A Story A Day #33 True Courage

 People are brave in different ways. Some in more obvious ways and some in ways that are more interesting! 

The word of the day is – Courage. 

Courage, to Aparna had always meant something spectacular- like rescuing people from a river or braving a raging fire. But that was before the end of the year treat.

The end of the year treat was a tradition for Aparna’s group and this year they planned to watch a film before eating their favourite fast food. But the day before the treat Aparna heard two bits of upsetting news that took all the joy out of the outing.

The first was that her little sister Arpita wanted to join them. Aparna didn’t want to take her, but unable to resist the tears in Arpita’s pleading eyes, she had to agree. But any fears she had about Arpita joining the treat seemed tame when she heard the other news – that their classmate Uma was joining them. “Can you imagine?” Rina moaned. “Having Umawith us?” It was a truly horrible idea, having Uma along on a day you were supposed to enjoy. Uma was the sort of girl who always found something nasty to say to others. She seemed to have the gift of saying things that hurt people. If you were in the wrong uniform it would always be Uma’s gleeful voice that called out, “Looks like someone is going to get into trouble!” It was always Uma who found something funny about people’s names. And it had to be Uma who had started calling Amber, Amberger, Uma’s evil genius that had renamed  Aparna Aprona, Shalini Shall-we and so on. And to think of spending a fun day with this same Uma!

By the time she was ready for the day Aparna had decided it was doomed to failure. Arpita, on the other hand, was bouncing around in joy at the thought of going out with her sister’s friends.

Her friends were waiting for her and when Rina said, “Uma isn’t here. Perhaps she’s not coming….?” Aparna allowed hope to surge for a minute.  Uma walked up at that moment, eyes darting around, looking for things to poke fun at, details that would transform normal, happy people into embarrassed ones.

“Hi Aprona, Rin! Hi Shall-we!” she said cheerfully, just as she always did, blind to the fact that no one was laughing at the silly names. “And who,” she asked, noticing Arpita, “is this?”

“My sister,” Aparna said. “Arpita!”

“Hi,” Uma said. “Harpic!” Aparna and her friends gasped. How could Uma pick on a little girl?

“Hi,” Arpita said and her matter-of-fact manner made Aparna feel suddenly proud of her sister. “What’s your name?”

“Uma,” Uma said. “So…”

Upma?” Arpita asked with an innocent look. Everyone looked at Uma, wondering how she was going to react to being made the butt of her own joke. For a minute Uma stood frozen. Then she laughed loudly. “Nice,” she said. “Arpita. Don’t you agree Shalini? Rina?”

Aparna stared in amazement at her sister, who had opened her eyes to the different kinds of courage and helped her see that they didn’t all require leaping into burning buildings or raging rivers.

 

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#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#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.

A Story A Day #22 My Beautiful Cream Sweater

Children are often in a great hurry to grow up. But are they really prepared to leave behind their carefree childhood? 

The word of the day is – childhood. 

 

My Beautiful Cream Sweater

The sweater was a beautiful, deep cream, rich and elegant, completely different from all the bright colours  I always wore, and that I had begun to associate now with childhood. I loved the sweater because it was completely adult with an understated elegance that at fourteen, I had begun noticing. My Vinod Mama had bought it for me from the US.

“What an impractical colour for a young girl, Vinod!” Ai said. “She will dirty it the first day she wears it!”

That annoyed me but Vinod Mama said, “She is not a messy child any longer! She is a young lady!”

“Thank you Vinod Mama,” I beamed, stroking the softness of the cream sweater.

“That’s what you think,” Ai grumbled. “If you see how dirty her school uniform is most days…”

I burned with resentment at my mother’s words. I had come home from school with my uniform filthy. But that had been because we had had decided to play Kabaddi in Games. How could anyone play Kabaddi without getting their clothes dirty? I longed to ask my mother that but stopped myself in time. Vinod Mama had said I was a young lady now and arguing with their mother was not something young ladies did. “I am wearing this to the Club picnic!” I announced.

“The Club picnic?” Ai echoed. “No, you are not!”

“What is this picnic?” Vinod Mama asked.

