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Stories. 
A Change of Heart
by Ramendra Kumar

Atul was feeling quite tense. Next day was the election - an election that he simply had to win. He was a student of class five studying in St. Peter’s Convent, the best school in the city. He was contesting the election for the post of the Head Boy of the Primary Section. His opponent was Samir Sharma. Atul had never wanted to contest. But he had virtually been forced to so by his father Akash Chopra. 
 
Akash and Samir’s father Vikram were colleagues. Both of them were working for Jindal Textiles.  They had joined together and competed neck and neck. However, in the last promotion Vikram had overtaken Akash. Not only that, the Company had also sent Vikram to China on a two week tour. Akash had felt really frustrated. But there was nothing he could do about it.
 
Atul and Samir were friends. While Atul was a serious and studious boy, Samir was a happy go lucky sort.  Both were good in studies and there was a healthy competition between them. However in sports and extracurricular activities Samir was ahead. He was the captain of the Primary School football team and was also the best debater.
 
When Akash came to know about the election he asked Atul, “Who all are contesting?”
 
“As of now only Samir has filed his nomination. And I don’t think anyone else will.”
 
“Why?”
 
“No one else has any chance. Samir is one of the most popular boys in school and he will win any election hands down.” 
 
Akash did not utter a word.
 
Next day when he returned from office he called Atul.
 
“Son, tomorrow you are going to file the nomination for the post of the Head Boy of your school.”
 
“Me, Daddy! You must be joking.”
 
“Why? You think you are incapable of handling the responsibilities of a Head Boy.”
 
“I think I am incapable of winning any election in which my opponent is Samir.”
 
“Listen Atul. I have talked to your class teacher. Votes will account for only twenty  per cent of the assessment. There are many other factors?”
 
“Like what?”
 
“That your class teacher refused to divulge. But I assume   things like academic performance, aptitude, leadership qualities etc., will be considered.”
 
“But Daddy even if I manage to edge him out on other factors, as far as the votes are concerned I have no chance.”
 
“Leave that to me child. I will plan your election campaign. I know quite a bit about these things. During my graduation I was elected the College President twice in a row.”
 
And so Atul had been forced to file his nomination and his campaigning had begun in full swing. Akash had got into the act from day one. He had designed posters, banners and coined slogans for Atul. He had also given him extra money so that he could treat his friends in the school canteen. When compared to Atul, Samir’s campaign was a rather   low key one.
 
As the day of the election approached Atul’s tension increased. Personally winning or losing hardly made any difference to him. He was not too keen to become the Head Boy. It would bring added responsibilities that he wanted to avoid. He was preparing for the National Talent Search Exam and he wanted to concentrate totally on it. But he knew his father had set his heart on him becoming the Head Boy and he didn’t want to disappoint him.
 
The voting took two hours and the counting an hour more. By three the results of the Poll were declared. Samir had bagged 356 votes while Atul had polled 217. Akash was still hopeful. He felt Atul would score better in the other criteria and manage to edge out Samir.
 
An hour later the Headmistress announced the final result of the contest.  Samir had won with a grand total of 703 points to Atul’s 529. 
 
Akash was livid. He refused to accept the results. He barged into the office of the Head Mistress.

“Mrs. Williams I want to know the criteria you have used to decide the winner.”

“Sorry Mr. Akash Chopra. We cannot declare the criteria. It is against the rules.   I don’t know why you are getting so edgy about the contest. The idea of this election was mooted only to give the children an idea about democracy.  The contest has been held in a very friendly spirit. Atul is a very mature boy, I am sure he will take it in his stride.”
 
“It is not a question of winning or losing it is the principle of the thing which matters. I will not allow my son to lose out to a mediocre in a manner which is quite dubious.”
 
“Neither is Samir mediocre by any stretch of imagination, nor is there anything dubious about this election. I think you are unnecessarily making a mountain out of a mole hill.”
 
“Okay if this is your attitude then you will have to pay for it. I will drag you to court.”
 
Akash stormed out leaving behind a totally surprised Headmistress.
 
***
 
The next six months were hell for Atul. Akash went to court challenging the elections and lost the case. Atul felt really embarrassed and ashamed about the whole thing. He became the butt of his classmates’ jokes. Samir had also cooled off a bit.

 Atul couldn’t understand why his father was behaving in such a manner until one day he happened to overhear a conversation between Akash and his colleague Edward.

“Akash I think you are carrying things a bit too far?”
 
“What do you mean Eddy.”
 
“This election thing you know? You have problems with Vikram that I understand but...”
 
“I have no problems with Vikram.”

“Of course you have. You are jealous of him because he got the promotion and you didn’t.”

“What nonsense are you talking?”
 
“I know it sounds harsh Akash. But I am your friend and I have your best interests at heart. You have no right to use your son to settle scores with Vikram. It is not fair on poor Atul. You thought Atul would win and you would score a point over Vikram.  However, when the poor child lost you should have accepted it gratefully. Instead you made matters worse by going to court. Really Akash you have behaved in a very childish manner.”

