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The Oudh Public School was hosting a modelling clay workshop. The eve of the event found next-door neighbours and best friends Ram Lal and Rahim Babbar embroiled in a particularly harsh squabble. Mere minutes into the event, an apparent dispute had emerged. Ram was of the opinion that he was the rightful owner of the piece of clay that his classmate had fashioned a structure from (the exact particulars of which due to unspecified reasons, the narrator seems to be unable to recall). He asserted that it was his grandmother’s last mark – a memento he vaguely remembers having received from her when he was three. Rahim on the other hand, was hell-bent on defending his hard-built structure, and accused Ram of having a shaky premise – solely basing his discretion on a fleeting memory, and likely purely co-incidental superficial semblance.

With both parties insistent and vehement, the conflict soon snowballed out-of-hand and the situation was rendered partisan. Teachers joined in the fray, taking sides, as the respective kith, kin and neighbours poured in assuming their places at their sides of the argument. Even random acquaintances joined in, and the school campus became the centre of attention of the city. As the two hordes seemingly came beyond conciliation, and on the verge of resorting to fistikuffs, the history teacher KK Irfan Thapar-Guha was ushered in. He acted as an arbitrator and a pacifier, embarking about such long, monotonous, and tiring lectures that both sides came united in boredom, and the ongoing feuding hostilities temporarily subsided. But the conflict was far from over.

Rahim testified that he had bought the clay just a few months ago, while Ram’s evidence that Rahim’s grandfather had robbed the same clay from his neighbour that his counterpart now had were inconclusive. Ram claimed that he intended to rebuild the same structure that his grandfather had fashioned before he died. At 9:20:12, in a wrathful fit Ram snapped at Rahim and wrecked his clay model deforming and subsequently decimating it, claiming the raw clay for himself to remodel. The Principal intervened, postponed the threat of disciplinary action on Ram Lal for the violent act and put a stay on claiming the clay, stowing the now raw clay into the cupboard. The case was shelved yet hotly discussed in various circles for the next 26 days, over the course of which focus was shifted from most other attending issues. It was fodder for the various News and Publication Students Societies of the school who had a field-day using it as an excuse to ignore the lack of food in school canteens and failure to ensure timely award of scholarships, as well as the internal mismanagement of school funds, as well as the renaming of school halls.

It played a major role in the intermittent student council member Election, where Krishna Lal tried to agitate and rekindle the issue yet persistently failed to eke out a victory. On the big, decisive day, the Assamese soon-to-retire Principal constituted a committee from amongst the staff to probe it, enlisting 4 reputed teachers to deliberate alongside him. First off, they annulled the claim of Rahim’s younger brother, who wanted to give up the clay to Ram, claiming that although the clay was bought through Rahim’s money he was the rightful owner having gone to fetch it and thus entitled (or at least party) to determine its ultimate fate. They also nullifed the partial stake lain by the “Stoic Wrestlers” faction, a fan club of Ram Lal mainly comprising of reclusive Sanskrit enthusiasts. In a unanimous decision, the teachers, most of them on the verge of retirement ruled in favour of awarding that piece of clay to Ram, but ordered him to buy a fresh chunk of same-sized clay and give it to Rahim as soon as possible. Rahim’s Telugu friend, an admirer and venerator of the Principal was not pleased at this, and questioned the decision, stating that any of Rahim’s kin were perfectly able to buy the clay. However, most of the concerned parties were content with the decision and argument subsided. Soon, there was a murmur going around talking of similar incidents in Rahim’s almae matres Vishwanath Public School and Mathura Junior Academy.

Pitamber Kaushik is a columnist, journalist, writer and researcher, having previously written in over 40 newspapers and outlets in 22 countries.


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