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Experiencing beauty

I got Raghav's mail today. I knew he had set up an organisation. I thought he must have written for financial help. One look at the sender's name and I can tell what the subject would be. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. We have been classmates since nursery. Seven of us are friends and except Raghav everyone is doing well financially. Raghav teaches little children in a school, run by a community organisation. He is the least well-to-do amongst us. It was good to know that he had come up with his own organisation. I had also discussed this with Hemendra and Sharad on a conference call. But we had been unable to figure out how to help him. He has always been different; we didn't want him to get upset.
I found myself wandering in childhood memories. All of us had passed out of class 12 together, living in colonies close to each other and studying in the same school. But each one of us was different. And don't people with varying personalities share deeper friendships? Even during school days Raghav was the most different. People used to ask, "What would you do when you grow up?" While we would say 'doctor', 'engineer', Raghav wanted to become a flower at times, a cloud at others, and later he even wanted to be a postman. Everyone used to laugh at him, yet he seemed cute. We would play cricket in the park and he used to run after butterflies. He once took care of an injured squirrel (somewhat on the lines of 'Gillu'), but did not tame it. When Manav asked him why Raghav did not make it his pet, this was the philosophical answer: "The garden is the squirrel's home. How can I make it a prisoner? Then what would be the point in having cured it?" We laughed at his eccentricity.
Another interesting incident comes to mind. We must have been in the eighth grade. Everyone had gone somewhere or the other in their summer vacation. Raghav had also gone to Shimla. Probably Shimla had not been so crowded then. I had gone to Nainital, Mohit to Haridwar and others to other similar places close by. After the school reopened, we had to write essays on our vacations both in English and Hindi. We simply wrote what we had seen but Raghav's piece was read out to the entire class. Those lines are fresh in my mind even today. Above the mountains, clouds floating like soft and white cotton balls . . . the sun getting filtered through the trees . . . and the description of the rain was so vivid. The teacher praised Raghav's imagination and we got after his life saying he must have copied it from somewhere, that otherwise he couldn't have written so beautifully. When he kept saying no, for months we used to tease him by calling him Poet Raghav.
Today when I take my kids out I notice that they are immersed in their phones. If they are shown an old monument or scenic landscape, they say wow and start clicking or take a selfie with it to upload it on WhatsApp and Instagram. I don't have a problem with uploading pictures. I only wish this generation, instead of only watching this world through a frame and appreciating it only when they are within that frame, could immerse themselves in that world, like Raghav used to do.
Oh, I shouldn't forget to read the mail in my nostalgia. What is my friend saying? Yes! Only Raghav can do it. He doesn't need monetary help like I had thought. His organisation is working to clean the garbage from this world-especially from rivers, lakes, mountains-dumped by humans. All my friend wants is that we should spend a day or two in a month or a year to aid this effort of keeping the earth beautiful. I am feeling proud of my friend. Indeed nature has adorned this earth beautifully, to preserve which we first need to have an eye that sees and appreciates that beauty.

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Everyone should change a little

