Akash lived in a big mansion. His father was a doctor. A noble doctor. He did not charge a high fee when a patient was ill and needed his service. He would attend, free of charges, to the poor and the downtrodden whenever they needed him. He always told his son Akash that he should mix freely with children irrespective of family background. Akash’s mother also agreed with her doctor husband.
Akash returned home from school. He tossed his school bag upon his bed, hurriedly removed his school uniform and dressed up in casual wear. He drank a tumbler of milk and chewed cream biscuits hurriedly. Then he stuffed his trousers pockets with cream biscuits. He also tucked in pocket money. He rushed to the balcony of his big house.
“ Ali,” cried out Akash in clear-cut Hindustani, “ Come, join me for a game of cricket. Call the other boys too.”
“ Bhaiya,” replied Ali from the street corner,” Back from school?”
The two boys exchanged a wave of hands. Then Akash clambered down the stairs and was joined by a gang of street urchins. They all loved and respected Akash bhaiya. Akash stopped by a sweatmeat shop and bought a few laddoos for the hungry boys. They thanked Akash profusely and stuffed the yellow balls of sweets into their mouths. Akash also offered them the cream biscuits.
“ Surely you don’t have to thank me, boys. ” Akash spoke with a smile.
“ I was so hungry, I did not even have time to thank you,” said Ali.
“ You are so kind, Akash bhaiya,” said the urchins, “ You feed us and we can give you nothing in return.”
“ We must be grateful to the Almighty,” said Akash,” It is he who provides me with a few rupee notes to share with you, my friends.”
Indeed, the boys were grateful to Akash. It was he who would donate his old clothes, toys and books to his poor friends who lived down the lane and could not afford to buy such luxuries.
Every evening, after a refreshing game of cricket, football or kabaddi - Akash would visit their straw homes. Under the lamp he would guide his friends to the basic alphabets or teach them a few sums. Then he would rush off home to complete his own homework.
These poor children could not all afford to go to school. Ali’s father, for example, worked as a mechanic in a local garage. During the day, Ali himself had to work as a coolie carrying loads and loads of goods from arriving trucks, to a godown.
With his wages, Ali and his family could barely eat two square meals a day. Ali was a happy boy. He never grumbled. It is true he was missing out on the best part of his childhood. How he wanted to go to school! He would love to dress up like the boys and girls who would smartly go to school in their uniforms with their school-bags slung upon their shoulders.
However, Ali at sixteen had learnt how to drive a truck, even a car. He would wake up early in the morning and would accompany his friend Sambhu chacha.
Now this old man had a rickety Ambassador car. He would drive and impart lessons to would-be truck drivers on how to drive a vehicle. He loved Ali. So this enthusiastic boy had picked up his lessons quickly with ease and free of charges.
One evening, Ali had a lot of work to do. Dusk had fallen. A truck had arrived from Haryana, rather late, and Ali knew that he could not play this day even though Akash and the other boys would be waiting for him to join them.
Suddenly, Ali spotted Akash’s family car. It was parked on the other side of the street. Ali wondered what it was doing here. While unloading goods from the waiting truck, he kept his eyes on the car. Then he noticed a man approaching the car. Suddenly, the person clutched his chest and while trying to open the door of the car, slumped to the ground. There was commotion.
Ali ran towards the spot. He lifted the man. He peeped into his face. It was Akash’s father! Ali rubbed the doctor’s chest. Then he snatched the keys from the limp hands, lifting his friend’s doctor father into the car. Ali started the car engine ushering the crowd to disperse.
He knew there was a hospital nearby. He drove the car blindly in the traffic. He knew a Doctor Samir in the hospital. As luck would have it, Uncle Samir was walking out of the hospital after his day’s duty. Ali explained to him what had happened and Doctor Samir, two attendants as well as Ali carried Akash’s father to the emergency ward.
Within a few minutes, Akash’s father was gasping. Then he was breathing normally. He opened his eyes and met Doctor Samir’s hopeful face.
“ You are alright,” said Doctor Samir,” A mild heart attack. This boy saved your life.”
Doctor Trivedi, Akash’s father tried to speak up. He wanted to thank Ali.
“ Not now, later,” said Uncle Samir,” I advice you one week’s bed rest. I understand from Ali that you are not only a noble but a great doc yourself!”
Later, Doctor Trivedi was delighted to know that Ali was a close friend of his son Akash. His entire family was grateful to Ali for saving the doctor’s life. Ali was a humble, modest boy. He wanted no reward. He even said that Akash had taught him how to help people in need and not to expect anything in return.
