These are 42 timeless tales of inspiring wisdom. They are stories of life, love and learning. They open our heart, rekindle our spirits and buoy our emotions. They are a tribute to life and humanity. Many stories will leave the reader with a feeling of tenderness and a moistness in the eye.
The Mountain Trail is the inspiring story of a blind boy who feels he is no good. Then one day in 1857, as the British launch a fierce attack on the troops of Tantia Tope, this little boy, unmindful of the risks, leads the forces of the latter up a hill. This changes the course of the battle.
I’ll Always Be There, Run, Pammi, Run, No Greater Friendship, Two War Heroes, and many other’s are stories of courage, love and compassion. The Cripple Who Became a Champion and Overcoming Difficulties are stories of people with no hope; yet by sheer hard work and perseverance, they achieve what they sought. Man at His Best exemplifies the spirit of this book- Man is basically good.
With topics ranging from the emotional to bravery, these heart warming stories invite you to enjoy the book in whatever way you feel most comforting and appealing…. These stories will make you realize that in your life, there is always room for more love, more sharing, more wisdom, more inspiration and of course more Mountain Trails.
This is the inspiring story of a blind boy who feels he is no good. He lived in a small world of herding his father's goats. Then one day in 1857, his father and elder brother leave to join the troops of Tantia Tope ( one of the Indian leaders who is fighting the British rulers). As the boy feels sad, forlorn and helpless, a quirk of fate brings him face to face with Tantia Tope, the leader of the Indian army. As a herdsman, he leads the troops of the latter up a hill. This changes the course of the battle.
In reality this battle took place in 1857 near Jhansi, a small town of Uttar Pradesh. I spent my childhood in Jhansi and there was a hill opposite our house. A poor blind boy lived in our outhouse and was my great friend. He played the flute beautifully. This story was inspired by this childhood friendship.. -Author
Sukhram Lodhi sat leaning against a rock, his turban over his eyes, the warmth of the sun on his bare feet. His feet told him where he was. They knew the feel of the sand and the stones, and the different kinds of grass.
To his right a bird twittered. It seemed to Sukhram that he knew what it was saying. Because he was blind, the birds and beasts let him into their world, made him a party in it. He never spoke of this except to his brother Rajbir and his grandfather Shivpriya Chauhan. They never laughed at him for his fancies.
Sukhram was fourteen and he knew that people were sorry for him. But he thought, if only they could guess how beautiful his world was, they would envy him. Most people did not know about the little rustlings in the grass. They did not know the feel of things, round things like eggs, and water-worm stones, rough things like rocks, or of leather, or of skins. They did not know anything about smells. They went through life with blind noses.
Sukhram spent his time herding his father’s hundred goats. He knew them by the sound of their cloven hoofs on the stones by their smell. It was easy to herd goats. When Sukhram called,they came. When he played the flute, they followed him over his father’s fields and hills’ beyond.
There was less heat in the sun now. It was time to go. Sukhram got out his flute, raised it to his lips, and blew a note softly. He could feel a movement about him. The goats had raised their heads and were looking towards him. He blew again. The goats were all about him. Now he would play them down the mountain and into the shelter, and tomorrow he would lead them out again. It was a happy life.
But while he had been on the mountain that day Rani Lakshmi Bai, the queen of Jhansi, declared war on the English and was joined by the indomitable Tantia Tope. He found his father and Rajbir saddling their horses. They kissed him goodbye, their rifles pressing into his chest as they held him.
As the sound of hoofs faded into the distance, he felt his mother beside him. She put her armabout him. “What will we do now, amma?” he asked.
“We are going son. We are going to your grandfather.”
“But it will be dark there. I do not know those fields and how shall I graze my father’s goats in a strange place where it’s dark?” For the first time he knew what it was to be blind.
In the morning the horses were hitched to the wagon, and the loose, cattle and goats were collected for the fifteen kilometer trek. “Come Sukhram,” his mother said. “We are ready.”
He had a long parcel wrapped in sacking. “I ambringing my brother’s other rifle,” he said. “They say my eyes are clear and black. If anything happened to us, you could stand me right with the gun in my hand, and no one would know.”
Sukhram got up beside his mother. Suddenly he said,” I am nothing amma. I am going to a strange place that my feet do not know, and I am nothing.” As the wheels turned, he knew this more than ever.
Later he asked: “Tell me what you see amma? Can you still see the mountain where I used to graze my goats?”
When they reached there, his grandfather had gone—everyone, all the old men and the boys as well. Sukhram alone was left. There was nothing to do but wait.
Day after day it was the same, never any news. Sukhram was finding his way about his grandfather’s farm better now, but it was not home. He did not belong here.
One day some soldiers passed, tired men on tired horses. Sukhram listened. The shuffling of the horses, the sweaty smell of men, told him all that he needed to know.
“Have you seen my father or my brother?” he asked.
“Who are you?”
“I am Sukhram Lodhi,” he said. “I am blind. My father is with Tantia Tope’s army.”
“We are joining Tantia Tope. We will tell him we have seen you.”
Shortly he heard more horses coming. But these were not the horses of his people. They were heavier and were not being ridden loose reined.
He could hear the jingling of chains, the strike of metal on metal. These were English. They must be in pursuit of the tired men who had passed him earlier.
“Have you seen some soldiers pass, boy?” It was the man on the nearest horse, no doubt the officer in command.
“I have been out all day,” Sukhram replied. “I have seen nothing.”
“You’ll get nothing out of that, boy,” another man said, “but they came this way all right and have gone towards the hills. They can’t be far away. Their horses are tired.”
Yes, their horses were tired Sukhram thought, but it was strange that these men could not see where the soldiers had gone, when he could feel their spoor with his feet, when the dung of the horses was still warm and dustless.
“Come on then,” the officer said,” “They can’t be far.”
The soldiers swirled past Sukhram. There were, as far as he could make out, some thirty of them. But if there was one troop of English cavalry, there would be more, He strained his ears, waiting. It would come soon.
It came, a single shot. Three more, singly---those were his people. The English did not shoot like that. They did not fight like his folk, in small bodies. Their shots were faster now. They were fighting a running action towards the mountain. He began to be afraid for Rajbir and his father.
He made his way back slowly.
“Did you see the English?” his mother asked.
“Yes, I saw them, amma, he said. “They spoke to me. They were following some soldiers that were going to join Tantia Tope. Father and Rajbir are there.”
“I wish we had news,” his mother said.
“Yes amma, it is hard to live without news. It is hard also to be a man and to be here. Today I was ashamed. First to face our folk and then to face the English. I told our people but I did not tell the English. They did not know that I could not see. Oh amma, is there nothing I can do?”
That night Sukhram could not sleep. It seemed as if by not sleeping, by suffering, by thinking, he could help the others. So he built up a battle in his head-----by the feel of the sweating necks, imagining of horses, by the smell of men like those who had passed that day, by the sound of rifle bolts, the reek of exploding cordite, the crackle of shots, the sound of hoofs, and the rattle of claims. Suddenly he sprang up . “Amma, amma” he shouted. “I have had a dream. It is my brother on horse back. He is riding hard.” He ran to his mother. He felt her sitting up in bed. “The gun”, he said, “Get me the gun!”
She pushed the rifle into his hand. He opened the bolt and closed it. The cartridge slid into the breech. He found the door and opened it. The approaching horse had not slowed down.
“Light the lamp, Sukhram said. “Then come and stand beside me.”
He stood in the middle of the doorway. His bare feet gripped the stone floor. His gun was held across him, ready to raise.
“Stop or I shoot”, he shouted. ‘It is Rajbir’s horse, but it might not be Rajbir’, he thought.
