My First Encounter With InjusticeT. SHER SINGH
Sunday, May 20, 2012
My first encounter with injustice and unfairness was a memorable one.
I was a lad of seven, visiting my grandparents in their home in the country. I was the kid from the big city and quickly developed a reputation, among cousins who lived there permanently, of being pushy and aggressive. (Moi?)
One June morning, when it was still cool before the onslaught of the day, I was plunked in the middle of the yard, along with a cousin my age, to wait for breakfast.
Sit tight and be quiet, we were instructed, and no mischief!
Now, Ranjit was a docile fellow, known for his friendly nature. He never fought over toys and always gave in when urged to give up his turn. He was easy to get along with.
Here we were, waiting for nourishment, impatient to get started on our day. A full itinerary lay ahead. We discussed the options and zeroed in on: a roam through the fields, as far as the raja’s estate, to try scaling the walls once again and get a peak into what was within; muster up a few kids and servants and have a couple of hours of hide-and-seek through the six-foot-high crops; take a dip in the stream at mid-day; a visit to the village sugar (“gurrh”) factory to scrounge some ’samples’ …
Suddenly, Ranjit let out a loud yelp, followed immediately by a full-throated, blood-curdling scream. His legs shot up from under the table. He flailed at one of them as his chair fell back, throwing him head-first onto the ground. The other foot knocked our small table over and sent it reeling several feet away.
My aunt - his mother, a burly woman, known far and wide for her smothering affection, quick temper and a no-nonsense approach to life - emerged from the house.
She surveyed the scene.
Saw her progeny on the ground, still writhing and desperately clutching his leg.
Saw the chair lying next to him. The table toppled over, a few feet away in another direction.
And me. Sitting on my chair, intact.
I had already got over the initial surprise from the sudden turn of events. I had had a couple of seconds to determine and reassure myself that I was indeed not the author of my cousin’s agony.
Was he faking it? I dismissed the thought; he was too naïve.
So, the shock registered on my face had already been erased by a sense of relief, by the time my aunt arrived on the scene. For once, I consoled myself, I was innocent. I tried hard to look as innocent as I was but only managed to appear nonchalant as her eyes pierced mine, searching for an explanation for the mayhem.
She knew her arithmetic. She saw two and two, added, and instantly knew the answer.
She lumbered forward, approached us in a few big strides, stepped right by Ranjit as he still howled in pain, and - another surprise! - grabbed me by the ears, shook me not so gently, and smacked me on my cheeks, also not so gently.
I should add here in my dear aunt’s defence that this was way before the Age of Enlightenment, and revolutionary new techniques were yet to be developed for dealing with errant children … such as talking to them, etc.
“I should‘ve known better than leave him alone with you … you, you, YOU monster!”
The more I pleaded my innocence, the more she was convinced of my guilt.
I leapt out of her grasp, fled to the end of the yard and stood there, assessing the situation.
Alerted by the ruckus, more help arrived within moments. Everyone threw dirty glances in my direction, as they helped Ranjit back onto an upright chair. He continued to moan, groan and mumble, making no sense whatsoever.
It took him several minutes before he could say something intelligible. I ventured forward, inch by careful inch. After all, I had a direct interest in the matter.
He pointed to his ankle. It was red and swollen.
He had been stung by a bee.
They carried him into the house to administer to his affliction.
I skulked off to play and forgot the excitement for a while.
But that night, and for many nights after that, I lay awake in a sweat, thinking of the injustice of it all.
As I said earlier, it was a different age. Words like “I am sorry”, or “I made a mistake” were not in the lexicon, and certainly weren’t the currency vis-à-vis adults and children.
No one mentioned the incident again.
But, it had a lasting impact.
As I grew older, the bitterness disappeared. It became a story from the “golden days of childhood”.
But I learned more and more lessons from it as time went by, because I thought of it often.
First, the importance of one’s reputation.
Then, the danger of jumping to conclusions.
Also, the sheer permanence of an unresolved injustice; there is no such thing as “getting over” it.
But, most importantly, the realization that a child’s sense of justice and fair play is finely honed. Injustices against children not only do not go unnoticed by children, but they linger for a lifetime.
Conversation about this article
1: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), May 21, 2012, 8:10 PM.
These are valuable lessons to be learned from this incident ... for everyone, regardless of age.
2: M.K.S. (New York, U.S.A.), May 22, 2012, 4:13 PM.
Sher Singh ji: To me your entire article boiled down to a single line, which applies not only to individuals (big and small) but also to groups. "...the sheer permanence of an unresolved injustice; there is no such thing as 'getting over' it."