Kanti Learns Power Play

It had become a norm, an unwritten custom that on Sunday afternoons, in the hot summers, all the children would get together in Veena’s house. It was to everyone’s advantage. Veena’s parents were happy that their only child had company. The other parents were happy that their little ones were not outdoors in the sun. The kids were happy for more reasons than one. The many toys and games that Veena had were, of course, an attraction but the main reason for them to make a beeline to her house was the rickety air cooler that provided respite from the sweltering heat. Their own homes were devoid of that luxury. Besides, Veena’s mother was generous with the distribution of Rawalgaon toffees and Parle biscuits. She even gave them half a glass of Roof Afza with two ice cubes each.

Since it was Veena’s home and she owned the toys, she wielded authority too in the form of decision to play Ludo or Snakes and Ladders or any other game on a given day. It was so natural––Kanti exercised similar authority when they played with his football and Dilip, when his cricket kit was in use.

One afternoon, Veena decided in favour of playing Ludo. They were about to draw lots to get their choice of colour of the tiles. Yellow was the most coveted colour––Dilip had won on the last four occasions with that colour of tiles. Just when they were about to begin, a power failure caused an interruption. On enquiry by Veena’s father, the supervisor on duty in the local powerhouse informed that there was a minor fault and that it would be rectified in about fifteen minutes.

For the four of them raring to start, time was precious. If only the misery of the l-o-n-g delay of the quarter of an hour could be mitigated. So, to make the wait interesting, Veena came up with a bright idea. She said, “Let’s take turns to count from 1 to 100. One, during whose turn the power supply is restored, will get the first choice of colour.”

Veena’s idea sent the little minds on quick errands. Now, here was some hope of getting the choice of colour. With “yellow” and the possibility-of-a-win in mind, each one worked out a quick plan to exploit the opportunity. “One, two, three… ninety-eight, ninety-nine, hundred,” they began counting in turns. Dilip was first. Jyoti, Kanti and Veena, in that order, followed. They weren’t sure whether to count slowly, or fast.

When it was Veena’s turn, she came up with a stratagem. She said that she would employ the services of Ramu to count. Ramu was the man Friday in Veena’s house. He was a couple of years older than these children. When objected by the other three, Veena presented a logic, which they were forced to accept, grudgingly. “He is our servant. My father pays him and my mother gives him food and clothes. I surely have the right to get any work done by him. Aren’t servants meant for that purpose?” So Ramu rattled the numbers for Veena.

Games Children Play

Each one took several turns. Veena ‘managed’ to get her fourth turn around the time when the power supply was likely to be restored. In that instance she signalled Raju to count slowly. “…, f-i-f-t-y-… s-e-v-e-n, f-i-f-t-y-… e-i-g-h-t, …,” the poor boy obeyed his master’s daughter. And lo, the power supply was restored when Raju was counting in the seventies. With that, Veena won the opportunity to choose the colour of the tiles to play with.

As everyone expected, she chose the most coveted yellow coloured tiles. But to their great surprise, she lost the game. Dilip, with red tiles, won.

All wasn’t over yet for Kanti when the game of Ludo got over at Veena’s.

He returned home, upset and disheartened with Veena taking undue advantage of the power she wielded because of her father. Anil, his father had to invent reasoning to calm him. “Kanti, just see, Veena lost even though she took Ramu’s help. If she continues to take help, I am afraid her own counting and arithmetic will become poor. Some day when Raju would be away for some reasons, she might not be able to compete with you all.”

Kanti kept nodding but was seemingly unconvinced. His mind was running on a different track, “Dad, can we have many servants so that I am able to get my mundane chores done by them and am able to devote my time to doing more important things.”

