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Tomorrow?

Harikrishna Kaul

As the boys went into their classrooms after the prayers, Sula of Class IV said to Makhana, "Learnt the multiplication tables set by Nilakanth, have you?"
"Tried to, but just can't memorise the damn things."
"What shall we do? Lord Yama's own messenger he is." Makhana's face turned pale. Sula laughed carelessly and handed something to him quietly. "Here, rub it on your hands."
"What is it?"
"Sheep's fat. Go on, apply it on your hand, then the caning will not hurt."
"Swear by your father?" Makhana was rather incredulous.
"May my father die if I am not telling the truth. Look, I am also applying it on my hands."
The two friends went on quietly applying the fat on their palms through the first four periods and the recess. Nilakanth's period came after the recess. As soon as he entered the Class room he look off his turban and placed it on the broken down shell of a cupboard. Then he sat down, unbuttoned his coat and shirt and began to scratch his hairy chest.  Spreading out his legs, he farted while asking the boys to recite the multiplication tables. After six boys, came  Makhana's turn. He did all right initially but then be faltered. Nilakanth grabbed his ear and pulling him, dragged him towards himself. Makhana stole a glance at his hands.
They were glistening with fat. But Nilakanth did not cane him. He surveyed the class and his eye fell on Sula who appeared to be the most well built and tough and he said. “Hey you,  Sula fatso, come here. Give this Makhana a ride on your back." Sula had been quietly trying to memorise his tables. Hearing the order, he folded his book and put it back in the bundle on the piece of cloth in which he carried them. He stood up and glancing at Makhana gave a chuckle and lifted him on his back. Nilakanth pulled up Makhana's shirt and began to cane the tender flesh with a thin stick. Makhana screamed, "Oh father dear, oh mother mine? I'm dead. Sir, I'll memorise it tomorrow, I promise I will. Oh my father, I'm dead. Sir? Masterji? Please spare me today sir, may God send all your misfortunes upon me! Sir, Masterji! May I die instead of you, Masterji! Tomorrow I'll have everything by heart, you will see sir."
"Are you telling the truth?" Nilakanth asked.
"The truth sir? If I don't have them at the tip of my tongue tomorrow, please skin me alive."
"In that case, let's leave him," Nilakanth told Sula and then fumed to the class, "Will all of you have learnt the tables till No. 16 tomorrow?"
"Yes, sir," everyone yelled - Sula the loudest.
"All those who did not know them today, will now touch their ear lobes in shame." Half a dozen boys did so and
Makhana before everyone else.
At 4 p.m. the two friends left school to walk home together. Just as Sula began to say something, Makhana snapped at him, "Shut up, you??? I've seen your friendship very well!"
“Ah, ha! Did we carry you on our back of our own wish? We only did what Masterji asked us to do."
"Rogue! Showing off the sheep's fat indeed!"
"How was I to know that he would hit your bottom? You should have applied the fat on your buttocks - then it would not have hurt."
"Keep your mouth shut or I'll break all your teeth!"
They had reached the main road and standing there was the Convent School bus. The children were alighting while their mothers waited for them. The boys and girls were in uniform - white shirts, red neckties, red socks, black shoes and green shorts or skirts. They all carried little lunch boxes. Something happened to Makhana - he kept staring at a blue-eyed little girl. Sula was watching a little boy with hair like silk and milk white legs. It appeared that the little boy had not eaten his lunch because his mother was telling him, "But why didn't you tell me that you do not like kofta? I would have given you some mutton. Or a couple of eggs. There were some pieces of fish left over from yesterday's curry you could have had those. But why did you have to starve yourself?"
The boy only smiled in return.
Suddenly a thought came to Sula and he asked, "What did they cook in your home today?"
"Two kinds of greens."
"Just as wretched as I thought!"
Perhaps Makhana did not hear him. He was wondering, "Who could the blue-eyed one be? Whose child was she?"
The next day, when the bell rang and all the boys assembled in the compound for prayers, Sula happened to look back. He turned deathly pale. He saw his father talking to the Headmaster outside the school gate. His instinct was to dash out, but the peon stood at the gate menacingly. The lump of fat still lay in his pocket - he had not yet used it on his hands. After a while the Headmaster returned and the peon shut the gate.
"Sula of Class IV will step out," the Headmaster ordered. Sula's knees trembled as he moved forward.
"Do you know what this fellow Sula was doing at home yesterday?" the Headmaster addressed the boys, swinging his cane.
"No, sir," the boys shouted at the top of their voices.
"A regular riot he has created at home last evening! Broken the pots and pans and bitten his mother's thumb. And do you know why?"
"No, sir."
"He told his parents that he wanted hot rice and curry!"
"Hot rice and curry? Ha ha ha . . ." all the boys laughed.
"Should he have asked for these things?"
"No, sir."
"If they give you cold rice, that is what you should eat. If they give you greens, that is what you must eat. If they give you nothing, you must keep quiet - isn't that so?"
"Yes, sir."
The Headmaster proceeded to cane Sula - a dozen times on each hand and finally asked the Maulvi Saheb to bite his left thumb. Sula bore the pain of the beatings somehow, but the bite drew a shriek from him and he fell down in a heap. Two hard kicks from the Headmaster sent him back to his place in the line.
The prayers began. Two boys from Class V - Javed Ahmad and Ashok Kumar stepped forward and started to sing in Urdu; Lab pe ati hai dua banke tamanna meri, zindagi shams ki soorat ho khudaya meri. This wish comes as a prayer upon my lips. Oh Lord, make my life like that of the candle.
The rest of the boys repeated the words after them as loudly as they could. Sula, his voice choked with sobs, sang through his tears, Door duniya ka mere dum se andhera ho jai, har jagah mere chamakne se ujala ho jai! May the darkness of the world be dispelled through me. May there be light everywhere that I shine.
The prayers over, the boys went to their respective classes. Seeing Sula's small, reddened eyes, Makhana's heart softened towards him and all of yesterday's anger was washed away. What if his own father were alive today? He would also have been coming to school sometimes to have him thrashed. Good that he had only a mother. She beat him, no doubt, but would not come to the school with a complaint. But the very next moment he remembered Nilakanth and he also remembered that he had still not memorised the tables. Asking Sula for the fat did not seem quite tight. Besides, he had no faith in it any, more. The problem exercised his mind, but eventually he thought his own remedy the best: he took the Goddess Kali’s name seven times and tied a knot in his shirt.
After the recess, Nilakanth entered the classroom. As usual, he took off his turban and put it on the broken down cupboard, slipped his feet out of his pumps and sat cross-legged in his chair. Scratching his head, he asked the boys to recite the tables one by one. While the first boy was doing so, Makhana suddenly stood up.
"What thunderbolt has hit you now?"
Makhana lifted his little finger, " "Pass", sir."
"Oh "pass" indeed! Sit down at once or I'll thrash you."
Makhana sat down, but, after a few minutes stood up again, "Sir, Mastetji, I'm bursting! Terrible "pass" sir!"
"No mischief before me! Or I’ll draw it out through your bottom! "
'Sir I'm telling the truth, Masterji. It is the big "pass", sir!"
Nilakanth looked Makhana square in the face. Makhana's eyes seemed to glitter with tears. He thought that he was telling the truth and so let him go. Once in the toilet, Makhana began to think- there certainly was something in the business of tying a knot in your shirt, or why else would he get the urge for the big "pass" all of a sudden? Hadn't he already relieved himself at home in the morning? Actually, the great Kali is not the one to leave her devotee in a tight situation?by the time he went back to the classroom, Nilakanth's period would be over.
The last bell rang at 4 p.m. Sula and Makhana left to go home. Reaching the main road, Sula would have continued to walk on, but Makhana stopped him with, "Wait. Let's stop for the Convent bus."
"To hell with it! We only get a beating later on." Makhana was quiet. Sula took his arm and pulled him along. But Makhana's feet refused to budge. Eventually Sula left on his own. He had taken only a couple of steps when he saw a few people gambling. He stopped to watch the game.
After a few minutes the Convent bus came. And out trotted the children in their shorts/shirts/socks/shoes/ties. After five or six children came the blue-eyed girl. Handing over the lunch box and attache case of books to her mother, she tightened her skirt belt. Makhana's heart pounded against his ribs as if the Headmaster had made him do eight runs of the school yard. As he was looking at her she disappeared with her mother in the halwai's alley.
 

