A Story A Day #32 Polka Dot Tuesday

Does our appearance really matter? Perhaps it does…only to us! 

The word of the day is – Appearance.

Anushka was wearing a new dress.  So was Smriti. None of the others was in a new outfit but that was small consolation since all of them owned far more clothes than Neha.  And I, thought Neha, looking down at herself, am dressed in the same red polka dotted skirt that I wore last week.  She sighed to herself, wishing she was back in her old school, where all of them had worn a uniform and she had never had to worry that she only owned six outfits, which she wore in rotation. But her old school and her old friends were in the past and there was no point in sighing for that world, when her world was now made up of girls who thought nothing of wearing new clothes to school every day.

She watched as some of the girls gathered around Anushka obviously complimenting Anushka on her new outfit. Neha longed to walk up to Anushka too, longed to say, “That’s a pretty dress!” But what if that made Anushka look at Neha’s clothes and notice how the often washed red polka dots on her skirt looked a little tired while the matching red top could easily pass off for pale pink?   Neha knew it was only a matter of time before one of the girls noticed how she always repeated her clothes and dreaded the moment when someone mentioned the fact. She had worn this same outfit last Tuesday, Neha remembered now. That was the day when the Math teacher, Mrs. Mary, had sprung a surprise test on them.

Neha had only been at the school for a week that day and recalled the feeling of terror she had felt when Mrs. Mary had begun writing out the questions on the board, squashing all the moans  from the  girls with a warning that she wouldn’t give them a single extra minute. Neha had finished just as the bell had pealed and thinking now of how she had been weak with relief, she smiled. For Mrs. Mary had handed them back their tests that very afternoon, after she had delivered a lecture on how badly they had all done and then had announced that Neha had been the only one who had done well. For a moment the memory kept the smile pinned on Neha’s lips.

 Anushka’s voice interrupted her thoughts.  “Wasn’t it last Tuesday,” Anushka was saying, walking toward her and Neha felt her throat dry in fear. Here it came, she thought. Anushka was about to comment on the fact that she always wore the red polka dotted skirt and the once-upon-a time-red top on Tuesdays. “That Mrs. Mary gave us that Math test which only you managed to do well?” Anushka finished. “Yes,” Smirti nodded. “It was last Tuesday. Wasn’t it Neha?” They were both staring at Neha, waiting for her to speak and for a moment Neha could think of nothing to say. Then she nodded, “Yes,” she said. “It was last Tuesday!”

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

A Story A Day #31 The Perfect Birthday Gift

We often take the people close to us for granted, until they manage to surprise us in the most unexpected way. 

The word for the day is – Gift.  

The Perfect Birthday Gift

Most people enjoy their birthdays and look forward to their birthday parties. But I only became grumpier as my birthday came closer. “Why does Anuj have to be at my party?” I grumbled to Amma, “Why can’t you take him out somewhere or leave him with the neighbours?”

“Don’t be mean Anu,” Amma scolded, “He is your little brother! He has a right to attend your party!” Yes, I mumbled, he did. But what about me? How was I going to feel, having my little brother tottering about at my birthday party, grabbing all the attention, while I was ignored? It had happened before and it would happen again.  And that’s why I wanted Amma to keep Anuj away from my party. But so far I had had no such luck.

I went back to my homework and Anuj found me there “Hey Anuj!” I said, “How are you?” My brother babbled and I nodded my head. “So Amma isn’t giving you a biscuit? Let’s see what we can do!” I marched to the kitchen lugging my brother and after a short battle, got away with two biscuits. Sitting on my hip, Anuj babbled away into my ear. We were waiting for him to begin talking but for now Anuj’s conversation consisted of these meaningless sounds.

By the day of my party I was resigned to having Anuj there. “Your brother,” exclaimed my friend Smitha, “He’s so cute!” Yes, I thought looking at Anuj, his curly hair framing his round face, and his pudgy hands grabbing things, he was cute and I was glad he was at my party. So what if my friends had gathered around him and were passing him around, as if they were playing pass-the-parcel and he was the parcel, while I stood in a corner, ignored at my own party? Anuj hated the attention, and seemed to want only me. His frantic eyes kept looking at me, as if begging to be rescued from my friends. I smiled and waved, but stayed away. And then, as if he could bear it no longer, my brother Anuj pointed at me and said, “ANU!” The room fell silent. I could hardly believe my ears. And then, as if to oblige me Anuj said again, “Anu!” This time there was no doubting it. My little brother had spoken his first word. And it had been my name! A perfect storm of noise burst then. Anuj’s face crumpled and he looked ready to cry. I grabbed him. “Anu’s here!” I told him. “Don’t worry Anuj, Anu’s here!”

