Some incidents and people get etched into our memory. Decades passed since but that incident was still fresh. Fresh as the petrichor of that day.
It was a lucky escape from the morning showers. I parked my cycle and took shelter in the temple.
“Sir, how are you?” the priest stuck a conversation.
“Fine, pujari garu. Temple is well decorated today…”
“Today is very auspicious, sir. Everyone should visit the temple today. Good, you have come.”
An unease crept into my mind. The traditions of this village were rather unsettling.
A few kids in school uniform rushed in behind me. I could recognise some of them and I also observed that some of them were not entering the temple premises.
I knew the reason. Everything was a valid tradition, even if illegal, till someone questions it. A chance to do so presented itself to me. I noticed Raju and his classmates scurrying to find cover as the gentle shower turned into a downpour. Yet, the cowardice provided by a secure government job won over righteousness. I chose to maintain the facade of a respectable teacher.
The priest asked for gothra and distributed the lord’s prasad. Rain God stopped showering his blessings after thirty minutes, and I reached the school navigating the muddy and slippery road.
I walked into the classroom and started the day’s class. Few students sat on the low raise benches and a few sat on gunny sacks.
Enthusiastic students made teaching sweet. Raju was one such student. He surpassed others in intelligence and was a lively kid. I could usually discern his voice in the mundane chorus the class breaks into when I entered the class.
But that day, I could not hear him. This bothered me.
Assigning the class an equation to solve, I sauntered towards the last student. Raju was staring at the ground. I observed him. His thin frame appeared smaller with dropped shoulders. His books were missing, and he looked dazed. His gaze was still on the floor.
I bent on my knees and kept my hand on his still wet shoulder. Raju did not look at me.
His friend informed me that the shopkeeper did not like them taking shelter in front of his store and flung Raju along with his school bag into a puddle of water. My heart ached for the kid. Maybe this could have been avoided if I were not a coward.
I met him after the class, more out of guilt than duty.
“Raju, I am sorry. I could have stopped this from happening but did not. Do not let this incident define you, do not let your talents go waste,” and handed him new books.
Post this incident, I got transferred to another village. But I never forgot Raju.
Today, the special invite to the inauguration of Raju’s new venture made me proud. It even managed to erode years of guilt a little. Raju reached the pinnacle.
Note: The term Pi(?) is derived from Greek word Perimetros, roughly meaning measure of boundary.
Garu: an honorific