May, 2000—Jayswal Estate, Mahabaleshwar
Question 1: Write about Summer in 250 words.
Answer: If I had to choose a favorite season, I would definitely choose Summer. The obvious question that follows then would be, Why? Well, it’s simple really. During two months in a year, I get permission to have my classes outdoors. I get to breathe in free air, just like the birds in sky and the little creatures on earth. I get to feel the heat and to shiver with delight as the first drop of a sudden shower touches my skin. Showers? In summer? Oh yes! I do not mean the regular monsoon showers, but the summer showers that suddenly start up with no warning, making us scramble our way to the mansion door, but they vanish even before we reach the final cobble pathway...just as suddenly. It’s as if these special rains come from a far-off area for a short visit to cool the air around you, while the rest of the world bakes under hot sun. Clearly something magical happens, cause the summer is still there, albeit hidden behind the stubborn cool cascade of a very welcome visitor. For a few moments the world becomes cool and pleasant and full of life, redolent with earthy fragrance. And then sun breaks through, reminding us of the reality: the blazing, scorching heat...the smothering, stifling, repressive heat. But by then one has stopped taking offense to the heat, because one has experienced the coolness and one knows that this coolness will come again if only one has patience. I feel a special bonding with the summer showers. They are a reminder that howsoever hot the day might be, a cool unpredictable shower may just drop in from nowhere and bring respite and joy....and maybe leave a rainbow behind as a reminder of my treasu
Twelve-year-old Praneeta jerked her head up, her notebook in which she was doing her assignment slid from her lap. The sound had come from her left. She looked to her left and then to her right, but couldn’t see anything, other than the trees surrounding her, the boulder behind on which she leant, and the almost-sky-high stone wall in front. She paused a beat, shrugged, and then returned her focus on the assignment. “Where was I? Hmm... Yes, ‘...a reminder of my treasure’,” she stared at the words and chewed on her pencil end; rather, she stared pointedly at the word “my” and frowned, almost hearing Ms Sinha shake her head and say in her dull manner, “Tsk-tsk!! No Praneeta. You did it again. This is Geography and not an English Essay. You should be more specific. I asked you to write about the Summer season, and not about your feelings about it.”
With a deep sigh, she rummaged through her pencil box for the eraser. That’s when she heard it, and her hand stilled. Another soft sound. This time from her right....somewhere in front. Her eyes rested on a stone lying on the grass next to the wall. Looking up she saw a big hole where the stone had rested. She clutched her notebook to her, looked back at the mansion to ensure no one was coming, and then slowly got up. A step at a time, she moved...one...two...three...and then a small scream escaped her lips as she saw another stone fall next to the already-fallen one. She clamped a palm against her mouth and her eyes widened when she saw a head come out through the hole and look about seeking something.
She stared at the face of a boy.... a grown-up boy…probably as old as her 17-year-old brother Dharam. A boy who looked so different from Dharam bhaiya. While Dharam’s face was pimply, slightly pudgy, with a crooked nose and narrow eyes, which turned red and cruel when he was angry with her, this boy had an interesting face…almost like the beautiful prince in that Arabian Nights picture book she had. With his longish dark mane, he had a reckless, untamed, brigandish look on him. But what arrested her were his eyes: gentle, warm, and dancing with amusement as they fell on her. Suddenly he smiled. Praneeta almost took a step back in wonder as the brilliance of the smile struck her. She hadn’t had anyone smile at her in years. She had vague memories of her mother feeding her and smiling while narrating a story. But that was years back....much before she.....
“HEY!!!” Praneeta emerged out of her silent reverie at the whispered shout. “Are you listening?”
She nodded and then quickly glanced back at the mansion. Thank God, no one had come out. Ms Sinha must be having a long break, having tea with the cook and gossiping, knowing that her father and brother were out of town and Leela dai was having her afternoon siesta.
She turned back at the boy who was now beckoning her with his fingers, “Come here. You are too far off.”
When she hesitated, he smiled again, “I won’t bite. Promise. I need your help.”
That last bit quelled her fear somewhat and propelled her feet forward. When she was a foot away, he smiled and put his right hand out through the hole, “Hi! My name is Samarjit. You can call me Samar. What’s your name?”
She stared at his hand and promptly put both of hers behind her back. She stared back… into his eyes; something in them was pulling her to him, telling her that he was not to be feared. Yet, reminder of her father’s resounding voice nailed her back, “You will never talk to any man or boy till I say so. Is that understood? You know what will happen if you disobey me.” She knew what will happen if her father so much as got a whiff that she stood here talking...no, not talking yet...with a boy.
As she took a step back away from him, she saw the boy frown and then his eyes became a little sad. And Praneeta didn’t like it. She wanted the smile back in his eyes...on his lips.
She started visibly when he spoke softly, “Oh! I am sorry. I didn’t realize you can’t speak. I just wanted my cricket ball back, which came over the wall when Karan hit a six. I am guessing that you cannot hear, as well.” He made a gesture of negation with his forefinger after touching his ear. “ So, you can’t help me. I am sorry to have bothered you. I’ll put some stones from this end to fill this hole. No one will know. Bye. It was nice meeting you.”
Something shivered inside her as she saw him withdraw back first his hand and then his head. She couldn’t let him leave just like that. Could she? No one had spoken so nicely to her...ever. She just wanted to hear his voice again.
