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Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder

"Mama, I have made a new friend. Do you know her name?" Hiya has recently joined the seventh grade. Every day she comes from school with some fresh bit of news. It is a good thing that the school changes the kids' sections each year. Children get a chance to make new friends. Thinking on these lines, Rashmi said, "How would I know? You haven't told me." Hiya swung around her mother's neck and said, "That's what I am going to tell you. Listen." Rashmi kept smiling at Hiya's curiosity as she started speaking, "Her name is Anisha. She is very pretty, Mummy. Her Hindi pronunciation is so cute that it makes all of us laugh. And her hair is so straight! We weren't believing it is natural till she told us her mother and her sister also have the same hair."
"All right, all right. Finish your food first. Then narrate your friend's story." Rashmi knew that this story wasn't going to end soon and so she might as well simultaneously do her everyday chores. Days passed into weeks and months and Hiya's friendship with Anisha kept getting stronger. In the beginning every day Rashmi had to hear stories of her beauty and goodness. Then she learnt that all the girls wanted to be friends with Anisha and the boys also used to be after her. 
Rashmi listens with a smile to her daughter, who's about twelve-thirteen and in the seventh grade, talk of all this. She does not give advice to her daughter until it is solicited. She had understood long back that in this modern world of the country's capital, the generation gap could be mended only by being friends with your children. Especially with her spouse going on long tours, it becomes all the more important that her daughter should not keep any secrets from her. Sahil has become quite mature. In a few years, Hiya would also safely come out of this period of her life.
Hiya's birthday is also approaching. She's now not of the age when she would call children of her class and colony to a party at home. Rashmi got this message clearly when Hiya announced, "I will celebrate my birthday at McD with Anisha, Ritika, Muktika and Arnab." Now the mother's responsibility was to talk to the parents of all the children regarding time, place and permission. She talked to the parents of all the four children. Arnab's father was ready to pick up Ritika on the way and Anisha's mother said she would drop the three children back. Muktika lived just a little farther away from Rashmi's house so Rashmi decided to take her back.
On the day of the party, all of them met at the McD in CP. Except Arnab's father, Rashmi was meeting everyone for the first time. Arnab and Hiya used to be in the same section almost each year so Rashmi had known them for some time. She was the most excited to meet Anisha. She had heard so much about her and now Anisha was also her daughter's best friend. 
Just then a girlish woman entered the restaurant wearing shorts and a loose t-shirt. Before Rashmi could see the girl following the woman, Hiya ran. She held the girl by hand and brought her before Rashmi, "Mama, see, this is Anisha. Isn't she cute? And her cheeks are so chubby. And her hair, isn't it exactly how I had described it to you?" Hiding her surprise, Rashmi nodded and said, "Now both of you go and place your orders." Anisha's mother came and hugged Rashmi and said her name was Devang Subba. They had shifted to Delhi from Sikkim two years back. 
After they left and the children got busy with each other, Rashmi started thinking. When Hiya used to describe Anisha's prettiness, Rashmi had imagined a sharp nose and corresponding features. Did the problem lie in Anisha's beauty or Rashmi's imagination? She realised today that her daughter's gaze is much better than hers.

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Confidence lost, confidence regained

