School had just recessed for lunch. A sweltering sun was blazing high in the sky, making the afternoon giddy with its heat. At the sound of the bell, the dull faces of the students brightened up instantly, because of course, it meant that it was time to dive into their delicious tiffin boxes and play!
Rohit had been half asleep, and Sagar was looking at his watch every minute. Dipti and Nisha had been busy talking to each other without a sound, by cleverly scribbling their chit-chat on their notebooks. And Manoj, as usual, was dreaming about the extra laddoo his mother had lovingly put in his tiffin that day in exchange for watering the plants. While Manoj was gigantic, Rohit was shy and frail-looking. Sagar always had a smile on his face, Nisha was an all-rounder and Dipti was the studious one. They were all studying in Class 7 in a school in New Delhi, and were the best of friends.
Excited, they ran out onto the field, and went straight to the shade of their favourite tree to open their tiffins. As they were about to pick up their first morsels, they spotted the bully gang of the school from afar. There were four of them, and they were striding leisurely to their own spot near the water cooler. As they talked and laughed, a tiny boy ran by them, in order to catch the ball that his friend had thrown at him. Aghast, Rohit and his friends saw a tragedy unfold right in front of them. The little boy, in his haste, bumped into one of the bully gang and tipped the tiffin box of one of them. It’s delicious contents spilled to the ground and lay scattered amongst the mud and grass. All the children turned to look at the strewn food and the group of four. Unfortunately, that tiffin was Dheeraj’s.
Dheeraj was a much feared bully, who studied in Class 11. Everyone knew he was the son of a prominent industrialist, because Dheeraj could never stop boasting about it. One day, while all students were out in the field practicing for the upcoming Annual Sports Meet, his father had come to the school gate to give him a small packet. All the students looked on wide-eyed as Dheeraj’s father arrived in a shiny black expensive looking car. A uniformed driver promptly got off to open his door, and out stepped Mr. Singh. Dressed in a business suit and sunglasses, as he approached the gate, the security guards almost fell at his feet. He shooed them away and called Dheeraj on his mobile phone. He was the only student in the entire school who was allowed to keep a mobile phone, thanks to the influence of his father. As it beeped in his pocket, Dheeraj walked towards the gate, exchanged some words, took the packet and returned to the field. He seemed anxious to open it, and as he undid the ribbons, it revealed a very expensive watch in a transparent cover. Dheeraj went on to brag how his father had come straight from the airport and how he was never denied anything that he wished for. Everyone was in awe of him, yet they feared him deeply, because not only was Dheeraj spoilt, but he was also a mean fellow who tortured everyone, and the school simply refused to take any action against him.
“Hey you!” he called out, “Come here this instant!” The little boy froze in his tracks as he heard the familiar mocking voice. He turned towards Dheeraj and shivered. Slowly he began to drag himself towards his group. Sagar’s smile vanished, as Dipti quickly cleaned her spectacles to get a better view. Nisha started to worry aloud, and caught onto Manoj for support. Rohit trembled within with fear. That boy was surely going to get the beating of his life.
Dheeraj and his friends slowly let out an evil laugh as the boy inched closer. They loosened their ties and started to relax their shoulders, as if preparing for a boxing match. “Come on now, we haven’t got all day”. A crowd had begun to gather at a safe distance. Suddenly the bell rang to announce the end of the recess. “Nobody moves! You all have got to see what it is to mess with Dheeraj Singh”. The students pitifully stood rooted to their places. And the little boy was near to fainting with fear.
When he reached within arm’s length, Dheeraj pulled him in by his tie, and shook him by his shoulders. The boy sobbed bitterly and begged forgiveness. But instead, he got a hard slap on his cheek. He fell to the ground, crying and scared. But Dheeraj and his friends had just begun to have fun.
Nisha was aghast and she began to coax Manoj to go to his aid. Manoj was big, but he was no match for the well-built grown up boys. She urged Sagar, but he refused outright. No one had ever dared to raise their voice against the atrocities by the ‘rich bully group’. She looked at Rohit, who was watching the drama open-mouthed. His thin arms were set about his waist and he was breathing hard. Before she could utter a word, Rohit had taken his first step towards the ‘forbidden spot’.
His friends watched awestruck as Rohit began to close the space between himself and his opponents. Dheeraj got momentarily distracted with this thin boy who was walking up to them with a puffed up chest, looking straight into his eyes. “Leave him Bhaiya, he will not repeat his mistake.” He spoke evenly, and his voice sounded confident. He was trembling from within, but now it was not with fear, it was with fury.
Dheeraj was taken aback, because no one had ever talked to him like that. He immediately caught Rohit by his collar, “What did you say? Now, you will get beaten up along with him!” “Don’t you dare touch me!” yelled Rohit. “Back off! And leave this kid alone!” Dheeraj was mad now and he lunged to grab Rohit. He dodged him, and Dheeraj landed face flat on the ground. A few among the crowd began to giggle.
Nisha, Sagar, Dipti and Manoj now knew for certain that Rohit would surely be beaten up. They had to save their friend. They ran from their spot towards them and stood next to Rohit. They were all charged up by his bravado and Manoj was now as angry as a bull. “Don’t you dare lay a finger on any one of us. We’ve had enough!” One little girl, whose schoolbag Dheeraj had once thrown into the water fountain, threw her empty tiffin box at him. Soon, every other child who had been harassed by Dheeraj and his friends started throwing their boxes at the group. The ‘rich bully gang’, now stood embarrassed at the centre of the ground, fighting off a rain of tiffin boxes. They retreated like scared cats from the ground.
Nisha began to chant “Rohit! Rohit! Rohit!” and the whole school joined in! Manoj placed him high on his shoulder and everyone began to applaud. The noise was deafening, and the PT teacher appeared from nowhere, blew his whistle and began to round everyone up.
Dheeraj never dared to raise his voice or his finger on any child again.
And Rohit, the frail-looking meek boy who rarely uttered a word, had proven that size does not matter, courage does. He had become a hero.
- sweltering – uncomfortably hot
- coax – to persuade someone to do something
- bravado – courage