by Srivatsan G
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some turbulence. The Captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Please return to your seats and keep your seat belts fastened. Thank you,” sounded the PA announcement of United Airlines Flight, UA 867 from San Francisco to New Delhi.
Suresh, who was engrossed in the financial section of The New York Times kept the paper down and fastened his seat belt.
As if I don’t have enough turbulence in my life already!
The last few months have been really tough on him and his team. As head of the Artificial intelligence vertical at Google, Suresh had been grappling with various ‘anti-trust lawsuits’ by multiple regulatory agencies. The decision to fly home had been an impulsive one – he badly needed a break.
Chanting Om Namah Shivaya he hoped for the turbulence to pass.
After an eventful 10 minutes, the flight was ‘comfortably cruising’. Suresh opened the window shades and looked at the faint feathery clouds outside.
His mind wandered, taking him on a trip down memory lane…
Suresh was born and brought up in a small village near Trichy, Tamil Nadu. His father, Krishnan, worked in a flour mill and was the sole bread winner of the family. He had taken huge loans to marry off his eldest daughter and struggled to make ends meet.
Suresh was a studious young boy and showed a lot of interest in learning new things.
“Which weighs more – a ton of concrete or a ton of feathers? Can anyone tell me?”, Ramu Sir asked the 8th Standard Class. There was pin drop silence. Just when Ramu Sir was about to leave, Suresh raised his hands and answered, “They both weigh the same Sir – a ton”.
Ramu Sir gave a pat on his back and left the class.
Suresh was not seen in class for the next couple of days. Days turned into weeks and Suresh remained absent. No one had any clue as to why he was missing. Perhaps he was sick? It was then that Ramu Sir decided to visit Suresh’s house and find out for himself.
One evening, after school, he reached the address listed in the school records. The student’s home was just a thatched hut. Ramu Sir called out for Suresh a couple of times but there was no reply. Finally, a frail lady with a creased forehead came out and asked, “Who are you? What do you want?”
Ramu Sir greeted her and said, “I am the science teacher of Suresh”.
“He is not at home. He has gone to work with his father”, the lady replied.
“No problem, I shall wait then,” said Ramu Sir. He sat on the mud verandah outside. It was around 8 p.m. when Suresh returned, looking sad and tired.
He was startled to see Ramu Sir at his doorstep.
“What happened thambi? Why are you not attending school for the last one month?” questioned the teacher.
Suresh simply looked at his father.
“What is the point in educating him when we are unable to manage our household?” retorted Krishnan.
Suresh was earning Rs 500 a month and that was a decent enough contribution for a struggling family.
“But Sir, your son is one of the brightest students in the entire school. If you allow him to continue his studies, he will have an excellent future.”
“Who cares about the future when our current survival is uncertain?”, countered Krishnan bluntly. Ramu Sir left without furthering the discussion.
The next day, the teacher paid another visit to Suresh’s house. Krishnan was angry on seeing him again.
“Why are you troubling us? I told you clearly, yesterday. We are not interested in continuing his studies.”
Ramu Sir calmly responded, “The Lions Club of Trichy is ready to offer a scholarship for his studies and additionally, pay Rs.1,000 every month, if he accepts our proposal”.
“Which is?”, queried Krishnan now with some interest.
“He will be paid Rs.1,000 every month, if he agrees to continue his education and spend 3 hours a day in the school library as a part time librarian in the evenings. Our regular librarian leaves at 5 pm and we need someone till 8 pm”.
Krishnan’s face was now illuminated like a 100-Watt bulb. He readily accepted the proposal. Ramu Sir was delighted to see Suresh back in class the next day. That evening, as he was leaving school, Ramu Sir saw Suresh reading ‘The Evolution of Physics by Albert Einstein’ in the library.
The teacher’s face beamed with joy.
“Sir, would you like to have a cup of hot tea?” Suresh’s childhood memories were interrupted by the flight attendant’s question.
“Yes, please,” responded Suresh with a smile.
While sipping the tea, he decided that he would definitely visit his school this time and meet Ramu Sir.
The connecting flight from Delhi to Chennai was delayed. It was 2 am by the time Suresh finally reached his lavish 3 BHK home in the heart of Chennai. The next morning, Suresh woke up at 6 am and prepared to leave for Trichy.
Krishnan said to Suresh, “Thambi, please take rest. You didn’t sleep properly. You can visit the school a couple of days later”.
Suresh smilingly replied, “Illa Appa, it’s been 20 years since I visited my school. Rest can take a back seat today.”
Ramu Sir was now the Principal of Government Higher Secondary School, Trichy. His secretary, Rosario, requested Suresh to wait outside his room.
“Principal Sir should be back in 5 minutes”, he informed.
Suresh got up from his chair and instinctively, bowed down to touch Ramu Sir’s feet. The teacher had aged considerably, with thick glasses covering his dark-circled eyes and a walking stick for support. He was bewildered, as there were no visitors scheduled for the day.
“Sir, he claims to be your old student Suresh”, briefed Rosario.
“Which Suresh?” wondered Ramu Sir.
“Part-time evening librarian Suresh”, came the reply, with a wide smile. Ramu Sir came forward and hugged him immediately.
The conversation between ‘Guru’ and ‘Shishya’ went on for the next one hour. It was interrupted when Rosario knocked on the door and said, “Sir, Class Ten Students are waiting for your Science class”. Suresh bid adieu to his Guru with a heavy heart.
The next day was the Annual Sports Day of the school and Ramu Sir was busy with preparations for the event. Rosario tapped on the door.
“Sir, sorry to disturb you. This was given by Mr. Suresh yesterday”.
It was a shiny new envelope with a letter inside.
Without you, I would be nothing in my life today. The scholarship and Rs.1,000/month made a big difference in my life, which can’t be expressed in words. From Trichy to IIT Madras to Google, California – my life has been a roller coaster. For all that you have done in my life, here is a small token of love.’
Ramu Sir was startled to see a cheque of Rs.25 lakhs attached with the letter. He had never seen such a huge amount in his life. As tears welled up in his eyes, he noticed a tiny yellow note pasted at the back of the cheque.
‘I knew from the beginning, it was you who sponsored my education, not the Lions Club. You seemed to have forgotten the fact that Ganesh, my best friend in school was the day-time librarian’s son 🙂
What a lie, but a brilliant one Sir – definitely much better than all the defence Google is putting up against the anti-trust lawsuits!
Love and Pranaam,
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym, an ongoing program open to those who have attended Rashmi Bansal’s Short Story Writing Workshop. It has been edited.