The next day, school went well till the recess when suddenly the cry went round that two boys had drowned while bathing in the river near Habba Kadal. The bell at the end of the recess was rung late and the teachers had all the boys assemble in the compound and fall in line just as they did for prayers. After a while, the Headmaster came and delivered a lecture. The boys must not go to the ghat to bathe in the Veth because the river was infested with crocodiles; the crocodile is a riverine animal and resembles a lizard but is much bigger in size and as soon as a boy enters the Veth, its jaws close on his legs and he is dragged down; from the word "crocodile", came the phrase, "crocodile tears" . . . .
Meanwhile the Second Master came and proceeded to put the stamp of the school on every boy's thigh while the Headmaster spoke on: "The school stamp is being put on your thighs so that every morning we can examine it and if it is found missing or washed away from anyone's skin, he will be given a tharshing with stinging nettles."
When the Second Master was through with the task of stamping, the school was declared closed for the day.
As they were going home, Makhana said to Sula, "Supposing we tell them that we had a bath under the tap? How can they tell?"
"Stupid! Do you think they are fools? Don't they know there is no water in the taps? What wisdom will you show them then?"
Makhana pulled his shorts up and said, "Look, how well this brand of a slave suits us!"
"Aren't the legs of goats hanging at the butcher's shop stamped similarly?"
Reaching the main road, Makhana stopped, saying, "Today we were saved from Nilakanth the Crocodile's period."
"Oh yes."
"Did he ask you your tables?"
"No, I too was saved by the skin of my teeth."
"Swear by your father?"
"By my father's death I swear"
"How did you manage it?"
"He asked me to press his head."
For a while they were silent and then Makhana spoke, '"The bus has not come today."
"How can it come yet? Weren't we let off early? Come, let's  go."
"Let's wait, shall we?”
"No, tomorrow the Crocodile will certainly demand the tables."
Makhana had developed a certain faith in the efficacy of the shirt knot. So he replied carelessly, "Oh, come on. Tomorrow is a long way off."
 