“It’s organized by the Ladies Club,” Ai explained. “The kids come too. And it will such an unsuitable occasion to wear…” I heard no more as I walked out, determined to wear the sweater to the picnic.

 

On the day of the picnic, Ai took one look at me wearing my beautiful cream sweater over my favourite jeans and said, “Ritika, I don’t think you should wear the sweater today!”

“But I want to Ai,” I pouted, ready to argue. But Ai only sighed. My friends’ cries of appreciation made up for Ai’s disapproval and I strutted around, showing off my beautiful new cream sweater. The sweater made me feel so special that everything about the day became special – the bus ride, the songs we sang, the food we ate…

At the park we tumbled out, eager to stretch our legs. Once the food had been arranged in the shade of trees we were free. “Ritu!” Shamili called. “Let’s climb these trees!” In a trice my friends had climbed the trees and were soon perched in the branches. I longed to climb too, but worried about my beautiful cream sweater, I stayed on the ground.

When I got tired of this I wandered away by myself. I was looking at a pond full of coloured fish when I felt drops of water land on me. Shamili, Meena and Sakshi had sneaked up behind me, and with water scooped from the pond, were intent on throwing it on me. “No, no, don’t!” I cried, instantly worried about my sweater. My friends paid no attention and I yelled, “Stop it! You will ruin my beautiful sweater!” They stopped then, and Shamili said a soft “Sorry!”

“Let’s play ball!” I suggested, trying to smooth over the incident. Everyone agreed and soon we had split into two teams, intent on playing dodge ball. I enjoyed myself till it was my team’s turn to be inside the circle, dodging the ball. And then I began worrying about what would happen to my beautiful cream sweater if the dirty ball hit me.

After great thought I came up with a great idea – I would get myself out of the game! When the ball hit me, my team groaned since I was considered a good player, but my heart was beating in joy and relief. That was why when Shamili joined me, I couldn’t resist telling her what I had done. Her anger was frightening. “You deliberately got out?” she said, biting out each word. “To save your sweater?” And when I nodded, she said angrily, “I think, Ritika, that you should simply sit somewhere so that nothing can dirty that precious sweater of yours!” And her voice was so loud that everyone heard. In the hush that followed Shamili said, “Come on girls, if you don’t mind getting your clothes dirty, let’s play a game of Kho-Kho!”

I was left all alone there, as my friends walked away, some of them giving me sympathetic backward glances but none of them stopping to talk. I felt tears blur my eyes. This was not what I had wanted for this day. I stared at my beautiful cream sweater. It did make me look likea young lady. But…I wasn’t ready to be a young lady yet. I wanted to run and play with my friends, climb trees without worrying about my clothes, not sit primly in a corner, keeping myself neat and pretty.

Once I knew my mind, it didn’t take me long to take off the sweater and give it to my mother. She said nothing, just gave me a speaking glance and waved me away to join my friends,  where they were engaged in a noisy, rowdy and completely fun game of Kho-Kho. I joined them, forgetting for the moment my dreams of being a young lady, for the present intent only on enjoying myself.

 

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

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 #16 The Girl Who Was Afraid of Frogs

Living away from home can teach you to make friends and deal with enemies. But sometimes, it gives you an opportunity to make friends with enemies! 

The word of the day is  – fears! 

 

The girl who was afraid of frogs

“Oh look!” Madhavi said. “It’s raining!” The girls gathered at the window of the common room watching the silver drops falling outside.

“And look at those frogs hopping around!” Geeta exclaimed, “Aren’t they cute?” The group turned their attention to the tiny, bright green frogs that were hopping around in the rain.

“I once kept a frog as a pet,” Maya remembered, a smile on her face.

“And?” Madhavi wanted to know. “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Maya said. “But the frog hopped away and I never found him again!”

They laughed at that and then Radhika said, “Can you imagine? Some people are scared of frogs?”

“I don’t believe it!” Madhavi said with certainty. “I mean, what is to be scared of?”

“But some people are terrified of frogs,” Radhika told her.

“Crazy,” Madhavi muttered while Maya said, “You knew someone, didn’t you, who was scared of frogs?”