"Shreya, what did you decide?" She came out of her reverie upon hearing my voice. There was a time when this girl could not keep quiet and now it is as if she is afraid to speak. Last year, when I pushed her to read in the morning assembly once, her legs started trembling and she started stammering. Everyone was finding it hard to believe. It became a topic of discussion among the teachers who had taught her till class 10. I don't what had got into her. Perhaps it is my fault. Have I failed as a teacher, as a mentor? Did a confident child become like this because of me? I gave her time till tomorrow to think about my offer and started walking towards home. On the way, last year's incidents came back to mind.
When I got a chance to teach Shreya civics, she was in class 10. She was not just sharp but was also good at quizzes and debating. Impressed by her curiosity and willingness to learn new things, I inspired her to take part in the Model United Nations Conference. After her class 10 examination, she went with our school delegation to participate. Most students going along with her were in class 12. They went to Europe and this was the first time they were participating in an international conference. When they returned, they shared that their experience had been disappointing. They were not heard; they were not given a chance to speak. If at all they spoke, their propositions were not appreciated, let alone passed. In a way they had to face racism. All this was sad for me to know because MUN is modelled on the actual UN. So how could its participants have such narrow minded views? I told the students not to be discouraged, that this is the kind of inequality we have to fight. Shreya went home directly after this.
When she came back in class 11, she was a changed person. After I tried for many days, she revealed that in her committee there, the other children had asked her to mop the floor. I wanted to know if this happened because of her clothes. Our students go to such competitions in their school uniforms, not in other dresses. Shreya said this happened on the second day. So at least the children in her committee knew she was a delegate. On the first day she was able to speak and raise relevant issues because of her extensive research. But nobody even pretended to listen to her. After the committee, when she went to meet the others, they made fun of her and were rude to her the next day. Shreya's confidence was shattered and she could not utter a single sentence after that. Because of her way of dressing and speaking, her colour and her identity, she was having to face this kind of discrimination for the first time. She could not understand what was happening.
It is not easy to face a situation you had not imagined in your wildest dreams. Those who have been raised with love and protectiveness get completely shaken with such kind of a treatment. Shreya was used to being valued by her family, friends and school. On the other hand, despite being competent, she had to face humiliation in a tough competitive event. She was sharp but did not yet have the maturity to take care of herself in challenging circumstances.
It has been one-and-a-half years since that incident. I repeatedly give her opportunities in school to restore her confidence. But the intelligence she shows when alone disappears when in public. I wonder if one stray incident is all it takes to completely destroy someone's confidence. It is probable that such things happen if one suddenly goes from a protective circle to a ruthlessly competitive one. It is not necessary that an intelligent person is also emotionally strong.
At present, Shreya's remarkable mental faculties need our emotional support. Apart from encouraging her in school, I now want to send her to another competition so she can regain her confidence. Would she be ready by this time to come out of her nightmare and face the world again? Going through these questions, it was soon morning and I reached the school with a new hope. And look at the coincidence, who should I see but the old Shreya coming towards me with a smile, whose walk, too, reflected confidence.

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Follow your dreams with open eyes and steady steps

Pranav was going to his village today after fourteen years. He had spent his childhood there but that too is something that happened around twenty years ago. He had no family left in the village. He was just going back to feel once again the first seed of hope that had taken root in his heart there. He had never been unsure that he would not been able to get all this. But many, or rather most, people felt that he would not be able to become much else but a braggart.
Who is Pranav? Oh, so you don't know him. Pranav was a rising star in the world of cricket. He was so remarkable in the last IPL that he had to be selected in Team India. At a time when the entire country was mad after cricket, kids of rich parents also kept going after school for their cricket coaching and paid a lot of fees, when this world involved everything from money to nepotism, then village inhabitant Punnu used to dream of being Sachin Tendulkar. Today it feels like all of them were liars but it did not seem so then. Going over these thoughts, Pranav reached Janta Bazar. The taxi driver asked, "Should we turn for Chandauli village here?" He nodded. The driver looked in the mirror and asked, "You still remember this village?" Pranav said, "Why won't I remember it? Whatever I am today is also a lot due to this village." The driver was curious, "Please tell me more, Sir." It was not every day that the driver got a chance to meet celebrity players.
On seeing the inter-college field just before the turn, Pranav said, "This was my first field where people stood and clapped. I had played against a team from another district here." By now Pranav was walking down memory lane. People used to complain to his father about his obsession with cricket. Babuji would laugh and dismiss those people. But not long after, he fell ill. By the time the diagnosis came it was too late. Yes, his father was battling cancer and his mother these difficult circumstances and he was preoccupied with playing cricket morning, noon and night in gullies and mohallas. The memory flooded his eyes with tears. After his father's illness and death, nobody came forward to help. But everyone kept commenting that the son had gone astray. Where children were told they could play a bit in the evening after studies and on Sunday, nobody could understand how it could be anybody's dream to play. When he would get home after hours of watching the match in others' homes, his mother would greet him with harsh words and taunts. Those who watched the match also did not watch it every day, unless it was the world cup or some series India was playing in. He didn't just watch but also tried to learn by watching.
When the material conditions of the house deteriorated, his uncle took him and his mother to Roorkee. By then he had played on this field. His uncle also tried to talk to him about being worldly and sensible. He gave lots of examples to tell Pranav he did not have a future in this sport. He heard it all but did not follow it. Even when pursuing a course, he would take time out to play. Once he got a chance to play with IIT students there. There he met Mhaeshwar. He downloaded several matches on his computer and talked of the technique of playing. With him Pranav went to Delhi and met his coach. His fee was high but the coach could predict on seeing his bowling that even if Pranav can't pay him he would get so famous that the coach would have students queuing up to learn from him. After that, it was as if all his paths started racing towards his destinations. Before he could realise it he was selected for IPL and his sixes flew so high that soon he was the star of the Indian team.
The driver's voice brought him back to the present, "Saab, what thoughts did you get lost in?" His village house was in front of him and young people were standing with garlands. He remembered his father whose last words had been, "Dream but don't get lost in your dreams. Work hard to fulfil them. We have to make continuous efforts for the dreams we see with open eyes."

