International Mother Language Day

As a children’s author who has written for children of all ages, I often have parents and teachers sitting in on my sessions. These sessions are essentially meant to introduce children to the magic of stories and so, rather than read out from my books, I tell them the stories that I have written. Of course the children love this. But I am always surprised by the enthusiastic participation of the adults. They laugh and giggle with the children, and they join in with the children to beg for ‘One more story!’

And it’s hardly surprising, is it? After all, it is our love for stories that has us reading books and becoming addicted to long running soap operas. And so, in these days of social distancing, what better way to connect, than through stories?

This is a story that I have narrated in my mother language, Marathi, in celebration of International Mother Language Day.

 

 

A Story A Day#30 The Sister of My Dreams

We are often disappointed when our dreams for the future are not fulfilled. What if we get what we need in place of things and people we wished for? 

The word of the day is – Dreams. 

 

The Sister of My Dreams

‘Make a wish!’ Shikha said and the others took up the chant.

‘Make a good wish,’ my sister Priya whispered. ‘Remember, it will come true!’

Ha, I thought, looking at the thirteen candles on my cake. The last time I had wished on a cake had been six years back, when Amma had told me she was going to have a baby. I had wished for a sister and that part of my wish had come true. But I had wished for a sister just like me and instead, I had got Priya.

‘Make a wish,’ my friends were saying while Priya danced in the middle of the circle they made. I hadn’t wished for a dancing sister; the sister of my dreams played a violin while I played the tabla. But Priya didn’t want to learn music; all she wanted was to dance to it.

Someone turned off the light so the candles glowed golden. There had been six candles the last time and I had made six wishes. One of those wishes had been that my sister would hate all the vegetables I disliked. The two of us could have teamed up to fight Amma. No more cucumbers or beetroots, I had thought then. And instead I had got the only vegetable loving child in the world for my sister! She crunched carrots and cucumbers, ate green peas by the handful and begged Amma for brinjal. She was the one who had asked for vegetable sandwiches for my party when I would have demanded fries and chips. The only advantage to this was that Priya helped me finish my vegetables so I didn’t get into trouble with Amma. All she asked for in return was that I read stories to her. And that was another of my dreams, completely destroyed.

I had wished for a book crazy sister so we could have long discussions about our favourite books. But Priya was only interested in tearing up my books. Some of them she had even tried to eat up. Then, fortunately for me and my books, she had discovered vegetables. Since then she had stopped tearing up books. But she still did not like to read. What she liked was listening to me reading to her. She would sit that way for hours, while I read out my favourite stories to her.

‘Neha,’ someone jabbed me so I jumped, ‘make a wish so we can cut the cake!’ It was Priya, Priya who would happily hand over her slice of the cake to me, Priya who would keep me awake so I would read out all my new books to her. Priya, who was not the sister I had wished for. But who had, over the years, become the sister that I wanted very much.

‘What are you going to wish for?’ she whispered to me now.

What could I wish for? ‘Nothing,’ I said and blew the candles out.

 

This story was published in Young World, the children’s pages of The Hindu.

A Story A Day#27 First Day Back at School

We all try to get out of things that we don’t like. But does this really help us? 

The word of the day is –  School. 

 

 

“All ready for the first day of school?” Amma asked, walking into Vidya’s room. Vidya had been staring out of the window and jumped at Amma’s voice. “Yes,” she said, “everything is ready.”

“Exciting, isn’t it?” Amma asked. “Going back to school?”

Vidya didn’t think so but, “Yes!” she said. Her voice sounded hollow to herself. Would Amma guess from her lukewarm response that Vidya was dreading going back to school? After a month and half away from school the rules and regulations, the very routine seemed alien and scary.

“I hated going back to school!” Amma declared, surprising Vidya into saying, “Really?” “Yes,” Amma smiled mischievously. “Absolutely hated it. And the last few days of my vacations were spent praying that school would close down. It never happened, of course, but that didn’t stop me from hoping even as I walked to school on the first day!”

“Hmm,” Vidya said and then, taking courage into both her hands she confessed, “I …I feel that way too!”

“You do?” Amma seemed amazed. “I suppose,”she went on, “all children feel that way!” Vidya thought briefly of her friends. None of them seemed concerned about going back to school and accepted it as a necessary part of life.

“You know,” Amma was grinning again, “one year I decided that I wouldn’t go to school on the first day!”

“Did you mother let you do that?” Vidya asked, surprised.

“Oh, yes,” Amma nodded. “Your grandmother had no problem with my staying at home on the first day!”

Wow, thought Vidya, that was an idea. She too could miss the first day of school. Would Amma let her stay home? Did she dare ask her mother? Aloud she said, “Lucky you!”

“Lucky me?”Amma echoed. “Hmm, I suppose so. That is what I thought too. I was so pleased with myself for having missed the first day of school. And then I had to go to school the next day and I realized how wrong I had been. I realized that I had not missed the first day of school after all!”

“What?”Vidya frowned. What was Amma saying? “But you missed school on the first day, didn’t you?” she asked. “Yes,” Amma nodded. “But when I went to school the next day, that was my first day at school!”

“Oooh!” Vidya said, realization dawning.

“Yes,”Amma nodded. “And by then everyone had decided who their seat partner was going to be, the teachers had asked for introductions and…in short,” she sighed, “it was a horrible day for me!”

Vidya could imagine how that would feel- going to school when everyone else knew what was happening, everyone else had decided things. “It must have been worse than the first day of school!” she exclaimed and Amma nodded. “Yes,” she agreed. “It was. The next year when my mother asked me if I wanted to miss the first day of school…”

“…you said ‘No’,” Vidya completed. Amma laughed. “I had decided that I would never ever miss the first day of school.” Amma explained. “I would go even if I had to force myself to go there! Because… trying to escape from scary things never works. The scary things only get…

“Bigger, stronger and scarier!” Vidya said.

“Exactly!”Amma nodded. “And that’s why I wouldn’t let you miss the first day of school, even if you begged me!”

“I was going to ask if I could miss the first day,” Vidya admitted. “But now…I am going to school on the first day!”

“Only on the first day?”Amma teased.

“The first day and every single day after that!”Vidya declared, her words a solemn promise, both to herself and Amma.

 

This story was published in Young World, the children’s pages of The Hindu.

A Story A Day#26 Remember me?

Our perception of ourselves is often limited and sometimes harshly unfair. At such times, it helps to see ourselves through the eyes of the people around us! 

The word of the day is –  Memories.  

 

Remember Me?

“Guess what?” Manisha said. I looked at her bright black eyes, the glossy hair that framed her face and said, “I can’t!”

“Try!” Manisha urged and I was reminded of all the times when she had looked exactly like that. She had always been pretty, even when bawling her eyes out with me on the first day of kindergarten.  “Tell me!” I smiled.

“Remember Kartik?” she said. “Kartik Rangarajan?”

Remember Kartik? Of course I did! “Kartik?” I said. “Yes, I remember him? Our classmate till the 10th and…”

“He left school after the Board Exams!” Manisha said. “And none of us knew where he was… well,” Manisha grinned and announced, “he’s on Facebook!”

“Oh!” I said, my voice sounding weak even to my own ears. Kartik had been our classmate for five years and in all those years, I had never spoken to him. That didn’t mean that I hadn’t noticed him or thought him cute.  “I’ve written to him!” Manish said. “If you register on Facebook you could write too!” she suggested.

I hadn’t been interested in registering but with the prospect of seeing Kartik, I did just that. Kartik’s photo told me that he was still cute. I sat there, the computer humming contentedly, looking at Kartik’s picture. Manisha looked unbelievably pretty in her photo and I stared at in despair. What was the point of writing to Kartik? Would he even remember me – the fat girl of the class? What chance did I have against someone as pretty as Manisha?

And when Manisha called to ask if I had written to Kartik I asked her “Why would Kartik Rangarajan want to speak to the fattest girl in the class?”

“As if that matters!” Manisha scolded. I longed to tell her that it did matter, that it decided how many friends you had and how many of them remembered you years later. And that is why, though I agreed to write to Kartik, I didn’t.

It would be so embarrassing to write to Kartik and find that he had forgotten me. I thought instead of my school days, remembering all the un-funny jokes I had heard about myself, the comments and snide remarks that had made me decide that only one person could tease me and that was myself. I had become the class clown as a result, but I hadn’t minded because it was better than being teased.