Tomorrow carne and went and so it went on for a long time. The Form Master was supposed to check the boys' before the prayers every morning and he asked them to show him the stamp. It had gone in several cases and on some only a faint mark remained. But it was still fresh on Makhana's and Sula's thighs as if newly made. There were welts of grime around the mark, throwing it into greater relief. The Form Master understood that these two had followed the Headmaster's order; to the letter, while the others had had an occasional dip. He was very pleased with them, and letting them off, asked both of them to go to his house where a carpenter was at work.
Sula and Makhana went off enthusiastically. They were to keep handing the material?frames, planks, and nails to the carpenter as he worked, fill water in his hookah, tobacco in the chillum, place a live charcoal from the kangri on it and take puffs till the tobacco was properly lit. Carrying beams, Makhana's shirt got torn. Sula had been wise?he had taken his off and worked in his shorts.
At about 4 p.m., the two picked up their bundles of books and left to go home. At the main road, Makhana's feet automatically came to a halt. Sula gave a chuckle and stopped too. After a while the Convent bus came and the children descended. Today they were in their winter uniforms?black shoes, red socks, grey flannel trousers, grey sweaters, white shirts, red ties and dark cherry blazers. On their top left coat pockets was the school badge. Makhana strained his eyes but could not locate the blue?eyed girl.
"Come on, let's go. It is late and I am cold."
Makhana seemed to wake up at Sula's remark. He too was feeling cold and the two turned homewards.
 

After a month or so, the school closed for the winter vacation. When it reopened, there was still some snow around. Before the bell rang, the boys played and had snow fights. Sula and Makhana buried a number of boys in the snow and thrust snowballs through the shirt fronts of several others. Then they made three snowmen, resembling the Headmaster, Nilakanth and the Maulvi Saheb. In the bustle of the game, they came into their own and seemed to realise their worth for the first time. Hardly anyone escaped their attention. The high point of the morning was their dragging Ashok Kumar and Javed Ahmad of Class V on the snow. This thrilled them with an animal pleasure. Their happiness lasted till the fourth period. For the first two periods no one turned up to teach them. The third was Maulvi Saheb's. He demanded walnuts from the Shivratri festivities from the Pandit boys and forgot to check the work assigned for the long winter vacation. But the Second Master in the fourth period demanded work. The pallor of death spread on the faces of several boys. Makhana quickly tied a knot in his shirt. Sula did not have the lump of fat with him. He looked appealingly at the Second Master who made all the boys, including him and Makhana, who had not done the winter assignment, stand up. Then he beat the stove pipes wish a stick and collecting the accumulated soot, smeared their faces with it. The Monitor was ordered to take them round all the classes. Makhana heaved a sigh of relief at having escaped a beating. Now he was fully convinced of the secret power of the shirt knot. As they went down the stairs, he told Sula, "Saw a film with my cousin on Shivratri. There was a black giant in it just like you!"
"You should see your own face! You look like the devil himself!"
Led by the Monitor, they came to Class V first of all. Seeing them, the boys and the teacher burst into laughter, in which they also joined in sheepishly. Their next stop was Class IV which was be taught by Nilakanth, who boxed their ears. A few boys started to laugh but Sula gave them such a malevolent look that the smiles froze on their lips. After this the Monitor took them to Class II, which was being taught by the Maulvi Saheb at that time. He showered blows on some and obscenities on others. While giving Makhana a hard blow he admonished him, "Don't you dare forget to get the Shivmtri walnuts tomorrow!"
In the Upper First, Makhana quietly pinched the arm of the Black Giant next to him and a cry escaped him, at which the Master gave him several hard slaps. In the Lower First, Sula upset a bottle of ink belonging to child sitting in the front row, but the child was too scared of him to even utter a whimper of protest. When they were back in their class after the round, the Second Master made them catch their ear lobes to express shame and with firm instructions to get their work with them tomorrow without fail, dismissed them.
 
 

Tomorrow went by, then another tomorrow and so it went on for the next five years. The name of the school was changed. It became the Government Lower Middle School. But it still had only five classes and Sula and Makhana still remained in Class IV. The warm autumn sun was very pleasant and these two had been put to work by the Maulvi Saheb. Sula was scratching his back and haunches with his nails. Makhana was squeezing out the pus from the boils on his thighs. The Maulvi Saheb's eyes were half-closed with relief. The other boys were engaged in games of noughts and crosses played on slates. The Monitor stood at the door on the look out for the Headmaster. This was the last period and they were let off after this. Makhana bought a cigarette for one paisa from the shop outside the school and the two friends took rums taking puffs from it.
"Come on, hurry. Let's leave the books at home and play with marbles," Sula said.
"No, let's finish the cigarette first. On the main road someone might see us smoking."
"That's a lie, you rogue, if your father were alive, you would make him fill tobacco in your chillum, I'm certain. I
know what's bugging you?you think it is too early for her to come!" Makhana just grinned. Finishing the cigarette, they
walked to the main road. The Convent bus had arrived. The children descended and then left with their mothers. The bus left, but Makhana and Sula remained. Makhana asked Sula to buy two - paisa worth of roasted soyabeans. "There she comes!" Sula's exclamation made Makhana forget to munch. His heart beat faster as he stared at her unblinkingly. Reaching the halwai's shop, she dismounted her bicycle. Her attache case of books was on its carrier and in her hand she carried a hockey stick. She wore white socks and PT shoes. Her white skirt hemline reached just above her knees. Over her white shirt, she wore a red nylon cardigan. Her hair fell over her shoulders.
"How she has grown! How different she looks!" Sula nudged Makhana.
"Only her eyes are the same?as blue as ever," Makhana drew a deep sigh, "What a little girl she used to be!"
"How little? Just as little as we used to be. But they say she is to appear for her matriculation this year."
“Swear on your father?" Sula seemed to jump out of his skin.
"May my father die if I tell a lie," Makhana swore.
"This is what is called luck!"
`"They say she is the captain of the school hockey team too."
Suddenly Sula thought of something. He asked, "Hey listen, didn't they take four annas from each of us for sports equipment last month? What did they do with the money?"
"Just look where this chap has gone!" Makhana was furious, "I’m talking of something serious and he is off on a totally different track - after all, what can one expect from him!"
 

