Mani was annoyed when the men teased Baba. When he questioned his father he was surprised at the answer he received.
“Baba,” Mani said. “There are some men asking to meet you.”
“Ask them to come in, Mani!” his father said, and the young boy went away to do as he was told. There were five men waiting at the door. “Best lawyer in town,” Mani heard one of them whisper to the other as he led them to Baba’s meeting room. The men began a low-voiced conversation as they settled down. Mani didn’t need to listen to know that they were discussing his father. Baba was one of the best-known Indian lawyers in the city and people came to him with their problems.
Baba was immersed in his book again. Mani wondered if he should disturb him. Baba looked up and seemed to recall the waiting men. “They are waiting, aren’t they?” he asked. “I’ll go!”
Was it necessary for Baba to work so hard? Why did he have to help every man who came to his door?
But Mani knew there was no point asking his father this. Baba had already told him that it was necessary to help these people.
“But, Baba,” Mani had protested. “You work so hard for them!”
“I consider myself fortunate to help these poor souls!” Baba had smiled.
Mani was convinced that his father worked too hard for other people.
And now, when he walked into the room where the men were talking to Baba, his resentment against them flared and he wished them gone.
“Please take notes,” Baba said at that moment.
“Arrey, Mohan Bhai,” one of the men said. “You can read books and explain things to us. But when it comes to writing…you always get someone else to do it!”
“Perhaps,” another man joked. “Bhai cannot write!”
They laughed at the idea of Baba, such a well-read and intelligent man, being unable to write. Mani felt himself go hot with anger. How dare these men tease his father? And why didn’t Baba say something instead of joining in the laughter?
An hour later the men were gone and Baba was back. “Why did you allow those men to say you can’t write?” Mani said, unable to hold back his anger any longer. “Because,” Baba said, a little smile on his face, “they are right.”
“Right?’ Mani gasped. “But Baba, you read so much and…”
“Yes,” Baba nodded, “Let me tell you a secret, Mani. I can’t write. Not neatly. And not …nicely!”
Mani could not believe his ears.
“Have you ever seen my handwriting?” Baba asked. Mani thought. “Nnn..oo,” he admitted. “That’s because I try not to let people see it.” Baba explained. “Because my handwriting is terrible, Mani!”
“But, Baba,” Mani said. “You are always telling us to write neatly!”
“Because I have learnt how important good handwriting is! And I don’t want you or any child in the world to make the mistake that I did!”
“Your mistake?” Mani echoed. “Not learning to write neatly?”
“Yes,” his father sighed. “I thought it was enough to read and understand things. Who cares about handwriting?”
“But people do,” Mani said.
“Yes,” Baba nodded. “People do care about your handwriting. And that’s why I ask others to write — because I am ashamed of my writing! I wondered how long the shadow of this childhood weakness would grow, how far it would follow me. And Mani, I’ve realised that it will always stay with me!”