Mealtime – who eats and who doesn’t

When I went to school this morning some children were emptying their plates right outside the newly built rear gate while others were still eating inside. As usual, some threw their food away, bored of eating the same stuff daily while others like Akhilesh (the Hindi-speaking class V Math fan) whom I met outside decided to eat at home. Dhanalaxmi, the little girl in class IV with a sweet smile and sharp memory hasn’t been eating regularly apparently. She saves it for her younger siblings but is uncomfortable mentioning it. She started a verbal duel with her classmate Praveen who insisted that she skipped most of her meals. Each was addressing the other by his/her mother’s name but this didn’t touch a raw nerve unlike it did with Sudarshan and Sandeep (from class VII) earlier. When I asked Narasimha why he hadn’t been coming to the school regularly, he retorted, "But you are not coming here everyday either!" The cheerful Vijay from class V and his sister Geeta (in class III) waved merrily to me as they left the school hurriedly. They have been particularly friendly from the time they discovered that I live close to their grandfather’s house.

Sandeep, Gajalakshmi and Michael were intrigued by a picture of the Republic Day parade in the latest Young World edition. Sandeep was sure that it was from the Parade Grounds where they had participated while Gajalakshmi insisted it wasn’t. She was convinced when I told her it was from New Delhi and Michael added that it didn’t seem like the one near M.G. Road, although none of them were sure when and why they had been there. Surya clarified that it was on Independence Day last year when some of them sang, danced and performed a skit. Varsha, Vishal, Ramya, Sandeep and Murthy want me to participate in Monday’s flag hoisting ceremony in their school, although only Venkatesh, who was busy playing cricket, was the only one who could say what the occasion is. Interestingly all of them think that Dr. Manmohan Singh, Dr. Kalam or one of the Gandhis (the Mahatma, Indiraji, Rajiv or Sonia) is our president, although some know that the first three expired long back. A few jokingly said it was Yeddy or some Gowda. In fact, Oblesh, a class V student is the only who knows that our President is Pratibha Patil.

Praveen was on his way to his grandfather’s place. He seems to go there every day after school to eat and rest. His reason for being barefoot varied from unavailability of shoes to them being too big for him. Are these children uneasy with opening up and telling or simply inarticulate? Until today, I didn’t know that the mischievous Ramesh (who has been ill for a week) in class VII is his older brother and they have a younger one in class I. He explained to me how both of them take turns helping their mother with her household helper job. Like Ramesh did earlier, he thinks that I know where their mother exactly works as it’s in the neighbourhood. He seemed happy that I inquired after his brother and reconfirmed the message I wanted him to convey.

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