Inspiration: by Banaphool

That day, too, when Hariranjan-babu discovered on his return from the courts that his son Gopal had been flying kites instead of studying, he couldn’t control himself any longer, lunging at the boy with his umbrella. Gopal was about to escape, dodging the umbrella thrust at him, when Hariranjan-babu grabbed him. But in a couple of minutes, the new act in their domestic drama—featuring a dishevelled Hariranjan-babu and a tearful Gopal— was interrupted unexpectedly.

A car sounded its horn at the gate. Peeping out, Hariranjan-babu discovered it was his recently appointed boss, the young judge, who had arrived in his car. He worked as a clerk in the office of the judge, who had recently been transferred to this town. Although he was young, he was supposed to be brilliant—he had apparently stood first in his examination. A stern, remote personality, he did not venture out of his home too often, but he had made Hariranjan-babu’s acquaintance on his own initiative. This was the judge’s third visit to his house.

‘Good evening. Is that Gopal I hear crying? What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing, sir, nothing at all . . .’

‘Discipline time?’

The judge climbed the steps to the veranda.

‘He’s not at all interested in studies, sir. All he does is fly his kites. Our maid has a son too—the two of them just roam around all day. Not a moment does he spend with his books.’

‘Indeed.’

His head lowered, Gopal was furiously rubbing his eyes with his fists. Ruffling his hair, the judge said affectionately, ‘And what do you use to give your kite string the sharpest edge?’

Still rubbing his eyes, Gopal answered in a voice tremulous with tears, ‘Glue and ground glass.’

‘I’m going to teach you another trick . . .’

After a quick glance at the judge from the corner of his eyes, Gopal chuckled and disappeared inside the house in a flash. ‘Ma! The judge is here in his car, Ma. What a lovely car, Ma . . .’

‘I saw.’

‘Will you do me the honour of having a cup of tea, sir?’ Hariranjan-babu inquired deferentially. ‘May I ask for a cup of tea to be made for you?’

‘I’ve had my tea already. But all right, I don’t mind another cup . . .’

Hariranjan-babu quickly offered him a chair with a broken armrest. ‘Please take a seat, sir. I’ll have the tea ready in a minute.’

Bustling, he disappeared inside the house. ‘Minu, a cup of tea for the judge! Can you make him a cup quickly? Serve it in the new teapot I bought the other day, all right? Gopal, go borrow a tea-cup from Goju-babu. Use the back door, he mustn’t see you.’

2

Tea was over.

The discussion veered round to Gopal’s reluctance to study. Hariranjan-babu said he would have engaged a private tutor for Gopal if he could have afforded it. That may have helped. ‘You can’t assume anything,’ said the judge with a smile. ‘Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story, actually. There was a man with two sons. They seemed to have vowed never to study. Their father kept engaging new tutors, kept putting them into new schools, but to no avail. They used to skip classes every day. They’d vanish from sight the moment the subject of private tutors came up. Since their mother spoilt them, their tutors were not allowed to spank them either. Even so, one particular tutor, having reached the end of his tether, had done just that, but without any effect. Their father didn’t lack for money. Eventually, he advertised in the newspapers, offering a reward of a hundred rupees—over and above the salary—to anyone who could persuade his sons to study. A young tutor applied. He didn’t even bring up the subject of studies at first, keeping the boys occupied with marbles, kites, paper boats and so on. Some time went by. Then the tutor took the boys out for a walk. Evening had just set in. There were one or two stars in the sky. Pointing to one of them, the tutor said, “There’s a star.”

‘“There’s another . . .” said the elder of the two boys.

‘“How many is that?”

‘“Two . . .”

‘“And look, there’s another. How many now?”

‘“Three. Another one over there, sir.”

‘“How many in all?”

‘“Four . . .” ‘“There’s another one above the tree. So that’s four plus one equal to five, right?”

‘“Yes sir.”

‘The younger one hadn’t said a word all this while.

‘“Dada, he’s teaching us sums . . .” he finally alerted his brother.

‘He raced off homewards at once. His brother followed him. The tutor left straight away. He was convinced these boys would never amount to anything.’

The judge paused.

‘And then?’

‘And then the elder son died of cholera a few days later. The younger son became even more spoilt as a result. He didn’t even bother to think of studies.’

The judge paused again.

‘How will a spoilt child study, sir?’ Hariranjan-babu observed, assuming the judge was giving an example of the ill effects of over-indulgence.

‘But the spoilt child did start studying seriously one fine day. And began to sail through his examinations one by one.’

‘Really!’

‘Yes! You never can tell.’

‘Oh yes sir, you’re right, of course.’

‘All right, I’d better be going now. I was just passing by. All well at home, I hope?’

‘Yes sir, thank you.’

The judge left. He had deliberately left his story incomplete. In the rest of the story, the boy had become friends with the nine-year-old girl next door. ‘It would be wonderful if you married me, Minu,’ he had said to her, away from prying eyes.

‘Will you?’

‘Why on earth should I marry an ignorant boy like you?’

Minu had answered. ‘My husband will be a very well-educated man.’

Apparently the boy started studying at once.

The judge hadn’t revealed the identity of the boy either.

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