This article belongs to Sweet Grace column.

         Some small incidents or encounters during your young age life, have a tremendous influence on your behaviour, philosophy of life, decision making etc in your later life. They become your guide stars too.  Sometimes, they shape your future life completely by leading you safely through various situations. Sometime you may not even know why you have arrived at a  certain decision, why your thought process had taken a certain direction as if you had been programmed by a software.  All these, more often than not,  have a direct link to some happening  in your earlier life.


         Here is my case.


         After a minor scuffle with Peter, who began to bleed from his nose,  and fearing a severe reprimand from the  Warden, I did an extraordinary thing.  Ran away from the hostel that very night. Fourteen years  and  studying in the tenth grade in a  Christian school, I was  known as a bright student, a law abiding  lad and a role model as well.  With  such  attributes how could I face the warden on an assault charge?


         The time then was 9 p.m.  Being  thin, I squeezed myself through the  window grill of a class room and spent the night there. At first light on the following morning, I slipped out of the school  compound undetected by anyone.


          I ate some  iddlis, the  famous South Indian breakfast,  at a roadside eatery. Thereafter my money purse went bankrupt.


          "Where are you going,?" a voice asked.         


          "I don't know.  But I don't want to and I cannot face my  hostel warden and the Headmaster…."




         "So, I am running  away  along the city road." I walked and walked not knowing where to go and what to do. After some 3 hours of aimless wandering,  my inner person asked again, "What are you going to do, Jay?"


          "No idea at all, friend.  Any suggestion other than confronting the warden?"


          There was silence for several seconds. " Ah yes, how about joining films, boy?  You have taken part in several plays and dramas in school and had  received accolades for your acting?"  I thanked my companion for the great idea.  Now  I knew where I should  head for.


          There was one film studio at the end of the town by the name Modern Theatres. Its owner and also a Director lived inside the town. I saw a group of people in the Director's office premises  I recognized one particular man in the crowd. Edging near him I asked, "Sir, didn't you do the role of a jailer in so and so film?"  "Yes," he said.  Oh, was I thrilled at seeing and talking  to a film actor in person.


          "Don't worry, you too would be  a celebrity one day," my inner person whispered.


           I felt  encouraged.  Moving stealthily near the open window where the Director was seated and catching his attention,  I asked boldly and bluntly, " Could you give me a big role  in your next film?"


           The  grand man was stunned for a moment, possibly at my cheekiness. He craned his neck  and sized me up and down  and from head to toe and from left to right. "Is he considering me for a hero's post in his next venture?" I wondered.  All sorts of dreams flashed before my eyes. I was sitting at the back seat of  a  limousine;  hundreds of my fans had lined up the road cheering and waving at me. Young girls threw flying kisses. "Oh boy, this is life. Long live Indian cinema," I reflected jubilantly.   Then the Director's eye brows stiffened. "Go and bring your father," he said and turned his attention elsewhere.


          "Father?  Have I to face my father also?  Oh no. Certainly  No."


          Two more hours of  meaningless  walking. I was feeling hungry.  My stomach felt hollow. For want of any money, I had to forgo lunch.  Had I been in the hostel, lunch would have been served dot at 1.10 p.m.  And here at 3 p.m. I was slouching around with an empty bowel.   I missed the hostel, especially the food.  Oh, how punctually they supplied all meals and we invariably ate sumptuous food.  I missed that second home now.


           "Where are you going?" my other half demanded.  "I don't know. But I can't show myself to the  warden, the Headmaster and now my father."


           "Turn back and make straight to the hostel," the other commanded at 4 p.m.  His tone was somewhat threatening.  He was no more a friendly guy.   ‘Is it you brother?"  I asked knitting my forehead. "Yes, yes, it's me.  Be realistic, dear fellow. You have no money.  You can't earn any either.  You are only fourteen. So, go back to the security of your school hostel.  Understand?"


            When I reached the hostel gate, I noticed that all the boys were returning from the playing fields after the games period. Some boys shrieked, "Hey, there is Jay.  There is Jay.  Where were you all these hours, boy?"


            I didn't open my mouth.  Then Peter pushed his way through, hugged me and cried. "I am sorry, Jay.  Sorry.."  Tears had welled up in his eyes.  In the next moment, unaware of myself  I  enveloped him in my arms. Words were steaming in my mouth but they wouldn't come out. All I could feel was rivers of water  flowing down my cheeks.


           The warden came out of his room next. He smiled at me momentarily and it vanished in the next instant.  "Fool," he said tersely in a choked throat looking right into my eyes.  "Since… you didn't show up …… last night, I had to ….report your absence to the Headmaster and the Principal.  Er … er …I‘m afraid, you have been dismissed.  Sorry, Jay.   Pack up tomorrow morning and leave for home.  OK?" With that he withdrew to his room.


            My education world crashed  to the ground. "What am I going to do?  I had another year left to finish school."


            My father, who lived  some 50 miles away, wasn't home  when I walked in with my luggage.  "He has gone to your school," mother said softly. Like all good mothers, she did not scold me but she wasn't at all pleased to see me in the house out of season.


            Later in the evening, I encountered  my father. I was  trembling and  expected  a good dose of caning from his hands.  He too never opened the topic, but merely conveyed, "The Principal has agreed to let you finish  your tenth.  We have to find another institution  for your Eleventh next year. You are going  back to your current school tomorrow ….."


            Neither of my parents talked with me that evening and night.


            Sleep eluded me as I lay back looking at the starry sky through the ventilator. Even the stars seemed to be at loggerheads with me !   I chided my friend, philosopher and guide. "Idiot? Why didn't you  stop me from running away, dammit?"  He wouldn't answer.


            The incident had  remained fresh in my memory for decades. It was a turning point too.  Whenever I was going to do something rash and thoughtless or about to lose my shirt, the run-away-episode would  leap out and show  a  warning finger. That little Flame became my  mentor and true inner companion from  thereon.


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                                                                           Israel Jayakaran