But now… I would mind very much indeed if Kartik had forgotten all about the fat girl in his class. I was wondering if it was better to be remembered as the fat clown or not remembered at all when I fell asleep. In the morning my fears seemed silly and I laughed at my reflection as I brushed. But my decision to not write to Kartik seemed sensible and I was just congratulating myself when the phone rang. It had to be Manisha, to report on mails from Kartik.  Instead a strange male voice spoke, asking rather hesitatingly to speak to Asha. “Speaking,” I said, wondering who it was. “Hi…Asha!” the voice said. “This is …. you probably don’t remember me at all… but we were classmates till class X and then I left. I ….this is Kartik!”

“Kartik?” I echoed stupidly. It couldn’t be, could it, that my wildest dream was coming true?

“Remember me?” Kartik said hopefully. “We were…”

“Yes,” I said. “I remember you!”

“You do?” Kartik sounded delighted, as if he had won a lottery.

“But,” I asked, suddenly waking up to reality, “how did you get my number?”

“I got a mail from a girl in our class, some Manisha,” Kartik said. “And she had given her number, so I called her and she gave me your number!” He sounded delighted with himself but there was something I had to find out. “Some girl named Manisha?” I echoed. “Yes,” Kartik said, doubtful. “She said we had been classmates, but to tell you the absolute truth I couldn’t recall who she was!”

“But,” I said, my head in a whirl, “how did you remember me?”

“How could I have forgotten you?” Kartik sounded amazed. “You were…”

“The fattest girl in class,” I mouthed, feeling my heart fill up with sick dread.

“…the most cheerful girl in class,” Kartik said and for a minute I thought there was something wrong with my ears. “And I really liked the way you always found something to laugh at and be happy!”

If you only knew, I thought. But I was grinning. This was no time to think of the past and nurse regrets. This was a time to talk and remember all the good times. And I was determined to enjoy every minute of it.

This story was published in Young Buzz, the children’s pages of Sakal Times.

A Story A Day#24 Lost and Found!

Friends are forever. Or are they? Here’s a story about losing a friend…and finding her again! 

The word of the day is –  photograph. 

 

 

Lost – And Found!

“Aren’t you excited? We are going to take the class photo today!”

“Oh no,” Shruti muttered. “It the one and only Miss Photogenic!” Her friends giggled as Avantika walked down the corridor.  Avantika always looked as though she were going to a party, if one could imagine attending a party in a school uniform. But today she had taken extra care. Her hair lay hung in a shining waterfall to her shoulder and her face glowed. She grinned widely as she passed Shruti, Nitya and Payal.

“She can’t have really changed that much, can she?” Shruti wondered. She had known Avantika since the day the two of them had joined the school in Class 1. In those days Avantika had been fun. She had continued to be fun till they were in class 5. And then, Shruti was never sure how or when, she had lost her friend. It had begun gradually, the process of moving away but by the time they were in Class 6, the gulf was wide enough for both of them to have their own separate friends. Shruti had become friends with Payal and Nitya, who had both joined school around the time when her friendship with Avantika had been going through the cooling off phase. Shruti had never told her friends what fun she and Avantika had had in the past. Memories of the sleepovers, the birthday parties and all the secrets that they had shared were things that still made her sad. Now all Avantika thought about were her looks and sometimes Shruti mourned the loss of her fun-loving friend.

 

Discussing the events of the day with her mother that evening, she said, “And that silly Avantika – she came looking as if she were going to model!”

“Has she really changed so much?” Ai asked in a wondering voice.

“Yes,” Shruti said gloomily. “All she can talk of is clothes, perfumes, make up and stuff like that!” And she went to bed hoping that sometime in the future she would get a glimpse of the girl who had been her best friend once upon a time.

But the very next day Avantika came dancing to school, eager to share her exciting news.

“She says some newspaper photographers took pictures of her yesterday,” Nitya reported. “And they will appear in the children’s supplement on Friday!”

“Imagine,” Payal sighed, “how unbearable she will be after that!” Payal rolled her eyes in horror at the thought. The others laughed but Shruti, whose hopes for a better Avantika had just been dashed to the ground, sighed a little.

 

And so, when Avantika came  running into school on Friday, dangerously close to being late for school, Shruti turned away. She wasn’t interested in seeing photos of her old friend looking silly and made up! A crowd gathered around Avantika as she rustled eagerly through the pages. “The paper delivery boy was late,” she gasped. “And Daddy had to go to the shop to get…Oh!” she said.

