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It is a story about a little boy, who loved going to school, but life had other plans for him. The nameless protagonist of the story could be any of those countless, unprivileged, young children of the world.
He woke up early, took a bath, and put on fresh clothes. He grabbed his school bag and ran outside.
“Ma, I am leaving for school. We have to practice for the play on Sunday.”
Before his mother could reply, he was already running toward the main road. It was after a good two years that he was able to regularly go to school. Forced to drop out of school, he had watched his friends go to school, curse homework, be terrified of exams. He could not be a part of all those little joys and concerns. Now, after a compassionate teacher from his school approached his family, he was allowed to work as a manual labour in the evening and to attend school in the morning.
“I have read my lines well. What about you?”
“I want to become the lead character. Ask Suresh to give me that role.”
“Who is going to get the costumes?”
“Is the stage set? We have to do a stage rehearsal on Saturday.”
The small classroom was in cacophony. The excitement of the children was hard to contain. It was the first play that was being organized by the school. It would be enacted in front of the parents and everyone else in the locality. The children, who have been selected for the play, practiced with all their heart. The benevolent school teacher was at the helm of affairs for this event.
“Are you practising your lines well?”
He smiled and nodded at his teacher. The teacher knew how much being in school meant to this little fellow.
“What is that in your hand? What have you been reading since the last few days?”
“This is the script of our school play, and I am a part of it. I keep forgetting my lines, so I have been asked to read them, whenever I can.”
The kind, elderly labourer, who worked alongside him, smiled at him. They worked together in a factory, in the evening. The aged labourer never had the chance to take part in a play, or so much as attend a school. He was happy for the little fellow. They continued with their work silently.
“Where is your costume, Ravi? I asked for a blue one, not a green one.”
“Sir, should we put more lights on the stage?”
“Where are the head gears I asked for?”
Everyone was shuffling about the stage. It was Saturday, and they had to get the stage ready and practice for the last time, before presenting it to the audience. The school master, who was also the director of the play, was looking after everything single-handedly, and also turning mad as a hatter. He was helped by all the little ones at school, of course.
“Ma, wear that purple saree of yours today. Everyone is going to be there in their best clothes.”
“You enjoy your time on the stage, and don’t forget your lines. Your father and I have to talk to you about something tonight.”
His mother hugged him and asked him to get ready for the play. While walking down the school, he knew it had to be a bad news that was waiting for him tonight.
It was Sunday, their big day! The school stage was decked up with lights and colourful papers. The chairs were arranged for the parents and other guests, and there was a carpet laid for all the children. The audience started to pour in, and soon the place was packed. The thrill of the audience, smell of ground nuts, and excitement and nervousness of the little actors, about to go on stage, filled the evening air. The play began; the tiny actors filled the stage- every one of them brilliant, amidst some forgotten lines, some scratching of heads, and the the school master hopping around with his instructions backstage. The evening ended with a loud cheer and applause.
The school was in a jovial mood on Monday. The success and enthusiasm of last evening had seeped into the next day. The school master was applauded by the principal and other school teachers. It wasn’t every day that something so good happened to the local, government-run school. The children, from not-so-privileged homes, don’t get to enjoy such an evening every day. As classes ended for the day, the school master was going through some papers in the staffroom.
“Can I help you out with the papers, sir?”
“Oh, yes, that would be of great help.”
After a while, the school master looked at him and enquired,
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the factory after school?”
“There is no need for it anymore, sir. My parents have decided to send me out of this state, as a labourer at someone’s factory, who would pay me much more than I could ever earn here.”
“But I talked to your parents about not ending your education…”
“They are adamant this time around. They wouldn’t listen to anyone. We are in dire need of money. My younger sisters have started working, too.”
“But you were doing so well at school…”
There was an ensuing silence. He bid the school master goodbye and took a long look at the school building as he left.”
“Get up, you are already late. It is four in the morning.”
He woke up with a start. It has been months since he moved to this factory, leaving his home behind. The money he earned was sent to his family. His life revolved around the machines and the three meals he was served by the owners. He had resigned himself to his fate long ago, and hardly thought of the school and his past life. But, once in a while, before going to bed, he read his lines from the script of the school play, which he still treasures and keeps it safe, locked in his trunk. He falls asleep, wondering, how life would have been for him, if he was still at school.