“Rain, rain go away, Come again another day, Little Johnny wants to play…”
Said John as he watched the downpour from the window of his house. He wanted to go out and play with his best friend and neighbour and classmate Arun. He looked as a drop fell from somewhere far above him and, falling at top speed, splash onto the railway tracks near his home.
“When I grow up I want to be a railway man” he thought.
“John… look who is here to see you… ”John heard his mother calling from downstairs. John ran to the stairs. His mother was standing at the bottom, beaming at him.
“Come down. Look who is here.” she told him sweetly.
John placed his hands firmly on the rail. His mother had taught him to be cautious with the steps. They could be dangerous, she had told him. John gingerly climbed down the steps, one at a time. Finally he reached down and ran to hug his mother. She lifted him up and took him to where the visitors, a burly man with a walrus mustache and a lady, were sitting. There was a tray of biscuits and chips on the table in front of them.
“Where does mother get all the snacks from”, John thought, “whenever I ask there is nothing in the house.”
“Don’t you know Rameshan uncle and Priya aunty?” Mother asked. John nodded. This was something else his mother had taught him. Even if he didn’t know the people, he was supposed to nod his head if his mother had already told him their names.
Ramesh uncle beckoned John to him with a wave of his hand. Mother let him down and john walked to Rameshan uncle, showing all his teeth in a toothy grin, something else his mother had taught him. When he was close enough, with a wave of his hand, Ramesh uncle swept John off his feet and onto his lap, in such a position that they could talk face to face. Ramesh uncle took a Dairy Milk out of his pocket and gave it to John. John looked at his mother who nodded and he took it, smiling and mumbling a thank you.
“What is your name” Ramesh uncle asked.
“John” he replied in his singsong voice
“In which class are you studying?”
Just as he had been taught to say, John replied, in the same singsong voice. “UKG B; Loyola School…”
“You are the first in the class aren’t you?” it was Priya aunty speaking this time.
Giving her a smile, clutching his chocolate, John leapt from Rameshan uncle’s lap and raced to hide behind his mother. The adults started to talk. John didn’t care. He had much better work to do than sit around and chat. Like looking at all the vibrant colours on his chocolate…
School had closed for summer vacations. John didn’t understand what all the commotion at school was about.
“Why”, he thought, “school closes every Friday and there is no commotion then.”
But when he got him, his mother told him that school wouldn’t start for two months now and when it does he would be in first standard. John was looking forward to being in the first standard with Arun. There were rumors that, in first standard, teachers wouldn’t follow you when you go for games. Anyway, that isn’t important.
Arun had gone to his hometown with his parents. Today his mother was making something for him. He didn’t know what yet, but she had been using lot of glue, paper and sticks. He was near his patience’s end when mother suddenly burst from her room, clutching something behind her. She took him by the other arm and led him up the stairs and onto the terrace. It was bright windy day. There was laundry laid out to dry all over the place. He had been here only twice before and that too only because of his father. He had never even imagined that mother would take him here, until now.
Mother, after having secured a laundry free patch of laundry, turned around to face him, the object still hidden from view.
“K for …” she asked.
“Kite” John answered. He had memorized it all for the exams. A for Apple. B for Balloon. C for Cat…..K for Kite.
“Now turn around and count till ten” Mother instructed.
“Had mother taken him here to revise the lessons?” John thought, starting to count, “One, Two, Three….. Four, Five, Six, Seven….Eight, Nine, TEN”
John turned around. Mother was standing there, her back facing him. John ran forward to face his mother. She was standing there in the position of Muslim prayer. Then he looked up and saw a beautiful sight. A dazzling red and yellow kite was floating some two meters up, rippling in the light breeze.
“Give it to me… Give” John started poking his mother. Smiling, she handed the thread down to him.
John looked awestruck as he felt the delicate touch of the thread in his hand. Mother turned away and started picking the laundry while he tried to send the kite where he wanted, out over the terrace and above the railways.
“John, don’t let the kite over the terrace.” Mother advised.
John held onto the thread firmly, the kite just inches away from the edge of the terrace. Suddenly the sound of a train was heard. John had never seen a train from his terrace before.
“Train…” he yelled and ran towards the edge of the terrace and leaned on the parapet. The kite was over the parapet and above the electric lines.
Sensing what was about to happen, mother yelled, “John…no… Move back”
And suddenly the train passed. And suddenly the pressure dropped. The rush of air to fill that vacuum pushed the kite down and it got entangled on the electric lines.
Suddenly John was in excruciating pain. 11000 volts charged down the thread and into his body. Now part of the circuit, John’s provided a deadly path for the current to reach the ground itself. He heard a buzzing noise in his ear and a sensation as though he was floating in air. The extreme heat of the electrical charge through his body seared tissues and charred bones and exploded out of his right foot.
Mother frantically threw the entire load of clothes she was carrying onto the thread and at the same time the massive electrical surge through his body caused severe muscle damage, slackening his grip on the thread. The clothes fell on the thread and it escaped from his hands, cutting into it on the way. John sagged to the ground, unconscious. As quickly it had begun, it was over.
John opened his eyes in a hospital room. The pain was overpowering, but he hadn’t the energy to cry. He was heavily bandaged. Later doctors would tell him that it was a combination of factors, like thread being a bad conductor, his mother’s quick thinking to get the thread out of his hand, the presence of an ambulance very nearby etc, that together lead to his survival. However his right leg below the knee and four fingers had to be amputated.
But right now that didn’t matter. Mother was dozing in a chair nearby, her face tearstained and aged beyond recognition. Mom looks awful, John thought. At that point he didn’t know whose face looked uglier. Then another thought struck him,
“How amazed Arun will be when he tells him about this.” John tried to smile, innocently, as another wave of pain surged through him; not knowing how bleak his future was…