By: Ranjit Kulkarni
“No Papa, I didn’t lose the pen,” I cried in agony, as Papa slapped my open palm with the cane he had in his right hand.
“This will teach you that you shouldn’t speak lies. If you have lost the pen, don’t say you haven’t lost it,” Papa said. “Open your other hand,” he demanded.
I opened my other palm and closed my eyes tight. Slap, the cane went and hit my other palm. “Aah,” I cried out aloud. With tears flowing from my eyes, I went and hugged my mother. From the corner of my eye, I could see that she had a tear on her cheek as well.
“This will teach you that you should always speak the truth,” Papa said, and got up.
This was the first time Papa had hit me. This was also the first time I and my mother cried together.
On my 9th birthday, three days back, Papa had gifted me a fountain pen because I loved to write. It was an expensive one with its own ink pump. It had this very cool mechanism to dip it, nib down, into the ink bottle, and suck in the ink by pressing the pump. I had learnt how to use it after a couple of messy attempts. Those attempts had led to blue stained shorts that my mother had later washed. The nib was golden with a nice, curvy shape. I started using the pen for my tuition classes on the very same day. For two days, every one of my school mates had asked me about the awesome fountain pen. I showed it to them in all eagerness and stared at their looks of awe with pride.
But on that day, I didn’t remember where I placed the pen. But I remember not having misplaced it. I don’t even remember whether I had taken it to the tuition class. After I returned home in the evening, I realised that I didn’t have the pen with me. It was a shocking realisation. I knew that Papa won’t like it. It was a new, expensive pen gifted only three days back. I checked my box and emptied my bag. It wasn’t there. I checked my notebooks to see if I had written using the fountain pen. The notebooks had my notes of the day written in a blue ballpen. It meant that I hadn’t used the new fountain pen in the tuition classes. I called my classmates and asked them.
“Do you remember seeing my new fountain pen in my box today?” I checked with three of them, one by one.
The first one of them said, “Yes.” The next one said, “No.” And the third one said, “Umm….”
I didn’t know whom to trust. So I concluded that the precious new fountain pen was missing, even before the tuition class. But I was sure I had not lost it. I only didn’t know where it was, I told myself. I knew I would find it. It was only a matter of time.
I went and told my mother.
“Search it in your cupboard. You must have kept it somewhere,” she insisted.
“It’s not there,” I shouted back from the cupboard after searching it.
“Papa is not going to be happy,” she said. I felt a shiver go down my spine. Papa never liked us misplacing things. I knew that. But I was sure I hadn’t misplaced it. It wasn’t my fault, I reassured myself. He should understand.
“I will tell him,” I said with newfound bravery. “Why should I be afraid if I haven’t misplaced it?” I asked her.
“You know Papa doesn’t like lies even more. You shouldn’t lie if you have lost it,” my mother reminded me.
“But I am not lying, I have not lost it. Otherwise, won’t I remember where I lost it? It is just that I am not finding it,” I argued.
My mother smiled at me and said, “Ok then, go find it,” and went to the kitchen.
But I didn’t find it, though I looked for it all evening. And then, Papa came back late in the evening. He asked my mother what I was doing.
“He is searching for his new pen,” she replied casually. She bit her tongue as soon as she said it. She repented saying it later.
“Why? What happened? Has he lost it? Or has he broken it?” Papa raised his voice in anger and demanded the status of the new pen.
I heard his reverberating baritone and felt a tremor pass through my body. My hands shivered and started flipping through all the sections of my cupboard. But the pen was nowhere to be found.
That is when Papa’s loud voice calling out my name fell on my shocked ears. I felt numb and went to him.
“Have you lost your new fountain pen?” he howled at me. He looked like he was irate. I tried to present my argument. That’s when, for the first time in my life, I got the cane on my hands, both of them. It was for telling a lie that I had not lost the new pen. But that was true, I revolted within. I hadn’t lost it, I cried within. But my cries weren’t heard.
After getting the cane on both my palms, my mother wiped my tears. I wiped hers too. She felt that I got a beating due to her. She didn’t say it, but her eyes said so. She put me on my bed and fed me my dinner.
At the time I was about to go to bed, my younger brother came home. He had gone to his friend’s house for a birthday party and dinner. He was in a good mood and flashed the return gift that he had received at the party.
“SShhhh…,” my mother signalled with her finger to her lips, indicating that I was sleeping. But my eyes were open, and I peeked through my blanket at my brother and mother. My mother smiled and told both of us to stay silent. My brother sat on the bed and opened his return gift bag in excitement. He showed us the pencils and sketch pen box he had received.
That is when I saw something familiar. It was shining from my brother’s shirt pocket. It was my new fountain pen.
“What is that doing on your shirt?” I pointed out and asked my brother.
“Oh, that’s your new pen,” he said.
“I know that. But why do you have it? Give it to me,” I yelled. “I will go and show it to Papa.”
“SShhhh,” my mother said. “Don’t shout.”
“How do you have it?” she asked my brother in a whisper, so that my father doesn’t hear it.
“I took it to show it to my friends at the party. It is so nice. It impressed everyone. Everyone said wow,” he murmured.
“When did you take it?” my mother asked.
“I took it from his box today morning,” he replied, with a sly confession on his face.
“Why didn’t you tell him?” my mother demanded an explanation, in a stifled voice but still in a very soft tone.
My brother didn’t reply. He looked around, and then looked down at the floor. My mother understood and fell silent. She snatched the pen from my brother and kept it with her. My brother continued staring at the floor.
“But my pen…,” I gave a hushed cry.
“You will get it.. tomorrow,” she cut me off with a staunch murmur. “Now, both of you go to sleep,” she said, and walked away with the pen. I scowled at my brother for taking my pen without telling me. I told him that I got a beating because of him. He smiled and said sorry.
We woke up the next day, and heard my mother tell my father that she had found the pen when she cleaned our cupboards.
“I found it under his cupboard,” she said. “It was under piles of his books,” she informed him.
“I knew he had lost it,” my father said, with a gleam in his eye. “I knew he was lying from his face itself yesterday.”
He sipped his cup of tea and bit into his breakfast. “Now that he has got his punishment, he has learned his lesson. Give it back to him,” he added with a glow of satisfaction.
“If we don’t teach our children to speak the truth, who will?” he remarked, while having his breakfast. My mother nodded in agreement.
I felt like telling him that I hadn’t lost the pen. My brother had taken it. But I stopped short in my step. I looked at my mother who gave me a glare and ordered me to stop with a signal of round eyes.
After my father went to work, she gave me my pen back.
She had a sorry look on her face. I understood why she did what she did.
“I couldn’t save you, dear, from a whacking yesterday,” she said, pressing my hand. “But at least, spared your brother today,” she said with a mischievous giggle and tapped my cheek. “And saved your new fountain pen from going into the dustbin.”
I felt something move in the depths of my stomach. I forced a smile on my face but somehow it didn’t come through. An awkward expression made my face its home.
I saw my brother cackle. He gave me a high five. “Nice pen,” he said. I gave him a blank, confused look. He said, “it’s alright. It was only two cane shots. I am sorry for that. But at least you got your new fountain pen back!”
“Write a poem. Tomorrow we will read it out to Papa. He will be happy, don’t worry,” he reassured me with a tap on my shoulder.
I looked at my new fountain pen. I decided that I was not going to write anything with it. I was going to misplace it. This time for real.
Ranjit Kulkarni is a writer of short stories, articles and novellas, some of which have made people smile and think. His work has also appeared in Indian Periodical and Academy of the Heart and Mind.