“What is it?” Niharika asked and then grabbing the paper from Avantika’s hands she looked. And the next minute she was laughing. Everyone crowded around Niharika then, pushing and shoving in their eagerness to see the picture that has caused Niharika to laugh like that. Shruti looked too, her curiosity getting the better of her disappointment.

The photo didn’t show Avantika in her usually groomed avatar. It had been taken in Avantika’s garden and instead of posing below some tree in a fetching pose, Avantika was holding a hose pipe in her hands. Water gushed out of the pipe. Some of it had sprayed on Avantika too, and her hair hung in wild disarray around her face. Her t-shirt was old and faded, and her skirt, a faint pink with dark patches of water on it. But what held Shruti’s attention was the expression on  Avantika’s face. Gone was the look of being constantly in control of herself, Avantika’s face reflected her joy. Under the photo was the caption – Children at play. If this was what Avantika looked like, even for a few minutes, thought Shruti, then she hadn’t changed that much.

The others were jostling her out of the way, eager to see the picture. There was a lot nudging and suppressed giggles as the girls looked at this completely unexpected picture of the normally beautiful Avantika. The first loud laugh, when it came, startled all of them. Not because it was so unexpected but because it was Avantika who was laughing. They stared at her, all of them silenced by the unexpectedness of it. Tears they had expected, but laughter? “Oh!” Avantika laughed, holding her sides. “Don’t I look funny? I didn’t even know that photographer had taken a picture! Wait till I see him again!  I will tell him what I think of him!” There was no anger in her voice, only pure amusement. And that was why Shruti dared to say, “You should thank him Avantika!”

She paused. All eyes were on her and though the bell clanged for attention, none of the girls moved. “Really?” Avantika stopped laughing long enough to ask. “Why?”

“He actually made you look beautiful!” Shruti said and the two girls collapsed into laughter. Everyone wondered why Shruti was laughing so hard and there were some who believed she was being malicious and mean. Only Shruti  knew how much joy ran through her laughter – joy at having found her friend again, joy at having the old Avantika back again!

This story was published in Young Buzz, the children’s pages of Sakal Times.

 

A Story a Day#10 – A Birthday Full of Surprises

 

Birthdays are  so special. What makes them special – the gifts or the thought that goes into buying the gifts? In this story, Sushma finds out  what is important.  

That makes Birthday the word of the day! 

 

 

A Birthday full of surprises

“What is today?” Amma peered at the calendar, “Oh! It is the 11th of November!”  she said to herself, “ That means your birthday is just a week away Sushma!”

Sushma felt a thrill of excitement. She had forgotten her birthday and all the while it had been creeping up on her.

“Can you believe it Neelu?” Sushma said to her friend, “Only a week to my birthday! And this year, I am determined to find my Didi’s gifts before my birthday!”

Sharmi Didi usually gave her more than one gift, all of them lovely. “But how did you know I wanted this?” Sushma would cry.

“I knew it,” Sharmi Didi would say, “And so I bought it months ago!” Last year it had been a t-shirt she had admired in a shop, a watch she had drooled over in a mall and a smart backpack. Sushma had wondered, like every year, how Didi  managed to hide the gifts so well.

“But why do you want to find the gifts before your birthday?” Neelu asked, “You are going to get them on your birthday! And aren’t surprises nice?”

“Yes,” Sushma agreed, “But this once I want to find Didi’s hiding place and prove that she’s not such an expert at hiding things!”

“You’ve a week to look!” Neelu said.

“Actually,” Sushma said, “Today is the perfect day to look – Amma is going out,  Didi has an extra class and Papa will be home late!”

“That’s great!” Neelu grinned, “I’ll help you look – I am very good at finding things!”

“This year,” Sushma said with certainty, “I am going to have my birthday a week early!”

 

“Whew!” Sushma dropped into a chair, “Where could Didi have hidden the gifts?”

“Your sister is an expert!” Neelu flopped into a chair too. “We’ll never find the gifts!”

“Don’t say that,” Sushma said. “Let’s look again!”

So they did – pushing aside books, papers and clothes, even prying the lids off dabbas in the kitchen. They looked in the suitcases packed away under the beds, between books, behind furniture. Now they were in the bathroom and Neelu was peering into the cabinet there. “Come on Neelu,” Sushma said, disheartened. “There is no place to hide anything in that tiny cabinet!”