Pallavi came storming in and went straight to her father, "I am never going back there. Never. Got it?"
Father and mother exchanged glances and then Sanjeev put her arms around Pallavi and sat her down. "Fine. But tell us something at least. What happened? What's the problem? Did Adhiraj say or do something?" Knowing his daughter's temper, he found it wise to show that he was in agreement with her at the very start.
The daughter was really irked but she could not leave her parents' questions unanswered. "There are lots of problems, Papa. It's an everyday affair. Starting with the morning tea and ending with the dinner at night. One cannot go out to eat every day. We also cannot have a full-time maid in the flat. Our work schedule is such that there is no point calling someone to work after we come back from our offices. Adhi doesn't find it safe to give the house keys to anyone and I get so tired every day handling the work at home and outside."
After hearing everything the mother said, "What's new in all this, beta? This happens in each household. You got upset over such a small thing?" "Ma, this is not a trivial issue. And this does not happen in our home. You are a housewife and yet Papa often helps you in the kitchen. When Dada ji was unwell, Papa used to take care of him before he left for office. You used to prepare our lunch and Papa used to pack it. You would make tea and Papa would drop me to the school bus. On the other hand, I am a working woman. I earn as much as Adhi does and sometimes I have longer work hours. Still he would be watching TV while I am supposed to cook, lay the table and also clear up later. If I say something, he would answer, 'You do this job as your hobby. I never asked you to work. Quit.' Leave the job! I should leave the job and become his full-time maid. Right!"
Pallavi was really angry. This was not a good time to try to make her see reason. Malti and Sanjeev kept trying to humour her with small talk. Next day Malti found an opportunity to ask Pallavi, "You have informed Adhiraj that you are here?" "Why would he be worried? Don't worry, Ma. I have messaged him. You have taught me my manners." Pallavi spoke in a peeved tone. Her mother started talking slowly, "I am saying all this not to preach upon you but just to tell you. Though everyone needs to adjust with each other, it is particularly important for a couple. Even when they do not come from two different religions or castes, they do come from different families. Everyone's lifestyle, habits, etc., are different. Our society is still of a kind that expects daughters to be more cooperative and tolerant. It is necessary that with changing times people also raise their sons to be cooperative. But today people find it modern not to teach life lessons to their daughters as well. Do you remember Ayesha? She didn't even know how to make tea, boil eggs or make her bed. Forget her role as a wife or a daughter-in-law. If she lives independently as a working woman, how would she manage everything? You find your Papa very polite and helpful today but in the beginning he would call me even for a glass of water.
"Adhiraj has many faults but I am sure he doesn't question you about your lifestyle, your comings and goings, your way of dressing. Your father has been unable to give up this habit even today. It is just that the faults of those close to us become invisible to our eyes."
When she found Pallavi thinking, her mother started again, "I have invited Adhiraj to dinner. I will talk to him too, I'll tell him that it is not just the wife's responsibility to manage the house. I don't think that a solution cannot be found through talking. But you stay positive. We do adjust with our parents, siblings and friends, don't we? Remember your college roommate? The one who used to wake up early while you wanted to sleep till late. You two faced so many issues in the beginning but you did find a way out, right? You are still friends with her. So why is it bad in a married couple? You must understand that adjustment is not the same as compromise."
Pallavi nodded in agreement and started waiting for the evening.  

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Know your strengths but also your weaknesses

In the last days of June when I reached home after running here and there in the heat, I was still restless. I switched on the AC and came to bed but sleep eluded me. My mind was too active recalling the events that took place twenty-five years ago and I was soon lost in her memories. Her meaning Sangeeta's, who was my friend during schooldays. We are hardly in touch now but those days people would call us inseparable. But there was something else that was making me remember her so anxiously.
My daughter Sharmishtha has just passed out of class 12 and today I took her along to fill up college admission forms. When I saw Shagun there, I went and hugged her. She is a nice girl; she was senior to my daughter by a year in school. Both had worked together in a play and then I had met her several times. It was also reassuring to see her in the college. I thought she studied there and could tell us a little about the place. We were already tired after having filled up so many forms.
After having exchanged some pleasantries, I asked her, "Beta, do you study here? But isn't this vacation time? How come you are here at this time?" She spoke a bit sheepishly, "No, Aunty, I have also come here for admission." Sensing her hesitation, I could not ask anything else but my daughter couldn't keep quiet, "Di, you had taken break for a year, hadn't you?" She answered slowly, "No, Sharmo. I was preparing for PMT. Papa really wanted me to go into medical but since I could not clear it I am taking admission in graduation this year." Seeing her discomfort, I said, "That is not a problem, beta. Now take admission in the subject you like. When it becomes clear that the path we were walking on is not meant for us, we should start looking for new destinations. You have a lot of time. You have no reason to feel discouraged. People do not comprehend in years what you were able to grasp within a year itself."
Whether it was the reassurance she received from my words or her own anxiety to express herself, Shagun started sharing more, "I was never very good at science, Aunty. It was just Papa's insistence. I also went for coaching but I was not meant to clear the test and I didn't. It is not that I did not try. I worked hard but I am naturally inclined towards the arts and understand the stream better. Papa suggested I prepare for one more year but I had decided there was no point working for something for which I had no aptitude." Hearing her assertive words with a smile, I thought this generation is so mature if they can understand their capability, strengths and weaknesses, and interests so easily. I patted her on the back and left but memories of the past flooded my mind.
What has Sangeeta got to do with all this? I'll tell you. We were in the same school till class 10. We were friends as well as competitors who would occupy the first and second ranks. We also used to prepare together. Our marks were almost the same, but our interests were different. In those days, right after class 10 college used to start. There was little difference in our marks scored in class 10 exams. We could easily get admission in a reputed arts college. But for science one needed a higher percentage. Since I had to study arts anyway, I joined a good college in intermediate (arts) in Patna. But she wanted to opt for science, partly due to her own ambition and partly because of her family's. She took admission in an ordinary college and came to the same city for her medical coaching. We lived in two extremes of the same city but while I was moving ahead one class after another, she was still going for coaching classes. Many years passed but her preparation did not yield results.
I still remember my last meeting with her. After graduating, I had joined a famous university in Delhi for my master's. She had come to my hostel once, hoping she would be able to clear the exam if she took it in another city. In the five years that I was deciding the direction my career should take, she still had not been able to evaluate what her intellectual capacities were. That is why I felt satisfied today at Shagun's sensible decision, though I also felt wistful thinking of my talented friend who wasted her hard work because of her own obstinacy.