“Anu,” Anuj agreed, patting me on my cheek. And at that moment I felt like the most special person in the world and knew that this was the best gift my brother could have ever given me. And I had actually wanted Anuj to stay away! At the memory of my meanness my arms tightened around Anuj. “Anu!” he yelled. “Anu!” I grinned, enjoying the best birthday gift anyone could have asked for.

 

A Story A Day#28 The Magic of Sun and Sand

Overcoming our fears often yields great riches. In this story it yields something unexpected and  magical! 

The word of the day is – Magic.  

 

The Magic of Sun and Sand

 

Summer, Mona and Guna thought, meant a beach vacation. Their parents usually agreed but this year Mama and Papa shook their heads. ‘A vacation is too difficult!’ they said.

The children couldn’t understand why it was difficult. After all, their parents were powerful magicians and only had to snap their fingers for things to happen. The children begged and pleaded, they argued and reasoned.

Finally, Mama and Papa began to say things like, ‘Let’s see!’

And after more begging, Papa said, ‘All right, but you’ll have to earn the vacation!’

‘Anything,’ Mona promised.

‘Anything for sun and sand!’ Guna added rashly.

‘Good!’ Mama said briskly. She and Papa both plucked things out of the air and dropped them into the children’s hands.

Each child was holding something small and soft, something with sharp claws, something that said, ‘Meow!’

The children shrieked and leapt away, dropping the kittens.

‘It’s a cat!’ they yelled, trying to get away. The kittens thought it was a game and raced after their leaping feet.

‘Help!’ they begged.

‘Why?’ Mama asked, surprised. ‘This is what you wanted!’

They gaped at her. Mama pointed to the warm orange kitten and said, ‘This is Sun!’ ‘And this,’ Papa said, picking the brown kitten, ‘is Sand!’

Mona and Guna did not like animals. They ran away from dogs, shuddered at snakes and screamed if any buzzing creature came too close. And they positively hated cats. This was a pity because magic meant working with different animals. Anything with wings gave you lightness, four-legged creatures imparted courage and crawlers added a dash of the cunning essential for good magic.

Mona and Guna were filled with a seething rage at their parents. They had fooled the children and now, they were getting ready to go out.

‘Look after Sun and Sand,’ Mama said, putting on dark glasses, ‘and they’ll fulfil your wishes.’

‘How?’ the children demanded.

‘Open your eyes,’ Mama suggested.

‘See the magic of Sun and Sand!’ Papa laughed. A snap of fingers and they disappeared.

‘I wish,’ Guna said, ‘we knew enough magic to disappear!’

But they knew hardly any magic because of their refusal to work with animals. And now here they were, stuck with two kittens while their parents were out for the day. The kittens were eager to be friends and the children spent their time escaping them.

‘What shall we do?’ Guna panted as they ran away from the kittens.

‘If we feed them,’ Mona said, ‘they’ll fall asleep!’

Her plan worked and grinning triumphantly, the children sneaked away. Mona curled up in a chair with a book. But she was soon asleep. She slept deeply and woke up only because there was a motor thrumming somewhere close by. Then she looked down at her lap and gasped. There lay Sand, fast asleep and purring gently. Mona wanted it out of her lap. But it looked so peaceful that instead she found herself stroking it. The purring increased and Mona smiled. Sand liked it! She stroked the kitten and the purring grew louder. Sand seemed happier. But was he also getting heavier and warmer?

Mona gently picked up the kitten. And then she stared and stared at her skirt, full of soft, fine beach sand. The kitten slept on as Mona stroked it again. With a soft whoosh her lap filled with more sand.

‘Guna!’ Mona called. ‘We are going to the beach!’

‘How?’ Guna demanded.

‘Because now I know the magic of Sun and Sand!’ Mona grinned.

So they petted the kittens till the tiny bodies were thrumming with joy. The children enjoyed the petting so much that they didn’t notice the walls disappearing to let the sun shine in or the floor being replaced by smooth sand.

