There was a small village called Pearl Island. But neither were pearls collected in the village nor was it an island. Perhaps the village was named so because it was far away and isolated and difficult to reach. The nearest town was miles away – a two-mile trek to Gudem, an overnight boat journey to Palem, an hour’s horse-cart ride to Gortipadu, and then three hours by bus. By rail, the journey from the city was four hundred miles long.
In Pearl Island there lived a boy named Appu. In spite of staying in this tiny village, Appu had the manner and extravagant habits of a townsman. He had no value for money and spent wastefully. In the morning he would go to the village tea-shop and eat all kinds of titbits. He hailed every hawker and bought whatever the man was selling. He stuffed himself till his stomach was bloated. In the evening he went to the village square and again gorged himself.
Appu was not only a glutton, he was also a dandy. Every day he carelessly tore his clothes while playing and demanded new ones. And what was more he always lost or misplaced his books and pencils and asked for new stationary. Appu bullied his mother for money every day and if he ran out of funds he knew he could always extort more.
You see, Appu was the only son of his parents and they indulged his every whim. But when he began squandering money recklessly his parents became anxious. His father tried to reprimand him but Appu took no notice. He pretended to listen attentively but his father’s words went in from one ear and out of the other.
Moreover Appu had also begun smoking. When his father heard about it, he was furious and scolded Appu angrily. Appu began to cry bitterly; his mother was very upset and taking him in her arms comforted him. Then she gave him some money and sent him off to play. Appu’s father was very unhappy. He blamed himself for his son’s bad habits and spendthrift ways. Was it too late to remedy the situation? After much thought Appu’s father decided to ask his son’s teacher’s advice and help. The teacher promised to do his best.
One day, the teacher sent for Appu. Patting him affectionately he asked Appu to come to his house in the afternoon. Appu was filled with trepidation. Why did the teacher want to see him? Was it about his class-work? Did he want to question him about the multiplication tables?
Appu stood at the door hesitantly. The teacher invited him in, spoke to him gently and made him sit down. The teacher’s manner some what reassured Appu, his heartbeat returned to normal, and he relaxed.
“We have term examinations next month, Appu. I hope you are well prepared?” the teacher asked gently. Appu nodded. He wondered what the teacher was leading up to. But the teacher just picked up the newspaper and began to read. Appu looked around idly. His eyes fell on a picture on the backpage of the newspaper. It was a photograph of the launching of a spaceship. Looking at the picture intently Appu had the impression that he was seated in the rocket, being catapulted into space. Appu was thrilled. His head buzzed with questions but he hesitated to voice them. Just then, the teacher lifted his head and looked at Appu. “Did you want to ask me something?”
“S..i..r..er.. can we really go to the moon?” Appu asked, his eyes glowing.
“So, you saw the picture in the newspaper. It’s called a rocket. It can take man to the moon. The Americans have made it.”
Many thoughts flashed across Appu’s mind. His head was filled with dreams.
“Does one have to go to America to ride in a rocket?” he asked.
“How far is America, Sir?”
“About ten thousand miles from here. A couple of days by aeroplane and about three days by ship.”
“Where does one board the aeroplane? From Pearl Island?”
The teacher smiled. “No. The only international airports are in big cities like Madras and Bombay. It costs a lot of money to travel by air you know!”
Appu was very excited. Questions tumbled from his lips. “How much money does one need to travel by air?”
“Lots and lots of money. One has to stinge and save to see the world and its wonders.”
“But how much exactly, Sir,” Appu persisted.
The teacher was pleased. " Do you want to travel and see the world? Better start saving now. You can go when you’re grown up. You know son, even the boat journey to Palem costs a quarter rupee!”
“I know, Sir. It’s half-a-rupee by horse cart to Gortipadu and one-and-a-half rupees by bus to town. "
“Well, travel is expensive. It takes three days to reach Bombay. Imagine the cost of the train ticket!”
“Will a hundred rupees be enough?” Appu asked innocently.
The teacher laughed.
“My dear young man, no one will give you a free air-ticket to America. You will have to have six or seven thousand rupees. Your family’s entire property is not worth that. And going in a rocket costs a few lakhs of rupees!”
Appu was totally disheartened. How could he possibly raise so much money?
“There is another way son,” said the teacher.
Appu’s face brightened.
“If you study hard and do well, the government may pay for your trip. But, you will still need a great deal of money for further study.” And the teacher added, “Son, money is valuable. You need money for every thing.”
Appu was silent. He was deep in thought.
“Ask you father to begin saving,” the teacher continued. “Let him not be wasteful. He will have to save every penny for your education and your future. Tell me, does your father waste money?”
Appu could not lift his head. He was filled with remorse. He remembered his dirty clothes, his torn books, his gluttony. His eyes filled with tears.
The teacher hugged him proudly.
A little pearl shone brightly that day in the small village of Pearl Island.
By Randhi Somaraju; Translated from Telugu by V. Patanjali; Illustration by Mickey Patel; Published By National Book Trust, India
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