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My very own robot

"Radhika, beta, what's wrong? Why don't you want to go to school? You're our darling daughter, and such a good student, our dearest Radhika. Come on, let's get ready for school now."
Radhika does not budge. She keeps sitting. Staring into nothingness, she pets her dog. It seems Veetu is understanding the touch of her hands. Radhika doesn't seem herself. I feel crestfallen. She is our only child. We have so many expectations of her. If she turns indifferent to studies, what would become of the dreams we have been having for her for so many years, since even before she was born? I and her mother somehow get her ready and take her to school.
In school, we learn that Radhika's situation is even worse than it has been at home these past few days. Radhika's mother grows anxious. She wants to know about her daughter's problem right away. She would like to improve Radhika's mood in a jiffy. But the class teacher sits us down and explains. "Your daughter is not in a bad mood that will change if you take her to the mall in the evening. She has been hurt by something. We enquired in school. Nothing has happened here to cause this. Not just in her class but in the entire school this girl is among the best of our students. But for the past few days she has not been taking any interest either in studies or in any other activity, while just fifteen days back she had got the first prize in the inter-school debate and had been selected for the school's annual drama production. She should have been very happy and enthusiastic right now. Something must have happened at home or outside. It's good you two are here tomorrow or I would have asked you to come anyway. There is definitely something disturbing her that she is not telling us about."
Before I could say anything, Radhika's worried mother could not hold it in any longer, "It's all his doing. He was the one to have upset Radhika after she came back home the day she won the debate. He had still not let go of her last test results, when she had ranked second in class. He is the one to want a topper daughter. He is the one you should be talking to. When our daughter came back full of joy at having won the trophy, he said, "I can only be happy by your highest marks in all the subjects. These trophies and medals do not mean anything. If you have got them, keep them aside and concentrate on your studies."
I did not have the courage to lift my gaze. But the teacher spoke with maturity. "If every flower had wanted to be a rose, Mr Pandey, all the colours and all the other fragrances of this world would have never come into existence. The earth loves all its flowers. And each flower knows how to bloom in its own special way. If we shake a flower by its roots because it is not growing in the shape and colour we like, it will naturally dry up. Can the person doing this really be called a gardener? What is an achievement: to give birth, and our own dreams, to children, or to understand and nurture their dreams? We need to think about this, Mr Pandey. Consider this contemplation an exercise for your daughter's happiness."
Now we are returning home. Radhika's mother, I mean Champa, is physically present but doesn't seem to be with us at all. In fact, she had been absent all these years. I had reduced her only to 'Radhika's mother'. I hadn't let Champa be, hadn't let her develop her own thoughts. And now I am not letting Radhika do what she wants. Why am I bent upon converting everyone into robots controlled by me? Have I pushed things so far that it is now impossible for my daughter's happiness to be restored? No, the teacher was right. With patience and trust, we will soon have our old Radhika back.

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What do you want?

