The saga of the book, the Cow and my Brothers.

Studying in a missionary school in the 70’s and 80’s gave me a lot of stomach churning experiences. And one of them making to the top five would be the library period. Not like the library periods of today where they fall in the category of free periods and children use this time to hone their aerodynamic skills to make paper planes, improving upon the trajectory each time and if misfortune strikes, then crash-landing them on the librarian’s desk. For the nerds, this time is better utilized to do their homework so that they can rush to their coaching classes guilt free.

In our school the somber looking nuns ushered the children into the reading culture at a very nascent age. Until grade one, we read the books in the class itself. No taking them home business. In the second grade I had all the more reason to feel taller and a wee bit wiser than the previous grade as the Library books could now be taken home for a week with strict instructions that the pages were not to be turned with licked fingers.

My maiden library book to be taken home was a fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel’, a sibling love story.

Having read it umpteen times, I felt more of the literati kinds and wanted to show off my newly acquired wisdom. So instead of putting the book in my school bag I carried it back in my hand.

So here comes the twist in the tale….

We Indians are genetically mapped to be curious and nosey, which is what I really wanted someone to be at that moment. So as soon as I was asked about the book, my ranting started. With my hands at the back I was half way through the repertoire when I felt a tug and in quick succession a second one and suddenly someone was shouting ‘Cow! A Cow!’ It was more of a shriek than a shout.

Startled as I was, what do I see….

My poor book, with all the brother sister love dangling from the cow’s mouth. The only word that I could utter was a distress call for my brothers. “Bhaiyaaaa…..” In no time all three of my brothers had jumped into the action scene like some superheroes. One pulling the cow by its tail and being the youngest one almost hanging to it and his legs dangling. The second one hitting the cow with sharp blows and finally the third one frantically trying to twist the book out of the cattle’s molars. Thank God the species of so called ‘Gaurakshaks’ had not evolved by then or else this story would have ended here on a very sad note 😢😢

So finally the book was pulled out and was in my hands, a little crumbled and covered with bovine cud. Tears welled in my eyes and I could see Kini Miss the Librarian shocked almost of the electrocuted kinds in disbelief at the story that she thought I had cooked up. With the sticky book in her hand I could well imagine being barred from the library for life. So the cattle crisis was not yet over. But for my brothers I would have never seen the lights of the library again. Each one of them took turns to sit on it in the school bus and straighten it up to their best. Somehow unnoticed the book found its way back to the library shelf with my heart in my mouth and Kini miss busy with some paper work on her desk.

It has been almost 42 years since the incident and 34 years since I left school. Out of my many childhood memories this one keeps prodding me with the same questions everytime.

Is the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ book still in the library? Was it ever issued again to some other child? What did the child think of the little mishmash look of the book? How I wish that I could tell, that poor Gretel had one brother but I have three!!

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