As a little kid, I never studied in school. I hated tests and exams and never scored. In fact, whenever I used to get a graded test back, I would neatly fold the papers into quarters and twist the corners to make a paper boat! We loved our boats. You could throw away a dozen paper planes with no care nor worry, but a boat had to be watched and helped and nurtured for it to sail the distance.
[Image credit - http://moonmaid.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/paper-boat.jpg ]
Call it a sign from above, but the lower I scored on a test, the better of a boat it would make. For the most part, out of sheer compassion, I never told my parents and teachers where and how did I lose my test scores. My partner in crime, 'Bunty' - the ideal student boy next door, never uttered a word either. We thought it was better this way ...
Within the limited confines of our society compound, was a shallow canal made to drive rain water out of the premises. At the end of the canal, the water went into an underground drain and we never knew what happened of it. Bunty had heard from the old watchman that it all went to the sea. And thats what I believed in, one never questioned the old watchman.
During the months of monsoon, I came home only on weekends, and Bunty and I would beg, borrow and steal all the umbrellas from our homes and neighbors, open them up in my living room and cover them all with bed sheets. This would be our make shift tent. Under the tent is where we dwelled, every once in a while we would surface to civilization and ask my mother for more food. It was a good system and we stuck to it. Occasionally when a neighbor had to venture outside, he would find his umbrella missing and come knocking straight to my house. These were troublesome times, as our neighbors umbrella could very well be in the very middle of our tent establishment, returning it would mean a whole lot of trouble, so we would take out an umbrella from the fringe and ask the uncle to exchange it later.
Every so often, when we were busy enacting our adventures under the tent, we would hear loud thunder and rain drops on tin roofs. And I would grab Bunty's arm and say ... " Suuussh, Listen!! " And as soon as Bunty would hear the rain, his eyes would lit up, and we knew fun times lay ahead. And up the tent would go, sheets pushed apart and we would scramble away out the door! Often times without bothering to wear shoes. We would rush into Bunty's room, grab some old papers, and my test results and run to the water canal. We would take turns to shelter the paper while the other made a boat, and on the count of three set our boats lose in the running water.
As the boats took off, we would follow them eagerly around the building - till they reached the drain grill, the boat to touch the grill first, won. It was simple, it was fair, and it was the most fun I remember. As our skill at boat making grew we got more creative with our canal, and place tree branches and bricks in the canal to make it interesting for our boats to navigate around. When we ran out of things to put in, we used our watchman's shoes! On one occasion, our watchman came in to work wearing rubber flip flops, as we tried to set up our obstacle course, to our delight, the slipper itself went floating all the way to drain grill. Knowing we couldn't use the flip flops for our course, we promptly returned them to the watchman - "These are no good, but your chappal won the competition today!" We offered our sympathies as best as we could. Needless to say, the watchman wasn't impressed.
On one such fun routine, as we set our boats to sail and ran around the building compound, we were particularly thrilled, this was going to be a close race, usually one of our boats used to get stuck on the obstacles, but today, luck seemed to be on our side and both our boats were clearing the hurdles - ever so gracefully. The rain was picking up, too much rain and it could flood the boat and it would never float again. There was only a limited window for our race to take place. As we rounded the last corner - running excitedly towards the finish line, I was positive, my boat would have no trouble clearing the last obstacle. I was right, my boat sailed through, Bunty's got stuck. And as we headed for the finish line, I relaxed and beamed up at Bunty with pride, as if to say .... "Hail the victorious!" Though when I looked, I saw panic in Bunty's eyes, "The drain! The drain isn't covered!! "
I immediately jumped to the ground, clawing in a last ditch effort to save my winner boat, but alas! It was too late, the boat had sailed through into the mysterious drain. As the realization hit me, I looked up at Bunty with moist eyes, "Where does this drain go! Come we might still be able to save the boat"
We did not know where the drain went, we had tried before. But Bunty being the gentleman he was, still followed me outside the building and across the street, to see where the canal might be connected. To our expected dismay we only found one open groove in the ground, this one filled with ugly drain water. Surely our canal did not socialize with such filthy structures. Dejected, with a head hanging low, I returned to the building.
"Don't worry", Bunty said patting my shoulder, "Your boat was brave, I am sure it will find the sea."
"I hope it does." I said, "My paper boat little!!"
"How much did you score on that test ?? "
"7/10 " I answered.
"You really aren't meant to study and score, its unlucky for you!" Bunty concluded.
Often times, when it rains heavy enough, and forms rivers on the road, I am reminded of that day, and of that boat. Shortly after that incident, I lost touch with Bunty, his family moved out of our building. As the wet sprays of water drops hit my face, and the scent of moist soil fills the air, I remember our little game.
There is an innocence to childhood that does not breathe without honesty. No matter what the facts, as kids we had unquestionable faith in what was told. Perhaps its the part of childhood I miss the most.
Come to think of it, aren't all of our lives little paper boats. Fragile - with a ticking life span. Like the canal course, we do not know what hurdle our boat is going to encounter, nor what will come of it when it does. As dejected as I may be at times, I convince myself, I will find the sea. Bunty says so. And Bunty got it from the watchman, you don't question the watchman.
Made of paper, pretty and thin, floating away always, a branch and a spin. See my paper boat ... My paper boat little!!