Souvenir12 mins 417 12 mins 417
“Pitter-patter”, the raindrops were playing their own sort of music on the sunshade as I sat in the balcony sipping my evening ‘Chai’. The aroma was adding to the bliss of the moment. I relished my tea and then went back to my room after washing the cup. I saw the raindrops on the windowpane. I felt as if two of these drops were having a race. I could hear a crowd cheering and clapping “Akhila, Akhila”. No wonder, as my mind was recollecting my school days when I participated in the school relay.
I opened my shelf and removed an old album. It was covered with dust. I held it in my right hand, “Uff”, I blew as I cleared the dust with my left hand. “Nostalgia” read the name. I slowly opened the album. Tears of both joy and sorrow flowed down my cheeks simultaneously. Those memories could only be cherished but not relived. I wiped my tears and continued to look through the album. I was searching for a particular photograph. Yes, there it was; me standing on the winners’ podium in the first place. That was the day that changed my life.
“Akhila, come here” called out my teacher crossly. “Yes ma’am,” I said and ran towards Meera ma’am. “Are you really happy for the prize?” she asked as I held my relay team’s trophy close to my chest. “Yes ma’am, why did you ask?” I asked hesitantly as I already knew the reason for that question. I had pushed the runner on the next track ‘accidentally’ or so did I make it look like, to win the race. I was bothered about losing the race less and losing my friends more as they had told me earlier that they would only be friends with the winner of the relay. “Well, Akhila, don’t you know why? I’m sure you do” said Meera ma’am as she looked straight into my eyes which were gleaming with joy a second ago and were now filled with guilt, fear and anger all put together. By now some teachers came near us and congratulated me. “Thank you” I replied flatly. They left and then Meera ma’am continued, this time rather softly. She probably did not intend to humiliate me, which I understand now but not on that day. “Look Akhila, I know that you are still a child and did what you did in a spontaneous reaction to win. However, let me tell you that such victories don’t take you anywhere in life.” “I did nothing wrong” I blurted out defensively and ran from there crying. “Akhila, come back” called out Meera ma'am with her hand stretched out. In a fleeting glance, I looked over my shoulder as I ran and quickly turned away. I grabbed my bag which was lying among the others piled in a corner as quickly as I could.
I did not look back until I had reached home. I went straight into my room, threw myself on my bed, face down as I tossed my bag on the floor and started weeping loudly. My mother came in to check up on me and asked me what the matter was. I narrated the whole episode, my version of it rather. "What is it that you did which made your teacher say that Akhila?" enquired Amma. "I did nothing Amma", I spoke timidly. "Then don't worry. Now stop sobbing and wash your face. Let me discuss with your father once he comes home and decide what is to be talked with your teacher", she spoke comfortingly. I did as I was told, fully assured that my father will deal with this matter, knowing his nature very well. I was the apple of his eyes after all. I waited for my father until around 9 o'clock as that was the time I usually went to sleep. "Amma, why hasn't Appa come home yet? Now how will I tell him whatever happened?" I asked worriedly. "I will tell him everything. You go to sleep now, darling. You need to wake up early for your picnic tomorrow." So saying my mother put me to sleep. She too had to get some rest.
"Fweeeeeet" I heard the whistle from the cooker and came back to the present. I put back the album in the cupboard and went on with my work. In the evening my friends had planned for a movie and dinner outside. "Aks" they fondly called me "Should we pick you up from home or will you be there at the mall by 3:45?" asked Shilpa. "I'll be there, you please don't bother," I said. We enjoyed the film. It had the right mix of comedy, sentiments, romance, action and catchy music. Alex couldn't get the tune out of his head as he kept humming until we reached the restaurant. "Will you stop it and place the order Alex?" interrupted Rasiya as she was running her fingers across the list on the menu. "Anything that you girls decide is fine with me as well," he said and continued humming. "Aks, look at these. Krish has posted some images of his family's Deepavali celebrations on Instagram". So saying Shilpa pushed her iPhone onto my palm. "They are good. I shall see these in detail once I reach home", I said. Our order had come by then and we relished the dishes. It was 9:15 when I reached home. I changed to my nightdress and retired to bed when a notification peeped into my phone. I checked it when I remembered Krish's photos. I opened my Instagram and clicked the 'heart' without looking at the pictures and put the phone on silent mode and turned to sleep. Something reminded me about our olden days where we never had social media and couldn't take the photo album to school to show our new dresses to our friends. There would be very few good photographs of the 36 clicked by the film camera. Now we flood Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram with 100s of images which people 'Like' without even looking at them once, in the first place, like how I did just now. I closed my eyes and remembered that day of my picnic again.
I woke up at 5 am in the morning. I was too thrilled with my picnic. I quickly brushed my teeth, took a bath and wore the new t-shirt and jeans that I had worn for Deepavali. I finally had got a chance to show it to my friends. As I gobbled my breakfast in haste, I leaned over the table to see what my father was doing in the living room. He was reading the newspaper. He turned towards me and I looked away instantaneously. I sat back and finished eating. Neither did I know if my mother had remembered to tell him what I had told her nor how he would react if he was aware of it by now. You know, I was guilty of the crime. I picked my bag and walked past my father and as I was crossing the threshold of the front door, I turned to look at my father. He was sunk in his daily duty of crossword solving as usual following which he would cook breakfast when my mother cleaned the house and got me ready. That day is the day of my picnic, my mother prepared me to leave first. "Let me ask Appa after I come home this evening. I don't want to spoil my mood before that" I thought and left.
