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Holiday!

(This is a feeble translation of a short story by Rabindranath Tagore. This is only to urge readers to read the original or better translations. We are republishing this story with a brief summary. We had first published it in May 2012. Boys between the ages of 13 and 14 stand at crossroads; this is the age when boys experience psychological and physical changes. They tend to grow very fast, they develop a hoarseness in their voice, they feel that somehow they don't fit into the society. Under such a situation, any home other than their mother's is unbearable to the boys. The loveless environment, away from their mother, pricks them like a thorn. This was the case with Phatik too. When his uncle offered to take him to Kolkata, Phatik readily agreed to go. But, once in Kolkata, he found himself in a loveless environment, and he pined for those days in his native village when he could run around trying to fly his huge kite; the incessant strolling on the banks of the river; going for a swim whenever he felt like it; his friends; and his independence. He wanted to go back to his mother. But he can go back only during the Puja holidays, and the vacations are still a long time to come. Phatik feels he is a burden on his uncle and aunt. Phatik cannot wait for the holidays to come so that he can go back to his native village and to his mother. One day, returning from school, the boy feels feverish. But he doesn't want to tell his uncle and aunt about his illness because that would be causing them un-necessary trouble. The boy craves to be with his mother. In his state of illness and in pouring rain the boy sets out for his native village to be with his mother without informing his uncle and aunt. He is found and brought back to his uncle's home in a drenched condition and seriously ill. His mother is fetched. It is only when his mother arrives, that Phatik finds peace. With his mother by his side, the delirious boy mumbles, "Ma, my holidays have begun. Now I am going home." This delirious statement, made by a boy who perhaps may not survive, is full of meaning: The boy had been given to understand that he could go back to his village and to his mother only during the holidays; his mother's presence brings him great joy and peace and, so, for him the holidays have begun. Then, holidays also signify "freedom" and "liberty" and "home" signifies the "eternal home". Please note this is my personal interpretation, and you may not agree with it.

Phatik Chakraborty, the undisputed leader of all the children in the neighbourhood, suddenly hit upon a new idea on noticing the massive log of wood lying on the banks of the river. It was decided that the log should be rolled away so that the owner, upon finding the log missing, would be perplexed. The vision of the owner's bewildered face goaded the boys and they immediately rushed forward to execute the plan.

But, before the plan could be executed, there arose an obstacle. Phatik's younger brother, Makhanlal, who seemed to be contemplating some worldly problem, came and sat on the log. The boys were dismayed.

One of the boys approached timidly and prodded Makhanlal in order to budge him from the seat. But this had no effect on the juvenile philosopher who continued to deliberate on the futility of playing such games and pranks.

Phatik came up and said angrily, "Get off the log, else you will get a beating."

Instead of getting off, Makhanlal made himself all the more comfortable.

Now, this was an insult. Phatik should have carried out his threat and slapped the impudent brother in order to preserve his dignity before the public. But courage failed him. However, Phatik wore such an expression on his face which seemed to suggest that he could easily have punished his brother but had refrained from doing so since he had devised another scheme that was certain to provide much more amusement to the boys.

"Let us roll the log with Makhanlal sitting on it," he proposed to the others.

Makhan thought it was a matter of pride for him, and it was certain to earn him instant fame. What Makhanlal and the other boys did not realise was that like any other scheme to earn earthly fame, this scheme, too, was fraught with consequent dangers.

The boys girded their loins and started shoving the log - "Push harder men, heigh-ho; good work braves, heigh-ho".

Even before the log could complete a single roll, Makhanlal flew off his perch, and his pride and philosophy rolled on the ground.

This successful result at the very start of the game had the other boys in ecstasy. But Phatik felt somewhat fearful. Makhanlal soon found his feet, and he fell upon Phatik and pummeled him in rage. After scratching Phatik's face, Makhan went home crying. The game had to be called off.

Phatik sat on the bow of a half-sunk boat chewing a blade of grass.

Just then a boat with passengers touched the shore, and a middle-aged man with greying hair disembarked.

"Where do the Chakrabortys live?" he asked Phatik.

"Over there," Phatik replied without pointing towards anywhere in particular; it was impossible to tell in which direction he had indicated.

The gentleman was confused.

"Where?" he asked again.

"I don't know," Phatik said and resumed chewing the blade of grass. Realising that he was unlikely to get a proper reply from the boy, the gentleman sought help from other people and went his way.

Shortly afterwards Bagha Bagdi, their servant, came and informed Phatik that his mother was looking for him.

"Your mother is calling you," Bagha Bagdi told Phatik.

"I don't want to come," Phatik replied.

Bagha wouldn't take a "no" for an answer. He lifted Phatik easily and marched homewards. Poor Phatik could only flail his arms and legs in his struggle to free himself.

Upon laying her eyes on Phatik, his mother immediately asked angrily, "You have been beating Makhan again?"

I did not beat him," Phatik answered.

"You are telling lies!"

"I am not telling lies, you may ask Makhan."

Makhan stood his ground and reiterated that he had indeed been beaten by Phatik.

At this, Phatik lost his patience and slapped his brother hard. "How dare you tell a lie?"

Mother took Makhan's side; she caught Phatik and shook him hard, and then followed this up with two or three slaps. Phatik pushed his mother away, an act which dismayed her very much. "Oh my! How dare you strike me!"

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