“Sukhram---Sukhram , what are you doing with the gun?” It was Rajbir.
“What is it, Rajbir?” his mother asked.
“Amma, I have no time to explain. I have come to fetch Sukhram. Tantia Tope needs him.”
“Tantia Tope? You are taking Sukhram to the war? What can Sukhram do?”
“Yes. What can I do?” Sukhram asked.
“I’ll tell you on way. Come here.”
Sukhram went towards the horse and felt for his brother’s leg. He held the stirrup with one hand and put his foot into it. His brother had his left hand. He was up.
“Hold fast, Sukhram. We are going to ride.”
He had hardly got hold of his brother’s waist when the horse was off. They were galloping. It began to rain. Where were they going? What was he to do? What use could he be to Tantia Tope.
The ground grew rougher. There were loose stones. Suddenly he sat up straighter. He could smell the mountain, his mountain………
“We are nearly there,” Rajbir said. He pulled up. “I am back,” Rajbir shouted. Sukhram felt his brother’s arms around him. He lifted him down.
“Is Sukhram there?” It was his father’s voice.
“I am here f ather. Brother has brought me.”
“Where’s the boy?” It was Tantia Tope.
“We are here,” Rajbir said. “Explain what you want of him. I have said nothing.”
“Listen, Sukhram,” Tantia Tope said. “We are a hundred men. The English are to the north and a big commando is driving them back. The English do not know we are here and are retreating towards the river crossing that we are holding.”
“I understand,” Sukhram said. “They will be caught between two fires.”
“Yes,” said Tantia Tope. “But something has gone wrong. A force of English has got to the top of the mountain by another way. We command the crossing but they command us. We are going to attack them tonight but there is only one path from this side. It is very small, a goat track, and the night is so dark that we can do nothing. Your brother said you could lead us up the mountain.”
“Me. Lead Tantia Tope’s army?”
“Yes, you, Sukhram,” his brother said. “You know the path.”
“Yes, I know the path.” Of course. Had he not been up it almost every day of his life?”
They set his feet on the path where it began. His father was behind him; then came Rajbir, and then the others, a long life of men on his goat trail, all following him up his mountain. He was leading the soldiers.
His feet knew each stone and root, each bend, each rock. He recognized the scents of the mountain, the trees, the little breezes, the small eddies of air----here it was warmer, there it was colder.
“This is a trail for goats,” his father whispered. “I never knew you came up here. I would never have let you come. If you slipped…"
“I’ll not slip. It is my mountain trail.”
He laughed to himself. Perhaps it was as well it was dark. Had there been more light, perhaps the men would not have climbed. But they could not see. Among them all, because he was blind, only Sukhram Lodhi could see.
“We are nearly there father,” he said as he came to the face of a cliff. He felt for a finger hold in the wet rock and command to climb. Soon he and his father were on the top. Man after man passed, breathing heavily. There had been no challenge. Tantai Tope whispered instructions. The men spread out.
Sukhram’s father pushed him behind a big stone. “Stay there, Sukhram. We’ll come back for you.”
He must wait now. He could feel them leaving him------feel them creeping towards a camp of sleeping men.
There was a shout and then another. Then everyone was shouting and shooting. There were cries from the wounded. Shots and more shots, a hoarse cheer from Tantia Tope’s men and the shout: “They are running!”
There was a terrific burst of fire. Sukhram could smell burning cordite. A single shot and then nothing till he heard his father call him. “Sukhram, are you there?”
“I am here.”
Someone took his hand. It was Tantai Tope. “I want to thank you,” he said. “Without you this could not have been done, and had it been a fair night, I do not think it could have been done. I do not think we would have faced that climb had we been able to see.”
They were all around him now, pressing against him and taking his hand. They had tears in their eyes. “If it had not been for you…”
“They will make songs of this,” an old man said. “Ballads of Sukhram Lodhi in our local ‘bundeli’ dialect. It was the will of God that you should lead us up the mountain trail.”
Yes, it must have been the will of God that had guided his feet in unaccustomed places, for he had never been up to the top of the mountain before. His goats had been----he knew that, for he could feel their foothold in the rocks. But Sukhram had never been. He had never dared. Not to the top.
I’ll Always Be There
In 1989, an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes.
In the midst of utter devastation and chaos, a father left his wife securely at home and rushed to the school where his son was supposed to be, only to discover that the building was as flat as a steel plate.
After the traumatic initial shock, he remembered the promise he had made to his son : “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!” And tears began to fill his eyes. As he looked at the pile of debris that once was the school, it looked hopeless but he kept remembering his commitment to his son.
He began to concentrate on where he walked his son to class at school each morning. Remembering his son’s classroom would be in the back right corner of the building, he rushed there and started digging through the rubble.
As he was digging, other forlorn parents arrived, clutching their hearts, saying : “My son! My daughter!”. Other well meaning parents tried to pull him off of what was left of the school saying :
“It’s too late!”
“You can’t help!”
“Come on, face reality, there’s nothing you can do!”
“You’re just going to make things worse!”
To each parent he responded with one line : “Are you going to help me now ?” And then he proceeded to dig for his son, stone by stone.
The fire chief showed up and tried to pull him away from the school’s debris saying, “Fires are breaking out, explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. We’ll take care of it. Go home.” To which this loving, caring Armenian father asked, “Are you going to help me now?”
The police came and said, “You’re angry, distraught and it’s over. You’re endangering others. Go home. We’ll handle it!” To which he replied, “Are you going to help me now?” No one helped.
Courageously he proceeded alone because he needed to know for himself : “Is my boy alive or is he dead?”
He dug for eight hours... 12 hours... 24 hours... 36 hours... then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He screamed his son’s name, “ARMAND!” He heard back, “Dad? It’s me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you’d save me and when you saved me, they’d be saved. You promised, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you!’ You did it, Dad!”.
“What’s going on in there? How is it?” the father asked.
“There are 14 of us left out of 33, Dad. We’re scared, hungry, thirsty and thankful you’re here. When the building collapsed, it made a wedge, like a triangle, and it saved us.”
“Come on out, boy !”
“No, Dad! Let the other kids out first, because I know you’ll get me! No matter what, I know you’ll always be there for me!"
Roses of Gratitude
Ajay Prasad flushed. Why was his teacher looking at him, her lips pursed in dissatisfaction?
Ajay who was ten, worshipped Mrs. Kumar—a tall, slender woman whose face normally wore a serene smile. He had felt this way ever since, in front of the whole class, she had tousled his hair and told him he knew the answer; he must simply think. Beet red but grinning, Ajay had thought hard—and solved the problem. From then on, pleasing her was the most important thing in his life. Now, what had happened? Where had he gone wrong?
At home after school, Ajay studied his reflection in the mirror for a clue to Mrs. Kumar’s disapproval. His ragged clothes and worn out tennis shoes—hardly sufficient to shield him from the cold—were not his fault. It was the winter of 1953 at Lucknow.
Ajay Prasad’s father worked as a foreman in an iron foundry until 1950 when the factory closed and he was laid off. While his father searched for work, his mother worked as a part-time domestic servant. The family, then with four children, lived in an old three-room house. The rats that scrabbled in the dark, decaying floors terrified Ajay.
Mrs. Kumar couldn’t know about the rats, could she? Ajay was mystified. He was a good student, and had done well for someone who spoke no English until he started going to school. That night, as he huddled under his covers, Ajay decided he would ask his teacher what was wrong.
But the next morning, Ajay’s resolve melted like an icicle in sunshine. At noon, as he was about to go home, Mrs. Kumar suddenly appeared beside him in the verandah of the school. “Come with me, Ajay.” Ajay followed, thinking they were going to the Principal’s office.
