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#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#29 Can You Mew Like A Cat?

What do you do with people who love to boast? Sometimes a simple question can put an end to their boasting! 

The word of the day is – Boasting. 

Can You Mew Like a Cat?

When Shyam walked into the classroom that morning, he found all the boys clustered around Ankit. Shyam tried peering over the shoulders of the boys gathered around Ankit but they were packed too tightly together, all of them intent on watching closely, so that they would not miss a single minute of the trick. Shyam tried pushing the boys apart but only earned himself a couple of angry glares. So he walked to a bench and climbed on it to look over the ring of heads and see what was happening.

He saw Ankit in the middle of the circle, a spinning top in his hands. As Shyam watched, Ankit twirled the top expertly, making it leap and dance on the palm of his hand. The boys pushed and jostled each other, eager to see how he was doing it.  Shyam watched Ankit for a minute and then he said, speaking loudly so that his voice rose above the buzzing of the other boys, “That is an easy trick! I can do that!  I can do lots of other tricks!” One or two of the boys gathered around Ankit turned around to see who it was but most of the others ignored him, merely hunching their shoulders and turning away more firmly towards Ankit.

Everyone knew Shyam and everyone was used to Shyam. He was known as the boy who always boasted.  Shyam was one of those boys who seemed compelled to boast about anything and everything. If someone came to school on Monday, eager to tell the other boys about how high he had flown his kite, Shyam would be sure to say, with a bored look, “I can fly my kite much higher than that!” Or if someone proudly carried in an elaborate project on which they had worked for weeks, Shaym would be sure to say, “My project is much better than this!” To hear Shyam speak, you would think that he could do anything from climb Mount Everest to swim across the ocean. And so, most of the boys had stopped paying attention to Shyam, even though they often longed to teach him a lesson that would stop him from boasting.

“I can do that trick!” Shaym called again from his position on the bench. “I can do lots of tricks!” Nishant turned from watching Ankit to ask Shyam, “Can you disappear?”  Some of the boys giggled, and turned, waiting to see what Shaym would say. “I can do some magic,” Shyam replied and Nishant turned away in disgust. A fresh round of giggles broke out and Shyam looked at them. “I have learnt to do magic, you know,” he informed them. “And my teacher thought I showed great promise and would be a great magician. But then,” Shyam said, getting off the bench and preparing for a long discussion of himself and his many talents, “I can do lots of things. And,” he added, looking around the room, “I can do them all well!”

Ankit had finished the last trick, and now he pocketed the top and the string and turned to Shyam. “Can you mew like a cat?” he asked. “Mew like a cat?” Shyam echoed, sounding surprised. And then, “Of course I can!” he said haughtily, “Anyone can mew like a cat but I…” he looked around at the circle of boys, “I can mew more like a cat than anyone else!”

The other boys, delighted at the promise of more entertainment, gathered around Shyam and Ankit. “Mewing like a cat is so simple!” Shyam said. “Anyone can do it! Now you should hear me roar like a lion! It would frighten a real lion! And a dog? I can bark like a real dog and once I even frightened away thieves with my barking! Shall I show you how I bark like a dog?”

“Let’s see you mew like a cat first!” Ankit commanded. Shaym opened his mouth. A noise like the squeal of a rusty door hinge emerged. All the boys laughed. “You can’t mew like a cat!” Nishant said, delighted with the discovery. “I can!” Shyam retorted and he tried again. This time he sounded like a terrified pig.  The boys collapsed into laughter. Shyam glared at them and tried again. And again. And each time he did that the boys laughed. Some of them mewed like a cat to encourage him.  Shyam tried to mew like a cat through the day and he was still trying when the bell rang at the end of the school day. After that, anytime he tried to boast, someone had only to ask, “Can you mew like a cat?” for Shyam to fall silent.

 

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

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#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#25 How Pranav Wore Shirts with Pockets

What are your favourite clothes? What are your reasons for liking them? 

The word of the day is  – Pockets 

 

How Pranav wore shirts with pockets

 

One day when Pranav came home from school his mother asked him to change his clothes. She gave Pranav a shirt to wear. Pranav looked at the shirt and said, “I don’t want to wear this shirt! I want something else!”

Pranav’s mother was surprised. “But why?” she asked, “This is a nice shirt! It has got a monkey and a banana on it. And it is blue in colour!”

“Yes,” Pranav said, “It is blue in colour and I like the monkey and the bananas on the shirt. But I want to wear something else!”

Then Pranav’s mother pulled out a T-shirt with cars racing on the front and the back. “I am sure you want to wear this T-shirt,” she said, showing Pranav the T-shirt. But Pranav shook his head. “No,” he said, “I don’t want that T-shirt either!”

So Pranav’s mother pulled out another T-shirt and when Pranav said no to it, she pulled out a green T-shirt, a yellow one and even an orange one. But Pranav said no to all of them. Pranav’s mother looked at all the clothes which Pranav had not wanted to wear. Then she said, “Why don’t you want these clothes?”

“They are not nice,” Pranav said, “I want a nice shirt!”

“What is wrong with these clothes?” Pranav’s mother asked, surprised.

“They don’t have pockets,” Pranav said, “And I want to wear clothes with pockets in them, so that I can carry all my important papers around with me!”

Then Pranav’s mother found a shirt with two pockets on it. She gave it to Pranav. Pranav was happy. “This shirt is double nice,” he said.

“Why is it double nice?” Pranav’s mother asked, puzzled.

“Because it has two pockets! And I can keep my important papers in them!” Pranav said. And Pranav was happy that he had a shirt with two pockets so that he could carry his important things around with him.

 

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#23 The View From the Balcony

We are all so worried about how the world sees us, that we often forget to be true to ourselves. At such times, the view from a balcony comes in handy!  

The word of the day is –  view.

 

The view from the balcony

 

Rishabh had never considered the view from the balcony of his house till Sarika came to stay in the flat opposite. The design of the apartment blocks meant that the two flats had their balconies close together.  Rishabh had perfected the art of ignoring the balcony opposite because of the unpleasant couple who lived there. And that’s why it was several days before he noticed that the flat opposite was empty. He hoped that whoever moved in next would be friendlier than the previous occupants.

A few days later as he was hanging the clothes out to dry, he glanced at the balcony opposite and saw a girl of around his age, hanging over the railing. Wow, thought Rishabh, she was really pretty.

“Bhaiyya! Bhaiyya!” his younger brother Rakesh came running up at that moment and Rishabh panicked. What if the girl looked around and saw him staring?  He stepped into the house, slamming the door to the balcony shut. “Why did you shut the door?” Rakesh wailed. “I want to go out on the balcony!”

“Not now,” Rishabh said and then, when it looked as if seven-year-old Rakesh would burst into tears, he said, “Let’s have a pillow fight!” That distracted Rakesh and he forgot about going on the balcony. But Rishabh couldn’t stop thinking of the girl on the balcony. The next time he saw her, he swore, he would be prepared and impress her with his cool behavior.

He saw her the very next day, dressed in the uniform of his school and waiting for the school bus. Rishabh was so surprised that he had to make an effort to keep his jaw from hanging open. So she was going to join his school! Once he had got used to this idea, Rishabh felt  that nothing else would shock him. So he wasn’t really surprised when the girl walked into his class and was introduced as Sarika. Seen at close quarters she was even prettier. Rishabh sighed to himself and bid her a silent goodbye. If she had lived elsewhere, he thought, he might have had a chance with her. But she lived in the flat opposite his  and already knew a lot about him. Rishabh thought of his pillow fights with Rakesh, the vegetables he chopped for his mother and the other chores he helped with. No girl would be interested in a guy like that; especially not a girl like Sarika. And just like that, without even trying, he gave up any thoughts of winning her.

Of course, he couldn’t avoid going out on the balcony but Rishabh perfected the art of avoiding Sarika.  A couple of times he had seen her, out of the corner of his eye, step out on the balcony but he had simply pretended not to see her. Once he even thought he saw her wave, but that was probably his imagination because why would Sarika, already popular at school, want to talk to him?

And yet, despite her popularity Sarika made attempts to befriend his family. She was Rakesh’s favourite didi and his mother said she was a ‘sweet girl’. Rishabh couldn’t understand why she was doing that. She must have realized that he simply wasn’t the kind of guy she would like. Then why be nice his family?

This was something that puzzled him and if it hadn’t been for the slew of tests and assignments that the teachers bombarded them with, Rishabh would have spent all his time worrying over this. Fortunately he came home exhausted, intent only on preparing for the next test. And once the tests were over, there was the class picnic to look forward to.

There was great excitement on the day of the picnic and intent on getting a good seat, Rishabh reached the school early. He found a seat midway down the bus, childishly glad he had the window. When someone dropped into the seat beside his Rishabh turned and found himself face to face with Sarika.

“Oh!” he said stupidly.

“Hi!” Sarika smiled.

“Why are you here?” Rishabh asked and then, realizing how rude that sounded he amended, “I mean, there are lots of empty seats! There’s an empty seat beside Gautam!” Gautam was the most popular boy in the class and it was no secret that he admired Sarika.

“I know,” Sarika said. “But I want to sit here!”

“But why?” Rishabh asked, wondering wildly what was happening. “I am not… your kind of a guy!”

“You are exactly the kind of boy I like!” Sarika corrected him.

“Really?” Rishabh stared at her, “How do you know anything about me?” he demanded suspiciously.

“I am your neighbour, right?” Sarika said, as if talking to a small child. “So when I stand on my balcony, I can see into your house and hear everything and…”

“Oh no!” Rishabh muttered, horror-stricken.

“Oh yes,” Sarika corrected. “And I like all that I’ve seen of you – the way you play with your brother, the way you help your mother with the chores and best of all the way you hide from me!”

“You do?” Rishabh said, a burst of happiness clouding his thinking for a minute. But even through this he was conscious of a feeling of gratitude for many things, but most of all for the view from the balcony.

 

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