Monday, February 16, 2009

Malgudi days

School Breaks Up

WITH dry lips, parched throat, and ink-stained fingers, and
exhaustion on one side and exaltation on the other, Swaminathan strode out
of the examination hall, on the last day.
Standing in the veranda, he turned back and looked into the hall and
felt slightly uneasy. He would have felt more comfortable if all the boys had
given their papers as he had done, twenty minutes before time. With his left
shoulder resting against the wall, Sankar was lost to the world. Rajam,
sitting under the second ventilator, between two Third-Form boys, had
become a writing machine. Mani was still gazing at the rafters, scratching
his chin with the pen. The Pea was leaning back in his seat, revising his
One supervisor was drowsing in his chair; another was pacing up and
down, with an abstracted look in his eyes. The scratchy noise of active nibs,
the rustle of papers, and the clearing of the throats, came through the
brooding silence of the hall.
Swaminathan suddenly wished that he had not come out so soon. But
how could he have stayed in the hall longer?
The Tamil paper was set to go on till five o'clock. He had found
himself writing the last line of the last question at four-thirty. Out of the six
questions set, he had answered the first question to his satisfaction, the
second was doubtful, the third was satisfactory, the fourth, he knew, was
clearly wrong (but then, he did not know the correct answer).
The sixth answer was the best of the lot. It took only a minute to
answer it. He had read the question at two minutes to four-thirty, started
answering a minute later, and finished it at four-thirty. The question was:
'What moral do you infer from the story of the Brahmin and lie Tiger?' (A
brahmin was passing along the edge of a pond. A tiger hailed him from the
other bank and offered him a gold bangle. The brahmin at first declined the
offer, but when the tiger protested its innocence and sincerity and insisted
upon his taking the bangle, he waded through the water. Before he could
hold out his hand for the bangle, he was inside the tiger.) Swaminathan had
never thought that this story contained a moral. But now he felt that it must
have one since the question paper mentioned it. He took a minute to decide
whether the moral was; 'We must never accept a gold bangle when it is
offered by a tiger' or 'Love of gold bangle cost one one's life'. He saw more
logic in the latter and wrote it down. After writing, he had looked at the big
hall clock. Half an hour more! What had he to do for half an hour? But he
felt awkward to be the first to go out. Why could not the others be as quick
and precise as he?
He had found it hard to kill time. Why wasn't the paper set for two and
a half hours instead of three? He had looked wistfully at the veranda outside.
If only he could pluck up enough courage to hand in the paper and go out—
he would have no more examinations for a long time to come—he could do
what he pleased—roam about the town in the evenings and afternoons and
morning—throw away the books—command granny to tell endless tales.
He had seen a supervisor observing him, and had at once pretended to
be busy with the answer paper. He thought that while he was about it, he
might as well do a little revision. He read a few lines of the first question and
was bored. He turned over the leaves and kept gazing at the last answer. He
had to pretend that he was revising. He kept gazing at the moral of the tiger
story till it lost all its meaning. He set his pen to work. He went on
improving the little dash under the last line indicating the end, till it became
an elaborate complicated pattern.
He had looked at the clock again, thinking that it must be nearly five
now. It was only ten minutes past four-thirty. He saw two or three boys
giving up their papers and going out, and felt happy. He briskly folded the
paper and wrote on the flap the elaborate inscription:
Tamil Tamil
W. S. Swaminathan
I st Form A section
Albert Mission School
South India
The bell rang. In twos and threes boys came out of the hall. It was a
thorough contrast to the preceding three hours. There was the din of excited
'What have you written for the last question?' Swaminathan asked a
'Which? The moral question?. . . Don't you remember what the
teacher said in the class? . . . "Love of gold cost the brahmin his life."'
'Where was gold there?' Swaminathan .objected. "There was only a