“Yes,” Rdhika admitted. “It was when I was in a hostel. I was new that year and for some reason some of the senior girls seemed to find me a good person to tease!” she smiled at the memory but the others guessed that it could not have been pleasant.

“So who was the girl who was afraid of frogs?” Maya wanted to know.

“Her name was Banani,” Radhika said. “And she was one of the girls who were really teasing me!”

“But why didn’t you complain to the teachers or wardens?” Geeta demanded, “They could have punished those seniors!”

Radhika shrugged her shoulders, “It didn’t seem worth the trouble,” she said. “Anyway, this girl Banani was always teasing me and playing jokes on me. And then one day – it was a Saturday, I remember. On Saturdays we were allowed to watch a film in the evenings and all of us looked forward to this. I had been two weeks in that hostel and still hadn’t got used to the time schedule. That was why I was the only one in our wing that evening. I had been working on my homework and hadn’t noticed the time. When I did, I locked the room and hurried!” She paused, thinking back on that day years back.

“What happened then?” Geeta asked.

“I was passing the bathrooms when I heard someone sobbing! I went into the bathroom on our wing but there was no one there!” Radhika smiled. “For a minute I wondered if the bathroom was haunted! Then I remembered that the bathroom for the senior girls was just below ours. So I walked down to the bathroom. Thankfully all the seniors were watching the film, or I would have got into trouble!”

“And what was it?” Madhavi asked. “An army of frogs in the bathroom?”

“No, no,” Radhika laughed. “But someone was inside one of the bathrooms- must have gone in to wash up- and was crying! At first I couldn’t make out what the girl was saying but then I realized she was saying, “It’s staring at me! The frog is staring at me!”

“What?” Maya exploded. “How can people be so strange?” she said in disgust.

“Anyway,” Radhika said, “I knocked on the door and asked, ‘What is wrong?’ and the person said, ‘There is a frog here and it is staring at me!”

“So you sailed in and rescued this girl?” Geeta guessed.

“Not that easily,” Radhika said. “The frog was near the door and that was why this girl wasn’t able to get out. Fortunately there was a gap between the door and the floor. So I pushed in a broom and moved it around till the frog moved.”

“And this girl?” Maya asked. “She just stayed still while you did all this?”

“Of course not!” Radhika said. “She screamed and squealed and yelled till you would have thought there was a dragon at the very least in there! Finally I got her to unbolt the door. And I pushed in the broom and got the frog to move out! And then the frog hopped out!”

“I bet it was relieved to be out!” Maya grinned.

“I bet!” Radhika agreed. “And then the girl came out! And it was Banani!”

“What did you say?” Madhavi asked excitedly.

“And what did she say?” Geeta added.

“She just looked at me. I looked at her,” Radhika said. “Both of us were embarrassed. So we said nothing. As she passed me by, I think I heard her mumble ‘Thanks’ but I couldn’t be sure. And then she went away to her room and I went to watch the film. And that,” she finished, “was that!”

“That is it?” Maya said incredulously. “You mean she didn’t say anything?”

“No she didn’t,” Radhika smiled. “She didn’t need to, you see. She knew that I knew her weakness and that was enough! I had helped her and she had allowed me to see her weakness! We were quits!” Her friends stared at her, as if doubting the sanity of their friend.

“Actually,” Radhika said thoughtfully, “we were not quits – I owed her for letting me know at least one person who is afraid of frogs!”

And the four friends laughed at the various weaknesses that made up people, made them human and sometimes even made them your friends.

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

A Story A Day #13 Chocolate Moments

 

Siblings! They argue and annoy you, they take your things with out asking for permission and get away with everything. And yet…you can’t live without them! 

The word of the day is – Sisters!

 

 

Chocolate Moments

“I hate my sister!” Tara thought. “Hate, hate, hate her!” She had just come home to find a bunch of comics scattered across her bed. Only one person could have done it, Tara thought grimly, Meera. She set to work picking up and stacking the comics into a neat pile. Why does Meera have to lie on my bed when she wants to read, she wondered for the hundredth time. Why couldn’t she use her own bed?

