A Smile from the past and other stories



Daddy ! How would you describe “Biswas “ in English ?”

Dr. Suri, just about to leave the house for his surgery, stopped at the front door and came back.

What’s that, son ?” he said.

Anil was sitting at the table, a pile of school books in front of him and a puzzled frown on his brow.

Biswas”. I’ve been given a lot of Hindi words to translate in to English, and then make each one into a sentence to show that I know what I mean. I’ve done all the other words, and Biswas is the one one left !”

Dr. Suri considered.

Well I can’t do your sentence for you”, he said. “But I would apply it to the sort of person I should like to have for a friend. Someone in whom I knew I could have complete faith and confidence”.

Anil’s face brightened. “Yes, I see, “ he said. “Someone like Surinder”, he murmered to himself. And added as he started to write – “Biswas means ‘Faith and confidence’, I have complete faith and confidence in my friend Surinder Khanna”.

For several months’ now, Surinder Khanna, captain of the lower house cricket team, and one year Anil’s senior, had been the younger boy’s hero and idol. To Anil he represented all that was good, wonderful and to be admired, while Surinder, amused and vaguely flattered by Anil’s worship was quick to trade upon it and make him his willing slave.

Anil finished writing and pushed back his chair with a sigh of relief. If it was not too late there might still be a chance of seeing Surinder practicing at the nets, and perhaps win a smile or a word of praise from his hero.

It was at this moment that the telephone rang. Turning quickly to answer it, Anil’s foot caught in the corner of the carpet, and struggling to save himself he grabbed at the table, which turned over, upsetting all his school books and the pot of ink with it. But by this time Anil had grasped the telephone.

Hulloh”, he gasped weakly, surveying the disaster around him.

Hulloh”, Anil’s heart gave a bound, as he recognized Surinder’s voice at the other side. “Is that you Anil ? Look – cricket’s canceled this evening, and I want your help for a bit of fun. Are you game ?”

Surinder – the great Surinder wanted his help. Anil’s voice was shaking with pride and emotion as he replied “Of course, Surinder. I’ll come right away”.

O.K. meet me in twenty minutes at the bottom of the cricket field. Don’t be late !” There was a click on the wires and he was gone.

Twenty minutes ! That doesn’t give me much time !” Anil was already on his knees shoveling up his inky school books. He surveyed the ink-stained carper with dismay. Well, there was no time to do anything about it now if he had to meet Surinder in 20 minutes. To disobey never occurred to him. Flinging the books into the cupboard in his room he made off down the stairs as fast as he could run, and rushing out of the gate fell over the big shaggy pye dog who habitually sat there. Anil landed on his knees scratching them both, and as he got up he aimed a vicious kick at the dog for upsetting him. The shaggy dog yelped in pain, and ran a little way off, viewing Anil with a look of wounded feelings and apology in his eyes.

But Anil was in no mood for stopping to make it up with the dog. He ran on faster than ever, only limping slightly where one of his knees was hurting him owing to his fall. As the result of his efforts he was at the appointed meeting place in less than twenty minutes, only to find himself there before Surinder.

Anil’s hero was not long in arriving, however, and the expression of conspiracy on his face would have done justice to the leading character of any modern detective novel.

It’s like this “, explained the great man. “You know old Harbans Singh, the fruit grower ? Well, he did the dirty on my father in his last court case. My father lost it entirely on account of the lies this fellow told. Well – I’ve got a wonderful idea for paying him out. As you know its not the mango season yet, and consequently mangoes are reaching a very high price at the moment. I’ve found a loose board in the fence round his biggest mango orchard. Unfortunately it’s a bit too small for me to squeeze through the gap, but you could do it easily. All you have to do is to get through with this sack, fill it up and then hand it over to me. I’ll see to all the rest”.

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Anil looked at him doubtfully.

But Surinder – wouldn’t that be stealing ?”

