Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Legacy (Fiction)

“I am Napoleon!”

Arupa Basu looked up. There was something about the volume and pitch; a shade of surety she did not associate with ten year olds. Her eyes locked on him briefly before turning back to the admission forms on the worn table, faintly irritated at the hot blast from the window. The Resource Center was on the top floor, a sauna in summers and a cellar in winters! Lunch was an hour away and she was only half way through the first day.

She furrowed her shapely brows, “Tell me YOUR name. Your full name!”
“N-a-p-o-l-e-o-n. Just Napoleon,” the young voice enunciated deliberately. She snapped him off, shaking her head and muttering darkly, “Parents!”

In her thirty years at this highly selective school, Arupa had seen the gamut of student body. She did not expect to be surprised any more. There may have been a time, during her first few years of teaching, that the uniform subjugation of free wills called education bothered her but twenty years of having taught the same syllabi, over and over, had put her in a pleasant stupor, primed for an equally long and predictable cruise ahead.

“Napoleon!” What kind of a name was that?! It grated on her ears. She tried curling her lips around the nomen. “This kid is a loser with that title. What a pretentious moniker! People will dismiss him at hello,” she told herself, turning the ignition key of her Sunlight Orange diesel Micra. A mere fifteen minutes later, she was letting herself into the quiet home, glancing at her husband’s garlanded portrait in the hallway as she slit open the envelope she had pulled out of the mailbox. It was a fund request from her son’s Ivy League school. ”Why would they bother sending these to parents of students on financial aid?” she pondered.

Arupa suffered fatigue nowadays. The government’s child friendly policies had turned the teachers powerless to check truancy. In any misjudgement, both the management and the parents stood firmly by the children. From an authoritative delivery of bookish knowledge, the school day had become about staying safe. It was important to be popular with the students. But with Napoleon, no way! What a name! “I must remember to air it in the staff room,” she turned in, reaching to switch on the air conditioner.

Teachers all over were struggling with an evolving role. In addition to the challenges posed by technology, the modern teacher was doing a lot more than teach. The relentless roulette of correction work, record maintenance, continuous evaluations, secondary duties and lesson preparation paused only for some moments of dark humour, invariably at the expense of students or the establishment. And with a name like Napoleon?!

Her reaction was barely logical, she knew. But the name put her teeth on edge. She declared to her colleagues in the corridor at work, “India ought to have baby naming rules just as Denmark so no name becomes a burden to the bearer.”

Days melded into months and the year avalanched on; the calendar term chock-a-block. It was during an inter school event that Napoleon beeped on her radar again. Their school registration was due that day and with all the noise in the classroom, Arupa was struggling to be heard at the other end. “Tanmay, Rishi, Priyanshu and Napoleon…yes, yes…it is Napoleon. N-a-p-o-l-e-o-n….you heard right. Napoleon as in Napoleon Bonaparte,” she glared at him, standing still by her side. “Why did your father name you Napoleon?” she demanded in the brusque tone of a veteran teacher, swiping her phone off. “I will ask him,” the boy stated gravely.

Before long, the march of the wall calendar swallowed up Napoleon. He moved to the senior wing, dropping entirely out of sight. Leaves continued to turn relentlessly until the day of Arupa’s retirement party, a decade and more later. It was attended by an uninvited guest.
“I am Napoleon’s father,” he was holding out a book to her. She squinted at the transparent cling wrap uncertainly.

The jacket read:
The other Napoleon
How my name shaped my destiny
Winner of the Man Booker Prize

She tried to focus on the echoing voice; the room felt oxygen-less, “I did not want my kid to fit in. I wanted him to stand out. It was my idea to give him a unique google legacy.”

Driving off, for the last time, from the black iron gates, the words rang in Basu’s ears, “Imagination rules the world,” Napoleon Bonaparte.

Note: Pics by author; art by students of AFBBS Jr. Wing

No comments: