Time…and I know for a fact, for a large percentage of you, just like me, braved and dragged ourselves even though we may have through a multitude of decades, when I look back today, I still feel, I somewhere belonged to a different era, much before the darned decades, almost of an ancient and golden period. Time as if has passed away too quick for me to ever realise what once defined my highly anticipated future, a large part of which constituted sprouting magical wings and flying away to a particularly Utopian world devoid of the monstrosities of a certain monster named Mathematics. Or maybe time has hardly passed, rendering the passing years absolutely futile to do any good to my growing up in the barometer that has the incrementing age numbers written in a glaring red ink. What else could explain the strong and vicious desire that grips me till date, on few ominous mornings and afternoons, as if possessed by some unseen reckless spirit, to break free and run in gay abandon through vast green fields, muddy and squelchy patches, throwing caution to the winds and whoever cares, my insides screaming at the highest that my lungs would allow – rains, here I come!
No, the rains never eluded nor ever drastically delayed their routine, in the fertile lands of India from where I hail from. But the hearty and always raucous welcome that burst out of me was for the wonders that the rain unmistakably brought with it.
Frogs. Mating butterflies. And the glorious of them all, Red Velvet Mites. And the yuckiest of them all, millipedes.
Millipedes I believe are part of the same creepy-crawly genre that I have grown up to loathe with all my might, thanks to a particularly nasty episode with my then-neighbour wherein I almost vanquished the day lights of a particularly over-enthusiastic centipede.
Yet, they are so different, the millipedes are, much more graceful than their scuttling hundred legged cringe-worthy cousins. While a centipede is what a Ferrari is to a push-bike paced millipede in-terms of speed, when it comes to aesthetics and sheer looks, somewhere the millipede scores. With its molten brown/brick red skin, striped with dark chocolate coloured stripes, a round cylindrical body and almost gliding movement of its tiny legs, the millipede stands out. More so because of its pathetic lack of speed and somewhat timid demeanour to its surroundings. Nevertheless, on a scale of yikes to eew, the millipede scores much less to the flat-bellied, foul smelling centipede. I can go on and on about a critical analysis and comparison of the two species, but the point is, it is actually pointless. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is if by some God forsaken calamity, you are ever stuck in a dingy old classroom full of thirty or so nine and ten year old din-raising children on a rainy afternoon, when the teacher at the front of the classroom is dozing off occasionally , her snores going from strength to strength, never try what I did once. Well, unless, you are one of the nine or ten year olds, like I was few decades ago.
Arun and I used to sit next to each other by the exposed and unplastered brick wall of our school, which over the years had gone flaky and powdery. Especially during the monsoons, they felt damp and a tad bit precarious. These were the hallowed portals where I learned my alphabets and numbers, cuss words and name calling to equal measures, at a very tender impressionable age. We were quite good friends. Not that I was not good friends with Maminaa, the smart topper of our class, the girl with the distinct yellow and red ribbons neatly tied to the two plaits on either side of her well-oiled and combed hair. Sharp, intelligent and funny, she was quite the girl everyone wanted to be good friends with. I, on the contrary, harboured a secret desire for reasons best known to the childhood me, to make her cry, at least once in the class. Whether it was because of her irrepressible giggle looking at me, on a particularly wet afternoon while running back to classroom from recess, I had slipped and fell face down on the moss and algae covered steps, which later resulted in my wailing and sobbing endlessly through the class or when Mrs Samal, our then-maths teacher had punished me to be a frog (a painful punishment where in one has to squat, hands out stretched from under the knees to come up to hold ears on each side – incomprehensible but quite a Yoga posture) in front of the whole amused class because Maminaa could recite multiplication table of 13 effortlessly and I had fumbled like an idiot. I had cried on both occasions and multiple other like this. Okay you get it, I was a cry-baby. So as a matter of fact, I wanted to make her suffer, at least to a certain extent where she would burst down with tears.
The opportunity presented itself that afternoon. Mrs Samal was dozing off, oblivious of the racket the class made in the pretext of solving the math questions she had neatly written on the blackboard. Maminaa who sat opposite me was busy with her notebook, counting and writing away with an alacrity that would shame the best mathematicians of her age. Arun and I were busy playing tic-tac-toe when suddenly Arun poked me in the arm. Alarmed I looked at him sideways wanting to know the reason and his eyes just darted off beyond me to the flaky brick wall next to me. A massive brown lump had appeared in the crevice of a half-decayed brick.
On closer look I realised what it was. A glowering mass of a millipede colony, possibly the parents and their many little earthlings huddled together, crawling aimlessly in an unrecognisable mass of a million legs, swarming the precariously held brick piece.