Mrs. Kumar walked briskly out of the school, and strode into a shoe shop with Ajay right behind her. “Sit down,” she told him.
“Have you got a pair of shoes to fit this little boy?” she asked. The salesman took off his tattered tennis shoes and measured his feet. He found a pair of shoes that fitted Ajay perfectly.
Outside, their purchase in a cardboard box, Ajay started back towards school. Without a word, Mrs. Kumar turned around in the other direction, again leaving him no choice but to follow. They entered a clothing store. Now Mrs. Kumar bought him a shirt and shorts. Ajay gaped at the notes she used to pay for them—it was more money than he had ever seen. They took the purchases and went back to school where Mrs. Kumar got two cups of tea for Ajay and herself.
As they sat in the staff room, Ajay tried to find words to express his thanks. But Mrs. Kumar’s quick gulps and hurried manner told him there was little time for talk. “We must go, Ajay,” she said. In her smile he again saw the serenity he treasured.
I will never forget this, Ajay Prasad said to himself as he watched her saree flutter as she left.
Soon after, the school was closed; its pupils and teachers were scattered. Ajay lost track of his beloved teacher before he had ever found the right moment to thank her.
In time Ajay Prasad finished school and became an engineer. He married and fathered two boys.
Then, in early 1991, Ajay suffered a massive heart attack. Lying in a hospital bed, he recalled his teacher of long ago.
He wondered if she was still alive, and if so, where she lived. He thought of his promise, and knew he had some unfinished business to tend.
In August 1991, Ajay Prasad wrote to his old school. A few days later he got a letter from Mrs. Kumar’s son. His mother and father had retired fifteen years ago and moved to Dehradun. He gave Ajay their telephone number.
“Hello?” He recognized the lilting voice of his former teacher.
“Mrs. Kumar, this is Ajay.” He found he had trouble speaking. “Ajay Prasad.”
After he told her why he was calling, Sheila Kumar said, “Ajay, I am sorry. I don’t remember you. There were so many hungry, ill-clothed children....”
“That’s okay,” he assured her. He told her he was coming to Dehradun to meet her.
“Oh Ajay,” Mrs. Kumar said. “That’s too much trouble.”
“I don’t care,” Ajay said. “I want to do it.”
She was silent for a moment. “You visualize me the way I looked then. I’m old and wrinkled now.”
“I’m not young either,” he said.
“Are you absolutely certain you want to come?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
On September twenty three, Ajay Prasad took a train to Dehradun. There he hired a taxi, bought a bouquet of long-stemmed roses and drove straight to the Kumar’s residence. Sheila Kumar met him at the door in her best saree, her grey hair freshly curled, her eyes sparkling. Ajay swept her up in his arms and hugged her. “Oh my Ajay,” Mrs. Kumar exclaimed.
They sat in the Kumar’s drawing-room to catch up on forty years. Ajay told them about his life as an engineer, where all he worked, his wife and his two children. “I often thought about you, those shoes and the clothes,” he said to Mrs. Kumar.
As he was leaving Sheila Kumar said, “How can I ever thank you for all the trouble you’ve taken?”
“Just think how much interest I owe you for the shoes and clothes,” Ajay squeezed her hand. Mrs. Kumar, eyes misty, stood a long time looking at the long stemmed roses in the flower vase. Their fragrance lingered for a long time in the room.
No Greater Friendship
The terrorist bomb exploded in an orphanage run by a missionary group in the small Assamese village.
The missionaries and one or two children were killed outright and several more children were wounded, including one young girl, about eight years old.
People from the village requested medical help from a neighbouring town that had radio contact with the Indian army. Finally, an army doctor, a Tamilian and a Malayan' nurse arrived in a jeep with only their medical kits. They realized that the girl was the most critically injured. Without quick action she would die of shock and loss of blood.
A transfusion was imperative and a donor with a matching blood type was required. A quick test showed that neither of the army persons had the correct type but several of the uninjured orphans did.
The doctor and the nurse spoke some pidgin Assamese. Using that combination, together with much impromptu sign language, they tried to explain to their young, frightened audience that unless they could replace some of the girl's lost blood, she would certainly die. Then they asked if anyone would be willing to give blood !
Their request was met with wide-eyed silence. After several long moments, a small hand was slowly and waveringly raised.
"Oh, thank you," the nurse said in English. "What is your name?”
"Dev Kant", came the reply. Dev Kant was quickly laid on a pallet, his arm swabbed with alcohol and a needle inserted in his vein. Through this ordeal Dev Kant lay stiff and silent.
After a moment he let out a shuddering sob, quickly covering his face with his free hand.
"Is it hurting Dev Kant?" the doctor asked. Dev Kant shook his head but after a few moments another sob escaped and once more he tried to cover up his crying. Again the doctor asked him if the needle hurt and again Dev Kant shook his head. But now his occasional sobs gave way to a steady, silent crying, his eyes screwed tightly shut, his fist in his mouth to stifle his sobs.
The medical team was concerned. Something was obviously very wrong. At this point a nurse knowing Assamese arrived in another jeep to help. Seeing the little one's distress she spoke to him in Assamese, listened to his reply and answered him in a soothing voice.
After a moment the patient stopped crying and looked questioningly at the Assamese speaking nurse. When she nodded, a look of great relief spread over his face.
Glancing up, the nurse said quietly to the doctor, "He thought he was dying. He misunderstood you. He thought you had asked him to give all his blood so the little girl could live."
"But why would he be willing to do that?" asked the doctor. The Assamese speaking nurse repeated the question to the little boy who answered simply, "She's my friend."
A Boy’s Love for a Sparrow
High above the earth on its giant lattic towers, the power line strode across the flat and unchanging countryside until it dis-appeared. One of the great pylons was near his father’s hut in a square patch fenced off with barbed wire. Warning plates in red paint said in two languages. ‘Danger!’ And there was a huge figure of volts, thousands of volts. Hira Lal was eleven and he knew volts were electricity and the line took power far across the country.
Hira Lal filled the empty spaces in his life by imagining things and the power line took his thoughts away into a magical distance, far off among tall buildings and bustling towns. That was where the world opened up. Hira Lal loved the power line dearly. It made a door through the distance for his thoughts.
On clear evenings when the sparrows gathered he would see the wires like necklaces of glass beads. He loved to hear the birds making excited twittering sounds; he loved to see how they fell off the aluminium wire into space. The birds could fly anywhere they wanted and they opened another door for him. He liked them too, very much.
He watched the sparrows one morning taking off and occasionally coming back on the power lines. One of the sparrows, however got entrapped, hanging there flapping its wings. Hira Lal saw it was caught by its leg. He wondered how it could have got caught, may be in the wire binding or at a joint. He wanted to rush and tell his mother, but she would scold him for being late for school. So he climbed on his bicycle and rode off to school.
Coming back from school he felt anxious but did not look up until he was quite near. The sparrow was still there, its wings spread but not moving. It was dead, he guessed. Then he saw it flutter and fold its wings. He felt awful to think it had hung there all day.
The boy went in and called his mother and they stood below the power line and looked at the bird. The mother shaded her eyes with her hand. It is a pity, she said, but she was sure it would free itself somehow.
“Couldn’t...” he began.
“Couldn’t nothing,” she said quite firmly in the way he knew she meant business.
His father came home in the evening. Hira Lal followed him and soon got round to the sparrow.
“I know”, his father said. “Your mother told me.”
”It’s still there.”
“Well,” his father said and looked at him hard with his sharp black eyes. “Well, we can’t do anything about it, can we?”
