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A Leaf Under The Stone

February 5, 2013
He was waiting on the edge of the pond with a cane in his hand as his nephew had been in the water for over three hours, swimming with the local boys. He knew that this was something of a sport for the children of the colony but he could not approve of it as he had high fever a couple of weeks ago. As Tatun saw his uncle standing with the cane he was frightened of the lashes on his back and furiously swam to the edge of the pond on the other side. He stood on the other side and looked at his uncle looking somewhat faint. Then he broke into a run and disappeared in a hut adjacent to it. It was the house of his maternal grandfather. There he was adequately pampered and was out of the reach of everyone including his menacing father. Jyoti stood there for some more time realizing that his mission was ineffective and then retraced his steps back home. One thing that he knew was that anyone from their house would never be able to do anything to Tatun with his grandfather standing beside him. As he went back home, he was not crestfallen but he relished the fact that there were some people who genuinely loved the boy who was so restive.
A little later it began to rain heavily propelled by the clouds of the rainy month of Shravana and he sat on the muddy veranda of the house of his grandfather, floating some paper boats that his young uncle had helped him make. As soon as a boat was carried away by the current of the rain water that had collected in the hollow of the courtyard, he clapped his hands. His young aunt came quietly and sat beside him as some Tagore music began to waft in the air. Tatun’s face was quite sodden by the gusty winds of the storm that was blowing with the rain. Every day as he swam in the pond, he could not help nursing the secret desire of meeting the mermaid who had a full family at the bottom of the kingdom of water as his grandfather had told him on one of his drowsy nights. If he met the mermaid, he would visit her family with his hands full of gifts such as some marbles for her children and invite them to come to their house, though he would not forget to warn them of his short tempered uncle always on the move with a cane in his hand.

 Whenever he thought about his uncle he did not feel gloomy because this was the only way for him to live as he would never have any children. Once after beating him a bit severely for an offence he often had been warned about, his uncle burst into tears and then smothered him with wet kisses.  As he was very obdurate he did not feel the pain and also did not flinch when he was being beaten but when his uncle began to cry, holding him in his arm, he too began to share the pain with the uncle and began to cry with him. That evening he took him to a fair which was held on the ground of the college out of the locality. There he met a witch who told him that he would soon be mounted on a high. He could not understand the words of the witch but his uncle rubbished the words saying that the witch  was a man disguised as one to earn money by making fake  predictions to frighten people who loved to be scared and warned. Two days later he was again beaten by his uncle for an act of bravado that, he heard days later, startled them out of their wits.

A man looking after an elephant came to their locality to earn some money by providing entertainment to the people and he was given a ride on its back for a coin he had pushed into the hand of the trainer out of sheer excitement. He looked scared and yet felt like a hero when all the innocent people including his uncle looked at him with awe. Before he could realize anything, he was entwined by the huge trunk of the elephant at the silent signal of the elephant trainer and was installed on the back. Then he was a part of the might of the elephant scorning many things including the room of the school where he was locked for several hours depriving him of the sunshine, the company of the local dogs each of which vied with one another to carry out his orders and finally the shop that often refused to give him credit when he needed a kite desperately after his was lost in the battle of the sky. He sat there like an emperor looking down on the people who did not ever assert themselves except when they quarreled with one another over petty issues after they came to India in the ignominy of the partition, leaving behind everything including their sense of dignity and a sort of solvency.
 Later when he disembarked from the back of the elephant, he was duly treated with generous lashes of the cane but he did not smart from them as he was still sharing the might of the elephant. After the anger of the elders subsided, he was proudly mentioned to the neighbours as the boy of the elephant and was even encouraged to say something before a small gathering of the teachers and the students of the primary school about the hair raising experience of being on the back of the elephant. That evening his grandfather even told him the story of an elephant that had trailed a hunter for days because he had killed one of its babies and that finally the elephant had killed the man by crushing him under its feet when he was resting in front of his camp in the afternoon. By the time the story came to an end, he was feeling too drowsy to ask him if it was the result of the elephant episode that he had begun in the locality. The stars were gleaming in the sky with the moon looking too cloyed with its beauty and Tatun was as much somnolent as the other inmates of the house.

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