I had reached the culvert near the station road when I spotted him. Twenty-eight years had passed but I recognised him instantly. He was still the same puny fellow with a mischievous look. His hair had turned salt-and-pepper and he had developed a prominent paunch.
He stood near a stall, meticulously arranging the pirated CDs and giving instructions to a small boy, who appeared to be his assistant. “Puram Singh,” I said aloud. He looked me over intently but was unable to place me. I introduced myself and a smile spread across his chubby face.
Pleasantries were exchanged. He sent the kid to get us some tea from the nearby stall. He inquired about our school, my family, career and mentioned that he had married soon after leaving school.
In the course of conversation, I learnt that the little boy working with him was his son. As I sipped the tea, I was transported to a certain Saturday evening in April, 1984, when our exam was to end in less than 20 minutes. Puram Singh, who came from Nepal, was a weak student, who with great difficulty had managed to reach the ninth grade after repeated failures. His father had been working as the school watchman for more than two decades.
Caught in a jiffy
As we were scribbling the answers, the supervisor’s voice suddenly boomed in the classroom “Get up,” he shouted. All eyes turned to find him reprimanding Puram Singh. “You scoundrel, how dare you do this?” the teacher admonished. Soon we learnt that Puram Singh had been caught cheating. He pleaded.. apologised.. cried copiously but the supervisor was unmoved.
He was rusticated from school. As I returned home that evening, I was thrilled that the exams were over. But I also felt sad about Puram Singh.
His schooling came to an abrupt end. Standing near the stall I reminded him about the unfortunate incident. He had no regrets. “I was hardly interested in studies,” was his blunt reply. He then added with a flourish, “I took up a mechanic’s job and since then I have been earning well.”
I was stunned at his nonchalance. There was no remorse or repentance. The thought of losing out on education had not touched him even remotely. As I wished him good luck and turned to leave, he remarked, pointing at the pirated CDs, “If you need VCDs or DVDs of Hindi movies, do come to my stall.” Twenty- eight years had passed but the rogue was still alive and kicking.