“Of course, we can have many servants. But to have many servants we need a lot of money to pay them. And where does a lot of money come from? Well, to earn a lot of money, one must work hard in life. If you study well and work hard, some day you’ll become and entrepreneur and have your own enterprise; you’ll have a lot of money and many servants to do your work,”

Anil was under the impression that that was the end of the chapter. On the contrary, the idea of earning a lot of money had got deeply embedded in Kanti’s mind. Hereafter, he would look for every opportunity to do just that. And one day, not too far in the future, he would come up with a business E-N-T-E-R-P-R-I-S-E” which would put Anil in a spin.

The Red Marble & Thieves

I guess you remember Kanti, the little entrepreneur who wanted to make a fortune by growing lemons on his head.

So, without ado, I bring you here another episode from his eventful childhood. It might evoke different emotions in you––from humour to sympathy to indifference––depending on what strikes your imagination.

But, for Kanti it was a traumatic experience. Read on…

One evening, Kanti came charging into the house and began rummaging the only drawer he was assigned in a chest of drawers to keep his belongings. It was a little beyond his reach even when he stood on the tips of his toes; he had to climb a stool to reach it. That inability to access his drawer was one of the main reasons he wanted to grow tall, really soon. And, that was the reason he accepted everything his mother gave him. “Eat it; it’ll help you grow tall,” she would say.

Kanti grew desperate as he looked for something, which seemed to evade his eyes. In a last ditch effort, he pulled out the full drawer, the weight of which, his tiny frame couldn’t bear. And, lo and behold, he lost balance and fell to the ground with a massive thud. All his toys came tumbling out––three cars, two tennis balls, crayons, pencils, a kaleidoscope, a piece of coloured glass, a top, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders board and a dozen other things.

“Maaa… heelppp!” Kanti yelled as he fell.

“What happened?” Maya, a concerned mother ran out of the kitchen in response to the distress call of her little one. She was aghast at the sight of Kanti lying spread-eagled on the floor facing the roof, a bit dazed; the drawer see-sawing on his little chest and a dozen and more marbles still traversing different paths on the floor in the hope of finding a state of equilibrium.

“Oh my God!” She staggered, “What happened? I hope you aren’t hurt, my child!?” She enquired with great concern even as she stepped on a marble and tripped and tumbled. Only a heavenly intervention enabled her to grasp the arm of a dining chair and avoid a fall. In one quick action she removed the drawer from Kanti’s chest and helped him on his feet.

“I’m fine,” said Kanti. But a face contorted by a spasm of pain, and a clearly visible limp in his gait gave away his actual condition.

“What happened,” was the repeated question, the doting mother asked as she hugged him and looked for signs of injuries.”

“Nothing really!” said Kanti. “I was looking for a red marble.”

“Now Kanti, you could have waited for me, as you always do. I would have helped you with it.”

“But you were in the kitchen and I was in too great a hurry. I couldn’t have waited.”

“Couldn’t have waited…. What do you mean?” Maya distorted her eyebrows to lay stress on the questions.

Unmindful of Maya’s concern, Kanti started picking up the marbles strewn on the floor. He was still looking for the ‘red’ marble.

Maya gave a glass of water to Kanti who still appeared hassled. “Tell me, what is the matter? And, look there. Yes there, under the chair. There’s your ‘red’ marble.” Maya said as she pointed at it.

The Red Marble

Greatly relieved, Kanti picked up the ‘red’ marble and pocketed it. He then hugged her mother tightly (Shashi Tharoor would rather have called the hug, a “kwtch”. A “kwtch” is more than a hug).

“Maa, you have saved me from ending up in prison.” His eyes welled and a tear rolled down his little pink cheek.

Maya’s face wore a big question mark.

“It’s like this… This morning I was playing marbles with Dinesh when he was called by his mother. He quit the game but left his red marble in a hope to re-join soon. But he did not return. So I picked up all the marbles and returned home. I carried his “red” marble too, to hand it over to him later.”

Curiosity was killing Maya: “Ending up in Jail? Red marble? What was going on in Kanti’s mind?”

Kanti continued with the seriousness of a grown up.