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The fruits of patience

Arnab was standing outside his class when he heard Snehlata Ma'am talking to his parents, "Your son is excellent. He is outstanding in everything, from studies to extra-curricular activities. And the most remarkable thing about him is his behaviour. He has always got a smile on his face. When someone points out a fault in him, he corrects it without getting upset about it. He also takes responsibility for his entire class." Arnab blushed hearing all this. Though Ma'am had often praised him in front of others, this was too much. Just then he heard his father's voice, "The credit goes to your thinking, and not Arnab, that makes him appear so good, Ma'am. Children have a tendency to make mistakes. Teachers are the ones to steer them on the right path. Please take care of him." Ma'am still insisted, "No, your son deserves this appreciation. We are fortunate to have him in our school." It made Arnab's mother smile but his father repeated, "It is not like he is perfect. He still has a lot of flaws. Keep an eye on him. Thank you."
When Arnab saw them coming outside, he moved away. On the way back home, his mother kept lovingly caressing his head. His father maintained his serious demeanour. Every once in a while Arnab felt a surge of anger towards his father. Even when Arnab was a child, his father would never readily accept the fact that his son was talented. Last year for his annual function Arnab was a part of the drama production and a guitarist in the school band. Everyone surrounded him after the play. The parents of all his friends were praising him while his own father was quiet. One of his father's friends congratulated him, "Your Arnab is really talented." Arnab's dad responded with a smile. Ma showered much love upon him but his father had only this to say, "You did fine."
Days passed like this. Arnab noticed that while the parents of his other friends praised them to the skies even on small achievements, his own father had only instructions to give him. If someone else spoke well of Arnab, his father remained quiet or said, "It is the goodness of your perspective that makes him seem so. Otherwise the boy is quite ordinary."
When Arnab got into class 12, there was a music workshop in school. The trainer from Mumbai was greatly impressed by Arnab. He gave Arnab an offer to join his team. Arnab was in seventh heaven. When he went home and told his dad, he said, "You have a long way to do. You are not yet ready to earn accolades in the field of music. Music requires years of devoted practice."
Arnab's enthusiasm disappeared. That evening he felt heartbroken. For a long time he sat and brooded over how his father did not love him. He was never happy with Arnab's accomplishments. Arnab felt his father often lectured him on how he was getting all the conveniences of life but never said Arnab was working hard or doing well. Arnab decided that he would leave his house today. When his father did not care about his son, why should Arnab continue to stay? Now that he had been offered a job, he did not have to depend on anyone else.
He planned to leave after both his parents had gone to bed that night. At night he had dinner, lost in his thoughts, and went to bed. His mother tried to talk to him at the dinner table. He distractedly answered in monosyllables. His heart was heavy after what had happened in the day and because of his decision to leave. Late at night, after he had finished packing, he thought he should see his mother once. She had always cared for him and there was no telling when he would be able to see her again. He went towards his parents' room but stopped at the door when he heard them speaking in soft tones. Ma was saying, "Why do you do this? He was so happy when he came and he went away disappointed." His father's steady voice came next, "You don't understand. He is so young right now. He is actually very good at everything. Everyone compliments him. If I start doing the same, he would grow complacent and stop learning."
His words left Arnab astonished. What if he had not been patient and had left without having come to meet his mother? He had often thought ill of his father. But if he had said anything aloud, how would he have faced his father after today? He earlier used to feel irritated with his own patient self when he would quietly listen to everything his father used to say without answering back. Today he felt reassured and pleased about the fact that he had continued to be patient.

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Should we give in to pressure?

