor is apologetic and humbled. But he took the day off to decide on the future course of action. He didn't talk to me yesterday and I was really at a loss, because I did not know what to write and ultimately decided to take a leave too from writing my diary. In the process I have learnt a hard lesson that I will have to keep Victor in good humor to get the stories out of him.

Victor, as I found out later on, was busy ensuring his daily bread. Talking to me doesn't satisfy hunger, the pangs of which are, as you may or may not understand, unbearable. As Victor would more and more concentrate on remunerative work, his daily interactions with me, as had been the case for the last one-and-a-half weeks, will not stay feasible. Hence, even before Victor might speak on the issue, I told him that I would meet him once in a week, preferably on a Sunday, and Victor gladly accepted it. I was sad but did not show it.

Now enough of apologies and reasoning; let's get down to the business of storytelling. Victor is crammed with memories of that KG School and other schools he had been to in his so far long and checkered career. Today he will share some that had become an anecdote to his parents, but whether or not that did Victor any good only time will tell.

Victor in nursery of that KG school was the first student to tell a complete sentence in English and he was hailed by the teacher and in the process secured a double promotion. After nursery, he did not have to go to the infant class but was promoted directly to KG1.

What Victor did was not in the course of some discussion or a lesson learnt and delivered. He was just following the board work done by his teacher, one Ms. Gomez, in her class. He was copying what she was writing on the blackboard; whiteboards, I believe, were not so popular then -- or did those exist at all? I cannot say.

Ms. Gomez came in between the board and Victor, who was sitting in the last row and was finding it difficult to see what was being written on the board, in spite of craning his neck as much as he could do. Deeply annoyed, Victor blurted out, "Aunty, please move, I cannot see." To Victor's utter amazement Ms. Gomez stopped writing on the board, turned towards the class, and demanded to know who uttered the request. Victor coyly raised his hand, apprehending punishment.

Ms. Gomez, without punishing him, rushed to the KG1 class and pulled the teacher taking class there and made her come to her class. Then Ms. Gomez demanded of Victor that he say what he said a minute before once again. Victor repeated and basked in the admiring look of the KG1 class teacher. "He is the first one to utter a complete sentence independently," Ms Gomez announced. The KG1 teacher patted his back and left. Victor never again went to infant class in that school.

Without going much into it, Victor proved once again that educated Bengalis tend to speak English when annoyed. Victor is an example that proves the rule.

Childhood 1.7

Last week Victor shared two incidents from his childhood. He realized the importance and the real significance of those two incidents much later as he grew up.

In today's world, where intolerance is a claw that gnaws at the social fabric of the country, with bloods being shed over issues concerning religion, the two incidents -- reading of biblical stories and his friends enacting a song sequence in Amar Akbar Anthony (a popular movie in Hindi) -- both incidents symbolic of the social tolerance and bonhomie that have existed through the years among various religious community of our state and the country, go a long way in making a child realize that in peaceful coexistence of different communities lies the strength of our democracy.

Those two incidents now appear to him much more than just incidents. The scripture-reading class was not meant for only the Christians; boys from other communities also participated in it, thereby spreading the idea of tolerance and friendly coexistence. Similarly, the camaraderie among the three friends coming from families upholding three different cultures and religious belief may not have consciously affected Victor when he was witness to the show ages ago, but today as a grownup he fondly remembers his friends from the other communities and longs to reestablish the bond that time has broken.

Victor feels that if we all remembered our childhood days, and stayed close to the people of other communities -- at least mentally -- with our thought process eradicating the ideas of hatred and jealousy, we would end up in a society where squabbles would be settled just as the children do it among themselves and promote an united front to the people living in the outer world. And that would be no mean achievement in this world, where bloodshed has lost all its importance and has become as mundane as experiencing a bad dream. Shedding of blood on religious line leaves a bitter taste in our mouths for some time, and then we forget it all as we get busy with our daily scores. But a sense of fear and distrust loom large on us, which makes us distrustful of each other, thereby creating a chink in our social armory and exposing the society to further future subversive activities.

Yesterday I waited for Victor to come the whole day. He did not turn up. I had nowhere to go yesterday. I thought like in the last week Victor will turn up at night. But that didn't happen as well. I made it a vow to pen a few words in my diary everyday and share some of his own experiences and problems in life with you all. But exhausted as I was out of the patient wait for Victor to arrive, I went into a slumber around 8 pm. I forgot all about Victor and the diary. I remembered when I woke up on Monday morning. I remembered Victor and the two cute little stories that he shared with me last week. In the process I realized why Victor after so many years remembers those two incidents. I understood the power of childhood and importance of what we learn then.

Article © Pranab Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-01-13
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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