A Bright Future
“May I come in, Sir”?
We all looked up from our books to find a scrawny boy in faded khaki trousers and a clean but very old red shirt standing at the door.
“Arre, Gopal! Come on in,” said our tuition sir Madhav Mukherjee.
“Sir, I came to show you my marksheet and also to seek your blessings. I scored 600 overall and 82 in Physics,” said Gopal sheepishly.
Madhav sir was ecstatic. “600! that means you got 75%! and Letter marks in my subject! I am so proud of you Gopal.”
We all thumped his back and congratulated him. I asked him whether he would be taking up Science stream for his plus-two course. His beaming face smiled at all of us. “Sir, my success is all because of your blessings and the best wishes of my friends here. I shall be forever indebted towards your kindness. I have already enrolled myself in the Science stream of my school.”
Madhav sir smiled indulgently. “You did well by your own merit and hard work, son. My blessings are always with you. And do visit me whenever you have any doubt in the subject. I keep telling this to all – that you have a bright future.”
“Whaaat? This boy got 75% in Class X Boards and people are all congratulating him? When I missed scoring a 90% by a few marks, everyone criticised me so much!” complained Tiklu.
“Really Raju da, when did this happen? some 10 years ago?” I asked my brother incredulously.
“Wait, Raju da. Do not start the story now. Let me get the pakoras and chai from the kitchen.” My cousin Sonai di ran downstairs.
All my maternal cousins were meeting up in our grandmother’s house for a chat session on the roof. Some of us were at school and college while others had left the city for higher studies or jobs. It was a lovely summer evening and news and gossips were freely flowing, especially since the whole gang of cousins were together in Kolkata on the occasion of Durga Puja after a long time.
Sonai di was back with piping hot onion pakoras and ginger tea and Raju da started his tale again.
Gopal’ mother was the household maid of a number of families in the neighbourhood, including ours. He was an especially bright boy, with intelligence, sharp wit and the ability to work very hard. He went to the local government school and topped every year. Before my Board Exams, I started attending the tutions of Madhav Sir along with others in my class. Gopal’s mother worked at his place, too. One day, Gopal had come to work instead of his mother, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Suddenly, we noticed that he had stopped scrubbing the floor of our room and was listening to sir with rapt attention. Sir stopped his lecture on Motion and looked at him. He got embarrased at this sudden attention.
“Are you interested in Physics?” Sir asked him kindly.
Gopal hung his head low and mumbled, “Sir, I am due to appear for the Board Exams this year. I did not understand this chapter in class and hence, I stopped my work to listen to you. I am sorry, Sir.”
He started to leave the room. Sir called him. “Why don’t you attend this class of mine every week? It will help to clear all your doubts.” Gopal looked stunned yet doubtful. “Don’t worry about fees. You can help me clear my garden of weeds after the class.” Gopal flashed a grateful smile to sir.
Since that day, Gopal became our batchmate in tuition.
After the results of Class X Boards were declared, he turned out to be the second boy in our tuition group, and also one of the ten boys in the district to get Letter marks in Physics that year. We all knew that he had a bright future ahead.
“I agree now, he did very well under difficult circumstances.” Ronnie nodded his head.
I asked Raju da, “But tell me, what did he finally do?”
Tiklu said, “He must have cracked the JEE and now become a hot-shot person, just like Mani Bhaumik and such other people.”
Raju da smiled, “So you no more belittle his achievements?”
We chorused, “Of course not.”
Gopal was doing really well in his plus two classes. We used to meet at the tuition, brainstorm Physics problems and discuss other subjects, too. He was helpful to all the students – be it with our studies or for doing some errands for us. He also had an added responsibility – that of his ailing mother. She used to be bed-ridden for most of the time, and he had to replace her in all the households where his mother used to work. It meant less time for him to study, but he had to earn as well.
He also used to work in the construction sites. During that time, our neighbourhood saw a sudden rise in apartment buildings and hence, there was always work for him. It was good pay and so he used to frequent the sites everyday after school. Madhav Sir used to tell him repeatedly to concentrate more on studies, but he used to smile and reply, “How will I feed my mother? Where will I get medicines from?”
Despite such a tight daily routine, Gopal managed to score a good 70% in Pre-Boards Examination. Just a few weeks were left for the Finals and we all got busy with our preparations and revisions. I still remember how mother used to fuss over my diet, sleep, rest and study hour to ensure that I had a smooth preparation. I also remember noticing that Gopal was diligently working at the construction sites during those days, too.
“Don’t remind me of those horrible pre-exam days,” cried Tiklu. “Mom used to make me drink hot milk every night.”
“Milk is still better; I had to eat neem leaves, to stay immuned from any bout of chicken pox which may attacke me during exam days,” I said with a long face.
Sonai di laughed. “I had it much better than all you people. I was just put on a healthy wholesome diet.”
Raju da remarked, “So can you contrast our lives with that of Gopal? Here was a boy who was intelligent, full of promise of a bright future and dreams of a better life, who was struggling to earn some money to carry on life while trying to gain education.”
“Yes, finish his story. How bright did his future turn out to be?” We all felt sympathy of this unknown poor boy and at the same time, marvelled at his diligence and sincerity.
Raju da gave a small sigh. “Just a week before the exams, he fell down from a five-story high half-constructed building while balancing himself from a make-shift bamboo structure and lost his life.”
Trivia: This is based on a true story, which was narrated to me when I was myself about to finish secondary school. It stayed with me all this while, and I also wrote a short story based on it in Bengali. INDImag’s wonderful opportunity of Katha Sagar contest compelled me to write it once again and finally publish it.
The full post was visible in Indimag’s website as an entry for the Kathasagar Contest, which is due to be shut down. Hence, I have pulled the story and the comments from the site and re-posted them here.