A parent’s advice when listened to is a silly rambling. But when the same words are heard, a pinching truth.
While a boy of 15 played with three of his friends, a soft screech was heard, “Akaash, Baba is home” called out his mother. The boy dropped all acts and rushed home, for father was an enthralling figure with the kindest eyes. While lunch was being plated, the father’s question killed the boy’s appetite: “Why didn’t you go to school today? This is the third time this week.” Looking at his mother with a feeling of betrayal, the boy replied: “I don’t like it there. It’s a waste of time. I’d rather play with my friends or learn things with you on the field, Baba. After all, that’s what people say I have to do.” Father sighed.
After lunch, he took the boy in his arms and tried to explain to him how he should be grateful that he had the opportunity to go to a school and learn things that only the city people knew so far. The boy could see the regret in the eyes of his father, who himself had been thrown into the fields by his father at a young age to learn the back-breaking work. But he didn’t want that for his son. He informed the boy that he was their only hope out of this vicious cycle of hand-to-mouth living. “You were born to touch the sky, Akaash: that’s what your name also means. So don’t settle for this life,” Baba ended the conversation.
The family of three lived in a single room in a half-built brick house, with a barely legal rooftop. The father was a farmer, and the mother a candle-maker, in a small village where hand-to-mouth living was almost a norm. The people of the village lived on what they produced for the vibrant city markets. But even this kind of survival had seemed difficult lately. The city had refused to buy the produce of many adjacent villages since the news of a plague spread. It was believed to have spread from villages to cities.
One day, a neighbor ran to the school looking for Akaash. He informed that his father had come home from the field running a high fever, and the medic predicted that he might have the flu. Akaash rushed back home and found his ailing father in his bed, in pain, with his gaze fixed on his farming tools. He met his mother, who grabbed him and began to cry silently so that her husband could not hear. Akaash consoled her, and then he knelt at his father’s bedside. Baba now shifted his teary eyes from his tools to his boy. No words were exchanged between them, but everything was said in the unspoken – eyes have a language of their own when hearts are connected.
With time Baba began to recover a bit. But the mother became weaker, having worked double time on her candle-making to put food on the table and pay for Baba’s medicines. Akaash didn’t notice the new changes in the house, as he was far too busy working in the field and studying for school. He worked diligently and complained less. He now understood what it took to run a household. How comfort was an enemy when there were stomachs to fill and loved ones to take care of.
Weeks passed, months went by, the flu was gone… and so was Baba. All that was left was a promise, Baba’s last words: “Promise me you will never stop learning, promise me you will never stop chasing the sky, promise me you will take care of your mother, and be good.” Eyes had spoken again, but this time, for the last time.
For the next few years, life was busy and chaotic. Akaash studied hard, and he remembered his promise to Baba each night. It all bore fruit when he received a scholarship to study at a city college. But moving to the city was still something the family of two could not afford. He travelled to college from the village every morning, worked in the fields every evening, and studied at night. In this he put his heart and soul, blood and sweat alike. Education was free under the scholarship but it came at a price – the price of his youth. As his college years ended, he began teaching at a primary school in his village as its head-teacher, alongside his usual chores. Teaching means learning as much as studying did.
One lucky day, when the sun smiled brighter than usual, the news got around that a team from ‘Google’ was visiting schools in the city and it was to visit Akaash’s school, too, as it came under the supervision of the City Council. Google had collaborated with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Funds) for extending monetary aid to the less privileged in third-world countries for a brighter future of their youth. There was only one person in that small village of producers for the city who realised what this meant and how big it could be.
On the day of the team’s visit, Akaash welcomed it with an amazing speech. Noticing his oratory skills, the team was surprised to know of his qualifications. A member of the team asked him why he compromised a life in the corner when he could have easily taken up a job and built a different life for himself in the city. He stood quietly for a minute and then answered: “I couldn’t leave behind my family, my mother, nor could I take her along. Our culture does not teach us to leave our parents and elderly behind.” The members of the team realised they had more to learn about the native culture and its values.
The mini-gala was the talk of the week and with its end arrived a letter to the school, honouring its head-teacher and advancing him an offer to speak at workshops for Google’s employees and talk about values and work ethics at the company’s headquarters in California, USA, for full three months. The entire village was joyous. Few there had ever gone beyond the city close by. And this was international. This was big. Even though he had doubts at first, Akaash’s mother persuaded him to accept the offer and break the cycle – just like his father had wanted him to. He took the offer. The world outside was new, and big, and so amusing – the things that were a reality here had not come to him even his dreams.
At the end of the programme, he was offered to join full-time as a ‘value educator’. He made new friends and met famous people – some of whose fame he had not even known before. He was finally living up to his promise to Baba, but something was still amiss! No matter how hard he tried, it never felt like home. It always felt like a vacation. He missed the scent of his mother’s candles. He missed home.
Living the biggest dilemma of his life, sleepless for nights, and drawn by memories of home, he finally wrote to his new employers that his salary and other perks should be reimbursed and sent to his village, where he would like to set up a college. He also requested the company to sponsor it.
He spent several sleepless nights as he awaited a response.
Two years later, standing in the Dean’s office, a room neatly lined with glass windows, Akaash began setting the flowers in a vase on the principal’s table. The name plate read the name of his mother. And adjacent was the table of his wife, who was the Dean. His wife was well-read, and had been a teacher in a local school previously. He stood between the two tables, looking up at Baba’s photo hanging on the back wall with a garland. The picture was so vibrant that he could still see his father’s kind eyes. He stood there looking at the photo and recalling his father’s advice when he had last sat under his arm after refusing to go to school. It seemed Baba was speaking those words to him again. He smiled and then whispered, “Baba, I broke the cycle, and not just for myself. It was impossible to touch the sky. So I created one. Now many more fathers can dream like mine did. I kept my promise, Baba.”
A group of college boys and girls flew in with a large cake to retrieve their favourite professor and the celebrations for his 30th birthday began.
Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a person living or otherwise may be purely coincidental