An unforeseen meeting with reality

Image credit: Pexels/Meruyert Gonullu

Weekends are fun, especially if it comes on the back of a tiring week. I had one that year. It was Sunday. I, then 18, was resting on my couch and perhaps reading a sports magazine. Sports magazines are fun to read. You get to know about many things ignored in a daily news report. I was having a good time. On Saturday, I had not done anything, and doing the same was the plan for Sunday. Then came a shout from my uncle. He was asking me to come downstairs.

For some context, you need to know about my uncle first. Evading the emerging trend of normality in India, we live in a joint family. It is a venture one must live through to understand the value of a household. We are so close. Yet, togetherness, the differences in opinions, and the brouhaha of a joint family are what makes the complete prospect so much exciting.

My uncle is the first of the two sons of my grandfather. He, currently past 55 years of age, is a government employee. During his adolescence, he was an athlete. A separate self in his room comprises all the honours, trophies, and medals that he won during his school days and afterwards. Due to overlooking exercise after becoming a breadwinner, his tummy has gotten more oversized. And he is no more the athlete he was back in those old days.

He could be humorous, serious, and insanely irritating sometimes. He does talk a lot, but he is brave. It is not as if he tells us that he is brave, but I have heard a story from my grandmother that defies otherwise.

The story belongs to the time when my uncle was unmarried. In our locality, we are one of the first houses built. There were two or maybe three houses in our locality, with acres and acres of barren land engulfing the surrounding. Fewer houses in a locality mean better chances of getting exposed to wrongdoers. Robbers would target a house, knowing that there would not be many hands stopping them and helping those getting robbed. One night, a gang of robbers attacked our house. My father was out of town, and my grandfather was not home either. Robbers took their chances against my uncle and my grandmother. But they didn’t know what they were getting at. As told by my grandmother, my uncle single-handedly halted the three-man gang from breaking into our house, although it did come at a cost. While fleeing, one of the robbers knifed through my uncle’s left wrist. Despite such trivialities, he managed to shoo away the robbers. Later, his wrist had to comply with a couple of stitches. As a result, he still cannot wear a watch on his left wrist.

Around my locality, my uncle is a respected personality. Thus, for me, ignoring his call is akin to breaking a law. That Sunday, he called me by my name, saying that the old postman of our locality had come to meet me. Meeting with a postman, who did not even have a letter with my name written on it, was the last thing I had expected to do while waking up that morning.

You don’t see a postman coming to you just for a chat on a normal day. A blend of curiosity and annoyance soon clouded my mind. Having failed to refuse my uncle’s calling, I reached the door and joined my uncle, who had already started a conversation with the postman.

“What is it, uncle?” I asked politely. My uncle replied, “this old man has come to get you. He wants you to participate in a competition set for fresh eligible voters of the ward.” For a few seconds, I preferred to remain silent. I was trying to understand his words and get the bits together. “What competition? I don’t understand,” I needed some more clarity.

The postman began talking, “There is a small competition taking place in the B.D.O. office today. Voters, who have just become eligible to vote, are called to participate in the competition. Since you are one of them, you are also advised to participate in the contest.”

“What is this competition like?” I questioned. The old man said, “I don’t know, I am not the organiser, I am just a convener.”

Yes, it was true that I had just got my voter card but did not have a tiny clue about this competition. No one in my family, not even my uncle, had told me anything. I don’t believe even they had any idea of the event.

“You should go,” my uncle insisted. I opposed immediately, saying, “No, how could I survive in the contest without any prior practice?” My uncle said, “participating holds greater value than showing that you know everything.” I did understand what he was trying to say, but my intention to remain inside on Sunday had greater force against my uncle’s words. And I am sure I would’ve ended up staying at home had not my mother interfered and propelled me to join others in the competition. Finally, I took the road, having failed to think of an excuse to deny the invitation.

Ill-prepared, I started walking towards an unprecedented future. The distance between our house and the auditorium, where the competition was being held, is around 20 metres. Hence, I didn’t need a bicycle. Beside me, the old postman was strolling in silence. He had a bicycle, but he chose not to ride it, leading me to believe that I was the last person the old man had tried to lure that day. “You won’t regret it,” the old man said with much kindness in his voice. I understood he was happy with me keeping his request. But, on the other hand, I thought, “you have just spoiled my weekend.” After a few minutes of walk, we reached our destination.

