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     Volume 4 Issue 26 | December 24, 2004 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   A Roman Column
   Food for Thought
   In Retrospect
   Slice of Life
   Time Out
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   Book Review
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Slice of Life

The Test

Richa Jha

The Child (aged 3 years, 9 months) Speaks:
Mom said, "Fencing. That's what our child will learn."
"Fencing? You mean teaching him to jump over the fences? Where are fences now, anyway?" was dad's reaction. As would have been any other dad's reaction to such an outlandish wish.

"An expert is coming from France, and he's holding fitness and agility tests for kids aged 4 to 12. Our son will go. He'll select his pupils, only 6 of them, tomorrow. These fortunate six will then train with him over the next year or so."

"Okay, but our son isn't four yet…"
"That's what you know and I know.
"But fencing is a dead art form."
"Ah! You and your logic. Will you ever take me seriously? Fencing is what regents do, and fencing is what our child shall learn."

She sealed it with a thunderous assertion of finality. No more questions to be asked. I looked at my dad. I have seen this look of broken pride in his questioning eyes and brows often. I know he wants to jolt her, with blunt expressions like 'will you please talk sense for once?' I'm sure he'd like to trade such one-sided situational defeats with mom but like most other dads I know, he has to make do with whatever gets thrown at him. But still, his dog's life is better than my pup's life (mom calls me her puppy); at least the dog doesn't get pushed into wielding a rapier twice his size.

Someone ask me please if I want to be there…. You must bear in mind that at my age in today's supersonic age, I am an oddity of sorts, because I am more like what you all were as children. My classmates are close to cracking complex algorithms; my peer is getting ready to participate in international computer gaming competitions; my classmates have already learnt the big things in life, things like what all they want from their class, how they themselves wish to go about acquiring this knowledge, and so on. And I am yet to learn to hold a pencil the right way. Still, a mother never stops thinking the world for her child, does she?

I knew I would have to act, and act fast. When my parents were away, I added ice cubes to my bath, gulped down chilled water, tired myself to death, and at night stayed up without the blanket laying there shivering and praying to the good wizard and all the goblins to give me fever the next day. I took care not to keep my bedroom lights switched on for fear of Wee Willie Winkie, lest he spotted me up in bed. Thinking, praying, and hoping for the best, I didn't realise when I dozed off.

It worked. I woke up with a thermometer in my mouth and a worried looking mom and mildly amused dad poring over my face.

"That's it then. It's unfortunate that he'll not be able to go for his fencing test today," dad said with a suppressed sigh of relief and a renewed affirmation in the mechanics of divine intervention.

The furious "Why?" that followed from mom resulted in raised eyebrows in both us men, albeit for different reasons. My immediate concern was, "Isn't my fever high enough to be made to stay home? All prayers gone to waste…".

Meanwhile, mom's logic was being unleashed upon us with a vengeance, "Why should this mild temperature prevent him from doing something he'll genuinely enjoy? He'll pop a paracetamol and be fine in a minute."

So I was coddled for a few seconds, shown few websites on the sport (just to prepare me to face the mummified jumping jacks), and bundled off soon thereafter into the car for destination unknown.

Strange, but true, the turnout at the test centre was huge. If you thought, and dad certainly did, that just a handful of deranged free willies would be interested in something as archaic and outlandish as fencing, think again. Whether it was the fear of Draconian parents that brought them there, or their own volition, I wouldn't know. But they were there swarming the place, mostly boys, each of them jumping around like trapeze artists and few flexing whatever baby muscles they could boast. I was the tiniest among them. But to tell you the truth, while I was still distressed at the very prospect of having to face the masked man and was still hoping against hope for that pleasant twist in the tale, the rest of them looked happy to be there. Boys at this age, I tell you. Why can't they be more like me: all sensible, quiet, and understated…

Each of our names and dimensions was fed into their database. I heard mom put 'four years and four months' against my name, and explain quickly that I am short for my age. But more the activity I saw around me, my fears looked real. So this was it. Until then, since I had been holding mom's little finger all the while, I was unperturbed. But when we were lined up and led into the torture clamber, I looked back at my doubly anxious mother and lost it. What began as a weak snivel soon became an uncontrollable sob, and there I was running back to her. I wailed and told her I was scared, and that I thought the man in there was going to eat me, and that the walls in there were also ready to gobble me, and that I am not a brave boy. I told her I knew she was disappointed, but I really wanted to rush to the toilet.

She just hugged me tight and whispered close to me, "No my pudding. It is all right. You're just my little baby. The problem lies somewhere else. Let's go home…" I didn't quite get what she meant by that, but it felt wonderful to be back in her arms. And even more wonderful to be taken to towards the toilet.


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