“Just a while ago, when I was playing outside with Veena (remember Veena? Kanti’s cousin of his age, and his living encyclopaedia of worldly knowledge) we saw a policeman passing by. In his tow was a handcuffed man. Veena told me that he was a thief being taken to the jail where he would be kept away from his family and friends for many days. She told me that a thief is a person who takes away someone else’s belongings without the owner’s consent. She also told me that…”

“Of course, thieves get punished. So how does that bother you?” Maya was impatient and wouldn’t let Kanti complete his story.

“I have taken Dinesh’s red marble without his consent. I am afraid the police will jail me for being a thief. I don’t want to be away from you and Dad,” sobbed Kanti.

“Oh my dear. You are not a thief. You have taken the marble only to help your friend. Thieves take away things with bad intention; not to return them,” Maya allayed Kanti’s anxiety. “Now go and handover the marble to Dinesh.”

Kanti was panting when he returned from Dinesh’s house. Maya smiled at him. “So that’s the end of it.” She thought.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Later, in the evening at the dinner table the three––Kanti, Anil (his father) and Maya––exchanged notes on how each spent the day. That was the family’s way of unwinding every day. Maya was the first one to speak. She had nothing to talk about her day. So she told Anil about the red marble and Kanti’s woe that afternoon. She chuckled as she shared the incident. Anil struggled to hold back the impulse to smile at the story when he saw a quiet Kanti lost in some thoughts.

“So Kanti, did you return the red marble to Dinesh,” Anil asked Kanti to get him involved in the conversation.

“Yes Dad, I did… and Dinesh was happy to get it back.” Kanti still wore a blank look. His discomfiture couldn’t escape Anil’s eyes.

“Is there something still troubling you, Kanti?” Anil poured all the tenderness that a caring father could in that question.

“Dad, Veena told me a lot of things about the thieves and the jail. She told me how they make the inmates clean, sweep and work hard in the jail. The police even shave off their heads.” Anil was all ears, nodding occasionally as he absorbed Kanti’s bits.

Then Kanti paused and looked around as if to make sure that no one else was listening. Once assured of the privacy, he brought his mouth close to his father’s ear and started talking in a hushed tone. “And Dad, do you know…?” He glanced around the room again and spoke in a whisper, “We are surrounded by thieves! Brij Mohan Bhaiya (the milkman), Ramu Bhaiya (the dhobi), and… even Ramesh Uncle (Major Ramesh, a friend of Anil)––all of them have shaven heads. As Veena said, they must have served sentences in the jail.”

Rest of Anil’s evening, and the following weekend was spent in convincing Kanti that all men with shaven heads were not thieves. Anil realised how easy it was to teach a child a new thing rather than erase things from its tender mind.

Little Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

His grandpa called him Kanti (so will I)––Kanti, meaning ‘glow’ in Hindi. And true to his name, he had a perpetual glow in his eyes, a glow borne of his love for knowledge. That was just one of his traits. Measuring barely three feet above the ground, he was a bundle of energy raring to be unleashed. But what is of even greater consequence than all this, is the fact that the last few months of his less than four years of existence on mother earth had been really tumultuous, and that is the subject matter of this post. And it is as true as true can be, for I have known Kanti well enough to pen this story.

First, the End of the Story

Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise

The sapling that Kanti had nurtured with so much care was now a full-grown lemon tree. It bore fruit in abundance exactly as per Kanti’s expectations. But there were many attendant problems. Balancing it on his head, as he walked around, was becoming rather difficult. Yes, you got it right! The tree was growing on his head. Entering and leaving the house with the tree on his head was a pain; he had to duck low to prevent the branches getting stuck in the doors. For some time now, Kanti had wanted his father to get the doors enlarged to enable his easy passage into and out of the house. He wanted even the window of his bedroom to be removed and the gaping hole in its place to be enlarged so that he could lie easily in the bed with the trunk of the tree jutting out of the house. Very soon the lemon tree on Kanti’s head became a source of untold agony for him. He regretted people throwing stones at him to get the fruit. It became especially unbearable when even his best friends started indulging in the obnoxious act. Kanti’s dream of generating revenue and becoming an entrepreneur by selling lemons was cracking (or had it already shattered?). The lemon tree had become a perpetual source of grief for him and his family. To, or not to, get it sawed off was the big question troubling Kanti­­. The dilemma was damning.

