Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Lunch That Went Flying

I have always hated carrying lunch with me. More so in school. I simply hated being bogged down by the lunch box, especially the empty box after the lunch recess. My dear mom would wake up early to pack my round lunch box which would typically have a paratha (Indian bread) and some dry subzi (vegetable dish).

One day when I was in the second grade, in my first school, I went out to the school grounds to have my lunch with a friend of mine. I must have been about six then and I was a shy boy and did not like having lunch with the others. Besides, the boys tended to get rather boisterous during lunch and were prone to giving you portions of their lunch even as they whacked portions from yours. This horrified me since I was a vegetarian and most of the boys weren't.

My friend and I hunted out a shaded spot on the field and had just opened our lunch boxes when, swoosh, came the shadow of a large wing and the next minute my lunch was in the beak of large kite! Before I could recover, the kite was a already a speck in the sky. I was close to tears. Not only would I have to go hungry but also have to face my mom when I returned home.

But events turned out differently in the evening. When I told my mom what had happened, she first peered at me to figure out if I was fibbing and then...she burst out laughing! And immediately she felt so sad for her little son who had gone hungry that day at school. She hugged me tight and gave me some snacks and Bournvita. When my father came home from work, she narrated the Kite Who Got His Lunch Box story to him with a sweetly disguised smile.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Random Impact

After my running-away-from-school fiasco, my parents moved me to my brothers' school, in the hope that my two elder brothers would be able to keep an eye on me. I was in the fifth standard then and had been shaken very deeply by my ability to cook up a story. My mom told me glumly that at the rate I was going I would be in jail one day. In my little heart I knew this much: I didn't want to be a criminal. I didn't even know why I had lied about my "adventure". I was just an eight-year-old child then and I was as freaked out by what had happened as by my conservative family's reaction to my escapade.

That is how I decided I would be a "good" boy from then on. A decision that was to become a weighty albatross round my neck because I got into the habit of being good in order to be perceived as being good. It took me many years to see this and to finally become comfortable with who I was.

Meanwhile, an incident happened in my new school that was to influence the course of my life deeply. One afternoon my fifth standard class teacher was taking the Moral Science class. She was speaking to us about right and wrong. I remember distinctly I was sitting in the middle of the second row from the door, looking intently at the teacher with my chin cupped in my right palm. And suddenly she said something that impacted me deeply.

She said the only way to judge anything or anybody was by "stepping into the other person's shoes."

It was a simple enough remark and she didn't even lay any special emphasis on it. I am sure she would have been very surprised if told that it had touched a deep chord in the heart of the kid sitting somewhere in the middle of the class. But the fact is, it did. And this "stepping into the other person's shoes" became my most important yardstick as I grew up...and remains so to this day. That simple remark, I like to believe, gave scope for patience and compassion to bloom; and it helped make me somewhat less judgmental of other people's traits and angularities than I would otherwise have been.

Though I can picture her vividly to this day - this young "Catholic" teacher standing on the class "platform" wearing a long dress with a small floral print and sporting a plain-looking "bob-cut" hairdo - I just cannot for the life of me remember her name.

And I have no way to thank her.