The scholar | Sunday Observer

The scholar

14 August, 2022

Dedicated to all parents, devastated by the school system in Sri Lanka.

Savithri sat at the entrance to the office, waiting to be called any time soon, quite unsure of the consequences of her efforts. She looked at Sumathiran who was rather cool and calm. He didn’t seem to be as tensed as her, or he pretended to not be. Little Madhav was sitting between them, unaware and indifferent to any of the happenings around.

The principal’s office wasn’t still vacant for them, although more than one hour had gone past from the time of their appointment. It looked as if their visit wasn’t important to the officials. Well, that wasn’t possible! Then why were they called?

Savithri gave weight to her thoughts. The happenings of the week that went past appeared on her mind-screen like a story:

She was a regular visitor of the Hindu temple in town, and coincidentally, she had met a friend of her husband, coming out after prayers.

“Nice to meet you here. You’re Sumathi’s wife, am I right?”

Unsure of his identity, Savithri had withdrawn herself, but the stranger hadn’t released her.

“Oh, you look very upset. Sumathi and I work together in the Past Students’ Association in school. I know you’re his wife.”

At this introduction, Savithri had stopped at the stranger and given way to the conversation.

“I haven’t met you before, so I wasn’t sure.”

“I’m Ravi, the President of the association. By the way, what’s happening to your boy’s school admission? I know Sumathi had tried many times to talk to the principal about him, but no serious discussion has happened so far. That’s what he told me.”

Savithri’s thoughts had stopped, listening to the stranger. He had touched the most sensitive subject of the time—her son’s school admission.

Savithri and Sumathiran were married for 11 years, and didn’t have children of their own. Madhav had been adopted from a children’s home. They were taking time to understand the little boy, as he had been eight years old at the time of adoption. It was a mutual, emotional rollercoaster both the parents and the child were still facing.

“I can talk to the principal on your behalf, sister, if you want.”

Coming back to herself, having her listening senses towards the stranger, Savithri had realised that she had been talking to none other than the President of the Past Students’ Association of the school, someone who was capable of helping them out. At this, she had looked straight at him, the tall man with a moustache, probably in his mid-sixties.

“I know you’ve been worried about not having children for a long time. Anyway, now that you adopted a boy, let’s somehow have him in the school! The problem here is his age. It’s difficult when he’s gone past the right age for grade one. He should be in grade four now.”

Savithri had become speechless, at the knowledge of the stranger about their parenthood; that had made her uncomfortable. More to her discomfort, some more alarming words had been spoken by the stranger.

“When you’re free, you give me a call and make me a visit. I live all alone at my house. My wife is in London these days spending time with my children. So, we’ll be able to discuss this matter well.”

His words had sounded like an undue or rather an indecent suggestion on her. She had looked at his face, trying to have her eyes out of focus, to notice the unrefined look in his eyes. She had ignored them.

“I have to get going now,” she had said, quickly advancing herself from there.

She hadn’t looked back, being well aware of the preying eyes on her.


What an alligator! she thought, is that the way of having a child admitted into a school? And besides, he knew about their fertility problem. Was Sumathi that ignorant, to be talking about it with people around?

Savithri came back to herself, still waiting to meet the principal, with high hopes of admitting her son to school, the very same school of which her husband was a past student. He looked at Sumathiran who didn’t seem to have the eagerness that she always had.

He was reading a magazine. The little boy, Madhav had started to play with a toy from the toy shelf which was maintained for children of similar age. From the window, she could see the same face approaching the office—the stranger at the temple.

There was an obscene smile on his face, which appeared at the sight of the mother who sat there. Savithri ignored him. Sumathiran stood up and walked out of the office to greet his friend; the little boy and mother were left alone for a brief time.

Savithri paid less attention to what was happening outside. It was just nothing anyway; Sumathi had just met a friend, and he was just talking to him, hardly knowing about the indecent suggestion he had made to his wife, the previous week.

Madhav was simply playing with the toy, unaware of any weirdness around him.

“You seem to like this toy more than the others,” Savithri said, trying to be focused on themselves more than on the sudden meeting outside.

“Yes,” the little boy replied, “I had a similar looking toy giraffe when I was very little.., my mom gave it to me.”

Savithri was shaken by the boy’s words. She held his hand tight, showing him great affection.

“I’m your mom,” she whispered into his ear. The boy smiled at the unexpected response of the lady who had adopted him from the children’s home he had been in, just a few months ago.

“I know,” Madhav said, lowering her head with one hand and whispering into her ear—an identical whisper that had come from Savithri. He looked as if he was trying to imitate her. It brought a brief laughter into her, but she controlled it.

A moment after, the office clerk appeared in front of them.

“It’s your turn ma’am. The principal is calling you.”

She stood up, holding the little boy’s hand, and Sumathiran rushed inside.


The principal’s office was well organised. There were wall cupboards which carried box files. The tall brass lamp, higher than the average height of a human gave an air of sophistication and confidence to the entire atmosphere. Savithri looked at him; the middle-aged, hefty looking gentleman bore a very serious look with his eye-glasses and moustache. Savithri feared to speak. She waited for Sumathiran to do the communication.

The little boy held the beetle leaves and stood in front of the principal, somewhat curious about what was about to happen. He offered the beetle leaves to him and bent himself down, having hands together. Unfortunately that wasn’t the method of greeting the principal had expected and would have appreciated.

“This child isn’t taught well,” he mentioned with disgust.

Savithri tried to correct the boy from afar, but she couldn’t. The boy returned to her and sat between the parents.

“Now, tell me why you’re here!” The principal or the scholar of the present circumstances commanded. Well, of course he knew very well why they were there, but it looked like he wanted to embarrass the parents and humiliate their visit.

“We’re here to discuss about our son’s school admission,” Sumathiran began to explain, “as you know, he’s eight, we adopted him a few months ago. He should be in grade four now.”

“Yes, Sir. Our sincere hope is to have him admitted to grade four in this school, and…” Savithri began to speak, but she was stopped by one huge devastation.

“What? You seriously think that I have to take all children of this island, listening to all the mothers when they come asking for school admission?”

The principal’s words tore her apart. They sufficiently pierced her. She slowly looked at Sumathiran, who was just about to speak. He was well mannered and tolerant.

“But, Sir I’ve served the school as a past student for more than a decade. I was admitted to grade six because I was a scholar.”

“That was so many years ago. Things have changed since then. Besides, you aren’t the only person who has served this school. There are a lot in the Association who work hard. If I take your child, others who were rejected will come in a line asking me the same.”

Sumathiran drew back, at his words. Savithri was disappointed; her dream of admitting Madhav in the same school wasn’t going to be fulfilled. It wasn’t an inch close to being a success. And then they heard more words aiming toward them.

“Get out of my office now! It’s a very busy day for me. If all moms and dads gather around me asking me to admit their children here, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. Get out! Get out right now!”

The disappointed parents stood up to leave. Little Madhav, confused but still curious held Savithri’s hand to follow her. He knew that his parents weren’t treated politely by this huge man who sat behind the table. The three visitors were at the exit when they heard the last bit of words far away from them now.

“You should have adopted a child younger than five years. Then he could have been admitted to this school, to grade one.”

The two adults turned back their heads slightly, to grasp the words. And little Madhav doing a leap almost stunned the principal and everyone else, concluding the meeting.

“I am Superman!” He said loud, making the pose of his favourite superhero, turning to the principal, just before they exited. The unexpected twist of the little boy brought a smile into Savithri, and the little scholar triumphantly smiled, holding his mother’s hand.