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Rated: E · Short Story · Children's · #1360762
Promises should be delivered upon.
         The silence sent goose bumps up my bare arms, and I tried not to draw any attention to myself as we waited for Jeev to raise his head and make his pronouncement. Jeev’s attention was focused entirely upon the esoteric markings upon what appeared to be at first glance, a simple yellow card. It was a report card, and these were my son’s scores for the final unit test before the yearly exam.

         Ravi seemed unaffected by the tension, seated cross-legged on the floor engrossed by the various patterns of 'cat's cradle'. Nanni had prudently chosen to busy herself with her homework at the table in the corner of the room, but the stiffness of her posture betrayed that she was acutely aware of the events unfolding behind her.

         I had already peeked at the card when picking him up. I knew his Math scores were horrendous, he had achieved a personal nadir of nineteen out of a possible total of fifty marks. He had done well in English having secured forty-eight, the other subjects' performances varied from a decent thirty-five to a commendable forty-two. I had not expostulated over the report because I knew he was a carefree soul more interested in play than study, but responsible enough that he never allowed himself to perform badly in the same subject twice.

         I had however, made gentle investigation into the reason behind his low score in Math. His teacher had shown me the paper; he had attempted questions for a tentative twenty marks, and scored nineteen. The rest of the paper was blank, having been handed in one full hour early. Upon being asked why he had not completed the paper, the cheerful reply had been “Well, I saw the kindergarten children playing from my window, so I went out and played too!”

         Unrepentant, and even unaware of misdoing, he had looked up at me with a confiding air, sure of my understanding. The sad part was, I did understand, and had blamed his teacher more for not attempting to reason with him when he handed in an incomplete sheet about halfway through the allotted time. I had ruffled his hair and just replied that he still had to let Jeev see the report.

         Jeev appeared to have been rendered devoid of words, and his stern gaze attempted to bring some awareness of the offense to the impenitent culprit. “Ravi,’ he began, “I am most unhappy with these marks. I am beginning to think you are a slacker who cares nothing for studies”

         Ravi squirmed by reflex at the ‘lecture’, he got one every result day. He cast an envious glance at his sister’s primly bent head. Nanni was not brilliant but she was hard working and very quick to respond to encouragement. She always did well in her schoolwork, effort bringing just deserts. She never had to undergo inquisition or chastisement.

         “Ravi, look at me when I’m talking to you” the admonition recalled Ravi’s attention to the matter at hand.

         “Yes, sir” was the cowed response, the tone of stern authority finally inducing fear of consequence in the usually intrepid heart.

         “Is there any way to make you realize this JUST WILL NOT DO?” strong emotion made Jeev’s voice end in thundering crescendo.

         I attempted to interject my comments, hurrying to have my say before I was cut off for proffering unsought advice. “Jeev, if you notice, he always strives to do well in the next exam. He never repeats the failure.”

         “Yes, one should be thankful for small mercies. But if you notice, he then finds new spheres in which to demonstrate abysmal ignorance” was the sarcastic retort.

         This was unarguably true, the whole focus of my son’s life was enjoyment and at present that did not include lessons. He did just enough to scrape up decent scores but had not honed skills to compensate for the fact that increased attention in one direction led to neglect in another.

         The sarcasm seemed to have penetrated the shield of indifference sported by Ravi, who now indignantly stated “I am NOT ignorant. I’m not in the kindergarten now, I’m in the second standard.”

         This was the lever unknowingly offered by Ravi, but gleefully wielded by his father. “Then can you come within the first five places in class?”

         “Of course!” was the confident assertion.

         “Well then, if you come within the first five places in the coming exam I will own myself proud of you.”

         “Will you let me ride a bicycle then? Will you get me a bicycle like the one Aditya has?”

         Jeev must have been sure the feat was beyond Ravi’s capabilities because his refusal to make such an expensive purchase had been hitherto steadfast. “Sure, son. If you are fifth rank or above, you shall get a shiny new Hero bicycle.”

         That was the end of that as far as Jeev was concerned. He felt he had a win-win situation here, the promise or bribe would act as spur to improvement, and there was no way a boy who routinely failed in at least two subjects was going to succeed in this attempt.

         He was deputed on a training exercise and was away for the greater part of the next month, so he did not see his son’s changed behaviour. Forget turning over a new leaf, Ravi seemed to have turned over the whole tree.

         Previously he would come home for a whistle-stop moment, just sufficient to gulp down his milk and inhale his snack before whisking into a change of clothes and taking off for play. He would then surface just before dinner, of which he would partake heartily. A full stomach would induce sloth and he would just yawn through a cursory attempt at his homework, before slumber beckoned him.