The older boy surveyed him scornfully. “Of course not, stupid ! Didn’t I tell you that he had done my father out of thousands of rupees ? We should only be getting a back minute portion of what is our right and due ……………….. However, if you’re afraid “.

No, no, it’s not that !” the younger boy interposed hastily. “It’s quite all right by me if we’re not doing anything dishonest. Come on – show me the hole in the fence “ he added eagerly.

And so it happened than an hour later, in the quick –gathering darkness, Anil with a heavy weight of doubt in his heart, and an even heavier weight of mangoes on his back, approached the crack in the fence from the inside and whispered to Surinder for him to stand ready whilst he pushed over the bundle.

O.K.”, he heard Surinder’s answering whisper. “Good lad ! You must have got a nice bag haul if it won’t go through the crack ……..”

And it was at this moment that he was dazzled by the light of a torch in his eyes, and he was dragged back from the fence by a heavy hand.

Caught you !” It was Ram Lal Singh, Haban’s younger brother who stood confronting him, with a grin of triumph on his face. “Well – we’re not so far from your school so we might as well go straight up there and find out what your principal has to say about this. By the way – was there anyone else with you ?”

Anil made no reply, but his eyes traveled round to the crack. Where was Surinder ? Surely he would come and stand by him, and not let him take all the blame alone ? It wasn’t possible that Surinder would desert him. The words he had been writing came back into his mind. “I have complete faith and confidence in my friend Surinder Khanna”.

He comforted himself with the words the whole way up to the school. No, no – he had complete Biswas in Surinder who would stand by him to the end.

But when he stood in front of the head-master, he found himself still alone, with his accusers. It was only the drawing master, who coming in to see the head, suggested that there was more than one boy involved.

I saw him with Surinder Khanna earlier in the evening, sir. Wouldn’t it be as well to have Khanna in to see if he knows anything about it ?”

The head-master agreed, and a few minutes later Surinder stood beside him, bland and smiling.

I’m sorry I can’t help you, sir “, he protested innocently enough. “Yes, I certainly did see Suri creeping along the outside of the wall when I went out to post a letter, but it didn’t occur to me to ask him where he was going. I don’t know him very well “.

And so it was that Anil got the beating and was sent home in disgrace with a letter to his father, but there was a pain in his heart which hurt far, far more than the beating had done. Surinder, his hero and his idol had failed him and had allowed him to take the punishment which was rightly speaking due to himself.

He was thankful for the darkness which hid the tears which poured unheeded down his cheeks. How could he ever face his father ? How could he explain to his mother about all the ink on the carpet. Over-whelmed by his own grief he sank down on the grass outside the hedge, and gave way to shaking sobs.

And it was at this moment that he felt a friendly body leaning up against him, a cold nose thrust inquiring into his face, and a loving tongue licking the tears from his cheeks. Involuntarily Anil’s arms went round his furry comforter.

Poor old chap !” he said hugging the dog to him and burying his face in his fur. “I kicked you, and you still love me ! You are the sort of friend to have. Not stuck up frauds like Surinder who pretend to be very brave but let you down at the last moment. Biswas ! To think that I thought he had it – someone in whom I had faith and confidence. No, old chap – you’ve got something that Surinder hasn’t, and I’m going to call you Biswas, and take you home with me and keep you for my friend always”.

And wiping the remaining tears from his eyes, and struggling to his feet, Anil walked bravely up the path to his front door, the dog walking closely at his heels.

Some little time later, tucked up in bed, Anil had reason to be grateful to his parents for their sympathetic understanding.

Your father thinks you have been punished enough “, his mother explained as she prepared to bid him goodnight. “I’m sorry, son, you have had such a bitter disillusionment, but unfortunately something we all have to learn is not to trust other people too much – very often especially those who are most popular and successful. Anyway you have found one good friend who will never let you down, and that is why Daddy and I thought it was a good thing to let you keep him. I’m glad you’ve called him “Biswas – the name suits him !”.

And underneath the bed Biswas put up his head and licked his new master’s hand, while his tail thumped loudly on the floor.

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