“How I played is nothing compared to him! I wish I could be like him”, said the young boy standing at the edge of the field, dejectedly shaking his head. The voice was heard by another man, who was seated on a wooden bench under a tree, next to the field. As the friends dispersed, he gestured to the little boy, inviting him to sit and said, “Don’t feel sad, would you like to listen to story of young boy like you?”
The young boy, folded his legs, settled down and asked, “Whose story is this? Is he a real boy?”
The man, now performing the role of a storyteller did not answer the question directly but said, “This is the story of Aarnik, young boy like you and like how I was!” and continued:
Aarnik was the youngest member in the family of four. His sister was a few years elder, his mother was a teacher and his father worked as an employee. All in all, they were a well to do off family, and revered in the neighborhood. Growing up Aarnik, had only one distinct memory of his childhood. Of his father taking him to the maidan in town and looking for hours, at the horses being groomed and trained. The words of his father always remained with Aarnik, “Look at those horses; restrained, muscular and yet so elegant. That is how a young man growing should be!”
“Like the maidan, that we are sitting beside right now?” interjected the young boy.
The storyteller smirked, rubbed the hair of the boy and said, “Now listen…”
His father’s word did not just remain with Aarnik, somehow the words translated into how he shaped as a 11-year-old young boy. He never trained like the horses but watching them keenly over the years naturally curated his physique. Aarnik was lean, well-toned, upright, with a dark glowing skin, athletic and charismatic. Unlike boys of his age who walked around, Aarnik strode.
“ Unlike boys of his age who walked around, Aarnik strode. Aarnik means Unique”
“What does Aarnik mean?”, the little boy questioned again. “Unique” the storyteller answered, and carried on:
So, given his natural elegance, he was known in school for his physical and sporting caliber. Outdoor activities seemed to ooze out of his presence and he pretty much excelled in whatever he undertook. Even simply marching in the group, made him stand out; in all his sporting endeavors, not that he neglected studies. He did well. But one day, just to lay emphasis, his class teacher called him up and said, “Aarnik, you are good at sports. But do not think you can conquer it just like the other sports person you see around. For that you need luck. Study hard. Look at Naveen, how good he is! ”
Aarnik listened carefully. After all, she was his teacher. So she must be meaning well. Only two questions remained with Aarnik, which he did not dare to ask – ‘Why did the teacher refer to Naveen and not anyone else?’ and ‘What did she mean by other sports person?” Days went by, and though Aarnik continued to gallop, the search for the answers limited his stride.
One evening sitting by the verandah, Aarnik finally posed the questions to his mother. He thought if one teacher could give him doubts, the other would set him free. His mother on hearing the ‘Naveen’ statement said caringly stroking the little boy’s hair, “There is no need to be like someone outside. Look at your sister and be like her in studies. She is so hard working. And if you study with her, even your handwriting will be as beautiful as hers.”
Hearing her name, Aarnik's sister came running and said jokingly, “Be like me, see I am so smart.” The mother joined in the laugh, but Aarnik just stared, looking slightly blank, wondering why it did not amuse him like the rest. As the little laughs faded, the mother tuned to her sister and said, “Being smart is okay. But do some hard work also. The other day Sharma aunty was saying that Neeta is learning to bake. You should also do something and develop some hobby. It is good to have hobbies at this age.” The sister hugged his mother from the back and said, “Then can I learn music?” The mother kissed her on the cheek as a token of appreciation and acceptance. Aarnik, who had come seeking his answers was left with one more question, “Did my sister like music, or did she choose a hobby just because Neeta did?”
Aarnik continued his stride but now he also started to walk – like Naveen, like his sister, and for he never could be like ‘other sportsperson.’ But his love for just going to maidan and looking at the horses remained. The same love, the same passion, the same feeling that he had since childhood. It kept the spirit within Aarnik galloping.
“ Aarnik continued his stride but now he also started to walk – like Naveen, like his sister...”
As the storyteller, paused clearing his throat, the little boy, took the opportunity and intervened, “You know my grandmother always tells my papa- "Be like Rajesh" – our neighboring uncle. And wants him to buy a car like him.
