A long one... please excuse :)
Tuesday, 7th February.
“3 balls, 8 runs to win. Arun go to the boundary and Omelette go close up”, Ram (short for Ramnath) ordered. Ashwin was batting and Arvind got ready to bowl. Arvind was a good bowler and was the opening bowler in the school team. However, that virtue didn’t help here as they were playing with a ball made of paper torn from their notebooks, held together by two thick rubber bands. The material for the ball had supposedly been obtained from left over material for Art class. In reality, the Art Teacher was justified in thinking that her assignment had been made from the ball’s leftovers. A fifteen cm. by fifteen cm. 192 pages ruled book acted as the bat. This was in fact, the standard bat. The need for a standard bat had arisen because Prakash, another player, had used his Physics Record book to score 16 runs in an over. This was clearly unfair as the Record book was three times the size of the normal notebook. The furore created by that incident was akin to that created by Denis Lillee’s Aluminium bat episode.
Ashwin played the next ball quite cleverly and placed it in between the two 7th std. fielders of the opposite teams. There was an easy three runs for the taking but Ashwin ran only two as he wanted to keep the strike instead of giving it to the 5th grader, Vinod at the other end. Unfortunately for Vinod, he had started for the third. He slipped and managed to get back just in time. Vinod being the youngest was often the guy saddled with the unglamorous work, like for now, being the batsman at the other end for almost two overs without getting to bat at all. However, truth be told, he would have got out in the first ball to Arvind. It may have been unfair but a man has got to do what a man has got to do, the sensitive Ashwin thought to himself. The school was almost empty save for these twelve boys, mostly in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades and one 5th grader, who were playing cricket to while away their time while waiting for the van to pick them up and drop them home.
“2 balls, 6 runs to win”, Ram shouted. Then he went close to Arvind and said, “Bowl one really fast, just get him out.” However, Arvind said,”I’ll flight this ball. He’ll surely misread it. In fact, I’ve been increasing my pace for the past three balls, this will surprise him. Just put a fielder at the boundary for the catch.”
“Okay, I’ll go to the boundary”, Ram said and ran off.
Ashwin was in fact, expecting a fast ball and eyed the gap between Omellette and Prakash for a quick two. That would leave them with four required off one. Damn! Perhaps he could use the speed of the ball to guide it for a four.
Thwack, the ball soared. Ashwin had lunged at the slower ball. He had caught the spin at the last moment, come down just slightly from the crease, actually misjudged the length and then finally managed to get his bat to it. However, such was the power that the ball sailed for a six and the match was over! Ashwin’s team exulted triumphantly. Arvind groaned more out of the prospect of now hearing the juniors idolize Ashwin on the trip back rather than the fact that they had lost.
There was a heated analysis of the game now especially between the junior students. “That makes it 2-0 at the end of Tuesday. You won’t be able to show your face by Thursday”, one 6th grader boasted, who had neither scored nor bowled.
Ram, Arvind and Ashwin, all from the X std. looked at the younger ones philosophically. They had weightier issues on their minds.
“To which professors will you be going for coaching for the engineering entrance examinations? I believe you have to get some sort of tentative registration based on your half-yearly exam marks”, Ram said.
Ram had a smile eternally plastered on his face. It was actually hard to say whether it was a physical feature or he was actually smiling all the time. However, that taken with the fact that he was the undoubted ace at extracurricular activities like Quiz, JAM, debate and their variants made him one of the most popular and well known faces in school.
“That depends. I have heard you need 90% in both Math and Science. I scored 3 in today’s chemistry revision test! I just HATE X Science. It is all just mugging. In comparison, the IX curriculum was so good.” Arvind sighed. He was extremely talented in Math, a prominent winner of many competitions. Actually he scored well in Science too, just that his usual fear of not doing well had returned after his bad performance in the day’s chemistry revision test.
“ I hear from Shyam, who is the topper in XII that he goes to Prof. X2 for Physics, Prof. Y2 for Math and Prof. Z1 for Chemistry blah blah…” Prakash rambled on sagely. He had a brother in the XII std. and hence was their Guru on mundane and practical matters.
Ashwin was not paying any attention to all this. He was relieved. The day had started off so ominously and ended so sweetly, the six being the icing on the cake. He had scored
9 ¼ out of 10 in the chemistry test, got 10 for his record and scored 90 in the English. *****************************************************************
Quarterly Exam. Life was Beautiful.
Tuesday, 7th February
Ashwin was moodily sharpening his pencil. His mother was scolding him for his tardiness. “Bah!” he thought, “What do these adults understand about a 15 year old’s pressures? They assume they are the only ones who have the right to have problems.” he thought gloomily. There was an impending chemistry revision test for which he had prepared badly. He was a meticulous student and usually, his preparation could not be faulted. However, the root cause for his unhappiness had been the realization, that too just the previous evening that he had lost his Chemistry Record Note Book. As he sat down for breakfast, he looked at the IUPAC naming convention for organic molecules for the umpteenth time, but it still refused register in his mind.
