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Uncle From Japan

It was 1946 and my grandfather was studying in the 8th standard in the Mission school of Pudukkotai in Tamil Nadu, which was a princely state. Nagarajan was the alter ego of my grandfather and also his desk mate. They used to move together as they were inseparables.
Eighth class students had to undergo manual training for two hours every week on Wednesday afternoons. My father and Nagarajan had been asked to learn silk reeling, which was a boring task. They had to cut mulberry leaves and feed the caterpillars kept in a shallow basket. They had to put cocoons in boiling water, reel silk thread from them, wind it on spindles attached to a thin rod and go on pedaling for two hours. Training included weaving, carpentry, electrical gadgets repairing, paper making, gardening, knitting etc. Muthiah a semiliterate man who did not know English was in charge of the silk reeling unit also. He was a weaver by profession.
One day Nagarajan confided in his friend that he would seek the permission of the Silk Master as soon as lunch was over and go home saying his Uncle who was a prisoner of War in Japan had returned and was coming to see his family. He would say that his uncle would be returning by a late train and if he did not see him then he would not be able to see him for many years.
My clever grandfather stealthily went before lunch to Muthiah Sir and sought his permission to go home to see his Uncle who was returning from the United States of America where he had been a POW! Muthiah Sir who was half asleep allowed him to go and my grandfather rushed home without informing his friend. When Nagarajan did not find his friend he went to the Manual Training class and sought the permission of the Silk Master The latter was annoyed and chided Nagarajan. He asked him to reel silk. The teacher said it could not be possible that the uncles of two boys would return from Japan and America on the same day. Nagarajan was outraged and did not talk to my grand father for many days.

Aakash Ravichandran
6th A
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
K G Marg
New Delhi

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