“No father, but .......”
He kicked at a stone and said nothing more. He could see his father was kind of stiff about it : that meant he did not want to hear any more.
At dinner none of them talked about the sparrow but Hira Lal felt as if it were hanging above their heads. Going to bed his mother said he must not worry about the bird.
“God will look after it.”
“It’s going to hang there all night by its foot,” he said. His mother sighed and put out the light. The next day was Sunday and he did not have to go to school. First thing, he looked out and the bird was still there. He would rather have been at school instead of knowing all day that it was hanging up there on the cruel wire.
The morning was very long though he did forget about the sparrow quite often. He was building a mud house under a tree and he had to carry water and dig up the earth and mix it into a stiff clay.
When he was coming in at midday, he had one more look and what he saw kept him standing there a long time with his mouth open. Other sparrows were hovering around the trapped bird, trying to help it. He rushed inside and dragged his mother out and she stood shading her eyes again.
“Yes, they’re trying to help the entangled bird. Isn’t that strange?” she said.
In the afternoon Hira Lal lay in the grass and felt choked thinking how they helped it and nobody else would do anything. His parents would not even talk about it. With his keen eyes he traced the way a climber could get up the tower. But if you did get up, what then? How could you touch the sparrow? Just putting your hand near the wire, wouldn’t those thousands of volts jump at you?
The only thing was to get somebody to turn off the power for a minute, then he could climb the tower like a monkey. At dinner that night he suggested it and his father was as grim and angry as he’d ever seen.
“Listen son,” his father said. “I don’t want you to get all worked up about that bird. You leave it alone”.
Turning to his mother for support he said : “It’s only the other birds that’s keeping him alive. They were all trying to help today”.
“Yes, I know. I saw them,” replied his mother.
“He can’t live much longer, 1ma. Why can’t father get them to switch off the electricity?”
“They wouldn’t do it for a bird, son”.
Leaving for school the next morning, Hira Lal tried not to look up. But he couldn’t help it and there was the sparrow spreading and closing its wings. He got on his bicycle and rode as fast as he could. He could not think of anything but the trapped bird on the power line.
After school, Hira Lal drove his bicycle to the nearest trans¬mission station near his village, a good 5 kms away. When he got there he was faced with an enormous high fence of iron staves with spike tops and a tall locked steel gate.
Hira Lal peered through the gate and saw some men off duty sitting in the sun playing cards. He called to them and a thin man in white shirt came over. Hira Lal explained what he wanted. If they would switch off the current then he could go up and save the sparrow.
The man smiled broadly and clicked his tongue. His name, he said was Ram Bharose. He was just a maintenance man and he couldn’t switch off the current. But he unlocked the gate and let Hira Lal in. “Ask them in there,” he said, grinning.
Inside, a junior engineer led Hira Lal to a room where a balding man with glasses was sitting at a desk. Hira Lal did not say five words before his lips began trembling and two tears rolled out of his eyes.
The man said : “Sit down, son, and don’t be frightened”.
Then the man tried to explain. How could they cut off the power? The factories would stop, hospitals would go dark in the middle of an operation. Hira Lal was concerned about the sparrow but things like that just happened and that was life.
‘Life?’ Hira Lal said thinking. ‘It was more like death.’
The balding man smiled. He took down Hira Lal’s name and address and he said, “You’ve done your best, Hira Lal. I’m sorry, I can’t promise you anything.”
Hira Lal got home hours later and his mother was frantic. He lied to her saying he had been detained after school. He did not have the stomach to look for the sparrow. He felt so bad about it because they were all letting it die. And that was life, the man said.
It must have been the middle of the night when he woke up. His mother was next to him and the light was on. “There’s a man come to see you,” she said.
He went out and saw his father and the back of a man in white shirt. It was Ram Bharose!
“Ram Bharoseji” he shouted “Are they going to do it?”
“They’re doing it,” Ram Bharose said.
A linesman and a truck driver came up. The linesman explained to Hira Lal’s father that a maintenance switch-down had been ordered at minimum load hour. He wanted to be shown where the bird was. Hira Lal glanced, frightened, at his father who nodded and said, “show him”.
Hira Lal went in the truck with the man, the driver and Ram Bharose. It took them only five minutes to get the truck in position under the tower and run up the extension ladder. Ram Bharose hooked a chain in his belt and switched on his flash¬light. He swung out on the ladder and began running up it as if he had no weight at all. Up level with the pylon insulators, his flashlight picked out the sparrow hanging on the dead wire. He leaned over and carefully worked the bird’s tiny claw loose from the wire binding, and then he put the sparrow in the breast pocket of his shirt.
In a minute he was down and he took the bird out and handed it to the boy. Hira Lal was almost speechless holding the sparrow and feeling its slight quiver. In the light of the flashlight he could see its pale brown throat, and that meant it was a young bird.
“Thanks,” he said. “Thanks, Ram Bharoseji. Once again thanks, Ram Bharoseji”.
Hira Lal held the sparrow in his cupped hands and it lay there quietly with the tips of its wings crossed. Suddenly it took two little jumps and spread its slender wings. Frantically its wings beat the air and it seemed to be dropping to the ground. Then it skimmed forward just above the grass and Hira Lal remembered long afterwards how, when it really took wing and gained height, that it gave a little shiver of happiness.
Thank You for Correcting Me
He was in the third standard. All thirty four of Mrs. Passi’s students were dear to her but Vinod Chowdhry was one in a thousand. Very neat in appearance, he had that happy-to-¬alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful. Vinod also talked incessantly. Mrs. Passi had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed her very much though, was his sincere response every time she had to correct him for misbehaving.
“Thank you for correcting me, Ma’am” would be his stan¬dard answer.
One morning, Mrs. Passi’s patience was growing thin when Vinod talked once too often, and then she made a novice—teacher’s mistake. She looked at Vinod and said, “If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut”.
It wasn’t ten seconds later when Abhay blurted out, “Vinod is talking again”. She hadn’t asked any of her students to help watch Vinod but since she had stated the punishment in front of the class, she had to act on it.
Mrs. Passi walked to her desk, very deliberately opened the drawer and took out a roll of adhesive tape. Without saying a word, she proceeded to Vinod’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. She then returned to the front of the room.
As she glanced at Vinod to see how he was doing, he winked at her. That did it! She started laughing. The entire class cheered as she walked back to Vinod’s desk, remove the tape, and shrug her shoulders. His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Ma’am.”
At the end of the year, Mrs. Passi was asked to teach advanced maths and Vinod’s class moved higher. Six years flew by and before she knew it, Vinod was in her class room again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to her instruction in the ‘new maths’, he did not talk as much in the ninth standard as he had in the third.
One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and Mrs. Passi sensed that the students were growing frustrated with them¬selves and edgy with one another. She had to stop this crank¬iness before it got out of hand. So she asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish the as¬signment but as the students left the room, each one handed her the papers.
That Saturday Mrs. Passi wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Some of them ran to two pages. Before long the entire class was smiling.
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. Mrs. Passi never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished her purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.
That group of students moved on. Several years later, after Mrs. Passi returned from a visit to her brother’s house, her parents met her at the railway station. As they were driving home, her mother asked the usual questions about the trip, the weather, her experiences in general. There was a slight lull in the conversation, mother gave father a sideways glance and simply said, “Dad?” Mrs. Passi’s father cleared his throat as he usually did before saying something important. “The Chowdhry’s called last night,” he began.
“Really?” she said. “I haven’t heard from them for several years. I wonder how Vinod is?”
