Rajesh was back at school and he was amazed at the change he saw all around him.
“This,” the teacher said proudly, “is our staff room!” Rajesh gazed around the large room, seeing the cupboards with rolled maps on them, the efficient looking water-purifier and comfortable chairs. Ten years ago, when he had been a student here, the staff room had had only shaky tables and rickety chairs. Shaking his head in disbelief he said, “Nice!”
“And here,” the teacher said, “Is the Chemistry lab!” Rajesh gazed around at the well-stocked room, unable to believe that ten years back one table with some basic equipment on it had been the lab. Everything had changed! The classrooms had rows of chairs and desks, the shaky blackboards of his schooldays replaced by sleek wall-mounted ones. In ten years the tiny village school had been replaced by a modern white building with every amenity. The playing field, a rough piece of land in his school days, was levelled and had a goalpost and cricket pitch; reminding Rajesh of the improvised games of cricket he had played.
The voice of school children, chorusing a poem brought memories of chanting the same poem in Yadav Sir's class. Transported to the past, Rajesh recalled how he had run around the school in his patched uniform, happily absorbing all the information his teachers passed on to him. Close on the heels of that memory came other memories, filling Rajesh with a longing to see his special place. He stepped out of the school building, eagerness making him stride.
The teachers of his village school had tended to his learning process but his special place had given him peace. Rajesh recalled the various times when the memory of that special place had helped him.
His special place was under a banyan tree and Rajesh thought of all the meals he had eaten there. What joy to watch the forest as he ate his lunch! The rustling of the trees and chirping of birds had formed the perfect background to his dreams. Sitting there he had seen a deer step shyly out of the dappled shadows and once a snake, slithering past, had surprised him. He remembered the peacock that had danced for him, the birds that had sung, the mongoose that had stared at him, nodded approval and disappeared. Rajesh turned the corner of the building and stopped. Where the banyan tree had spread in a majestic canopy of branches was a cycle shed, its asbestos roof glinting. The forest had been cleared, the mystery of the trees giving way to a road that wound away.
Rajesh stared at this fresh evidence of development. He thought of the majesty of the trees, of the soft rustle of life in the branches and the way these had enchanted a young boy. He thought of how these memories had made a home in his heart, going with him wherever he went, keeping the beauty and richness of childhood alive. And for the first time since his visit to his village, Rajesh longed for the poverty of the past.