Rich Boy, Poor Boy
We love reading children’s literature. Children tend to live in the moment and happily give in to their base desires- whether good or bad. If they are having fun, they don’t necessarily worry about whether or not they like the person they are with. We can all learn a few lessons from them. This story of a ‘poor little rich boy’ by children’s author Poonam Kirpal, is just the kind of story we love. The tale of a young poor boy ‘befriending’ a rich boy gave us a chuckle while making us wonder if we too are guilty of judging someone before understanding their situation.
There was a magnificent house in the neighbourhood. It was huge with a large garden. There were many fruit trees and the best flowers in town could be seen here—just like the famous Mughal gardens where we went every year to see the beautifully manicured gardens in the President’s estate. It was always crowded as people would throng to visit them. In this garden, however, entry was highly restricted. Only a handful of privileged people had access to this beautiful mansion. The owners were real snobs, it seemed. Though I never heard anyone say a kind word about them, it was an honour to be invited by them—or if they condescended to descend upon your humble abode. To be seen with them was definitely a step up the social ladder.
One evening, to my great surprise, they decided to bestow this great honour upon us. As soon as the sleek Esteem VX stopped outside our house a flurry of activity started inside. Instinctively, Mama’s hand reached her hair to smother some stray strands which may have escaped the tight knot behind. Papa rushed in to change from his pyjamas into a pair of trousers. I saw Mama wiping an almost invisible layer of dust from the already glistening table top. By the time the bell rang, everyone looked composed, though a trifle breathless. The purpose of this visit eluded me.
I was, as usual, in my favourite place, behind the curtain, to see the drama unfold in front of me. The distinguished looking couple walked in with a kid about my age. Aunty Puri (the lady’s name as I learnt later) was wearing an expensive sari. I could tell because when mama dressed like that I was asked to keep my hands off her precious garments. She adorned glittering stones in her earlobes and fingers. Her husband looked stiff in a three-piece suit and a striped tie. But it was the kid who impressed me the most. In his Levis jeans and swanky Nike shoes, he sure looked dapper.
After the initial greetings, all were seated quietly. Pepsi was being served instead of lemonade. Chocolate bourbon biscuits appeared from somewhere. Mama is a sly one to hide these goodies where I can never lay my hands on them. The uneasy silence was broken when, to my utter surprise, Aunty Puri asked for me. I mentally ran over the events of the past few days to see if I had crossed them in any way or done something awful to these grand people. But nothing came to mind. I was immediately summoned. The purpose of the visit was to introduce their son Akshay to “suitable friends” in the neighbourhood. Some boys had already been rejected on grounds of uncivilised and coarse behaviour. My parents looked at me with great pride when she added that they had observed me and felt that I would be the ideal buddy for their son.
In the meantime, Akshay, the personification of bad etiquette, was exploring his surroundings as if he was on a hunt. He fingered the curios, rudely demanded a cold drink and asked cheeky questions. All his mom said was, “Yes darling, no darling, careful darling.” I looked at Mama for her reaction. Surely she’d tick him off as she would me. But no, she was gazing at this arrogant creature with indulgence. As if he was God’s ultimate gift to Earth. This was so unfair. How grownups bend and contradict their own rules is something I am still trying to figure out.
Papa asked me to take him to my room. “Let’s play with your video games,” Akshay announced. When I told him I didn’t possess any, he looked at me with almost pity in his eyes. I took out my collection of dinky cars, flutes, whistles, trumpets and blocks. He took a great fancy to one of the trumpets. It was quite ordinary and I didn’t much care for it. It even made a lot of noise, which always got me into trouble. I was only permitted to play it outdoors. But Akshay began trumpeting like an elephant all over the house. I was sure Mama would come down screaming any minute, or Grandma would shout asking us to stop the racket. But to my amazement, nothing of the sort happened. It seemed everyone had turned deaf in the house.
Soon, it was time for goodbyes. Akshay was still holding my trumpet while walking out. I presumed he had forgotten that it belonged to me, and I politely reminded him. He pretended he did not hear. Mama noticed but hurriedly looked away. This was amazing. All this time I was tolerating his insolence but now I had lost my cool. I sternly told him to leave behind my trumpet. To my surprise, he pounced on me. I was taken aback but regained enough control to hit him back in self-defence. The next instant, both of us were rolling on the ground holding each other by the collars. Akshay started wailing in agony. All eyes turned towards us. Mama was shaking with rage. Both our fathers struggled to separate us.
I wanted to clear my position. I was not at fault. The whole thing was a mistake. Akshay was still holding my trumpet—which I was not particularly fond of—but still, it was mine. He began stamping his foot and wailing. It was now a prestige point to see who would win the trumpet. The odds were all in my favour. Just then, I heard Mama say, “Let Akshay keep the trumpet.” Had she lost it? She added, “I am ashamed at Nikhil’s atrocious behaviour.” My ears were playing tricks on me. Aunty Puri said something to the effect that children are very unpredictable, even the most well-behaved ones have their moments. She further added that she was not offended. From a hero in the making, I had been reduced to a villain. I assured myself that I would get him someday.
The very next day, an immaculately dressed chauffer, driving a swanky car, brought back the trumpet and a box of chocolates to settle the matter.
