October 2, 2010

I had a new bench-mate after the corner seat was filled by Paikya. We bombarded him with questions but he himself did not know why he was christened such. ‘May be because we are poor’ he said. It was visible. His head was always shaven clean to save money on oil or cream or lice. His clothes were of Nylon, the new pink colored fabric that had come on market to save washing soap. I could not understand how somebody could be called Paikya, which literally meant ‘that, who will bring money’, or ‘a moneyed person’.  Paika meant money, therefore Paikya?

The third bench-mate was Vishwas, who was in the front seat because he could not be at the back. Agreed, he was the shortest among the class, but the primary cause of his being there was because when it came to teasing teachers, particularly the lady types, nobody could beat him. Whenever lady teachers told us to take down something, Vishwas would sit back, relax and look at them with mischievous smile.

Paikya took down notes starting from the very top of the page, without losing any space in the top margin. This was during the first month. During second month, he started using the left margins also. Later on, he made use of the spaces between the printed lines, and finally all the edges of the page turning the book three times. The teachers – the same teachers who lectured us to write clean alphabets, using spaces – did not seem to mind Paikya’s exercise book. When we exhausted a third of our books, Paikya had used only a few pages. I noticed that he had only one exercise book, while we all had a separate one for every subject. That also teachers did not bother about. ‘It is easier carrying one book than ten, in rainy season’ was his explanation. But even after rainy season, he brought only one.

As if this was not enough, the size of Paikya’s lettering started to reduce. The class room norm was something like 16 point size. But Paikya had started at 10. Over a couple of months, he had successfully reached 4 point size. With the crow-quills and nibs we had, I think, that was the smallest point size he could reach.

Itching fruit (Khaj Koyari) was an amusement, provided you handled it wisely and did not touch it. If you kept even a small piece of it hidden in the desk, whoever touched it would start dancing like angry donkey. The itch would not stop unless you were sent home for bathing. Every term, at least two or three times, this incidence would take place, particularly on girl’s benches and we were sure there would be Vishwas behind it. For Vishwas, Paikya’s note-book was a sure-fire instrument for harassment, because if you misplaced his only note book, he would do anything for you, bring wild cherries, gum, honey or even itching fruit.

We had a three days holiday. When Paikya returned, his point size reduced to 2, possibly 1. We were all stunned. While we were trying to use a calligraphic effect with our nibs by grinding them slant, here was Paikya, who was trying to miniaturize by grinding the nibs from all sides, top and bottom too. Most of us tried, but the nib would crack while grinding. Writing would become impossible, because the nib would eat paper. The secret was revealed by Paikya. ‘For grinding, you needed a best quality nib like those the elders used. These can be found only in dust bins and refuge yards.’ He showed his nib. His was stainless, semicylindrical one, not like the brass, thin nibs we used. After we heard this, most of us could be found on evenings or Sundays scavenging and excavating for thrown away nibs near the municipal building or the civil court, where you could find some. The friends living near these building achieved a ‘most valuable friend’ status.

During the half-yearly exam, some tried to write like Paikya and were failed. Teachers did not understand what was going on and why everybody had started micro-writing. Paikya wrote papers in 12 points and cleared it with flying colors. Paikya was happy about the exam, because he took five supplementary answer papers for every question paper, but attached only one. With the rest, he made a booklet for the next six months. This was noticed by the teachers and he was reminded not to do it again. Watching this, I gave him all my last year’s exercise-books that had empty pages.

Paikya used to bring many an items for me. The honey, cherries and all. He always had many questions about ‘moneyed people’ and I used to answer them to my best ability. He would ask

‘Why rich people wear four clothes, when Paikya can do away with one, or none?’ or

‘Why people wore sweaters when a brisk run does the same job for him?’ or

‘Why people travel on bus or train when the legs do the same job for Paikya?’ or

‘Why there are so many sweetmeat shops when hot bread tastes even better?’

However when I asked about him and his family, he would not say anything.

Taking cue from Paikya, one of the artistic types drew a miniature caricature of Mahatma Gandhi in just one by one inch size, when a class was on. He lied that this was Paikya’s idea and both got bashing from teachers. However, this art form surfed on like a wave in other classes too. Most of us were attempting miniatures during the school time. Soon Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Azad, Patel, Shivaji, Netaji and Rana Pratap  adorned our books or floated on our paper-planes.


Paikya invited me to his house. He came to pick me up early in the morning. We walked and walked until I was tired and reached an open plateau. In distance I could see our town, just like a pack of card board houses. Paikya stopped. Perplexed, I said,


“This is it.” He said.

“The home?”

“Yes. There.” He indicated to a folded tent. “That is my mother.”

She was watching us. We went near and she touched my face with her coarse palm.

“So, this is Paikya’s best friend! We are moving tomorrow,” She said, “there is not enough fodder for sheep left in this part of the jungle. There is also a wolf pack around.”

 I had not heard of any wolves. I said,

“Let Paikya stay, he has been in school for hardly four months.”

“We move every now and then, this place to that. It was my idea to get him into school, but it is not working. We cannot afford.”

“But I like this town. Please tell father.” Paikya said.

“Yes, you have to. Let him be with me, we have a big house, you can go elsewhere.”

“What is the use? He will tend to sheep when grown up.”

“No. No. We can be moneyed people. I will be true Paikya.” 

I spent some time with them. In the end, Paikya tried crying to convince his mother. She showed her stone face and said, it would not be possible.

Vishwas came to know I had visited Paikya’s house.

“You looked at her carefully?”

“What for?”

“She is something.” He blinked one eye.

“That was stupid of you to say. She is Paikya’s mother… ” I said.

“She never wears her saree properly, never covers herself fully. Paikya’s father is number one boozard and does not do anything. Look at her with eyes wide open next time you visit. People visit her place with only one intention.”

“Not for a moment I thought of her any different than other women.” I warned Vishwas, “If you utter this one more time, I will tell the head master. He will bundle you up and throw you out of the school.”

Other friends intercepted our quarrel. Vishwas kept smiling wryly.

That was the only visit I paid to Paikya’s home. Our friendship continued, but Paikya and Vishwas had started fighting every day. 

While others thought big and crafted tender bamboo crow-quills for bigger and still bigger letters, Paikya went in opposite direction and miniaturized his needs. Inadvertantly, deep down, he had influenced us to reconsider ours.

Paikya became irregular, stayed on for that year, but did not arrive the next year. He must have moved on the path to becoming ‘moneyed man’.


4 Responses to “MiniatuWriting”

  1. Just beautiful. Also, the last few paragraphs / lines put the notion of ‘being rich’ into perspective isn’t it! I wonder how you (& he) will feel if you bump into each other now after so many years. I’m sure his condition would have undergone a sea of change!

    Anecdotes like these and the lessons derived are of biblical importance to people of my generation 🙂

  2. PeACEMAKER Says:

    I do not think I would ever meet him (except through this post). I have tried to track, but these people have vanished for good.
    There were a minor updates after you read it. Request you revisit.
    Thanks as always.

  3. Hema P. Says:

    Ah, the variety of things that afford kids the ‘most valuable friend’ status! 🙂

    This post reminded me of Kashmira Seth’s “Blue Jasmine”.

  4. PeACEMAKER Says:

    Yes. We are natural, calculating and practical as kids, when rewarding the ‘best friend’ status.
    I have to read ‘Blue Jasmine’ now.
    Thanks for your encouragement.

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