When I was in the 5th grade, life seemed a lot more complicated. I had to complete my homework, and the ones my tuition teacher bestowed on me. Once that was over, I had to study for my weekly exam. That’s not all, I also had to maintain my reputation of being the hero of my locality.
My school was supported by a missionary, where we were always taught about equality, of course in English. And every time we spoke in Hindi, we got penalised. Caste and status were words that never existed in our minds. We wore a common uniform and all our dads worked in TELCO (now TATA Motors). Everything was so beautiful.
Then one fine day, they arrived.
The people from HelpAge India (An NGO that claims to take care of elderly people by sucking the sweat and blood of yet-to-be teenagers).
Task – Every student of our class had to collect money for them. Basically we had to go around begging, only for a more noble cause (similar to most chanda-waalas). We were given a form, on which we were supposed to write names of the people who contribute and the amount.
The student who collected the maximum amount would get a grand prize.
Deadline – A weekend
As soon as the sun rose on Saturday, my friends and I set out to achieve our targets.
My gang: Bittu (the tallest guy in our class, an ardent cricket lover and a fantastic player himself), Pappu (brilliant athlete, a role model for all lechers), Franky (a wannabe Stephen Halking. Currently he’s known as Hertz). Pony (she got that name because of her weird pony tail. She also happened to be the cutest girl in our class) and me (a wannabe……… back then I just couldn’t decide)
We decided that we will start with my apartment. Our fingers were crossed as we rang the doorbell of our first victim. Mr. Pandey. He opened the door and said “What are you kids doing so early on a Saturday morning? Aaj chutti hai na? Jao so jao”. Pony made the cutest face possible and said “Uncle we need money for HelpAge India”. Mr. Pandey took her form and said “Yeh school waale bhi na, bachho se majduri karwate hai “. He looked at all our faces and said “You know what, I can give you something better than money. Chocolates!!!.”
Dhishuum. No, he didn’t punch us, but that was the name of the chocolate he gave us. Back then you could buy three for a rupee. And then with a smiling face he shut the door.
Well, it didn’t really start as we had expected. But we didn’t lose hope. The next victim was Mr Mukherjee. He somehow felt sorry for us and gave us ten rupees, each. We tasted success in the next few encounters and by the time we were done with my apartment we had collected hundred rupees each.
It meant a lot. We did a group high-five and moved to the apartments across the road.
Little did we know, that our next prey would change our perspectives forever. Mrs. Prasad. A short fat woman in her mid fifties with a voice that can scare away ghosts. As soon as we told her about our mission she screamed, “idhar J-type mein kyun aaye ho, woh P-type waalo se kyun nahin lete”.
We were dumbfounded. We were clueless. Why would she say that?
That’s when we discovered that there were 4 kinds of apartments (P, M, N and J) in TELCO Colony and it’s given to the employees as per their designations in the company. P-type being the highest in the order and J type being the lowest.
I stayed in a P-type and for the first time, a feeling of superiority crept in. Bittu and Pony also stayed in a P-type, Franky in a M-type (2nd in rank) and Pappu in a J type.
We looked at Pappu with a look suggesting that he stayed in a pathetic neighbourhood. I told my gang to ignore J-type completely. Everyone agreed, except Pappu. He didn’t want to disown his neighbourhood. A small tussle followed and then we parted ways.
We decided that we’ll collect minimum fifty rupees from everyone in a P-type, thirty from the residents of M-type and ten rupees from the people staying in N-type.
The plan was fruitful. By the end of the day we had collected a lot of money. Most families co-operated. Of course there were a few who mistook us to be ‘chanda waalas’. And then there were those, who simply offered their blessings.
Pony called that night, “You know how much Pappu has collected? Twenty five hundred already”. I was startled. How was that possible? How could those poverty stricken souls of J-type contribute more than the affluent residents of P type. Then, I realised something, TELCO colony was a mini representation of our country. More poor people than rich. There were more J-types than the number of P-types.
Next morning we got together and discussed Pappu’s success. We were jealous and angry. More importantly we weren’t ready to accept defeat from a J-type lout. Just then we saw Pappu walking towards a P-type. We stopped him.
What followed next was something we had never thought of before. We uttered words we didn’t know existed. We made it clear that he cannot enter our compound because he does not belong here. He isn’t one of us.
