Bamboo Flower the novel, Part-I
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction by Akendra Sana. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The boy kicked dew-covered grass as he walked the narrow path along the foothills that December morning, with the early sun against the hills. First day of the school winter break always was calm and eagerly awaited, but today he had to go to School for exam formalities, he was told. It was past nine but the cold kept most people indoors even as the early mist gave way to the warm welcome bright mild sun.
What Clerk Tomba told him was specific. He was to meet Headmaster Ojah Babu early. As he walked he told himself that he would only reply what was asked.
Soon he instead wanted pleasant things to occupy the mind. It did not take long to now anticipate the evening fire they would be making in the open space near the house just as they had been doing every evening since the onset of the harsh winter. There would be fire in the middle and laughter and a lot of noise around. And some of them would try to join and sneak what the older boys were talking about a little away as they send out shrieks of laughter.
An open fire away from the confines of home always made him feel free and happy. In those days of open playgrounds and rice fields the spaces between them were most happy places. Boys of his age and older would congregate at sun down and within minutes they, some four, five, six of them would gather dry twigs, leaves, and sometimes dry roots for a fire to last an hour or so. Maipak, Ingo, Gopal and he would always be there unless they were ill. On some days Thoiba and Jayanta joined them. Their houses were a little further. There was not a moment of silence around the fire. Jokes and riddles made them all smile and laugh.
Maipak was the star with riddles: “Clothed when young, naked in adulthood”, was a favourite among dozens they regularly remembered, phrased and tossed from one mouth to another. Long pause from them, the answer had been repeated over and over, but for fat and slow Thoiba, his delight was drooling the answer: BAMBOO - shedding bark as they grow and getting naked.
Why me? He asked in his mind. Because I do not know my father’s name. I know what I will say. Is it then necessary to obey the Headmaster’s orders? I am happy as I am. My mother and I know what make us happy. Why dwell on a life that will not return. I know that my father will never return. So why bother with a name? My mother says names matter only when you can relate to it.
Should I not be happy that my mother has been strong to bring me up? She has been lonely. Yet she has not made me feel lonely.
Why should I answer? How can I answer something I do not know? Let him do anything he wants. Isn’t he cruel to try to make me reply something I will not be able to answer?
Nobody knew how old Rajen was. For one, he was smaller than his classmates. Neighbours could not say that they remembered his birth as around the same time as that of any of the boys in the locality. And he could not say his date of birth.
The Headmaster knew his difficulty but it was necessary to give him a date of birth. The Headmaster and the clerk also knew that candidates for the class eight Board examination had to be between thirteen and fifteen years of age. Like in the past years, they would have to make first of March with a convenient year the date of birth for some like Rajen.
This was also the time the students could make changes in the way their names were written as forms were filled out for the Board Examination. The students themselves without the knowledge of their parents mostly made the changes. Many started putting their surnames after the first name thinking it was the new way and fashionable. Until that time, it was the surname before the given name and then the word “Singh” in that order. Those were however the years many boys started dropping the word “Singh” from their names.
The date of birth was written down quietly. It was however different when he set out to spell out how his name was to be written. When his turn came, Rajen wrote “Rajen Hao”. He was changing it from the usual conventional “H. Rajendra Singh”. His mother had so far not told him what the “H” stood for him because she only said your father was also “H” but different from her “Huidrom”.
This was not a sudden decision. He wanted a change and he had been toying with different ways of writing his name. So when he stumbled on “Rajen Hao”, he knew it was going to be this.
This was his own. It could stand for Haobam, Haobijam or for Haorokcham or any other similar Meitei Manipuri surname. If it was “H. Rajendra”, it could also stand for any of Hanglem, Hawaibam, Heikham, Heikrujam, Heisnam, Hemam, Hijam, Howrungbam, Huidrom, Huirem or any other starting with the letter, “H”. Now, by writing only “Hao” he was confining to a lesser number of them or it could mean none.
The father’s name column was the difficulty with the school authorities. Old registers were brought down to find out if in the distant past in the primary classes a name for Rajen’s father was given. His maternal uncle’s name as guardian was there. Headmaster Ojah Babu, a friend of his late uncle Modhu, his mother’s elder brother, decided to make one final attempt. Rajen was thus summoned. He was asked if he could come with the name.
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