The children all walked to school together. Our school was the Rameswaram Elementary School and the only one in the town then. We walked along the cobbled roads together, chatting and playing little games. We had to carry only a few books with us and no one took schoolbags. The school building had rows of classrooms and a small playground. In the class I sat with Ramanadha Sastry, my best friend. We had known each other from the first day we came to school and been friends ever since. He and I loved to chat and somehow we never ran out of things to say to each other and do
One day, we decided we would build boats made of leaves and keep them ready in case it rained. Whenever we got a break between classes we took up our pile of leaves and made little boats out of them. Imagine our joy when it actually rained that day! Our whole fleet of boats set sail on the many puddles. If I saw an ant or some other insect I carefully made sure it got a ride on my boat to safety. I don’t know if the ants were any grateful for this unexpected joyride, but we were thrilled to see them clinging on to the flimsy leaf boats and sail away.
Ramanadhan and I sat next to each other in class too. Once it so happened that a new teacher joined our school. As soon as he entered the class, he saw from our attire that Ramanadhan was a Brahmin and that I was a Muslim. These were divisions we had never thought of earlier but the teacher was not happy that a Hindu and a Muslim boy were sitting together. He made me get up and go sit elsewhere. I was shocked and heartbroken. I remember crying because I had been made to give up my seat next to my best friend. And, who knew that a Muslim and a Hindu boy could not sit together?