Father responded quietly. “Vinod was in the army and posted in Kashmir. He was killed in Sophore in a terrorist attack,” he said. “The cremation is tomorrow and his parents would appreciate it if you could attend”.
All Mrs. Passi could think at that moment was : ‘Vinod, I would give all the tape in the world if only you could wink at me.’
After the cremation one of the army officer’s came up to Mrs. Passi. “Were you Vinod’s maths teacher?” he asked. She nodded. “Vinod talked about you a lot,” he said.
Shortly afterwards, Vinod’s parents came to her. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Vinod when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”
Opening the wallet, he carefully removed two worn pieces of note book paper, folded and refolded many times. Mrs Passi knew without looking that the papers were the one on which she had listed all the good things each of Vinod's classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that,” Vinod’s mother said. “As you can see, Vinod treasured it.”
Mrs. Passi opened the notebook paper. She saw written on it very many nice things. At the bottom was written in Vinod’s own handwriting.
“From my lovely teacher who always corrected me and made me wink.”
When he was coming in at midday, he had one more look and what he saw kept him standing there a long time with his mouth open. Other sparrows were hovering around the trapped bird, trying to help it. He rushed inside and dragged his mother out and she stood shading her eyes again.
That’s when Mrs. Passi finally sat down and cried.
“Yes, I’d love to correct you again, my darling Vinod,” she murmured, “if only you could give me another wink.”
An Affair to Remember
When Malini Tambe came to teach at Greenfield School, Pune, it was the summer of her twenty-fifth birthday and the summer when Deepak Pradhan would turn sixteen. She was the teacher for whom all the children wanted to bring greeting cards and pink flowers. She was stunningly beautiful. She was like the cool air on a hot June afternoon. And those few days in the year when the climate was temperate, neither cold nor hot, those were the days when everybody felt were the days which looked like Malini Tambe.
The first morning when Miss Tambe entered and wrote her name on the blackboard, the school-room seemed suddenly flooded with illumination. Deepak sat with a wad of paper for throwing, hidden in his hand, but let it droop. After class, he brought in a sponge and began to clean the blackboard.
“What’s this?” She turned to him from her desk, where she had been correcting spelling papers.
“The blackboard is dirty, I thought I’ll help. But then, I suppose, I should have asked permission,” he said haltingly.
“I think we can pretend you did.” she replied smiling, and at the smile he finished clearing in a burst of speed and pressed the sponge so furiously that the air was full of dust.
The next morning he passed by the place where she lived just as she was coming out to walk to school.
“Well, here I am”, he said.
“That’s wonderful”, she said. “What a nice surprise.”
“May I carry your books?” he asked.
“Of course. Thank you, Deepak”.
They walked for a few minutes and he said nothing. She glanced over and slightly down at him and saw how at ease he was, how happy he seemed. When they reached the school boundary, he said; “I better leave you here. The other students wouldn’t understand.”
“I don’t either”, said Miss Tambe.
“Why, we are pupil and teacher,” said Deepak with a natural honesty.
“Deepak—“she started to say, “Never mind.” She walked away.
And there he was in class and there he was after school for the next few weeks, never speaking, quietly clearing the blackboard while she worked, and there was the rustle of papers And the scratch of a pen. Sometimes the silence would go on until almost five when Miss Tambe would find Deepak in the last seat, waiting.
“Well, it’s time to go home,” Miss Tambe would say. And he would run and fetch her bag. Then they would walk across the empty yard and talk of all sorts of things.
“What are you going Deepak, when you grow up?”
“An Air Force pilot. I want to go up high in the air and see this beautiful world from the top, as birds see it”.
“Oh, that’s a big ambition”.
“I know, but I’m going to try”, he told her.
He thought for a while and said, “Do me a favor Ma’am?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“I walk every Sunday to the central park with the beautiful lake near your house. There are a lot of ducks and small fish in it. May be you’d like to come too.”
“I’m sorry no; I’m going to be busy.”
“I wish you’d come.”
“Have I offended you?” he asked.
“No, of course not. You’ve every right to ask, she replied.
A few days later she gave him a copy of ‘Midsummer Night Dream’. He stayed up all night reading it, and they talked about it.
Each day Deepak met Miss Tambe and on many days she would start to tell him not to come any more, but she never could.
He talked with her about Shakespeare, Tagore and Kipling, coming and going to school. But she found it impossible to call on him to recite in class. She would hesitate, and then call someone else. Nor would she look at him while they were walking. But on several late afternoons, as he moved his arm high on the blackboard, sponging away the arithmetic symbols, she found herself glanced over at him for seconds at a time.
Then one Sunday morning he was standing in the park lake with his trousers rolled up to his knees, bending to catch fish, when he looked up and saw her.
“Well, here I am,” she said, laughing.
“Thanks for coming,” he said. “I’m so glad.”
“Show me the fish,” she said.
They sat next to the lake with a cool wind blowing softly about them, fluttering her hair and the ruffle on her saree and he sat a few meters away from her.
“I never thought I’d enjoy an outing like this so much,” she said.
“I’m so happy you came Ma’am.”
They said little else during the afternoon.
That was about all there was to the meeting of Miss Malini Tambe and Deepak Pradhan; long hours of sitting and staring into the sky, a copy of Kipling and a dozen fish.
The next Monday, though Deepak walked a long time, Miss Tambe did not come out to walk to school. She had gone on ahead. That afternoon, she left early with a headache.
But on Tuesday after school, they were both in the class room again—he sponging the board constantly, and she working on her papers in peace, when suddenly the clock chimed five.
“Deepak”, she said. “Come here.”
“Yes Ma’am.” He put down the sponge.
She looked at him intently for a moment until he looked away. “Deepak, I wonder if you know what I’m going to talk to you about.”
“Yes,” he said at last. “About me.”
“How old are you, Deepak?”
“Sixteen. Going on seventeen.”
“Do you know how old I am?”
“Yes Ma’am. Twenty-five. I’ll be twenty-five in nine years. Ma’am, I shouldn’t say it,” he hesitated. “I sometimes feel I’m twenty-five.”
“Yes, and sometimes you almost act it.”
“Now sit still. It’s very important that you understand what is happening. First let’s admit we are the greatest friends. I have never had a student like you, nor have I had as much affection for any boy I’ve never known.” He flushed at this. She went on. “And let me speak for you-you’ve found me to be the nicest teacher you’ve ever known.”
“You are wonderful. Very, very nice, Ma’am,” he said.
“I’ve thought this over Deepak. Don’t think I’ve been unaware of your feelings. You are no ordinary boy. And I know I‘m not sick, mentally or physically, and that whatever has evolved between us has been wonderful, lovely. But it is not correct.”
“If I were nine years older and fifteen centimeters taller, it would make all the difference,” he said.”
“May be,” she said. “But you are not. We live in a world where persons are judged by ages and heights. Many times two people want a certain thing to happen when it shouldn’t happen. I can’t explain why.”
“What can we do?” he asked.
“Not very much. I can secure a transfer from this school…..”
“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “We’re moving. My family and I.”
“It has nothing to do with all this has it?”
“No, no, my father has a new job in Bombay. It’s only a hundred-and-fifty kilometers away. I can visit you, can’t I?”
“Of course. But there is no point.”
“No, I guess not,” he said.
They sat awhile in the silent school-room.
“Why did all this happen?” he said, helplessly.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Nobody ever, knows. They haven’t known it for thousands of years. May be they never will.”
They looked away from each other. The silence in the room was complete. Time ticked away....
“There’s one thing I want you to remember,” she said finally. “There are compensations in life. Sopmething will happen to remedy this. God has his own way of remedying injustice. Do you believe that?”
“I’d like to,” he blurted.