Adult logic, however, still remains an enigma.
School, as usual, was boring and unexciting, even more so because my friend Manish was absent for the last two days. From the little I knew about Manish’s mother, she was like most moms I knew—according to whom, missing school was almost blasphemous. For that reason, Manish’s absence was a serious matter.
After school, I ran to his house to find out what had happened. An uneasy silence met me. All the furniture from the sitting room was lying outside the house. Were they moving house? Too bad I was going to miss my friend. I reached inside. A strange sight met me. A lot of people were sitting around Manish’s grandfather who for some odd reason seemed to be sleeping on the floor. Manish was nowhere to be seen. Just then, he emerged from one of the rooms. He looked quite awkward. He told me that his grandfather had passed on the previous night. On clarifying, I gathered that he had moved on to heaven never to return.
Manish explained that when a person dies, he moves from Earth to another world. If you have been a good person, you get an entry into heaven. Otherwise, you are destined to go to hell. Since his grandfather was a near-saint, he definitely went to heaven, which it seems was a good place to be in once you die.
Since Manish’s Grandpa was 77 years of age, we concluded that 77 was the age at which people died and moved on. Thank God, we had many years to go. Just then an uncle of Manish called us. Manish had never met him before. He casually asked him his age. When he said he was 71 years old, our mind started working. Okay…72, 73, 74, 75, 76 and then finally 77. He had just six more years on earth. Before I could enlighten him about his future, he moved into another room. Out of sheer curiosity, we started asking whoever we could their age and calculated their precious time left on earth. One case perplexed us, as an old aunt said she was 79. How could this be possible? We settled the issue by concluding there was a separate age to go to hell and in most likelihood, she was going to hell.
Just then, we caught Manish’s mom’s eyes. She had somehow got wind of what we were doing. She started gesticulating wildly at us and took the trouble to clarify some of our doubts. Age was no criteria for death. His mother tried to shed light on my dilemma by saying that the body dies but the soul moves on. The mention of the word ‘soul’ aroused uncomfortable feelings in me. In my opinion, the soul was somewhat connected to the ghost stories I had heard. Would Manish’s grandfather’s soul come to bother him and me for the number of times we had been naughty? His mother set our fears to rest by saying that his grandfather had loved children, and had led a very good and fulfilling life. He would never want to come back and disturb any of us. The soul is at unrest only if some desire is left unfulfilled. After that, she went away to attend to guests leaving us.
Suddenly, I was perturbed by my burning desire to take revenge on Akshay. If I did not accomplish it in this lifetime, my soul would wander about. I shared my fear with Manish. We put our minds together and waited for the right chance to get out of this sticky spot. The opportunity came sooner than expected. I got an invitation to spend a day at Akshay’s house. I asked if I could bring along a friend. Permission was granted and I asked Manish to accompany me. Wearing our Sunday best, both of us marched into the so far forbidden territory—the wonderland we had been waiting to invade. Akshay’s parents were spending the day at their farm with friends. We were without parental supervision, and the presence of a couple of servants was the least of our worries.
We had not conceived any plan for my revenge yet. We were ushered into a room that looked like a fairyland. Every imaginable toy that we could think of was there. We pounced on the vast selection of toys and for a couple of hours forgot all about our mission.
After that, we were served the best meal ever. There were burgers with potato chips, hot chocolate, and even a piece of lemon cake. We were in the best spirits and the wonderful food had filled us up with renewed energy.
Wild ideas started floating in our heads. We decided to fill the bathtub with water and bubbles. Next, we floated sailboats and other toys. The tub started to overflow. There was no stopping us. Having the time of our lives, we became pirates shooting at each other, swimming in the tub and sliding on soap bars. Akshay was also having a whale of a time.
The meticulously arranged room looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Toys were scattered all around. The water reached the bedroom. The beds looked lopsided after our jumping on them like we would on a trampoline.
Now, we needed some fresh air and charged out of the room into the well-tended garden. After a boisterous game of football, we decided to climb trees. Akshay had never climbed one. With great difficulty, we managed to put him on one. He was so pleased- as if he had conquered Mount Everest. We plucked raw jamuns and shot the pips at each other.
We were really enjoying ourselves. Just then, a car drove up the driveway. We froze. The sight that met his parents’ eyes’ completely baffled them. The three of us looked like monkeys perched on a tree with yellow and purple smears all over us. The garden looked a complete disaster—littered as it was with candy wrappers, leaves and pips.
Mrs. Puri’s shriek of horror unfroze us from our stupor. We scampered down hastily while poor Akshay was left on the tree as he did not know how to come down. His mom unleashed her temper on him, without even glancing at us.
She told Akshay to come down, which he was unable to do. She told him that she could never have expected this kind of deplorable behaviour from him. Akshay was crestfallen. We were a bit sorry for him. It was probably the first time he had been publicly rebuked like this.
I had got my revenge, though totally unintentionally. And most ironically, I must admit, that that day with Akshay had been one of our most fun days ever. We also realised that Akshay was a good kid to hang out with as long as he was not trapped in his golden cage. It would be nice to befriend him, though the possibility of it seemed very remote after the day’s occurrences.