As Samya stood in front of the mirror and tied her hair into a tight ponytail, events of the past came back to her. It seemed as if she had joined the boarding school only yesterday. Then she had felt sad about leaving her parents and apprehensive about being in a new place with unknown people. Her parents had done their best to convince her that, living in a small town like Sitapur ,her talents won't get nurtured in the lack of amenities. Her new school wasn't in a metro but several competitions related to sports, dance and music were held there. Samya was already good at dance, swimming and ballet. Her mother had sent her to many summer camps so Samya could learn these things.
Last year when she got admitted to this school everyone at home was so happy but Samya created a big fuss. It took an entire year to convince her and then she passed the entrance test again, finally joining the hostel. She came here in class 6, while most came in class 4 or class 5. Only a handful joined the institution in class 6 and she was one of them.
Before even a week had passed, eleven-year-and-seven-month old Samya realised the two mistakes of her life. The first was to have come to this boarding school. The second was to have come this year, and not the previous year. All the girls had made their groups: one belonged to the studious and another, to the stylish. The strangest part was that two-three girls belonged to neither of the two groups and as soon as they would start speaking all the other girls would get irritated. It was not that they were very good or very bad. They were just different, and it worried Samya to think that since she did not belong to any of the groups she would have to hang out with these girls. Why was it important to be in a group? How can someone stay alone; you do need friends. Especially in a boarding school. In her batch, she wasn't her teacher's pet like Vindhya, non-sharing like Adya, or high-headed like Mihika. But each day was becoming difficult to survive.
One day she was reading in the common room and went to the dormitory to take a book. There all the girls were sitting around Kudrat who was mimicking Samya. She felt so bad that she quietly returned. Eventually everyone started making fun of her even in her presence. Why? She could not speak good English, or rather she could write the best English but she hadn't had speaking practice at home and now she found it difficult to pick up. She would tearfully face all the jibes and resolve that within a year she would speak better English than any of them. She even started speaking in class. And then her pronunciation was also laughed at.
In class 7 she won swimming competitions at various levels and also submitted her work on time. When she fared well in the class tests, it caught the attention of all the teachers. The group of studious girls started seeing her as a challenge and the ones in Kudrat's group started seeking her help in studies. Samya had this good quality. She used to help everyone but never helped anyone cheat. For this reason she did not gain any false friendships. With time her several qualities made her popular with everyone. When she was in class 10 she won a national level medal and with just a day's practice she could get the inter-house trophy for her house. Now everyone wanted to be her friend. Earlier half the batch used to follow Kudrat; now she was hardly left with two friends. But Samya knew that here it was the usual practice to just jump on to the bandwagon. So she didn't let this popularity affect her.
"Are you going to get ready today or not?" Riya shouted from the dorm and Samya realised it was about to be 6 o'clock. The new captain body had to take their oaths in the auditorium. Samya was hoping to be the swimming or the games captain, but she was about to receive the school captain batch.

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Should we give in to pressure?

When Abhinav got home he saw a middle aged man sitting at his father's feet in the outer room in the house. Tears were streaming down the man's face and Abhinav's father was trying to get him to stand up. Abhinav saw all this, surprised, and went in. His wife had put tea on the boil. By the time he washed and returned, his father also came to the inner living room. (When Abhinav comes back from office, everyone usually has tea with him.) His father gauged his questioning glance and said, "I'll tell you everything. Let me first finish my tea in peace."
Abhinav was afraid that the man shouldn't have duped his father with a sob story. Since his father used to work in the welfare department, Abhinav has been witnessing many people come to him for help. After his retirement, many people started coming home and their stories - at times true and at others cooked up - would move his father, ultimately causing his father a monetary loss. Anyway, Abhinav could not stop his father from doing all this. Still having his tea, his father started, "Abhi, do you remember the last rented place we lived in before we moved to our own house?" "Yes, Papa, I remember." Abhinav guessed that the man must have been someone trying to fool his father for those times' sake.
"What do you remember?" His father looked at him with suspicion. "Papa, that was the worst colony. Ma hadn't even allowed me to play with the kids there. I don't miss that place." Abhi talked like a sullen kid. Along with his father, others also burst out laughing. Then his father asked, "Tell me, do you remember the man who used to get drunk and shout at night?" Abhinav shrugged. "What's the big deal? There used to be a labourers' slum at the back. All of them would drink and create a scene at night."
"I am not talking of the others. This man was special. Instead of abusing others, he would hurl abuses at himself. After having some alcohol, he would come out at night and abuse himself, at times even beating himself up." His father tried to remind Abhiav again.
Abhinav jogged his memory a bit and said in agreement, "Isn't he the one who would come out when everyone else had gone quiet, and even give himself a shoe beating?"
"Yes, he is the same man." His father started narrating the story. "During those days, I came across him one afternoon. His face was completely swollen. He was sitting on the roadside. I asked him the reason for his behaviour, enquiring why he had made such a mess of himself. He answered that he was very poor and had no work. Some day he would get work and on some days he won't. His wife used to do cleaning work as domestic help in other households. He would forcibly take her money and then feel ashamed and punish himself. I asked him why he acted this way when he knew the difference between right and wrong. He said, 'What should I do, Babuji? God has given me a son whose mental faculties are not fully developed, people don't give me work, and by evening I lose all hope. Please give me some work.'"
Noticing the curiosity on everyone's faces, Babuji continued the story. "I called him to my office and had him trained in sewing. After six months, I bought a sewing machine and gave it to him. For a few days, I kept a tab on him to make sure he doesn't sell it for alcohol. But this man became so engrossed in his work that till evening he won't even think about drinking."
"But why did he come today after so many days?" The daughter-in-law asked.
"His first child was mentally challenged. His other son did well in his studies and is now in a job which pays him in lakhs. He doesn't want his father to work any more. So the father thought of starting a training centre where he would train for free those inhabitants of his slum who are falling into bad company because of unemployment. He wants me to inaugurate that centre. He said, 'Babuji, you made my life. Like you did for me, I would also bring others from my slum on to the right path.' I advised him to invite some minister; it could also mean some funds for the centre. He replied, 'You are the god in my life. You would be the one to do this.' Abhinav's father's voice grew heavy as he uttered the last sentence.
Abhinav was reminded of his childhood. Because of this habit of his father's, Abhinav had remained deprived of branded clothes and shoes so many times, but the same habit changed the brand of so many people's lives.