Now, all that was Kanti’s i-m-a-g-i-n-a-t-i-o-n. 

The Beginning of the Story and the Reality

One of the primary sources of all the world’s knowledge for Kanti was Veena, his cousin, a few months older than him. Because of the emphasis with which she always spoke, she wielded authority and her word was taken as gospel by all the children in the locality. 

One day she came out with a nugget of profound knowledge and a corollary to it. Her coterie of little friends was oblivious of both. She shared the wisdom: “When tiny seeds of plants are sown in the soil, and watered regularly, they grow into big trees.” The corollary was her derivation unbeknown even to the stream of science people call, “Biology.” It ran thus: “A plant would grow on one’s head if one swallowed a seed and drank a lot of water.” That marked the beginning of Kanti’s travails.

Armed with that knowledge, Kanti popped a lemon seed in his mouth and dabbled with the idea of growing a lemon tree on his head. He had barely considered all the consequences of implementing the plan when he accidentally swallowed the little thing. Kanti’s life changed with the crossing of the Rubicon.

Kanti drank excess water and even thought of consuming a pesticide for the health of the would-be lemon tree. That he didn’t consume any was the consequence of him not finding one. He devoted long hours i-m-a-g-i-n-i-n-g what life would be with a lemon tree growing on his head. A time came when all his thoughts and most of his actions through the day were devoted to his beloved project. The Lemon Tree Enterprise became a mania with Kanti.

Then, one day at the dinner table…

Kanti bowled over his father, Anil with a question. “Dad, does one really have to study so hard to do well as one grows up. Isn’t it fine if one starts a business early in life?”

“What do you mean? What business are you talking of?” The concerned father almost choked with the half-chewed morsel landing in his throat.

“It is like this, Dad. I want to get into the business of growing lemons and making large profits by selling them.”

Half amused, half amazed, the parents, Anil and Maya looked quizzically at Kanti who continued nonchalantly, “I have eaten a lemon seed and I am drinking sufficient water. Soon a tree will grow on my head. I expect to reap several good harvests every year which we can sell to make a lot of money.” The parents were spellbound as the little one continued, “Dad, you’ll have to get the doors and the walls modified for me to enter the house with the tree on my head. Also, you’ll have to employ a guard to prevent people throwing stones at me and taking away the lemons. If we manage it well, we’ll be rich.” With great enthusiasm Kanti talked about how he had stumbled on the great idea.

With enormous difficulty, Anil and Maya postponed their laughter to a later time when Kanti would be away at school next morning. The conscientious parents did not want to shatter their little one’s dream. It was indeed a delicate situation.

A Postscript of Sorts

It would have been unfair on the part of the parents to destroy the persona of their child’s icon––Veena. Anil found a simpler way out of the situation. After a few days of encouragement to Kanti’s Lemon Enterprise, he convinced the little entrepreneur that his body had perhaps rejected the lemon seed. “Human body does reject things it doesn’t like,” he said. “It might have been flushed down the lavatory long ago.”

Then he educated him on the necessity of soil and other environmental factors for plants to grow.

More importantly, the young parents made a deliberate effort to occasionally elicit the knowledge their little one amassed from his peers, and tweaked it when they felt the necessity.

There are the Kantis; and there are the Veenas and there is the parental art of dealing with the two.

