My 2nd grade in Primary School was the least favorite year of my school life, or at least, this is what I thought back then. My mom took me to Tirupathi during the summer holidays of my 1st standard to have a barber shave my head. This was done to please God in return for a favor He had bestowed upon us. So I went to PS that year wearing a pink frock and a pale yellow hat. Little did I know that I was in for some serious bullying.
Now kids don’t generally think much. They say and do things without actually meaning much harm. So most girls always forgot my real name and began calling me Gundu (the Telugu word for a bald head), girls wanted to pull my pale yellow hat off my head, while some girls wanted to use my bald head to play tabla, some others wanted to run their hands across my head and feel its prickliness. It made me angry. I used to scream, fight, and complain to the teachers, but after a while I just let go and became very quite.
Our school followed the regular norm like any other school except you could throw in prayers five times a day. We were woken up class-wise, sent downstairs to brush in the kitchen pantry, came back upstairs to sit in a queue to where ammas would give us a quick bath, sent to have our hair checked for lice (which we fondly called butchi-checking, I have always wondered why), oiled and combed neatly and then sent downstairs for breakfast followed by assembly before we went to class.
It took me very little time to understand that since I could skip a big portion of the regime, that being the hair-service, I could be the first in class. Now don’t ask me what’s the big fuss in being first. I don’t know. In a class that had anywhere between 35 – 40 girls, being first was always a big deal. I just had to be the first one to wake up, and be first in the line to brush. The rest would follow. And that is exactly what I decided to do. Soon I came first in almost everything. The teachers began to like me and my class girls, not so much. They thought I was greedy and was taking advantage of the fact that I could skip butchi checking. I had competition and I always won. Eventually, calling me Gundu became incessant and I had no friends. Absolutely.
Until she came along!
We had the December and early January every year dedicated to Sports Practice. This meant that we participated in various dances or drills and performed on January 11th, the Sports Day. Sports time was always fun. We were baked under the sun for several hours and treated to Rasna, we had no classes for more than a month, could wake up late, and just hang around in the dorm playing Charlie Chaplin, Categories, will you please, The queen of the palace, and other odd games. But before we got into serious sports practice, we would have one last Parents Meeting at the beginning of December after which we could only see our parents on Sports Day. My mom had come to see me and I had persistently bothered her to get me a Hajmola bottle. I loved the Hajmola tablets, most kids did. You didn’t necessarily need to have digestion issues to take it, it served more like tasty candy, it was sweet and sour and tangy, all at the same time. They were 130 tablets of pure joy in a dark bottle. Since we were never allowed to take outside food into the school, I was worried as to how I could fool the teachers standing at the blue grill entrance and take it inside.
Just as I was thinking of a plan, my parents bumped into hers. Apparently, they knew each other and were acquainted for a long time. They introduced us to each other and I realized that she was my senior. We didn’t really talk much since you never really could be friends with your juniors or seniors. Anyway, she figured out that I was planning to take the Hajmola bottle inside and decided to help me smuggle it inside. We both held the bottle in our tiny palms, and acted like we were holing hands, bid goodbye to our parents, and marched into the lobby with confidence. I must admit that there wasn’t much checking going on either as it was the last parents meeting for the year and there were just too many people.
As soon as we went upstairs to the dorm, we had a good laugh. I took a look at her and decided that I liked her instantly. She was nice. She suggested that we hide the bottle away in my shelf, between my clothes lest anyone finds out that I had it. I did so but before that I decided that we both deserve a treat. From then on we became the best of friends. We always hung out together. It was sports time and so not many people would notice that a junior and senior were hanging out that much. She yelled at people who called me Gundu, and always saved a seat for me next to her in the dining hall, and gave me her glass of Rasna as she didn’t like it. And I, shared one Hajmola candy with her after every meal.
The word that I had the Hajmola candy was spreading fast. Soon my class girls began to approach me for them, and I gave two to people I liked, and one to people whom I didn’t. I always had to give the candy cause they could go and complain to a teacher that I had smuggled goods if I didn’t. Apart from the daily after meals dose, I began to give her one candy each time I had my class girls ask me for it, since she was almost always with me. She also suggested that I hide the bottle in different places in my shelf each day. That way nobody could steal the candy. This went on for at least about 10 days. I was on the verge of forgetting the fact I had been bullied and friend-less for a major part of that year, and was happy. Happy for having finally found a friend.
One afternoon, we were sitting in the dorm ready to go out for the drill practice when she came up to me and suggested that we both go to my shelf and pop the candy. I wasn’t in the mood but I couldn’t say no to her, so I told her she could go help herself since she knew the hiding spot for the day. That was probably the very first time she was going to have the candy on her own.
She came back a few minutes later, and whispered into my ear, “The candy is gone. Someone stole it. All of it, except two.” I was shocked. We both ran to my shelf and I turned it upside down and looked for it everywhere. “Where could they have gone? Who would steal them”, she asked. I couldn’t imagine. And why would someone leave just two of them and take away more than 70. Very sympathetic, eh!?! I took the remaining two in my hand and was about to pop them into my mouth but stopped myself. I took one of them and offered it to her and she thanked me profusely. And we marched out for drill practice.
That evening, she didn’t give me her glass of Rasna and later that night, she didn’t save me a seat next to her in the dining hall. I tired to go and talk to her a couple of times but she was always busy with her classmates and pretended like she didn’t hear me.
I didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that she was the only one who knew where I hid the bottle, and that it was the first time she went alone to my shelf to take the candy, and that she stole all of them.
Of course, it wasn’t just about the candy. As a 7 year old kid, I was heart broken at the treachery. She was in the same school for 10 years after this incident but I never spoke a word to her. I knew that in life I was going to be through friendships that maybe be more sour than this. But this one was my first, and it taught me what kind of a friend I should never be.