I had an amused smile on my face as I entered my home, after waving my school-friend off. It had been a long while since we had met and meeting him had revived memories of childishness from the past. We were of a height still but neither of us had felt the pressing need to measure up against each other or stand on tiptoe to prove that the other person was shorter. At school, though, it had been a daily competition.
It, invariably, happened when we were standing in line for the morning prayers. Why the prayer lines had to be from the shortest to the tallest is a mystery that I had then dismissed as one of those idiocies that adults perpetrate merely to prove that they had the power to do so. It could not have been to enable everyone to see what was happening in the middle, since nothing much happens in the empty space within a hollow square. Nor, indeed, to be able to see the flag staff since it was not all that much of a pygmy version to be hidden by a couple of inches of height in the fellow standing before you. As for the Principal, he avoided making eye-contact with any of us with the same passion with which we avoided making eye-contact with him. So…
Anyway, shortest to the tallest it was and, being of the shorter variety of humans, Ravi and I were at the forefront of all happenings. And never has anyone, vying for entry as the tallest man in the Guinness Book of World Records, fought with the fury that equal that of two short kids trying to prove that the other person was shorter than them.
There I used to stand, right shoulder hunched up higher than Ravi’s left, showing that I was an inch taller. In the next Nano-second, his left shoulder was above my right – a miracle of growth that happens only when the said person stands up on tiptoe. Up went my heels and I was again the taller. Up hunched his left shoulder and there was confusion. I knew that I was still taller by a Nano-meter but, you know what, Ravi had the gall to claim that it was he who beat me by the same margin. We called in the next guy to referee, he made us stand normally and handed the verdict in favour of Ravi. I sulked, because any idiot could see Ravi seemed taller only because the soles of Ravi’s shoe were thicker than mine.
I laughed out aloud as I closed the door behind me and my wife looked up startled.
“What was that for?”
I told her my memories and said, “How childish we were, then. If I had been mature, I would have known that, if I had won that tussle, all it would have ensured is that I competed with Shiv, who was next in line. If I had become taller than Shiv, then…”
This is the problem with my wife. She never lets me complete my arguments. She says that there are only 24 hours in a day and, if she used up all of them in listening to me wax eloquent on one subject, she would get nothing done. What does she mean by that? I don’t get it at all.
Anyway, she said, “Shiv? Was that not the topper of your batch? The one who invariably beat you to number one?”
“That’s the guy. But what is the point being academically brilliant? He is working in some obscure department of the government. He has not achieved what he could have. He has not even managed to buy a house of his own.”
I looked around my three bedroom apartment with pride. Hardly 45 and I had bought this, free and clear of loans now, in one of the prime locations of the city.
“Ravi seems to have done better, though. Look at his car…”
“Money-wise, maybe. But he works in this itty-bitty company. I hobnob with the who-is-who of the city. I am a respected figure in international conferences. Newspapers interview me…”
“Still…maybe Shiv can claim all this, though he does not have as much money.”
“Look. Ravi’s father was rich. Otherwise, I daresay…”
“He looks taller only because he is standing on tiptoe. Or, maybe the soles of his shoes are thicker. Ask him not to hunch up his shoulders…” my wife went on in a sing-song tone.
Oops! How does she do this to me every time? Needle in hand, she encourages me to puff up, then pokes the needle in and lets out all the air.
Why was I competing with people who were not even aware that they were running any race against me? All that maturity that I had thought I had acquired over the years – was it all illusion after all?
Because, the reality was that here I was…still standing on tiptoe.