Tara glanced at Meera’s bed.  Meera’s uniform shirt was draped over one end and her shirt on the other end. Her dirty socks were on the bed too and Tara wrinkled her nose at the sight. When would Meera  learn to take care of her things? Her new watch had been thrown carelessly among the  mess of clothes on the bed. Tara paused in the act of gathering the comics and thought of how Meera had begged for that watch, promising to take care of it. She didn’t deserve to own a watch. Scooping up the watch Tara hid it under the tidy stacks of her clothes in her cupboard. That’ll teach Meera to mess up my bed, she thought. And satisfied with herself, Tara sat down to doing her homework. When a violent peal of the doorbell announced Meera, Tara thought, “Why can’t Meera stop being so noisy?”

A minute later Meera herself burst into the room, flopped down on Tara’s bed, rumpling the bed cover and saying, “I beat Amruta in the race today! Huh!”

“Get off my bed!” Tara said. “I’ve just straightened it!”

“But I am not doing anything!” Meera protested, sitting up and further rumpling the sheet.

“Look!” Tara shrieked, pointing to the bed. “Look at what you’ve done!”

“You can straighten it,” Meera explained. “And..”

“Get off my bed!” Tara said.

“But…” Meera said.

“Get… off.. my…bed!” Tara said slowly and emphatically.

Meera got off the bed, frowning. “Fine!” she said. “Be mean to me!”

“I am mean to you?” Tara echoed, amazed.

“Yes,” Meera nodded. “You are always mean to me and…I got you something!”

Tara pretended not to hear and bent over her books again, intent on solving the tricky   Math problem.

“Did you hear me?” Meera raised her voice. “I got you something!”

With a sigh Tara put down her pen. “What is it?” she asked, trying not to sound impatient.

“Here!” Meera dropped something on Tara’s book. It was a chocolate bar, the kind that Tara loved, with dried fruits and nuts in it.

“Oh!” Tara said, surprised. “Thank you!”

“See?” Meera said. “And you were being mean to me!”

Tara felt sorry for her bad temper.  How could she have thought that she hated her sister? Meera was often irritating but then she did things like this that made Tara feel special.

“I’ll share the chocolate with you,” Tara offered now, trying to make amends.

“Great!” Meera’s eyes lit up. Tara split the chocolate in half and for a couple of minutes there was silence as they enjoyed the treat.

“Mmmm,” Tara said, swallowing the last of the chocolate. “That was great!”

“I know!” Meera smacked her lips, “I am going to play now!” she announced and began moving things around on her bed. “What are you looking for?” Tara wanted to know.

“My watch,” Meera said. “And I can’t find it though I remember leaving it on the bed!” Tara thought of the watch under a pile of her clothes and mellowed by the taste of the chocolate, she said, “Actually, I hid your watch! It’s under my clothes!”

“Hid my watch?” Meera turned a surprised face towards Tara. “But why?”

“It’s right there,” Tara said. “Under my school clothes,” hoping that she wouldn’t have to give an explanation for this. Meera was already rummaging around in her cupboard and suddenly afraid, Tara said, “Careful! Don’t mess my clothes around!” But Meera seemed not to hear and continued looking till with a triumphant, “Got it!” she emerged from the cupboard and ran out of the room. Tara peered into her cupboard. The clothes had all been messed around and all the neat stacks had disappeared.

“I hate my sister!” Tara said. “Hate! Hate! Hate!” She thought of the momentary friendship that she had shared with her sister, as they ate the chocolate. And then she thought of their various quarrels. There would be no change in that, Tara realised. She and Meera would continue to quarrel with each other, even hate each other but also continue to do things for each other. And that was what having a sister meant. The thought of a life full of these upsets overwhelmed her for a minute and then, Tara smiled. As long as there were chocolate moments, she could handle the other moments too.

 

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

A Story A Day # 8 A Walk in the Park

 

Being competitive is fine, till the competition enters friendships. This story examines friends whose life is taken over by their need to do better than the other. 

Word of the day is –  Friends.  