Chocolates, Child & An Attractive Offer

Jim studies in a school. All children do. But his school is a school with a difference, where four R’s (the fourth ‘R’ being learning by rote) are not a part of a curriculum. Education is imparted in a rather unique way. When a child sees an aeroplane and asks a question, he is told about the flying machine and is waylaid (“waylaid,” seems to be an inappropriate word; “encouraged,” might be a better choice) to ask more questions. Sometimes the learning that starts from an aeroplane covers gliders, helicopters, fighter aircraft, sky, clouds, eagles, butterflies, flowers, colours, Wright Brothers, parachutes… literally everything that possibly strikes a child’s imagination in any direction. The teacher makes use of every tool in her bag to kindle the child’s imagination. Like in this case, she resorts to origami to make a paper aircraft, and she makes use of drawing to sketch a colourful butterfly.

Origami

The parents get educated too, and take charge at home. “Never say, NO to a child,” is the one thing they bear in mind always.

The other day, Jim received some chocolates from his uncle, forty of them in a box, and wanted to eat all of them instantly. An interesting conversation ensued. A lifetime of education is sandwiched between two of Jim’s utterances to William, his father: ‘Dad I want to eat all the chocolates now’ and ‘Dad, I don’t want to eat all the chocolates now.’ Here goes the conversation:

Jim: “Dad, I want to eat all the chocolates now. I like them so much. Please, Dad.”

William: “Can you eat them all? How many are there? Count!”

“One, two, three, … 39.” [Jim’s counting skill gets exercised.]

“Good! You ate one at noon. What’s the time now?”

“The hour hand is between five and six and the minute hand is at six,” Jim scratches his chin. “Hmm! It’s half past five.” [Jim gets practice in reading the hands of a clock and telling time.]

“Very good, indeed! I like that. I am so happy, you can now tell me the time. Here’s another chocolate for you.” [Jim feels victorious. He feels proud of his achievement. Happily he removes the wrapper and pops the chocolate in his mouth.]

“Is it sticky,” asks William, and without waiting for an answer, continues, “You know Jim, chocolate sticking between the teeth can cause tooth decay. Do you remember Tom (Jim’s friend) visiting the clinic with toothache?”

“But I brush my teeth twice everyday, and I’ll do it without fail even today.” [Jim re-commits himself to good hygiene.]

“How many chocolates would be left if I give you two more?”

“Thirty-six.” [Arithmetic again.]

“Do you know how many days would thirty-six chocolates last if you eat four chocolates every day,” William asked Jim raising his hands and gesturing as if the remaining stock of chocolates would last an eternity.

“Hmm! I don’t know?” [Jim concedes ground but is lured by William’s gesture into finding out: “How many days?”]

“Let’s see.”

Chocolates & Arithmetic

William gets a sheet of drawing paper and nudges Jim to draw several coloured boxes using sketch pens and a ruler. He makes Jim number them too. [Jim is excited getting to use his Dad’s sketch pens and ruler. He learns to draw squares using the ruler. Then William makes Jim place four chocolates in the area marked by each coloured box on the drawing sheet. He makes the little one count the boxes that are filled with chocolates––each box signifying a day.]

“Those chocolates will last me nine days if I have four a day.” [It was a ‘Eureka’ moment for Jim. He was excited at arriving at that mathematical conclusion. William cheered the little boy, “Oh my God! Those chocolates will last you nine days!” There was extra emphasis on, “N-I-N-E.”]

Doll for Ann

“Besides, you’ll have sufficient chocolates to share with Ann (Jim’s cousin) when she visits us over the weekend. I’ll also make some dolls for Ann using the chocolate wrappers. Do you want to enjoy the chocolates for N-I-N-E (even more emphasis) days, share them with Ann and present her some dolls too,” William proposed. [The offer was too attractive for Jim to decline.]

“Dad, I don’t want to eat all those chocolates now.”

[Jim’s chocolates lasted more than a week. More importantly, he was mighty happy sharing some with Ann.]

