The incident I remember most clearly was the occasion when his lesson failed.
I don’t remember how young my brother and I were at the time, but we were young enough not to be able to peer out of the dining room window without standing on a chair. We would stand on two chairs at the two large windows of our third-floor apartment and watch the busy street that ran in front of our home.
The traffic on the street was of endless interest to us. There were few cars those days, mostly pedestrians, a few handcarts and rickshaws. We competed in identifying people we knew, Mr. Bose the doctor or Hafeezji the tailor. There were two familiar beggars, one very old and the other quite young, and there were also boys from the nearest slum who came to play soccer with us. Between my brother, less than two years older, and me there was stiff competition: the winner was the one who identified a target earlier.
As we watched this show morning after morning, an intriguing idea sprang from nowhere. I wish I could claim authorship of the original idea. I cannot. My brother was very conscious of his elder status and he was, admittedly, quite devilishly inventive. His imagination had been doubtless stirred by the breathtaking sight of the huge red turban and the eye-catching process of its daily construction. We talked for several days about the idea and developed it. It would take some doing, but we felt we could execute the task to perfection.
And so it was that on a bright summer morning my brother and I got up early, and quickly ate our cereal, so that mother would be quickly out of the dining room, leaving us free to carry out our mission without interference. (We both doubted she would take to our idea with any enthusiasm; in fact, she might try to dissuade us.)
Mission accomplished, it remained only to place the empty buckets in the bathroom and return quickly to our desks, to pretend to do classwork and gloat over our pinpoint accomplishment. The pretension did not last long.
In less than six minutes we heard our father roaring our names and asking us to come to the living room in a second.
We came and saw Ramji standing in his uniform and disarrayed turban, dripping water all over the living room carpet. Father looked livid with rage.
“When he told me, he had been drenched, I thought it was some rascal from some other apartment. I am shocked to hear from this poor man that it was from my own apartment. How could you do such a terrible thing?”
We, of course, had no answer.
“You must respect all people. Especially, people who are good enough to work for us. I am ashamed, and you should be ashamed too. I want to hear you two express your apologies to this wonderful hardworking man. Promise him you will never do such a horrendous thing again.”
“I want you to fold your hands and ask for his forgiveness.”
We did that too. This was a bit too much for Ramji. No employer had done such a thing for him.
“They are just boys,” he said to my father, “I have already forgiven them. Let us all forget about it.”
He quickly left the scene. Our father growled some more and then he went to his office.
That evening my brother and I avoided father and stayed at our desks longer than usual.
When mother returned from her sister’s place late in the evening, father, still grouchy, started telling her of the extraordinary misdeed of her children.
From my desk, I could hear mother say, “Tell me first what they did!”
The next moment I could hear our mother’s girlish giggle.
I knew then that the episode was finally over.