"What do you want? How long would this go on? We gave you all the conveniences of life. To take care of you, your mother quit her job two years back. Do you ever realise that worrying over you we spend sleepless nights?" Rajeev's initial calm tone was giving way to frustration while speaking to his son. Looking at Rajeev's temper, his son answered back, "If you and your wife have so many problems with me, why don't you throw me out?"
Earlier such language would make Rajeev see red. But he knew that was not the solution. On the contrary, it was the easiest way of making his son run away. He tried to rein in his anger, "What films like Wake Up Sid and Jawani Hai Diwani have taught you is not the reality of life. Your dreams are so filmy but you haven't been able to clear an exam in these three years." Rajeev did not enjoy taunting his son but he felt it was high time his son understood.
What had happened was seeing most of his friends opt for engineering, Daksh had declared that he wanted to do the same. Neena and Rajeev tried hard to reason with him. They would have liked, as most parents did, their son to study science. But they also wanted Daksh to be realistic about his capabilities. But who wants to listen to their parents these days? So now the situation was such that career counsellor Rajeev was unable to counsel his own son.
After her son failed in mathematics one year, Neena left her job and started staying at home and looking after him, which had now become a cause of irritation for him. Since last year, they had stopped saying anything harsh to him, thinking that it would change his behaviour in case he had been doing anything in reaction to what his parents said. But it seemed as if he was deliberately being stubborn.
It's fine being stubborn or doing things your way if you have achieved something in life. But here everything was at stake: time, energy and the future. Neena felt she was slowly becoming depressed. She would sit alone and keep feeling that if she had stopped him earlier her son would have become sensible in time. Stopped what? Everything.
As a child he would come with demands saying he wanted shoes like Sahil's, or that he wanted Addidas lowers because everyone in his group had them. Neena could just go on and on remembering all this. She had to take up a job because her son's demands had become so expensive that one person's salary wasn't enough to fulfil them. At that time she had felt that if his friends celebrated birthdays at McDonald's and he didn't, he would get inferiority complex. Even when Rajeev tried to be strict, Neena would stop him saying they had just one child. And when Rajeev refused to relent Neena would secretly do what Daksh had asked for.
Now she wished she had understood that all those were not mere demands. Daksh had started competing with his friends. Copying them in their choice of branded watches, shirts, bags and glasses, partying in hotels where they partied, Daksh was ultimately unable to create his own identity. He only did what his friends did. His own, individual, original thoughts never got formed. He didn't reach his own decisions but just followed those taken by others. 
Was only Daksh to be blamed for this? Could Neena curse his friends and shirk her own responsibility? She too had never asked her son why he wanted something. Because he needed it or because everyone else had it or because he had to flaunt it?

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Ma's perspective

"If I don't live in this house, nobody pays attention to God. I was out for two days and look at what has become of the temple. These people don't even have the time to offer to the gods the flowers delivered by the flower seller. Everybody has become a non-believer and irreligious." Dadaji had started mumbling right in the morning. He had spent a week at Uncle's place and started all this as soon as he got home. Who knows what joy he got in worshipping and ringing the temple bell. "He catches hold of us everyday and lectures us," Mehul went to his mother in the kitchen and started complaining. Then Aarti gently told him that one shouldn't think this way of elders. "Dadaji is old and has orthodox views. This has become his way of doing things. We cannot change him but what we can do is to make ourselves more accepting of him."
Sitting in his school bus, today Mehul could not get busy talking to his friends. He kept thinking of how his mother is able to adjust so much. He gets irritated with such behaviour coming from his father or grandfather. But his mother bears everything with a smile. It is not like she accepts wrong things too. But she doesn't show any disrespect. He started feeling proud of his mother, as he should. She handles both the household and her work outside. Taking care of everyone, she had taught how to differentiate between right and wrong; she had shown how to lead one's life, in the true sense of the term.
Dadaji went to Chachu's place two days back because he was upset with Ma. Two days were enough for him to realise that nobody else anywhere could put up with his eccentricities every day. And when he came back Ma received him so well. He doesn't like thinking of Dadaji this way. But Dadaji's actions force him to. God knows which religious texts he consults every day to declare each day as a day of observing fast. In the beginning when he came to stay with them and asked Ma to follow these fasts, she refused. Dadaji was furious but Papa did not budge. Mehul remembers his father's words, "Because of these silly fasts, my mother died an untimely death, Babuji. Now all this will not take place in my house." After that Dadaji could not say anything.
Mehul's mother is a doctor. She doesn't have any time for these things. It's enough if, along with her patients, she can also take care of her house, spouse and kid. After doing a job in the city hospital, she doesn't have any energy left for private practice, like most of her colleagues do. Dadaji had a problem with this too. First he started the conversation subtly, "Bahu is such a famous doctor. Each patient wants to be treated by her. Why doesn't she open her own clinic?" When she said that she doesn't get time after her hospital duty and that her son is in class 11, and that it is not possible to look after both the house and the clinic, he suggested, "Where is the need to be in the hospital for so long?" Mehul thought that his Dadaji keeps chanting God's name all day but was teaching dishonesty in work. Ma only said, "It's my job, Babuji. I get paid for it. If you say I could leave my job and just do private practice." At that there was silence.
After that, Dadaji started picking faults in everything Ma did. For many days he was on hunger strike because he had a problem with the caste of those employed as domestic help. Ma did not replace the help but Dadaji's meals became her responsibility. Ma was also right in saying that she couldn't fire anyone on this ground when she had not asked about their caste while hiring them, and that at the same time she also did not wish to cause any trouble to Dadaji. In such situations, she has to bear the brunt of everything and, along with Papa, Mehul feels peeved.
The recent incident is the most remarkable. There was a train accident near the city. All doctors of the government hospital went to treat the injured. At such times, Ma would completely forget the house. Seven year old Mini's parents, paternal and maternal grandparents, and Mama-Mami, all got killed in the accident. The entire family had been coming back together after a religious trip to Vaishno Devi. Somehow Mini survived but was in terrible shock. Dadaji created an uproar upon seeing her. He had strict objections to keeping a stranger in the house whose caste, community, family name could not be ascertained. With all due respect, Ma clarified to him that she was going to legally adopt the girl as her daughter. Mini had no intention of letting go of Ma's hand, that she had held first in her dazed state.
"Bhaiyya, we have reached the school. Won't you help me off the bus?" When Mini shook him by the hand, Mehul came out of his reverie and holding Mini's finger started helping her get down.

