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He picked up enough courage once to ask his uncle when he could go to meet his mother. "Let the school close for the Puja festival, and then you may go," his uncle said. But the vacations were a long way off!
One day he lost his textbook. As it is, he was a very slow learner; and now, after losing the textbook, he felt utterly helpless. The teacher now insulted and caned him almost every day which made his life very miserable. Because of this, even his cousins felt ashamed to speak with him; to indicate that they disowned him the cousins laughed harder than the other boys whenever Phatik was thus embarrassed by the teacher.
Unable to bear the insults any longer, Phatik approached his aunt guiltily and admitted that he had lost his book. The aunt was annoyed. "I cannot buy new books for you every five months," she said. Phatik said no more but the thought that he was wasting other people's money troubled him and made him feel sulky against his mother for his helplessness and poverty.
When Phatik returned from school that day, he had a headache and felt feverish during the evening. But he realised that if he revealed about his illness, it would cause un-necessary trouble to his aunt. Only a mother can care for a sick child, and Phatik felt ashamed to expect care from somebody else.
Next day, Phatik was nowhere to be found. Despite searching for him everywhere in the neighbourhood, the boy was not seen. It had started raining heavily and the people, who had gone out in search of him, came back wet. Finally, Bishambarbabu felt it appropriate to inform the police.
Late that evening, a police van halted near Bishambarbabu's house, and two policemen alighted while supporting Phatik between them. Phatik was drenched to the skin, covered in mud, had blood-shot eyes, and was shivering wildly. Bishambarbabu lifted him and carried the boy indoors.
"Why do you have to go to all this trouble for a boy who does not belong to us? Send him home," Phatik's aunt told her husband the moment she saw him. Actually, she had been distressed by the boy's disappearance, and had neglected her meals. Besides, she had a little trouble with her own children as well.
Phatik heard her and said between sobs, "I was going to mother but they brought me back."
The fever rose sharply. Phatik became delirious and kept mumbling incoherently all through the night. Bishambarbabu brought the doctor home.
Phatik stared blankly at the ceiling and mumbled, "Uncle, have my vacations begun?"
Bishambarbabu wiped the tears that were blurring his vision and, taking Phatik's burning hands in his own, sat by his side.
But, Phatik kept mumbling. "Ma, don't beat me. I am telling you the truth, I have done nothing wrong."
Next day, Phatik came to his senses for some time. He looked around as if expecting to see someone in particular. However, upon not finding the person he was looking for, the boy turned his face towards the wall in disappointment. Bishambarbabu knew what was troubling the boy; he brought his mouth close to Phatik's ears and gently whispered, "Phatik I have sent someone to fetch your mother."
The next day also passed. The doctor appeared very concerned; the boy's condition was serious, he informed. Bishambarbau constantly remained by the sick boy's side and waited for the mother's arrival.
Phatik became delirious once again and, this time, intoning the sailors he mumbled, "One fathom mark doesn't match; two fathoms mark does...n't ma...tch." When coming to Kolkata, Phatik and his uncle had to travel some distance in a steamer; at that time Phatik had seen the sailors measuring the depth of water using a lead line and singing out their measurements in this fashion. Phatik, in his delirious state, was measuring the depth of an unfathomable sea, and he could not find the bottom.
It was then that Phatik's mother rushed into the room, wailing. "Phatik, my precious Phatik!" she cried out inconsolably.
Phatik very simply replied, "Yes."
Mother again called out, "Oh Phatik, my darling."
Phatik very slowly turned around and, without addressing anyone in particular, gently said, "Ma, my holidays have begun. Now I am going home."
Some useful links for
- Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
- IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
- Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
- Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
- IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
- Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
- Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
- Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
- Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu