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Stories. 
The Secret
by Debashish Majumdar

Arjun reached for his mobile phone once again. He glanced at the clock upon his bedroom wall. It was approaching two o’clock. He looked out of the window. The neighborhood was fast asleep.

“Hello Siddharth,” began Arjun, “ I am in the middle of an exciting computer game.”

“Arjun, aren’t you preparing yourself for the annual exams due next week?”

“Siddharth don’t tell me you are mugging for your exams?” said Arjun surprised.

“ Know something?” Arjun said proudly, “ My dad has promised me a bike if I pass my exams.”

“Wow!” said Siddharth, “ My parents have only promised me a treat at a Chinese restaurant if I secure a high first class.”

“ Ha! Ha!” Arjun laughed out loud, “There lies the difference between your parents and mine. See? You don’t even possess a mobile phone, leave aside a computer.”

“ My father is a school teacher,” remarked Siddharth sadly, “ He has to work very hard for his money. Besides, he is saving a lot of his income for my future.”

“Your future?” Arjun sounded surprised, “Won’t you go out and work?”

“I have no option, unlike you,” said Siddharth , “ My father is saving money for my higher studies. And you know my mother is a homemaker.”

Arjun’s dad, on the other hand, was the President of a large firm. His mother was a social worker. She spent a lot of time at an orphanage. Arjun’s mum and dad gave a lot of attention and love to Arjun. Yet Arjun capitalized on his rich dad and led a very merry life. He would often visit theatres, restaurants and other places of teen interest, often sponsoring his friends.

Arjun attended school because he had to. He had assumed that he being the only child of his parents, he would inherit a lot of wealth - enough to last him a lifetime.

The conversation between the boys continued.

“ Hey pal,” reminded Arjun , “ I rang you up to remind you of the cricket match tomorrow. Of course, I am dead sure that you will not play.”

“My mother says Class Eleven is a very important class… I need to study hard and frankly I can’t afford a tutor to teach me,” spoke Siddharth. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

~*~

One day, immediately after his annual exams, Arjun told his mum that she should give up her job and look after him.

“Arjun,” reminded his mum, “You don’t miss out on the good things in life. Despite my work schedule I always prepare ice-creams, puddings, pizzas and other goodies for you.”

“Mum, I would like to ask you something,” Arjun scratched his head, “What joy do you find in an orphanage?”

“Arjun you don’t realize that in an orphanage there are so many girls and boys who are unlucky because they don’t have parents of their own. Other gentlemen and ladies like me with our love and care make them feel wanted. Besides, most of them are so talented. For example, Rahul plays the guitar very well, Lata is a singer and Somnath is a Maths wizard. They lead simple lives. All of them are not as lucky as you.”

“ Mum, orphan children do not interest me. I think it is such a waste of time to share time with them. Mum, you could have worked in an office and earned lots of money. You told me before that they don’t even pay you for your services.”

“Arjun,” said his mum, “Now that your exams are over, I will take you to my workplace.”

“Oh mum, please!” implored Arjun, “That is the last place I would like to visit. There are no fast food joints there, no computers to while away the time playing games and the house will be full of sad children.”

“ I am ashamed of you, Arjun,” said his mother, “ You must learn to bring joy on the faces of those deprived children. Moreover, I would like you to meet those children, just once.”
When Arjun’s dad heard about the visit, he was very excited himself. He too requested Arjun to accompany his mum to the orphanage.

“Dad please,” requested Arjun, “Leave me alone. Besides, most of my close friends in school make their own decisions. They feel they are old enough not to listen to their parents.”

“ As mum and dad we can only show you the right path, Arjun,” said dad, “ The rest is upto you whether you will follow our directions.”

~*~

The results were announced. Arjun barely scraped through. He immediately demanded the bike from his parents.

“Well Arjun,” said dad, “ We will keep our promise. But you will have to listen to us sometimes.”