They only looked up when they heard their parents say, ‘Welcome to the beach!’

Then they saw the bright sun, the miles of sand and heard the dull crash of the blue waves.

‘It worked!’ Mona squeaked. ‘The magic of Sun and Sand worked!’

The children tried to be angry with their parents for tricking them. But the magic of Sun and Sand interfered each time. And that’s how they had the best vacation of their lives!

 

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

A Story A Day #21 A Secret for Me

A secret is often a truth waiting to be revealed. But what if you hugged the secret to yourself and enjoyed it because of how special it made you feel? 

The word of the day is – Secret!

 

A Secret for me

“Shall we go into that shop there?” I pointed to a shop with a bright pink board. The two display windows on either side of the entrance were a riot of shiny things. But my cousin Vaidehi barely glanced at the shop before she was shaking her head. “I don’t want to buy anything there,” she told me. “So why should we go in there?”

“Because,” I felt like yelling, “because it is fun to look! And because you may actually find something you like!” But I held my tongue and instead sighed to myself. What was the point in saying anything to Vaidehi, I thought. She wasn’t interested in most things. I had spent the afternoon trying to get her to go into some of the shops in the mall close to my house. And all she had done was say things like, “I am not interested,” or “I don’t need anything!” At the thought of the six days that remained of Vaidehi’s stay with us, my heart sank. What was I going to do with a cousin who didn’t seem to be interested in most of the things that I liked?

A week back, the thought of Vaidehi’s visit had thrilled me. I hadn’t met Vaidehi in years and the memory of our childhood meetings, when we had played happily with our dolls, had convinced me that we would have a great time. And so I had made such elaborate plans for our time together that her week long stay had seemed too short. At that time though, the Vaidehi of my dreams had been a girl I had got along with, a cousin I had understood.

The real Vaidehi turned out to be a very quiet girl, whose behaviour and conversation gave no clue to the kind of person she was. How much can you understand of a person from “Yes,” “No” and “I think so”? That was why I had suggested going to the Mall and that was why I was there on a Saturday afternoon, trying desperately to find the key that would unlock my cousin for me.

I did my best to start a conversation as we walked around the mall, pointing to clothes and people, chatting about school and asking her about her friends. To all these Vaidehi gave short, to the point replies. “Ice cream!” I said, stopping in front of my favourite ice cream shop. Fortunately for me, it turned out that Vaidehi too liked ice cream. And so, with a cone in our hands we settled down to eating our ice creams. It was then that Vaidehi saw something in the shoe shop next door that interested her. “What is it?” I asked, looking over her shoulder at the shelves of shoes.

“Look at that pair of sandals,” my cousin said. I followed her pointing finger and saw a pretty pair of sandals, in white and pink.

“Very nice,” I approved. “Do you want to go in and take a look?”

And surprisingly Vaidehi said yes, she did want to take a look at the pair of sandals that had caught her eye.

A few minutes later she had tried on the sandals too and from the look on her face, as she walked up and down the shop, trying to see if the sandals were comfortable, I guessed that she would buy them.

“Like them?” I wanted to know and Vaidehi nodded.

“They are pretty,” I agreed. “And they look very comfortable!”

“Yes, yes,” Vaidehi said impatiently. “But you know, that’s not why I like them so much!” And with a thump she sat down next to me and began unbuckling her sandals in a hurry. “Look!” she said, pulling off one sandal and holding it out to me. I looked, wondering why she seemed so excited. Inside the sandal, in the place where Vaidehi’s heel would come, was a small pink teddy bear, its smile mischievous, the bow in its hair outlined with glittery pink, a pair of pink and white sandals on its minute feet.

“That is pretty!” I exclaimed, sitting up. “But it should have been on the outside of the sandals, so that it would have been seen! Don’t you think so?”

“No!” Vaidehi looked at me as if I was mad. “I like that the teddy bear is inside my sandals!”

“But nobody can even see its there,” I pointed out. “No one will even know you have such a cute little teddy bear on your sandal!”

I will know,” Vaidehi smiled. “Only I will know and it will be my secret, the teddy bear inside my sandals!”

I looked at my cousin, seeing her for the first time and liking what I saw. My cousin Vaidehi, I realised, was a person who didn’t care about appearances, a person for whom all the changes and all the excitement lay within.

