Little Titli from School

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Titli was quite happy. The previous morning, shed overheard didi tell her friend, that school will be closed for 2 days. Something to do with Jinnah and “Daarect Action Diwas”.

Though she wasnt allowed to step outside the verandah, she had innovated. Standing on the pottery ledge on tip-toe, she craned her neck to the street outside the wall to be able to eavesdrop.

Heard that Jinnah has given his clarion call for Direct Action.”

Yes, I know. Government offices and even schools will be closed for 2 days.”.

Oodi baba ! Forget that. Now Calcutta will be split into Hindu & Muslim areas. So will Asom and Odisha.....”

But that was enough for Titli. Shed jumped back into the verandah. Her efforts had yielded good news. She wanted to zoom inside, but as discreetly as possible. She tried to scurry past her father like a mouse, having gotten its haul. But then his giant hands clasped her hips, lifted her up and hoisted her straight onto his lap.

Aha ! Got you now, my girl”.

Titli collapsed into a clamshell, face buried in her hands.

Then he straightened her and spread out the days newspaper before them.

OK. Tell me the date”.

Titlis little head scanned the top portions of the paper. “The Statesman....errr...I know baba, please dont tell”. After peering long and hard like an archaeologist deciphering a hieroglyph, pat came the reply, ”August 15, 1946.”

Baba roared with laughter.

Good. Now read this.”

This time Titlis head reared back. The words were bigger. “Jin..Jinna - Gandhi talks break down.”

Good. Now run along.”

Baba, baba ! Will School be closed for 2 days ?”

Yes. Maybe even more. Why ?”

Titli leapt from his lap and ran without replying. Anyway, he was rummaging for his chappals below the chair and was not paying attention.

Two whole days of pristine tranquility. Thatd give her mind some rest from school, just like those messenger boys puffing and panting just sat on a bench to catch a breath. Was this a guilty pleasure ? Not at all. Anyway, she never understood what Mrs. Brown bellowed in the name of teaching. In sharp contrast, when Subrato da taught Rabindra sangeet, he was so sweet. And he never pulled ears. But when Titli couldnt spell “Elizabeth”, Brown rakshee (demoness, as all girls of class V had anointed her had pulled her ears so hard, that theyd pained all day.

It was then that it had dawned on her why Gandhiji was against the British. Didnt Subrato Da also teach that Gandhiji was also thrown out of a train by a white ticket collector ? Theyre indeed very cruel. They deserved to be out ! No more beatings. She could finally learn from dada in peace.

That day, the whole gulf between Titli and Gandhiji was united by a contempt for the white-colored beaters theyd experienced. It was her awakening.

But as of this current time, Titli didnt understand why she was put up in this dark room. It was quiet outside. Was she punished at home ? She just couldnt remember ! Her mind raced through her previous days occurences. One by one she went, though the days checklist she had run home from school. Though she was usually reprimanded was running on the streets, but nobody couldve actually seen her running as baba was still at work, didi was at the aunts, mother was in the kitchen, the gardener had taken a day off...

Did Subrato da tell on her, for forgetting her lesson ? After all, shed forgotten the name of the prize Rabindranath got, “the Nobel puruskaar”. But shed replied “Knighthood”. Of course, Subrato da didnt scold her ? well, he never ever did. He only gently reminded her and continued with the lesson, like how one moves on after giving instructions to a lost traveller.

So, who had punished her ? Why ?

Then there was the bad dream shed seen. Or was it, because it all seemed so real then. She was rudely awakened by lots of shouting outside. Mother was shrieking and the rooms ceiling flashed in the bright yellow reflection of something burning on the street. Some woman shrieked at regular intervals.

Her 72 year old aunt had grabbed her and run. No sight of baba or mother. Their maid was just behind them. They went into a store, a hideout where she was usually forbidden to enter. Fighting back tears, and a crack in the door, Titli tried hard to peer outside to see what had suddenly befallen her house.

She finally rubbed her eyes clean of tears and rammed her face in the crack. There were 5 or 6 Mohemmedan men with torchlights. Hysterical laughter. Didi was struggling with two of them as they beat her and tried to tear off her clothes. Subrato da had warned her against these men. Now she could finally see for herself. Some furniture burned. Babas rocking chair was tossed, burning. Then her aunts hand clasped her eyes and swivelled it away into her protective chest.

Titli splashed some water in her eyes and shurugged off that nightmare. The door was thrown ajar. The  sudden light made her wince. Two men came, grasped her arms and lifted her up. Shed given up biting them, as theyd beat her back. Even though baba had told her to do so to prevent strangers handling her badly and touching her, as the other day she was beaten black and blue.