“Oh thank you,” replied Arjun excitedly, “I will listen to mum and you”

“Mum is going on an excursion to Puri in Orissa,” said dad, “Both of us are going with her.”
Arjun would have liked to spend his days alone in his apartment in Kolkata chatting with his friends, e-mailing and visiting hot food joints. However, the thought of the bike made him listen to dad for once.

In Puri Arjun, dad and mum stayed in a five star hotel. Arjun spent his afternoons in the swimming pool. He ordered sumptuous lunch and in the evenings he was engrossed in Indipop on television. He did not spend much time with his parents though they sought his company from the bottom of their hearts. However, Arjun joined his parents in the morning when they decided to swim in the sea.

Day two. Arjun got bored. He borrowed his dad’s mobile and called up his friends in Kolkata. He took some money from mum and visited the cyber cafe and chatted the whole of the afternoon. He felt much better now.

That evening he told his mum, “I’m feeling sick here. I want to go back.”

“Arjun you have probably got one last year with us,” said mum sadly.

“Once in college, you could be anywhere else in India …or maybe abroad,” said dad.

“You have to get more serious with your studies,” added mum, “and be more selective in choosing your friends.”

“Mum,” said Arjun, “I am not as lucky as Shalini Seth.”

“What about her?” asked Mum.

“Her parents presented her with an Alto because she has secured a first class in her Class Eleven exams” sighed Arjun.

“ So you are competing?” dad quizzed him.

“ Not exactly dad,” Arjun spoke boldly, “ It does count a lot in school nowadays.”

~*~

A week after their return from Puri, Arjun’s mum placed a couple of photo albums on Arjun’s bed. As soon as Arjun returned from school that day, he noticed the albums.
He flipped through the pages of the first book. He smiled to himself. There was Arjun swimming on the pool, gobbling pizzas to glory, viewing television, lazing on the bed, posing like a film star in denims and sunglasses. ….

He now turned to the second album. He had never seen it before. It was an album of childhood. Arjun’s childhood. Mum looked so young, happy and pretty. Dad held little Arjun in his arms, full of affection. There was Arjun celebrating his fourth birthday , mum helping him to a slice of the birthday cake and a host of smiling children around him.

Who were these children? Arjun wondered. Surely they were not his classmates from school. There was also a photo of an institution and many parents and kids. Was it his first school? Why did mum keep this second album for him? Yet he was filled with nostalgia.
He turned and looked over his right shoulder. It was mum who stood at his bedroom door and was smiling. Dad was early from office. He was there next to mum.

“Mum…dad…is anything wrong?” asked Arjun very surprised.

“Well…Arjun you will become an adult very soon,” said dad, “There is something important that we would like to tell you…”

Arjun stared at his mum’s face for a long time. Dad looked into his eyes. Then mum broke the silence.

“Truth hurts, dear son,” spoke mum softly, “You are not our child. Once you belonged to the orphanage to which I am so attached.”

“That’s why you are so lucky,” added papa.

Arjun was dumbstruck. There were no tears in his eyes.

“Your parents were refugees from Bangladesh and they both died when the famine broke out.”

“They were simple farmers,” said dad slowly.

“I was a social worker … and you were just three years old when you were taken to the orphanage,” said mum tearfully.

“We did not have any children,” said dad, “and so we decided to adopt you.”

“Your fourth birthday is the first with us …,” said mum, “and the kids are the children of the orphanage.”

A sudden remarkable change overcame Arjun.

“Mum and dad,” he said, “I love you. I am so lucky to have such wonderful and loving parents like you.”

“We love you too, Arjun…very deeply,” said dad and mum together.

Over the next week, Arjun visited the orphanage with his mum, decided to do away with the bike and consciously left the bunch of rich, spoilt school kids. He even helped Siddharth find good tutors with his pocket money.

A remarkable childhood secret changed Arjun’s life.   

Images under license with gettyimages.com

16-Jul-2006
 
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