Children are often in a great hurry to grow up. But are they really prepared to leave behind their carefree childhood?
The word of the day is – childhood.
My Beautiful Cream Sweater
The sweater was a beautiful, deep cream, rich and elegant, completely different from all the bright colours I always wore, and that I had begun to associate now with childhood. I loved the sweater because it was completely adult with an understated elegance that at fourteen, I had begun noticing. My Vinod Mama had bought it for me from the US.
“What an impractical colour for a young girl, Vinod!” Ai said. “She will dirty it the first day she wears it!”
That annoyed me but Vinod Mama said, “She is not a messy child any longer! She is a young lady!”
“Thank you Vinod Mama,” I beamed, stroking the softness of the cream sweater.
“That’s what you think,” Ai grumbled. “If you see how dirty her school uniform is most days…”
I burned with resentment at my mother’s words. I had come home from school with my uniform filthy. But that had been because we had had decided to play Kabaddi in Games. How could anyone play Kabaddi without getting their clothes dirty? I longed to ask my mother that but stopped myself in time. Vinod Mama had said I was a young lady now and arguing with their mother was not something young ladies did. “I am wearing this to the Club picnic!” I announced.
“The Club picnic?” Ai echoed. “No, you are not!”
“What is this picnic?” Vinod Mama asked.
“It’s organized by the Ladies Club,” Ai explained. “The kids come too. And it will such an unsuitable occasion to wear…” I heard no more as I walked out, determined to wear the sweater to the picnic.
On the day of the picnic, Ai took one look at me wearing my beautiful cream sweater over my favourite jeans and said, “Ritika, I don’t think you should wear the sweater today!”
“But I want to Ai,” I pouted, ready to argue. But Ai only sighed. My friends’ cries of appreciation made up for Ai’s disapproval and I strutted around, showing off my beautiful new cream sweater. The sweater made me feel so special that everything about the day became special – the bus ride, the songs we sang, the food we ate…
At the park we tumbled out, eager to stretch our legs. Once the food had been arranged in the shade of trees we were free. “Ritu!” Shamili called. “Let’s climb these trees!” In a trice my friends had climbed the trees and were soon perched in the branches. I longed to climb too, but worried about my beautiful cream sweater, I stayed on the ground.
When I got tired of this I wandered away by myself. I was looking at a pond full of coloured fish when I felt drops of water land on me. Shamili, Meena and Sakshi had sneaked up behind me, and with water scooped from the pond, were intent on throwing it on me. “No, no, don’t!” I cried, instantly worried about my sweater. My friends paid no attention and I yelled, “Stop it! You will ruin my beautiful sweater!” They stopped then, and Shamili said a soft “Sorry!”
“Let’s play ball!” I suggested, trying to smooth over the incident. Everyone agreed and soon we had split into two teams, intent on playing dodge ball. I enjoyed myself till it was my team’s turn to be inside the circle, dodging the ball. And then I began worrying about what would happen to my beautiful cream sweater if the dirty ball hit me.
After great thought I came up with a great idea – I would get myself out of the game! When the ball hit me, my team groaned since I was considered a good player, but my heart was beating in joy and relief. That was why when Shamili joined me, I couldn’t resist telling her what I had done. Her anger was frightening. “You deliberately got out?” she said, biting out each word. “To save your sweater?” And when I nodded, she said angrily, “I think, Ritika, that you should simply sit somewhere so that nothing can dirty that precious sweater of yours!” And her voice was so loud that everyone heard. In the hush that followed Shamili said, “Come on girls, if you don’t mind getting your clothes dirty, let’s play a game of Kho-Kho!”
I was left all alone there, as my friends walked away, some of them giving me sympathetic backward glances but none of them stopping to talk. I felt tears blur my eyes. This was not what I had wanted for this day. I stared at my beautiful cream sweater. It did make me look likea young lady. But…I wasn’t ready to be a young lady yet. I wanted to run and play with my friends, climb trees without worrying about my clothes, not sit primly in a corner, keeping myself neat and pretty.
Once I knew my mind, it didn’t take me long to take off the sweater and give it to my mother. She said nothing, just gave me a speaking glance and waved me away to join my friends, where they were engaged in a noisy, rowdy and completely fun game of Kho-Kho. I joined them, forgetting for the moment my dreams of being a young lady, for the present intent only on enjoying myself.
This story was published in Young Buzz, the children’s pages of Sakal Times.