A positive title for a change :) . Even in Chennai and with my parents life seemed good for a while as I was put in a new school (New Prince) and significantly in a school where my mother did not work, so at the end of the day I alone, became responsible for the things that would happen to me, unlike my previous schools where teachers out of their issues with my mother vented out their anger over me.
As a kid the first thing that I do when I was among a group of kids was to gauge their strength and to find out whether I can beat them in a fight, that seemed to change drastically as I entered my 9th standard. The requirements to be an important person among a group changed, intelligence, good marks, wits and a bit of extra-curricular activities became more important than strength. I was put in 9th standard C section (not meant for studious guys) , I started evaluating my class and looked out for those who looked like a competitor to me. The first guy who looked like a competitor was a guy named Navin, a very sweet guy he was very witty and attractive but he never looked like a threat to me. We became close buddies in a matter of 3-4 days.
The next obvious area of concern was intelligence and good marks, the two who were the toppers of the class over the previous years were Mathura and Ramya. With all due respect to their intelligence I was pretty sure that I would out smart them and will become the topper of the class. I did not miss out even simple opportunities to show case my intelligence to people, my clout was growing among the guys in the class. Like always there cannot be a happy ending to my story. A teacher named Asha (an ex-colleague of my mother in a previous school and like most was her adversary) was quite influential in this school and she transferred me to section A. I was very reluctant, the reason she gave was I was too brilliant to be in section C (I don’t know her motives though). Leaving a group of good friends and leaving a potential opportunity to top a class I moved to the A section.
Then I ran the same algorithm and looked out for potential competitors in the class and I literally found 10 of them and the sad part is no one looked too hospitable. I noticed a clique of uber confident studious guys sticking together. Karthik, Ashwin, Sethuraman, Navin and Balaji sitting in subsequent rows, I was not even sure where to sit. I took a seat not too visible to most of the guys, was sitting and lot of things was going on in my mind. Sethuraman was from a CBSE school and he too joined our school the same year, he called me and gave me a mathematical problem in set theory and there was a competition between me and Karthik. I was quite good with mathematics, but I was very poor in handling pressure. I knew the problem, it was rather a cake walk but my hands started shivering (not quite visibly) and was unable to even write down the steps and Karthik finished it comfortably ahead of me. Shattered by this event I took my place again. There was more bad news on store as I found a girl named Sudha was equally talented to these guys, and honestly she was the first intelligent girl that I ever met or studied with.
Kartick was studying in the same school since his KG and Ashwin too studied in the same school for a long a time. Sethu and I are the new comers, and Sethu is the cousin of Ashwin, so this prompted a severe competition between them. Ashwin till then was an above average student, but the arrival of Sethu made him highly competitive. Even before the exams started the students started off giving their own ranks and the common ranking was Karthik, sudha, sethu and ashwin. The common opinion was the real competition is for the fifth place and a guy named Balamurgan claimed that place for himself. It was evident that there would be a minor bias towards Karthik as he was the favorite of every teacher in the school, he was not only the favorite of the teachers, but also the favorite of all the students in the class. He was handsome, good with studies, very popular, resonably good in sports, was in to extra curricular activities like dance and stuff and was even one of the most humorous guys in the class and had very good parents. In otherwords, he lived a life which I lived only in my dreams.
People often start to demonize those who are a threat and who are hard to defeat. I started demonizing Karthik, to me he was like a demon surrounded by imps in the form of sethu, navin, balaji, sam and few others. Every night I used to fantasize defeating these guys. Then I came to know that Sethu was a neighbour of mine, just a couple of houses from my place. Everyday I started to come back home after the school along with him. He will wait till I pick my sister and will ride our bicyles back to our home. I slowly realized that he was not a bad person like I thought, then I came closer to karthik and the more time I spent with him, I realized that there was a reason for him being the most popular guy in the class and also realized that he had a very pleasant personality.
The exams were over and I was ranked 5th (the competition was so tough). My worst rank ever, however that made me feel like a part of the class I got good friends among the back benchers and among girls. Then I realized that it is not because I got good marks that they became my friends, but rather that rank made me a bit more confident and open and I responded well to my class mates. I got some great friends during that year K.S Balaji, Arun, Ambhika and others. K.S Balaji is in Canada now, and I don’t know where Arun and Ambhika are and I never told them till date how much I treasured their friendship. If I happened to meet them again in my life I will spend a whole day telling them how much they meant for me during those days.
The tortures from my parents end continued, but life seemed easy with good friends, a good school and a lot of dreams. Sethu is a very good cricket player, we play in a temple ground nearby, where 20 odd teams play together, there will be only pitches and no outfield in that ground. Whenever I play my father will send my sister to bring me back home, and he will ask me to sweep the floor or to water the plants or sometimes just for the sake of preventing me from playing. I used to cry deep inside with a plain face outside.
