The Prize

The Prize

A short story by Farrukh Mirza on his recollections from 40 years of his abnormally fun life.

Tring Tring”, sounds the bell as I click it as I swoosh through the back streets on my shiny new bicycle, cutting and swerving through the traffic and the walking pedestrians, feeling like flying with wings, in a spaceship from my wildest imaginations.

This is one of the most unbelievable episodes from my childhood, and only those in my family or truly close friends, who I have shared this part of my life, can bear testament to the joy and thrill I had when I rode my bike, home, for the first time from my school, St. Joseph’s College in Calcutta, India.

But let me take you back to a few weeks prior to this moment, when we got the news in our school, that there was going to be a major fundraiser in our school, to pay for an extension of our music room and hall, and all the students had to contribute strongly to make it happen. We all got told that there would be a raffle ticket draw, with many prizes on offer, and we had to buy booklets and sell the tickets to raise money for the school.

To entice and motivate the 1000+ kids in the school, the school principal decided to put all of the items in the prize draw on show in our school hall. There was a big 29 inch TV, and a drum set, skateboards, cricket kit but all I saw was the shiny black bike with wide spokes and flat handlebars with a beautiful shiny bell. It was like, “WOW ! Can you imagine if I owned that ATB (all terrain bike)?”

After such vivid imaginations, the reality hit hard, when I did the numbers in my head, despite my shortcomings in mathematics, that it would be a Million in One shot to ever get this bike. I would have to buy or sell a lot of booklets, and sell at least 200 to 300 tickets to even have a shot at winning anything. Some of my classmates, from well-to-do business families had already sold 30 to 40 booklets in the first few days, to their uncles and aunts, and everyone they know. One of my friends, whose father owned a big electronics factory was leading the count in the whole school having sold over 200 booklets by the end of first week. I still had 5 tickets from a booklet of 10, on my first booklet to sell.

The days went by, and I managed to sell my way through 6 booklets, almost like a pyramid-scheme salesman promising all the profits and glory for a short investment, which would pay off eventually. Looking back, I believe a lot of my selling, networking and persuasion skills might have been honed in tasks like these, where I offered to fund raise for the school.

The morning of the prize draw came, and the excitement could be felt in the air. Every kid had their eyes on their prize, and each one was confident it was going to be their day. Then we were asked to all stand in aligned rows, based on our class roll calls, and the school principal along with some senior teachers would call out of the tickets and the name of the winners. I don’t think the school assembly was ever this quiet on any morning, as it was before the prize draw.

One of my classmates, excitedly asked, “So what will you do if you win something?” And instantly, started sharing what his parents would say if he won the TV, or how his elder brother would react if he got the cricket kit. As he rambled on, I thought to myself, “Based on my numbers and efforts so far, mum will be thrilled if I win the electric water boiling kettle”.

Then the prizes started getting called, starting with the not-so-popular or less-expensive items, and the cheering got louder as more and more kids started to walk back holding the prizes they had won based on the tickets bought or sold by them.

Even that boiling kettle was gone, and my hopes were absolutely dashed. Like many unenthusiastic spectators, I was hoping for this circus to finish soon, so we could go back to classes, and finish this day. It was going to be a long day, as all of us unlucky souls would have to listen to the bragging of the oh-so-lucky kids who had won something, and made very sure it was rubbed into our faces, all day long.

As I was lost in my own bored thoughts, my classmate shrugged my shoulder, and said, “Hey they’re calling your name?” Without knowing how to react, I got pushed to the front and walked up the stage to meet the school Principal, who shook my hands, and then pointed me towards the bicycle, I had dreamed of owning.

There is was – my black stallion, all new and shiny with a little red bow on the handle bars. I was absolutely stunned, and didn’t even know to smile or cry. I have no recollection of the next 15 mins as I took the bike down the stage and back to where I was standing, holding it ever so tightly, in case it vanished in thin air.

“How did I ever win this? What were the possibilities and am I really so lucky?”

Then it all came back to me. The ticket that had won this prize, was not one of those that I hold sold from my own stash of booklets, but a solitary ticket that I had bought of a friend in my class, the day before. We were asked to submit all the booklets before the end of school, which would be collected by the teachers and passed onto the Principal’s office. My friend, seated behind me, pleaded with all around him to buy the last ticket (priced at Rupees 2 only), and everyone gave him the shrug. Feeling sorry for him, and with the intention to help him, I searched my pocket and found a single Rupee 1 coin.

Hesitantly I said, “Listen ! This is all I have with me right now, but will this do?” In his moment of desperation, he said, “Yes, thank you” and cut the ticket and wrote my name, class number and then ran to submit the booklets to the teacher. It was that single ticket, for which I didn’t even pay the full price, that won me the bicycle that I had dreamed of owning. He was the first person, who I offered to ride the bike around the school grounds, after school that day.

Winning that bike changed my life, I felt free and independent, and now I could go further distances without getting tired. Going to school and back in my own transport, equated nothing less than owning my own Audi aged 24. Honestly, even that sporty German luxury car didn’t compare to that bike that I had own in the lucky prize draw.

I could go to school for playing cricket and football with my friends, or ride it further to my cousin’s place, and we could hang out together, and not wait on uncles and aunts to pick us up or drop us by. I even managed to ride to other parts of the city, some 20 to 30 kilometres even, and go to know all of the by-lanes and little corners and shortcuts that I could ride through, and explore the city I grew up.

That bike stayed with me till I was 17 years old, till we decided to move to New Zealand. Knowing fully well, it was time to let go, I gave it to a small kid in my neighbourhood, who was more than excited to get it. His parents didn’t earn enough to buy him even a second hand bike, so I felt it best to give it to him as a goodbye gift, so he would enjoy the freedom that I had come to cherish over the years.

There was nothing like holding on to the handlebars of this sturdy swift bike, and then ride through the footpaths and the roads and between cars and people, sometimes pushing hard, sometimes braking late, sometimes avoiding puddles and potholes, and sometimes brazenly riding through water clogged streets.

It also gave me the discipline to look after my belonging, to getting it serviced regularly and not pushing my luck on the road, and respecting the ability of both the bike and myself. This bike gave me freedom, gave me confidence and gave me the belief that everything is possible, and even your wildest dreams can come true.

And how important it is to help others, when they need it, as God always rewards back multi-fold, no matter how little our contribution. And the greatest feeling, was to be able to pass it on, and see the smile on someone else which possibly matched the excitement I felt when I first touched it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *