One whack and you’ll go flying straight into your mummy’s lap,” he jeered. Everyone burst out laughing.
The Special Assembly of Saint Paul’s School was in progress. Sitting in the eighth row, Sachin was trying hard to concentrate on the speaker’s lecture.
“Hey, Joe, look at ‘monkey brand’. Have you noticed his new haircut?” Rohit said.
“Yes, yaar. He is looking real smart — straight out of a circus,” replied Joe.
“He used to look like our friendly neighborhood chimp. Now he looks like a full fledged Orangutan and….”
The rest of Rohit’s words were drowned in giggles. The two stopped only when the PT teacher Mr. Ravi Nair turned his stern eye on them. Sachin turned red with embarrassment and shame. The ragging had started again.
The previous evening he had been apprehensive about his haircut. Had he gone alone he could have persuaded the barber to leave his hair a bit longer. But with Dad around there was no chance.
He had ended up with a ‘military cut’. With his conspicuous ears sticking out, he was a perfect target for Rohit’s barbs.
Sachin was a short and skinny fourteen-year-old with a flat nose, big ears and small eyes. He considered himself rather odd looking. Rohit on the other hand was tall, quite well built with curly hair and a chubby face.
Sachin had joined Saint Paul’s nine months ago, after his father’s transfer to Lucknow. The first few months had been quite all right. Sachin, who was basically quite shy, had managed to make a couple of friends. Rohit was the class bully and Sachin had maintained a safe distance from him. Initially Rohit too had kept his distance.
Things had taken a turn for the worse after the results of the first term were declared. Sachin had edged out Rohit, who till then had been the undisputed number one. He had maintained his first position right from class four and the results came as a rude shock to him. He sulked for a week and then retaliated the only way he could; by bullying Sachin.
He would spare no effort to insult Sachin. He had given Sachin the nickname ‘Monkey Brand’ and made sure the entire school knew. In the following Unit Test, Sachin got six out of ten in math’s, because of a silly mistake. Rohit, who had scored ten, was jubilant.
“See yaar Paresh, I told you our Monkey Brand is a real mug pot. He can only cram. That’s why he’s lousy in Math.”
“You are quite right Rohit. In the terminal exams Sachin scored more than you in History, Geography, English, and Hindi which need mugging and little else. In Science and Maths you left him far behind,” agreed Paresh, eager to please Rohit.
“See how much he crams. Even his head is bulging from the back. It must be filled with all the stuff he must have mugged up,” Rohit said whacking Sachin, who was sitting right in front, on his head.
Sachin turned back, his eyes filled with tears at the pain and humiliation.
“Keep your hands to yourself. I have tolerated all your insults. But I won’t allow you to get physical,” he said, getting up.
Rohit got up with a swagger, towering over him. “What will you do, you pip-squeak? You’ll bash me up? One whack and you’ll go flying straight into your mummy’s lap,” he jeered. Everyone burst out laughing.
Just then the class teacher entered and Sachin was saved further humiliation. After class as Sachin was walking out, Rohit stood blocking the way.
“Listen you bag of bones. Next time you act smart I’ll give you such a thrashing you’ll forget everything you have mugged up,” he said pulling Sachin’s ears.
That evening Sachin was sitting at home staring glumly at the walls. He was still smarting from the insults heaped on him.
“What happened Sachin? Why are you looking like your illustrious namesake after being clean bowled first ball?”
It was Sachin’s cousin Manas who had just completed his MBA and joined a marketing firm in Calcutta. The corporate office of the firm was in Lucknow and Manas had come there to attend a six-month induction training program.
“Manas Bhaiya, I want to take a transfer to some other school. Will you please convince Dad? If I tell him he won’t listen.”
“What happened Sachin? Why this sudden decision?”
“Nothing sudden Bhaiya. Things started going wrong quite some time back. But now the situation is getting simply unbearable. I am just fed up of being the butt of all jokes,” Sachin said, his eyes brimming with tears.
“Take it easy Sachin. Everything will be all right. First, tell me exactly what happened. I’m sure we will be able to work out a solution.”