A month later, Doctor Trivedi was back on his feet. He was a very active man and soon he was back doing noble deeds for the public at large. Ali continued to play in the evenings with Akash and his friends whenever he was free from
One night, Ali could not return home. He was going to be paid overtime as there were three trucks left to unload. The twinkling stars were already smiling in the sky. Ali’s father was back home in the evening and he cooked the family meal.
Ali’s mother had not returned from work. She worked as a housemaid. When it was past midnight, Ali’s father began to get worried. He rushed to Ali and found him busy at work.
“ Come, come with me…quick!” He wept loudly as he dragged Ali,” Mother has not returned.”
“ Where is she?” asked the anxious boy,” What has happened to her? Where will we find her in this dark night? I don’t even know the house where ma works.”
“ I know the house your ma works,” Ali’s father breathed heavily and smelled of alcohol,” Come, I have got your mother’s present location.”
They crossed one road after another. Finally, they arrived at a nursing home.
Ali was stunned to meet Akash at the gate.
“ Don’t worry, Ali,” assured Akash,” Your mummy is fine. Just a minor stroke.”
“ I don’t understand,” said Ali recovering his breath,” How did you….?”
Akash took Ali aside. Then spoke to him quietly :
“ I never told you this. Your mother, Abida Begum works as a maid in our house. I thought you will be hurt to know the truth.”
Ali shook his head as he rapidly paced his steps towards his mother’s room.
“ As soon as she fell ill in our house this evening, “ said Akash,” I called a taxi and rushed her to my father’s nursing home. She is well out of danger. She is doing fine.”
Ali and her father were surprised to see mother smiling at them. There she was lying on a bed in an air-conditioned cabin with a troop of nurses attending on her.
Doctor Trivedi had placed one of his palms upon her forehead.
“ Thank you, Uncle,” said Ali profusely. “ Thank you dear Akash!”
“ Ali, you?” Doctor Trivedi was shocked beyond belief. “ I never knew she was your mother. Akash had kept it a secret.”
“ Thank the Almighty,” smiled Akash. “ Remember, you had saved my dad’s life once.”
Ali clutched Akash’s right hand firmly.
Doctor Trivedi nodded his head slowly, held up his spectacles and whispered to Ali: “ All the deeds one does in life – good or bad, comes back Full Circle.”
A Baby-Sitter's Nightmare
My week old neighbor, Mrs. Kumar charged into my house like a fire engine. She wiped her wet eyebrows with a handkerchief. Her face was sour as a lemon.
“ My husband is off on tour, “ she spoke helplessly, “ I have to attend to my ailing mother in the city…My little son Guddu will be all alone in the house.”
She eyed me like an eagle.
“ Would you like me to ---?” I muttered.
“ Can you please take care of Guddu?,” she interrupted cheerfully.
“ He is just not like any other eleven year old. “
“ Madam, can you please explain?” I asked her politely.
“ Guddu is a wee bit pampered, that’s all,” she was desperate to make me her son’s baby-sitter for a day, “ Here is a list of instructions.”
I did not even have an inkling of an idea to what Guddu was like.
A shrill greeted me like the arrival of a vampire in a Dracula movie. It was the arrival of Guddu. I shivered at the thought of what was to come. His mum quickly waved me goodbye and took flight.
“ Best of luck with me,” Guddu winked.
I read the first instruction on the list carefully. Open the boy’s play-kit. He eyed me like a bull-dog as I unzipped it. I pulled out chewed up remains of plastic toys, powdered crayons, even mashed potatoes and dried up cabbage leaves. Guddu clapped his hands and laughed.
I eyed him carefully.
“ Guddu, don’t you like to read?” I asked him firmly.
“ Wait, I will fetch you my big story book,” he smiled.
With a Tarzan-like leap he disappeared into the bedroom. He handed me a giant sized book. When I opened the first page to read him a story, two big round eyes were staring at my face. Guddu had made big holes in the pages.
“ Do you want some orange juice?” he invited me softly.
Well Guddu had a good, sharing heart. He was kind. He was friendly. He swung open the fridge door. He lifted a bottle of “squash” and poured out its contents into a tumbler.
He made a peace sign: “I want to be your friend.”
“ Thank you, Guddu.”
I drank and gurgled out the contents on the carpet.
“ Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed out Guddu. He had mixed orange pastel colours in water.
I nervously glanced at the instruction sheet.
“ It’s milk time,” declared Guddu loudly.
While I mopped up the carpet, I handed over the cup of milk to the imp. He ran into the kitchen and returned to the drawing room and burped.
“ Go to the wash basin and wash yourself,” I was losing my patience.
“ There is milk all over your face.”
