The New Boy in Class

Posted on September 17, 2006

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Note: Children may or may not show signs of depression or disturbance outwardly. But if a child has been through any trauma, pls get them to see a counsellor or find a mentor for her/him. As a student, if you see a class-mate not mingling with others, it maybe that she/he needs help. Sometimes all it takes, is a pat on the hand or a smile that catches them unawares. Your initiation could help someone else. Pls do not hesitate to reach out to someone.

Nikhil was a new boy in class. Actually, you can’t say he was new anymore. But children who join mid-term are known as new children. I go to a boys’ school and I am in the 8th standard. My life was all about WWE and cricket till I met Nikhil.

Nikhil joined my class six months after the term had begun for class 6. I clearly remember it was right before Christmas. There were some murmurs about him being considered as a special case to be allowed into class so late into the academic year. Some said he came from Mumbai because he failed a lot. Some said he came from a broken family. Some said his father was dead and so he had to come to Ahmedabad from Mumbai. But no one for sure why Nikhil moved from Mumbai.

I noticed how quiet he was, I saw him watching the rest during the break with eager eyes. I knew he wanted to play, but somehow he would not ask. When someone asked, he declined politely. He even seemed friendly, but he always refused. After a week, ten days, the boys got tired of asking him. I lent him my notes and he came upto me after school one evening while I was on the basketball court, to thank me for them.

He patiently waited for the practice to get done and then spoke to me. I was always curious about him, I wanted to talk to him. But there was something about him which made me hesitate to make friends with him. I decided to wait till I thought he was ready. I liked this boy. He could add like an abacus, read like Shakespeare, had a neat arm to throw a mean googly on the cricket pitch and he would not talk to anyone in class. I was intrigued

Then one day Nikhil did not come to school. It was the chance I was looking for. I found out from the class teacher where he stayed and landed up on my cycle. It was a long way off from I lived, but it was well worth it.

As soon as I reached the iron gates, I began having doubts, and when I heard 3 dogs bark, I was sure I wanted to run like the wind. I said a silent prayer, and called out for him. Three huge mongrel looking dogs came rushing out and out came a girl of about 15. She had long hair. But what struck me about her was her eyes, she seemed to be looking for something. She said Nikhil was in the toilet and invited me inside. I said I would wait for him outside. I was not comfortable with dogs. She tied them up and opened the gate to me…it was precisely at this moment that I knew my life was about to change…it was precisely then that I knew Nikhil and I were going to be friends.

I met Nikhil’s mother. She seemed like a jolly lady. She was plump and very open. She asked me to sit and went back to watching “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”. For the record, that’s the only mom I know who watches Star World. Nikhil was going to be a popular boy when the others found out, his mom was “with it” and “cool”.

I almost expected Nikhil to be annoyed that I had come over. But he seemed pleased. He introduced me to his cousins. Two girls, 20 something, one was reading a Terry Pratchet and another one was smoking a cigarette and listening to World Space radio. The only girl I had seen smoking was in an English movie, that wasn’t meant for children. So I was a little shocked and could not stop watching her inhale and exhale in rhythm…that was till she caught me staring at her. She smiled. She could not have been a vamp at all.

I looked around the house. It looked like an ordinary middle class household. Only, one of the walls was a bright orange. It was an unusual colour, but it lit up the entire room. The dogs licked me, and made friends with me. And I learnt that the delicious smell of chicken emanating from the kitchen was courtesy Nandini, Nikhil’s sister, the girl with the searching eyes.

No one really spoke much, but the silence was comfortable. Nikhil did not seem perturbed by my presence at all. He just kept looking at me and smiling. I finally asked why he had not come to school that day. He simply told me, that his father had called from Mumbai and threatened to kill his mom, and his mom had been crying, and he just wanted to be with her. He said he came from Mumbai to live with his maternal aunt’s children. The aunt and uncle were killed in an accident few years ago and their three children lived alone. It was they who offered Nikhil and his mom and sister to come live with them. It was they who ensured Nikhil got admission into school. Nikhil told me that his sister was in class 10 and she could not get admission in any school because the education boards were different. He said she went for tuitions and was going to take her exams externally.

I shot a look at Nandini, she was stirring the chicken vigorously. I felt she was lost in her own world. Nikhil read my thoughts as if, for he said that he knew his sister longed for the distraction of school. She longed to wear a uniform and carry a heavy school bag and gossip about the teachers during the break. Instead, she stayed at home. Not saying much to anyone. Sometimes staring at the ceiling. Sometimes watching a TV programme and laughing at an insipid joke hysterically till she was in tears and then retreating to the kitchen. She stood in the kitchen for hours, making endless cups of coffee that no one would drink.

I did not know how to react. But I was grateful for what he said. I was happy he could say that to me. He simply told me. He did not say more. I did not ask more. We became friends. Just like that, because I had visited.

Nikhil does well in class and in the exams. He plays cricket. He shares his music with all the boys. But he does not invite anyone home. No one asks. He does not talk about his super mom, and adorable sister or the fact that he simply loves Bon Jovi. He helped Shane with his English and Ryan with his bowling. But he allows only me to walk with him to the end of the road everyday, where he catches the bus back home. We walk in silence, me dragging my cycle and him whistling “Blaze of Glory”.

Some days Nikhil stayed at home. I visited him at home with the homework for the day. We would put on some music and get cracking on the homework. I noticed I looked forward to going to his house more often. His cousins would be there sometimes. They were smart, though they did not look like Drew Barrymore, they reminded me of Charlie’s Angels because they were witty, smart and taught me cool phrases. I was almost sad when the younger cousin gave up smoking (though I knew it was good for her.) The image of her blowing rings with the cigarette smoke is etched in my mind. Nandini would come and sit with us sometimes. She smiled more often now. I drank some of the coffee she made. I think she liked me for the only cup of coffee with a dash of cinnamon was made only for me, when I visited. We exchanged smiles and hellos each time.

I soon learned that Nikhil’s father was an alcoholic who used to beat his mother, and also him and his sister. His mother could not go to the police station because his father was a public figure and had the cops eating out of his left hand. I never asked him what he thought of all this. He never told me. Our friendship was based on comfortable silences. I did not know what it meant to be beaten by a parent, I did not know what it meant to see your father beat your mother.

I would not know because I don’t have parents and I live with the priests in their quarters. I was found on the steps of the church in our school compound. I never had any friends till I met Nikhil. And now I have a friend for life. I never could explain to anyone how I was so happy-go-lucky yet lonely. I could not explain to anyone what it is like to be called “the orphan boy”. But Nikhil taught me dignity. Nikhil taught me friendship and Nikhil taught me the importance of being me.

We are best buddies. And now we have a “gang” of boys we “hang” with riding our cycles after school, discovering the small by lanes in the neighbourhood and feeding the stray dogs along the way.

I have a friend, a secret crush (Nandini) and the Charlie’s Angels now. I was no longer “the orphan boy”. I was the boy who came second in class. No prizes for guessing who came in first!!!!!!

Henri…for a boy who has had to grow up too fast…life is good…be strong…!
Sept 17th 2006

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