"1,2,3...14,15,...28,29,30" counted the teacher as we boarded the bus. She got in and sat next to Stella. Stella was the teacher's pet in our class. She was good at studies, sports and also co-curricular activities. She was the very same girl whom I had pushed in the previous day's match. My eyes were filled with envy when I saw her near Meera ma'am. We reached our picnic spot, a mini forest and enjoyed the day playing some outdoor games, trekking, nature walking, etc. The lunch and dinner were so delicious. It was 8:30 pm, time to return, finally. I did not want to face Meera ma'am and so informed my friend that I would quickly visit the washroom and be back in a jiffy. I ran towards our camp in the direction of the washroom as I couldn't see anything clearly in the dark amidst the woods. Everyone had boarded the bus and Meera ma'am got a headcount of 29. She checked again and realized that I was missing.
"Ahooooooooooh" I heard the wolves howling as I hurried back towards the van. I was pretty much scared as it was getting darker and darker every minute. The sound of someone or some animal running could be heard clearly and it was getting closer to me. I increased my pace and almost ran and stumbled upon a rock and fell down. I gathered myself up and turned to see as the sound that followed had stopped. There stood a bear, an adolescent one, looking straight into my eyes. I recollected the forest safety guidelines that were briefed the very same morning. "If you come face to face with any animal, don't turn your back towards it or run or shout. Keep a close watch on the creature as you walk backward slowly." My eyes were already welled up. I was shivering and wanted to wail but couldn't. My throat got parched. As I moved one step back, he moved two steps forward. I felt cornered and helpless. I froze and was about to faint when I heard Meera ma'am calling out my name. Ma'am had come with the person who was in charge of our camp. He moved swiftly and diverted the bear's attention. He walked sideways as he removed his jacket and held it up with his hands high up in the air so that it appeared larger than the bear. It quietly walked away and I ran and hugged ma'am as soon as the bear was out of sight. Ma'am caressed my hair as she patted my back gently with her other hand. I wept inconsolably. The person told ma'am that we could move on safely. We boarded the bus. I was still clutching my teacher's hand tightly and was shivering due to fright. "What would have happened if ma'am had not reached there at that moment?" That was the only thought that kept ringing in my mind. Stella came and stood close to me and told how ma'am panicked as soon as she found out that I was missing. "Sandeep sir told ma'am that he would go in search of you but ma'am was not willing to oblige and insisted on going herself and entered the forest alone. By then the camp incharge said he would accompany her in case of an emergency," whispered Stella. "What happened, Akhila? Why are you weeping?", she inquired. Before I could reply, Sandeep sir sternly warned her to be seated as the bus had started moving. Meera ma'am sat beside me and held my hands in hers till we reached school. My parents were waiting to take me home. "Be a brave girl?" said Meera ma'am smilingly as she wiped the tears off my cheeks before I got down the bus and waved bye to me.
On the way home, something caught Appa's eyes and he stepped in to buy something from a stationery shop as I waited with Amma outside. As soon as we reached home I told my parents all that had happened and how Meera ma'am came to my rescue. My parents were happy and felt relieved as I was out of any danger. My mother put me to sleep between my father and her after I had managed to eat just a few morsels of food as I was still not completely out of my fright.
The next day was Sunday and I woke up late. Amma and Appa called me after I had had my breakfast and ready to go out and play. "Akhila, we wanted to tell you something important," said Appa. I sat down on the sofa as I could sense that Amma had told him about the race incident. Appa asked me what had happened on the day of the race. I told him everything and this time I also told him what mistake I had done. Appa did not scold me as I had expected. Instead, he asked me what made me tell the truth at that hour. I thought for some time and said "I was moved by Ms. Meera's affection last night. I thought she favoured only Stella and did not care for other students." "Exactly, so you now realise that your teacher is unbiased, don't you?" asked Amma. My eyes went wide open. I thought my parents had believed my version of the race incident but now the fact dawned upon me that they hadn't and were giving me some time to realize my fault and confess. "Don’t you think teachers should follow equality among the students Akhila?" Amma asked. "Yes," I replied confidently. "What if Meera ma'am had not put you on your seat on the bus and not given you the courage that you needed at that moment yesterday? She just had to treat all of you, equally, isn't it?" queried Appa. Now I was confused. "That is because... I was weeping, maybe" I answered doubtfully. "Of course, that's the point. She was being equitable and not equal," added Amma. I had never heard of that word. Appa understood that. He said "My child, your teacher could have told that you pushed the other participant deliberately to win in front of everyone. She did not do that as her intention was only to correct your ways and not embarrass you." He continued, "Yesterday similarly, your teacher wanted you to feel better and gave you some extra care. That does not mean she cares less of the other students or more about you. She knew when to show more concern and to whom." That's equity." I shook my head in a hesitant manner and Amma could gauge that I have not grasped the complete essence of what Appa had said. So she told me "Now listen. If you had two apples and two of your friends come to you during lunchtime, to whom would you give the fruits?" "One to each of them Amma," I said. "What if you knew one of them had brought a box full of yummy lunch and the other had forgotten her tiffin box at home and had also skipped breakfast?", Amma added a condition to the scenario. "I would give both my apples to the hungry friend," I replied. "What is said first without knowing the condition was equality and what you would have done in the second case was equity", explained Appa as he gave me a keychain with a logo of an apple with a 'beam balance' etched in golden color on its center. "Keep this with you and remember your Meera ma'am whenever you feel like lying in the future," said Appa. "Is this what you bought yesterday from that shop Appa?" I asked inquisitively. “I had not told you what happened in the camp, then how did you know that ma'am was equitable?" "I realized that when you told me about the race incident. She did not belittle you in any way, did she?" So saying, he smiled.
That day was life-changing. I never lied in my life after that. The same keychain holds my house keys to date and I carry it around wherever I go. No, it isn't any sort of talisman but a souvenir to cherish my teacher's love and my parents' non-judgemental nature and reasoning capability.