I trooped into the kitchen just to be sure. I was greeted by a purring family cat licking off the last traces of milk from her bowl!
I lost track of Guddu for a moment. I heard the sound of water gurling.
As I rushed into the bathroom, a splash of water struck my face. The tub was
full of water. Guddu was swimming.
“What are you doing with your clothes on?” I howled, tearing off my hair.
“I am a big, blue whale,” he remarked, not bothered by my words.
I dragged him out of the water. I fell back on the checklist.
Next teach Guddu the lesson on the blue whale taught in the class…
I scratched my head.
He smartly changed into dry clothes. He carried a container of coconut oil.
“ Mummy pours coconut oil on my head daily before she combs my hair!”
I was now in a hurry to complete my baby-sitting tasks.
I poured some ‘oil’ upon his head…gosh, it was glue diluted in water!
I stared at Guddu with big, angry eyes. That softened him up.
“ You will polish your own school shoes!” I shouted at him, handing over
the brush and shoe polish. He made a naughty face at me and even before I
could stop him he had painted his cheeks with black soot.
“ Don’t I look like a little chimp?” he gurgled with joy. “ Want me to blacken
your face too?”
I was bent on punishing him. No meals for him. No favourite noodles. As I removed his plateful of food, he snatched the checklist from my hands. The
list had disappeared into his mouth. He was chewing it! The list was gone!
Thankfully, the door bell rang. It was Guddu’s beaming mother.
“ Had a nice day? “ she asked Guddu, “ My poor kid!”
She hugged Guddu like a bear.
He grabbed at the plate of noodles.
Then he winked at me and smiled.
I was delighted to scamper home. No more kid-sitting I promised myself.
Arjun reached for his mobile phone once again. He glanced at the clock upon his bedroom wall. It was approaching two o’clock. He looked out of the window. The neighborhood was fast asleep.
“Hello Siddharth,” began Arjun, “ I am in the middle of an exciting computer game.”
“Arjun, aren’t you preparing yourself for the annual exams due next week?”
“Siddharth don’t tell me you are mugging for your exams?” said Arjun surprised.
“ Know something?” Arjun said proudly, “ My dad has promised me a bike if I pass my exams.”
“Wow!” said Siddharth, “ My parents have only promised me a treat at a Chinese restaurant if I secure a high first class.”
“ Ha! Ha!” Arjun laughed out loud, “There lies the difference between your parents and mine. See? You don’t even possess a mobile phone, leave aside a computer.”
“ My father is a school teacher,” remarked Siddharth sadly, “ He has to work very hard for his money. Besides, he is saving a lot of his income for my future.”
“Your future?” Arjun sounded surprised, “Won’t you go out and work?”
“I have no option, unlike you,” said Siddharth , “ My father is saving money for my higher studies. And you know my mother is a homemaker.”
Arjun’s dad, on the other hand, was the President of a large firm. His mother was a social worker. She spent a lot of time at an orphanage. Arjun’s mum and dad gave a lot of attention and love to Arjun. Yet Arjun capitalized on his rich dad and led a very merry life. He would often visit theatres, restaurants and other places of teen interest, often sponsoring his friends.
Arjun attended school because he had to. He had assumed that he being the only child of his parents, he would inherit a lot of wealth - enough to last him a lifetime.
The conversation between the boys continued.
“ Hey pal,” reminded Arjun , “ I rang you up to remind you of the cricket match tomorrow. Of course, I am dead sure that you will not play.”
“My mother says Class Eleven is a very important class… I need to study hard and frankly I can’t afford a tutor to teach me,” spoke Siddharth. “Goodnight.”
One day, immediately after his annual exams, Arjun told his mum that she should give up her job and look after him.
“Arjun,” reminded his mum, “You don’t miss out on the good things in life. Despite my work schedule I always prepare ice-creams, puddings, pizzas and other goodies for you.”
“Mum, I would like to ask you something,” Arjun scratched his head, “What joy do you find in an orphanage?”
“Arjun you don’t realize that in an orphanage there are so many girls and boys who are unlucky because they don’t have parents of their own. Other gentlemen and ladies like me with our love and care make them feel wanted. Besides, most of them are so talented. For example, Rahul plays the guitar very well, Lata is a singer and Somnath is a Maths wizard. They lead simple lives. All of them are not as lucky as you.”
“ Mum, orphan children do not interest me. I think it is such a waste of time to share time with them. Mum, you could have worked in an office and earned lots of money. You told me before that they don’t even pay you for your services.”
“Arjun,” said his mum, “Now that your exams are over, I will take you to my workplace.”
“Oh mum, please!” implored Arjun, “That is the last place I would like to visit. There are no fast food joints there, no computers to while away the time playing games and the house will be full of sad children.”
