The whole town knew that I had no friend other than this old man, Shambhu Babu – he must have been around fifty. This would have been the time for us to have been friends, but the gap was not in our hands, so we did not take any notice of it. And he too had no other friends. He could not afford to lose me, nor could I afford to lose him. My father said, “I could not believe that you would speak against him.”
I said, “I never said a single word against him. I was speaking against the taxation that he is trying to bring about. My friendship certainly does not include that; octroi is excluded. And I had told Shambhu Babu beforehand, by way of making him aware, that if anything is disagreeable to me, I will fight it, even against him. That’s why he was present in that shop, just to listen to what I was saying against his tax. But I did not say a single word against Shambhu Babu.”
The second day at school was as if I had done something great. I could not believe that people had been so oppressed by Kantar Master. It was not that they were rejoicing for me; even then I could see the distinction clearly. Today too, I can remember perfectly that they were rejoicing because Kantar Master was no longer on their backs.
They had nothing to do with me, although they were acting as if they were rejoicing for me. But I had come to school the day before and nobody had even said, “Hello.” Yet now the whole school had gathered at the Elephant Gate to receive me. I had become almost a hero on just my second day.
But I told them then and there, “Please disperse. If you want to rejoice go to Kantar Master. Dance in front of his house. Rejoice there. Or go to Shambhu Babu, who is the real cause of his removal. I am nobody. I did not go with any expectation, but things happen in life that you had never expected, nor deserved. This is one of those things, so please forget about it.”
But it was never forgotten in my whole school life. I was never accepted as just another child. Of course, I was not very concerned with school at all. Ninety percent of the time I was absent. I would appear only once in a while for my own reason, but not to attend school.
I was learning many things, but not in school. I was learning strange things. My interests were a little uncommon, to say the least. For example I was learning how to catch snakes. In those days so many people used to come to the village with beautiful snakes, and the snakes would dance to their flute. It really impressed me.
All those people have almost disappeared, for the simple reason that they were all Mohammedan. They have either gone to Pakistan or been killed by the Hindus, or perhaps changed their profession because it was too much of a public declaration that they were Mohammedan. No Hindu practiced that art.
I would follow any snake charmer all day asking him, “Just tell me the secret of how you catch snakes.” And slowly, slowly, they understood that I was not one who could be prevented from doing anything. They said among themselves, “If we don’t tell him he is going to try on his own.”