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Champ
by Ramendra Kumar

Neeraj was going to the market to buy vegetables when he saw a crowd of boys jumping and laughing. As he drew near he recognized two of them - Kartik and Ahmed - the notorious bullies of his class. Kartik was sitting on his haunches holding a black puppy while Ahmed was tying a string to its tail. To the string were tied a bunch of fire crackers.

Neeraj ran forward yelling at them to stop. But even before he had taken a couple of steps forward Ahmed had lit the wicks of the crackers and they started exploding . The poor pup ran straight in Neeraj’s direction, yelping in fear and howling in pain.

In a flash Neeraj had removed his T shirt and pouncing on the pup covered its tail with it. The crackers were put out and the little pup was saved. However Neeraj’s hands got burnt and there were gaping holes in his T shirt.

As he winced in pain he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. It was Ahmed. He was 15 - two years older than Neeraj and a foot taller. He and Kartik had failed twice in class eight.

“Who do you think you are to spoil our fun.”

“You call torturing a puppy to death fun,” Neeraj retorted, even though he as feeling quite scared. Ahmed and Kartik were real rogues and they had never liked Neeraj because he was good in studies.

“Why are you so concerned about this pup? Is he your long lost brother?” Kartik sneered catching hold of Neeraj’s hand and twisting it from behind.

“Ouch!” Neeraj howled in pain.

“Listen you skinny midget, don’t interfere in our affairs or you’ll be sorry,” Ahmed growled and whacked him one on his head.

Tears sprang to Neeraj’s eyes as he turned and trudged back home. Neeraj lived alone with his mother Chitra. His father had died when Neeraj was still a toddler.

He told his mother the entire story.

“Good for you Neeraj. I am happy that you saved the life of the poor mutt.”

Just then there was a funny kind of sound, as if some one was scratching the door. Neeraj opened the door - there was no one. He then heard a tiny yelp and looked down. It was the puppy he had rescued. It was looking up at him imploringly and wagging its little tail.

“So little one, you followed me here to thank me.” He bend down and took the pup’s tiny paw in his hand and shook it. “Well, very nice of you. Now go back to your mum and let me go back to mine.”

Neeraj went inside and closed the door. He knew his mother would never agree to him keeping a pet.

Neeraj had a quick dinner and went to bed.

Next morning at six when he opened the door to go out and get milk he was greeted with a flurry of barks and wags. Neeraj’s little fellow had slept the whole night right in front of the door. Neeraj pick him up and looked into his eyes. They had the same imploring look. His tail too was busy doing its duty. His eyes and his tail seemed to be begging Neeraj not to turn him away, not to close the door on his tiny face.

After a lot of arguments, persuasion and a couple of tantrums Neeraj managed to keep the pup. He named him Champ.

~*~

One night, a year later, Neeraj was taking Champ for a walk. Neeraj had been watching a day-night match and as a result Champ’s walk had been considerably delayed.

Champ had really grown in the last one year or so. He was now tall and well built, with sharp pointed years and a ferocious expression on his face. When his friends asked him what was Champ’s breed, Neeraj would say, “I think his father was an Alsatian, his mother a German Shepherd and his grand parents possibly wolves.”

Champ was fiercely loyal and would listen to one but Neeraj. Whenever Chitra would raise her voice and shout at Neeraj he would come between and start growling.

“Silly donkey. It is my own son I am shouting at. What is it to you?” She would laugh and gently whack him on his head.

Neeraj and Champ’s walk took them daily in front of his school building, and and the park next to it.

That night as they neared the school building Neeraj was surprised to see a light being switched on in the common room.

“Who could be there at eleven thirty in the night?” wondered Neeraj. The light was now switched off, but it wasn’t all dark. The room was filled with a pale yellow light.

‘Someone has lit a candle. But why should he switch off the tube and light a candle unless....Could it be burglars?’

He looked at the watchman’s room. There was no light there. Where was the watchman? Neeraj sensed something funny and decided to investigate. Asking Champ to keep silent he went to the other side of the common room where he knew one of the windows was broken. He stood on the ledge and peeped in.

Two boys and a man were sitting on the floor just beside the TT table. A candle was burning close by. The three of them were smoking. As the smoke wafted across, Neeraj sniffed. No, it wasn’t cigarette smoke. Was it, could it.....could it be smack? Oh! My God, these scoundrels were taking drugs and that too inside the school building. But who were they? One of them turned and Neeraj almost gasped in surprise. It was Kartik and yes, beside him was his inseparable pal Ahmed. And who was the third fellow with a cap? Just then Kartik said something and the man removed his cap and flung it on the ground in mock anger. Neeraj recognized him. It was Kishan Singh, the gurkha. He was a muscular thirty year old with shifty eyes and a mean mouth.

Now what was he to do? He knew he had to report this to the Principal. But if he left and the culprits escaped no one would believe him. He had an idea. He gestured to Champ to follow him and went around to the main door of the common room. It was bolted from the inside. Neeraj knew this was the only way they could escape. The back door was locked from the outside and the windows were all barred.

“Champ stand on guard. Don’t allow any one to go out till I come,” he whispered in Champ’s ears. Champ immediately cocked his ears as if telling his young master that he had understood.

