Ringggggg…..the bell…tiffin time. The real spirit of the school is felt during that quarter of an hour. The rest of the day is templated and the same!
‘But why do you hide it with your hand?’
‘I have mine! See!’ She pushed the tiffin box towards him. A stainless steel rectangular box now closed but has a wall within to keep the Britannia Marie biscuits away from the boring jam-coated bread. Usually that was her menu.
She showed him her ‘dabba’ eagerly.
He hardly looked up from his own! And was busy munching the leftover sweet cream roll, hiding the box with one hand.
It infuriated her!
She moved a bit away from him and shifted towards the window. But what lay beyond the open frame was as boring as her bread. Another identical building, half done. The rods jutting out from its bare skeleton and making the sky line ugly.
Crush… chomp… chomp… munch…
The cream roll sounded crunchy!
She looked down at her box. She hadn’t opened it yet, but knew that there would be a pair of stale white triangle slices, glued together with guava jam. Everyday!! The jar of jam never seemed to finish like that story her dad told her almost every weekend-afternoons before the siestas – Gopal dada’s yoghurt pot which never ran out of the sweet creamy treat. A boon from Krishna, the saviour, for his little friend who took his name everyday to cross the jungle. The story was magical, unlike her’s. The never ending guava saga led to another jar of mixed fruit Kissan jam. Red, this time!
Tiffin time was the only ray of sunshine in the seven periods of non-stop monsoon. That bell had a different ring. The little bodies sitting in upright pose, started to animate. The boxes were out and so were the owners.
Once open, some boxes had the smell that could pull quite a few friends closer. The goodies were shared and exchanged and bitter fights were forgotten in a second over a mouth full of yummies.
Her box never pulled anyone. In fact, the very fact that she knew what was inside even before opening the lid, made life so predictable and charmless. But she loved peeping into others’ boxes. Not that she was keen to eat, but the boxes gave the hint of the ladies who packed them. There was Malini, who would keep her box open and her mouth as well. But nothing went in as she was busy speaking about life in general. Looking at her, she realized grade 5 to be the most stressful time of one’s life. Most of the decisions and rights of one’s life were already taken by someone else and all one was left with was to talk about it.
But Malini’s box spoke of something else. Two soft white ‘luchi’ and the fried round ‘alu bhaja’ along with a tiny spoon tucked at the corner, spoke of love. But the owner of the box was busy rehearsing and rehashing her lines on profundity!
Crunch… munch… munch… crunch!
She got diverted from her thoughts. How big was this cream roll, she wondered, rolling her eyes? He was still hiding the box from her with one hand and nibbling and munching the sweet roll.
Idiot!! The roll looked quite dry with a promise of a bit of cream somewhere in the core.
‘Look at him chewing like a goat,’ she muttered, a bit angry.
Someone opened a packet of chips in the classroom. The transparent plastic had the thin cut potato rings fried with a bit of red chillies sprinkled. They sell them in the movie theatres. Maybe they went for a show yesterday, and were mindful to buy an extra for the next day.
‘A happy family’, she looked at the packet and wondered which movie they had gone to. Two three heads gathered around the packet. The dark heads and their shiny eyes reminded her of the little ants scurrying around the crystals of sugar.
Munch… munch… gulp!
‘Boy!! How many does he have?’
She was tempted to peep at his box to count the rolls but he and his obnoxious habit of hiding made her blood boil.
Yesterday he had Maggie. At least it was less noisy!!
She saw down below on the street a mother and her son crossing the lane. The road was narrow and quiet when the school was on. The son had in his hand slices of cucumber rolled in paper. Her classroom was on the first floor and her window was thankfully faced towards the road. The young boy licked the green limp slices with glee before gobbling them down with a hunger that she could even figure out from this distance. It looked like cucumber only and she was curious if it was the rock salt which was the trick behind the delicacy. The boy ran behind his mom to catch up and they went like a fleeting scene in a movie.
She looked back at her tiffin box and slowly opened the clips. The lid got loose and a smell escaped from inside.
The first time… the chomp.. chomp stopped. He looked towards her box and sniffed.
She knew what he wanted to ask, but she herself was lost for the first time.
Two big, firm, round ‘মাছের চপ’ (fish patty) looked back at her and there was a dollop of ketchup too, to keep the tradition of red ongoing.
She looked surprised and so did he. They were sitting next to each other for quite some time.
‘Your mom is getting better!’
The wise owl retorted with a hint of appreciation in the eyes.
‘Burn your cream roll,’ she hissed but a smile spread on the face like a ray of sunlight in the non-stop seven periods of monsoon.
Just then, the tiffin bell rang. Time for the ‘History’ class.
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