Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fallen Leaf

"Adi, can't you stay away from your laptop on Sundays at least?", asked Vrinda irritatedly.
Aditya sighed. This was a conversation which was very common. He said "You know it is difficult in my position". Aditya was a senior Vice President at Enigma Financials.
"You have not even had your coffee", exclaimed Vrinda.
"Ok, ok..." said Aditya, proceeding to gulp his coffee. Vrinda sat opposite to him, reading the newspaper.
She frowned and spoke "Two more student suicides yesterday. How can youngsters bring themselves to take their own lives? It is so depressing".
Aditya glanced up and spoke "Well, the pressures these days is so high on kids. Lots to study. Tough competition for college seats, jobs......".
"Yes, I know. But parents should counsel their kids that they can only try their best. Here I do appreciate your constant advise to Hari to take it easy".
Hari was their 15 year old son, now in X standard.
"Yes", said Aditya looking up thoughtfully "Sometimes the pressures get to the kids. That is why I keep telling Hari to relax. It is a delicate balance which is tough to strike – I want him to study hard and try his best but at the same time keep his cool even when things dont always work out".
"Well", said Vrinda smiling, "Since he is so like you – very level headed, there is little to worry".
Aditya seemed lost in thought. Vrinda spoke up "There you go again. Thinking of your office work again I suppose. I was talking to you!".
Aditya looked up and said "I am sorry. What did you say?"
"Never mind!" said Vrinda. "By the way you were saying we could all go to a movie today. We will need to decide quickly. Better to book before going over"
"Well, I just remembered we may have to go someplace else" said Aditya suddenly.
"Oh, where?" asked Vrinda.
"Will let you know. Have to check on something first" said Aditya getting up.

Aditya ran through his phonebook, his thoughts far away......
He ran through the names of his former school mates, and made a series of calls.
After some time, Aditya spoke up, "Vrinda, the principal of the school I studied in - Dr Govindan is not well. I have not seen him since long. Are you game to come along with me to meet him?"
"Is he very ill?" asked Vrinda. "Where does he stay?"
"Well, he stays in Matunga. Have’nt met him in a long time. And since he is not well, would like to meet him” said Aditya.
“Sure let us go” said Vrinda. She spoke to their son Hari to stay at home and not open the door to strangers.

They reached Dr Govindan’s house in about an hour. His wife Nirmala received them at the door. She led them inside the house. There she introduced her son Prakash to them.
“Where do you work?” asked Aditya.
“I am a college professor” answered Prakash.
“Oh, that is nice” said Vrinda “What do you teach ?”
“Physics” he said. “Please excuse me for some time. I need to go out for a while but will be back before you leave hopefully”

After Prakash went out, Nirmala looked at them and said “My husband is in the bedroom. Before you meet him, I need to tell you something.” She paused and bit her lip. “He is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Over time his memory has weakened considerably. I am not very sure if he will recognize you. I am telling you so that you don’t feel bad. At odd times though he can recall events suddenly. But generally he is not able to recognize most people who meet him after some time”.

There was a short period of silence as everybody tried to compose themselves.
Aditya then spoke slowly “I did my entire schooling till Std X at RRT High School. Dr Govindan was the principal for most of this period”.
“Well we know” said Nirmala. “There was an article in the Financial Express 4 years back which had a mention of your name and there was a quote attributed to you. My husband pointed to the article and said proudly Aditya was my student! His condition started deteriorating shortly after that though”.
Aditya said slowy “I owe him a lot”

Nirmala got up and said “Let us go and meet him. Hopefully he will recognize you”.
They all went into the bedroom. Dr Govindan was sitting up on the bed, watching TV. Nirmala sat next to him and said “Mr Aditya, one of your students has come to meet you”.
Dr Govindan looked up and stared blankly at Aditya. “Hello” he said after a pause.
Aditya looked dejected. Dr Govindan had obviously not recognized him. Vrinda squeezed and held his hand for support.
Aditya looked at Dr Govindan and said “I did my entire schooling at RRT high school”. He reached for his bag and took out a class photo and showed it to Dr Govindan. “See, this is a class photo of Std X – my last year in the school. And there I am at the back”.
Dr Govindan stared at the photo and slowly scratched his head. He said shortly “Ok”.
Aditya spoke in a hesitant tone “We also spoke after the results. Don’t you remember?”
Dr Govindan said “I have been speaking to so many people, it can get so confusing....Anyway it is nice of you to meet me”.
“I will get some tea” said Nirmala getting up.
Aditya looked at the ceiling thoughtfully, while Vrinda leafed through a recent issue of India Today. Suddenly they turned as they heard Dr Govindan clear his throat.

Dr Govindan looked at Aditya and said “The dignity of the soul is real. Since that day, I have spoken about it to many others and thankfully they have all listened”. He smiled softly and continued “Your sister Shweta is better at keeping in touch than you are. I always knew what you were up to”.
Aditya whispered “You remember”.
Dr Govindan “Now I do. It is not easy these days though”. He looked at Vrinda and said smiling “Aditya was always a very sincere student. Straight, and very easy to teach to. All his teachers liked him”.
“Yes, I always thought he would have been a very good student” said Vrinda smiling as well.
Shortly after, Prakash also returned. They all chatted for a while after which Aditya and Vrinda said their good byes and left for home.

Once they returned back home, Vrinda told Aditya “They are such a nice family. And what a strong sense of social purpose. His son is a professor as well!”
“Yes” said Aditya  “Very strong sense of values and purpose”.
“What did Dr Govindan mean by saying The dignity of the soul is real?”
There was a long pause after which Aditya spoke up and said “There is something you must know”. There was a short pause again after which Aditya continued “My score in Std X was not great. Both my teachers and parents had high expectations of me. However, my parents never really pressurised me into studying more. I saw a lot of my friends hugging each other happily and talking about their marks that day. After I collected my marksheet, I went and sat on a bench in the playground. My mind was in a turmoil, and I made up my commit suicide”.
“What?” Vrinda exclaimed loudly. She turned and looked at Aditya sharply “I can’t believe it. You of all people..”
“It is difficult to describe how I felt then. A feeling of having failed others. It was a feeling of being worth nothing. The feeling of hopelessness was overpowering I guess. I felt like a fallen leaf which is of no use to anyone. As I had just made up my mind, Dr Govindan suddenly came and sat next to me. He very quickly understood that I was depressed. He talked to me about how I was measuring my self worth by each mark I had not got. His exact words next were – The dignity of the soul is real. All our scriptures also mention it! He spoke to me at length on how I had no reason to be dejected as I was always sincere and tried my best. After our conversation which lasted nearly an hour, I changed my mind”.

Aditya looked at Vrinda and spoke “I would also like to teach. I plan to ask Dr Govindan’s son Prakash for advise on how I can go about it. Maybe I can also learn to spot fallen leaves over time”.

They held hands in silence, looking out into the blue sky. As their son Hari walked up to them, they hugged him tightly.