He sat there for a long time. “I’ll always remember you,” he said.
She went to erase the blackboard.
“I’ll help you,” he said.
“No, no,” she said hastily. “You leave for your home.”
He left the school. Looking back, he saw Miss Tambe through the window, at the blackboard, slowly sponging out the chalked words.
He moved away the next week and was gone for twenty-two years. Her never got to Pune again until he was almost thirty-nine and married. Then one spring they drove to Pune and finally stopped for a day.
Deepak left his wife at the hotel and walked around town and finally asked about Miss Malini Tambe.
“Oh yes, the pretty teacher. She died in nineteen hundred and fifty two, one year after you left.”
“Had she ever married?”
“No, she never did. In the last few months before she died, she looked rather sad and forlorn.”
Later in the day the people in the locality saw Deepak Pradhan’s wife strolling to meet him. She was like the cool air on a hot June afternoon. And those few days in the year when the climate was temperate, neither cold nor hot, those were the days when everybody felt were the days which looked like Deepak Pradhan’s wife.
Little Steps in Stride
The family council was in an uproar. No two were of the same opinion. Or, rather they all were, and yet…
They wanted the best for their parents, no doubt about that. They had always been good children – not a black sheep in the bunch. They knew very well how Sharad and Usha Manjrekar strived to assure the health and well being of their five children – three brothers and two sisters... their home had been a model from the start.
Of course, the children would not understand the beginnings- the parent’s love for each other. The parents said they fell in love when they were eight and six years old in a school. The children could not believe it. How could one fall in love so early in life?
The old man, when he was not yet old, would say, “No none of you can ever compare to your mother.”
The girls would listen attentively. They saw emerging before them a wonderful mother, worthy of all compliments, made of equal parts of the real woman who moved around them, washing clothes, preparing dinner, always working, and of that young girl, always smiling and awaiting the arrival of her children and husband. They had always loved that wonderful mother, and they loved her even now that she was old and useless. No one doubted it.
Every Sunday afternoon, the family would go out together for a walk. “Going to get some air?” the neighbors would ask. Depending on the season, the little girls would run in frocks and the boys in shorts. And their parents behind them, reveling in their children and each other.
But when the daughters became young women and the sons, young men, they began to go separate ways. Could it have been otherwise? Sometimes Sharad would still ask one of the daughters,” Why don’t you come with your mother and me today?”
“But father. I have work to do.”
Of course, the parents understood. So they went out alone, the same stride, the same thoughts. Because one thing was sure: as a loving and united couple, they had no equal. In time, they no longer even thought oh inviting their children, nor did they need them. She and he, he and she, walking every Sunday afternoon.
They had sacrificed and worked for their children. The children recognized their parent’s efforts and were grateful. The problem was, the circumstances had changed, as they must.
The kids had grown up and gone out to face the world. The girls were truly grown up beautiful women now, talented and taller then their mother.
One couldn’t say the boys were taller than their father, but they were more capable in every way. They had more knowledge about everything, as they knew more about life tan he did. He acknowledged it and seemed to grow smaller.
Ignoring him as if he weren’t there, the children argued about their problems. But even now he sometimes wanted to assert his authority. He would summon his old voice on matters about which he felt superior. “Don’t be rude!” he would suddenly thunder. And then they would let him speak because he was their father, poor old man, and they, his respectful sons. Could it have been any other way?
And the children got married. That was inevitable; they were all good, and not one of them was stupid. The boys got decent jobs and the daughters made good marriages.
The Manjrekar’s had been generous with their children, helping them with their weddings, giving each whatever they could afford. But they should have realized that they would be left without with their savings. The children didn’t blame them; but now they were all paying for his lack of foresight.
Because, naturally, he had not noticed that he was losing his faculties, and soon they there would be no job. They didn’t notice anything. They were so content, going out every Sunday for a walk. Both walking slower now, but still triumphant, as if they had nothing to worry about. It was exasperating because the sad truth was that there was a lot to think about.
He left early in the morning for his part time job in a small office in Worli, Bombay. They didn’t want him in his old office any more. He didn’t earn much from his part time b\job, but they needed very little and they were fine as things went.
And now it occurred to the children that the rooms where the parents lived were too damp-as if they hadn’t that way all along. They noticed the damp spot in the bed-room that began near the floor and reached half-way to the ceiling. And it worried them that their father had asthma.
Sharad and Usha knew that their children would have had them living in a palace. But since they couldn’t, why not leave them as they were? They wanted nothing more and they didn’t think it was a disgrace, as their children did. They were content in their eldest son and his family.
None of the sons had room enough to take them both in. There was only one solution: father would stay with one son, mother with another. It would only be for a couple of months because there were three brothers and each would take a four month turn. And when it was the turn of the eldest son in the damp house, they would spend as much time as possible with their daughters-the father with one and the mother with the other. It was the right thing to do. All the children were in Bombay.
The parent’s weren’t happy. Why could they not be left alone? Why could they not die together?
Nonsense! They were not talking about dying. The idea was to live better, to get them away from the damp, miserable house, a she had asthma. The eldest son’s young family could stand the dampness but not their parents. How ridiculous for them to be talking about dying.
Finally, they had been convinced. During the first four months, father would go to the house of the second son, a police inspector and the mother to the third, proof reader in a publishing company. They were so much better off that way! A good roof over their heads, grandchildren and a comfortable life. And no more housework. They had good reason to be happy. But they weren’t. That was what was annoying them.
The children were sacrificing themselves for the parents, but they didn’t appreciate it. The old man was sullen and silent; he didn’t involve himself in anything. She was even worse because she didn’t know how to step aside since she was so used to giving orders.
Old people really get to be impossible, and the children had to muster all their patience to deal with both of them.
And, as old people will, as frequently as possible, he would escape. They would meet at whatever child’s house they had agreed on to confide their troubles to each other.
Each time they made a date for the next meeting or for the injection. He now had frequent asthmatic cough, and the doctor had prescribed bi-weekly injections.
“Now, don’t let him give you the injection until I get there,” she would say. And it was all just to hold his hand while the doctor gave the injection. But he would sit impatiently in the waiting-room of the clinic, loving anxious to see her.
Every Sunday afternoon they were ready, waiting to go for the walk. “Be ready on time,” he would say.
“You too” , she would say.
And then, their short little steps stride, both so happy- just a little bit sad, they would be seen walking lovingly on their Sunday afternoon.
Everybody Can Be a Achiever
Roger Crawford had everything he needed to play tennis— except two hands and a leg.
When Roger’s parents saw their son for the first time, they saw a baby with a thumb-like projection extended directly out of his right forearm and a thumb and one finger stuck out of his left forearm. He had no palms. The baby’s arms and legs were shortened, and he had only three toes on his shrunken right foot and a withered left leg, which would later be amputated.
The doctor said Roger suffered from ectrodactylism, a rare birth defect, affecting less than 0.1% of children. The doctor said Roger would probably never walk or care for himself.
Fortunately Roger’s parents didn’t believe the doctor.
“My parents always taught me that I was only as handicapped as I wanted to be”, said Roger. “They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or take advantage of people because of my handicap. Once I got into trouble because my school papers were continually late”, explained Roger, who had to hold his pencil with both hands to write slowly. “I asked Dad to write a note to my teachers, asking for a two day extension on my assignments. Instead Dad made me start writing my paper two days early!”
Roger’s father always encouraged him to get involved in sports, teaching Roger to catch and throw a volleyball, and play backyard football after school. At age 12, Roger managed to win a place in the school football team.