As we walked out of the shop a little later, I caught the small smile on Vaidehi’s lips and knew that the knowledge of the teddy bear had put it there. It was a secret that she hugged to herself, a secret that made her walk taller and straighter. I marveled at how much that secret had changed her, and thinking of the unsuspected depths of human beings I was glad that I had understood Vaidehi before I had rushed to dismiss her as ‘my boring cousin Vaidehi’!

 

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

A Story A Day #19 Getting Ready to Hate Meera

We often allow ourselves to be prejudiced against people we hardly know. What if we simply gave them a chance? 

The word of the day is – Prejudice. 

 

 

Getting ready to hate Meera

I should have been happy when Ai told me that Meera was coming to visit us. Actually, I was happy.  To begin with. Then I began thinking about what it would mean to have Meera staying with us for two weeks. And slowly I began to feel that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a great thing after all. At the end of an hour’s thinking I arrived at the conclusion that I was definitely not looking forward to my cousin Meera’s visit.

Meera is a year younger than me and lives in Bangalore. We’ve met at various marriages and family functions, but never visited each other. But I know all about Meera. I’ve heard so much about Meera that I could probably fill a 100 page notebook! Because you see, my cousin Meera is very good at everything she does. She’s always topping her class and she’s been learning Bharatanatyam since she was five years old and is always in the school dances. Meera is also good at debates, elocutions, creative writing and essay writing… you name it and Meera has not only done it but won a prize for it.

Whenever Aaji visits us she brings wads of photographs of Meera doing all these interesting things and being given prizes for that. And while it is okay to have photos thrust at you I was not sure it would be okay to have Meera herself thrust at me. I am what the teachers call ‘a satisfactory student’ but I know that what they really mean is that I don’t work as much as I should. Every year my report card says things like, “Obedient. Can do better”, while the column for extracurricular activities is blank because I don’t participate in any of those. And while this has never worried me, I got to thinking of what someone like Meera would make of me and that was when I realized that having her visit was not such a good idea.

From that moment I began to dread my cousin Meera’s visit. I thought so much about it and about Meera’s accomplishments that I began to dislike her. I would be doing my homework and think, “Meera will laugh at my handwriting!” and I would feel a surge of anger at my cousin. Or I would be looking around my room, which is always messy, and think, “Meera will think I live in a pigsty!” And then I began to get angry with Meera and say things like, “If Meera doesn’t like me or my room she can sleep in the hall!” or I would lay down conditions like, “If Meera is mean to me I won’t share my books with her!”

By the  day of Meera’s arrival I was close to hating my cousin. It was the first day of my summer vacations and I should have been happy; instead I was grumpy as I cleaned my room and readied the bed that Baba had moved in the day before. Meera’s train was to arrive in the afternoon and Baba had asked me if I wanted to go to the railway station to receive her. But I had refused to go. Instead I had spent the morning in my room, trying to clean it up even as I grumbled about having to do it. I tell you, I was in a strange state that day.

And then the doorbell pealed. It was Baba, shepherding Meera and her father, my uncle Suraj, into the house. Meera was just as I remembered her, though she seemed to have grown taller. It seemed to me that her eyes were darting around, eager to pounce on something that she did not approve of. We said ‘Hi’ to each other and I knew that my face was wooden and that I was not looking particularly welcoming but then, I didn’t feel welcoming.

When Ai asked me to take Meera to my room, I led the way, imagining her casual criticism. Instead Meera looked around, said, “What a nice room!” and then, as if she couldn’t stop herself, added “I’ve been so terrified of meeting you, Manasi!”

Terrified of meeting me? What did she mean? “It’s just that,” Meera began, “I’ve heard so much about you and… how good you are with helping around the house and …Art and Crafts ….that I felt really scared to meet you. I kept imagining you finding fault with me and refusing to talk to me and…” She trailed away and stared at me out of worried eyes.

Suddenly I saw myself as Meera was seeing me – an older cousin whom she only knew from all the stories she had heard. A cousin who might hate her. And the hate I had been carefully building up over the past few days melted away. “Me?” I laughed, genuinely amused. “Hate you? When I’ve been waiting so eagerly for you!” Well, I thought, it was true, in a way. “We’re going to have so much fun!” I smiled, pushing away memories of my anger at Meera. “There’s so much I want to learn from you – how to dance and how to …”

Meera let out a sigh and from that moment we were friends.

