Thursday, April 21, 2016
‘I Was Kidnapped’ - Part One
I was probably eight years old then, studying at St Joseph’s High School at Wadala in Mumbai. It was one of those lazy summer days at school that seemed to drag on and on and on and the entire class seemed enveloped in the thick stupor of boredom.
When the bell rang for the lunch recess, we boys dashed out of the class in a whoosh of relief. After a quick lunch from our three-compartment lunchboxes, we headed for the water fountain. What, no water?! This was crazy! What would we drink? And sure enough, just because there was no water our throats actually felt more parched than ever before! I was with two friends, Yagnesh and Prasad. Yagnesh was a sweet, conservative Gujarati boy and Prasad, well, he was the oldest amongst us, having dropped a year. Prasad was taller than Yagnesh and me, and, though not very bright, he certainly was more confident and street savvy than both of us.
The three musketeers went around the school to see if there was a stray tap we could drink from. No such luck. We were angry and frustrated ...and thirsty. Prasad suggested we get out and look for water in some shop outside the school. We rambled out of the school gates, turned left and started asking around for drinking water. Apparently some pipe had burst and there wasn’t any water…or at least that’s what the shopkeepers claimed. So we walked further down ...and then further.
Everything was happening as if in a dream. The hot stuffy afternoon, the glistening tar roads, the random disinterested people on the roads and time moving lazily, very lazily. And there we were, three school kids, in our blue shorts and white bush shirts, walking down the road, away from school, talking inane stuff. It really was as if we were in some kind of suspended animation. At one point Yagnesh chanced upon a still-lit cigarette stub on the road. He picked it up and took a drag then passed it to Prasad who took a really deep drag then passed it to me. This was happening almost in the middle of the road and suddenly it dawned on us that we would get a hiding if some one from our families saw us smoking. We looked around furtively to check but there wasn’t anyone. We stubbed out the cigarette and moved on.
At some point, Prasad suggested that since we had come so far we might as well carry on to his dad’s shop which was “pretty close”. We would definitely get water there. Yagnesh and I shrugged to say, “Why not?” When we approached the Wadala suburban railway station, Prasad took a right turn which brought us to the road parallel to the railway tracks. And we walked and we walked. Nobody thought of school, and, after a while, nobody spoke. We simply followed Prasad.
Suddenly I looked around and saw a sign outside an Irani cafe. Gosh, we had reached Reay Road! I think that was the first time I started getting anxious.
A while later we found ourselves at his father’s shop. His father dealt in iron scrap and his shop was right on the main road. It had a small, low entrance painted in turquoise blue leading to a slightly larger cubicle, leading further on to a much larger warehouse where all the scrap was stocked. His dad was a tall, roughly-built practical man from Eastern Uttar Pradesh. He wasn’t too pleased to see us. “What are you doing here?! Why aren’t you at school?!” he yelled at Prasad. Yagnesh and I huddled by the door. Prasad may have been scared too but he didn’t show it. “There wasn’t any drinking water at school and we were soooo thirsty! What could we do? The padres should have thought of us kids, no?” The father was still gruff and upset but then here were these thirsty little kids who had walked all the way from Wadala to Reay Road just to have some water! It’s not like they had played truant to watch a movie! He gave us some water to drink from a red matka in a corner and shooed us away. “Go back to school!"
We came out and abruptly realised it was almost 4 pm! School was over! We were really worried. We had run away from school! We would get a spanking not just from our parents but from the school too! How could we have been so stupid?! But Prasad was reassuring. “Why should you worry? First of all they wouldn’t have missed us and I am sure nobody even knows we were not there after lunch. And even if they do, what have we done wrong? We were thirsty and we went out to drink some water. Only we got late. Is that a crime?"
Yagnesh and I nodded weakly but as we walked home our feet were tired and our hearts heavy.
But neither of us could have known what would happen next...