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A mark of pencil, unerased

A mark of pencil, unerased

The pencil was cut into two, and the memory of the bond was sealed for life

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Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 00:20 IST
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 00:20 IST
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During my annual visit to my hometown from another corner of the country, I was driving along the road between the high school and primary school where I had studied.

The elementary school building appeared largely unchanged, save for some rooms that had been added. The building needed a fresh coat of paint. I could not see much of the high school, obscured as it was from view by a high compound wall along the roadside.

My grandson asked me to tell him about an incident I often remembered while studying in primary school.

It was not a difficult request. As there were no other schools nearby, all children attended the same primary school.

My closest friend was Gopalan. When the incident in question took place, he was my bench-mate. His parents were farm labourers. They lived in a hut built on the periphery of a paddy field, about five miles away. Gopalan would walk to school every morning with other children.

Though he was not very bright in his studies, he sang remarkably well. He used to enthral everyone with his songs during public functions.

I often wondered why he did not pursue a career as a playback singer in the movies or dramas that were popular in those days. The answer was clear: he was poor, and his impoverished background afforded him no support.

One Malayalam teacher had a routine of giving us a test of dictation after finishing a lesson. He would instruct the students to tear a sheet from their notebooks and write down the words with a pencil.

He would then collect all the papers at the end of the dictation and declare the marks during his next class. He was very strict, and students dreaded the strikes of his slender cane on their palms for any spelling mistakes committed.

Just before his class, I was shocked to discover that I had forgotten my pencil. With tears welling in my eyes, I confided in Gopalan. Without any hesitation, he immediately took out his new pencil, perhaps his first ever, and began to cut it in half with an old blade. He broke his pencil into two, sharpened one, and handed it to me just as the teacher entered the class.

I left my native place after leaving high school, but I could never forget the piece of pencil he gave me. It was perhaps the best and most meaningful gift I have received in my life. Though I met him once or twice during my annual visits, I never saw him again afterward; he had left for some unknown place without leaving a forwarding address.

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