In 1954, two important things occurred in my life. First, I was admitted to the LKG. Second, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru set the tradition of Children's Day on his birthday. I continue to study even at 65, and even Panditji's birthday continues to be a symbol of happiness and innocence to Indian children.
That year, my father took me to the village school on October 26. The headmaster asked him about my date of birth. Parents didn't preserve that record then. In Punjabi tradition, women of the house would deliver their first child at parents', so I was born at my nanka pind (granny's village). The headmaster admitted me, taking that day as my seventh birthday, though I was just four. I still regret having no horoscope.
Panditji, being of kind heart, loved even the poorest of children. Once during a leisure walk though the thick-green lawns of Teen Murti House, his official residence, the cry of a baby stopped him in his tracks. Finding no one near the infant, he took the two-month-old mud-smeared boy in his arms. The child's mother, a labourer at work in Teen Murti, was wonderstruck seeing the great man playing with her child.
At another time, on a tour of Chennai, Panditji was in a jeep, with children watching his convoy from the rooftops. He stopped the jeep near a balloon seller, got down, bought all his balloons and gave it away to the children, pinching the cheek of a plump girl who had even started playing with her gift. Panditji was all glad.
At a Children's Day function, I was invited to counsel school students. The campus was clean and decorated. The academic achiever was chosen to give away a painting to the chief guest, the health minister. The boy asked his father, a poor rickshaw-puller, to buy him a new suit.
As the boy was riding his bicycle to the school, a car carrying an important leader knocked him down. Blood came out of his nose. The car driver did not care to stop and move the child to hospital. The boy's new clothes were stained with blood. The headmaster did get the news of his accident but got busy preparing another student for the handover ceremony.
Even the village doctor did not respond to the emergency call to reach the dispensary to help save the injured boy. He cared more for being at the function to please the minister.
When it was my turn to lecture, I gave vent to my anger, criticising bluntly the people who shirked work and ran after false prestige. I could see the sweat on the headmaster's brow on a cool day, and I could read from his face and his fumbling speech that he cursed the day he had invited me. That would be, perhaps, the last time he would invite a child counsellor to speak on Children's Day.
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