The archway to the temple of knowledge opened up right in front of my small house, in the direction of rising sun, the green fences guarding the path from both sides, and the thick growth, up above, shaking hands. Sometimes, the path was intervened by short-cuts bisecting open orchards and paddy fields.
My first encounter with the alphabets commenced in the village school, hardly ten minutes away, behind the temple. Sitting on the rough floor, I drew the first letters of knowledge with my forefinger in the pink nice sand before me. A mistake or illegibly drawn alphabet would prompt my teacher to pinch my ear with his thumb and forefinger, the nails of which were grown and shapely cut to the purpose. The palm leaf, the traditional writing pad, on which the teacher neatly etched the alphabets with his stylus, was my first book of learning. This I had kept for a long time, till it was all devoured by time. After elementary schooling, there was no way except either going to the town or to the government school in another village about five miles away. The latter was the rightful choice for the poor.
My village, with its verdurous vegetation and fragmented by the river, its branches and narrow inlets penetrating into the land here and there, must have given a bird's eye view of an emerald gleaming in the sun, presented by Mother Nature, neatly packed in lush green and decorated with silver linings of the small water courses.
The narrow inlets were boat-yards, for small rowboats. Almost all these inlets had palm tree logs laid across, linking the broken path. Crossing these bridges of a single long or double, sixteen of them en-route my school about five miles away from my tiny village, barefoot, holding the books, over a dozen of them, fastened together by a rubber band, in one hand against my chest, and a tiffin box in the other, was quite an acrobatic exercise, in which we, students, excelled because of daily practice. The path, created by footprints of our forerunners, gave a look of brown carpet, both sides covered by green grass, the mist on them reflecting the beams of morning rays of the sun. The growth of grass did not dare to encroach the path made by human footprints, for fear of destruction by human contact!
On the one side, the river flowed calmly westward, yearning to merge into the vastness of lake, far away, patting the broken banks and the herbaceous bushes drooping on her both sides. Once in a while a rowboat or two passed by, undulating the calmly flowing water. The trees and bushes reflected in the water, producing wonderful portrait of Mother Nature against the background of cerulean sky with snowy white patches here and there.
The path was shaded beautifully by trees and small plants and creepers on both sides. Except for the chirping of birds and children's prattles, and the sounds of falling auburn-tinted and yellowish leaves now and then, calmness reigned all along. A ferry and a small hill intercepted the path. Climbing down the slope, the path, between a pond at the foot of the hill and a field, led to the seat of knowledge.
Though not big, the hill raised its head toward the sky, with its green crown giving a majestic look. Monsoon brought out fresh foliage every year and doubled its beauty. Once in the school, my mind used to yearn for the blissful experience of returning home in the evening, the same way, enjoying the brimming cup of natural beauty in serenity.
How graceful were you, Mother Nature! Every creeper, searching for supports; every flower, unknown by name, but beautiful; every sound of bird, falling leaves; every image that reflected in the water, all come alive in my mind's screen, whenever I wish, with the precision that no modern, sophisticated equipment would be able to reproduce. I learned to love you, Mother, from you. You taught me the first lesson of love - the natural love that blossoms in me everyday afresh with more and more beautiful flowers of innumerable hues, dispersing an aura of indescribable fragrance!
Poverty is not a curse, but a boon, a blessing in disguise, in many ways. My childhood was soaked in poverty. Outside my small, poor world, there was a colourful world of blossoming nature. I thank Him, who showered poverty on my infancy. Or else I would have walked a mile to the next village, to be fetched by bus to my school, leaving myself deprived forever of my first lessons of the nature's bounty.
(Appeared in Gulf Weekly, 18-24 July 1996, Page 34)