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Ayushi's lucky pen

Everyone knows that Dadi is coming home today. Summy is busy arranging the whole house. Looking at his mother cleaning continuously, Dhruv is getting irritated. This annoyance was also because, instead of making his favourite pasta, Ma was engaged in other work. Ayushi laughed noticing this, "So what if Ma is busy this Sunday? Why are you getting so tensed? Anyway till Dadi is here, consider your every Sunday's pasta banned." "Why?" Dhruv innocently asked the question. "Because Dadi wants everything to be healthy. She is old-fashioned in her views." When she heard this, Summi could not stop herself, "That's not true. Dadi is actually very progressive. She is organised and likes things neat and clean. She does not oppose new ways or new food items because she has a problem with them. She is against certain things for purely scientific reasons. Because you two are so obstinate when it comes to your food choices, I relent and let you have all kinds of junk food. She says no to them because they are bad for health, not because they are new for her."
This was the first time Dhruv was getting a chance to live with Dadi. Ayushi had lived with her but after the initial days of Dhruv's childhood Dadi had been living with his Bua, her daughter. Dadi has her own house in Mughalsarai but Bua needed her. Papa doesn't want her to live alone in her house so he was bringing her here by appealing to her emotions. Dhruv is both excited and afraid about her visit, the latter because he wonders if Dadi would also check him at everything like other old-fashioned people did. Papa came with Dadi in the evening. Everyone sat till late talking about Bua and Mughalsarai. Dadi had brought lots of mangoes. Ayushi and Dhruv felt blissful after having the langda mangoes.
Next morning everyone resumed their usual routine. Ma and the children went to school together and then Papa went to office. Dadi would get up early but start her routine leisurely after everyone had left. She brought flower pots for the terrace and spent her time gardening. Unlike many other senior citizens, she won't complain about how she is unable to pass the time; she didn't preach upon the children either.
A few days later it was time for Ayushi's first half-yearly paper. Before leaving, she checked her pencil box and realised that her lucky pen was missing. She started kicking up a fuss. It appeared as if she won't be able to write at all without that pen. Summi tried her best to explain that if she missed her bus it would be a problem. But Ayushi refused to see sense. Just then Dadi came with a pen, "Here is your lucky pen. I found it under the bed. Go and write your exam well." Kissing Dadi's cheek, Ayushi rushed outside. Summi looked at her mother-in-law with surprise. She shook her head and said, "Come back from school and then we will talk."
When all three returned in the noon, Dadi first asked Ayushi, "How was your paper, beta?" Ayushi chirped, "I will get hundred out of hundred, Dadi. The paper was simple and then I had found my lucky pen too." Dadi smiled mysteriously. Both Summi and Ayushi asked together, "What is it?" Then Dadi revealed that the pen Ayushi had used was actually hers. Two days back Dadi was looking for a pen and Ayushi had showed her the special pen and said it was lucky for her. Dadi had then thought that she should rid the children's minds of such superstitious ideas.
It was not a coincidence that the pen Dadi gave in the morning was of the same look and company. She had got it from the market and had hidden Ayushi's lucky pen the previous night.
Having revealed everything, Dadi asked, "So now tell me, beta. Does an exam go well with a lucky pen or with good preparation and self-confidence? What do you call someone when they don't go on a journey if someone sneezes or doesn't go ahead if a cat has crossed the path?" Dhruv (who had recently learnt all this in class) quipped, "Superstitious, someone who has blind faith or false beliefs." Dadi smiled, "See, Dhruv also knows. Actually you know this too. But while you consider those things superstitious, you don't find this a problem."
Ayushi started wondering if she really does this. If yes, then she was so wrong.