Tears rolled down his eyes. We had never seen him like that. The fastest runner in our class used all his skills to run away from us. We looked at each other with a sense of pride. It was victory for us. We had chased away our rival. But, even in that auspicious moment a feeling of guilt clouded our minds.
We had just one more day to finish the task. And we were not going to leave any leaf unturned. We took out our bicycles and journeyed out to accomplish the mission. The scorching sun and the fearsome traffic could not dampen our spirits. We decided that we should try going separate ways. That way we could visit more people.
I started with the families I knew. My dad held quite a significant position in the company and also he was a popular doctor. I knew no one would turn me down. In fact, they were all very polite to me. They didn’t just give me the money but also gave me a glass of Rasna. A few of them were kind enough to take me around and make sure that their neighbours also helped me with the money.
We regrouped in my house at 4 PM. It was time for our favourite programme The Swat Cats. Also, we could now calculate the amount. Pony was leading. Women, they always get the edge. She had hundred rupees more than me. Damn!!! But I was glad that at least the winner will be from amongst us.
We kept wondering what our reputation will be like from now on. Everyone will respect us. Teachers won’t give us homework. And even if they give, our seniors will do it. Because they all will know that we are the richest in the school. Our dads are the richest.
Bittu spoke to a few other classmates and we figured that we had collected a lot more than anyone else. Phew!!! We all breathed a sigh of relief. But we all were scared of Pappu. He could beat us. There were a lot more J-types. That’s when Franky came up with an awesome plan.
We stormed out of our apartments and went straight to Pappu’s house. There we learnt that he was out collecting money. We cycled around the entire area but couldn’t find him. Depressed and dejected we returned to our usual hangout place –Tanki (a huge water tank).
There we saw Pappu sitting in one corner. We walked up to him. The moment he saw us he came and hugged us. He said that he wanted to be friends again.
It was time to execute Franky’s plan. He looked at Pappu and told him that only under one condition will we befriend him. He’ll have to back out from this contest. Pappu felt cheated. He said he can’t do it because he had already collected money. Franky said that we all can contribute his money.
After a long discussion and a lot of brain-washing with a hint of cuteness (thanks to Pony), Pappu got convinced. He said that he’ll give the money if we promise to donate it. We assured that we will do it. After all, we wanted to win the contest. There was reluctance in his heart but alacrity on his face. Pappu agreed.
Next morning as I entered school Franky pulled me aside. Bittu and Pony were also there. Franky said that we won’t donate Pappu’s money; instead we all can share it and party with it. “It’s a lot of money and we could go to Sector Market and have Chicken Chowmin and drink as many bottles of cold drinks as we want. More importantly we were going to win anyways because our contribution would be the maximum”, he said. I agreed since everyone else had agreed.
Finally after the end of the day our class-teacher came with a member of Helpage India. “Class, this is Mr. Ojha and he will announce the name of the student who contributed the most”. Mr Ojha, a feeble looking man, started with his boring speech of how much this money meant to his organisation and how he touched he was to see such an overwhelming response and …blah…blaaah…blaaah. We just couldn’t wait. Why the fuck does he have to get into all these formalities. Just announce the name of the winner and fuck off. Your organisation meant nothing to us. All we cared about was the grand prize.
And at last after a long monotonous speech he announced “The student who contributed the most is……. Yash Roy.”
What!!!!! Who the fuck is Yash? Ohh yes, I remembered him the moment that douche bag stood up. Did he even exist? He was a loser. How the hell did he get so much money? Where the hell does he stay? What does his dad do? These were the questions running in my mind. I’m sure the rest of my gang also felt the same. Pony was shattered. She thought she would win it.
All of a sudden Yash had become a renowned figure. We got to know that his dad was a rich businessman and it was him who made the whole contribution because Yash never went around collecting money.
A few days later a list was put up, which stated the amount each one had contributed. We were shocked. Pony was second. I was third. Bittu and Franky followed. Yash’s contribution was just three hundred rupees more than Pony’s.
It also implied that if we had used Pappu’s contribution we could have won the contest by a huge margin. If only. But alas!! We gave Franky an angry stare and then started walking towards our class.
Pappu came running to us and said, “Hey guys I am sorry that even my contribution couldn’t help you win”. I felt ashamed of what we did. My eyes couldn’t meet his. In that moment of shame and guilt all I could say was “Hey Pappu, you are a true friend, you were of great help. Come I will give you a treat in Sector Market. Let’s go and eat some Chicken chowmin.” And together we all went to Sector Market.