J is for Jealousy [#AtoZChallenge]

Subbu’s jaw dropped.

“And I got this for my last birthday”, Mani said as he produced a white, shiny Hot Wheels car. “And this one was for my previous 95 out of 100 in Social Studies”. Another item emerged from the bag that seemed to hold an infinite supply of toys – this time a GiJoe. It was the short break hour and Mani had decided to exhibit his collection atop Prema ma’am’s table that day to his huddled group of gawking, incredulous classmates. “Mani”, Subbu asked when he finally found his voice, “What does your father do?”. This endowment of seemingly hundreds of toys could only be justified if Mani’s father owned a toy shop. “Don’t you know da?”, Mani asked with a mixture of condescension and genuine puzzlement, “Your father and my father are colleagues at the same company.”. The knot in Subbu’s chest tightened and he found himself looking at the bench lost in thought about the unfairness being meted out to him by life, his parents and everyone. He had scored a lot of 95s as well. Mostly in English, but it counted, didn’t it? He was shaken from his reverie by Murugan who was by now staring daggers at Mani. “He thinks he’s some sort of big shot just because he has more toys than us. We’ll see who’s smiling when something goes missing.”. Subbu didn’t like the glint in Murugan’s eyes but he didn’t want to antagonise his friend, so he meekly nodded hoping his face didn’t betray his conscience.  Mani had just finished displaying a tiny He-Man eraser (that held in an outstretched plastic hand a small, but sharp plastic sword of sorts, sharp enough to prick any of Subbu’s mental balloons of happiness, if any were left), when Prema ma’am walked into the classroom and Mani hastily replaced all the objects back into his “akshayapatra” of a bag and the rest of them hurriedly took their places in their seats.

Later during lunch, Subbu spotted Mani frantically looking for something. He had an inkling as to what might have happened but he innocently went and asked the worried boy, “Mani, are you searching for something?”. Mani looked up ashen-faced at Subbu and said, “My brand new kaleidoscope, Subbu. Have you seen it?”. Subbu thought Murugan might have something to do with this missing tube of mirrors but he shook his head vigorously…perhaps a little too vigorously, for Mani surveyed him for a few seconds as though the location of the missing cylinder was marked with an “X” on Subbu’s forehead, before resuming his search under the desks. The latter stayed there a few more minutes watching the former struggle before sympathetically patting him on his back and walking away. 

As he moved away from the seeker he saw Murugan, standing a few benches away, looking at Mani with a satisfied expression on his face. “See how he pitifully searches for his Parker Pen”, he smirked with a whisper once Subbu was within earshot. Subbu furrowed his eyebrows – “Parker ..Pen?” he thought, but not aloud. “Now Mani has lost two items, only one of which he has noticed missing”, he brooded. “Subbu?”, Murugan enquired, “Do you think we should keep it for ourselves or break it?”. Subbu frowned. Of course, he had been jealous of how many more things Mani had and maybe a tiny part of him had revelled at the thought of Mani grappling with the loss of one of his prized possessions that he had “shown off”, but was he, Subbu, an evil person? What would Harry Potter do? He pondered the paths his heroes from fiction and mythology might take if faced with such moral questions and decided with a resolve as a wave of shame washed over him – “No”, and prepared himself to patronise Murugan for his action; but the thief had vanished out of sight and Subbu’s eyes wandered back to a still worried-looking Mani. He walked back to the bemoaner and said with the tone of a savior, “Don’t worry Mani, I’ll help you find your pen…err..telescope.”, he corrected himself as Mani looked at him quizzically. “Kaleidoscope”, he was corrected. Subbu adopted a loftier expression all the while muttering to himself about having overcome jealousy and being the bigger man and yet being corrected by ungrateful monsters. As he bent under the desk himself, he wondered if he should bring up the topic of adequate compensation with his parents and ran a possible scenario over in his head about how that conversation with his father might go –

He would gingerly broach the topic – “Appa, Mani had brought 4 HotWheels cars today.”
Appa would remark only partially listening – “Mm Hmm.”
He would repeat the premise for father’s benefit.
Appa would feign interest this time and look at him as if to wonder why this sentence was being posed to him.
Then he would ask for an increase in number of cars for himself and let the chips fall where they may. He had no idea how Appa would react to this new man with a spine, but he was prepared to try, for justice’s sake.

