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‘Look! Laddoo is here!’ exclaimed a child from a gang of twelve, pointing at a 4-year-old kid playing in mud.

“Let’s tease him and beat him black and blue!” said another.

The children ganged up on Laddoo, broke up his mud house, teased him for his girly act, pulled up his hair and beat him to the ground.

Laddoo plunged over his mud-house trying to protect his hard work, while the children kicked him up in a sense of joy.  All bruised, Laddoo looked up into their eyes seeking mercy.

…..

“You! Coming up all bruised again!” Shouted Laddoo’s sister on seeing his bruised up face. “Why do you always pick up a fight? Can’t you make a single friend out there?” shouted an enraged sister pointing out all as his fault. He couldn’t understand why he was being picked up by the kids while all he did was mind his own business. Although, he had a deep respect for them, he always saw them playing cricket and wondered why he couldn’t do the same. Then, why?

After all, it was a daily routine.

Year 1999. It has been four years since the incident. Laddoo is carrying his first ever water bottle to school, gifted to him by his mother. Happy on finally receiving his own water bottle, he races towards the school bus with other children, all aiming for the front seat. Leading the pack, he knew that he would reach the bus before others. Happily swinging his bottle he kept sprinting towards the school gate.

BUMP!” Fell Laddoo, face first on the cemented floor. Skidding on the floor, his knee bleeding. He opened his eyes and saw his water bottle lying next to him “broken”. He was being picked up by the children again. It would have been just another day of children teasing and picking up on him hadn’t it been for the broken water bottle.

Unable to contain his anger that the children broke his only water bottle, he hit the head of the child leading the pack with it.

The next thing he knew the child was bleeding profusely.

“You hit him on the head?” Asked the Principal. “Yes!” replied Laddoo.

“Why?” asked the Principal.

“… because he is a bad boy! He teases me every day. He and his friends they beat me up.” replied Laddoo without a remorse.

The Principal looked at him through her rimmed glasses. Loosening up her expressions she replied. “If he is a bad boy, then you must be the worst!”

The words stuck Laddoo like a cannon, he couldn’t understand why he was the worst when all he did was retort. Understanding his dilemma, the principal explained “You didn’t retort, you caused a greater injury to him, to his parents! This wouldn’t help you face the situation, but stir it up more. You need to respect other people. If they tease you up, you don’t reply by breaking up their skulls”.

The principal took out a chocolate from the desk drawer and gave it to the victim.

“Even I want a chocolate. I am a good boy!” said Laddoo with a an innocence.

Looking at Laddoo with a stern expression the vice principal said “This is your punishment. Since you did wrong, you won’t get the perks but him!”

The wise words were too big for him. He just couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation. But the words stuck him eventually “Respect other people..!” “Why should I respect people of his kind?” still wondered Laddoo.

“Tring Tring” the telephone ringing. The Principal calls up Laddoo’s parents.

“Hello” echoed a feminine voice from the other side.

“Hello, may I talk to Laddoo’s parents?”

“Yes! I am his mother, may I know who is it!” replied Laddoo’s mother.

“I am calling up from his school!” stated the Vice Principal.

“Oh! Did he get beaten up in school again!” replied a worried mother. This brought a smile on the principal’s face and in a calm voice she replied “No ma’am. This time it is the other way round. He broke up the skull of a student.”

“Oh! Let him come home I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again” now replied an angry Indian mother.

Noticing the change in the mother’s voice the Vice Principal replied “Ma’am, he is just a kid. He doesn’t understand what he did. You’ll have to treat him accordingly. Let it be a lesson that will change his entire personality.”

….

Laddoo is sitting in the bus, unaware of the entire conversation between the vice principal and his mother. The Children nag him continuously!

The words still echoing in his head ‘‘you must be the worst!”. “You must respect others”. He still couldn’t understand why he should respect people who fared badly, who teased him without a reason.

He was scared of what his mother’s reaction would be. Scared of how other children will fare up on him. Scared of his sisters reaction, how they will take it. He just couldn’t face his mother. What if his mother threw him out of the house, what if she used a clothes hanger to beat him up this time, or threw him up in the punishing room. What if she informed his father of his deed, he’ll never tolerate this nuisance!

….

Laddoo rings the bell of his house. Afraid that he’ll be scolded like never before, afraid that he might be thrown out of the house. Afraid to face his mother.

“Come in, your lunch is waiting for you.” came the sweet sound of his mother with not a bit of anger in it. “Come, I have cooked your favorite ‘vegetable’ for lunch today” said his mother unlocking the door and going back to the kitchen.

He proceeded to enter the house. The door creaking with every inch it moved.

Laddoo started observing. He observed that his mother was in the kitchen, his sisters working on their homework. All said nothing, showed nothing. No sign of anger on their faces, as if nothing had happened. “Maybe they don’t know yet. Maybe the principal didn’t tell them anything” thought Laddoo. Every nerve in his body asking him to be cautious. His senses warning him of the upcoming storm. To be brave enough to brace the situation.

Cautiously, he washed his hand, changed his clothes and proceeded to have his lunch.

“Here, have a hot Chapati!” said his mother serving him with a fresh baked Indian bread with vegetables. She proceeded to serve him food while the sisters kept chatting about their school and the curriculum. “Do you want anything else Laddoo?” asked the eldest sister. “Yes, another chapatti!” replied Laddoo with a nod. He couldn’t sense any uneasiness here, not even a hint of anger.

They all watched television together, while Laddoo slowly finished his lunch. Unable to contain his eagerness and his thoughts he blurted “I hit a guy on his head. I broke my only water bottle. I am the worst!”

A moment of silence spread across the room. Scared, that he might receive a slap anytime now. Sure to be beaten black-blue he just waited for the impact. . .

….

“Yawn!” came the voice from one of his sisters sitting across the table. The eldest sitting nearby just smiled sweetly. Looking at the vague expressions Laddoo repeated “I broke his skull. He was bleeding. I broke my water bottle.” There was a silence in the dining hall. He was sure that they heard him this time, he readied himself for the impact. . .

Down came a hand on his cheek. It was not a forceful hand but a gesture of love and kindness. It was the hand of a mother loving her child. Now came a voice of his eldest sister “You want something else Laddoo!”

“We knew all along Laddoo, will you explain to us what happened?” asked the mother lovingly. Laddoo couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Bewildered and amazed he looked up at his mother with watery eyes. His mother and sisters knew it all along but none scolded him. His principal knew it but didn’t scold, his bus conductor knew it but didn’t shout and complain.

He looked up at his mother, and tears rolled down his eyes.

The Vice-principal’s voice echoed in his head ‘… Respect”. He understood what Respect truly was.

__________

As a child you don’t have the emotional intelligence to understand why your parents or elders are always crabby, why you are endlessly teased or bullied, and why you shouldn’t show sadness because it makes you weak. You feel the emotions these situations produce, not the real reasoning behind them. The world scared ‘Laddoo’ as a child because he couldn’t see it for what it really was. Albeit, he only felt what he suffered not how it could be treated. He could have retracted to his ownself hadn’t it been for the above incident.

After all, life, lessons and learning come when you least expect.

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