Neelu shut the cabinet with a sigh.  “You are right,” she said. “There is nothing here where….” Her voice trailed away. “Sushma,” she said in a breathless voice, “Sushma!”

“What is it?” Sushma asked.

“Look,” Neelu said, “Look! The perfect hiding place!” Sushma followed her friend’s finger and saw the basket that held their dirty clothes.

“Do you seriously think Didi would hide the gifts among the dirty clothes?” she asked in surprise.

“We could look, right?” Neelu asked.

“But it is the dirty clothes basket!” Sushma protested.

“Just looking, Sushma,” Neelu said. “You are the one who wants to find the gifts before your birthday, right?”

That galvanized Sushma into action. “Come on,” she said, pulling off the lid of the basket, “let’s look!”

She pulled out the dirty clothes with Neelu urging her on. Sushma had almost reached the bottom of the basket now and was leaning over it. “I don’t think there is anything here,” she was saying, when her fingers touched something hard. Something that didn’t feel like clothes. She dug her hand deeper and distinctly heard the stiff crackling of a plastic bag. “I think,” she said, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice, “I think I’ve found them!”

Neelu screamed in triumph. Sushma’s hands closed on the handle of the bag, she pulled and with a loud crackling a bag shot out.  “Look,” Sushma said in awe, holding it up. The plastic bag was full of things hidden by the roll of pretty wrapping paper, with silver stars and moons and meteors on a red background.

“Your Sharmi Didi obviously bought them sometime back,” Neelu said peeping into the bag. “And hid them here till she needed them. And what a pretty wrapping paper she has selected!”

“She chose red because she knows that is my favourite colour,” Sushma explained. Sushma thought of her Sharmi Didi secretly buying these gifts, spending hours looking for things that she would like. And then smuggling them into the house and looking around for a place to hide them till it was time to hand them over to Sushma.

“That is so thoughtful of her,” Neelu exclaimed.

Yes, it was, Sushma thought, it was very very thoughtful of Sharmi Didi. And here she was, looking for the gifts and planning to open them and find out what her sister was going to give her a week later.

“Sushma,” Neelu said, “why are you staring into that bag? Aren’t you going to open it and see what your Didi has bought you?”

“No,” Sushma said quietly. “I am not opening these gifts. I am leaving them for my birthday! I’ll open them on the 18th so that I will be really surprised!”

“But,” Neelu said, obviously surprised, “I thought you…”

“Yes,” Sushma admitted. “I did want to find out what she was going to give me. But now… now I don’t want to know. I just want to be given all these gifts on my birthday and feel truly lucky!”

“That is a great idea!” Neelu grinned.

And so Sushma carefully packed away the plastic bag with all her gifts under the load of dirty clothes she had pulled out.

And when a week later Sharmi Didi handed them to her, each one wrapped in the pretty red paper, Sushma was able to say, “But Didi, how did you know I wanted this?”

It was a special birthday filled with surprises. And Sushma enjoyed very one of them.

 

This story was published in Young Buzz, the children’s pages of Sakal Times.

 

A Story A Day #7 The Nicest Boy in the World

 

Adolescence is a time of awkwardness and too large feet and not enough certainty about yourself. But what if you received a Valentine’s Day card? How would that make you feel? This is a story about the small acts of kindness that go a long way in spreading joy. 

The word of this Valentine’s Day is – Kindness.   

 

                                       The Nicest Boy in the World

“Megha!” Rekha said, bursting into the room, waving an envelope. “Did you get it?” Megha leapt up, grinning widely and waving an identical envelope, “Yes!” she said. “I got it too!”

“What is it?” asked Ria, looking up from her assignment.  Her roommates were dancing around, waving the envelopes.

“He remembered!” Megha said.

“As if he would forget!” Rekha said indignantly.

“Who?” Ria asked, “Who are you talking about?”

“Such a sweetie!” Rekha was saying and Megha was nodding in complete agreement when Ria thumped on the table and said, “Will the two of you tell me WHAT you are talking about?”

They stopped dancing and Rekha dropped into a chair while Megha, panting slightly from the dancing, threw herself on the bed.

“Siddharth!” Rekha sighed, as if that explained everything.

“Siddharth?” Ria was mystified. “Who is Siddharth? And why are you both so excited about him?”