 

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

 

A Story A Day #11 The Girl With the Pink Umbrella

Assumptions! We make them all the time, about people we know and don’t, about events we’ve witnessed or only heard about. Sometimes, a reality check is necessary!

The word of the day is- assumptions!  

 

The Girl with the Pink Umbrella

 

 

Mini had seen the girl around the colony and knew she had moved in recently. She seemed to be about Mini’s age, and Mini wondered was her name was and which school she went to. But Mini didn’t make any attempt to be friends with the girl. That is, until the rains started and Mini saw her with the pink umbrella.

 

Mini was hurrying to the bus stop, trying to hold her umbrella at the perfect angle so that she wouldn’t get wet, when she saw something that almost stopped her in her tracks. It was the most beautiful pink umbrella in the world and a schoolgirl was carrying it. Mini knew at once, with complete certainty, that she wanted an umbrella exactly like the pink one ahead of her. It was only when she stumbled into a puddle that Mini stopped staring at the umbrella and tried to find out instead who owned such a nice umbrella. Mini lengthened her stride, till she was abreast with the girl. Then she gave a cautious sidelong look and found herself staring at the new girl she had noticed. The girl didn’t notice Mini’s envious stare.

Standing at the bus stop Mini thought about the pink umbrella. It was the most perfect umbrella she had ever seen and till she had seen it Mini had not even realized how very much she longed to posses it. Her own umbrella was so dull and boring. It was black in colour and though it was sturdy enough, it lacked the elegance that the pink umbrella had.

Mini looked at the girl, standing a little way away and thought enviously how lucky she was to own such a pretty umbrella. Her own parents would never have agreed to buy her something like that. In fact Mini could just imagine how Ai would react to the news that she wanted a pink umbrella. Mini sighed. The girl was really lucky to have parents who bought her such nice things. Perhaps it had been a birthday surprise, Mini told herself. What if she asked her parents for a pretty umbrella for her birthday? But Mini had to think over this idea for only a few minutes to realise that it would never work, that her parents would never buy her anything like this, even for her birthday. Perhaps, Mini thought, brightening at the thought, the girl had a really nice Uncle or Aunt who liked to give her such gifts. And pleased with the image of these benevolent people Mini was just beginning to imagine how they must have given the girl the umbrella, when someone said, “Hi, are you waiting for the number 32 bus?”

It was the girl with the pink umbrella and for a minute, lost in her thoughts Mini could only stare at her. Then she said, “Yes! It’s late today!”

“I thought I’d missed it,” the girl said with a nervous giggle.

That seemed a good way to break the ice and soon the two girls were talking. The girl’s name was Tanvi and she had moved from Mysore. She told Mini about her new school and Mini listened, thinking all the while about the kind Uncle and Aunt who had given Tanvi the pink umbrella. And because she had been thinking of it for so long and envying Tanvi for owning it, Mini could not resist saying, “That is a very pretty umbrella!”

“Yes,” Tanvi smiled, “I love it!”

“I suppose it was a gift, right?” Mini asked, knowing that the answer would be yes, and trying to still the feeling of envy at having people who gave such nice gifts.

“No,” Tanvi, “It wasn’t a gift! Who would give me something like this?”

“Maybe your Aunt or…Uncle,” Mini suggested.

“No,” Tanvi shook her head. She reached up to stroke the inside of the umbrella with a loving finger and said, “I bought it myself!”

“What?” Mini asked. The beautiful world she had just created for Tanvi, with kind relatives who liked to give her attractive gifts, crumbled to dust around her, while she tried hard to understand what Tanvi was saying.

“I bought it,” Tanvi repeated, “I saved up my money, you know and then when I saw it in a shop and liked it I bought it!”

What a perfectly simple explanation, Mini thought in amazement. And why had it never occurred to her to guess it?

As compensation she pushed away her feeling of envy and instead said, with a lot of enthusiasm, “What a great thing to do!” Tanvi smiled at her, clearly pleased.

 

Mini and Tanvi met every day at the bus stop and became good friends. Mini never forgot her first envious thoughts of the girl with the Pink umbrella. But what she really cherished was what she had learnt from the girl with the Pink umbrella – that everyone held the keys to their own happiness, right there, in their hands. And now Mini is saving up her money – so that she can become The Second Girl with the Pink Umbrella!

 

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