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Challenges time and again

Neerja didn't have a father. Ma had raised her somehow. Her uncle and aunt had given her and her mother refuge in their house. She was good at studies. In those days, while studying in a government school, she got 82 per cent marks in her class 10 exams. It got her admitted into a good school in town with a fee waiver. She opted for science; she really wanted to go into the medical profession. Possibly she could have cleared the entrance as well but her uncle said a clear no. His point was he could not both educate her and get her married. He was also against girls studying 'too much' and working outside. He was, in fact, against most things. Lost in thought, Neerja's mouth filled with bitterness. Whether it was about her or his own two daughters, he was against their laughing loudly, wearing anything other than salwar-kurtas or going to the marketplace. When Neerja grew sad and missed her father, she thought Malti Didi and Aarti still had their father, her uncle. But who knows why they couldn't question him? Had Neerja got a daughter's claims upon him, she would have definitely asked about the reasoning behind making dumb dolls of one's daughters.
When just two years after class 12 she was married, she decided she would certainly have a daughter and with her help she would realise her unfulfilled dreams. Luckily she found a cooperative spouse and she started living her life her way. First she had a girl, and then a boy. She raised her daughter too like a son. At times relatives or neighbours would try to stop her or tell her how she was spoiling her daughter. She would then lecture them on how there is no difference between a boy and a girl, and how girls these days are doing everything. After a few days, she even stopped responding to their comments. Her Parul was really sharp like her mother and, since her childhood, dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today she is the most renowned doctor in town.
But if Neerja has been forced to think and rethink so much today it is not because of her daughter but due to her son. Yes, her own son Pradyumn has forced her to contemplate a lot today. Her son first did engineering and after his MBA worked in a good firm. Earlier in Bangalore, now he is in Delhi itself. When he comes back on time, he talks of his friends, his office. Neerja has never heard him talk so much. Perhaps she became too preoccupied thinking about the children's careers, looking after the household and taking care of her daughter. Every now and then her son would say things that would surprise her.
A week back he came home irked. It seemed he had got someone new as his boss. It was a woman. Full of irritation, he had said, "They get hired just on the basis of their looks. Their 'top floor' remains vacant. She doesn't even know how to work and I should be reporting to her!" Neerja was stunned. What was the reason behing her son's irritability? That a woman was her boss or that she was inefficient? Why was he talking of all girls in this prejudiced manner? One night when she was going to keep a bottle of water in his room, she overheard him speaking to a friend, "You don't know. All of them are like this. They think that by wearing short dresses they would be able to trap all guys."
Another evening his marriage was being discussed. He declared, "I don't want a girl with a job. Then she would argue about doing the housework. Though cooking, housework and taking care of family members are a woman's job, today's career-oriented women don't do all this." Neerja interrupted him, "Your sister is also a working woman." Her son laughed dismissively, "Precisely. Have you seen how Jeejaji is doing the dishes all the time? His father remarked, "That's a good thing. Both are doctors and also share the housework." Pat came his son's answer, "This is precisely what I do not want. Like you used to be in a job and Ma used to do all the housework, I too want a similar wife." Both parents were astonished to know their son's thoughts.
Since that conversation, Neerja has been thinking that she raised her daughter with a modern outlook but ended up making her son like her uncle. Because she could not inculcate in him the rational thinking that men and women are equal. Is her son of the orthodox, unscientific thinking that he is superior simply by virtue of being a man? How could a mother correct this fault in her upbringing?

