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What is Wealth

Medini is a writer with a huge passion for poetry. She has been writing poems for more than 10 years, with many of them published.

Rohan jumped out of bed. He glanced at the clock hung haphazardly on the wall. It was ten minutes to 6 in the morning. Feeling fresh, he made his way out of the house, eager to experience the sunrise.

The sunrise was a breathtaking display of radiant colours. He spread out his arms and sighed in contentment as the sunlight swept over his face.
“No!” came an agitated voice. “I need new clothes for the party, Amma!”

Rohan spun around to see Harsha, a boy of the same age as him. Their houses were in close proximity to each other, although Rohan’s house was humble in comparison to Harsha’s. Their town was unique in that it comprised of both a rural and urban section. Rohan belonged to the rural section. He lived on a small farm, which the entire family helped to cultivate.

He admired Harsha. They both went to the same school, even though Rohan was way poorer. His father was a close friend of their principal, who had agreed to take in Rohan and Rohini, at a lowered fee. Harsha was the most popular boy in his grade.

“Harsha, stop making a fuss,” His mother sighed. “I will get you a new shirt as soon as the shop opens.” saying this, she hurried away.
Rohan approached Harsha and smiled. “Hi,” he said, holding out his hand. Harsha took it gingerly and they shook hands. He immediately dropped Rohan’s hand as if afraid it might infect him.

“Beautiful day,” remarked Rohan. Harsha just rolled his eyes. “So,” said Rohan, attempting for conversation again, “What’s wrong?” At this, Harsha brightened considerably. He loved talking about himself.
“Well,” began Harsha, “I don’t have any clothes to wear for a party. My parents refused to buy them for me, so I ran out of the house.”

Rohan stared at him disbelievingly. New clothes were a luxury for his family.
Harsha sized him up. “You look well-built. Why don’t you try for the football team?” Rohan felt flattered. All the hard farm labour had taken away his once-scrawny frame. “I’ll speak to the captain on Monday,” said Rohan.
Harsha grinned. “I have just been appointed the captain of our school football team. If you want, I’ll sign you up and give you the team jersey.”

Delighted at this new turn of events, Rohan followed the other boy to his house and into his room.
As soon as he set foot in Harsha’s room, Rohan gasped. The room seemed like a paradise for a boy his age. If one were to combine Rohan’s and his parent’s room, the size would still be negligible in comparison to Harsha’s room.
There were five closets for his apparel and a huge television set on the wall. A fashionable sofa added to the grandeur.

Rohan looked around in wonder. He suddenly remembered what he was here for. “So,” he said, seating himself on the sofa. “Are you going to sign me up?”
“Oh that,” said Harsha. “Yes, of course. I’ve seen you play during the lunch break.”
As Harsha wrote his name down, he looked quizzically at Rohan. “You know,” he said. “I’ve always wondered how you are always so cheerful, despite your poverty. Doesn’t it bother you that people around you have so much while you have so little?”

Rohan was astonished. No one had ever asked him that before, nor had he considered it. “Well,” he said, “I never regarded myself as poor, you know? I was always content with whatever I have.”
Harsha looked intrigued. “So, don’t you ever worry about the future?”
“The future’s not ours to see,” said Rohan softly. “After all,” he said with a small smile, “Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set.”
Harsha frowned. “I’ve read that somewhere, I guess. I’m not much of a reader. So, what does that line mean?”
Rohan said, “It means that nobody knows what is written in their destiny. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that life is a mystery. No one knows what is going to happen, so there’s no point worrying.”

He looked hard at Harsha. He began to see things he never saw before. He saw how adamant Harsha was, how little respect he offered to his parents, how less common sense and understanding he possessed.
Prior to their little meeting, he had looked up to Harsha. Now, though, he saw him in a new light. This, Rohan realised, is the meaning of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’.

Harsha didn’t say anything. “Well,” he said finally, tossing him a package, “Here’s your jersey. Be sure to come to practice.”
Rohan took it wordlessly.
As he made his way to his house, he felt glad that he had encountered Harsha that morning. According to him, Harsha had gotten the short end of the stick, and he felt sorry for him.
Harsha stared at the space that had just been vacated by Rohan. What a queer boy. Harsha had considered himself to be philanthropic when he offered to take Rohan into the team.

His parents disapproved highly of Rohan attending one of the best schools in Chennai. “It is such a waste educating these people!” his mother had exclaimed. “They can get into the best government colleges through their reserved seats. Why do they want so much education?”
Harsha had shrugged. “Amma, don’t worry. I am not going to associate myself with them.”

He was forced to do so, though, when the principal, Vasanthi Kumar, called him one day and asked him to befriend Rohan and also informed him that he played football very well. She sensed he would be quite lonely.
He had thought Rohan wouldn’t find enough words to express his gratitude. However, it was Harsha who was left speechless.
Rohan had clearly been putting in a lot of hard work into football because he shone at practice.
“You did great!” exclaimed Harsha. “I’m really glad I put you on the team.” Rohan smiled at him, out of politeness.

It was almost time to go home when Harsha suddenly realized he had left his Physics notebook in the classroom. “I’ll be back,” he informed his classmates. Ignoring his untied shoelaces, he climbed the stairs.
His classroom was on the top floor. It was Diwali, so the girls had volunteered to light lamps all around the room, and the boys had helped out. Harsha liked the festive spirit.
He reached the classroom and took his notebook. As he was about to leave, he noticed that one of the lamps was not lighted. There was a can of oil kept nearby and few matchsticks. He picked them and lit them. Suddenly, he tripped on his shoelace, knocked down the realized of oil and dropped the burning matchsticks on the newly formed oil pool.
Harsha stifled a scream as the smoke engulfed him.
Everyone had noticed the smoke coming from the sole window of the room. No one would be able to go in without being caught in the fire.
Rohan saw the seriousness of the situation. He suddenly rushed to the infirmary. People were too concerned to pay attention to him.
Upon reaching there, he quickly stripped the bedsheets of the beds and began knotting them together.

He rushed back and scanned the building. There was a pipe running along with it that was quite wide. He ran towards it, with the sheets in his hand.
“Get down at once!” yelled Ma’am in desperation. Others repeated her words. Disregarding them, he climbed the pipe with the swiftness of a monkey. In no time he reached the window and saw the panic-stricken Harsha, surrounded by flames.
Harsha stared at him with wide eyes. “I can’t climb down that!” he said weakly.

Rohan sighed. “I know you can’t. That’s why I made this rope. Listen, you just have to tie this around your waist, and I’ll lower you down. Hurry!” Harsha quickly did as he was told with shaking hands.
“Ready?” asked Rohan. Harsha nodded mutely from his position on the windowsill. “Jump!” Harsha leapt. Rohan clutched the rope with all his might. Harsha was relieved when his feet landed on the soft Earth.

Rohan let go of the sheets. The flames began to lick his back. He silently prayed to God and slid down the pipe. The moment his feet hit the ground, he collapsed.
The following week, Rohan became a hero and was given the school’s bravery award, Veer. Harsha and Rohan were more than just polite to each other. A friendship began to brew.

Rohan’s mother spoilt him endlessly, feeding him all the Diwali sweets, which annoyed Rohini greatly. Still, she was extremely proud of her brother.
What was important, though, was that Harsha learnt a significant lesson -
‘There are two ways of being rich. One is having all you want, and another is being happy with what you have.’

-Medini Rajan

© 2020 Medini Rajan

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