On the second day of the school term, Siddharth Biswas caught eight flies, killed them and peeled off their wings. He then opened my pencil-box and scattered their dismembered bodies, taking care to heap the wings around my new eraser. I discovered the deed soon after lunch, and promptly burst into tears.
It wasn’t a good start to 4th standard, more so because Siddharth was supposed to sit in front of me for the rest of the term. Siddharth bullied me endlessly. He bribed the class monitor to put my name on the Who-and-All-Talked-in-Class list. He challenged me to ruler sword-fights, which I always lost because I had a flimsy plastic ruler and he had a wooden one. But, worst of all, Siddharth deliberately tilted back his chair so he could rest his oily hair on my notebooks. In time, all the pages turned translucent at the top, and I couldn’t open a single notebook without inhaling the aroma of rancid coconut mixed with sweaty schoolboy.
Something had to be done. In my mind, fuelled by Hindi movies and Amar Chitra Katha comics, I imagined myself shaking my fist at the world and taking a terrible vow of revenge. I would be ruthless and brave, a kind of cross between Amitabh Bachchan and Draupadi (only cuter). One day, when Siddharth was standing up to read something, inspiration struck. I quietly pulled his chair back a few inches. Siddharth finished reading. He moved to sit down but instead went crashing to the floor, bottom-first, legs and arms cartwheeling like in a cartoon. As he fell, he yelled for his mummy. We all laughed, as only children can. Luckily, his pride was the only thing that was injured.
“So, Siddharth, what do you do these days?”, I asked twenty-three years later, at our school reunion, glaring only a little. Left to me, I would have picked MLA, rogue financial trader, or even undertaker. But it turned out Siddharth was now a Vaastu consultant and an animal-rights activist. He was also, I discovered later, the kind of Facebook friend who posts pictures of godmen with captions like, “Love Ever, Think Never. Eat. Pray. Dove.” For someone who had once seemed the spawn of the devil, Siddharth’s transformation was miraculous—and, frankly, a bit annoying.
I learnt that day that reunions are full of surprises. For example, the kid who ate from everyone’s lunch box during assembly? Well, he’s now an advocate at the high court. The girl at the bottom of the class? Professor in a science college. It’s not like there aren’t any bad eggs though. Between me and the husband, we have studied with one illicit-liquor trader, two members of a mining mafia, and about seven management consultants. But I feel especially bad for the girl who is condemned to the life of a Hindi soap star. My research shows the chief talents for this job are (a) the ability to slave over a hot tava while plotting to poison a family member, (b) the capacity to shed single crystal-like tears without ruining your mascara, and (c) doing both (a) and (b) while staying gift-wrapped in yards of pink zardozi.
My generation has also brought forth many entrepreneurs. You can’t throw a cream-bun across a Bangalore street without hitting a baker or a photographer who’s on the wrong side of 30. The descriptions conform to a template: He or she was always a creative genius, having learnt to wield a spatula or a tripod at 17 months. However, their astonishing genius also propelled them into “high-flying” corporate careers. One day, overcome by an epiphany, they decided to give up their near-CEO positions for something more meaningful. Like cupcakes. And making a Facebook page about them. The photographers’ pages tend to use their God-given names. Amar Prem Photography, for instance, is headed by none other than, er, Amar Prem. He specialises in candid wedding photos. Going by the pictures on the page, you can be sure your significant other will look resplendent, as he or she nestles in the arms of a giant Amar Prem watermark (Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved).
Is there a better illustration of my generations’ genius? I think not.
In fact, as I look back on the wide gamut of my friends’ lives, I realise something. Youth is over-rated. As older people, we are friendlier and more interesting. It may not be roses all the way, but hey, at least no one’s filling your pencil-box with dead flies.