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He doesn’t know why, but he collects pebbles, colored rocks etc., much to the annoyance of siblings. He stores them in a desk drawer, sharing the space with his books. His trouser pockets sag and become frayed, sometimes tear at the seams or develop holes, much to his mother’s chagrin and she is always calling on the seamstress to get them mended. His father says it is a childish infatuation, that he will get over as he gets older.

Every night he would open the drawer to look at them, feel them, their surface, the curves, the colours excite his interest as much as the light that reflects off the surface. He keeps a count and feels awfully good when as it grows from a single to a double digit and racing to reach the three digit figure.

He begins to segregate according to colour and roughness of the surface. He needed more space, so he starts taking out his books and soon like the camel that drove the Arab out of the tent, the rocks occupied the space entirely and the books driven out of their enclosure begin to clutter the table top or scatter in the room. Mother begins to complain about his untidy room but he ignores concentrating only on making more space available for his collection.

The drawers now became heavy and creaked and groaned whenever he opened and closed them. And the noise irritated his older sister who would snap at him when it intruded in her work or music listening. So he with utmost caution pulled or pushed at the drawers an inch at a time so as to make the least noise possible. He knows now he needed a bigger container to hold his rapidly growing collection. When the house is empty, he brings down an old wooden crate and pushes it under his bed and draws the coverlet down to hide it from inquisitive eyes. It was necessary not to draw attention to his collection, for every stone he brought in increased the danger of losing the entire collection if and when it becomes known to the household.

He made several partitions in the crate – he used thick cardboards as dividers – and filled them according to the segregations he had made earlier. The drawers continued to receive his findings immediately he reached home and at night he would transfer them to the crate according to their colour and shape, according to the pattern he had established to store them.

In the days he returned home with nothing he would shut himself in and go over the contents of the crate gazing at them fondly, until the last light went out in the house. On the nights that he couldn’t sleep he would use a pocket torch and study them in its light, enjoying the reflections on the crate.

Sometimes for days he would go without a single find and he would feel sad. He would venture farther into places he had not been before. He would spend more time with the ones he already had. But it was also a time that made him look closely at them and he would further separate them according to shape, weight and location. He also utilized the time to remove duplicates. In the beginning he had often collected the same kinds of rocks, but as he collected more and looked at them often, the practised eye told him if a find was original or a duplicate. But before discarding something as duplicate, he often replaced his specimens with better ones when necessary. This exercise was very important to him for it improved his collection. As he grouped them according to a layman’s classification, his eye by and by trained to see the diagnostic features of rocks, features by which rocks can be differentiated.

Of course there were difficulties along the way. Once he had lost a whole bag of stones. That was in the very beginning before he started to take proper care of them he used to drop them into a canvas bag and soon it became heavy and started to bulge. At that time he didn’t even care if there were duplicates. Soon after he found it, he just felt it for as long as the contact gave him pleasure and then dropped it into the bag. One day his mother asked his sister to fetch something to collect the autumn leaves she had swept and piled up near the garage. His sister found the bag full of stones and swearing under her breath she lugged it across the compound and emptied it into a large waste bin. That incident alerted him to the threat of loss and took care to hide them first and later on to put a lock on the containers which could not be just lifted and thrown away.

His parents are worried about him. He doesn’t take much interest in his studies. The only subject that interests him is Geography, and that too the topic of rocks and minerals. In all other subjects he is uninterested. They take him to counsellors, prayers, amulets and babas and finally to the exorcists thinking he is possessed by demons. He goes through it all, inwardly pained but to all appearances unfazed, unchanged and unresponsive.

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