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'They' are not good people

It is not every day that she manages to go to the park with her son. How is it possible in the rush of school? She would have hardly managed to go herself had it not been for Doctor Uncle's mild admonitions about her continually increasing blood pressure. Anjali does not go outside to work. But her husband is mostly out of town for business and along with looking after Aditya, she also needs to take care of her bed-ridden irritable mother-in-law, not to mention all the other responsibilities of the household. Of course, everyone thinks that a homemaker hardly has anything to do. She just has to order about her house help and everything gets done as if by a genie. Anyway, this is a never ending subject of complaint.
So after she sees her son off near the school van, she takes a few rounds in the nearby park, in a direct effort to control her blood pressure and in an indirect way to lose some weight. After that she hurries back home. Every day she thinks that on Saturdays and Sundays she will bring her son along. But he looks so innocent while sleeping that Anjali is reminded of the reluctance with which he wakes up every day for school. She gives up on the idea, thinking she will take him along when he has his vacation. Anjali wants that her son should see the morning in all its beautiful hues, chase butterflies and listen to the chirping of birds. Kids hardly get the chance to have these simple pleasures today. And it is their good fortune that they also have such a nice park near their house.
Then the vacation started. First Aditya tried to avoid going to the park, "Why, Mama? Now I'll have to get up early during my holidays too?!" Within a day or two his sullenness disappeared, when he made friends with loads of other children and got to run and play leisurely in all that space. It was on the fourth day that he asked, "Mummy, why do only children or people like Dada-Dadi come to the park?" Anjali had never observed this. For her, coming to the park was also a task. She laughed, trying to dismiss the question, "Why? Am I like Dadi?" "No, but I never saw any Uncle-Aunty like you," Aditya held his ground. Anjali sighed, "Everyone goes to work. Who has the time to come to the park in the morning when it's 'rush hour'?"
Another week to ten days passed. Anjali would leave Aditya to play with the children while she walked in the park. She had noticed that at times the kids would play and, at others, upon being called by him, they would talk to an elderly gentleman. She had come to recognise almost all the senior citizens. She had seen them lovingly looking at the children or mingling with them. It made her feel sad about how parents who raised their kids got so lonely in these late years of their life. Those who had come to cities from villages had their parents in the villages; and those who gave their children the amenities a city provides had their children living on foreign shores. All these thoughts ensured that Anjali was never harsh with her ailing mother-in-law. Otherwise she too was an ordinary woman.
She was taking her last round amidst these musings when Mrs Patel stopped her, "Beta, do you bring your son to the park these days? "Yes, Aunty," Anjali replied. Mrs Patel went on, "You must not mind what I say but it is not good to be careless these days. If you bring your son here, take him with you when you go for your walks." "But, Aunty, I live right here and have been coming here for a year.Almost everyone is an acquaintance now. And the kids play with each other."
"This is the problem with you young lot. You don't listen," sixty-five year old Mrs Patel's annoyance was clear. "In your absence Abdul calls the children to him." "So? He is very affectionate with the kids. His own children's family shifted to Dubai but he never felt quite settled there. So he keeps visiting them and coming back," said Anjali, impressed by Abdul's gentle demeanour. "You don't understand, 'those' people are not good," just as Anjali had started getting what Mrs Patel was trying to hint at, her attention was diverted by raucous laughter. The children were high-fiving each other while Abdul Uncle was laughing heartily.