Atul couldn’t bear to hear anymore. He rushed to his room threw himself on his bed and cried his heart out.
 
***
A month later Atul was on his way to Tushar  River along with his classmates  for a school picnic. It was a picturesque spot.  The blue waters of the river, the golden yellow sands and huge trees on either side of the bank - it was an ideal location for a picnic.
 
Samir, Atul and a few other friends decided to explore and went ahead leaving the rest of the classmates behind. Samir and Atul had put the elections and the rest of the mess behind them and were friends once more.
 
“Hey guys why don’t we go for a swim.”
 
“Yes, that’s a great idea,” said Atul. Both he and Samir were good swimmers.
 
They quickly changed into their swimming trunks and dived into the chilly waters of the river.
 
“Come on I’ll race you to that rock and back. The one who comes second will have to treat the winner for one whole week in the school canteen,” Samir said.
 
“Okay,” Atul agreed.
 
“Be careful both of you, the current seems to be quite strong,” warned Usman, their class monitor.
 
They started swimming. Atul raced ahead followed by Samir in close pursuit. They were nearing the rock when suddenly Samir noticed a huge wave. Before he could warn Atul it had picked him up and dashed him against the rock. As Samir watched in horror, he saw Atul disappearing into the waters.
 
He looked around desperately for some help, but there was no one in sight. He held his breath and quickly dived in. Atul was lying on the river bed. He picked him up and tried lifting him. Fortunately Atul was quite light and Samir was muscular. Inch by inch he lifted him up. As he hit the surface he realised the river bank was too far off and he would never be able to make it. Just then he heard shouts and felt several pairs of hands pulling Atul up into a boat.
 
He looked around in relief.
 
“We are fishermen. We saw you going down and rushed in our boat.”
 
Atul was still unconscious. When they reached the river bank they found their classmates and teachers waiting for them. Atul was given mouth to mouth resuscitation by Barry Samuel the P.T. Teacher. After a few tense moments he vomited and opening his eyes looked around.  A few seconds later he closed his eyes again. He was bleeding from a gash on the side of his head. 
 
“There is a good nursing home nearby. I think we should immediately take him there,” Samuel said.  Atul was rushed to the nearby hospital. Samir sat in the School bus with Atul’s head in his lap.
 
When they reached the nursing home Atul was immediately taken inside. Half an hour later the doctor emerged.
 
“There is nothing to worry about. The injury is not very deep. Let him rest for a couple of hours and then you can take him home.”
 
***

Atul opened his eyes. He couldn’t recollect where he was. The last he remembered was being lifted up and crashing into the rock. He looked around. It looked like a hospital room.  His head was splitting. It was as if someone was hitting him with a blunt instrument.
 
He heard voices coming from the adjoining room.
 
“So you young scoundrel. It was not enough that you beat my son in elections using unfair means. Today you even tried to kill him,” it was his father’s voice.
 
“B....But Uncle...I ....” 
 
“Don’t try to bluff me. When Samuel rang me up and told me that Atul had almost drowned and that the two of you had gone racing I realised everything. Tell me whose idea was it to race in those dangerous waters?”
 
“It ...it was mine but...”
 
“Exactly, as I thought. You had planned everything quite beautifully. Only God was kind enough to spoil your plans. Let me just get my son home and then you’ll see what I’ll do to you and your father.”
 
Just then Atul heard a door opening and someone entering the room. “Mr. Chopra you should be ashamed of yourself.”  It was Mrs. Williams’ voice.
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“The person you are accusing of trying to murder the child actually saved his life.  While they were racing in the waters a wave carried Atul and sent him crashing against a rock. Atul immediately lost consciousness.  Seeing his friend going down Samir risked his own life to dive into the waters and lift Atul up. The two boys were then rescued by a couple of fisherman. I got the entire story from children who were on the river bed and from Samuel who had talked to the fishermen. And instead of being grateful to this brave child you are pointing fingers at him. It is really very shameful.”
 
Atul walked slowly to the door and peeped out.

His father was standing in the middle of the room. His face had turned red.
“I... I.... am sorry......terribly sorry.....Samir, my child....I hope you….you… will forgive me,” Akash said patting Samir awkwardly on his back.
 
There were tears in Atul’s eyes but on his face was a happy smile.
 
*** 

A few months later the Annual Day function of St. Peter’s Primary School was held. The Head Mistress was making a special announcement.

“Dear Parents and my young friends, you will glad to know that from this year we are going to give a special award for bravery. This has been instituted by one of our esteemed parents whose name has been kept a secret at his insistence.  It will awarded every year to the boy who depicts exemplary courage.  This year the award goes to Samir Sharma, the head boy of our school.

As Samir got up to receive the award he looked back for an instance. The loudest applause was coming from the third row where Atul’s father was seated.

*The incident of a parent going to court to challenge the election  for the post of a Head Boy is based on an actual happening that took place in a Delhi school some time back.

1-Oct-2012
 
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