He was staying in a boarding school in West Bengal and studying for his class ten exam. He had to share the room with three other boys. Two boys were from Calcutta and the third one was from a district town of Bishnupur. He was the odd man out. His parents were staying in Uttar Pradesh.
Boys were back from pujo holidays. They were sharing their experiences of how many pujo pandals they visited, new cinemas they watched, new development in the pujo of their locality, new girls they met and were lucky enough to go to a movie with.
“Sadhan how many movies did you watch?” Swapan asked.
“ I watched three Bengali movies. One with Uttam Kumar was great. My friend arranged tickets. It is so difficult to get tickets this time of the year. I also managed to watched three Hindi cinemas” said Sadhan.
“Man! The lead actress had wonderful chemistry with Uttam. I watched it in Bishnupur” Alokesh also joined the conversation.
“You have cinema hall in Bishnupur?”
“Not one, but three” Alokesh answered somewhat irritated. “What do these boys from Calcutta think?”
He usually was a silent participant in the the group. His life was much less spicy and exciting. He would stay at his uncle’s place, when not visiting his parents. During pujo time, getting train tickets was next to impossible. Uncle was retired. Aunt did not take kindly to one more additional headcount. An introvert and shy by nature, he did not make friends easily. His aunt would allow him go out for morning and evening, but not into the city to meet his friends from boarding school. Besides, pocket money was also a constraint. If he was lucky he would get to watch a cinema. Normally, he would carry his text books home and study.
“So what did you do during holidays? Did you complete at least one revision of the syllabus?”
“Did your aunt let you get out of the house? Did she read you stories?”
“When will you grow up man?
He was dreading the conversation will take this turn. He did not have answers. He could not enjoy like his friends. His independence was limited. He felt inferior. In a subdued tone he muttered, “I did nothing much. Watched a movie. Visited a few relatives that’s all. Nothing much, really.” In his mind, he also wanted to participate in discussion with his friends. He wanted to talk cinema, discuss actors and actresses. Above all, he wanted to prove to his friends that he can also do things that they normally do.
A few days later, he approached hostel superintendent, Shaktida. Shaktida, was a monk of Rama Krishna order. He had been managing the boarding for last ten years. Shaktida had fluctuating moods. Students have learnt to gauge his mood and make their requests at the appropriate time. He also was familiar with the trick. One afternoon, when Shaktida was humming a tune of kali kirtan, he made his approach,
“Shaktida, I want to go to town on Friday.”
“Why? That is a school day is it not?”
“I want to buy the test paper.”
“Why not send a hostel attendants?“
” No Shaktida. The book is in short supply. I need it badly and do not want to miss it. I cannot afford a mistake. Supply will come by afternoon local from Calcutta. I want to buy as soon as it lands in the shop. I shall take off after lunch break.”
Superintendent, thought for a while, but did not say anything. On the day of action, he approached superintendent after lunch. Shaktida was getting ready for a bath. Boy went and told him, “Shaktida I am going to town. Give me money to buy the book.”
After collecting money, he took a bus to town. He bought the cheapest ticket for matinee show, prayinge no one will recognise him in the crowd. It was highly unlikely though, Friday being a working day and his ticket was for the front row. He watched the movie starring Uttam Kumar. He was not sure he enjoyed it. He was more elated at his feat. He had something to boast before his friends. He came out of the hall around five in the evening. Loitered around the market, smoked a cigarette sitting by the river bank, before taking the return bus. He had no book to show, in the eventuality of being queried. To avoid direct confrontation, he entered boarding through a side entrance. He avoided superintendent studiously for a few days. He was afraid, that Shaktida may ask for him and demand to see the book. Nothing happened. He got bragging right with his friends from Calcutta.
Today, looking back, it becomes apparent how lame and transparent was the lie, that appeared rock solid at that moment. Any one with half wit would have read through it. Which boy goes to buy a book at noon on a schools day? Yet superintendent who managed a boarding school with 100 plus students, let him get away! Shaktida could have demanded to see the purchase, ask for an account of time spent in town, and expel the body if not satisfied. Why did he not followup? Was he sympathetic of the boy, whose parents lived far away? Was he fond of the quiet boy? Answer, only superintendent knew.