“Because,” Megha said dreamily, “he is the nicest boy in the world!”

“Really?” Ria said, her tone disbelieving. “And what has this nicest boy in the world done to make you both so happy?”

Megha sat up and announced, “He’s sent us each a Valentine’s card!”

 “That’s it?” Ria said incredulously. “He sent you both Valentine Day cards and you are thrilled?”

Shaking her head in disappointment, she prepared to go back to her books. “But you don’t understand!” Megha said. “Siddharth is….” She groped around for the perfect word and Rekha helped her by saying, “Perfect!”

“Really?” Ria said, opening her eyes wide. “Sending you both cards doesn’t make him a great guy!”

“It’s not about sending us cards now,” Rekha explained, “it’s about what he did when we were all in class 9!”

“What did he do?” Ria turned in her chair, prepared to listen.

“He sent…” Rekha began.

“No, no!” Megha scolded. “That’s not the way to tell the story!” And taking a deep breath, she began, “This happened the year we were in the ninth class. We were a pretty normal bunch of school kids – all of us growing up and looking awkward and feeling unsure about ourselves!”

“Except Nithika!” Rekha said.

“Yes,” Megha nodded, “Except Nithika and her group! They were the ultra smart set and they … they made the rest of us feel very ordinary because they dressed well and knew how to talk to boys and all those things that matter at that age!” Ria nodded. She could remember very well how it had been at that age.

“And it was Nithika and her gang that started all the hoo-haa about Valentine’s Day. For the rest of us it was just another day that grownups celebrated and that had nothing to do with us!”

“But then,” Rekha said, “Nithika seemed to think she was practically grown up!”

 “All she would talk about, once February started, was about the cards she was going to get. And so, by the time the 14th came around, all the other girls were feeling pretty miserable because we knew no one was going to send us any cards!”

 “So what happened then?” Ria asked. “What did Siddharth do?”

“Siddharth?” Megha and Rekha exchanged glances. “Siddharth did something amazing!” Rekha grinned.

 “Siddharth,” Megha said, “was a very normal guy…”

“And a very nice guy,” Rekha reminded Megha.

“Yes,” Megha nodded. “A very very nice guy who didn’t say much but noticed everything. And he noticed that Nithika was boasting about getting a Valentine Day card. And he realsied what it meant to the other girls in the class. And so…”

“He sent us all Valentine Day cards!” Rekha burst out.

All of you?” Ria said wonderingly.

“Yes, all the girls in the class!” Megha qualified. “Except of course, Nithika and her gang! So when we walked into the class that morning we each found an envelope with a card in it!”

“You should have seen Nithika’s face!” Rekha giggled. “Suddenly she wasn’t so special any more since everyone had received a card!”

“But..” Ria said, looking stunned, “he bought cards for all of you?”

“He made them,” Megha corrected her.

“He made how many cards?” Ria wanted to know.

“Let me see…” Megha thought. “About twenty-five cards!” she said.

“Wow!” Ria said, impressed. “That is amazing!”

“And the best part is,” Rekha said, “Siddharth has continued sending us all cards every year!”

“So Siddharth has been sending all of you Valentine Day cards since class 9?” Ria could not believe her ears.

Her friends nodded, and Megha said, “That’s why I said he is the nicest boy in the world!”

“And the sweetest!” Rekha added. Ria thought of a boy who would make twenty-five cards so that his classmates would feel happy and loved and said, “I agree! Siddharth is the nicest boy in the world!”

 

This story was published in Young World, Sakal Time on Valentine’s Day long ago!

A Story A Day #5 Take the Long Way Home

Friends make everything better – school, quarrels, sorrows. How far out of your way would you go to stay with your friends? 

The word of the day is – Friends.

 

“Bye Ria!” Sunita called out. “See you tomorrow!”

“Bye!” Ria said, watching her friends walk away. She heard Trisha ask, “Why isn’t Ria walking home with us? And she heard Sunita explain, “Because this is the long way to her new house. She’s found a shorter route now!”

Yes, thought Ria, walking slowly away from her friends, the new route was shorter. It was Papa who had found it and he had shown Ria the short cut, telling her that she would save a lot of time if she used it instead of taking the usual way.