It was a two-storey building. I was asked to follow him. And we climbed the stairs and reached the first floor. While on the stairs, I heard clamours coming from a particular room. And I knew that’s my ultimate purgatory. Following the postman, I entered the room. A set of eyes started staring at me as if they had not seen a boy in their life before.

It was a huge room, with a huge rectangle-shaped meeting table placed right in the middle. Around 20 to 25 people were sitting on the chair fixed alongside the table. Though, there were some empty seats. I took an unacquainted one and led my backside to fall on it as quickly as it could. After that, I had a good look at each participant and the judges of the competitions. The participants, as told by the postman, were newly eligible voters, who had just got their voter’s identity card. I heaved a sigh of relief, believing that I was at least competing with my equals.

I was nervous, but the sense of being nervous has its own taste. I had gotten to savour it all by the time I was allowed to know about the competition. When I was pondering upon what would happen next, I saw a man, around 30, occupying a chair beside me. The seat was empty to that very point. The man, being very interested in me, ended up saying,

“You must have prepared hard for this competition, ain’t you?” I answered, “No, uncle, I have been summoned by the postman sitting over there. I had no prior knowledge of this contest.” The postman was sitting on a chair right on my opposite side.

Listening to my answer with adequate attention, the man replied,

“You didn’t know of the competition. So, why have you come? You don’t stand a chance among these people who were informed of this competition one week ago.” Without letting my face replicate the extent of my irritation at that moment, I thought, “Damn, one week is a good enough time to prepare.” Looking at the postman, who was giving me a moderate grin in return, I felt, “Oh, old man, why have you done this?”

One of the judges, the Block Development Officer of our locality, finally opened his mouth and started telling us what we were supposed to hear. He opened his speech with an introduction, conveying that the competition was a part of an awareness for the new voters, who had just turned 18. He then notified us to write a four-liner (a quatrain) in relation to voters and voting, and that was our task. And the language had to be Bengali. The participants were given five minutes to write four lines, and the best four lines would be given a memento.

I was given a piece of paper and a pen. The paper was as blank as my mind. I didn’t know anything about voters, the voting, the candidates, the constituencies and all. I was yet to learn the terminologies. I was unsure how I could survive.

Gaining all the strength left in me, I put pen to the paper. I scribed my name on it. But I could not stretch it any further. I considered thinking about what I should write for a minute. A minute of intense retrospection cleared the despondency to a significant extent.

I wrote the first line, then the second, then the third, and finally, the last one. It was clear to me that I had to use some fancy Bengali words to overshadow others’ work. And so I did. When the clock hit the four-minute mark, I submitted my piece to the man collecting the quatrains, with one minute left into the competition.

My state of being nervous reached another level when the eleventh hour approached.

The judging panel, consisting of five men, had the pages. They mulled on the matter for some time and shortlisted the last five. The man sitting beside me told me that my paper had made the cut. However, I couldn’t see anything. It was as if everything around me was spinning so fast.

“Just reveal the results so that I could leave,” I was praying. Then came the list of the top three. The man, who had previously told that I had no chance against others, opined, “You are winning it, it seems.”

To be honest, I cannot put it to words how close I was to passing out that day. When they read my name and then I stood up, I could not believe that I had won it. The old postman, looking at me, was clapping, as was the whole room to celebrate my victory. Oh, that was a special moment. Then I slowly got to the centre stage, where the B.D.O and other judges were waiting for me. I got the memento, and a few pictures were clicked, holding me and other judges of the panel. I was as if I was living a dream.

I don’t remember what I wrote on that piece of paper, nor was I interested in framing myself in a selfie. At that moment, I was so fussed about winning that accolade. Unlike the time when entering the office, I was not alone when I was about to exit premises, with people from all age groups congratulating me on winning the competition. From an escapee of boredom to the star of the moment, I was happy to have taken the decision to participate. The experience led me to believe that you have to read the signs of Nature and then play according to those. Only two things will happen: either you fail, or you win. You will either learn from failures or salvage memories from the triumph.

In the crowd was that Old postman. His last words still rattle my ears, “I did tell you won’t regret it.”



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Jyotirmoy Halder

Jyotirmoy Halder

Hey, this is Jyotirmoy Halder, hoping to distract your thoughts and test your patience every Sunday here on “The Sunday Hazard”.