[Note: This story was narrated to me by my nephew, Abhinav Goyal.] [For Abhinav: Thanks dear, for sharing that story. Please excuse the shortcomings in narration.]

Abracadabra! Kids, Mahatma Gandhi and; the Freedom Struggle

We, humans like challenges. The children like them even more, particularly when they appear to be within their capacity to meet. Last summer, I was assigned the duty of engaging our grandnephew and grandniece––Aarav (5) and Dhwani (6)––while their parents went visiting their friends.

Although I accepted the assignment, I was a bit tired and wanted to take a nap before I could join them. But it didn’t work out my way and there I was, trying to keep the two kids entertained. I yawned like a dog as I narrated fairy tales, and tales of adventure to them. Soon they lost interest and became fidgety.

When sleep seemed to get the better of me, I came up with a stratagem. I promised to show them a magic trick provided they counted the hair on my head. They found the challenge amusing. Hesitant first, they looked at my balding head and spared a thought to considering the exciting proposal. Together they felt confident of counting the very few hair on my scalp. Then, of course, there was the lure of the Magic Trick that would follow.

The deal was done; I dozed off as soon as they began counting.

Poor little things! I must have slept for the greater part of an hour as they went through the exercise (read “ordeal”). They were still counting when I got up: “…2347, 2348, 2349, …”

Now it was my turn to fulfil my part of the agreement––to show them a magic trick. “Do you know Gandhiji?” I started with a preamble, as I had to keep them engaged for another hour before their parents returned. And then, without waiting for an answer, I described the greatness of the Father of the Nation. I took time to narrate the life of the great saint and the freedom struggle of India. I ended my monologue with: “Now I’ll show you his power.”

I took out a crisp two-thousand-rupee currency note and flashed it for them to see. “Whose picture do you see on that note?”

“Gandhiji,” they chorused.

Then I slipped the currency note in a long envelope as they watched curiously. I had cut windows in the envelope for the kids to be able to see the currency note kept inside. I held the envelope in front for them to see. With a pair of scissors in the other hand I said, “Now I’ll cut through the envelope but the currency note with the picture of Mahatma Gandhi will remain intact….” With a pause, I added, “That is the power of the Mahatma.”

“Abracadabra! Here I go!” With more theatrics, I chopped the envelope into two pieces and, lo and behold, the Mahatma remained unscathed. The note was still in one piece. The two clapped with joy.

Abracadabra! The power of the Mahatma!

It was a win-win situation. The kids thoroughly enjoyed my sleight of hand. They also had a gala time counting the hair on my head. I enjoyed my siesta. Above all, they learnt a few things about the Mahatma and India’s freedom struggle. Since the lesson was associated with spectacular magic, they’ll remember it for long.

Abracadabra!

Grandma or Tom Sawyer!?

One of my all time favourite books is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In particular, I remember the part published as a separate story titled Whitewashing the Fence. Briefly, Tom is assigned the job of whitewashing the fence by aunt Polly––something that he does not really like. He starts whitewashing the fence, but ultimately makes the other kids of his neighbourhood do the job for him. He sells the idea that whitewashing is a work of art and not many can do it well. His friends fall for the challenge and come to do it in turns. They even pay him in kind to be able to get a chance at it. He not only gets the job done (he is able to get three coats of whitewash on the fence) by his friends but also makes some gains in the form of the core of an apple, a kite, a dead rat and a string to swing it with, twelve marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through… the list is very long. Says Mark Twain, “If he (Tom Sawyer) hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.”

Mark Twain summarises Tom’s exploitation of the kids thus:

“He (Tom) had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Throwing small challenges, which a kid cannot but accept, is an art. Grandma Rita Jain, a Professor of Botany, seems to have mastered the art well. She has stitched a colourful mat with leftover pieces of cloth that she had. She makes her grandson, Kartik sit on the mat and proposes (that’s her way of challenging the little one), “Kartik, I wonder if you can point at the red squares.”

