My friend’s name is Rajyavendra, he goes by Raji. Raja would have been more charismatic but I guess the authoritarian ring of that name was too much to handle for the family and times were trying enough then.
Raji and I grew up together in the rough Sikkimese landscape. I don’t think we were poor but the paucity of regular amenities like road and electricity, socio-economically categorised our existence into a rather wanting one. Our village, however, compensated this lack thereof with a great school, St. Mary’s, which educated half the populace well enough to realise how awfully lacking our region was. This lot then worked towards achieving all those requisite facilities by virtue of which we now have a tarmac road leading up to my house, and a few light bulbs effervesce the village in the google maps at night to indicate life and its offshoots.
However, all the lacking did not deter us from growing up in an exhilarating pace in the village. Raji and I played along terraced paddy fields which sometimes brought forth maize and millet but mostly it was a beautiful yellow, with ripe paddy swaying in the breeze. It was a perfect haven and we absolutely did not miss either of the facilities too much. We were only six and such things were not gravely important. Rather our wheels made of wire and rubber pipes and our footballs made of rock wrapped in old sock and plastic took precedence, if any.
It had been eight months since my parents had packed me off to St. Mary’s Boy’s Hostel to gain proper education. Raji’s parents kept him in the Government-run school in the village. They refused to listen to us when we presented our reasons for wanting to study in the same school. Raji’s mother laughed and wiped a tear with the end of her shawl. ‘That is silly,’ I thought.
“The boys will miss each other Madam.” Raji’s mother told my mom as she cleaned our windows. My mom smiled trimming her nails, “They can meet during winter holidays if we don’t go anywhere,” she replied, looking pleased by her nails. By anywhere she meant Birmingham, UK, where we had family and would sometimes visit for a month or two. I was terrified to think she would take me to Birmingham. I hated the rules there along with its weather. When I was little they wouldn’t allow me to travel on my mom’s lap but was made to sit in a make-believe seat strapped tight, while mom looked at me with tearful eyes. It was a harrowing experience. I cried all the time.
“I will spend all my holidays here,” I declared, glaring at mom.
This was my first holiday since I had joined St. Mary’s. I was excited to meet all the boys. “Rajii…! I hollered an extended version of that name, standing at the edge of a dusty playground.
A tiny black boy emerged from a group of children playing football and came running towards me. His shirt and shorts were extremely dirty and he had scratches and cuts one too many; he looked a shade of dark brown and flashed a series of white teeth at me and remarked, “You are home! How long will you stay?” I did not know that but it didn’t matter.
We were both grinning from ear to ear looking at each other. He felt my jeans jacket and corduroy pants with grubby fingers and asked, “Where did you buy these?” I shrugged my shoulders, I didn’t know that either. Mom had got it for me.
“I am thinking of buying the same for this dasai,” he declared.
“You have become very fair,” he then added as an afterthought, still rubbing my shiny jacket buttons. It must have been the rigorous routine of having to take bath and clean your ears every Wednesday and Saturday. Also I had learned to polish my own shoes and comb my hair, if that counted.
“What happened there?” I pointed at all his wounded areas.
“This one I got yesterday while sliding down the avocado tree,” he proudly turned his scratched cheek towards me. Then he stood on one leg and half turned the other so I could get a better view of his raw open wound, “This one was in the river while diving from the bridge, I hit a stone,” he proudly stated. He pointed at the scar on the right leg and said “that’s dog bite,” and began walking. The ones in the hand may not have been important. I felt disappointed for not having anything of value to show.
“I got you toffees!” I handed him three toffees that were slightly stuck with each other on account of my grasping it within the confines of my pocket till my hands became sticky with it, but he did not mind and started sucking it with relish. He noisily rolled the sweet around his tongue which he stuck out to show me and asked if it had turned orange. It indeed had, this made him very happy. I popped one myself, I liked orange tongue too.