Guidance doesn’t come only from elders. Sometimes, even people younger to us can show us the right path. The lesson came to me during my days in Class 7.
My school was as little away from the city, and it took me an hour to get there by van each day. That hour meant different things to different students. Some used it extend sleep, others to revise their lessons; but the majority spent it playing and gossiping. In the morning, as students left their homes, there was an unspoken seating-arrangement rule that gave priority to senior students, or a friend could reserve a seat for you. And I was among the privileged seniors.
To a particular girl, who must be seven and in Class 2, the rule didn’t apply, though no one gave her any privilege yet or kept a seat for her. She was a dark, fat, uglylooking, with two neatly combined pony tails that touched her shoulders. Seniors would get up if she came and sat next to them. She was to be avoided, and I also made sure that she didn’t come within a touching distance of me.
Carrying a heavy schoolbag on the back and a water bottle in one hand, she would enter the school van, look around, and take a corner seat quietly. However, one day, she sat next to me when I didn’t have the option to change seat. So, I prepared myself for the torture. As we began talking, she accused my younger brother, who was in Class 4 in the same school, of being a racist; and like a protective elder sister, I asked her to clarify. “Didi,” she said, “Bhaiya teased me, commented on the colour of my skin. He keeps bullying me. Is it my fault that I am dark? I have never been rude to anyone in the school, yet I am ignored, and judged. You are senior to me, I hope you will understand.”
“Don’t worry, I will talk to him,” I told her and there was silence between us; but in that period of quiet, her words echoed in my mind. The complaint didn’t change my opinion of her instantly, since my younger brother was the accused here, but her polite tone and calm way of raising the matter made me feel ashamed inside, since I was no different than people who judged others by colour and appearance. Slowly, I noticed how even grown-ups did that to total strangers, and the guilt increased.
From that day until my last day of school, this junior who had put me on the right path had all the privileges on the van, including a seat reserved next to me. We continue to be close friends.
The writer is working with HT, Chandigarh.