In standard four, when I first started going to school we had to write an essay in Bengali for our Bengali language exam.
Every year either ‘River’ or ‘Cow’ was set for the essay and every student used to memorize only those two essays.
For the annual examination I decided to memorize the essay ‘cow’ because in the half yearly examination, which was conducted after six months, the other essay, which was ‘river’, was set and since no question was ever repeated during the academic year, the best logical choice I had was to memorize the essay ‘cow’.
However, my mother was not convinced and she suggested that I should read few more essays so that I would be better prepared for the examination. As usual I was not convinced and I was arguing with her that memorizing only one essay would be enough.
In order to convince me she told me a story, I was not sure from where she had heard it. According to the story, a student, who was like me, had read only one essay, which was ‘cow’ for his Bengali language test. But that year the essay which was set for the exam was not ‘cow’ but ‘flood’. Therefore the student started writing the essay like this:
Flood is a natural calamity which takes place every year due to excessive rainfall. During flood rivers and lakes become filled with water and when they cannot hold any more water the lands on both sides get inundated. When the water recedes, the lands which were once inundated get covered with alluvial soil in which all kinds of plants grow easily and those plants are eaten by cows. A cow is a domestic animal which has four legs, one tail, two horns, and two eyes. Cow gives us milk. And then he wrote the essay on ‘cow’ which he had memorized very well.
From her story I immediately got an idea. In case the examiner set anything other than ‘cow’ for the test I would ‘somehow’ change the subject to ‘cow’ and then write about cow. Before finalizing on my plan I asked her how many marks the student got for the essay he wrote. By touching the tips of her thumb and forefinger she told ‘zero’.
When I was in standard nine, a new student named Tapan joined our class. He along with his two younger brothers and an elder sister migrated to India by crossing the border during the Bangladesh war of independence. When he used to describe how he had witnessed the massacre of common people in the hand of Islamic extremists called ‘Rajakar’ we looked at him like a hero. In no time Tapan became the center of attention in the class. Everybody begged him to take the first bite from his tiffin. If anybody could afford to buy an ice cream bar, which was nothing but frozen colored water sweetened with saccharine, he begged Tapan to take the first bite, which was almost like offering libation to a god.
After finishing high school Tapan started working. He learnt how to repair TV and radio sets and started his own business. Soon he developed a peculiar habit. He remained obsessed with a particular subject and would transform any subject of discussion into that subject and started talking about it. However, his obsession changed after every few months.
Many years later, when I was visiting Calcutta, I met him in our ancestral home. During that time his obsession was on ‘plywood’. After he talked for a while about plywood, I got bored and in order to change the subject I started talking about computer – the processing speeds of different computers, the kinds of processors used and so on and so forth. In no time Tapan transformed the subject of discussion into plywood – he mentioned that boxes made of plywood could be used for shipping computers.
Tapan and I had a common friend who was also from the same school. Few years after the ‘plywood’ incidence, I was talking to our common friend on phone. During our conversation we talked about Tapan. My friend mentioned that Tapan’s ‘latest’ obsession was “Bhagabad Gita”. Whatever people might talk, in no time he would change the subject to Bhagabad Gita and start lecturing on it.
Few days after I spoke to my friend, I called Tapan to find out how he was doing. As expected, in no time he started talking about Bhagabad Gita. Without wasting any time I asked him to change the subject as I had no interest on Bhagabad Gita. Tapan paused for a moment. I felt bad because I thought that he became silent because I had snubbed him. But after few seconds of pause he started talking again. And to my surprise he was talking about something which was not ‘Bhagabad Gita’.
He started telling me that the highest selling book in the world is “Holy Bible”. I was happy for multiple reasons. First of all he did not feel bad because I rebuffed him; second, I did not know that “Holy Bible” is the highest selling book so I could learn something new and the most important of all was that he was talking about something which was not “Bhagabad Gita”. Then he mentioned why “Holy Bible” is the highest selling book – Every hotel, motel, and inn throughout the world keep a copy of the book in every room, every single court room keeps multiple copies of the book, the book is distributed free of cost among many and he started giving all sorts of reasons. I was still happy because I had never thought about all those things and the topic was not “Bhagabad Gita”. Then he mentioned – “had Holy Bible not been used in every single hotel, motel and inn or had it not been used in court rooms or had it not been distributed free of cost then ‘Bhagabad Gita’ could undoubtedly become the highest selling book in the world. And then he started talking about his ‘latest’ favorite subject.