Till a week ago, when Papa had stumbled on the short way home, Ria had always walked home with her friends. The four of them had identified different routes to make the walk home fun. The best part about walking home, Ria thought, was deciding which of the exciting routes they would take that day. One of their choices led past a house with three dogs in it. They took this route if one of them had smuggled biscuits to feed the dogs. The route that led past a bakery was a favourite for all four and it was taken on special occasions like birthdays or when one of them had some money to spend. How good the samosas and cakes they shared there tasted, Ria thought.

And no matter which route they chose, there was always the fun of going over the events of the school day, giggling over the silly things classmates had said and done, worrying away at the threats of tests and exams. Ria had always been surprised at how quickly time had passed when she walked home with her friends.

The new route should have taken less time. And yet, thought Ria, her feet dragging as she walked away from her friends, and yet, this route seemed so much longer. And, she thought with a sigh, so much lonelier. The thought stopped her short. And there in the middle of the road Ria thought of the two routes she could take home. She could still hear the faint sounds of her friends’ voices.

Shalini was saying something in her usual mock-serious style, something that was causing the other two to laugh. Ria smiled to hear Trisha’s hoot of laughter mingling with Sunita’s guffaw. And suddenly Ria understood exactly what she was missing by taking the shorter route home. She knew that she couldn’t weigh and measure those things. But they were still things that mattered to her, things whose absence left her feeling lonely. Her mind made up, Ria turned. Her friends were nearing the end of the road, and the way in which Sunita and Trisha were staggering all over the road told her that they were laughing hard.

“Hey!” Ria called loudly. “Wait for me!” She waved at her surprised friends and ran towards them. Sometimes, she thought, the long way home was often the happier way. And that was the way she chose to take.

 

This story was published in Young World, The Hindu.

A Story A Day #2 – Clicks for Keeps

Whenever I travel, I am surprised and a little amused at people’s eagerness to click photographs. I love photos as much as anyone else. But sometimes, enjoying the moment matters more than clicking a photo of it. And that’s what this story is about…living in the moment!   

Peering into the camera lens, I zoomed in on a distant tree.  Behind it, the jagged peaks of mountains rose against the blue sky. It made a lovely sight, and satisfied, I clicked a picture. I lowered the camera and saw my parents, Chitra Aunty and Satish Uncle admiring the valley spread out before us. My cousin Sanika was admiring the view too. But why wasn’t she taking photographs?

Three years ago, when I was 12, Sanika had spent her entire vacation with her camera glued to her eyes. I had envied my 16-year-old cousin.  Nothing, I had thought then, could be as much fun as being in control of a camera and deciding what was worth photographing. And this year, my parents had fulfilled my dream by gifting me a lovely camera.

From the moment I had held it in my hands, I had been clicking pictures.  And now, on our vacation in Kashmir, I was having a great time, taking pictures of all the beautiful places we visited.

“Lovely, isn’t it?” I asked Sanika.

River? I wondered, What river? Then I saw it – a silver line cascading down the mountains. Almost automatically, I reached for my camera and clicked.

“Aren’t you taking a photo?” I asked.

“I don’t need to,” Sanika said.

“Don’t need to?” I echoed. “But photographs are memories. A record of what you have seen!”

“True,” Sanika nodded. “But sometimes, memories are enough.”

I stared in astonishment at Sanika. She laughed at the look on my face. “Sometimes you miss many things when you look through a camera,” Sanika explained. “You can remember things even without a camera!”

“Rashmi! Sanika!” Chitra Aunty was waving us over.

As we got into the car I mulled over what Sanika had said. Was she right? After all, I had almost missed the lovely sight of the river flowing down the mountainside because I had been too busy clicking photographs. And if Sanika hadn’t pointed out the school, I would have missed those children engrossed in their studies. As the car began to move, I rolled down my window and put my head out.

“Taking one last photo, Rashmi?” Amma asked.

“Yes, Amma,” I nodded, looking at the blue sky, the softly waving trees and the tiny ant like figures clambering on the slopes.

“But, Rashmi,” Chitra Aunty nudged me, “You haven’t got your camera!’

“I know!” I grinned.

“What kind of a photograph can you take without a camera?” Appa wanted to know.

I looked at my cousin, who was staring intently out of the window. “The best,” I said. “The kind that always stays fresh, and is never forgotten!”

This story was published in Young World. You can read it here. https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/short-story-clicks-for-keeps/article6400567.ece