The general idea that children are inherently meek and innocent is somewhat flawed. Toothless babies and loud-mouthed toddlers have no notion of societal pressure, they are thus at liberty to script annoying episodes of juvenile criminal behavior. They may get nobler with age but it is true that all men and women were very probably once sadistic explorers of bad behavior.
Ernest knew all this. He also realized this made him somewhat of an anomaly. He knew not of a single nerve of evil in his body, not one self-serving molecule in his being. Benign for his age, he was awfully noble for his generation.
Yet, life taunted him. His excellent demeanor did not translate into good marks or attestations of “Keep It Up!!!!” on his notebooks. They were markedly clean though, the covers impeccable, the writing legible. But he was not a bright child. Clean as the notebooks were, the material inscribed on them was itself not note-worthy. Most things baffled him. For instance, why the singular denomination of time was called a second and not a first.
Today however was not about his books. He had been handed his Mathematics answer paper and he had failed admirably at it. A cursory look at the paper itself would lend credibility to the author but on closer look, the sorry plot would unravel. He had filled in the paper with “solutions” to every problem on it without regard to freedom of choice. But the solutions were all treacherous to say the least. A few of them seemed to start in the right direction but his lack of problem-solving skills left them veering off course, often causing more problems. The entire sheet was impeccably clean too, he was meticulous in his abject failure.
He now traced slow steps towards home. Home was three adjacent oblong rooms he shared with his sister and parents. His parents, he knew, were struggling to graduate out of the lower middle class echelons to join the respectable middle class. His performance report today meant they were no closer towards that endeavor. Every time his father looked at Ernest’s answer sheet, his hope that the offspring would expedite the upgrade faded into the incredulous.
The thought didn’t exactly sadden Ernest though. He wasn’t given to self-pity or disappointment. He was gifted that way. A contributing factor to that gift was a movie he watched a few years back. Across the street from his humble oblong abode was a video rental store, the one beside the Dinshaw’s ice-cream parlor. The one which sells the plastic ball shaped ice-cream. The ball that can be consumed within and can be played with after.
On his father’s salary day, they rented a VCD as well as the player. His mother made pakodas that day. They would watch and eat with glee, oil and generous amounts of tomato ketchup. When it was time to insert “The Gods Must Be Crazy” VCD in, the children were told by their parents in jest – “Keep your insides intact. It is hilarious”. Their parents were at their best on salary day and were often given to jest and hilarity on those days.
But the movie shook Ernest. The skinny people, their dwellings, their undernourishment, the innocence of their own poverty. It gutted him as he watched it. He found it disgusting that they who lived in such conditions could laugh and possess a sense of humor. His eyes welled up with tears at the tragic irony. He kept his plate of pakoda aside and lunged at his parents sobbing. Ernest would never be the same again.
That day he understood privilege. Of three oblong rooms that were to be treasured. Of everything pleasant and unpleasant that came his way. When the occasional beating transpired, he looked at his father with warmth even as he was being thrashed. He realized he was lucky after all. No Mathematics answer sheet would trouble him now. As he entered the house, he put on a tired sagely smile. Ernest may not turn out to be bright, but he could be wise.
Write Club Hyderabad – March 2018