Suman and the Bullies
by Indrani Talukdar
(Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India)
Suman lived with his grandmother next to a lake. He was eight years’ old but looked younger. His grandmother, whom everybody called Dadi, used to sew and knit for her living.
Dadi was very old and poor. Very often she wouldn’t be able to earn enough for the two of them. This made her very sad and she would cry. Suman hated to see his grandmother crying. She had lost her only son and daughter-in-law - Suman’s parents - to a fatal accident when Suman was very young.
Across the lake lived three boys who were older and bigger than Suman and did everything possible to make his life miserable. Veeru, the oldest among the three, who was the son of a locksmith, often snatched Suman’s lunch money.
It was the money Suman earned from selling toys to people. Veeru’s younger brother Sheru and his young cousin Lagan also bullied Suman by snatching his money and beating him up whenever they could.
One afternoon... Suman was returning home from school. He was walking beside the canal that divided his humble hut from the main road. He was whistling a tune to himself as he was very happy. His math teacher had praised him in the presence of the entire class. The math teacher, whom everybody called Chopra Sir, had addressed the class and said, “See how hard this boy works. He helps his grandmother by selling toys to people. He reaches home tired and still finds time to do his homework. Shouldn’t all of you learn something from this poor boy?”
The same Chopra Sir had said last year Suman would never be able to complete his studies because of his extreme poverty. Everyone knew that Suman was the poorest pupil in that school. He’d been admitted on a scholarship. This semester he’d done very well in Geography and History as well. Only English was a problem...
“JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” Suman was so lost in thought that he hadn’t realized how far he’d come away from the canal. Next to the bushes Sheru was lying in wait for him. “Empty your pockets and be quick!” he hissed. Before Suman could think of anything to say, a resounding slap landed on his cheek. Suman went reeling on the ground. Dusting his clothes he whimpered,
“Why are you hitting me? What have I done?”
“You think you are a genius, a great math genius, don’t you? Here, take this!” The voice was Lagan’s who’d just boxed his ears. Lagan had failed the math exam this semester.
The two beat Suman to near pulp and also snatched his money. Suman cried all the way home. Dadi, looking at his swollen face, cut lip and black eye, asked him what had happened. Sobbing Suman said that he wouldn’t go to school from tomorrow.
Dadi, a poor bent old woman was also very wise. “Look,” she said after a moment’s silence, “this world is a hard place. If you don’t know how to look after yourself no one can help you. Your father, my son,” Dadi’s eyes filled with tears, “was a very simple lad, like you. People took advantage of him and gave him a lot of trouble.”
Heaving a huge sigh she resumed, “A wrestler who lived in the neighborhood came home one day and took your father under his wings for three months. Come here, I’ll show you something.” She led Suman by the hand and pointed outside the window.
Outside was a rundown-looking shop which belonged to Golu Mithaiwala. Why was Dadi pointing towards his shop?
“This was an open field before where wrestling matches were held,” she explained sitting down on a rickety old stool.
“Your father lived with the wrestler and returned a champion. His muscles had swelled up like this,” she made curves in the air with her knotted, wrinkled hands. “Now everybody was scared of your father. But your father never misused his power. He only used it to punish thugs and bullies.”
“My father was lucky to have found a wrestler who could teach him how to defend himself. Where will I find such a wrestler?” Suman was saying to himself while trying to sleep. Dadi was right though. It was important to know how to defend oneself.
The next day, returning from school, Suman spotted Veeru and Lagan at a fair distance from the canal.
They hadn’t seen him yet. He quickly changed his route. The new route took him into the jungle. It was a longer route, very scenic with a river flowing through it; but it would also mean that he wouldn’t be bullied by the two horrible boys.
“Help! Help!” It sounded like a child screaming. Was a small child drowning
in the river?
“Help! Help!” The voice wasn’t that of a child’s. It was quite shrill though. Was it an old woman drowning in the rushing river?
There was no time to think, actually. Flinging his school bag on a large rock, Suman ran in the direction of the voice.
He was panting by the time he reached the gushing river. Once there he stared. A small man, slightly taller than his knees, was drowning in the fast-flowing river and shouting for help. Another minute and he would be gone. Suman, who was quite small himself, pulled out the drowning dwarf and seated him on a rock. Thank god for a strong sun – their clothes would soon be dry.
The dwarf, who was so old that Suman could barely count his wrinkles, thanked him generously. Pulling out a ring from his finger he told his savior, “My child, you have saved my life. I don’t even know how to thank you. I am a poor man and this is all I can give you.” He thrust the ring in Suman’s unwilling hands.
Suman didn’t want to take the poor old man’s ring away and started to return it to him. The dwarf thundered, furious. “Don’t ever turn away a gift, understand!” Scared, Suman placed the ring on the third finger of his right hand. “The ring will save you from trouble. It is, in fact, two gifts in one. But you must promise not to let anyone know about this.” With those words he disappeared.
It had become dark. Dadi would be worried. Suman quickened his steps. He kept staring at the ring. The funny old man had said the ring would save him. How was that possible?
“What’s that on your finger?” Suman had been dreaming again. He hadn’t seen Veeru, Sheru and Lagan coming from the opposite direction.
“Here, give it to me Be quick!” Veeru put out his hand to snatch the ring.
“You haven’t forgotten yesterday’s beating, have you?” growled Lagan.
Three against one. It was an unequal match to begin with. Suman started to sweat and rub his hands out of nervousness. The ring on his finger also got rubbed. The bullies, about to lunge at him, had suddenly doubled up on the ground at his feet. They were rolling helplessly, clutching their sides.
“Stop it! Please stop it! hee, hee, hee! Oh my goodness! Please stop!” The three begged him. This was such a new sensation for Suman. The bullies begging HIS forgiveness! Their helpless laughter was echoing in the jungle.
Suman rubbed the ring once again. The tickling stopped just as suddenly as it had begun.
The three rose from the ground and approached Suman getting ready to strike. Panicked, he rubbed the ring. The three dropped to the ground and rolled about helplessly crying tears of laughter.
“We won’t bother you again hee, hee, hee... we promise you, hee, hee, hee please don’t do this hee, hee, hee...”
The three were clutching Suman’s feet begging for his forgiveness.
“In that case you must promise never to bully me nor anyone else,” he said.
“Yes,we do hee, hee, hee...Please stop now… hee… hee… hee…”
“Not so soon. Do you also promise not to snatch money from anyone?”
“Yes we do!” chorused the three.
Suman rubbed the ring. The cowards, on being released, fled without looking back.
Suman then pulled the ring off his finger and kissed it. The old dwarf re-appeared before his eyes.
As he smiled a beautifully-scented breeze blew past him. “I must tell you son, that you must never misuse this gift that you now have.”
“You had said that this ring contains two gifts. Which is the second one?” Suman asked him.
“You’ll find out soon, son.” The dwarf disappeared suddenly, like vapor.
It was quite late by the time Suman reached his hut. A worried Dadi asked him if Veeru and his gang had bothered him on the way.
“No Dadi,” said a truly delighted Suman, “this time I bothered them!” End