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And So It Began

By Kartik Gupta

‘Wake up, beta. We don’t want to be late now’. With these soft words whispered into his ear, his mother gently shook him up. He got up with a start from the edge of his parents’ bed. Rubbing his eyes to squeeze the sopor still filling his body out through them, he squinted up at his mother who was holding the toothbrush ready in her hand. With a quick glance around the bedroom, he saw his father in the far corner sipping his first tea of the morning. As the young boy, barely a few months over three years, silently walked towards the bathroom, a strange unexplained dread started filling him. Now that he was fully awake, the horrific memory of events of the previous morning came back to him. He shuddered to even think about it. ‘What if it happens again today’, he thought, and his whole body was gripped in consternation. ‘No, they won’t make me suffer like this again’, he heard another voice inside his head say. And he prayed to god with all devotion that it was right; that, perhaps, they weren’t so heartless. They were his parents, after all, and from what he had heard, parents were supposed to love their children. And so he prayed hard, without knowing that his pleas were wasted on a god who doesn’t have any powers outside stories and myths. It would be many years later, and not after this particular morning, when the boy would finally realize the futility of prayers and stop believing. His mother understood, on seeing her child’s sullen face, that she had a tough task at hand. Having undergone the same pain the day before, she had cursed herself for putting her child through this excruciating rite of passage. But she knew that it had to be done nonetheless. She even had a plan in place to make this transition easier. ‘We are going to the zoo today’, she announced cheerfully to her son.

Still not quite trusting of his mother, the boy’s face conveyed an expression which betrayed both fear and hope. Only when his mother diverted his gaze towards the fancy t-shirt and blue jeans she had laid out for him on the bed, did a smile start playing out on his lips. His worries were all in vain, he thought, and swiftly forgetting the terrors of the past, he got dressed and ready just as his father finished his second tea. Once firmly seated in his mother’s lap in the front seat of his father’s white Maruti 800, he couldn’t wait to see the cheetahs and the bears and ride on the toy-train at the zoo. ‘What a great start to the day’, he reflected, wondering if the tigers would be asleep at this early hour. They had been on the road for hardly ten minutes when he started feeling that something was amiss. The same cloud of dread started hovering over him again, threatening to pour all over his happiness. And then it hit him, with all the force of a violent torrent. ‘We are not going to the zoo!’, he mouthed under his breath, and started grappling to free himself from his mother’s lap. As the Maruti slowly came to a halt, he could not believe the extreme treachery of it all when the damned gates of the hallowed school premises loomed up in front of him. Adept hands came down in swift motion and replaced the fancy t-shirt and blue jeans with the white shirt and grey pants of the school uniform. It had all been a part of the plan all along. If he was at home, all he had to do was shed some tears and stir up a commotion, and his grandfather would have come to his rescue. ‘Let the boy be. Why force him when he doesn’t want to go? He’s much too young to be going to school anyway. We’ll send him when he’s ready’, his adoring grandfather would admonish mother and father. But now, he was trapped in the car. He struggled at first and put up a fight, pleaded and whined, and then resorted to crying desolately in the end. And so it began.

By Kartik Gupta

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