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The joy of festivals

Ashish took along Naksh, Rili and Maira to show them Id festivities in Hazratganj. The children enjoyed themselves a lot but while returning they had these questions, "Tell us, Baba. When Aadi, Somil, Shravan, Ayushi didn't come to celebrate Id, why did we?" He tried to evade the question, "Why? Didn't you have a good time?" "Of course. We had a lot of fun. But then we usually go around town on Diwali, while Parvez, Sahila and Usman go out on Id." Naksh, the eldest of the lot, spoke up, "That's not true. We equally enjoy both Diwali and Id. Both are the festivals of our society, our country. The real way to celebrate them is when everyone gets together."
The kids got their answer but after he got back home Ashish was reminded of an incident from his own childhood. Then he used to stay in his village home Motihari, not in Lucknow. While he was in class 9 or 10, he had started to cycle to his mama's (uncle's) place. He too lived in Motihari, about fifteen-sixteen kilometres away from where Ashish did. That day his school as been closed because of Id. He got ready in the morning in his red kurta-pyjamas longing for his Nani's sewaiyan and started towards their place on his bicycle.
Id was not celebrated in his school or colony. The people who celebrated Id did not live there. But Nani would be sure to prepare sweet sewaiyan on the occasion. Dadi even used to taunt Ashish's mom that her mother celebrated the festival of the Mlecchas. Then she would add, "I guess she can't do much. Everyone around there is like that." As a child he did not pay much attention to this, but he learnt that Mlecchas are others, that they are different. His Dadaji was a well known priest in the area. So Ashish did not care much about others. But since childhood he had learned to stay away from 'them'.
Still, to be bound by Dada-Dadi's discipline was one thing and to give in to Nani's pampering was another. In that spirit, he had been cycling fast to reach his grandmother's place. As he had been leaving home, his mother had also put on a nice little cap on his head. A little before the turn for his Nani's house, a boy suddenly came in front of his cycle panting and stopped him, "Bhai, would you please take me along? I was left behind and now I am late. Please take me along." Ashish asked, "Where? Where should I take you?" "You are going to Chand Bibi's mosque for the namaz, right?"
Then it dawned on Ashish that his red kurta-pyjamas and his new cap had given the boy to understand that Ashish was a namazi. He was was caught in the dilemma of what to tell the boy, what to do. The boy asked, "What happened? Should I cycle?" His voice had the ring of enthusiasm and the joy of Id that had come after Ramzan. Ashish felt that any explanation would only disappoint the boy.
In a few minutes, Ashish had left his Nani's street behind and was cycling to cover the six kilometre distance to the mosque. Upon reaching, the boy jumped off and said, "Wow. Because of you I also reached in time. Come on, let's wash our hands and faces and go." Ashish said, "You go on. I'll park the cycle and come." The boy went one way and Ashish, looking at the Id festivities, started cycling back fast to reach his Nani and his share of the sewaiyan.
Ashish wonders till this day. Why could he not refuse the boy, "No. I don't want to go to your mosque." At least after he had dropped him off to the place of worship, Ashish could have said that he doesn't want to read namaz. Probably he didn't want to dampen the boy's enthusiasm; probably he too carried the joy of the festival in his heart.