Sachin recounted his tale of woes. He told Manas every little detail, every insult he had had to suffer in the past few months. Manas thought for a moment and said, “I know that it is difficult to manage under such circumstances. It’s humiliating to be the target of all jokes. But you know, running away is no solution.”
“Please Bhaiya, you must try to understand. I have made every effort to be friendly with Rohit. But it has never had any effect on him. I tried to ignore him. But nothing seems to work. He’s hell bent on making my life miserable.”
“What has Rohit got against you? ”
“In the last terminal exam I beat him to the top spot. He had got so used to coming first that he couldn’t stand being pushed to the second place.”
“Sachin, I would still not recommend running away. You are very young. This is probably the first hurdle you have ever faced in your life. You will have to face many more obstacles. And there may be many occasions when even the option of running away will not be available to you. What will you do then? You have to learn to face reality. Moreover, some other school may have another ‘Rohit’ waiting for you.”
“What am I supposed to do? The very thought of going to school is unbearable.” Sachin said, burying his face in his hands.
“Sachin, I think I have a solution.”
Sachin looked up.
“I think you should challenge Rohit to a fair fight.”
“Come on Bhaiya. Have I not told you? He is much taller and heftier than I. He’ll make mincemeat of me.”
“Sachin, I don’t think you are aware that I was the boxing champion in my school as well as college. I am here for around six months. I will have enough time to coach you.”
“But Bhaiya even with all the training and coaching do you think I’ll be able to fight a chap who is bigger in size?”
“Boxing is more about technique than size. Speed, agility and skill are more important than bulk. Have confidence in me. I’ll make sure you will be able teach Rohit a lesson or two. Remember another thing Sachin, Rohit is a typical bully. And bullies basically are cowards. They only dominate the weak.”
* * *
The very next morning Sachin’s boxing lessons began in earnest. Manas was a very good coach — patient and very encouraging. Sachin was a slow learner but under his cousin’s watchful eyes he slowly picked up the essentials of boxing. Three weeks later Manas brought him a pair of boxing gloves and the two of them started sparring with gloves.
“You will not be using gloves to fight Rohit but I want you to get accustomed to them. I think you are shaping quite well. If you continue practicing hard, in a year or so, you might even be able to get into your school team.”
Sachin was delighted. The words were like music to his ears. However, in spite of his confidence he was not very enthusiastic about taking on Rohit.
When he expressed his misgivings, Manas assured him, “Don’t worry. We still have a month to go before I leave. You can plan your tryst with Rohit three weeks from now. Make sure he is caught by surprise.”
“Of course not Bhaiya. No one knows. Not even my friends Farukh and Partho.
Meanwhile Rohit’s raging continued unabated. Every second day Rohit would come up with a novel way of harassing Sachin. Sachin tolerated everything. He bided his time.
* * *
The D-day arrived. Sachin had chosen a Saturday. The school Annual Day was approaching and Saturdays were reserved for drama practice. Both Sachin and Rohit were in the adaptation of Julius Caesar with Sachin playing Cassius and Rohit, Caesar. It was the last period. The dramatics teacher Mr. John Wilson had left after giving them their lines to practice.
Paresh removed a tiffin box from his bag and offered a sandwich to Rohit.
“Hey Paresh, careful yaar. Monkey Brand is Cassius — the one with the lean and hungry look. He will pounce on your tiffin box and gobble up the contents before you know.”
Everyone roared with laughter.
This was just the kind of cue Sachin had been waiting for. He strode up to Rohit and looked him straight in the eye. “What was that you said, you jealous fool”.
For a moment Rohit was completely taken aback. Then with his face red with anger he sprang forward.
“You dirty piece of dried up filth. Who are you calling a fool…” he took a swipe at Sachin.
This was the ideal opening for Sachin. He ducked and landed a perfect left hook on Rohit’s jaw followed by a quick right hook. Rohit staggered back stunned by the ferocity of the attack. Before he could recover Sachin charged forward his fists flying.
