Cinnamon lay in bed, and stared up at the ceiling, desperately trying to stay awake.
His ears pricked suddenly.
Gradually, all the sounds in the house reduced. Everyone had started going to bed.
The late night time Bengali serials and political discussions could no longer be heard.
Now was the time!
Mustering up his courage, he remembered that the stainless steel dabba was in the fridge. The picture of the rosogollas was too tempting to remain trapped in that bunk bed. Gripping the bunk bed for support, he lowered himself down gingerly. He couldn’t see anything at first.
To his surprise, his eyes refused to adjust to the darkness. Was it his imagination or was the darkness more intense than normal? He waited for a while but finally decided that he had to move ahead.
Cinnamon rubbed his eyes. He debated for a moment whether he should stay put. But hearing Souradeep snore, he knew it was now or never.
After waiting for an eternity, he could finally make out silhouettes; enough to make out what it was.
He had a good idea of where the kitchen was, and how to go there from his room. Inch by inch, Cinnamon crawled from the room’s door to the kitchen and finally the fridge.
He opened the different dabbas and feasted on the sweets, in particular the rosogollas and sondesh. He lost count of how many he had eaten, but finally his stomach was at bursting point.
Cinnamon had to make the journey back. Again, he could barely make out anything. The blackness became a bit less intense but none the less, persisted. He decided to get down on all fours and crawl across. He bumped his head against the bedroom door on his way back. It was all he could do to stop himself from crying, but he bit his lips. Very slowly and with difficulty, he climbed up into the bunk bed.
In the morning, he woke up to loud proclamations of ‘Ki acche?’ and ‘Key korlo?’ Tiptoeing to the bedroom door, Cinnamon poked his head out to see into the kitchen. In any case, when Maa and maashi spoke, there was no need to strain one’s ears.
“So many of the rosogollas are eaten! Maago!” said Maa. Nilanjana maashi stared deep into the tin suspiciously, as if the culprit could be found at the bottom of the jar. Didima opened the other tins as well, one by one.
“Even the shondesh and chomchoms!” exclaimed Didima.
“Who ate so many, I say?”
“Must be Shouro. Such a glutton he can be na,” said Maa.
Nilanjana maashi raised her eyebrows but didn’t respond.
“I was sleeping really,” Souradeep insisted.
Cinnamon was elated. He decided to stroll across nonchalantly to the sink to brush his teeth.
“Cinnamon, come here,” said Maa suddenly. He went forward.
“Nilanjanadi, look at our Cinnamon.”
They all stared at him and started giggling. Cinnamon wondered what they were staring at.
“Khokha, I say, how many rosogollas and shondesh did you eat yesterday night?”
Maashi asked very sweetly, her lips rolling every letter.
“I didn’t eat any…Kubhakshana…Souradeep ate them!” There were only peals of laughter in response.
“I didn’t eat any, it seems,” chortled Didima.
Maa took him by the shoulder and dragged him to the bathroom, amidst peals of laughter.
“Look in the mirror baby.”
Cinnamon could have died of embarrassment.
His whole shirt was covered with pieces of rasgolla, malpua syrup stains, sandesh and cham chams, as was his mouth. In his haste to get back to the bed, he had completely forgotten to even wash his mouth and hands. “I look like a stupid monkey with all that sweet stuff smeared all over my face,’ felt Cinnamon ruefully.
Soon after breakfast, Cinnamon’s stomach decided it had enough of the nocturnal all you can eat Bengali sweet extravaganza. He rushed to the bathroom and stayed inside for quite some time.
Yes, thought Cinnamon, after coming out of the bathroom. Maa was right after all. Even too much of sweets may be a bad thing.
Baba smiled when he heard about the incident.
He said, patting Cinnamon on his shoulder, embarrassing him, “Look at the bright side Cinnamon. At least now, you know how it feels to be an elephant pooping!”
Friday morning rolled around and for the first time that week, Cinnamon gave himself permission to breathe deeply. He would stay alive after all, he told himself.
Little did he know, it was just the lull before the storm.
In the Mathematics class, Godbole Ma’am (or Kadubole Ma’am as he had dubbed her)’s practice was to write a Math sum on the blackboard and read out the sum after writing it. She then would call a hapless student to solve it. That day, they were studying the concept of percentages.
‘Solve the following problem. Shashwat has Rs. 400. He spends 3/4 on sardines and ¼ on prawns. One kg of prawns cost Rs 150 and 1 kg of sardines cost Rs 50. How many kg of prawns does he buy and how many kg of sardines?’
She looked all around the room. Her eyes darted from student to student. They all tried to avoid making eye contact. Cinnamon tried unsuccessfully and very comically to tuck his long legs and arms into the chair. She stared at him and smiled innocently. It was a smile with all the genuineness of a mass forwarded Diwali WhatsApp greeting. Without a moment’s hesitation, she equally innocently shattered his life into a thousand splendid fragments.
“Roshan, would you please come forward and solve the problem.”
Would you please. As if he had a choice.
Ayee ga, he exclaimed to himself in despair.
He got up and Mrs. Kadubole handed him the chalk.
He read through the problem carefully.
Shashwat was such a dumb guy. Why not spend all the money on prawns, instead of buying rubbery, tasteless sardines? Gross. Shashwat had obviously never had Maa’s Sunday special chingri malai prawns curry. So yummy. His mouth watered just thinking about it.
“Ma’am, I have one doubt about this sum,” ventured Cinnamon, after deep and profound contemplation.
“Yes, Roshan beta, where is the difficulty?”
“Why only sardines and prawns? Doesn’t Shashwat need rice and vegetables also? Also, since prawns are tastier than sardines, why doesn’t he only buy prawns? Doesn’t that make more sense?”
There was a ripple of laughter through the class.
She said, smile not fading, “Roshan Paranjape, solve the problem in front of you please.”
He did a silent prayer and after some intense calculations, handed over the chalk. Mrs. Godbole’s jaw collapsed, when she saw the board.
Rs. 400/150+50=400/200=2. Of this 2, ¾ are spent on sardines and ¼ on prawns hence, total amount of sardines Shashwat purchased=1.5 kg and prawns=0.5 kg.”
He stepped back, proud of how quickly he had done the calculation. Mrs. Kadubole was still agape.
Some students were giggling.
“Is there anything wrong in the calculation, Ma’am?” Cinnamon asked proudly.
“Y-Y-Youu m-may RETURN to your desk, Roshan,” she spluttered.
Cinnamon returned to his desk, his normally erect, sturdy shoulders drooping. No subject troubled him the way Math did. No wonder then, his Math paper was always full of countless red and blue splashes, like the old T-shirt in which he played Holi with his colony friends.
In the school grounds later that day, walking with Pallavi, he asked her once, “Palli, don’t you think Math was basically invented to torture us?”
Palli slapped him on the back in hearty agreement.
“Seriously yaar, seriously. Everyone anyway has a calculator in their pocket,” she said.
When he worked at his homework, studied his textbooks, or while gazing at the shiny globe on his study brown study table, he found Math sums like trying to read Russian or Chinese.
Math sab ka baap! It was just so impossible. It made your head spin.
Sometimes, a thought crossed his mind.
He wondered, ‘What about my parents when they were young? Were they not good at Math like him, or did they excel in it? Were they good at History, drawing and English? Were they fond of sports?’
He knew he would never know the truth.
“I would like to ask them, Cinnamon felt. If I get just one chance, I would ask them so many things.”