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The Bigger Picture

As soon as her brother came back home, he summoned Suman. Nobody knew what had happened but as soon as Suman came he slapped her. The mother came rushing and confronted her son, "What's the matter? How can you hit your sister? Talk to me and tell me what has occurred." Her son answered angrily, "Go on. Get her more mobile phones. Didn't I always say that it was not a good idea for girls to have mobiles? But you felt that your college-going daughter needed a phone for her safety. Now let's see how you manage to save your ruined honour."
Ma got Rajesh to sit down next to her, "Will you start with telling me what happened?" Rajesh said that his friend had showed him WhatsApp pictures of Rajesh's sister today, sent to him by someone else. It was a strange picture and the group in which it had been sent was not considered decent. Rajesh lost it when he saw Suman's photo in that group and assumed that his sister secretly talked to some guy who must have sent her pictures forward. The strange part was that his sister never wore the kind of clothes she had been wearing in the picture. In his fury, Rajesh concluded that Suman must have been wearing these clothes in secrecy and going out on the pretext of going to college.
Jhansi is a small town and its inhabitants are the kind typically found in small towns: simple minded but holding girls responsible for such incidents. Suman was fortunate that her mother was sensible. She called Suman, "Don't be afraid and tell me truthfully if you have been meeting some guy or if you like someone." Suman sobbed, "Ma, I go to college and then I come home." Her brother fumed, "Then how do guys have your picture?" His mother asked him to shut up. Suman continued in a grieved tone, "I don't even have a camera or the Internet on my phone. I can only use it to call or send messages. There is nothing in it that can be used to click or send pictures." Perhaps her sister's tone calmed Rajesh down a bit and he asked for her phone. He too could see that this old model had no such features as provided in his new Android phone. This complicated the mystery of Suman's photographs further.
Ma suggested asking Mala Mausi, who lived in Delhi, about what to do. Rajesh felt embarrassed talking to her but Ma wasn't able to explain well so he somehow described everything to Mausi. She told them that someone must have used Suman's photo to superimpose it on another picture and send it to the wrong kind of people. This matter would be resolved by reporting it to the cyber cell, Mausi advised. In two days the cyber cell had found out things. The information that came out left the family astonished.
The photo had been sent from a girl's phone and eventually got forwarded to many people. Suman was asked about the girl and it turned out she was her classmate. Once she had asked Suman to get her attendance marked when the girl had been absent. Suman had refused to do this unethical job. Another time she had asked Suman for notes and Suman had said that at times she should make her own notes as well. After that, they had almost stopped talking to each other. When she looked at the picture repeatedly, Suman remembered that in the initial days of college it had been the girl's birthday. Everyone had given her presents and she had clicked the photographs of her friends. Probably this photo had been taken then. But Suman had never dreamt that the girl would be using the picture in this way.
The cyber cell officer was a woman. She was also in a dilemma as to what action to take. Was this technology, which had entered each household, actually a dangerous weapon in the hands of those who did not know how to use it in the right way? Due to minor disagreements, people were using it settle scores by mentally harassing others or hurting their social image. If the girl's mother had not been a reasonable person, what would the brother, who did not understand this web of technology, have done to his sister?

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The meaning of greatness..

Ma asked Shikar the reason for his enthusiasm when he returned form school. The reason was that in his school's annual festival Devika Menon was going to come. Ma was also pleased to hear this. Devika Menon is a well known painter of the country and her paintings have a big demand internationally too. Shikhar was especially happy because he was known as the best painter in school. He has won many national and international level painting competitions for his school. He did fine at studies too, but he was finally going to have a career in the field of arts and his parents had also accepted that.
As the festival date drew closer, Shikar grew more anxious. On his teacher's advice he had worked hard on a special painting to present the chief guest. The principal was also very happy with the work. Shikhar was confident that Devika ji would be very glad to see his painting. He wanted that many of his works should be put up in the art room. Maybe Devika ji would be so impressed that she would ask Shikhar to work with her in her studio. With these thoughts Shikhar was in seventh heaven.
Then the big day came. Shikhar got ready and left early in the morning . Parents were supposed to come later to see the festival and the decoration. When they reached, the chief guest had seen the school and was giving prizes to selected students. Then she was going to address the children. From a distance Shikhar's mother could see that he was holding the same painting that had he had worked on for so many days to present to Devika ji. When he got on the stage to receive his prize, first he extended his present towards Devika ji. But surprisingly Devika ji did not even take the painting in her hands. Her secretary took it while Devika ji gave the prize and started looking towards the next student. Ma saw her disappointed son coming back.
Till the programme continued, everyone sat quietly. Late in the evening when they started to return Seema tired to distract her son who had been completely silent all this while, "What happened, beta? Why are you so quiet?" Shikhar became tearful, "Ma, I did not like the chief guest." Papa, while driving, asked, "Why? What happened?" Shikhar said, "Ma, you know how hard I had prepared for this day. Principal Ma'am also put four of my works in the art room and saw them repeatedly herself. I had even made a gift for her. And not just me but all the art students and teachers were happy that if such a well known artist would come she would talk to us, see our hard work and at least give some suggestions if not praise. Last year's Minister Uncle was better who at least saw our work and patted our backs."
To improve her son's mood, Seema joked, "What did Devika ji do that you are so unhappy with her? Because she didn't praise you?" Shikhar was quick to respond, "Praise and from her? She first needed to see our work. But she was busy all the time on her phone or in talking to Principal Ma'am. The rest of the time she was talking to her student who had come with her. She hardly saw our art room. Just quickly said, 'Great work', to Principal Ma'am and left. She didn't ask any question of any student, didn't see any pot or painting carefully. It was tough to say that she is an artist herself." Shikar seemed full of criticism.
His father asked. "Then why did you gift your painting?" Shikhar's answer was, "Because Sir said so. But she did not even touch it. I can't tell you how bad I felt." Shikhar's parents had no words to console him. They were thinking if someone does not have generosity of heart, then their being a big name does not matter. If Devika ji had given some importance to the students and had at least seen their works, had spoken a few words to them and blessed them, her greatness would have been forever remembered by the students. To reach great heights does not mean that you should grow distanced from everyone.  