“ I am ashamed of you, Arjun,” said his mother, “ You must learn to bring joy on the faces of those deprived children. Moreover, I would like you to meet those children, just once.”
When Arjun’s dad heard about the visit, he was very excited himself. He too requested Arjun to accompany his mum to the orphanage.
“Dad please,” requested Arjun, “Leave me alone. Besides, most of my close friends in school make their own decisions. They feel they are old enough not to listen to their parents.”
“ As mum and dad we can only show you the right path, Arjun,” said dad, “ The rest is upto you whether you will follow our directions.”
The results were announced. Arjun barely scraped through. He immediately demanded the bike from his parents.
“Well Arjun,” said dad, “ We will keep our promise. But you will have to listen to us sometimes.”
“Oh thank you,” replied Arjun excitedly, “I will listen to mum and you”
“Mum is going on an excursion to Puri in Orissa,” said dad, “Both of us are going with her.”
Arjun would have liked to spend his days alone in his apartment in Kolkata chatting with his friends, e-mailing and visiting hot food joints. However, the thought of the bike made him listen to dad for once.
In Puri Arjun, dad and mum stayed in a five star hotel. Arjun spent his afternoons in the swimming pool. He ordered sumptuous lunch and in the evenings he was engrossed in Indipop on television. He did not spend much time with his parents though they sought his company from the bottom of their hearts. However, Arjun joined his parents in the morning when they decided to swim in the sea.
Day two. Arjun got bored. He borrowed his dad’s mobile and called up his friends in Kolkata. He took some money from mum and visited the cyber cafe and chatted the whole of the afternoon. He felt much better now.
That evening he told his mum, “I’m feeling sick here. I want to go back.”
“Arjun you have probably got one last year with us,” said mum sadly.
“Once in college, you could be anywhere else in India …or maybe abroad,” said dad.
“You have to get more serious with your studies,” added mum, “and be more selective in choosing your friends.”
“Mum,” said Arjun, “I am not as lucky as Shalini Seth.”
“What about her?” asked Mum.
“Her parents presented her with an Alto because she has secured a first class in her Class Eleven exams” sighed Arjun.
“ So you are competing?” dad quizzed him.
“ Not exactly dad,” Arjun spoke boldly, “ It does count a lot in school nowadays.”
A week after their return from Puri, Arjun’s mum placed a couple of photo albums on Arjun’s bed. As soon as Arjun returned from school that day, he noticed the albums.
He flipped through the pages of the first book. He smiled to himself. There was Arjun swimming on the pool, gobbling pizzas to glory, viewing television, lazing on the bed, posing like a film star in denims and sunglasses. ….
He now turned to the second album. He had never seen it before. It was an album of childhood. Arjun’s childhood. Mum looked so young, happy and pretty. Dad held little Arjun in his arms, full of affection. There was Arjun celebrating his fourth birthday , mum helping him to a slice of the birthday cake and a host of smiling children around him.
Who were these children? Arjun wondered. Surely they were not his classmates from school. There was also a photo of an institution and many parents and kids. Was it his first school? Why did mum keep this second album for him? Yet he was filled with nostalgia.
He turned and looked over his right shoulder. It was mum who stood at his bedroom door and was smiling. Dad was early from office. He was there next to mum.
“Mum…dad…is anything wrong?” asked Arjun very surprised.
“Well…Arjun you will become an adult very soon,” said dad, “There is something important that we would like to tell you…”
Arjun stared at his mum’s face for a long time. Dad looked into his eyes. Then mum broke the silence.
“Truth hurts, dear son,” spoke mum softly, “You are not our child. Once you belonged to the orphanage to which I am so attached.”
“That’s why you are so lucky,” added papa.
Arjun was dumbstruck. There were no tears in his eyes.
“Your parents were refugees from Bangladesh and they both died when the famine broke out.”
“They were simple farmers,” said dad slowly.
“I was a social worker … and you were just three years old when you were taken to the orphanage,” said mum tearfully.
“We did not have any children,” said dad, “and so we decided to adopt you.”
“Your fourth birthday is the first with us …,” said mum, “and the kids are the children of the orphanage.”
A sudden remarkable change overcame Arjun.
“Mum and dad,” he said, “I love you. I am so lucky to have such wonderful and loving parents like you.”
“We love you too, Arjun…very deeply,” said dad and mum together.
Over the next week, Arjun visited the orphanage with his mum, decided to do away with the bike and consciously left the bunch of rich, spoilt school kids. He even helped Siddharth find good tutors with his pocket money.
A remarkable childhood secret changed Arjun’s life.