“Ouch! What was that?” His head came back again, his hand now rubbing his head where he had banged it on hearing her soft voice.
“M...My name. It’s Praneeta.” Her lips curled up in a shy, half smile. The boy’s heart flipped. He blinked even as a peculiar feeling crept inside. Did the day just get brighter?
He gulped. Wow! She was pretty. Like a little doll…so fair, so dainty…her hair falling like folding waves over her back. And her eyes…so big on her oval face, holding an expression that made him want to protect her from all the badness. Weird! Where the hell are these thoughts coming from? She was a stranger, but then she did look like she needed a friend. And, for some reason, he wanted to be her friend.
“Parineeta. It’s a nice name. What?” She was shaking her head.
“No...no. It’s Praneeta...Pra...not Pari.”
He looked at her thoughtfully and then slowly smiled, “Tell you what. Since you look like a little fairy, “I’ll call you ‘Pari.’ It suits you.”
“No, buts. I have decided. So, little Pari, what are you doing here?”
“I...I was doing my assignment.”
“N...no. I don’t go to school. I have a teacher who comes home to teach me.”
“What about your friends?”
“I don’t have any.”
She shook her head, “I have never gone out of the estate.”
“So little Pari is really a princess kept a prisoner in her castle…like Rapunzel.”
“N..no. It’s not like that. I mean, it’s for my own good.”
“Who says so?”
“M..my father and my brother.”
“Really? Well, I say it’s all nonsense. One day I’ll take you out. And then you will see how beautiful everything is outside. People come from far-off places to see Mahabaleshwar. Yes, I will definitely take you out.” Just for a second a thought came to him: What was he doing? Promising a girl he had just met? He was not going to follow up on this, was he? He may never meet her again.
“You will?” The brightness, the hope, the hint of excitement in her voice tossed all doubtful thoughts out of his mind.
“Yup. I have decided. And I always do what I have decided.”
“Always. I want you to come and see the outside world.”
“I told you, because there is more to the world than what you have seen inside these walls.”
“But why would you want to take me out?”
“Because we are friends now.”
“Of course, we are. Don’t you want me as your friend?”
She stared at him in wonder. A friend? A real friend? Not Mini the shaggy doll that Leela dai made out of old cloth when she was four? Not the one-eyed, one-armed, earless little pink Teddy, a gift from her mother before she left and which was mutilated by her father in a fit of rage and thrown out over the window, which she had later secretly salvaged? But a real, live friend? She had never had a friend. She had read about friendship between children in the books she had read from the library and from the study books that Ms Sinha brought with her and had wondered what it would be like to have a friend.
He took her silence as an affirmation. Looking down at the notebook, which she clutched against her chest, he asked “What are you studying?”
“Let me see what you were doing.”
She looked at him horrified and shook her head.
He extended his hand, “C’mon. One peek. Friends always listen to one another.”
Slowly she held out the notebook. He grabbed it and opened the page she was working on. A few silent moments passed during which she bit her lips and twisted her fingers around each other, suddenly conscious of where she was and what she was doing. She had never disobeyed before. As per Ms Sinha’s order, she was not supposed to move from her seat against the boulder.
“This is beautiful. You write so well….like words painted on a canvas.”
She goggled at him in total disbelief and then turned crimson when she saw genuine admiration in his eyes.
“You really think so?”
“Sure I do. You don’t believe me? Boy, you really lack confidence. What’s that?”
She looked over her shoulder where he was pointing at the drawing book near her satchel.
“That’s…umm…that’s….” She stopped as shouts came from behind him.
“SAMAR….SAMAR. Where the hell did you disappear to?”
“Oops! I completely forgot. My friends are waiting. COMING! Pari, may I have my ball?”
“Oh! Where is it?” She looked here and there.
“Try near those trees. Yes, there.” She ran between the trees and found it near the third one.
She laughed when she spotted it, feeling exhilarated at the achievement. “I found it, Samar…I found it.”
She ran back. Her feet came to a sudden halt when she heard Ms Sinha shout for her, “Praneeta, why are you running about? I told you to sit in one place. Have you finished your assignment?”
Praneeta froze and turned. Ms Sinha was still some distance away. She put her hands behind, gripping the ball tightly, and backed towards the hole, covering it as much as possible with her small back.
She heard Ms Sinha shout in surprise, “What are you doing there? Come away at once.”
Pari’s heart was in her mouth. A few steps more and her teacher would discover the hole and then Samar. No…she won’t have that. She won’t have anyone take her friend away.
She whispered, “Samar, please take your ball and go.”
She was relieved when she felt warm fingers touch hers briefly, take the ball, and withdraw. He whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow…same time.”
She shut up when to her horror, she saw Ms Sinha step beside her satchel near the boulder. One more step and it would be over.
But before Ms Sinha took that fatal step, there was a cloud burst and suddenly it was raining.
Pari looked up and mouthed silently, “Summer showers! Thank you God.”
And then a slight touch on her back before a whisper traveled through the rain drops, “Go, little Pari. Till tomorrow.”
Praneeta hugged her arms to herself and ran towards the boulder.
To be continued (depending on your response: that is, either “OK to continue” or “Well, not really” :). Your opinion will be my motivation)…………………