The new boy was to sit right at the back next to Sudhir, who was quite excited. Being the tallest had its advantages –you always got to be a back-bencher! The first thing Sudhir planned to teach the new boy, was their class code. A crazy set of symbols that the boys had invented to write notes to each other during boring periods. It was very simple but looked clever and mysterious!
The following Monday, Sudhir barged into class to find his bench-mate already seated in his chair. He seemed a friendly sort and his name was Amar. It took Sudhir just a couple of minutes to discover with shock that his bench-mate was visually impaired, almost blind. The moment he realized this, Sudhir was tongue-tied. What could he say to a boy who couldn’t see? Amar seemed to sense it. “ Hey,” he said lightly. “ I hope you’re not going to be scared of me just because I’m blind!!” Not scared, but Sudhir definitely felt uncomfortable and tactlessly mumbled. “Ohhh, I was looking forward to passing secret notes to someone….” The moment he uttered the words, Sudhir wanted to kick himself – he must have made the new boy feel lousy. But Amar perked up. “ Oh, I love secret notes…if you learnt Braille, we could exchange notes and most teachers are never able to figure it out!”
That lunch break Amar explained the system of raised dots, that the visually impaired used to read, showing Sudhir how to punch the holes with a sharp pencil so that they could be felt by the finger on the opposite face of the paper. When the bell rang, Sudhir realized that he’d missed his Sports Day practise. But Braille seemed much smarter that their own silly class code. Within the week, Amar and Sudhir had progressed from 2-word-notes, to entire sentences. Once Amar laughed out so loud at a joke in Sudhir’s message, he was sent out of class –led out, actually. Naturally the class wanted to share the joke. That’s how Sudhir landed up teaching Braille to Vinod. Who taught it to Sameer. While Amar had a long queue at his desk…Ajay, Abhay, Venky, Srini….
As Sports Day approached, the boys could spend less time with Amar during lunch break. But Sudhir felt uncomfortable about leaving his blind friend alone. He’d noticed when Amar was alone, the older boys sometimes ragged him. He convinced Amar to join them at the playground during practise. Reluctantly Amar agreed. For a couple of days he sat at the edge of the field immersed in his books. On the fourth afternoon he took Sudhir aside and burst out, “Listening to all of you pounding away on the tracks and yelling at each other to go faster, I too want to give it a try….pleeeeease let me”
Sudhir understood just how his friend felt. He himself could never sit still on a games field. Imagine being trapped to one spot because of your eyes. Worried Amar could hurt himself while running,, the class went off to one corner of the field. They planned it carefully. One of the boys would station himself at a 100metre distance from Amar and keep calling his name, to guide Amar on which direction to run in. Since the boys had been practicing their runs, Abhay had the games’ master’s stop watch with him and just for a lark, decided to time Amar’s run. All of them expected their blind friend to set off at a steady jog, at best. In case of a fall, Venky and Srini had positioned themselves at midway points on the 100 metre stretch. Amar shocked them all by taking off like a bullet and he ran like the wind ! When he shot passed the finishing line, Abhay’s stop watch read 12 ½ seconds!!! After a moment of stunned silence the class broke into cheers! They all crowded around their new friend, congratulating him!
That night, Sudhir couldn’t sleep. He was lost in a tumble of emotions. One moment he worried that his new friend could possibly race him. But the next moment, Sudhir desperately wanted Amar to actually participate on Sports Day! It was a tough night. But by morning, Sudhir was determined that Amar’s talent ought to be visible to the whole school. The next day, the boys began planning on how to get Amar to compete on Sports Day. Abhay suggested that to avoid the problem of getting into some one else’s track, he should run in front of the whole school alone, and compare his timing with the rest of his class. But Amar so desperately wanted to run WITH the class.
By Sports Day, the boys had convinced the Games master to assign the inner track to Amar. A senior boy would run along with him on the grass so his pounding footsteps would guide Amar to stick to his track. On track No.3 was Sudhir. Tense at the thought that Amar would out-run him! AND nervous that his friend might have a fall…At the gunshot, the boys took of like lightning, Sudhir in the lead. But at the 50 metre mark, Amar starting gaining on him. The few inches that separated the friends got narrower and narrower, till at the finishing line, they broke the tape together!!