3aaa0de2-c2b9-436b-ae18-5a72c4d58887Kartik feels victorious when he is able, not only to point, but also count the squares of a particular colour. Sitting in Padmasan, the Lotus Posture on the same mat and performing some other actions form a package deal of challenges, which he enjoys accepting.

One trick cannot keep a kid engaged for long. Kartik seeks variety. The other day, the grandma sat by him and started whipping curds with the traditional Indian whipper (Mathani). It was a stratagem. As the grandma had expected, the little one was attracted to it and wanted to do it all by himself. “Dadiji, I want to do it,” he expressed his desire.

e60e8f23-aed3-4f1d-9828-a4196a484cde“Beta, it is difficult. Do you think you can really do it?” She made the exercise of whipping the curd sound like a highly technical job.

“I’ll do it slowly. I’ll not spill anything. Let me try at least. Please, Dadiji.” Kartik urged.

“Okay! Go ahead! Let me see how well you do it,” the grandma ratcheted up the challenge.

Kartik did it; and did it well. There was nothing great about it. But that little challenge was a step forward in improving eye-hand coordination. The sense of pride that he had at the end of the exercise, gave him confidence for yet another challenge.

In these games that Kartik and the grandma play, both are winners.  

 

 

The Little Coin-Collector

I just phoned a friend. I fall back on Banjo for solutions to many problems. Today it was to know the right word for ‘one who collects old coins’. His prompt answer was ‘numismatist’. Now, that word is a little difficult for me to spell and more so to pronounce. And, I guess not many people are familiar with it, at least in India. So for this post I’ll stick to a simpler expression: ‘coin-collector.

IMG_4035I had just been introduced to this new hobby. I had started with a few coins, which my grandfather had given me. I had not seen them in common use. Some were shapeless and not as shiny as the coins I was used to seeing. I washed them with soap and water but there was no improvement in the looks. I tried other cleaning materials to no avail.

“How do I shine my coins?” Now, this was a worry wearying me out. I was five then.

Where there is a will there is a way. In a different context, unrelated to my problem, I heard someone say, “Petrol is a good cleaner. I use it to clean my cycle chain.”

“Coins! Petrol! Cleaner! Eureka!” I had stumbled upon a solution to the nagging problem that had taken away my sleep. “I will clean my coins to a sparkle and surprise everyone,” I was determined.

“I would need a very small quantity of petrol to clean my coins. Where do I get it from?” The solution to the subsidiary problem came instantly. We had a moped.

“I’ll draw some petrol from our moped. How do I do that?”

Where there is a will there is a way. I took a piece of sponge fastened it to a metal wire and lowered it into the petrol tank, dipped it in petrol and pulled the wire. It wasn’t easy.

The piece of sponge got detached and fell into the tank. My efforts to take it out failed. The problem was that the inside of the tank was dark and I could not see the piece of sponge. “How do I see it to be able to fish it out?”

Where there is a will there is a way. I’ll light a match and illuminate the inside of the tank; locate the piece of sponge and fish it out. Simple!”

I ran inside our house and fetched a matchbox. I took out a matchstick and struck to ignite. I failed to light it. It was destined that way. Before I could strike the match a second time, I saw my eldest brother approaching.

A word about my eldest brother: Born on December the 25th he has been a guardian angel to us, the younger siblings––warding off our troubles.

I staggered when I saw him approaching. Not that I was afraid of him; I loved and adored him. Just that I did not want to seek his help in this endeavour. I wanted to go it alone and surprise everyone.

I shelved the project for sometime.

In due course, I had other pressing issues to deal with––my homework, a game of football with my friends in the neighbourhood…. Coins, sponge and petrol were forgotten. A big tragedy was averted.

Not really! When it strikes again the second time, my guardian angel would not be around to steer the path for me. I leave that story for another day.

Anything can ignite a child’s mind.