Roger’s love of sports grew and so did his self-confidence. But not every obstacle gave way to Roger’s determination. Eating in the lunchroom with the other kids watching him fumble with his food proved very painful to Roger, as did his repeated failure in typing class. “I learned a very good lesson from typing class,” said Roger. “You can’t do everything — it’s better to concentrate on what you can do.”
One thing Roger could do was swing a tennis racket. Unfortunately, when he swung it hard, his weak grip usually launched it into space. By luck, Roger stumbled upon an odd-looking tennis racket in a sports shop and accidentally wedged his finger between its double-barred handle when he picked it up. The snug fit made it possible for Roger to swing, serve and volley like an able-bodied player. He practiced every day and was soon playing—and losing—matches.
But Roger persisted. He practiced and practiced and played and played. Surgery on the two fingers of his left hand enabled Roger to grip his special racket better, greatly improving his game. Although he had no role models to guide him, Roger became obsessed with tennis and in time he started to win.
Roger went on to play college tennis, finishing his tennis career with 22 wins and 11 losses. He later became the first physically handicapped tennis player to be certified as a teaching professional by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
“The only difference between you and me,” says Roger, “is that you can see my handicap, but I can’t see yours. We all have them. When people ask me how I’ve been able to overcome my physical handicaps, I tell them that I haven’t overcome anything. I’ve simply learned what I can’t do—such as play the piano or eat with chopsticks—but more importantly, I’ve learned what I can do. Then I do what I can with all my heart and soul.”
Companionship in Twilight
A beam of morning sunlight filtered through the parting curtains on to Mr. Parmar’s bed. The old man twisted on his back and listened. The house at Mashowbra, near Shimla was quiet; the grandchildren must have gone to school and their parents to work. The day, has always, promised to be long and dreary, which made Mr. Parmar unsettled and fidgety. After getting up and reading the morning newspaper meticulously, he could think of nothing to do. He was all alone.
All alone! Stepping in front of the windows, he looked towards the mountains. Greying whiskers spread over his unshaven chin, and his bloodshot eyes seemed to reveal his sorrow. Last night, lying in the bed, he had overheard his on and daughter-in-law talking: “he has no hobby and he doesn’t care to cultivate one. He stays home all day moaning and sighing to himself. It’s as though I asked him to move in with us just to hurt him.”
“But you know father wasn’t like this before….. when mother was alive.”
The cicadas in the mountains began chirping so loudly they could be heard in the house – the first sound of summer. He had a sudden yearning to go up the mountain. Since it was past the time for early climbers, he had the path to himself – except for the birds, the cicadas and the wind, making the melodies of the mountain.
The next day Mr. Parmar went climbing again. That evening at dinner, thanks for having something to talk about, he was no longer just an audience and his spirits were high.“We want to go with you! “piped the children” On Sunday, we will go first thing in the morning,” the old man replied.
On Sunday they set out early. It took them more than thirty minutes to reach the mountain top and from there Mr. Parmar led the way down another path to a public park with a pavilion and the look-out with an excellent view.
A woman standing the edge of the look-out suddenly began singing. Quite sure he was her senior, Mr. Parmar waited until he had finished and then asked casually, “how old are you?”
“I’m sixty seven,” the woman replied. Her hair was short and she had a longish face, fair complexion and eyes that sparkled with spirit.
She was two years younger than he was. “You certainly don’t look your age,” Mr. Parmar said.
The woman smiled and strode off.
On the way down, they saw her again, walking with a group of elderly men and women who addressed her as sister Vidya. When they caught up with her, sister Vidya asked, “your grandchildren?” The descent was easy, especially with someone to talk to.
From then on, Mr. Parmar followed a new daily schedule. He got up early to join the group mountain climbing, and then came down to see the grandchildren off to school. He met sister Vidya almost every morning, and they gradually began to confide in each other. Knowing she was a widow living with her daughter and son-in-law, he assumed that she also had family problems, and could understand his.
“When they watch television, I never complain about being disturbed during my nap. Why then should I be accused of disrupting the children’s sitar practice and homework when I want to watch the television? It’s a good thing; I am not dependent on them. If I had to ask them for money, I can’t imagine what the situation would be like.”
Sister Vidya was silent for quite for a while. “My daughter and her husband are good to me,” she said. “But I don’t live on them for nothing. I never want people to look down on me.”
The rainy season arrived early that year, and it rained non-stop for days together. The hikers disappeared. Mr. Parmar’s rheumatic pain recurred, giving him a severe backache and confining him to a chair by the window, from where he listlessly watched the entrance to the path up the mountain.
One day, he heard somebody calling him – sister Vidya?
He got up with difficulty, and opened the door to the house. She was laughing as she came in. “Look at me! It wasn’t raining when I started out, so I didn’t carry an umbrella. But just as I got here, it started to rain. So I decided to pay you a visit.”
Though his back was still aching, Mr. Parmar insisted that she stay for lunch. He as quite adept at cooking certain special dishes, and sister Vidya raised them highly. Eating alone, Mr. Parmar has lost interest in cooking, but now he extended her another invitation. In return, sister Vidya offered to treat him to her style of cooking.
The two started having lunch together, once or twice a week. At first, Mr. Parmar told his family about these meetings but gradually stopped bothering to mention them.
“Your father’s girl-friend came again today”.
“How do you know?”
“All the dishes are put back in the wrong place.”
The couple laughed, and Mr. Parmar found himself smiling as well. He hadn’t been aware they were leaving such traces. “Do you think we are going to get a new mother?” his daughter-in-law asked. “Grandmother Vidya and father are good for each other. An old person should have companionship.”
Only then did the possibility of marrying sister Vidya crossed Mr. Parmar’s mind. Almost seventy and married again? Seventy! So what?
But their luncheon dates were quietly discontinued before the rainy season was over. It was sister Vidya’s turn to invite him, and she didn’t call. Obsessed with his secret thoughts, he did nothing to get in touch.
Then one afternoon the rain stopped and all at once and there was radiant sunlight was everywhere. Impulsively, Mr. Parmar picked up the phone and called sister Vidya. “People are going up the mountain”, he lied. “Would you like to come for a stroll?”
She hesitated, but eventually agreed to meet him. After hanging up, he went to the bathroom to shave. Looking into the mirror, he felt foolish – practically seventy and still excited over a date!
The sun had dropped behind the mountain and the path was shady and cool. After exchanging greetings, the walked in silence. Suddenly sister Vidya tripped. He hurried to steady her. “Be careful!” h1e said. “It’s slippery. Here take this stick.”
He felt weak without the support of his stick, and his backache was starting up again. “Getting old,” he sighed. “It’s no good getting old without a companion.”
“My daughter said exactly the same thing,” sister Vidya said.
“Sister Vidya…..” he wanted to explain, but struggled in vain to find the proper words.
She turned to him and said, “listening to my daughter talk like that, I started to feel self-conscious. That’s why I didn’t call you. You know Mrs. Negi, our neighbour? It was she who told my daughter about us. All my life I have done nothing to make people talk about me. I am quite aware of proper behaviour.”
“Let them wag their tongues! If we enjoy being together so be it. They can’t tell us what to do.” He hadn’t intended to say so much, but since the opportunity has presented itself, he might as well go on. “Sons and grandsons, they are my own flesh and blood, but our age difference makes it difficult to communicate. I’ll be seventy this coming October. How many more years do we have? What we need is companionship. Someone to talk to, go places with, or ask how we feel when we are ill. We aren’t lovesick young people.”
He was getting a bit worked up, and stopped walking. Sister Vidya also paused and responded softly: “I understand; only ….. people talk.”
“What is there for them to talk about? If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? Sister Vidya, I collect a good pension, and I own a house at Solan. If you are willing, the two of us can lead a good life together.”
