Nikhil was a little slow. He took time in responding. But he was never embarrassed about it. He had developed the cutest smile to avert any averse reaction. In all other matters he was just as smart as the other kids – like he would never do his homework, play in dirt, not get up early in the morning, not drink milk and similar matters. He played quite a lot and still managed to remain cutely chubby. I think he managed to escape all the ball chasing and similar stupid things by some method of his own. Though he could not escape a complexion given to him by excessive exposure to the sun.
I used to teach him during summers. I had appeared for high school exams and had three months before school started. I was teaching Nikhil and two more kids. It was the only way for me to make some money to buy a wristwatch for myself. Besides, teaching was fun. These kids I taught were some 5-6 years younger than me. At some point of time, I had also played with these kids.
I taught Nikhil all the subjects. Nikhil’s mom was particular about Mathematics. She thought he was weak in Mathematics. Truth was he was weak in everything. I would get bored of teaching Mathematics because it did not encourage any dialogue. I liked teaching English. It had stories and even if they were stories for kids, I enjoyed them. And through stories I could talk to him, which I liked.
One day I was teaching him a story which had an Elephant and there was reference to its tusks in it. I asked Nikhil to read it and he read the word tusk as tuks. I stopped and said “It is not tuks, it is TUS-K”. He said “TUKS” and gave his million-billion-trillion-dollar smile. I emphasized “No No, not TUK-S but TUS-K”. He immediately responded “tuks” and again gave his cute smile and added “Bhaiyya! I can’t say it”. I saw no reason why he could not place one consonant before the other. It was perfectly simple for me. I said “Of course you can say it”. Nikhil seemed a little worried now.
I said “Ok! Say TUS”
This appeared weird to him. But I was not to give in so easily. I thought – he could pronounce both the consonants, now he just needed to put one before the other. So I raised my voice and said “Say TUKSAA” and Nikhil grinned. Immediately realizing my mistake I said “NoNo sorry! Say TUSKAA”, in a more humble tone.
He smiled and said “Leave it bhaiyya! I won’t be able to say it.”
I said politely “I am sure you can say it”.
“See! There you go…”
I never forgot that smile. In all the years since I taught him, in moments of severe doubt when I have no strength left to carry on, when I am sure that I will fail, I remember Nikhil’s tuks as they brightly shone through that day.