As he stepped into the van, Prakash was holding fort on the various intricacies of the naming convention. Turned out his brother had taught him some ideas from the XII standard curriculum and had also given him some expected questions. The other boys listened to him like devotees listening to a prophet.
“Exchange your papers, time is up”, the Chemistry teacher said. Ashwin looked up, surprised. “Was the time up already?” he thought. The paper had been easy but long, filled with ¼ mark and ½ mark questions. But he had done well and had really wanted to solve three questions. Well if it had been easy for him, the others would have just aced the paper and there should be many 10/10s, he reasoned. As these things work out Ashwin was the second highest with 9 ¼ and the highest had been 9 ½. Prakash who had taught everyone scored 6 ¾, Arvind 3 and Ram 5. His own good performance and his friends’ mediocre performance lifted his spirits but the thought of the lab was corroding his head like a strong acid dripping one drop at a time on a metal. He had wanted to tell the teacher at the end of the class itself but she had made the toppers stand and the class had clapped for them. So he just didn’t feel like breaking the halo. In fact, he hoped that this would soften the blow to come on later.
During the short break, as he was still moping about, his brother came up behind him. “Hey, you left your lab record among my books!” he said. Ashwin turned, looked at him for sometime and his mouth opened and closed like that of a fish. Finally the word “What?” trickled out, followed by a “How?”
“What ‘how’? You tell me how? I have been unnecessarily carrying your record for a week. You owe me big time for that extra burden. You had asked mother to put a new cover for it. She had done it that day itself. I guess it was lying about and I may have taken it by mistake. That’s how. You could have just searched my books as well”, he said and ran off as just then the bell rang.
“Can anyone be more foolish? Anyway, no time for condemning myself”, Ashwin thought. This was manna from heaven. If indeed there was a guardian angel, she was working overtime for him today. But he still needed one more favour from
The free period he was hoping for never materialized. After every bell he hoped that the concerned teacher had been absent or off to a meeting of some kind or something, but no, all of them came to class and taught with what seemed to him, extra enthusiasm. Every time he tried to write the record by placing it under the table, the teacher always caught his eye. Deciding he couldn’t take it anymore he just waited resignedly for the lunch period.
He wrote feverishly during lunch time. By the end of lunch he realized that he only had a small portion to complete and he could finish it off in the lab itself. He whistled happily and then the funny thing happened. He got his free period. The period after lunch was free, the English teacher having to leave for some meeting. This was SO clichéd. Anyway, laughing aloud he went back to his record and finished it in time and the lab went on peacefully.
As he stepped out of the lab, Ram called out to him, “Hey come for the cricket match. We’ll kick your ass today after yesterday’s loss.” Ashwin went happily to the field, ready to vent the day’s frustrations.
Monday, 6th February
It was 6:00 pm. He had had a bath, had Maggi for tiffin and was still reflecting on the events of the day. Twelve students shared a van to go to school. Usually the van arrived atleast an hour after the school closed. This left them with a lot of time to kill. That Monday morning, the twelve of them had decided to play a match, 6-a-side for all five days of that week. This would mean five matches. The team which won three won the series. The captains would be Ashwin and Ram.
The first match had been won by Ashwin’s team. While savouring the Maggi, he was congratulating himself on his strategy of letting Vinod bowl. Ram’s team had won the toss and chosen to chase. Ashwin’s team scored 81 from 10 overs. Ram’s team had a great start and made good progress, With 22 runs required from three overs and four wickets to spare, they looked set to win. At this juncture, Ashwin made Vinod bowl. By doing so he was risking the chance of losing the match in that very over. But little did the opposing team (or for that matter Vinod himself) realize that this was the ace move which would win Ashwin the match. A phenomenon commonly observed in gulli cricket is that all the young ones are underestimated the first (and only the first time) they bowl. Hence, people ended up doing very badly and getting out to bad balls. It was a simple trick and the bait was obvious but players fell for it every time. This time too it had happened. Arvind had come out of the crease, in an uncharacteristic show of machismo, but missed the ball completely and got bowled. Omellette was next. He misjudged the ball, and had only got the tip of his bat to the ball. This resulted in a simple catch to Rohit.
Smiling to himself, he took out his bag to finish his Chemistry record. He was very meticulous in his work and he was proud about it. As he searched his bag, he couldn’t find it. He was wondering if he had left it at a friend’s house when the phone rang. It was Ramya over a doubt. After an hour he got back and realized that he had started off searching for the Chemistry record. He rummaged through his cupboard, his desk, searched room to room, but couldn’t find it. It was 7.45 now and he felt increasingly uneasy. Had he left it at class? If so had anyone seen it? He called up all his friends. No one had seen his record. People were sure that he had not lent it to them. The possibility that the teacher had forgotten to return the book was ruled out as everyone else had theirs. He remembered collecting the corrected record and in fact, opening it the very evening to check something. In fact, Arvind had called to check up something and he had taken it out for that. After that he had gone to Ram’s house. He absentmindedly called Arvind and said,” Listen! I can’t find my record. Can you check up and tell me if it is with you?”