gold bangle. How much have you written for the question?'
'One page,' said the class-mate.
Swaminathan did not like this answer. He had written only a line.
"What! You should not have written so much.'
A little later he found Rajam and Sankar. 'Well, boys, how did you
find the paper?'
'How did you find it?' Sankar asked.
'Not bad,' Swaminathan said.
'I was afraid only of Tamil,' said Rajam, 'now I think I am safe. I think
I may get passing marks.'
'No. Certainly more. A class,' Sankar said.
'Look here,' Swaminathan said, 'some fools have written a page for
that moral question.'
'I wrote only three-quarters of a page,' Rajam said.
'And I only a little more than half,' said Sankar, who was an authority
on these matters.
'I too wrote about that length, about half a page,' lied Swaminathan as
a salve to his conscience, and believed it for the moment.
'Boys, do you remember that we have no school from to-morrow?'
'Oh, I forgot all about it,' Rajam said.
'Well, what are you going to do with yourselves?' somebody asked.
‘I am going to use my books as fuel in the kitchen,' Swaminathan said.
'My father has bought a lot of books for me to read during the
vacation, Sinbad the Sailor, Alibaba, and so on,' said Sankar.
Mani came throwing up his arms and wailing: 'Time absolutely
insufficient. I could have dashed off the last question,'
The Pea appeared from somewhere with a huge streak of ink on his
left cheek. 'Hallo Sankar, first class?'
'No. May hardly get thirty-five.'
‘You rascal, you are lying. If you get a first class, may I cut off your
tuft?' Mani asked.
The bell rang again fifteen minutes later. The whole school crowded
into the hall. There was joy in every face and good-fellowship in every
word. Even the teachers tried to be familiar and pleasant. Ebenezar, when he
saw Mani, asked: 'Hallo, block-head, how are you going to waste your
'I am going to sleep, sir,' Mani said, winking at his friends.
'Are you likely to improve your head by the time you return to the
'How is it possible, sir, unless you cut off Sankar's head and present it
to me?' A great roar of laughter followed this.
There would have been roars of laughter at anything; the mood was
such. In sheer joy the Drawing Master was bringing down his cane on a row
of feet because, he said, he saw some toes growing to an abnormal length.
The Head Master appeared on the platform, and after waiting for the
noise to subside, began a short speech, in which he said that the school
would remain closed till the nineteenth of June and open again on the
twentieth. He hoped that the boys would not waste their time but read storybooks
and keep glancing through the books prescribed for their next classes,
to which, he hoped, most of them were going to be promoted. And now a
minute more, there would be a prayer, after which the boys might disperse
and go home.
At the end of the prayer the storm burst. With the loudest, lustiest
cries, the gathering flooded out of the hall in one body. All through this
vigorous confusion and disorder,
Swaminathan kept close to Mani. For there was a general belief in the
school that enemies stabbed each other on the last day. Swaminathan had no
enemy as far as he could remember. But who could say? The school was a
bad place.
Mani did some brisk work at the school gate, snatching from all sorts
of people ink-bottles and pens, and destroying them. Around him was a
crowd seething with excitement and joy. Ecstatic shrieks went up as each
article of stationery was destroyed. One or two little boys feebly protested.
But Mani wrenched the ink-bottles from their hands, tore their caps, and
poured ink over their clothes. He had a small band of assistants, among
whom Swaminathan was prominent, overcome by the mood of the hour, he
had spontaneously emptied his ink-bottle over his own head and had drawn
frightful dark circles under his eyes with the dripping ink.
A policeman passed in the road. Mani shouted: 'Oh, policeman,
policeman! Arrest these boys!' A triumphant cry from a hundred throats rent
the air. A few more ink-bottles exploded on the ground and a few more pens
were broken. In the midst of it Mani cried: 'Who will bring me Singaram's
turban? I shall dye it for him.'
Singaram, the school peon, was the only person who was not affected
by the spirit of liberty that was abroad, and as soon as the offer to dye his
turban reached his ears, he rushed into the crowd with a big stick and
dispersed the revellers.

No comments:

Post a Comment