         Now a reformed boy inhabited the house, one who took out his books before play, who both completed assignments and revised daily lessons. He took all his difficulties to his elder sister, in a blind faith that her seniority in age and school granted omniscience. Of course, I was there in the background for any problem beyond their combined capabilities. He always had doubt in my wisdom however, having no concrete proof that I ever went to school.

         Effort brings colour to Life...a favourite saying of mine. It appeared true in Ravi’s case too, for he was commended by his teachers for doing his work well. He was always a favorite with teachers, his grasp and understanding was good, and he was always eager to attempt solution of problems in class. He just felt that if school was for study, home should be for play and had in the past acted accordingly. So his improved behaviour drew favourable comment and appreciation, and he blossomed into a veritable genius.

         Jeev was back a few days before the annual exams. Thorough preparation had left Ravi with minimal review required, so his father saw no apparent change in his work habits. If he was disappointed, he made no comment except to say “Looks like I need not buy you that bicycle after all.”

         If any goad was required, that casual comment set the seal upon Ravi’s determination. He departed for the exams with set and resolute expression sitting upon his usually cheerful face. He had been provided with all the implements required for the exam, extra pencils, pre-sharpened to his liking, two erasers, one sharpener (just in case), and the other paraphernalia of the “compass box”. His sister double checked his box and gave him a ‘good luck’ hug.

         Fifteen days passed with holidays on alternate days and at last even the Drawing ‘exam’ was over. Thank God, the drawing paper was not counted for marking because inexplicably for such a fun-loving boy, this was his bugbear. He had once drawn a fish that looked like an emaciated and lopsided figure of eight, a small dot in one half had represented the eye. Only the title had clued one in as to the subject.

         The fateful day dawned to sunny skies, I hoped it boded good omen for the experiment’s results. The confidence on Ravi’s face did little to reassure me, because that was his consistent demeanour at any such time. I had full faith in my son’s innate intelligence and just wanted this effort to bear fruit so that my lenience in allowing him to enjoy his childhood without the pressure of expectation was vindicated.

         I opened the stiff official envelope with reluctant but inquisitive fingers. A column of figures marched across my consciousness. Fifty, Forty-eight, forty-seven, fifty...my heart sang out the numbers. He had stood third in class and brought up his cumulative ranking for the entire year from its normal position in the high twenties to a respectable twelfth.

         Ravi could scarcely suppress the excitement that burgeoned in his breast, he had the door of the car whipped open before it came to a complete standstill, and sprang out with the coiled intensity of expectation.

         “Yaaaaay....I did it. I came third!” he caroled as he raced into the house waving the card before him like a flag. Jeev took the card from Ravi’s hand without any pat of congratulation or word of praise. He perused it in its entirety with solemn concentration while Ravi hopped beside him on one leg, in fervour of anxious excitement.

         “It’s a real pity you couldn’t carry it off, but well tried son.” Jeev commiserated whilst breathing an inward sigh of relief at not having to bestow an expensive gift.

         “Wha...but I did do it. I came third in the whole class,” wailed Ravi.

         “Third yes, but only in this exam. You were only twelfth rank overall. Maybe we can review this next year, if you keep up the good work”

         There was a cumulative marking system to determine the overall ranking. It would have been impossible to achieve the set goal of coming within the first five ranks overall, however superlative Ravi’s performance had been this time. I was sure Jeev was just wriggling out of his commitment in the smug knowledge of having achieved his goal. He probably felt this would further challenge Ravi to come in the first five ranks the coming academic year.

         Unbeknownst to me, my son had independently reached the same conclusions. He burst out with “You promised...promised.” gesticulating wildly to find words to express his disappointment, he stuttered “ Even if I had c-come ZEROETH r-r-rank I could not have come fifth.” As Ravi dashed off with tearful gulp bravely choked back, Jeev remained rooted to the spot by the ferocity of the turning worm.

         Full marks for calculation and discernment my son; I applauded silently before following the sound of petulant thumps to his room. As I brushed back his hair and drew him onto my lap, he buried his head in my neck and sobbed.

         After the catharsis was complete he raised his head and announced, "It is stupid to study for ranks, they mean nothing. I came third but it counts for nothing, NOTHING.”

         Ravi recovered from his disappointment speedily and soon became his ebullient self. He never again showed dedication to study for the purpose of study. He spent time only on subjects and lessons that interested him, or those that were taught in an exceptional manner. He continued his seesaw progress through academics until late in school life when his interests crystallized and focused on an objective.

         Even now, as adult, he can neither be coerced nor cajoled to a task. No promise of reward can move him an inch in a direction he himself is unwilling to take. His progress is in no way retarded by his unswerving determination never to be taken in by meretricious promises.

         On occasions when I make the mistake of dangling nebulous incentive in front of him, he quirks an eyebrow at me and mocks me as he intones “Promises, promises?”

Word count: 1983
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