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Lost in their own world

Lost in their own world

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo



Surinderjit Singh Sandhu

MORE than 55 years ago, I was a Class II student in a government primary school. Our teacher, an elderly man, would often pace up and down the classroom, as if in a trance. He would murmur to himself, mentally doing calculations by counting on his fingers. He would turn deaf to the racket we made and be oblivious to the smiles and grimaces evoked by his odd behaviour. Many of us used to call him ‘Budhu master’.

Years later, in high school, we would walk every day through a fish market behind Amritsar’s renowned Hall Bazaar. On the way, there lived an old woman, Mai Dhani, in a dilapidated house. She always seemed to be tilting at windmills and flailing her arms wildly, abusing someone that only she could see. If we ever spotted her standing outside her house, we would stop in our tracks and take a detour. On the days when she was nowhere to be seen, we would run past her house faster than a champion sprinter.

Our PT (physical training) teacher, who was from Nepal, was a much-feared person. The in-charge of the football team, he also used to lead the school contingent in religious processions as his band and orchestra were very popular in the city. He could play virtually every musical instrument. A master of all trades, we often heard him talking abstractedly — as if he was having conversations with imaginary people. Perhaps this was the main reason why he was called a ‘mad terrorist’.

In the evenings, many children in our locality would often gather outside to catch a glimpse of a bearded, middle-aged man, whom we called Fultanu, and a 10-year-old kid, who got the moniker Pungra. Both were considered crazy. Wearing soiled clothes, the duo would sing and laugh to themselves. They would give us the chase whenever we teased them. Cursing and shouting, they would charge at us as we rushed back home. Both would call us filthy names before they ran out of steam.

It was about nine years ago that I started going out for a stroll in a park. Every time I heard another stroller talk loudly with nobody else in sight, I would wonder momentarily if Fultanu had reappeared as a young man. It would take me a while to realise that the other person was just talking on the phone, with earphones plugged in. It is now common to see people busy on their mobiles, mostly unaware of the presence of their friends or relatives. Back in the day, such strange behaviour would raise concerns about their sanity. It seems like ‘Budhu master’, Mai Dhani, ‘PT master’, Fultanu and Pungra were all ahead of their times.


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