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A restless evening

After Rohan left, Mr Das was visited by old memories. Two years ago he had joined this reputed institution as a teacher of mathematics. It was then that Rohan had rejoined the school in class 11. Though his score in class 10 had been pretty low, his parents had insisted that he should be admitted to the science section. As the class teacher of that section, Mr Das had been more surprised than upset over this. The staffroom whispers had told him that Rohan's father was considered an influential figure in town. He had also granted many favours to the school principal. The question of saying no to him simply did not arise. The difficult part was that Rohan was well aware of all this. The fact that he had gained this knowledge too soon in life made him indisciplined and ill-mannered. 
Mr Das's well-wishing colleagues did their best to make him see reason, or rather, fear. "Let Rohan do what he wants. Don't check him. Whether he studies or not, passes or not, it's none of your business. Even Rohan's father has not made it his business. If you interfere, you will only be humiliated. You are a decent man but everyone else chooses to stay out of this affair." After listening to all this unsolicited advice, Mr Das started wondering about how things will be, as he proceeded towards his first class. No, he thought, Rohan too is one of his students. People tend to exaggerate things. They have drawn an exaggerated picture of a fifteen-sixteen year old young boy, Mr Das reasoned with himself.
As he entered the class, Mr Das spotted a slim, fair boy surrounded by everyone. The shirt of his uniform was hanging loosely over his pants instead of being tucked in and his tie had been thrown over a desk. When those standing around him saw Mr Das, they started walking towards their desks. The girls and boys who had been sitting stood up in greeting but the boy kept sitting the same way insolently, with his legs spread out. Mr Das asked everyone to sit and asked for their introductions. When it was the boy's turn to speak, he responded mockingly, "Don't you know it by now? Someone please tell him my name." The classroom rang with laughter. Mr Das got up and took a few steps towards him. Rohan challenged him again, "Oh, it looks like I have made you angry!" The students sitting around him giggled again. Rohan said, "All right. I'll do you a favour and tell you. My name is Rohan." 
Mr Das had reached Rohan's desk by then. "Your name is quite fine, Rohan beta, but you don't seem to be. Go to the washroom and fix your appearance. You're in the classroom, not in the marketplace. Also, remember to get your hair cut short before you come to class tomorrow or I know how to play the barber." For a moment Rohan looked shamefaced. Nobody else had talked to him this way. By the time he could regain his senses, the situation had slipped out of his control.
Thereafter every day Mr Das would try to lovingly change or discipline him. Rohan's rudeness too kept on increasing. Other students, even his flatterers, started remarking in hushed voices that Rohan should not misbehave in response to Mr Das's affection. People kept trying to make Rohan mend his ways, and his irritation grew in proportion. He had been used to people's indifference and fear, not to concern and love. He could not fathom how Mr Das could go on tolerating such bad behaviour from him. 
One day Rohan overheard it himself. The English teacher was explaining to Mr Das in the verandah, "A dog's tail would always remain crooked. You are getting yourself and all of us insulted in vain." Mr Das replied, "A child is not a dog's tail. And if the teachers had done