Some things in life are indeed priceless. But the tag of pricelessness associated with things change as perspectives change. Things that seem trivial today might get a heavy emotional tag attached to it tomorrow. There existed a time when my worldly possessions could be counted with fingers of both my hands. School days.
Primary school. I owned only a handful of material possessions back in the days. A few pencils, an eraser, a ruler neatly packed by a loving mother daily into a cute pencil box was a prized possession for everyone. Lending a pencil to a classmate when he or she forgot hers was accompanied by stringent set of conditions. If someone broke someone else’s pencil or lost another person’s eraser, tempers used to flare. Those situations could result anywhere from threats to complain to the class teacher all the way up to fistfights.
Sometime then, I had a Staedtler pencil in my pencil box. Personally I used to consider her as the queen in my pencil box, in the middle of handful of Nataraj and Apsara pencils, which were much more prevalent in those days. She had a very different yellow and black striped skin, which stood much in contrast with the red and black striped Nataraj and the bluish tinged Apsara. For my little mind, she seemed to have an aristocratic aura to herself, which manifested in the way I treated her compared to others. She was the queen in my possessions, my trump card of sorts. I never used her for day-to-day trivialities in class, only special occasions like test papers warranted me taking her out of the pencil box to perform her worldly obligations. There was one other thing – no one else got to touch her. Lending her to someone was a strict taboo.
Rules, they say, are meant to have exceptions. My rule was no exception to the exception to rule concept. She was beautiful. No, am not talking about my pencil here, the “she” here refers to what it is actually meant to refer to. She was someone who had recently transferred to my school from another place, and to summarize, she did have a lot of boys staring at her. The feelings of a boy in primary school to a classmate of his is highly difficult to phrase, given the freedom of expression I have I’ll convey it as a primary school version of romance. To be fair to myself, I was not the only one. Competition is a hallmark of this cruel world, isn’t it?
So this lovely lass leaves me stumped when she comes up to me one day asking for a pencil. She broke her pencil and doesn’t have a spare one, and for some divine reason, it is me she chose to approach for a replacement. I do not know the emotions that ran through my mind, but in contemporary jargon, it would be much along the lines of “mere mann mei laddu phoota”. And that was the state of mind with which I broke possibly the biggest rule of my life of those days – I lent her my priceless Steadtler pencil.
It was possibly the first time in my life that I was faced with the phenomenon of readdressing priorities. The request was put forward, the temptation was irresistible and priorities were shuffled. And my priceless possession changed hands. For a good part of rest of the day, I snuck peeks in her direction, and watched her beautiful hand adorned with my beautiful pencil, scribbling away in her notebook. Priceless moments.
One of the most ecstatic days of my school life thus passed. At the end of the day, she did not return the pencil. Even though I was a little disappointed at not getting back my pencil, I took comfort in the fact that it was in her safe hands.
The sun dawned over the skies of my small town one more time the subsequent day. Although I can’t vouch for it, but am reasonably certain that my mother had a much easier day getting me up from bed and getting me ready for school. All the while I was dreaming about striking a conversation with her. Nowadayd, they say a lot can happen over a cup of coffee but back in those days, a lot could happen over a pencil. Off I marched to school, thinking of all probable scenarios of how would I confront her, how best to possibly open up a conversation with her, and so on. I waited at the school gate to try and catch her when she entered the premises, that certainly would’ve given me ample time to talk while walking from the gate to our classroom. I waited for as long as possible before the bell went off, but she didn’t come. She was absent for the day. Darn, my luck..!
I was luckier next day. I’d like to believe I forged my luck. After I woke up the next day morning, I meticulously recounted the details of my modus operandi the previous day and I tried not to emulate that as much as possible so that my actions were not jinxing, in any way. So I went to school displaying the usual reluctance, was not overly fast when walking to school, did not wait at the gate… and lo, behold! My planning paid off and she was present.
It took me till lunch time to muster enough courage to walk up to her. I remember very distinctly, that my mind was blank. The entire setup was something akin to what are so eloquently portrayed in Bollywood movies, minus the flowers flowing around and the background music that usually accompanies such situations. I asked her in the sweetest possible voice a twelve year old could bring to fore.
“Errr, you had borrowed my pencil the other day. If you are done using that, can I have that back?”
I knew something was wrong the instant I saw her reaction. I knew for certain that I hadn’t screwed up anything with my approach. Not yet, so far. But her face paled, her little smile faded.
“I am sorry. My little brother broke it the day before, when I was trying to do my homework with that pencil.”
At that instant, my whole world turned upside down. My favorite pencil, which I myself used so sparingly, which I made myself to give to her, lay broken in pieces in some trash bin somewhere. I couldn’t believe she had done it to me.
As I turned my back on her and rushed away from her I heard the first syllable of sorry sputtering out from her mouth. I didn’t listen, I didn’t pause, and I simply couldn’t be consoled. I turned my back on her, for once, for all.
If you are reading this by any chance, ma’am, you owe me a pencil. And much more.