In a few seconds it was all over. Rohit collapsed on the floor in a heap. There was a stunned silence all around. Paresh, Joe and the rest of Rohit’s chamchas could hardly believe their eyes — the skinny and timid Sachin had thrashed Rohit! They stood gaping like startled pups.
Sachin surveyed the spectators for an instant and then turned back and walked out, only his footfalls broke the silence.
Manas was delighted.
“Terrific. I knew you would be able to do it. Next, the very first opportunity you get, go and make up with Rohit.”
“Make Up! But why Bhaiya? I hate him. For the last six months he made my life miserable. He has never missed an opportunity to humiliate me. And now at last when I have an opportunity to get back you want me to make up with him?”
“Yes Sachin, ” Manas said very softly. “Be gracious in victory. That is the mark of a real winner. If you gloat over his humiliation, then there is no difference between you and him.”
“But Bhaiya how can I forget all those insults he heaped on me, the vile names he called me.”
“I understand your feelings Sachin. But by being gracious you will prove that you are a much nicer, a far more decent person than he is. Moreover, this gesture of yours, I am sure, will make Rohit realize his mistake and he will repent. You might even succeed in reforming him, turning him into a better human being. Otherwise, earlier he used to pick on you and now he’ll start bullying someone else.”
Sachin kept silent.
On Monday during lunch break he found Rohit sitting on the bench under a tree in front of the football field. He was sitting alone and eating his lunch.
In the morning he had avoided meeting Sachin’s eyes. He had sat quietly, alone — away from even his chamchas. It was clear he had not forgotten his humiliation.
Sachin had finished his lunch. He walked towards where Rohit was sitting.
Startled Rohit turned back. Seeing Sachin he stiffened slightly, his eyes flashing with anger.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“I have come here to make friends.”
“Make friends? Who the hell wants to be friends with you? That day you caught me by surprise. But very soon I will get even with you. Just wait and see.”
“I am sure you will. But at this rate we’ll be spending all our time and energy in getting even with each other instead of joining hands and helping each other.”
“What do you mean?”
You know the inter-house TT championship is starting next Saturday. Last time you made it to the semis with Avinash. But this year he is down with jaundice.”
“I know all that but where do you come in?” snapped Rohit.
“In my previous school I was runners up in doubles. Though my partner was the school champ, I too am quite okay. I have watched you play. You are terrific at offense. I have a reasonably good defense. If we get together I think we’ll make a good team.” Sachin said extending his hand.
Rohit thought for a moment. He had seen Sachin’s game. He was good. He got up, and smiling a trifle hesitantly shook hands with Sachin.
* * *
“Great shot Rohit,” the indoor stadium was echoing with the cheers of the students watching the finals of the inter-house TT championship. Rohit and Sachin of Nagarjuna House were pitted against the reigning champions Pramod and Asif of Nalanda House.
Rohit and Sachin had won one singles and lost one each. The score was tied two all. In the doubles the first two games had been won by Nalanda and the next two by Nagarjuna. In the final game, which would decide the eventual champs, the score was on deuce.
It was Sachin’s turn to serve. He was feeling jittery. The slightest error and Nagarjuna’s dream of bagging the championship would be shattered. He uttered a silent prayer and served his best serve — back hand top spin. The ball flew and Asif was caught by surprise. He could only manage to lob it and Rohit, who had been anticipating just this kind of return, smashed it. The score was 20 – 21 with Asif to serve.
Asif served and Rohit placed the return to the extreme corner but Pramod was fast enough and executed an immaculate forehand smash. Asif confident that it could not be returned shifted his eyes to the crowd for an instant. Sachin lunged to his right and deftly managed to return the smash. Asif was caught napping and by the time he could react and move to his left the ball had gone past. The crowd went up with a roar. Nagarjuna were the champions after a gap of six years.
As they shook hands Rohit said, “Great work yaar Monkey… I am sorry… Sachin…”
“No, probs yaar. You can call me monkey, donkey or any other brand. What’s a little leg pulling among friends,” Sachin said slapping Rohit on his back and hugging him.
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2003).
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