So, what happened next with Aarnik?"The storyteller started from where he left:
Months passed by. One day as Aarnik sat with his sister to better his studies, their father came in with a broad smile on his face and joy in his heart. The children and the mother came running out, as the cheerful filled voice of the father called out for them. “I have got a promotion and we will go for holiday!”, the father announced. Everyone erupted and congratulated the father. As the happiness spread in the house, the father stood away from the children and spoke to the mother, “You know I am incredibly happy today. But the day I become like Mr. Goyal and be able to take you all abroad, that day I will be happier.” Aarnik overheard the statement and late at night standing alongside in the terrace he asked his father, “Why do want be like Goyal uncle?” His father at first startled, answered with patience, “For I will be happy if I achieve like him. You know why? It is always important to strive by successful people around. When you grow up, you should also. Try to set goals to match me, or others around you. Only then you will have a goal in life!”
Aarnik, finally found an answer. For his dad who had introduced to his love – ‘horses’- could have never been wrong. From that day onwards, Aarnik learnt a new way to live – not by striding his way through the crowd, but – by setting himself a goal at every step of life.
“My dad is just like Aarnik’s dad. Even he has told me about aims and how I should become in life. Are all dads the same?”, the young boy reacted.
The storyteller paused looked dearly at the young boy, as if to answer, but chose to carry on with this story:
As days moved into years, Aarnik, now a teenager matured like the others around him. He started concentrated on his goals. Goals set by looking at the world around him. Now he was at par, if not better like Naveen, and his handwriting as good as his sisters. And when he sat by himself, with his friends and with his parents his conversations would sound like this:
“Papa even I want play cricket like Vinod. Can you buy me the bat he has?”
“You should dress up like Sanjeev's sister does. Then you will also look beautiful!”
“Did you hear Naveen stood first in the essay writing competition. Even I should participate in something like that!” And just like that, once he looked at his mother said, “Look at Sharma uncles’ family, they go out for dinner every weekend, why cannot we?” And one day standing in the maidan, looking at the horses, he said for the first time, “I want to run like you. Just like you.” And from that very day Aarnik uttered these words, he lost his stride. No one realized it, not even Aarnik. He just walked thinking he strode like a horse.
“ When you grow up, you should also. Try to set goals to match me, or others around you”
“But why did he want to be like a horse? He already had a good physique.”, the boy spoke out loud, as the storyteller without being perturbed continued:
Then the day came what Aarnik was waiting for the last couple of years. It was the day of results at school. Aarnik was both excited and nervous. As he saw the marks on the notice board, he ran back to his house and shouted standing right in the middle, “Ma, Papa I did it! I scored more marks than Naveen. I achieved my goal.” And the whole came running down and circled to congratulate him and in unison said, “Congratulations! Keep working hard and be as famous as your grandfather was! That should be your goal!”
As the words echoed in the house, Aarnik was left hollow. He saw him surrounded by people but felt as lonely as he had never been. He wanted to feel the same happiness, as he felt when he went to the maidan, but standing there the maidan seemed a distant away.
In the evening Aarnik, stood looking at the sky upwards imagining the maidan. But between him and the maidan, all he could see were glimpses of others – Naveen, his sister, his father, Goyal uncle and now even the face of his grandfather appeared. He stretched his arms and feet up against the night sky and looked at them carefully. It appeared again like the others – the restrained, the muscular and the beautiful that his father had described went all missing. This is not how his father had said ‘a young man should grow up to be.’ Aarnik wondered, “How did I grow up and when did I grow up to be like this?”
As the nigh unfolded, Aarnik sat down in his room, and in his own handwriting, not the practiced one, he penned:
'To My Dear Papa, Ma and Di,
Thank you for everything, but it is time to bid farewell.
From the student who wanted to study like Naveen,
From the brother who wrote like his sister,
From the boy who had to become his grandfather,
And from the man who wanted to run like a horse.'
Next morning, the youngest member of the house, was not to be found. As everyone looked for him, Aarnik stood with glitter in his eyes, a glow in his skin and stood with a striking posture in the center of the maidan looking at those who ran carefree, untamed and wild – without a goal but with purpose.
“So, what happened to Aarnik, where is he now? Do you know him? Who is he?”, the young boy blurted the questions unable to resist himself.
The storyteller, once again brushed the little boy’s hair and as the galloping noises of the horses resounded in the maidan, he turned towards them and said again, “He is young like you, like your friends and like how I was! ”
Illustrations: Inspired and adapted from Warli art