An Iron Will
An Iron Will10 mins 432 10 mins 432
The little boy Lalu didn't remember when and how his father died. But he did distinctly store in his memory all the details about his mother's passing away. Now his grandmother and grandfather were living. Although the grandparents were physically fit and fine, they had a meagre income to make both ends meet.
Grandfather Sudhir Chaudhury was a retired government school teacher. As the monthly pension he got was negligible, Sudhir ran a bookshop to supplement his monthly income. Lalu's grandmother Purnima was slightly educated, but she was a very vast treasure house of thorough detailed knowledge of the Hindu scriptures and Odia folklore. Now they were left with none except their grandson Lalu. The latter was a wayward child and took little interest in his studies. Everybody considered him dull, stupid and worth no attention. Lalu managed to study till the completion of his Class-7 annual examination. After that, he was compelled to stop going to school. Lalu disliked mathematics the most, and so did he intensely hate his maths teacher Shankar Pattnaik.
No one had ever seen Shankar Pattnaik clad in any other colour than white. He always loved to don snow white dhotis and punjabis. That fateful day he entered the classroom full of joy and laughter. When he sat down on his chair in the classroom, he was greeted with peals of wild laughter. Mr. Pattnaik was furious with the children and yelled at them hysterically:"You brainless asses. . . !Why such nasty uncivil laughter? Have you no sense?" Somehow he succeeded in enforcing discipline in the classroom. Then he announced his decision to teach arithmetics related to time and distance. After doing a bit of explaining, when he turned to write something on the blackboard, the children started a spell of suppressed laughter.
The teacher didn't know that on the back of his long punjabi was pasted a large sheet of paper carrying the words I AM AN ASS. He had sat down on a sheet of paper spread on the chair with a sticky coat of glue. . ! The teacher taught today with some short of distrust and uneasiness. When he stepped into the teachers' common room, the malicious new maths teacher Reheman Khan called everybody's attention to Mr. Pattnaik's bottom. The air was charged with boisterous laughter. .
Shankar Pattnaik was infuriated, "O. . . Re. . What's the matter. . . ?The newly appointed science teacher Chumki Panda giggled stupidly and said:"Have a look at your back, Sir. . " Mr. Pattnaik was still unsure and confused. The Sanskrit teacher Raghunath Mohapatra made him see what was causing so much laughter. Turning savage with anger, Pattnaik shouted at the teachers. Now he was the headmaster-in-charge.
Comprehensive interrogation revealed that Lalatendu Das was the culprit. Lalu was beaten black and blue, although he pleaded his innocence. The other boys firmly denied their complicity in the prank. Mr. Pattnaik was an eccentric kind of man. He sent for Lalu's grandfather and told him that Lalu could do nothing in life. Sudhir prayed to the mathematics teacher to give him another chance. Other teachers too requested to give the boy one more chance.
However, Lalu refused to go to school. Now he was bitterly dissatisfied with his friends there who had encouraged him to do the mischief. The cross-grained mathematics teacher had not at all forgiven him. He made it a point to scold and cruelly humiate him in every class. Lalu decided to drop his studies and pursue something else. Both of his grandparents were worried about his future. It was impossible for him to stay in the village. He left home, hunting high and low to find himself some employment. Those days there were no mobile phones. Old Sudhir and his wife Purnima began an endless search for the lost boy. A lot of time as well as money was wasted in vain. Now both of them were full of remorse. They thought the boy might not have left home if they had not scolded and humiliated him as mercilessly as they had literally done. There was no hope of his return.
Nevertheless, the boy returned. He had spent three years in Delhi. He had to work in a roadside dhaba whose owner was an Odia. The return of Lalu to the village was a big event which some thought deserved celebrations. He was eighteen years old. Lalu's grandparents were immensely happy on the return of their grandson. But what would Lalu do now? Some men, women and boys and girls made fun of him. They cracked jokes when they saw Lalu day and night insanely preoccupied with reading and writing. Sudhir thought the boy was wasting his valuable time. How could a boy who had never scored pass marks in any subject while at school make any progress in education?As ever almost everybody thought that Lalu was going to turn himself into a laughing stock. The village boys and gossiping women would often observe the boy's stupid activities.
Pranksters in the village kept keeping track of Lalu's crazy activities. One afternoon, a village girl who was Lalu's senior, managed to see something very strange. Lalu was writing the word "existence" on the cement floor of his house again and again with exemplary determination. The girl Shuhasini said to him, "Why are you writing and rubbing this word so many times?"Lalu appeared embarrassed and seemed unwilling to reveal the truth. When Shuhasini persisted in her demand, with a stupid smile Lalu confessed that his memory was bad and he couldn't remember the spelling of "existence. " The 'e' after 't' in the word existence was troublesome. He often got confused to recall if it was "existence" or "existance. " She got curious and wanted to know everything. Lalu disclosed cautiously, "Didi, I came to know that I can take the HSC examination. If I clear an entrance test, I will be eligible to take the class 10 examination straightaway. This is how I am preparing for the entrance test. "
The girl made a song and dance about Lalu's bizarre method of preparation for the HSC examination. They also came to know Lalu had taken six months to memorise answers to questions from 15 possible English topics for the upcoming matriculation examination. Once Lalu heard a boy saying to his elder brother:"How can Lalu hope to pass matriculation when it takes him six months to cover 15 topics?"
