So many people touch your lives in so many ways. Some such people from my primary school days are mentioned here.
We never got pocket money in school days. A 2 rupee note or some loose change lying around in the house was payday, especially when you could buy toffees for 10 paise. Kids would get together and buy jaljeera, NP chewing gums or kala churan. As the churanwala extended his hand to take money from us, proud eager hands holding the one rupee coins hoisted impatiently. One day we saw a Rs. 50 note flashing. Everyone turned back to look at the rich kid.
It was Vidya.
She wore two long plats, a worn out pair of pointed black shoes, threadbare red ribbons and an oversized school uniform. She looked like a human rat. Sorry, but that is how she looked and I remember unkind remarks it attracted. She didn't look rich but anybody holding a Rs. 50 note had to be treated with dignity. Pure greed masquerading as dignified smiles, she got plenty from us. We made friends with her instantly. Next day she had a Rs.100 note. We got along even better. It was partytime! She sponsored everything. We bought bigger, better things in the recess now. Chocolates, small toys, Frooti (it was `3/pack), coloured pencils with fancy caps etc. She didn’t spare any expense and we were happy to be seen with her. Life was going well.
Then something happened. She didn’t come to school for a few days. We missed her and the goodies.
The morning assembly went on longer than usual. Our primary school principal Mrs. Pathak came onto the dais and asked us “How many of you know Vidya from Std V-E?”. We assumed something untoward must have happened (a similar earlier announcement regarding our ex-vice principal’s death and the following holiday was etched deep in our minds, more out of jubilation for the unexpected off day). My heart sank.
But the next thing I heard jolted me back to reality “her father is a Pujari (priest) in the Army temple and she has been caught stealing the offerings.” ....our Principal continued “I know a lot of you girls have befriended her in the recent past and have been seen with her. All those girls, raise your hands”.
We were young...not foolish! No hands went up.
The Principal knew she couldn’t randomly pick girls to punish until she was sure, so she said “ What has hurt me more than Vidya being caught is that all those girls who were her friends when she had the money refuse to acknowledge the friendship today. I know you will not steal from anyone but I want you to take this as a lesson in choosing your friends wisely and sticking by them, no matter what."
We never saw Vidya again. We don’t know what happened to her. Some say she was sent to a remand home, some said she was sent away to her grandparents in the village. I owe you an apology Vidya. I should have raised my hand up that day.