‘He’s a quiet, very well mannered child.’ I overheard, as I entered the Principal’s office. Taking my seat next to the man who was busy creating a good impression of his ward, as all parents would, I couldn’t help notice the accent. ‘She’s a very sensitive person and an excellent teacher,’ the Principal introduced me, ‘She will take very good care of your nephew.’
‘Nephew!’ I thought to myself,’ So where are the parents?’
‘I am Mr. Kaushik. I am known to your father. He was the Additional Director General at Delhi, isn’t it?’ Nodding quietly, I turned my eyes to the Principal. ‘I told him your father’s name and surprisingly he knows you father,’ the Principal clarified, as if reading my mind. And, of course, since the Principal was close to my father, he must have done it quite naturally. ‘He was always uncomfortable there at Delhi,’ continued Mr. Kaushik. ‘He never liked Delhi,’ was my prompt yet unintentional reply, ‘the crowd, the noise, the pollution.’ I could have done better by keeping mum at that moment, that’s what I feel now.
When Mr. Kaushik said that he was known to my father, did he actually mean that he knows my father? My father really had a hard time recalling him when I referred his name.
But the fact is that though the whole process should have been about the quiet, well mannered child who was appearing for the admission test, Mr. Kaushik’s eloquence twisted all the attention to himself all the time.
‘The child’s parents are divorced and since his father lives abroad, in Saudi, so Rishabh cannot live with him evidently. He was studying in Delhi but we want him to be in your school under your guidance,’ Mr. Kaushik briefed about the reason of sudden change of school in mid-session.
Though, later, the reason turned out to be much more complicated than he had portrayed.
Obviously the decision had been finalized by the Principal. Rishabh was going to be a student of my class. But where was he?
The Principal called him as he waited outside. And then came in a very shy boy, bowing to all present in the office. He silently stood beside his uncle, for he was the only one whom Rishabh knew. I liked the child the moment I saw him. Eyes hid behind the heavy spectacles, something wanting to be expressed. He returned my smiles and I took him with me to the class. Always wanting to say something, yet keeping his lips sealed all through, Rishabh won a special place in my heart. I always love those with fewer words adding more meanings to their emotions.
His uncle, as was later established, left him in the hostel because the family didn’t want his mother to claim Rishabh’s custody and to avoid giving any maintenance to the mother. A series of lies spoken in the court, accompanied with a mouthful of accusations by the Uncle only worsened the scenario for the little child. How boastfully Mr. Kaushik had told the Principal about his brother’s high position as an Administrative director in a business group abroad! And how defiantly he turned him into a low wage worker, earning a petty amount abroad to avoid giving the maintenance! The truth-lies game was too much for the young mind to handle.
Having been misfed with the wrong information, Rishabh was of the opinion that his mother was always at fault. One day, he came to me asking, ‘Ma’am, what do I write in this column – Mother’s occupation? I don’t know what she does. I haven’t met her for many years.’ I had to hide my wet eyes, but he couldn’t hide his. I couldn’t stop myself from asking him, ‘Don’t you wish to meet her?’ But his reply clearly stated that after all those years of conditioning he had been made to believe things that may or may not be true, ‘She said many things about my family that she shouldn’t have said.’ I don’t know if my words comforted him or whether they unleashed a storm of emotions in his little heart. ‘She loves you even today, even if there are differences with your dad,’ I declared on his mother’s behalf. But he had already developed the concept of ‘my family’ with no place for his mother.
Every morning, after the assembly, he would come quietly to my desk to tell me something or the other, often small events of the day, but he made sure to keep all the disturbing thoughts to himself.
A month later came a golden opportunity in my career. And, as any sane individual would have, without giving it a second thought, I grabbed it immediately.
Many years hence, I ponder….
Why wasn’t I even thinking of Rishabh the moment I decided to shift my job and move over to a new place? The other day, when my daughter was upset about her Maths teacher leaving school, didn’t I comfort her? But, not once did I think who’d comfort Rishabh when I leave him alone, lonelier than he already was? He must have been devastated. He had developed a beautiful bond with me, just starting to feel free to talk out his heart. How easy it is for us to blame others for the wrongs inflicted upon the child, but wasn’t it my moral duty to be with him when he was left all alone by his own family?
Rishabh always had a special place in my life. His smiles, rare as they were; his sparkling eyes with countless unanswered questions - everything about him made him very special for me. If only I had decided to stay, I would have saved myself the guilt of leaving Rishabh alone when he was in need of a companion. Along with his own family, I, too, definitely owe an apology to Rishabh!