“I told you it is not with me! I understand that you are nervous but it is not there. For your satisfaction I’ll search again”. The thought of writing all that again led to butterflies in his stomach. The thought of losing something like the X std. record smacked of irresponsibility. The irony was that he had not lost anything of major value till then.
He desperately tried to recall the events of the past week. But after the Arvind phone call the previous Tuesday everything was blank. He spoke to Omellette about it.
Omellette was actually a nickname for Hamlet Purushottaman. His father was an amateur poet, an ardent devotee of Shakespeare and perhaps in his enthusiasm had mistaken ‘poetic license’ to extend to filial duties as well. He had exercised it to alarming consequences for poor Omellette. After getting past the initial trauma (kids can be very cruel), Hamlet came to accept his fate. In fact, he quite liked the attraction that he got as a result of his name and almost in imitation developed a theatrical and dramatic behaviour. In due time, he grew into a confident young and somewhat excited young man prone to asking inappropriate questions at inappropriate times.
Omellette said,” Are you sure you didn’t drop it anywhere?”
“No. I don’t think so. I positively remember bringing it home”
“That’s helpful. We can easily identify the suspects”, Omellette said excitedly.
“Suspects? You think someone may have done it?” Ashwin asked doubtfully.
“Obviously! Can’t you see it man! Someone wants to sabotage your reputation. Who could it be?”
“Who all did you say came to your house in the past week?” he continued.
“Anand, Shivkumar, Rahul and Ranga” Ashwin said, “But surely we must eliminate Anand as he has checked his house thoroughly. “
“But have you checked his house? In this case, my boy, no one is above suspicion. Even me!” Omellette added.
“Look you idiot, Anand and Rahul are definitely above suspicion. They just came yesterday. And I spoke to them at the gate”
“Okay… I’ll come over to inspect the scene of suspected crime.”
Omellette came and said,”I was thinking of our course of action on the way here. We will search your house first, for evidence. That is hair, footprints, fingerprints the like…then we see what could have been the criminal’s modus operandi. But I’m afraid we will have to go the villain’s house to retrieve your record.”
“You speak like an idiot. First realize that you are not Sherlock Holmes”, Ashwin replied irritated. It was clear Omellette was wasting time. But Ashwin thought it would be good fun watching him at ‘work’ and so joined in.
Omellette did a thorough inspection for “clues”. Nothing came out of it. He found two-three strands of hair, which were so long that it was clearly Ashwin’s mother’s hair.
“Mr. Detective, don’t tell me that the criminal has committed the perfect crime?” Ashwin asked sarcastically.
“Shut up, Oh cynical one! Answer my question. How do you receive your visitors?” Omellette asked.
“I bring them to my room”
“Oh! So they could have easily flicked it when you were not looking. Did you leave the room empty when the suspects were here?”
“Yes. Quite empty.”
“How empty? So empty that when I leave the room, a vacuum is developed.” Ashwin replied with a guffaw. However he was feeling bored by now and wanted to study. He had resigned himself to the fate of the lost Lab Record.
They both plunked on to the floor tired and slaked their thirst with cold water.
“The main thing that I am concerned about is that just two weeks ago, my record had been cited as a model record. It will be really embarrassing to say I lost it”, he confessed.
“Yeah, how did you lose it? What are you going to do?” Omellette asked, his eyes round more out of a sense of what the exact fate of Ashwin was going to be rather than concern for his friend.
“I don’t know. Why should this happen at all?” Ashwin moaned.
“Zigackly… that’s my point. Clearly someone has done this and we should find him/her”, Omellette said with a relish.
“Don’t bother… I guess it is my fault. I should have written it last week itself, and then the matter could have been settled. Serves me right for being flippant”, he sighed.
“Hmm… but when you are writing that record you will rue the fact that you didn’t utilise my expertise completely.” Omellette added, ”Let me atleast interrogate your brother. That’s standard procedure.”
“Hey thanks for your time but no. I will risk not facing your world class expertise at dirt cheap prices”, he grinned and continued, “I will just have to face the music. I hope there is no imposition at least. I have to start studying man.” Ashwin said with an air of finality.
After some general discussions on the next day’s test and school matters, the boys bid goodbye.
As he slipped into an uneasy sleep, he wondered how troublesome the intellect was. If you were uncertain of trouble it made you miserable by contemplating the uncertain outcomes, even if you were sure of troubles it still made you miserable because you now knew exactly what to expect. He thought of its propensity to dwell on immediate unhappiness though experience and logic dictated otherwise, On top of that he would have to get up early tomorrow to study for his Chemistry revision test.
Bah! Life was so rotten!