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Real games and video games

As soon as Rajeev entered the house, he announced, "Gauri and Soham will stay with us for ten-fifteen days." Rashmi asked, "What happened? Are Bhaiyya-Bhabhi going somewhere? The answer came, "Yes. Bhabhi's father is seriously ill and these two are going there to be with him. Will they be running around the hospital there or taking care of the kids? And then their school is also going on." Rashmi said, "All right. Anyway one of their school buses goes this way. We will inform the school." Their kids, Shreya and Arth, could listen to this conversation while doing homework in their room. They happily rushed to their parents and exclaimed, "This will be such fun! We will have a great time together. Mummy, please don't stop us." Rashmi looked at them and smiled.
Rajeev and Ajay were cousins staying at two extremes of the same suburb. They had two kids each, approximately in the same age bracket. Shreya and Soham were in the seventh grade, Arth in the sixth and Gauri was in the fifth. The families met on festivals, family functions and long weekends. They were now more like friends than relatives. The four children got along really well. Next day Ajay and Vineeta dropped the kids with all their essential stuff. Rashmi had prepared for their coming by putting extra beds in the children's room and making space in their cupboards. Since both Rashmi's kids were about the same age, she used to take on a few assignments that she could work on from home. Vineeta had a job outside.
Rashmi was surprised to find things like a touchscreen iPad, a mini iPad and a video game in the children's things. She even told Vinita, "Vini, why give them all this? If they need to do some work, there's a laptop at home." Vini said, "They are used to being absorbed in these things. Sohan doesn't even eat his meals without video games. And this little one is no less. My phone is more with her than with me on Sundays. This brother-sister duo knows more about my phone than I do. If they are busy with these things, they won't trouble you much. Ajay added, "Madam was even giving them phones. I told her that if they need to make a call they can use Rajeev's or Bhabhi's phone, or the landline." Rashmi heard all of this in silence. She did not want to worry them when they were about to go on a trip but she resolved to speak to them when they returned. She had never liked the idea of children being completely immersed in these gadgets.
A new tug of war started in their house the next day. Earlier her kids would be back from school, have their lunch, rest a bit and go to the park downstairs to play. But now they started fighting for the video game. Arth didn't understand all this but ran after his older brothers and sisters, imitating what they do. At times he also got restless to go downstairs and play. Upon his insistence, all of them ended up going but Gauri still carried her iPad there. Rashmi found it hard to believe that even in the park all the children were surrounding her and looking at the pictures and games on screen.
During lunch the next day, she asked, "Soham, beta, isn't your school also going to have its sports day? Shreya and Arth are participating in the race. What about you?" Soham replied in a disinterested tone, "Nothing, Aunty." Shreya too got involved in the conversation, "But you play so many video games. So why don't you play real games as well?" Gauri interrupted to add her complaint, "I like swimming but I don't know how to do it, and there is also nobody to take me for classes." Rashmi said, "I'll take you. There is a pool not far from here. But first play carom with me today." Soham showed enthusiasm, "Carom? We don't know how to play. Will you teach us?" Before Rashmi could answer, Shreya quipped, "Even I could teach you that."
After a while Rashmi left them playing and came out. They kept playing till late in the evening. Next Saturday, taking them for swimming class, Rashmi thought that if they get a chance, children still prefer to play real games.

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This is how it is, but...

It was Kritika's first day in the new school. In the first class, Ma'am introduced her to everyone. As soon as the bell rang, everyone surrounded her and started asking various questions about her previous school. Just one girl did not approach her. When Kritika asked her desk partner about the girl, she made a face. "That is Yagini. Nobody talks to her. You shouldn't either, or everyone will start running way from you too." Before Kritika could ask the reason, the mathematics teacher came and everyone settled in their places.
As soon as Ma'am entered, she asked Yagini for her notebook. She stood up and said," Ma'am, I don't know what homework you had assigned. Nobody told me." Ma'am responded with strictness, "Don't fish for excuses. I had told everyone in class. So why did you need to ask anyone at all?" "Kritika said tearfully, "But Ma'am I could not note it down at that time. And later nobody gave it to me." Ma'am put the entire class in the witness box, "Why didn't you tell Yagini about the homework?"
This led to protests and commotion everywhere. Everyone started trying to prove how Yagini was using pretexts, and that she had never asked for help. Yagini too started complaining, "Ma'am, nobody helps me but everyone blames me." Ma'am got irritated, "Forget it. Why waste everyone's time? You should tell Yagini today. Now let's do the next exercise." Yagini sat with her head lowered.
Kritika pitied Yagini, seeing her in this state. She thought once the teacher left she would talk to Yagini. But what was this? As soon as the teacher left, Kritika changed her attitude. She stood up in her place and said, "Guys, now if you don't give me your notebooks, I'll get you punished by Ma'am." Kritika was really surprised by this behaviour. Ayesha, sitting next to Kritika, could sense Kritika's surprise: "This is how it is. That's why nobody likes her. In front of the teacher she goes with this piggy face and gets everyone scolded. But she doesn't do any work herself." "But who copies maths? This way she won't learn anything herself." Listening to Kritika's words, Samya, sitting in front, laughed, "So amidst all this you are worried about maths."
In the coming days Kritika noticed that Yagini seemed to be almost from a different planet in this class. Nobody listened to her or liked sitting next to her. If she started speaking in class, everyone would start getting irritated. Some Ma'ams too were so sick of her talking and excuses that they shut her up as soon as she opened her mouth. Kritika would find people's behaviour wrong at times, and sometimes Yagini seemed responsible for all this. She was not bad, she was very different from others. To be different is not wrong but sometimes it spells trouble.
When everyone's seat was getting changed in the new month, Kritika requested for a seat next to Yagini. The class-teacher did not want her to face problems but when Kritika insisted she gave in. After Kritika shifted her place, the next class was that of geography. Kritika did not have a blue pencil. Upon asking Yagini, she got the reply, "Why should I give it? I don't share my stationery. My Papa has got it for me." The next day Kritika was looking for her eraser. The answer came from a voice next to her, "I wanted it so I took it." For friendship day Yagini got bands for the entire class. She gave the bands to everyone, saying, "I gave such expensive bands to all of you. You must always help me now."
Krtika kept thinking. If you don't share every day and then try to create a false impression upon people, they are not going to listen to you. Then she resolved that she had to help Yagini, not the way Yagini wanted but by making her compatible with the others.