She was tossed to the mat where some food was kept. Aside, the days newspaper lay. She grabbed it as though it contained the verdict of her life from the Almighty itself. This was very unfamiliar. The logo was different, the colors, the setup all different. It even smelled different. As Titli scanned the top of this unfamiliar paper, it read, “The Times of India.....”

Khati nahin salee,” (this one doesnt eat “Only reads the paper”.

Abey budhiya, jaldi kha.” (Hey oldie, eat fast.

“18 April, 1993 ?” Was this the wrong newspaper ? Where was “The Statesman” ?

On it was stamped in a bluish smudge, “No. 33 asylum, North 24 Parganas”.

What was little Titli being punished for, if it wasnt for running on the streets after school ? She thought even  harder.

Maybe Subrato da could tell.


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9 comments

yarows..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
There's a typo in this line :- Then her aunts hand CLASPED her eyes and swivelled it away into her protective chest. The word "clasped" should read "cupped".

Aditi Chin..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Good story. I like Titli. :) My only issue with this is the transition between the Gandhiji connection and the sudden shift of scene to the dark room. That had me confused for most of the middle section. It all added up in the end but you want to keep the reader guessing out of suspense, not confusion.

yarows..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Thanks for the comments. This style of narration (frequently used by Russian writers) is very similar to the way sport commentators comment. They do comment on the very present, but sometimes they go, "...like the other day when Akhtar was hit for a six by Sachin....." The Gandhiji portion was to highlight Titli's understanding of why he was against the British after all. That was not part of what was going through her mind at that point. Disappointed that that confused you. Should've made the transition to the present scenario of the dark room smoother.

Pali Tripa..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
I like the emotional connect that the story evokes. I like Titli's character and her relationship with 'dada'. My major grouse withe the story is the language. "She wanted to zoom inside" - zoom???, She tried to scurry past her father like a mouse, having gotten its haul - what exactly does mouse having gotten its haul mean?? "But then his giant hands clasped her hips" - these words together are jarring when I know that a father is stopping his daughter trying to run away.. Overall, i like the story - but it could be made clearer and more 'spelt' out..like what exactly happened to Titli..yes, the story does hint on what could have - but the hints aren't sufficient..

Abhishek D..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Thanks for the encouraging comments. I'm glad it found an emotive connect with you and Aditi. Kids get shy in front of elders and want to race past them without attractng attention. Zoom here means swooshing past in speed. I didn't think it is gen Y usage as it has been used earlier for fast trains. "what exactly does mouse having gotten its haul mean??" OK here goes :- She was happy with the news that she'd hoped to get -- and finally got after her small effort. The analogy was similar to mice scurrying past "danger" with food (their haul) in their mouths. "these words together are jarring when I know that a father is stopping his daughter trying to run away.." No, not exactly stopping in her tracks from running, but much like how one catches hold of a running chicken, and holds it up all in one matador-like swish. I think I should've expressed all of the above better because it is these descriptions that engage the reader.

yarows..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
"Overall, i like the story but it could be made clearer and more spelt out..like what exactly happened to Titli..yes, the story does hint on what could have but the hints arent sufficient.." What actually happened to her isn't intended to be part of the story at all. The surprise element was introducing Titli in current time (April 1993) as an old woman in an asylum. The reader can very well guess what happens to kids traumatized in riots (BTW the riots of Direct Action Day are one of the worst in recorded history. Post-Godhra or Bhagalpur pale in comparison).

Rishabh Ch..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
What I understand is that Titli looses her mind because of what happens to her and her family in riots. She is still living in those times when she was 5 years old and cannot remember anything other than Gandhi and her Subrato Da. Nice story. And I like the surprise ending of her in the asylum. One thing - the transition should have been a little smoother. The creeping in of the dark room seems like something when she WAS 5 year old and not when she IS 55 years old. One more thing, the should be 2003 instead of 1993. She'l be 65 then and really a budhiya.

Abhishek D..

04 Feb 2014
.., wrote:
Thanks for the comment Rishabh. I agree about the transition not being smooth. Other members too have pointed it out. What I mean to convey is that she still thinks she's a punished class V girl (and even the reader thinks so till that point). The 2 men can also hint that they were the rioting Mohammedans who'd sort of kidnapped her. The day's newspaper confuses her, but the reader comes to reality. About the year being 2003, that is a fine suggestion. She'd then be a senior citizen.

cv..

17 Jun 2014
.., wrote:
@Abhishek D - great

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