“Oh, my God, Ankur, what have you done!” he cried in dismay.Mummy rushed in from the kitchen.“How could you have been so naughty!”
Ever since Ankur was a baby, he had loved to play at house building. He could build with anything, not just his building blocks. Shoeboxes, cardboard cartons and packing boxes of wood. Give him any thing, and soon he would balance one piece on another and build up a whole house.
If he had only his building blocks, and, say, some shoeboxes, he would make his stuffed toys sit inside it. Or, perhaps, build a huge garage, and arrange all his toy cars inside. If he had big enough boxes, the structure would be big enough and he would crawl into it himself.
When Ankur placed the blocks and boxes such that the structure had a slanted roof, he would call it a hut or a cottage. When he just piled the blocks or boxes on one another, and erected a structure as tall as himself, he would call it a multi-storied building or a high-rise apartment.
“My son is in the construction business,” Daddy often joked. But Ankur never seemed to have enough boxes and cartons to build with. Also, he longed to build in shining white, and shoe- boxes, even when white, were dull and dirty by the time they came to him. Cartons and cardboard boxes, on the other hand, were usually brown.
Then one day, Daddy brought home a carton that was gleaming white. It had blue letters on it, ‘Think Pad Software,’ and the picture of an open umbrella beside the lettering. Daddy placed it on the carpet of the living room. He looked at it for a while. Walked about the room a couple of times, and then proceeded to open it.
Out came a sheet of thermocol, fair and lovely, and a soft, squishy sheet of foam. Then Daddy lifted a small, black briefcase out of the box and put it gently on his table.
“This is a Laptop,” he told Mummy. “A really small computer.”
“A beauty,” exclaimed Mummy, as she bent over it.
But Ankur had no eyes for the mini-computer. He peered into the carton in delight. Inside was more of the snow-white thermocol, not only in sheets, but in lumps of different sizes and shapes.
Just then the telephone rang. Daddy spoke into it briefly.
“It’s the boss,” he told Mummy as he hurried out. “I have to go out just now on some urgent task.”
Mummy closed the front door and went into the kitchen. “Play quietly by yourself,” she told Ankur.
And that is what Ankur did for a full one hour before Daddy returned.
“Come and see the palace I have built, Daddy,” he said, rushing to meet him at the door.
Proudly he pointed to the living-room carpet. On it stood a structure of super-white thermocol a palace with several storeys, with doors and windows marked out in bright crayons, and bits of foil and tinsel stuck here and there. Toy soldiers stood lined up at its entrance and a small flag hoisted on a stick decorated its top.
His face all aglow, Ankur looked at his Daddy, expecting some admiring words. But Daddy stood aghast, his face paling. “Oh, my God, Ankur, what have you done!” he cried in dismay.
Mummy rushed in from the kitchen.
“How could you have been so naughty!” Daddy shouted at Ankur and then turned upon Mummy. “Why did you let him do this mischief?”
“I was busy in the kitchen,” Mummy defended herself. “I didn’t know what he was at. Besides, he is always doing this sort of things. Building this and that with odds and ends. What’s so wrong this time?”
“The Laptop, it’s not mine. The boss had ordered it from abroad and I had just gone to the airport and received it on his behalf.”
“Why did you bring it here then?” asked Mummy.
“Because the boss had ordered it for a friend of his and that friend lives close by somewhere so that it is easier for him to collect it from here than from the airport or the office.” Ankur stood stricken.
“The boss had given his friend my address and he’ll be here any moment,” continued Daddy. “What explanation shall I give him for this.”
“I’ll own up, Daddy” said Ankur, trying to soothe him down.
“And what good will that do?” exclaimed Daddy. “How will I account for the fact that you could lay your hands on the thermocol? How the carton came to be open at all? I wasn’t supposed to open it, was I?”
“Weren’t you?” asked Mummy in surprise. “Then why did you?”
“Well, Laptops aren’t so common in India yet, and I had never used one. I just wanted to see what it was like, and well, I just couldn’t resist it,” confessed Daddy shamefacedly.
To Ankur, Daddy suddenly looked young and helpless. “Why, he’s also a kid like me,” thought Ankur. “Only, grown-up.”
“When the boss’s friend finds out that I had opened his carton, and meddled with his Laptop, he is sure to complain, and I’ll have to face the music.”
“But can’t we pack the Laptop in again? So that the man never gets to know you had meddled with it?” asked Mummy helpfully.
“That is what I had thought I’d do,” replied Daddy. “But now that brat has marked the thermocol pieces with his crayons and glued tinsel on them. Even if I pack them in, the man will not be fooled.”
He pulled at his hair. “I might even get the sack,” he moaned. “All because of this silly game of yours, you idiot!” he shouted angrily at Ankur, and kicked at the thermocol structure.
In a moment, the beautiful white palace lay in ruins. Ankur was about to bawl when — “It’s not a silly game at all,” a voice spoke out from the doorway. At the door, which had all along been left open, there stood an elderly man.
“I have been standing here and listening for some time and you didn’t even notice me. But why be upset over this little matter? And why call this a silly game? I used to play it myself. Of course, in the village where I spent my childhood, I had only mud and sticks and stones to play it with.”
It turned out that this gentleman was the very friend Daddy’s boss had ordered the Laptop for. Waving away Mummy’s invitation to the sofa, he squatted down on the carpet and began to rearrange the pieces of thermocol that Daddy’s kick had scattered away. “You young chap,” he called out to Ankur, “Come, show me how you had built your palace.”
“I… I apologize about the Laptop,” said Daddy.
“Please don’t. I could have done the same myself, and in any case, now you can show me how to work it.”
“At once, Sir,” said Daddy.
“No, not at once,” said the gentleman. “First let me re-build the thermocol palace. You see I had caught sight of it before you had kicked it down, and I had liked its design a lot. I am the director of a company of architects, a very big company. I pick up good ideas wherever I can get them. So come share your ideas with me, young fellow. Perhaps this will be a building block for your own future in my company when you grow up and get yourself a degree in architecture.”
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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