No one ever dared to speak up straight against Mr. Neeraj's authority. He came all enraged towards Aman and slapped him so hard, the sound echoed from the walls. When he lifted his hands again, Aman grabbed him and slapped back as hard as he could and he did not stop. He kept beating his teacher up. But it was almost like the scene when elder and younger brother fight over an argument and the elder always beats the younger one up. When Aman found that he was terribly overpowered and Mr. Neeraj had been insulted enough, he just ran away. Aman was suspended for 15 days. It was his father's repeated requests, almost begging the Principal not to put him out of school that saved him a year. He also had to apologize to the English teacher. Aman, however, also had to say "Sorry." after being forced and threatened by his father and the Principal of the school. Next year Aman was admitted to a different school but he did not do well in studies after the incident. His anger destroyed his education.
15 years had passed since the incident. Who remembers such a thing after 15 years? After all, things like this do happen in all schools where students are vulnerable to punishments. But why was Aman at Mr. Neeraj's home today? Has revenge brought him back? Does he still blame his teacher for loss in his career?
"Do you remember having rough time in the school in 1988?"
Mr. Neeraj thought for a while. An old man going back in time, counting tragedies that every year had brought, it takes a while to go 15 years back. When his memories did reach the year 1988, his mouth was left open in fear and in anger.
Why was Aman here? He must be here today to show that he did become a big man without his English teachings after all. What a fool! How big his ego must be to come back years later for that? Or is he here for revenge?
"What do you want?" the bitterness and agony of 15 years came stronger in his voice than his thoughts.
"I just want to talk sir. There is something I want to say. Can I come in?"
"It is good sir."
"I heard from Shekhar that you managed to get a diploma."
"So did you get a job too?"
"I did get a job but then I left it only recently."
Must have been fired, Mr. Neeraj thought, sipping his tea with utmost pleasure while listening to his ruined life.
"I worked as a draftsman."
"How much did you get?"
"Rs. 3000 per month sir."
Who would pay you more than that? The old man's soul was getting satisfied by the misery of his own student.
"Good." He said viciously.
"How are you sir?" Aman asked politely. The soft tone almost touched old man's heart. He retreated and replied with his firm voice.
"How would an old man be? I am good. Waiting to die you know. I wish I had more students like you to teach." He said contemptuously but Aman did not seem to feel bad.
"How is madam sir?"
It almost came as a shock to him. Was he trying to hurt him by asking such a question? Did he not know that they divorced long ago?
"We are separated, Aman." He wanted to sound bitter but the feeling of loneliness curbed him.
"Oh I’m sorry sir."
As if you are really sorry raising such a question only to make me feel bad. The old man was indeed feeling sad at being separated and felt it was cruel to have been asked about it. But he also knew it was his anger that drove his wife and his children away but right now he wanted to be angry and the conflict made him restless. He was about to say that he has some work to attend to and it was nice meeting him when it occurred to him to ask about the visit.
"So Aman why did you come to meet me after all these years? Any work you have got?"
He waited for Aman to speak but he didn't, so he just added
He waited getting more and more uncomfortable and impatient with the silence that held them, when Aman broke.
"Sir, I am here to apologize for what I did."
So his life did teach him a lesson. Mr. Neeraj felt proud now. He felt triumphed and viciously happy more than he had been in many, many years. As more tears fell from Aman's eyes, more satisfied did he feel. But Aman did not stop, his tearful silence turned into sobbing and then into inconsolable gasps.
The old man's arrogance immediately melted like candle wax and he took him in his weak, shivering arms.
"It was long ago Aman, forget it. Don't feel so bad. You had said sorry even then."
"No sir I mean it this time."
Yes indeed that must have happened. The old man had seen such people all his life. They regret for what happened but never change. It appears to be one such hopeless case. What a waste!
"And Sir I then became lethargic, oblivious and opposed to everything. I blamed you for everything that had happened and never tried to get up. Later I used you as an excuse for making my life miserable...until...until one day when I fell sick."
"I was suddenly afraid of things..."
"I suffered from flu and I became violent. Doctor said it was depression but it felt different. I got treatment for everything but my condition was growing weird and I suffered from terrible headache."
"No son I did you wrong. You don't have to be sorry for anything."
The old man could not stop his tears. Even when it was his student who needed courage for his very last days, he could not offer him even that. He tried to be strong to tell him that he did not hate him so much, that he loved him in school, that sometimes he really wished that the unfortunate wrestle would not have happened, that he sometimes even thought about him and wished that he do good in life... But it all seemed to be futile now. It seemed to be too late.
And the thought of it broke him even more. He could not help himself over it as he escorted Aman to his father who had come to pick him up. Teary eyed, he wished Aman peace for the rest of the days.
The English teacher was the last person Aman had to meet. Everyone he met- his friends, relatives, chai walah, people who did not know him, cried. But he did not expect the old man to be so weak too. He always seemed to be such a strong man in class. May be life and loneliness from separation had torn him apart.
2 months later Aman died a death of dog, chained to the hospital bed, hallucinating, partially paralysed, salivating and afraid of everything. He had lost himself; he was no more a human being. The disease had completely consumed him. Life did not spare him, neither did death. But at the very last moment, before dying, when he saw his teacher, his best friends, his parents around, his eyes did speak out loud; he really wished he had a better life.