(Written for a Youth Magazine forthcoming)
The scenic valley of the Satpura range in Central India bustled with fresh streams, chirping birds, grazing cattle, and woodcutters chopping wood in the forest. A few women were gathering the yellow flowers that fell from the Mahua (Madhuca Longifolia)trees that were all over the forest. The nearby fields were all ready for harvest and one could see little boys and girls, with school bags on their back, singing and hooting and hurrying along the hedges of the fields to the little Government School in the village.
But, little Ashruti, seven years old, walked very slowly with head bowed down, a frown on her face, and swollen cheeks. She didn’t seem to be in a very happy mood. From her little shack in the distance, made of mud walls and a thatched roof, her mother watched her walk very sadly away. She was, evidently, sad about her daughter that day. She had been angry with Ashruti and had spanked her this morning for two reasons. Firstly, she didn’t get up very early though her mother had called her many times – it was her duty to collect the sticks and light up the fire in the oven and it was late this morning because she failed to wake up soon. Mother had to look after Shyam, her two year old son, that is, Ashruti’s brother. The boy had fever and didn’t sleep all night; so, mother had to really be very busy looking after him. When Ashruti wasn’t waking up despite many callings, mother had to go up to her and pull her from the bed she was sleeping on. Ashruti sure was not very happy about it because she wanted to sleep a little more. And, then, when she had lit up the fire, cooked some rice, and had now got ready for school, mother asked her to hold Shyam for some time while she went and fetched rice soup for him. Ashruti, unwillingly, went and held Shyam. The boy had been crying and now as soon as he was switched place from mother to sister, he grew furious and very irritated, crying all aloud and beating his legs to get off her lap. Ashruti tried to hold him tight, but he was furious. When she tried to hold him in, he curled his teeth around her left wrist and bit her. Ashruti cried out loud and he released. But, she had lost control. She began screaming wildly at the boy and began shaking him furiously. He was stunned and became quiet for a moment, quite frightened and confused, then began to uncontrollably cry to her surprise. Mother came running in shouting, “What has happened, what has happened?” Ashruti was speechless. Mother took Shyam from Ashruti’s hands and cried, “You naughty little girl! Can’t you see that he isn’t feeling well? Couldn’t you hold patience for a moment?” Ashruti trembled and her mother gave her a slap on her cheek. She cried. Mother did feel sad, but she now turned to the boy and began trying to calm him down. Ashruti went to a corner and slumped there sitting with her back against the wall. She was crying. She was very sad. “My mother doesn’t love me anymore,” she thought. She put her right hand around her left wrist and began to turn it smoothly around it. She felt very sad and angry at her brother because he bit her though she had done nothing to him.
After some time, the brother calmed down and having become tired went to sleep. Mother now looked her daughter sitting alone in the corner and came down to her. “I’m sorry, my child,” she said. “But, you shouldn’t be angry like that with your brother, you see. He is too young and he is also not feeling well.” Ashruti didn’t look up. Mother took her hands in her hands, then noticing the red dent that Shyam’s teeth had made on her wrist, she remarked, “Oh, did he bite you?” Ashruti answered nothing. Mother went and brought some ointment and rubbed it around her wrist. “See,” she said, “I only have both of you for me now; and, you are elder, you should be taking care of your brother! Forgive him, he doesn’t understand anything now.” Ashruti looked up without any expression on her face. She stood up, went near her bed, picked up her bag and wore it on her back as mother watched sadly.
“Come, have some rice!” mother said. She dropped her bag, and went and sat on the mat on the ground. Mother served her some rice. She ate, then rose, picked up her bag and, then silently walked off in the direction of the School through the fields. She did understand that mother did love her, but was sad about all that happened this morning.
At School, her friends all greeted her but she didn’t feel like greeting them back. As she sat on her bench, her bench mate, Priya looked at her wrist and exclaimed, “Hey, what’s wrong with that? Why is it so red and what is that oily thing around?” Ashruti said nothing. She began to cry. She felt very sad. But, she knew her mother did love her. “Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry,” Priya said, “Let’s just forget it. It’ll be alright anyway!” Just then the bell rang and the teacher came in as Ashruti wiped her tears, though she didn’t dare to raise her head up. The teacher began calling names of the students from out of the attendance register as each answered “Yes Ma’am!” in answer to the call of his or her name. It was the Hindi Language class and the teacher began teaching them a poem today. She read:
Bizli dhar dhar (Lightning flash flash)
Baadal gar gar (Clouds thunder thunder)
Boondey parti par par (Drops are falling, drop drop)
As she was reading that one boy started laughing, then all the children started laughing. The teacher stopped and signaled all to be silent; and then asked why they were laughing. All became silent. After a while, the boy who first laughed stood up and silently said, “Ma’am, last night my didi (elder sister) was telling to me “Mohit, par par (i.e. read, read) or else you’ll fail!” All the kids were laughing. The teacher laughed too. Then, she said, “There’s a difference, Mohit. Your sister might have said parh not par. Par means “to drop”; parh means “to read”!” They were all silent. Mohit looked here and there, all around the class, then smiled and sat down. The teacher smiled at all of them too. Ashruti also smiled.
They all had lunch at School at noon (as the kids are provided day meals at School every day). After that they had a little rest, and then had playtime for the rest of the afternoon. The kids played hide and seek, merry go round, and a lots of games. When, the last bell rung, every one grabbed their bags and rushed towards their homes. They all walked together in groups of three or four went chatting along. Ashruti and Priya also came chatting and playing with friends.
When Ashruti reached home, she had so many stories to tell her mother; so many that her mother had her eyes wide open in surprise. Mother embraced her and hugged her very much. She told her that she was her gem and the apple of her eye and she was very proud of her. She told her that one day she will become a very great person, perhaps a doctor or an engineer; or perhaps a great teacher. Ashruti was very happy. Just then, Shyam woke up from his sleep. He was feeling better now. He looked at Ashruti and called, “Didi! (Elder Sister!)” She turned to him, jumped off her mother’s lap and rushed towards him. Then, taking him in her arms, she hugged him and kissed him all over. He kissed her too. He wanted to play and sister was his best mate that evening. Of course, they had to stop because she had to do her homework and the dim lantern wouldn’t hold for very long.
Next morning, she did wake up very early.
There is an Indian saying that says that one shouldn’t ever snap off the thread of love; for once snapped off, it can never be joined, and even if joined it will leave a knot. But, true love, God’s love, doesn’t let anything snap off. There’s never a reason for a knot.
© Domenic Marbaniang, 2012