Nepali Kalasahitya Dot Com Pratishthan

Story:


Mahesh Paudyal

Three Sleepless Nights for a Gift

“Ajay? I know that idiot. He is good for nothing.”
“Ajay? Yes, I know him. He is a nuisance.”
“Ajay? He is an impossible case.”
And more and more and more….
That was my second day in the school and these were the comments I heard about Ajay from his other teachers. The discussion was triggered by an incident inside the class. Just the previous day, I had been introduced to the class by the Academic Coordinator of the school as the ‘class-teacher’ of grade four. The children had received me well, and I had thought I could get along with them pretty easily. But the very next day, I saw there was a rub.
Binisha took out a dry cake of cow-dung from her bag and showed me as soon as I took their rolls. She complained that she had found it inside her bag. I asked the class who did that. There was a unanimous claim, “Sir; it’s Ajay.”
I asked who Ajay was, for I did not know him. They showed me a lank boy who sat on the last bench. He looked rough and rather defiant, and seldom looked at the teacher. He was busy in his own world, and nothing seemed to bother him.
I asked Ajay, but he denied having done that. I told Binisha I would look into the matter and inform her. I also promised that the guilty would surely be punished. I took my class and went out when the bell rang.
In the staff room, I wanted to know more about Ajay. The comments above were made by fellow teachers, who claimed they had been teaching the boy ever since he was in the kindergarten. There was frustration in each of their comments.
One or two could be wrong; if everyone said the same thing, I had reasons to believe. The blank account in my mind got the impression: Ajay is an impossible case.
Days passed on. Opinions however did not change. Ajay continued to be a ‘nuisance’. I got firmly established among children and every time they had break time, they would come to me. Ajay was no exception. He loved to come and stand by my side, and listen to what I said. However, he never dared to come as near as Bikram or Bijay did. I knew he had been made to believe that he should never come near to a teacher, for he was a ‘nuisance’.
What bothered me was that I never found any nuisance in him. He always listened to me, did the assignments well, greeted and treated me as a decent student is expected to do, and made me feel comfortable. He wrote his English examination well, followed the grammatical rules, and improved handwriting. Once he even told his grandmother that he liked English the best. Yet, he was a taboo, a stigma, a blot, and I had to believe what all said. He failed every subject except English.
The school closed for the festival, and we were notified that we would meet after a month. The children exchanged wishes among themselves and did not forget to wish their teachers a happy festival time. Ajay too wished me, “Happy Dashain and Tihar, Sir!” I received his wishes with a smile, and wished him the same.
After the holidays, we met again. As I was the class teacher, grade four got me in the class in the very first period. I asked everyone how they celebrated the festivals. Everyone said they had enjoyed a lot. After a casual small talk, I drew them into business and wound the class up after a discussion for which they were not prepared. Before I left the class, Ajay said, “Sir!”
“Yes, Ajay!”
“Sir, I have a gift for you!”
That sounded strange. Other children started looking at one another. They knew Ajay and gift for a teacher could never go together. They cheered up, for they anticipated a joke.
“Gift?For me?”
“Yes Sir, for you?”
I stopped. He had something wrapped in coloured papers.
“Do not take it, Sir!” Binisha warned me. “Last time, he had a snake inside his snacks box.”
“Then?”
“Then he feigned that the cover was too tight for him. He then asked mathematics teacher to open it. When he did so, the snake raised its hood and the teacher fell down for fear. That was however a plastic snake, thank God!”
I had reasons to believe Binisha, for I had heard about the episode in the staffroom. I decided to leave.
“Sir!”
I turned back. Ajay stood dejected. He had tears, triggered by the pain of rejection and negligence.
“Ajay!”
Tears rolled. I was convinced that tears would not roll, if it were a mere prank. I decided to receive the gift.
I took it. A glow appeared on his face, though very slowly. I paid him a quaint look, and went out.
I did not go to the staffroom. Rather, I went into the room in the hostel where I stayed. I unwrapped the gift with my heart on my hand. I was prepared for anything including a mischievous prank.
No, it was not a prank. It was a beautiful flower inside a glass jar. I guessed it would cost not less that seventy-five rupees.
Ajay and gift! Ajay and seventy-five rupees! No, that was not natural. I rushed to him and called him out of the class. He immediately complied, and came out, suspending the game he was engaged in.
“Ajay! Thank you for the beautiful gift. I guess it cost you not less than seventy-five rupees.”
“No, Sir. It cost me one hundred and fifty rupees.”
That made me even more suspicious. Somewhere I concluded, he had stolen the money.
“How did you get the money? Did you steal?”
His face suddenly clouded, and the happiness of getting close to me transpired in no time. Ajay was back to his past — a past of gloom, rejection, and stigma.
“Sir, I had a hundred rupees, and my grandma gave me fifty.”
Lies always smell. I knew I had no reasons to believe him.
“How did you get a hundred rupees?”
He was afraid. His lips quivered and the throat chocked. He had to speak, however. He went on.
“Sir, Deusi.”
My head went round, and I saw darkness everywhere. His sentence made little sense to me.
“Deusi? Explain that!”
“Sir, with my cousins, I went from house to house for three nights. I did not sleep much!”
I could understand that. During Diwali, children go from house to house and sing. People give them a rupee or two. For a child like Ajay to collect a hundred rupees, he must have haunted at least two hundred houses. He had a partner too, and most usual deal is fifty-fifty. Two hundred houses! Three sleepless nights for a gift!”
Ajay’s age was around twelve. A child of twelve sleeplessly suffering for three nights and getting a gift for his teacher, instead of ice-cream and chocolate for himself! That was strange.
I could not speak! I beseeched him to go to the class.
In the evening, I phoned his grandmother.
“Yes Sir, that is true. He collected a hundred rupees and took me to the departmental store this morning. He picked the flower and said, he would buy it for you. I asked him why. He said, he wanted to gift it to you, and there was no reason he could give. The flower cost one hundred and fifty and so, I added fifty rupees to his collection.”
That was Ajay! Three sleepless nights for a teacher! The same Ajay who was ‘an impossible case.’ I asked myself, ‘Who could measure the dimensions of his heart? Right Ajay was in the wrong place…’ I felt he was great not because I got a gift, but because he had love, he had respect; he could sacrifice, and he was humane. What more is education for?
I still have his gift in my room. It always reminds me of the child.

 

Translation: Writer Himself






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Transcreator :
Mahesh Paudyal 'Prarambha'
Kumar Nagarkoti
Suresh Hachekali
Keshab Sigdel


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