Grasshopper Chronicle Part II
Misled by the Clever Crow
School was troublesome, primarily because Sir was teaching too much of mathematics and the ones who could solve those sums and even enjoyed doing those were the admired lot. Sujata and Chandan were maths experts. So they would sit in the front bench.
They would be called by Sir to stand by his table and recite lessons for the rest of us. We would repeat after them rhymes and multiplication tables –dui ek goon dui, dui dui goon chaari, dui tini goon chhoy…(two ones are two, two twos are four, two threes are six…) The loud monotonous cacophony of mugging up tables was so soothing for our Sir that he would close his eyes and slowly down his head and sleep as the learning tempo would increase to the highest of its pitch.
Manoj came back after some time from Head Sir’s office with a paper. Gave it to Sir. Sir looked at it and did not say anything. After sometimes Sir said with a loud tone, ‘Keep doing your neota.’ And went out.
Then he came back and said, ‘Last year five from our school got britti (scholarship). This time I have doubt if even one of you can make it. So there will be a special test examination to select from amongst you for the britti pariksha.’ (the scholarship examination)
We saw the faces of Sujata, Chandan and Sankar beginning to glow. Sir said, ‘Forget the britti, let me see how many of you can even qualify just to sit for the examination.’
His words did not affect us much. Some of us felt thirsty, some wanted to go out to pee. The only way to get a break was to either feel thirsty or going for peeing. It was contagious. If one feels the pressure it would affect all of us one by one. Someone invented an ingenuous idea to turn the act of peeing into quite a dramatic affair. Kapil Pathak told sir in the class,
‘Sir, I want to go out to pee.’
Sir said, ‘Go’.
And he went out of the class, went down the verandah and proceeded towards the playground, crossed it, reached the kuccha road in front of the school compound and, no he did not do it by that road; he went beyond, he crossed that road and reached the edge of what we were told was the 31 National Highway and then he had crossed that too and reached the other side of the 31 National Highway. The railway station was on the other side. There was a long pond between the highway and the railway station. Facing the railway station and putting his back to us he did it. He peed. He peed for a long time and we kept watching this act of extraordinary valour with wide eyes and open mouths. We knew he was in for big trouble because it was banned for us to go near the 31 National Highway and he did exactly that; not only that, he even crossed it and peed there. It was foolhardy.
He returned. But to our utter surprise and big disappointment, there was no big scolding, no spanking on the palms. Actually he was lucky. In the afternoon, when our school was about to get over, he had gone for the venture, and by that time, we noticed, Sir was sleepy. Soon we followed suit and began to cross the high way to pee. If one felt the pressure it affected the other too. One after another, as in a procession, we were going out to pee. In the beginning there were only a few of us because most of us did not like mathematics.
We would stand in a line and pee with various motions, sometimes like water coming out of an elephant trunk, sometimes in circular motion making a circle in the air; sometimes we would draw some patterns on the grass with our running flow. Once the peeing was over, we would wait for the jerk.
Soon it became popular with others, not only from our class but from all other classes as well. Quite often almost half of the boys of the school would stand in a line across the 31 National Highway to pee and make patterns. The girls would watch us from inside the class. Soon the peeing party came to the notice of our fathers and also of the other people, because almost throughout the day there would be long line of pee pupils comprising various classes of the school. It was like a peeing festival.
I saw once one of my uncles came to the school and talking to our Headmaster. Next day when we had asked for permission to go out to pee we were very harshly treated by our Sir. That day none of the boys from any one of the classes was seen on the highway doing the water game. The fair came to an end.
Then Chakrabarty Sir, our Head Sir, came to our class and did a very unusual thing. He held up his hand holding something and said, ‘Can you see this?’
Like a thunder we shouted together,
‘Hoy s-a-a-a-a-a-a-r’ (Yes Sir)
He then asked, ‘Can you make out what are these?’
Like a thunder we shouted again,
‘Nai s-a-a-a-a-a-r’ (No Sir)
He then showed us two peculiar stone pieces – round, smooth and blackish. Both were of the same size but little different in shades. He then explained:
-‘From now on whoever goes out to pee or drink water must pick up one stone from the table. Unless the black stone comes back no one can pick up the brown one. Once the brown stone is out, none can pick up the black one.’
We were trying to figure out what was he trying to say. He continued, ‘If you want to drink water or pee pick up a stone, once you return keep it back then the other can pick up the other stone. There must be at least one stone on the table always.’
Manoj was very brave and always acted like those great people who wanted to do good things for others. He had asked, ‘Sir what if two of us cannot hold it back at the same time?’
‘There is no way; you have to do it in your pants’, Sir was very harsh. Everybody laughed.
Sujata Ghosh wanted to ask something. Before she said anything the other girls sitting beside her began to giggle. Sir said, ‘For the girls you have to just take the permission.’
Soon we started our plans which stone to pick up first- the black one or the brown one.
It was Mahendra Basfor who was the first one to pick up the black stone. As we were doing our hand writing practice, Satyar saday jay (Truth always prevails) we were also looking for Mahendra to return. It took ages for Mahendra to come back. Sir asked him, ‘Why so late?’ He said, ‘Sir I went to drink water, felt so thirsty.’
There was no tube well in the school. During the tiffin break the whole school would go to nearby households to drink water. But to go to drink before or after the tiffin break was not allowed.
-‘Couldn’t you wait for the tiffin hour?’ said Sir loudy.
Mahendra replied, ‘I wanted to drink later but I realised if I did not drink then, I would have died instantly’.
Instead of feeling concerned all of us laughed.
As Mahendra retuned at least four of us wanted to pick up the brown stone. It was Manoj who could get hold of the brown stone.
Next day Manoj brought a lot of stones in his pocket. But none matched the black-brown stones. Mahendra Basfor said, ‘These are different stones, not found anywhere. Last time Sir went to Gaya, he must have collected these two from the Himalayas.’ Mahendra knew many things about Gaya and other places because he lived in a quarter near the railway station.
Once we tried to do something scientific. Mahendra could get hold of a dirty plastic mug. Inspired by the clever crow, he had announced, ‘I shall show you a magic now.’
He ran to the pond nearby, got a tiny bit of water just barely to fill the bottom of the mug, placed it on the table inside the class and brought out a handful of pebbles from inside his pocket like an expert and dropped them one by one into the mug. We were worried lest the water spilled over the table. We all drew our heads over the mug. Not a trace of water was there apart from a heap of tiny stones filling the mug. Then we all brought out all the stones and dropped them again, it didn’t work.
Manoj finally realised what was going wrong. He had revealed, ‘Like the crow we must do it on a pitcher and not in a plastic mug.’
After the morning assembly and prayers, N-a-r-a-y-a-n hoya khochetan, diya darakhan… (O Lord come alive and appear before us) classes would resume. Soon after the class resumed, roll calls done, somebody would immediately feel the pressure and ask, ‘Sir want to go out. Can I pick up a stone?’
As the black and brown stone rule continued something happened. Suddenly, life changed.