"Nana, how is it?"
Mohandas looked at the painting his eleven year old grandson, Jatin was showing him. It depicted a teacher standing in front of a blackboard taking a class. It was a very life like painting with the teacher's expressions etched beautifully.
"Its very nice, beta? Who is this lady? Is she your class teacher?"
"Yes Nana, her name is Geeta maam. She joined our school just six months back. She is my favorite teacher. I have made this painting specially for her."
"Are you going to give it to her on her birthday?"
"No. I am going to present it to her on Teacher's Day."
Jatin was very fond of Geeta maam. He remembered clearly the first time he had seen her. She had reminded him of someone he knew. He had rushed home and from his almirah, in between the books, he had removed the photograph which was his most precious possession. It was the photograph of his mother. Yes, Geeta maam looked like his mother - the same large eyes, a sharp nose and a dimpled smile.
Jatin had lost his mother when he was still an infant. His father had left him with his Nana and Nani and disappeared forever. Since then his grandparents had brought him up.
Jatin had been instantly drawn towards Geeta maam. He would try his level best to please her. To him, one smile, a tiny word of appreciation from her was much more valuable than the applause of the entire world.
"Hey, Jatin tell me the answer yaar. I am stuck," Rakesh whispered.
The first terminal exam was in progress. Today was the math's paper. Rakesh was the class bully who constantly made fun of Jatin. He never bothered to study and was always dependent on others to help him scrape through the exams. Jatin couldn't stand him.
"Hey, Jatin. You've gone deaf or what? I am not able to solve question number four."
"It's a simple mensuration problem. Just use the formula."
"If I knew the formula why would I be asking you, stupid."
"If I am all that stupid, then why are you wasting your time asking me. Ask someone who is smarter," Jatin whispered back.
Half an hour later, as Jatin stepped out of the class room, Rakesh confronted him.
"You swine, because of you I am going to fail. I'll make you pay for this."
A week later the Annual sports competition commenced.
Both Rakesh and Jatin were participating in the 200 meters heats. As Geeta maam blew the whistle they took off. Jatin was keen to win the race and make it to the finals, especially since it was Geeta maam who was conducting the race. At the 100 metres stage Rakesh and Jatin were going neck and neck. Suddenly Rakesh stuck his leg out and Jatin went sprawling, with Rakesh landing beside him.
Before Jatin realized what had happened Rakesh got up and started screaming at him. Geeta maam rushed to the spot followed by a few of Rakesh's friends who were also watching the race.
"What happened? Geeta maam asked.
"Maam just as I was getting ahead Jatin stuck his leg out and tripped me."
"No, maam that's a lie. I...I..It was Rakesh who stuck his leg out...."
"Maam Jatin is a liar.," Rakesh's friend Jafar interrupted Jatin. "I was watching the race very closely. It is Jatin's fault. He tripped Rakesh."
"Yes, maam. We also saw. Rakesh is telling the truth," Mani, Vimal and Sandeep, Rakesh's other cronies chipped in.
"Maam...I.. I.. ," Jatin stammered looking desperately at Geeta maam for some support.
"Jatin I am really shocked. I always thought you were such a nice boy. I never expected you to behave in this manner," Geeta maam said and walked away.
Jatin limped away with tears in his eyes, followed by the taunts and jeers of his class mates.
On September 4th, a day before Teacher's Day, Jatin was called to the staff room. He found Geeta maam sitting with a stern expression. Beside her Rakesh was standing, barely managing to conceal the smirk on his face.
"Jatin, Rakesh has told me something very disturbing about you," Geeta maam said coming straight to the point.
"Wh...what is it, maam? " Jatin barely managed to whisper, his heart sinking. He was sure Rakesh had hatched yet another plot to torture him.
"He told me that he had kept a poster of Mother Teresa to gift it to me on the occasion of Teacher's Day. Apparently you removed the picture from his desk and tore it to pieces."
"Poster! I don't know nothing about any poster," Jatin blurted out, mixing up his grammar in the process.
"Now, Jatin don't lie to me. If you have done something like this it is better to own up."
"I don't know what you are talking about maam."
