…continuation of The tree that remembered everything….7
I saw the head appear, accompanied by the oi sound and then it disappeared. I was sitting at my study table facing the window drawing a rabbit wearing boots.
“Can you play cricket”
This, the boy, to whom the head belonged, asked when I went and peeped out of the window.
“What is your height?”
“I am not sure but close to 5 — I think”
He told me to come out and stand beside him. I was taller by a bit. He said that was manageable. He needed a player for the under 4 feet 10 inches cricket challenge that was about to begin. It was a prestige fight between my new locality and the one next to us. We ran to the cricket ground, there was no time to lose; the other team was already there. And that is how I met Tootoo.
A chalk line had been drawn on an electricity pole and anyone who was taller than the line got disqualified. I was to replace Shyamal who had grown taller since the last prestige fight.
“Don’t go and stand straight, sit on your haunches and then slowly straighten up while holding your breath” Tootoo briefed me hurriedly.
I did as I was told. The rival Captains had a look. The Umpires had a look and after what seemed like a year and a half they nodded.
“I am Rana your Captain, what is your name?”
Tootoo looked at me; he had forgotten to ask me my name.
I scored 3 runs and gave away 21 while bowling. But I took the most important wicket, that of their Captain. I walked back home tall that day, all of 4 feet and 10 inches tall.
Rana became my best friend and Tootoo grew to be 5 inches taller than the tallest of us.
We still talk about that cricket match but that cricket field is no longer there, nor is Tootoo.
Tootoo died a couple of years ago. We were to hit 50 staggered over a few months; he never made it. I got a call the day after he died, by then I had grown well apart having left home 25 years ago. The memories, always the memories and the tree out front that never let me forgot anything. It remembered the boy who went oi! at my window and that I no longer lived there when he died.
It was 3 years since Papa had retired from the Army. He was still trying to adjust to being a ‘civilian’. That year was an election year and Biresh Kaku, a much removed cousin of his, asked him who he would vote for.
“We are military we don’t discuss politics”
Every 6 or 8 months he would change jobs. Sometimes he would be between jobs for a few months and there would be fret lines on Ma’s forehead. She would worry and ask us to grow up fast. I didn’t know how to do that.
A few months after we moved to the new house, Papa changed jobs. He would come home late; he had to put in long hours. Some Saturday nights he would come back with a ‘Rooost’. His new job was being Manager at a club where on a Saturday the bearers went around serving chikin rooost to the esteemed members. So some Saturday nights we too would have ’Rooost’ when Papa got home. Those nights Ma didn’t mind us eating again after dinner, it was not everyday that we could afford to have chicken.
So we didn’t have electricity for the first 3 months and there was this one lantern that burned all night. Ma would put the wick down to its lowest point when she went to sleep. She was the last one to go to bed and sometimes I would lie in bed and watch the faint glow of the lantern in the dining room. It was kept burning for when someone needed to go to the bathroom at night. Papa was the first to wake up and he would blow out the lantern.
A couple of days after I had given the entrance exam, at the new school, I rode behind Papa and went back for the results.
“Let’s have cauliflowers for dinner “
There were cauliflower fields that Papa showed me and the farmer was selling some of them beside the highway. We planned to buy some on our way back.
“Your son has not done well, his standard is poor. We can only agree to take him a class below”
We went home with out the cauliflowers. I cried all the way back and Ma cried when she heard the news. I wasn’t brilliant but I was not below standard. I said I would go back to the old school, but I couldn’t because that was so far away.
“You study hard and show them. You study hard and get full marks in all the subjects and then they will give you a double promotion”
Between hiccups I agreed to what Ma said.
When I started school I came to know that most of the students who had joined that year, like me, had very poor standard.
…to be continued…