“With the World Polio Day coming on October 24th, the Rotract Club has organized a rally to observe the day with a rally on 14th February.The rally would take off from the back gate of St. Joseph’s College at 8:30 AM. All students of the Rotract Club are asked to assemble by 8:15 AM.”
I read the information on the college notice board and decided to think about it later.
The day dawned and I yawned. It was a lazy day to begin with and I snuggled deeper into the sheets. But then I had to jump out soon, college hours would begin at 8:45 AM.
At 8:40, I entered a half empty classroom. I was taken aback. The Physics Department of the Bishop Heber College was highly renowned by the Bharathidasan University and here were only 13 visible heads altogether! With the usual studious classroom being strangely half empty, the remaining was engaged in an animated discussion. One of my classmates informed me that the guys have gone for the rally…Opps.!! I too was a Rotracter and everything that I had read the other day had slipped off my mind.
Nevertheless I wasn’t the only odd man out. There were a couple of other Rotract members who had missed the bus as well. I looked at the foreign Timex that my uncle had gifted me 4 years back. It read 8:50 AM. Though late I was tempted, to join the rally. I was in a dilemma. I hadn’t fared well in the semester exams. Studies first, extra curricular activities come next. I tried to hard to be optimistic. On a second thought even the cruelest of all the professors wouldn’t have the heart to lecture, to a classroom that hardly had a quarter of its strength.
Meanwhile, the few left out Rotract members in the class were plotting to bunk class and join the rally. After much deliberation, I decided to join hands with my fellow Rotracters, to fight for the cause, to campaign against the deadly disease called polio, to spread awareness among the people that it can be prevented.
We hitched a ride on the local bus to reach our destination, St. Joseph’s College. The bus though partially packed, had no vacant seats. I had to stand. All of a sudden the bus screeched to a grinding halt. I was thrown off my equilibrium. Thankfully I had a firm support on the railings and managed to balance myself. I looked at my limbs. I thought of the people who were deprived of them. The rural India still considered polio, as the curse of an individual’s sinful character in their previous birth. Some thought it was because of the anger of the Gods and the Goddesses. They needed to be enlightened. It wasn’t going to be a momentary emotion for me. Something had to be done. I had decided to lead from the front.
We reached the back gate of St. Joseph’s College at 9:20 AM. 50 minutes behind the scheduled time. Yet the rally was yet to be flagged off. Punctuality in India! Words fail me to explain the word. And lo behold, there were my fellow students of the Physics Department, about a dozen and a half of them were there.
At the backdrop, the RockFort stood in all her majesty just as she would have during the golden era when the kings ruled over the earth. I raised my eyes and saw the towering fort with the blazing sun over looking her through time and ages. Students from other colleges too had come, thereby presenting a colorful picture. The organizers were trying hard to enforce some disciple by making us stand in twos.
All of a sudden, the band started off with a loud bang. It didn’t make much of a difference with the roaring motors, honking horns and the crying vendors. The music band was contributing to the noise pollution too, yet it was a signal that the procession was off to a flying start! We were now marching ahead. Gaiety filled the air. A paper rocket appeared from nowhere and crash landed into my face, just below my left eye. I looked at it. It was made from one of the tracks that were given to us, to be distributed among the locals. I picked it up and launched it back into the air.
Regular flow of vehicles had been disrupted. It was fun to watch the Sumos, Cielos and Escorts being halted by the police man on beat to let us pass. Time ticked on merrily. Nearly two hours had passed since we had started. The initial excitement had drowned.
My weary eyes spotted a lone man. He should have been around 65 years of age. His hair was white except for thin black streaks of dye passing across a few strands of his hair. There was something unusual about him. It was the way he walked. Scanning him from top to bottom, I noticed one of his legs shorter than the other. He was paying the price for what his parents had to do at the right time. He was a victim of polio. He had pleasant looking face but overall there was a sorry story about him.
This man was holding a yellow colored bag to shield him from the sun’s rays. My heart went out for him. My ears were dead to the chatty conversation of my neighbors. I stepped forward towards him and gave him my cap with a smile. My donation was well accepted. “Thanks”, he grunted back. He wasn’t looking at me but at my legs. I could hear my friends applauding me. I turned around and joined my company.
I looked back, to catch a final glimpse of the beneficiary of my cap. I was dumb struck by what I saw. The elderly gentleman neatly folded the cap, placed it inside the yellow colored bag and started walking.
Now all the attention was on me. I could hear giggles. The embarrassment of gifting a cap, which hardly served the purpose, made me go red than the scorching sun.
Though we have our dreams, life has it’s charisma of doing things differently.
After all the world’s just like that and so are the people who live in it.