9th Standard came to an end and I was not sent to my native during the holidays. I was asked to go and work in a printing press which was owned by a friend of my father, everyday I cursed myself for being born in that family, I will go to the printing press and work till 7 pm and will go back home. I liked doing work, I was not against working during my school days, but I could not digest the fact that I was not able to spend time with my grand mother and my friends back in my native. However, I learned the art of block printing and binding of books. I started binding all my books from then on.
10th started, and teachers started telling about the importance and also about how the papers will be corrected by someone else. Studying for exams was the last thing on my mind, my father had a huge bookshelf and a great collection of books, I started reading Mahabharat and his MA books (on Indian and world history) without his knowledge. I had interest in every subject and I wanted to learn new things, but the constraint was we never had any a free library nearby. The other thing that I aspired for was to play cricket at the highest level and I always harbored the dream of playing alongside Sachin Tendulkar. The problem with me was instead of focusing on scoring runs, my focus was just to exhibit to my classmates that I can play well, so whenever we play matches, a lot of things go in to my head and I screw up and will spend a week or so feeling bad about the screw up. There was a match on a Sunday, and Saturday evening my father beat me severely for leaving the utensils on the floor when he came and he kicked me (literally) out of the house. I was terrified, not because he kicked me out of the house, but because there was no way of getting permission to go and play in the match the next day.
I was so confused on what to do, I did not want to miss out on that match, so while standing outside the house I thought of all the options. Finally I made up my mind that I should some how play the game next day. But not knowing where to go, I walked till my school and then decided to spend the whole night roaming around and then going for the match directly the next morning. So I walked the entire area around my school, went near Ashwin’s house and then walked all the way to Karthik’s house, there used to be a small bus stand nearby his house and I started practicing my shots with an imaginary bat in hand, I visualized hitting the balls. I did this for a long time, then I sat in the bus stop for a while, not knowing what to do. Time is truly relative, and it was so harsh on me by not moving at all. But I had my own world I started dreaming the match situations and me playing an important knock. I thought of sleeping there however mosquitoes had other ideas, so I walked towards my school and slept under a grocery store, and next morning the store keeper woke me up and asked about me, (they open the stores quite early around 4 am) not knowing what to say I just ran away towards karthik’s house again. Since it was very early I had another 5 – 6 hours to kill. I just kept walking without any destination, and then finally went to the place where we assemble (D ground, I don’t know the reason for such a name). I was hungry, sleepy, tired and weak but was motivated to perform.
Sethuraman was the best player, followed by Venkat and Karthick, however Karthick always lead the team and he will never let me bat above 5 down. Nothing wrong with that though, he never saw me batting well. So I was waiting for the wickets to fall, and there was no signs of it happening and finally with 2.3 overs to go I got my chance and I hit the first ball high and long in to square leg, straight in the hands of a fielder. I was shattered, that was much more painful that the hits that I got from my father. I blamed everything, the wind, me being very hungry and weak and everything around me. The whole sky fell on my head, I failed in the match, I cannot go home and I was hungry without a penny.
I had no other go, I went home with shivers rocking my spine and assuming that they would have searched for me the whole night and the next day till the evening. I entered, the house was calm and that made me more nervous. My mother asked me where I was, I lied that I went to Karthik’s house and stayed there. No more questions asked. But then I had to wait till the night to have my food.
Coming back, the exams were held. I was not expecting anything great, as I knew that the results are not going to have any consequence in my life and I was sure that I would get sufficient marks to opt for the group that I desire for 11th Std. The exams came, and I was not too worried, the pressure was actually on Karthick, Sudha, Sethu and Ashwin to deliver. The teachers were expecting State ranks from them.
Karthik and Sethu approched the DPI and got the results early even before it was announced officially. I was learnt, that Kartick and Sethu both got 200/200 in Maths but their overall percentage was less than 90% (Which was way too less compared to state ranks). My mother once she knew this news, started abusing me that I was fit for nothing and I should go and serve food for these two instead of studying with them, even without knowing my marks. One good thing about my father was, he never cared about my marks so he did not say a thing. I lived two days with desperation, then K.S Balaji came to house and congratulated me saying that I too got 200/200. It was a mighty relief and then the official results came and in addition to getting 100% in Maths I also was the topper in Science scoring 290/300 clearly ahead of everyone else. I scored 4 marks more than Karthik, I was on top of the world. Our school published our photos in the newspapers, I could not believe that good things can happen to me.
For a change I was happy despite being in Chennai and not going to my native. Only later I came to know that these things were just the beginning of a glorious period in my life.