"The topics must be very long. . "said the brother.
"Long. . ?" the boy burst into laughter. "Only some 32 33 pages in total. . . !"
Lalu felt terribly embarrassed and ashamed. He deeply regretted his open-minded talks with the village boys. He got into confusion whether he was actually going to be an educated person and his foolhardiness would pay off . He sometimes wondered whether he was struggling only to be the butt of sarcasm and eventually the village boys, girls and the grown-ups would taunt and sneer at him behind his back. He changed his approach to learning and knowing things. He would go to a senior and request him or her to explain how to do some sums. He he failed to understand anything, he would ask for one more explanation. If he couldn't catch anything for the second time too, he would pretend satisfaction and come back home. Next he would go to another senior or junior with the same problem. Someone would again explain the process of the same sums.
In a single day to understand the process of doing a single sum, he would meet some five or six persons! If he succeeded in his attempt, he would be overjoyed. The only thing he was proud of then was nothing but his unbreakable spirit and iron determination. It was a kind of determination which speech could never express. He was cautious enough not to breathe a word of this secret pride to anyone, not even to his own grandparents. His thoughts would concentrate day and night on what he had studied and remembered. He didn't care to remember what he was eating, what he was wearing and when and where he was sleeping. Although his memory was a perfect sieve, he was an incarnation of hard irresistible determination, a kind of spine and spunk defying any challenges whatsoever and however much frightening.
His grandparents often said to each other:"How come. . our boy so wayward and stupid earlier is struggling like a horse. . ! Never tires out. . . !"
Sudhir Babu was worried as to what would happen if the boy who was working so hard with an unprecedented will, failed in the entrance test. The gossipy village women would talk about them derisively.
At this juncture I went to Delhi to start my career with a leading English daily. Those days mobile phones were out of knowledge. Letters were the only mode of communication. I got married the next year. My son Aditya was born after two years of marriage. I became a full-fledged family man battling with the usual odds of family life and keeping pace with my smart and dynamic colleagues. After my son completed his Class--10, I came back to Odisha. I switched over to another English daily and started working as its Bhubaneswar correspondent. I rented a house at Sahid Nagar. My son got admitted in DAV Public School (CSpur).
I had an old neighbour. I would often hear him shouting at his grandson:"What are you doing inside that room? Always reading those dratted books!Wasting valuable time!"
Our balcony and his were adjacent. I once asked him:"What's the matter, Sir? Always scolding that innocent boy!I mean Tutu. . "
Dinabandhu Babu said in injured tones: "Innocent boy!He. . . ? An innocent boy. . . ?Mishra Babu. . The little boy is a devil out and out. . !"
Tutu came out and, to the chagrin of his fastidious Grandpa, giggled stupidly. The old man glared at him savagely. Tutu said:"Uncle, my English teacher is telling me to read Mahayogi Shiva Series so that my English might improve. Grandpa, can't understand this and is always scolding me. . . "
My deep interest in reading goaded me to say: "Tutu. . let me see it. . . "
Tutu hurried inside the house and returned with the first two parts of the series. The author's name read 'Eric John'. I told the old man, "Sir, is it not surprising that an Englishman takes interest in Lord Shiva. .?Whereas our own people show little choice in these matters. . ?"
My neighbour harped on the greatness of Hinduism and the smallness of other religions. I borrowed the books from Tutu decidedly to read them at night.
After a long time, the boy enquired whether I liked those books. I was at a loss. I had to admit that I had completely forgotten about it. I experienced a little embarrassment. Sitting at my study table, I got absorbed in reading the first part. While halfway through the book, I thought Eric John was an Indian writer in English. I started browsing the Internet and was bewildered to find that the writer's original name was Lalatendu Choudhury. He was born in an Indian village.
Bhanjapur Sasan? Shuhasini was living at Shailashree Vihar in Bhubaneswar those days. I called her on her mobile phone. She narrated from A to Z of Lalu's progress. She told me how Lalu had managed to do extraordinarily well in his studies after the completion of his higher secondary exams. He had done his masters in political science becoming the university topper(Delhi University). Now he was settled in Toronto teaching politics in Toronto University. He was married to a Gujarati doctor and had two daughters.
I did know Lalu had managed to pass his much-talked-entrance test. Then he had passed the HSC exam securing the Second Division. I was unable to believe that a boy who had to write the ' word 'technical' fifteen times to remember its spelling, had managed to be a professor in politics in Toronto University. After listening to Shuhasini, I couldn't help praising Lalatendu's determination.
The celebration of unflinching determination was the central motif of anything and everything that he ever wrote.
Shuhasini concluded the conversation saying, "Brother after his intermediate examination was over, I saw Lalu one afternoon sitting under a mango tree with a huge copy of the 20th century Chambers Dictionary on his lap. He was going to get by heart the entire dictionary!"
Now after reading each story by Eric John, I experience the presence of a thousand lions in me who roar:" Determination. . . ! Determination. . . ! Determination. . . !"