~*~

Ten minutes later Neeraj returned with Mr. S.N. Bhatt. The Principal was a tall, lean man with a long, grim face. He was carrying a stout walking stick and a torch.

The sight which met their eyes was quite hilarious. Kartik, Ahmed and Kishen were standing at the door trying to charm, persuade and scare Champ into shifting. Champ was standing straight his eyes fixed on the three growling in a low, deep voice. With his eyes glittering, the ominous growls echoing in the still night air and his black and shiny body glistening, he looked quite scary.

“Aha! So Neeraj was right. Kartik, Ahmed, you dirty scoundrels. You should be flogged in public. Taking drugs and that to in the school campus,” Mr. Bhatt thundered, his face a mask of fury and his hands shaking with rage.

“No, no sir. Neeraj is lying. He was always jealous of us because we are rich and he is nothing but a beggar,” Ahmed said.

“Y..yes sir, he is making up stories. We....we were only smoking a cigarette or two,” blabbered Kartik.

“Get out of the way. Let me see for myself.”

He walked in followed by Ahmed, Kartik and a sullen faced Kishan. Champ stood at the door. It was pitch dark and as Mr. Bhatt switched on his torch Neeraj saw a movement from the corner of his eyes. Kishan lunged forward wrenched the stick from Mr. Bhatt and brought it down on his head in one swift stroke. Mr. Bhatt crumpled to the floor the torch flying out of his hand. Kishan seized the torch and pointed it at the sprawled figure of Mr. Bhatt. His eyes were closed and blood was oozing from the side of his head.

“You rascal, see what you have done! Have you gone mad?” shouted Ahmed and Kartik together.

“Shut up, you young fools. I know what I’m doing. If I hadn’t taken care of him this fellow would have called the police. You guys have rich parents with excess money they can throw around. So both of you will go scot-free. But I will land in jail for atleast a couple of years. This the only way I can escape,” he spat out, his mean eyes narrowing further and making him look like a bad tempered vulture.

“What do we do now?” Kartik asked looking at Ahmed.

“I am getting out of here. You fellows do whatever you want.”

Kishen marched to the door swinging the stick in his hand.

“Champ, get him,” yelled Neeraj.

Champ lunged at Kishen Singh’s throat who lashed at him with the stick. It caught Champ on the ear. It was a nasty cut and blood started oozing. Neeraj saw his Champ being hit and something snapped inside him.

“You dirty swine,” he screamed and sprang at Kishen, his fists flying. As Kishen turned towards him Neeraj caught hold of his arm and dug his teeth in.

“Ouch! You little savage, wait till I get my hands around your throat,” Kishen Singh screamed catching hold of Neeraj and in the process leaving the stick. Just then Champ jumped straight at the Gurkha sending him sprawling on the ground. Next moment Champ was on top of Kishen. He was growling menacingly his face inches from Kishan’s.

“Hey you idiots. Don’t stand gaping. Catch hold of that scrawny kid and twist his arms a bit. That will make him call this monster off.”

Kartik and Ahmed looked at each other.

“Right now I think what we’ll do is run and call the police, while Neeraj and his dog keep you company,” Ahmed said and ran out with Kartik in tow.

~*~

Half an hour later it was all over. The police and the ambulance arrived simultaneously. Kishan was handcuffed and taken to the police station. Mr. Bhatt by then had regained consciousness and was administered first aid. He refused to go to the hospital and was taken home.

~*~

Next day the Principal called Kartik, Ahmed and Neeraj home.

“Tell me Ahmed, Kartik, what made you call the police?”

“Sir, I know we are good for nothing sir, but we just couldn’t tolerate Kishen hitting you. I felt as if he was trying to murder my father and Kartik too I am sure felt the same. Had we allowed that rascal to escape we would never have been able to forgive ourselves,” Ahmed said.

“Morever sir, the way Neeraj risked his life was also a lesson to us. He is small and puny and yet he didn’t think twice about attacking a man three times his size.”

“Well, I am sure glad to hear that. But tell me honestly long have you been taking drugs?”

“I swear sir, yesterday was the first time,” Ahmed said.

“Yes, sir, please believe us. We’ll never again touch that stuff. We have learnt our lesson.”

Mr. Bhatt looked at them for a few minutes, then his grim face softened and he smile. “Well, boys I do believe you. And that is why I am not expelling you for drug abuse. In fact the whole affair has been hushed up. Except for your parents no one else knows. I’ve decided I’ll give you another chance,” Mr. Bhatt said.

“Thank you sir, thank you very much,” Ahmed and Kartik said together.

“But you know who is the hero of the entire episode?” Mr.Bhatt asked.

“Neeraj ofcourse.”

“No, the real hero is Champ,” Mr. Bhatt said.

“And he is the same dumb mutt you almost killed a year ago,” Neeraj added.

“Th...that little piece of skin and bone...he...has become this huge...I can’t believe it.....”stuttered Ahmed.

“Yes, it is the same little fellow. My brave hero, my Champ,” Neeraj said.

Images under license with Gettyimages.com

24-Sep-2006
 
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