For the second time that day, he jerked back to reality only to notice that he had wandered off to the opposite row of benches on his knees, all the while, trying to look for Mani’s kaleidoscope, obviously unsuccessfully. As he prepared to abandon the search, he spotted a glint of something shiny by the trash can situated at the left end of Prema ma’am’s table. He rushed to it and picked it up even as it came undone in his hand, the glass pieces smashed to smithereens. It would seem that in Mani’s haste to pick up his things, this tube had fallen to the ground and scattered. He brought the remnants of the tube and the bad news back to Mani. The boy took one look at the glass pieces and started weeping profusely, spluttering pieces of speech from which Subbu gathered that Mani had had to sweep the entire house to get his Appa to buy him this what-was-once-a-fine-bangle-piece-displayer. Subbu felt even more sympathetic towards this boy and thought he should probably, at this point, not add insult to injury by enquiring if Mani had noticed anything else missing from his Bag of Wonders. By this time, two more of their classmates had arrived by Mani’s side and had begun consoling him. Subbu felt confident about the moral support Mani was receiving and decided to confront Murugan immediately, chide him, maybe teach him a lesson or two about the virtues of honesty and the horridness of jealousy and get the pen back to Mani before the latter even discovered its loss – surely the poor boy had suffered enough already.

His thoughts and actions were interrupted by Prema ma’am walking in again with an expression of what he could only surmise was absolute rage. She slammed the notebooks she was holding onto her table and dust from 1947 rose up to fill the air in the classroom, it seemed.

“Everyone take your bags and keep them on your desks”, she said, in an icy tone. Subbu blinked and looked around at his classmates who looked equally clueless.

“One of you has stolen my Parker Pen and I’m going to find out who.”

I is for Ignored [#AtoZChallenge]

“Whoaaaaaaa”, he yelled, a sound only he could hear. One second he saw the clear blue skies and in the very next, an expansive patch of brown mud and this pattern repeated as he rose into an arc and his ascent slowed to a halt and then he descended in the same topsy-turvy fashion with increasing velocity before crashing onto a rough surface that was immediately engulfed in darkness. He blinked. He could see nothing for what seemed like ages, but heard muffled voices in a tongue he’d come to understand in bits and pieces – some words more familiar than others. He’d learnt a lot of things over the years. He knew his name was what his handlers called “fifty paisa” , but he was always spoken about carelessly, it seemed, with lesser reverence than others of his kind.

“Heads”, he heard someone call out. And he knew his outing for the day was almost done. A brief glimmer of sunlight when one of the voices would whoop and the other would groan (he’d come to distinguish these sounds over time as well). And back into the recesses of a velcro covered, stifling enclosure he’d go with the rest of his species for company – who didn’t say much but sometimes brushed against him involuntarily. 

He closed his eyes and waited for the familiar scrape of velcros indicating his nap-time. But it never came. Instead, today, he found himself being slipped in a crevice of sorts lined with material he was unfamiliar with. He fell and waited for a landing but he kept slipping further down, grazing a surface, rolling slightly and falling through another hole of sorts for a duration only slightly lesser than the time it had taken him to down the arc moments earlier. “Thump”, he fell face down on something hard and dusty. He whimpered. Again, no one heard him. He waited for some agent to retrieve and return him to his familiar surroundings. No one came. He kept waiting even as dust settled on his side that faced the skies. Once in a while he felt enormous pressure on his backside, but it was always a hurried application that was immediately lifted. Initially he mistook those events to be rescue missions. But they weren’t and he stayed where he was.