 

A walk in the park

 

It had started as a walk in the park on the day when Prachi and her best friend Kiran had met, just as they did every evening, to go cycling. But Prachi’s cycle had a puncture that day.  And that’s when Prachi had her brainwave. “Let’s go into the park!” she had said.

The Park was a grand name for a piece of land with some shrubs, a few swings, benches for senior citizens, and a path meant for walking. The girls had looked at the screaming children on the wings, the women resting their feet on the benches  and decided to walk. “After all,” Kiran had reasoned, “it is good exercise!” And so, giggling, the two of them had started on their first walk around the park. At the end of one circle there hadn’t seemed any reason to stop walking, so they had continued. And by the time darkness cloaked the park, turning the shrubs into shadowy shapes, the girls had walked twenty times around the park.

“That was fun!” Prachi had said. “We should do it again!”

And Kiran had agreed. That was how their evening walks had started. Cycling had been fun but they hadn’t been able to talk to each other. Walking gave them with the perfect opportunity to chat about their day. Things might have continued in this way but one day Kiran didn’t turn up for her walk. Prachi waited for her for ten minutes and then she set out for the park. Without anybody to talk to, Prachi was able to walk much faster. By the time the park began to fill with shadows, she had walked around the park 24 times. “Four times more that I usually do!” Prachi congratulated herself. “Wait till I tell Kiran!”

But when she told Kiran about her achievements of the day before, the news seemed to irritate her friend. She said nothing however, and the two girls walked their usual twenty rounds. Kiran didn’t turn up the next day again. Prachi waited  for some time and then went to the park. When she got there she was astonished to see Kiran walking around the park. “I’ve already done five circles,” Krian called triumphantly. “Come on!” Prachi joined her but the two friends found little to say to each other that day. Both of them were busy with their thoughts and the silence stretched between them.

Prachi didn’t even bother to wait for Kiran the next day. She simply set out from her house the minute she was washed and changed out of her school uniform. By the time Kiran appeared, Prachi had walked six times around the park. She smiled at Kiran, triumphant at having bettered her friend’s score. That day the girls hardly spoke to each other; all their energies were concentrated on getting ahead.

After that it was out in the open – the competition between them to see who would walk more number of times around the park and do better than the other. Now Prachi raced home the minute she got off her bus. Kiran’s bus usually drove up ten to fifteen minutes after her bus and she meant to take full advantage of this fact. She changed out of her school clothes, washed hurriedly, grabbed a few biscuits to eat as she walked and then was out of the house, hoping to walk more circles than Kiran.  Thanks to the difference in their school and bus timings, Prachi thought, she was winning. Till the day Prachi walked into the park to see Krian just ahead of her. The two girls glared at each other, making no attempt to even say ‘hi’. And then they were both off, practically running to try and keep up with the other, their breaths coming fast, muscles aching as they pushed themselves to their limits.  “I am winning,” Prachi thought. “I am just a little ahead!”

And then all at once Kiran stopped walking. Surprise made Prachi stop and she stared at Kiran. “I can’t go on like this,” Kiran said. “It’s so stupid!” And even though she hadn’t specified what was stupid, Prachi knew at once. “Yes,” she sighed. “Yes, it is stupid!”

“We didn’t start walking to compete with each other,” Kiran said. “And now we are always competing with each other…”

“I know,” Prachi said. “Coming here earlier and earlier,”

“And trying to walk faster,” Kiran said.

They stood in silence, thinking over their silliness and feeling ashamed of themselves.

“And today,” Kiran said, “I didn’t even eat anything because my bus was so late and I wanted to be here before you!”

“I didn’t eat anything much too,” Prachi admitted. “I didn’t want to stop and eat the Poha Ai had made! It smelled wonderful, though,” she added.

“Ooh! Poha!” Kiran groaned. “What I wouldn’t give to eat a plate full of hot Poha!”

“Come home with me,” Prachi said, “And you can eat all the Poha you want! Though,” she added, “I am sure I can eat more than you!”

“Prachi!” Kiran said, “How can you even think that? Don’t you know I can beat anyone at eating Poha!” And arguing happily, the friends walked towards the Poha, for once not thinking about a walk in the park.

 

This story was published in Young Buzz, Sakal Times.