Next year the name of the school changed again. Now it was the Nehru Memorial Government Lower Middle School.
Sula asked Makhana, "What does this Nehru Memorial mean?"
"Nehruji is dead, that is why our school has been named after him," Makhana answered his question.
"Oh that I understood very well but what does "Memorial" mean?"
"How the devil should I know?"
"To me it sounds like an obscenity."
"What the hell is the matter with you?" Makhana lost his temper, "I'll report you to the Headmaster?tell him that this fellow is abusing the leader of the Kashmiri Pandits."
"Oh ho! Did I abuse him on my own? They themselves have given this obscene name to the school."
"How does that bother you? You just keep your mouth shut."
After the prayers, the Headmaster made an announcement: the Maulvi Saheb was retiring from service that day; he would not be coming to school the next day. Then he spoke at length of his competence and gentle qualities. The boys understood nothing of it. The Headmaster then made a request for the Maulvi Saheb to say a few words of advice to the boys, at which he stepped forward and began, but broke down after just a few words. Taking a piece of cloth from his sherwani pocket, he wiped his tears. Placing the same cloth on his nose, he blew hard and drew the snot on it and rubbing the cloth between his fingers till it was absorbed, folded it afresh and put it back in his pocket.
While climbing the stairs of the class, Makhana asked Sula, "Hey, why did the Maulvi Saheb weep?"
"Shouldn't he weep? The poor man must be feeling bad about leaving his job." Sula said.
"Couldn't it be that he was sorry about beating us so much?"
"Maybe that is why, who knows."
"Anyway, good riddance! God has delivered us from him."
"Oh but will he who comes to replace him be any better for us? All these bastards are the same."
Maulvi Saheb came to Class IV as usual in his period. He was eloquent : "My dear boys, you will be very happy to see me gone. You must have a lot of resentment against me because I used to beat you, but remember a teacher's beating is not a beating, it is like being given food and nourishment. And this stick is not a stick, it is a giver of wisdom. I had no hatred for you rather there was love for you all in my heart. That is why I liked to drill sense into you with this, my symbol of wisdom."
The boys listened in silence. He went on and on and finally concluded with, "All right, now 1 shall hit each one of you on the hand with this stick for the last time, so that you will always remember my love for you."
The Maulvi Saheb retired, but there was no immediate replacement for him. The next day, the Headmaster himself took their class. As his glance fell on Sula, he seemed to remember something, "Hey, you there. What's your name?" "Sula, sir."
"All right, Sula, get up and go to my house. Do you know where I live?"
"Yes, Sir."
"Very well. Now listen, our servant went home to his village yesterday. Why don't you go and take our cow out, lead her to some garden." Sula rose with alacrity and asked, "Sir, shall I leave my books here or take them along?"
"No, no, take the books with you. At 4 o'clock you can go home from there. But wait. Take someone  with you."
"I can take Makhana with me, sir."
"And who may Makhana be?"
"Me, sir," Makhana rose with a grin.
"Ah, that's very good. Run along then, both of you."
The two picked up their load of books and left. They went to the Headmaster's residence and drove the cow out, leading it to a distant field. The cow began to graze, her mouth clinging to the green grass, while the two started playing hop-scotch.
"Hey, did you see how fat the Headmaster's wife is?"
"Shouldn't she grow fat? With a cow at home, she must be drinking milk by the bucket every day!"
"They said the servant would be back after four days. Well, why should we mind? That is four days well taken care of! And if they ask us to write a composition on "Cow" in the examination, just think of it!"
"Oh yes. Look, this cow really has two cars, two eyes, four legs and one tail! Don't they also write, 'a cow chews
cud?' What does that mean' ?"
"Maybe it is something to do with dung."
"Forget it. Besides, if the Headmaster is pleased with us, he will certainly pass us, composition or no composition," said Makhana.
"Tomorrow I’ll get the marbles with me. There's no fun in this hop?scotch."
"Ah ha?that"ll be fun." Makhana jumped with joy in anticipation.
On the fourth day, while playing with marbles, a sigh escaped Makhana and he said, 'The Headmaster's wife said their servant would be returning from the village today."
" That means we shall have to attend school tomorrow?"
Sula's knees became wobbly  with dismay.
"But let us loaf tomorrow too. We shall tell them at home that we have to take the Headmaster's cow out again."
"By father, now you are talking sense!" Makhana's spirits soared and he shouted, "Here - that's my turn!"
 