After a while, he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He felt akin to what we would describle as …moist. “Patter”. “Patter”. “Patter”. The sound accompanying the object that caused the wetness kept hitting him and eventually he felt himself rising slowly. From his vantage point, all he could see was the surface he had been lying on but from a slight height through a medium he could not explain, but it wasn’t clear. Now this surface seemed to be moving and him along with itself. He felt himself being rocked gently initially – back and forth – and then the surface began pushing him. He kept moving for a while and then fell sharply. Another thump. This time he’d fallen face-up so he could see the new gap he’d fallen from – one among a series of adjacent gaps. By now, the skies had cleared up so he could see the skies but the view was punctuated uniformly by the surface above.

He sighed in resignation. As he felt the moisture slowly abandoning him, so did hopes of his being rescued this time.

Not that it mattered to anyone.

Leafy

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Blue Leafy flew…guided by the breeze that propelled him over the heads of the people that constituted the busy road. He flew even higher and further for a few seconds as he reached the chimney of the restaurant at the end of the road, then he descended..softly landing at the base of what he saw was the arc of a three-dimensional rubber surface. “This is it”, he thought, “This is how it all ends.”.

He had heard tales of these circular rubber beings trampling over his brethren ending their lives. They who were powerful as long as they stayed affixed to their host fathers, the Trees, were immediately at the mercy of every external agent, once disconnected. And he had heard of their merciless endings — crushed, shredded, ripped up. Some got lucky, of course. They ended up in the warm confines of these mysterious, loved cages called “books” as…”bookermarks”, he decided they were called. But he was wise beyond his years and he knew that even these safe-keepers were themselves descendants of his original caretakers, the Trees.

As he lay there, breathing in heavily and feeling the heat Mr RubberArc near by was radiating silently, he thought of many things. He thought of how it had all come to this, as he knew was the norm. When the end was near, Leaves must think of how it all came to this. And so he thought….

He thought of how even as a baby leaf, he was always the rebel, growing at the edge of Uncle Branch. All the other leaves were free to nestle up closer to Father Bark, but he would stand out — blue instead of green like the rest, he’d decided…err..even though it had sort-of been decided for him. And he thought about how once the evil Mr. Monkien had jumped up and down on Uncle Branch and even threatened to harm him! But his life had not ended then as their friendly visitor Winden had blown Monkien away.

But one incident stood out. It was when a huge metal blob had come out of nowhere and slammed squarely onto the torso of Father. And Father had let out a huge big roar of pain. But he had stood there and taken the brunt of the damage and save for Uncles Chip and Twig (may they wither in peace), the rest of the family was safe. Leafy would later learn that the metal blob was called a “Kaar” and it was intoxicated with some sort of liquid called “Petrol”. Of course, all of these was alien to Leafy and he did not care about things that did not cause him harm. The only liquid (pfft, of course, he knew about liquids — Paati Maramamma next door had yelled out the concepts to him and his siblings, when they were little. Sadly she had mysteriously reduced to a stump one day and Leafy’s lessons had ended there.) he cared about was “Water”, a rejuvenating drink he drank everytime the skies above grew dark and Winden grew very,very loud.

As he remembered these things, he was jerked to reality by the growing vibration of RubberArc and he muttered a silent goodbye to everyone, a goodbye he knew Winden would pass along. RubberArc was moving forward and suddenly came to a halt in sync with the shriek Leafy heard. Someone was moving swiftly towards him and before he knew it, he was being lifted and examined by a pair of glass panes….”Papa! Look! A blue leaf!”, the voice exclaimed. That was the last thing he heard before he passed out.

When he awoke he felt a strange, calming warmth and a gentle rustle on the tip of his head. He also noticed that he was propped up at a strange angle before he registered the fact that he wasn’t dead after all.

He was one of the lucky ones.