My insides were squirming at the look of them, well aware what devastation one of their cousin had made not so long ago.
Then a brilliant and particularly evil thought filled my insides with an uncontrollable joy. As if possessed, I looked at Arun, then at the crawling lump and then ahead. Like an omniscient psychic, Arun nodded and gave his unspoken agreement to the task I decided was the call of the hour.
With clenched teeth and one arm slightly outstretched, I held the edges of the half decayed piece of brick, which held the brown lump of nasty life on it and tried to pull it apart. I tugged on, well aware of the fact that a little more pressure and the brick would gently slide apart from the structure, still holding on the breeding family. And it did.
There I held the half of the brick in my hands, Arun and I examining it with startled curiosity and loathing and then scared of the creatures making their way to my hands, I lost no further time and directed my hand forwards. Gently I sat up on my knees, right arm outstretched to the front, over and beyond Maminaa’s greasy head and before anyone could alert her, I shook the brick with all my might.
While the rains poured incessantly outside, there was a different kind of rain in Maminaa’s mathematical world where she was engrossed in. A shower of millipedes of all sizes, big, small, extra-large on her note book where I could see she had just finished a particularly difficult multiplication I could have never ever tried. But there you are, I could also do things that she couldn’t, and this would teach her a lesson, a lesson she so badly needed to learn.
As the boy sitting next to Maminaa and a couple of other girls saw what had just happened, mayhem broke loose. There were shrieks and screams and Mrs Samal seemed to stir in her chair a little. But it was apparently not enough to break her stupor.
Maminaa however was not screaming. Worse, she was not crying either. She had immediately set to work.
Taking her pencil and pointing it at each of the ten or twenty creepy creatures, like a magic wand, she was as if mouthing some sort of spell or incantation which surprisingly had an unforeseen impact. At the gentle touch of her pencil lead, each millipede coiled around itself in a neat spiral and instead of gliding just stayed put like a coin. All of its legs and its long slender body as if was put to some sort of anaesthetic effect and there neatly on her notebook as I peeked and saw there were multiple round spirals of various sizes. Her pencil had done the trick.
Not someone who would leave her work half finished, she was now doing something even more baffling as I gaped at her in surprise, the expression aptly reflected in many of the other children around her, applauding her silently for her insurmountable bravery. Her left hand went up to her head and she was now taking two hair pins off her jet black hair, which later she held in her teeth, outstretching the other end of the hairpins to make them turn into two wonky wires. Marvelling at what she was about to do next, me, Arun and the awestruck boy next to her gaped as she poked the hair pin into the centre of one of the brown spirals, there by holding the insect in mid-air, followed by another with the same gentle poking and using the pencil to move each spiral a little more to left to make space for next. She did it with such a speed, I realised, she didn’t have enough time before the insects realised what had happened to them.
In a jiffy, she had two wires, full of the millipede spirals and she rushed out of the classroom, ignoring Mrs Samal’s snores. I and Arun couldn’t help but run behind to her to watch what she was going to do to them. Once out of the classroom, she ran to the farthest end of the school veranda and gently deposited the insects on a flower pot. As we both looked at her in bewilderment and surprise, she suddenly shot a worried look at us, and before we could realise, she started darting towards both of us, then into the classroom, in the process knocking me over near the classroom door as she entered and took her seat. Arun ran behind her obviously realising something I hadn’t. As I turned around to look behind, I understood the reason of her frenzy, the school peon was about to ring the bell marking end of the class period. As the class fell silent inside, there I stood by the door, mouth wide open, watching Mrs Samal wake up and darting a stern look at me. It was too late for me to move.
“What on earth are you doing outside the classroom? You like it there, do you? Very well then, you will stand there for the rest of the day, I will inform the head master. Idiot !” She glowered at me.
I could hear murmurs of laughter emanating from the class, the loudest being that of the red and yellow ribboned girl as I seriously wished I had the amazing tact of the creatures I had set upon her, to curl up and turn myself into a protective armour, ignoring the army of eyes that seemed fixed upon me. Only if I had a hundred legs to glide away from the place where my legs seemed to have been glued.
Instead, I just stood there by the door my face dropping as Mrs Samal got up from her chair, her eyes bloodshot, mostly due to her prolonged nap though it created the desired effect when mingled with her angry tone. Almost as a reflex, tears started to roll down my cheeks and before I knew, I was sobbing.
© “And Life Unfolds” and Subhendu Mohanty, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Subhendu Mohanty and “And Life Unfolds” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.