Tomorrow came and went and so it went on for another five years.
It was the 14th of November, Jawaharlal Nehru's birthday - Children's Day. Sula, Makhana and all the other boys of the Nehru Memorial Government Lower Middle School were taken to the stadium by the Masters. The huge stadium gate had been decorated with arches of flowers and bunting. Many cars and jeeps lined both sides of the road, which was sprinkled with water and lined with lime. Policemen moved around busily in their crisp, freshly laundered uniforms. The boys from the Nehru Memorial Government Lower Middle School were not allowed to enter from the impressive front gate. They were asked to come from the gate at the back. Sula and Makhana were dumbstruck at the sight inside. There were flags all around?red, blue, yellow, green, pink, purple - fluttering in the wind. On one side in chairs sat men in expensive suits and women in bright coloured dresses. In front of them in neat rows stood boys and girls from different schools in their distinctive, attractive uniforms. At the other end stood the band in dazzling attire. Their drums and bugles shone brilliantly in the sun.
Sula, Makhana and several other boys were made to sit in a corner at the back, far away from the colour and pageantry. They tried to sneak ahead quietly, but a Master happened to notice and swinging his thin mulberry stick, pushed them back. But Makhana kept rising on his haunches to catch a glimpse of the show, while Sula was happily engaged in a game of pebbles with another boy.
Suddenly all the people in chairs stood up. Someone announced something through a megaphone and the uniformed boys arid girls stiffened to attention. Someone dressed in pure white arrived. Smiling, with folded hands, he bowed before everyone and took his seat on the sofa in the front. Sula quietly threw a pebble at Makhana.
"Now which bastard's father is dead?" Makhana was enraged. "Nobody's. It is I who threw it at you," Sula
explained, "I say, who is that?"
"Must be someone. Who knows?"
"Is he the one who will give away the pears?"
"Who said anything about pears being given away?"
"Nilakanth was saying that we would each be given two pears over here."
"Swear by your father?" Makhana was pleased.
"By father I swear."
The man in white went to the rostrum and unfurled the flag. Everyone stood up. The children saluted and so did the band. The people took their seats again. The man in white began to say something.
"What is he saying?" Makhana asked Sula.
"Who the hell understands anything?" was Sula's reply.
Atter his speech, the man went back to his seat on the sofa. The people clapped. Watching them, Sula, Makhana and the others also clapped loudly. A little girl climbed up on the rostrum and sang a song. She was also cheered. Makhana and Sula too applauded. Then came four or five boys, who also said something and received loud cheers. "Oh I'm feeling tired with all this clapping," said Sula. "You get tired too easily," Makhana snapped at him, "these poor fellows are not tired with all this lecturing and you are exhausted merely with clapping!"
Next came a group of girls who performed the "roff".
Then there was a mass drill by the uniformed children. At the end it was once again the man-in-white's turn. He climbed the rostrum again and began to give away the prizes to the boys and girls. Every recipient of a prize was cheered lustily. "Hey, when will they give the pears?" Sula asked.
"How should I know? Maybe they give or maybe not," was Makhana's reply.
"Oh, but why won't they? When they could give prizes to these guys, why should they faint when it is our turn?"
"Obsessed with your stomach, as usual. One would think you were starving!"
"By God, I have eaten nothing this morning."
"Why, didn't you have tea? "
"When I left home they had not made it yet."
"O.K., be quiet. Look, another girl has received a prize. Clap for her, will you!"
"She won't find me wanting ? ready to die for her," Sula clapped loudly.
At 11 o'clock the whole show was over. Sula and Makhana walked out and stood outside the stadium gate, while the vehicles moved out. The two friends counted, taking bites from a pear …
"Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one . . . . .
"To hell with it! What will we get with all this counting?
It is just giving us a headache."
"Say, are there so many cars and jeeps in this city?"
"You think there are only these? There must be four times as many!"
"Swear by your father's death?"
"By my father's death I swear. To hell with them all! Didn't you say they would give us two pears each? Why have they, given us only one?"
How should I know? Maybe half the pears were carted home by the Masters."
"Hey, look! Did you see the people in that car?" Makhana almost screamed.
"No. Who was it?" Sula asked.
"That same blue-eyed one. Perhaps she had brought her daughter here in the car."
"Did she have her husband with her too?"
"Oh yes."
"Was he the one who used to have hair like silk and milk-white legs?" Sula sighed.
"Oh yes, the very same."
"How they have grown!"
"Shouldn't they have grown? "
"They have a child too!"
"Shouldn't they have had? It must be twenty-two or twenty-three years since then."
"Twenty-three years?"
"Certainly that. It is an age ago."
"Swear by your father?"
"I swear by my father."
"Why didn't we grow up?"
"How do I know? How can I say anything? "
"Do we have to go to school tomorrow? " Makhana asked after a while.
"What do you think? They have given you a holiday today - you expect them go give you one tomorrow too?"
"I just wondered if they might."
"Wondered if they might indeed! They who would not even give us two pears!"
"So there is no getting away from school tomorrow?" Makhana sighed.
The next day, as the boys started to go to their classes after the prayers, Sula of Class IV said to Makhana: "Learnt the multiplication tables set by Nilakanth, have you?"
"No. You have?"
"Tried to, but just can't memorize the damn things."
"Now, what shall we do? Lord Yama's own messenger he is," Makhana's face turned pale.
Sula laughed carelessly and handed something to him stealthily, "Hero, rub it on your hands, then the caning will not hurt."
"Swear by your father?" Makhana was somewhat incredulous.
"May my father die if it isn't the truth. Look, I am also applying it on my hands."

 

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