As the eighth grade students of a small town school were waiting eagerly for the school bell to ring; sat amongst them, a slightly plump boy listening eagerly to the history teacher with shining eyes. There was nothing sweet or cute about the kid, apart from his grey eyes which were refreshing in the curious way and strangely made him look slightly elder to his fellow students. He seldom spoke in the class partly because his stammer made him the laughing stock of the class and partly because he was a good listener, a quality hard to find in the entire civilization leave apart the children of his age. Although, the perplexed expression on his face today was eloquently expressing his discomfort or curiousness, the two expressions that were hard to differentiate on his distinct face.
“Sir, Wha....aa....aa....aa...t is independence?”, D stammered
“Independence means self rule. It is the liberty to take your own decisions without anybody’s control or influence.”
“Is it any different from freedom?” D asked; this time in a flawless flurry of words.
“Idiot! This is not your English class. This is Pandey ji’s history class. Such idiotic questions are not tolerated and of course, both mean the same.”
This silenced his curiosity for the time being. D was used to such systematic murder of inquisitiveness as he was barely an average student; a ‘nobody’ who wasn’t as chirpy or intelligent as the other children in his class. He was different from the others with an ambiguous behaviour pattern that was mostly taken as his lack of intelligence by the teachers and fellow students. Absence of a set pattern or a stereotype in behaviour automatically got him categorised in the “zeros” out of the only two available typecasts. The curious look on his face was gone now as he slowly lowered his eyes.
The school bell rang and everyone dashed out of the classroom. D sat still, staring at the word written on the board sans any emotion or probably unable to express if any. He was always the last to leave, walking the two miles to his home alone. He loved looking at the colourful sky filled with kites in the afternoon, a wanderer at core of his heart.
D was born to a middle class family in Faizabad. His father was an accountant at the local bidi factory with a decent income as per the neighbourhood standards. The concept of ‘decent income’ isn’t that complicated. It means that the person owns standard amenities to flaunt like a scooter or a television or an air cooler. Depending on the number of items possessed by him from the list of income standards, he is grouped into different income levels by the society and the income level is directly proportional to the respect one gets. Therefore, being from a decent income group meant that D’s family walked a thin line; skipping a social standard purchase could see a drop in their respectability from the ‘decent people’ to the ‘poor people’. Money was a measuring tape for every adjective in the language.
D’s mother was a typical example of an alarm clock, she never forgot a social acceptability purchase. Every statement that she spoke included references of other people in the colony.
“Why are you late from school laat Saab? Mrs. Kapoor’s son came twenty minutes back. We bought you a bicycle last week to reduce the time you take to commute, so that you could study better; but you don’t seem to get serious.”
“Maa, my cycle got punctured again. I had to walk my way to home.” D reluctantly answered. Actually, he never wanted to have a bicycle. After all, he enjoyed his walks, but the bicycle was purchased as a social standard maintenance purchase for their neighbour, Kapoor’s son had it as well. So, he intentionally took air out of the tyres everyday and walked with his bicycle.
“Nowadays there are no quality products in the market. We spent 2800 rupees for this perpetually punctured piece of crap. I wonder where the Kapoors got their bicycle from. Absolutely disgusting! Now go to your room and start studying while I’ll get your lunch. Mehra ji was telling Paa that their son had started studying for the half yearly exams. Isn’t he the topper of your class?”
D turned around and started walking towards the room silently. His thoughts still wandered in the question that he had asked in the class. It is very tough to satisfy the penchant of a child, a perfectly rational and pure brain. Suddenly, his perplexed expression gave way to calm, smiling face as he slowly made way to his room. He ran to his table tore a page out of an unused notebook and made a paper aeroplane. As he darted it out of the window he was assured it would never come back. His smile broadened.