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Yashu Knows It All

As Sonal entered the house and flung her purse on the sofa, she snapped at Yashu with irritation, "What is this, Yashu? The entire room is a mess." Eleven-year-old Yashu has started understanding a lot of things now. She brought to Sonal a bottle of cold water and a glass, "Have some water, Mama." Sonal was touched. Stroking Yashu's head gently, she sat down. Manish came out of his room at the same moment. "What is it? Why are you so annoyed?"
Sonal took one look at her daughter and said, "Nothing."
Yashu insisted, "You are not always like this, Mama. Something must have happened."
Manish joined hands with his daughter. "Go on. Tell us. Yashu is not a small child any more. She too should get to know about the world."
"Oh, sure. If it were up to you, Yashu would be growing faster than her years," protested Sonal.
But she finally relented to the father-daughter duo, and in truth she too needed to vent out her feelings.
She started in a peeved tone, "You know in the showroom it's peak hour in the evening, right? At such a busy time this lower middle class family came in. It is not like we don't have saris to match their budget. But the problem with these people is that they won't tell you the price range they can afford. They would look at a hundred saris and then choose only one. They drove three salesgirls up the wall and we cannot even say anything to them. They spent four hours only to buy four cheap saris! We lost both our time and our minds over them. These lower middle class people are hopeless."
This last line stung Manish. "I know you are tired. But please don't talk about them this way. Haven't you told me yourself how rich women come with their designer bags and shoes, see ten-twenty saris, and turn up their noses and leave? Even then you don't feel so upset. Why? Why are you able to tolerate their haughty behaviour but not the choosy nature of these buyers? Your customers today may have bought inexpensive saris, but at least they bought something."
Manish's words added insult to Sonal's injury. "There is a way of doing things, Manish. All I am saying is why look at something worth Rs 4000 when you are ultimately going to buy something for Rs 400?" Suddenly she spotted her daughter smiling.
"Now what's there to smile about?"
"Mama, I am smiling because I just remembered the story Ma'am told us today. Should I tell you?"
Sonal wasn't sure if Yashu had correctly understood the cause of her irritation. But she couldn't say no to her daughter's request made so sweetly. After all, it was to see Yashu happy that Sonal had taken up this job. In the present-day world, both parents have to think about their children's future.
Yashu took a deep breath and started:
"There once lived a saint called Thiruvalluvar. He was a weaver and a seller of saris. One day he went to sell saris in the market. A young man came to him and asked the price of a sari. "Ten rupees," said the weaver saint. The youth picked up the sari and tore it into two, and then asked the price again. Thiruvalluvar said it would now cost five apiece. The man kept tearing the sari into smaller pieces and asking about their price. The saint kept reducing the price of the smaller pieces. When the pieces got torn into shreds, the sari seller said he couldn't put a price on them any longer, as they had become useless. The young man, full of arrogance, took out ten rupees to give to Thiruvalluvar. He said he had been testing the saint. The saint said, 'When I never sold the sari, how can I accept its cost?' At this the young man was filled with regret and shame over his actions.
"You know what, Mama? At first I wondered why the saint tolerated the injustice. Then Ma'am asked us to think some more. Finally I understood that had the saint stopped him, the young man would have neither stopped nor felt sorry for his behaviour. Ma'am said, "Yes, the young man was defeated by Thiruvalluvar's tolerance." Sonal held her daughter in a warm embrace. "And I too finally understand."
What did Sonal understand from this story?