Three Fourth, Half Price, Bajji Bajji

Khadeer Babu

Students, please note. Textbooks required by all the classes have arrived at our high school. Those who wish to purchase them can pay the price and collect them from the office in the afternoon after the third bell. There is still time for the arrival of Lepakshi notebooks. Those who want a set of notebooks should pay forty-eight rupees as advance. If anyone asks later, it will not be possible to provide them.

---- sd/ xxxx

Head Master, Vishvodaya

Written with white chalk on the blackboard, put up on the yellow wall next to the office room in our school, were these two points of note.

One point about textbooks: this does not concern us.

Next point about notebooks: this concerns us.

I say the issue of textbooks does not concern us because the mother and father who gave me birth hardly ever bothered to buy me a new set of textbooks, either in the sixth or in the seventh class. I always had to make do with secondhand textbooks. Even now, since there was no guarantee that they will buy a new set of textbooks, I thought-why don't I look out for someone who has books that will be of use to me?

During this search, I came across the setti boy Gaademsetti Ramesh who lives close to my house. He is in the 9th Class now. He just passed out of the 8th. He would have the 8th class textbooks that I need. I decided that if I buy textbooks, I should buy his.

Why? Because, secondhand books have their own story.

There are three categories among them.

The first category-if one buys a fresh set of textbooks that very year, covers them with brown paper so that they don't get soiled, goes to the cloth store, gets the clear plastic cover used to wrap sarees, and covers the brown paper-covered textbooks with this plastic cover and staples it, preserves the inside pages carefully without making a single pencil or pen marks throughout the year; then, when one sells these books next year, they get three-fourths the price.

This means that an eight rupees textbook will fetch six rupees.

But when one does not take good care of the new textbooks, does not cover them with paper, lends them to just about anybody and spoils the inside pages-these get sold at half price.

This means that an eight rupees textbook fetches four rupees.

Yet another category: when one buys secondhand textbooks, destroys them further so that they crumble when they are touched-these belong to the bajji bajji category.

Such books would be sold at one-fourth price.

An eight rupees textbook will fetch only two rupees.

But why should we get bajji bajji textbooks? Or crumpled half price textbooks? We should possess only three-fourths price textbooks. That too, obtained at half price.

Since the only books that meet all these demands are those with Gaademsetti Ramesh, I went and asked him for the books.

Without even looking at my face, he said, "No way! How neatly we have kept the textbooks! You can buy them at three-fourth price, but not at half price. Don't I have to buy the 9th Class textbooks by adding some more money to this money?"

I did not know how to respond to this, so I kept staring at him, scratching my head.

He may look thin and emaciated, as if about to disappear into thin air, but he can finish a kilo of channa. He stuffs his pockets with it and keeps munching throughout the day. When he laughs, small pieces of channa are visible whitely against his black gums.

Looking at these pieces, I got an idea. "Oreyi Ramesha! My father went to Nellore to repair a motor in a daal mill. He said that he will definitely get half a bag of channa when he returns. I will give you a little of that. Why don't you please give me the books at half price?" I made up a lie as sturdy as a wall. "Abba! We have channa even at our house, to eat with jaggery. We don't need yours," he said, making light of my offer.

I was thinking of alternate plans when Ramesh's mother came and said to him, "It is alright! Why don't you give him the books at half price?" Ramesh's mother is a very nice lady. She is a soft person.

Moreover, she likes stories a lot. She gets Chandamama and Balamitra every month. She is fond of me because whenever I go to their house, I read these books greedily."Look Ramesha, he asked for something, why don't you give it? One should not link everything with money, son!" said Ramesh's mother and went inside.

I took up where she had left off. "Orey! Even your own mother is telling you to give the books. One should not go against what one's mother's words. You will get punyam if you do as your mother says. If my mother told me to give the books away free instead of at half price, I would do it at once," I said holding his chin.

(My mother would not say it even if she were to die. Even if she said it, I would never do it. Didn't I sell my 7th Class bajji bajji textbooks to the old setti on weight basis because no human being was ready to buy them, rather than give them away free?).

He made a face and said, "Okay! For this year, I will let you have them. Next year, I know you will be back again for the 9th Class textbooks. Then, I won't sell for half price."

"Okay ra! You are really something. By that time, by God's grace I will buy them at full price," I said, getting hold of the three fourth priced textbooks for half price.

Now my anxiety about 8th Class textbooks was over, but the worry about notebooks still remained. The Lepakshi notebooks mentioned on the notice board were mouthwateringly enticing.

But were they in my destiny? Was my father capable of that much?

While I was wondering how to go about it, I saw Kandula Malakondarao, who was standing under the gulmohar tree, counting his fingers.

"What Malakondayya? What are you counting?" I went and asked him.

"Nothing. I have money to buy textbooks. I also have money to pay for the Lepakshi notebooks. But the Headmaster says that it will take a while before the Lepakshi notebooks arrive. Till such time, I am wondering whether I should buy at least six notebooks for rough work, one per subject?" he said.

My stomach burned with envy at these words.

Kandula Malakondarao's father Kandula Narasimham is a contractor. Building houses-that is his job. He has ten masons and ten coolies working under him. After toiling from morning till evening, they collect their daily wages and come to the adda near Potti Sriramulu Centre. While Malakondarao's father stands under the tree, each of them coms hands him his commission-four rupees out of the twenty-four that a mason gets, and two rupees out of the twelve rupees that the coolie gets.

That is why his father always has money in his pocket.

And my father?

Money comes one day, does not come on another. Moreover, my father has to pay for those working under him, they don't give him anything.

And that is why, when we ask for money to buy notebooks, my father says, "Let's see, let's see," and Malakondarao's father says, "Take, take."

Now, I thought, I should be happy because if Malakondarao got something then I would gain something. So, I devised a plan. "Malakondayya, you don't know the problems with notebooks, I said . "They are of one type in Srinivasa, and another type in Chellapilla. Some absorb ink. On some, if you write on one side, you can see it on the other. You take me along with you. I will pick the good ones for you."

"Abba, you saved my life. Okay, let us go," he said.

That evening, both of us went to Potti Sriramulu Centre, collected money from his father, went to Chellapilla book center and bought six notebooks. There was the joy of looking at their hard covers, and the smell of new paper. But the sad part was that the joy was not mine.

On the way back, I asked him, "Malakondayya, didn't you buy a lot of notebooks in the 7th Class? You had one set for school and one set for tuition. Apart from that I remember you keeping separate notebooks for important questions in Maa badi Question Bank. What happened to all of them?"

"They are all there. I will sell them on weight basis."

"Don't do that. Give them all to me. Your handwriting is very good. If we give them to some new student in 7th Class, it will be very useful. You will get punyam," I told him.

"What an idea!" he exclaimed. He found the old notebooks at home. "Take them and give them away," he said as her handed them over to me.

There were twelve in all.

I took them all home, carefully put them on the floor, sat cross-legged in front of them, neatly tore off the blank pages in each notebook, divided them into two parts, and then, by putting chart paper on top, I stitched two notebooks.

After stitching them, I brought them close to my nose. When I smelt them, they smelt of delicious old paper. I thought, "The Lepakshi notebooks can go jump in the village tank. Aren't these good enough for us?"

I came out of the house and stood outside. I saw Gaadem Rameshgadu going home with the new set of 9th Class textbooks.

I went to him, made him give me a little of the channa in his pocket and had an eyeful of the new textbooks, thinking of them as my children who would remain in paraya ghar before returning to me in a year. So I accompanied them and Gaadem Rameshgadu till his house.

Translated by from the Telugu original by A Suneetha