"Jatin, don't take me for a fool. I searched in your desk and found a couple of pieces of the poster. It is clear that you tore it up and in your hurry to dispose off the evidence you left some of it in your desk. I am really ashamed of you. By tomorrow if you don't own up and apologize for this disgraceful conduct I'll have no choice but to take action against you."
Jatin walked out in a daze. He felt like killing himself. He would never ever be able to forget the look of utter contempt on Geeta maam's face.She was totally convinced that he was guilty. There seemed to be no way he could prove his innocence.
Geeta maam was browsing through some books in the library when she heard someone sobbing. She looked behind the rack. She saw a young boy sitting in a corner his head on the table and his body shaking as he sobbed uncontrollably.
"What happened child? Why are you crying?"
The boy looked up. It was Jatin. His eyes were red and tears were still streaming down his face. He looked so vulnerable that her heart went out to him. She sat down beside him.
"Jatin tell me the truth. You are such a loving, sensitive child. Why have you been behaving in this outrageous manner?"
"Maam please believe me. I have not done anything. Rakesh has cooked all this up. He is taking spite on me."
Jatin told her about his refusal to help Rakesh in the exam and the threat made by Rakesh.
"But Rakesh told me altogether a different story. He told me that you were jealous of him because he was far more popular than you."
"Maam, that is simply not true. Rakesh is not liked, rather he is feared by everyone because he is a big bully. He and his friends throw their weight around and anyone who doesn't do their bidding has to pay the price."
"Okay if what you are saying is true than Rakesh will have to be taught a lesson. Let me think of something."
They sat in silence for sometime.
"Okay. I've got it. The time now is four. We still have an hour to go before the school closes. Rakesh must be out playing football. You go to him and somehow get him here. You can tell him that you want to make up with him. Once both of you are here try to get him to tell you how he managed to trap you."
"But maam how do I do that?"
"Tell him that you feel a grudging admiration for the way he completely outsmarted you. I am sure that will get him started. I'll be behind these racks and at the right moment I'll step out and take care of him."
Things happened exactly as the way Geeta maam had planned. After getting Rakesh inside the library Jatin said, "Rakesh even though you made me feel miserable I can't but help admire the way you trapped me. That poster idea was simply ingenious."
"Yes Jatin, you know I might not be getting as good marks as crammers like you get, but I am far smarter. I bought a poster tore it up and left a few tell tale pieces in your desk. I then rushed to Geeta maam told her a cock and bull story about how you were jealous of me. She promptly fell for it and your goose was truly cooked."
There was a sound of measured, deliberate clapping. Startled Rakesh looked around.
Geeta maam merged from behind the racks and slowly walked up to the two boys. Rakesh stared at her, his face turning white.
"My dear Rakesh, you are very smart. But not smarter than Jatin. It is not his but your goose that is cooked nice and tender. Tomorrow morning at nine sharp I'll take you the Principal. I am sure he will appreciate your smartness and with his cane give a reward which you richly deserve."
Rakesh was unable to speak. He slunk away hanging his head in shame.
After he had gone Jatin said, "Maam can I say something?"
"Maam, please let the matter end here. Do not report to the Principal."
"But why Jatin? I think this rascal should be punished."
"No, maam. Being caught red handed by you is punishment enough. I am sure he has realized his mistake. Please for my sake don't complain to the Principal." Jatin paused and continued softly, "Maam, I still remember what you told us the other day - to err is human, to forgive divine."
Geeta maam looked at him for a few seconds. 'Jatin I think you are right. I'll keep quiet about the whole incident." She then kissed him on his forehead and said, "I am proud of you my son."
Next day Jatin presented his painting to Geeta maam.
"Its lovely Jatin. Very sweet of you to give me such a beautiful gift," Geeta maam said.
A week later Geeta maam announced in the class.
"My dear boys, I have got great news for you. As some of you might be aware a few days back the Lalit Kala Academy organized a painting competition for school children. A few of you had submitted your paintings. I too had given a painting given to me by one of my students. You will be pleased to know that the boy has bagged the first prize in the under 12 years category. The title of the painting is 'My Teacher - My Inspiration' and the young artist is Jatin Mishra of this class.
As Jatin got up to acknowledge the cheers of his classmates he noticed that the loudest applause was coming from the corner in which Rakesh was sitting.