When Wishes Come True
Subal Chandra and Sushil Chandra were father and son. The duo had one unusual thing in common: They were opposite to what their names suggested. Sushil (meaning calm and docile) was a bouncy little lad. His childish exuberance was evident from the many ways he troubled the neighbours with his small acts of mischief. On the contrary, his father, Subal (meaning strong) was enfeebled by his age and rheumatism.
The Father didn’t quite like the son’s penchant for antics, which some in the neighborhood found quite annoying. Sushil was too agile for his father and could easily slip away to evade thrashing from his enraged father. But, once in awhile, he got caught, and had to face his father’s wrath.
It was a Saturday. School started in the morning and got over by 2pm. Sushil lay in his bed deep in his sleep. Sushil found the call of school very disgusting. He had two good reasons to feel so. First, he sulked at the idea of writing the Geography test scheduled for that day. Second, the preparations for the fireworks at the house of Bose during the day were too exciting for him to miss. The sight and sound of fireworks were to set the sky aglow in the evening the same day.
Sushil wanted to avoid going to school. He feigned sickness of stomach and lay in bed. He sought to be excused from school. But, Subal, was not the least convinced. He saw through the trick of his truant son. He planned his counter move.
Quite impassively, he turned to Sushil and advised him to lie in bed. He would not have the lozenges brought for him. Instead, he would drink a brew that would cure him of the stomach ache. With such advice, Subal went to make the brew, bolting the door from outside.
Sushil was perplexed. ‘Had he jumped from a frying pan to fire,’ he wondered. He detested the brew his father had made him drink in earlier occasions. It was too awful.
Subal entered the room with the pot of brew. Sushil sprang out of his bed and declared that the stomach ache was gone and there was no need for the weird drink. He was ready to go to school.
Subal sternly ordered that Sushil must stay in bed the whole day. With these words, he made his son to drink the dreadful drink. Sushil had no option but to drink it. Subal locked his son and went out.
As the day dragged on, Sushil’s agony mounted. The forced incarceration in his room was too hard for the boisterous boy to bear. He wept endlessly. He rued his being a young boy, and fancied being a old grown-up man, so that he could take decisions about himself on his own.
Outside the room, Subal sat brooding and reminiscing about his childhood days. During those carefree days, he studied as he pleased, and paid little heed to his parents’ admonitions. His parents fawned over him then. He regretted his neglect of studies. He yearned to be young again, so that he could make amends for his past behavior by being a studious student again.
When both the father and the son were lost in thoughts about travelling back and forth in time, the goddess who fulfilled the desires of her devotees happened to pass by. She heard the pleas of the father and the son, and granted their prayers. The two seemed joyful in their new Avatars the next morning.
Old Subal normally slept late and lay in his bed until the late hours in the morning. But, now he was a sprightly youngster. He sprang out of his bed as soon as the Sun rose the next morning. His limbs were supple and his teeth were firm. His clothes appeared too over-sized to wear. He felt odd.
Sushil, on the other hand, was sluggish and late to leave his bed. His eyes were dreary as he struggled to get up. His father (now young Subal) was making a lot of noise outside. His clothes clung too tightly to his body. He had outgrown them overnight. Beard and moustache had grown all over his face clouding his childlike innocence. To his horror, he found that he had pate on his head. Quite uncharacteristically, he body struggled to break free from the bed. The warm bed’s embrace was too good to forgo.
The abrupt make-over had caught the father-son duo off guard. They found it hard to come to terms with their new physique. The lure for the freedom to indulge in youthful adventures had driven Sushil to ask the goddess to make him older. However, Sushil (now old) felt no urge for outdoor adventures. He had no desire to climb trees, swim in the pond, or just wander around. Instead, he felt drained and lazy. But, he shook off his lethargy and indulge in the youthful frenzy.
He proceeded to the nearby Olive tree, wanted to climb it, but found it an uphill task. To have some fun, he hang from a low branch, but it gave way under his weight. Sushil (now old) landed, bang on his back. Curious onlookers had a hearty laugh at his predicament.
Sushil (as an old man) sprang a surprise on his friends. They were aghast to see their chubby friend looking like an old haggard. They recoiled in horror. Sushil who had hoped to play with his friends Gopal, Akshay, Nanda, and Harish with gay abandon, now found their presence annoying. Sushil detested their raucous games. He liked to be left alone.
Subal (now young) no longer wanted to sit still and study. The thought of school repelled him. To add to his misery, Sushil reminded him to go to school. Subal, was disoriented and confused. He feigned stomach ache and decided to give the school a miss.
Sushil (now old) roared in disapproval. He reprimanded Subal strongly, and said he would have none of these pretences. Subal stood defenseless and meek.
On Sushil’s orders, Subal went to school and returned in the usual time. He wanted to go out and play. Sushil wore his reading glasses and sat down to read the Ramayana. He found Subal’s noisy presence distracting. He made Subal to sit down in front of him and solve some very tough mathematics problems. Subal took nearly an hour to solve just one of them. At dusk, Sushil (now old) sat down with friends to play chess.
Sushil (now old) remembered his father Subal’s aversion to eat anything in any quantity his weakened appetite didn’t permit. So, in his ‘senior’ avatar, Sushil allowed his father Subal (now young) only frugal meals. To add to his misery, Subal’s appetite was as voracious as that of a youngster. He craved for more, but got what filled a corner of his stomach. The enforced starvation took a toll of the old man’s heath and energy. He grew pale and thin.
Sushil (now old) suffered in a different way. He lost the bounce and playfulness of his nature. No pastime of the past thrilled him anymore. His penchant for small mischief in the neighborhood appealed to him. He became insipid and docile – a pale shadow of his earlier self. A bath in the backyard pond exacerbated his rheumatism, and he had to take medication for six months. He bathed at home, in warm water on alternate days. His movement of hand became disoriented, making him to fumble while combing his hair.
At times, driven by his old habits, Subal (now young) walked into the gathering of old folks, and make ill-thought interjections, much to their annoyance. Subal had to dejectedly walk away after their reprimands accompanied by some wrenching of his ears. On occasions, he inadvertently asked for a puff of tobacco from his teacher. The teacher admonished him for such indecent manners and made him stand on the bench as punishment, besides spanking him thoroughly.
Quite amusingly, Subal (now young) caned Sushil (now old) for minor failings. Sushil would revolt saying, ‘Is it the manners they teach you in school?’
The things came to a head soon. The confusion took its toll. Both yearned to get back their old forms. The duo realized the mistake.
The wish-granting goddess made her appearance soon, and asked if the father and son had fulfilled their desires. Quite promptly, both beseeched the goddess to revert them to their old forms.
She granted their wish, and assured that the change-over would happen the next morning.
Both woke up the next morning as if they had seen a bad dream. They were back to their old ways. Subal asked Sushil why he was not doing his grammar lessons. Sushil, in his usual childish manner, replied that he had lost the book.