At length sister Vidya said, “To be frank, my daughter will not object to whatever decision I make. But I’m sixty seven. Should I make myself a laughing-stock? So many years have passed and now, at this late stage, if I change my name….”
They reached a spot where they often paused to catch their breath. Here, in a niche between two rocks, somebody had made a shrine, in which were many idols.
Sister Vidya joined her palms and bowed. “If there are gods I pray for their divine guidance”. She moved back a step and bowed again.
He noticed a perspiration on her forehead and asked “Tired?”
She shook her head. With a companion, life certainly would be more meaningful.
Side by side, the elderly couple looked towards the opposite mountain peak. Magnificently coloured clouds filled the sky, clustered around the golden setting sun. The sun had lost its intensity, but was still splendid to behold.
May the Kohassa Bring You Joy
She was six years old when Prabha first met her on a beach in Mumbai.
She was building a sand castle or something and looked up, her eyes as sparkling as the sea.
"Hello," she said. Prabha answered with a nod, not really in the mood to bother with a small child.
"I'm building," she said.
"I see that. What is it?" Prabha asked, not caring.
"Oh, I don't know. I just like the feel of the sand."
That sounds good, Prabha thought, and slipped off her shoes. A bird glided by.
"That's a 'kohassa," the child said.
"It's a joy. My mother says kohassa comes to bring us joy."
The bird went glissading down the beach. "Good-bye, joy," Prabha muttered to herself; "hellow, pain," and turned to walk on. She was depressed; her life seemed completely out of balance.
"What's your name?" the girl wouldn't give up.
"Prabha," she answered. "I'm Prabha Athawle."
"Mine's Nutan." "And I'm six."
She giggled. "You're funny," she said. In spite of her gloom Prabha laughed too and walked on.
Her musical giggle followed her. "Come again, Prabha didi'. We'll have another happy day."
The days and weeks that followed belonged to others: office politics where Prabha could be transferred, a rift with her husband and an ailing mother.
The sun was shining one morning as Prabha took.her hands off 'kohassa: Sea Eagle the pressure cooker. "I need to go to the beach", she said to herself.
The never changing balm of the seashore awaited her. She had forgotten the child and was startled when she appeared.
"Hellow, Prabha didi", she said. "Do you want to play?"
"What did you have in mind?" Prabha asked, with a twinge of annoyance.
"I don't know. You say."
"How about solitude?" Prabha asked sarcastically.
The tinkling laughter burst forth again. "I don't know what that is."
"Then let's just walk." Looking at her, Prabha noticed the delicate fairness of her face.
"Where do you life?" Prabha asked.
"Over there." She pointed toward a row of houses. She chattered little-girl talk as they strolled up the beach, but Prabha's mind was on other things. When she left for home, Nutan said it had been a happy day. Feeling surprisingly better, Prabha smiled at her and agreed.
Three weeks later, Prabha met Nutan again on the beach. She was in no mood even to greet Nutan.
"Look, if you don't mind," Prabha said crossly when Nutan caught up with her, "I'd rather be alone today." Nutan seemed unusually pale and out of breath.
"Why?" Nutan asked.
Prabha turned on her and shouted, "Because my mother died!"—and thought, my God, why was I saying this to a little child?"
"Oh," Nutan said quietly, "then this is a bad day."
"Yes, and yesterday and the day before that and—oh, go away!"
"Did it hurt?"
"Did what hurt?" Prabha was exasperated with her, with herself.
"When she died?"
"Of course it hurt!" Prabha snapped, and strode off.
A month or so after that, when Prabha next went to the beach, Nutan wasn't there. Feeling guilty, ashamed and admitting to herself she missed her, she went up to her house after her walk. lrawn looking young woman opened the door.
Hello," Prabha said. "I'm Prabha Athawle. I missed your little today and wondered where she was."
"Oh yes, Prabhaji, please come in."
"Nutan talked of you so much. I'm afraid I allowed her to :her you. If she was a nuisance, please accept my apologies."
"Not at all—she's a delightful child," Prabha said suddenly ilizing that she meant: 'Where is she?'
"Nutan died last week, Prabhaji. She had cancer—leukamia. aybe she didn't tell you."
Struck dumb, Prabha grouped for a chair.
"She loved this beach; so I never stopped her. She seemed so mch better playing on the beach and had a lot of what she called appy days. But in the last few weeks she declined rapidly..." Her oice faltered. "She left something for you... if only I can find it. Tould you wait a moment while I look?"
Prabha nodded stupidly, her mind racing for something, anything, to say to this lovely young woman.
She handed Prabha a smeared envelope with 'Prabha didi* printed in bold, childish letters.
Inside was a drawing in bright crayon hues-a yellow beach, a blue sea, a white and brown bird. Underneath was carefully written in a childish scrawl.
May the kohassa bring you joy
Tears welled up in Prabha's eyes, and a heart that had almost forgotten how to love opened wide. She took Nutan's mother in her arms. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she muttered over and over, and they wept together.
The precious little picture is framed now and hangs in Prabha's study. Six words-one for each year of her life-that speak to her of inner harmony, courage and undemanding love. A gift from a child with sparkling eyes who taught her the gift of love.
Kohassa : Sea Eaqle
A Wonderful Gesture
Once when Prabhat was a fourteen year old boy he along with his parents was standing in line to buy tickets for a circus. Finally there was only on family between them and the ticket counter. This family made a big impression on Prabhat. There were eight children, all probably under the age of 12. One could tell they didn’t have a lot of money. Their clothes were not expensive but they were clean. The children were well behaved, all of them standing in line, two-by two behind there parents. They were excitedly jabbering about the clowns, elephants and other acts they would see that night. One could sense they had never been to a circus before. It promised to be a highlight of their young lives.
Their father and mother were at the head of the pack, standing proud as could be. They were eagerly awaiting their turn to come so that they could buy their tickets and go to their seats in the circus.
The tickets clerk asked the father how many tickets he wanted. He proudly responded, “ I want to buy eight children’s ticket and two adult tickets so I can take my family and my brother’s children to the circus”.
The ticket clerk quoted the price.
The man’s wife let out a gasp, her head dropped and the man’s lip began to quiver. The father leaned a little closer and asked, “How much did you say?”
The ticket clerk again quoted the price.
The man didn’t have enough money.
How was he supposed to turn and tell the eight children that he didn’t have enough money to take them to the circus?
Seeing what was going on, Prabhat’s father put his hand into the pocket, pulled out a Rs.50 note and dropped it on the ground. He then reached down, picked up the note, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me brother, this fell out of your packet.”
The man what was going on? He wasn’t begging but certainly appreciated in a desperate, heartbreaking, embarrasing, situation. He looked straight into Prabhat’s father’s eyes, took his hand in both of his, squeezed tightly onto the Rs.50 note, and with his lip quivering and a tear streaming down his cheek, replied, “Thank you, thank you, friend. This really means a lot to me and my family.”
Prabhat and his parents (who weren’t rich themselves) went back to their house in a bus, as they were left without enough money to buy their tickets, but as a young boy, Prabhat had seen the best circus of his life.
Two War Heroes
Major Prem Sirohi stood in the verandah, unable to ring the bell. How could he tell this woman and her children the man in their life was never coming home? He felt torn. Torn between the intense desire to run away and the promise he had made to a man he really didn’t know but who had made a difference in his life. He stood there wishing something to happen, something that would help him reach out and ring the bell.
It began to rain. He stood there, on the open porch, paralyzed by his fear and guilt. He saw again, for the hundredth time, Major Vijay Sapra’s shredded body, heard his soft voice, peered into his deep black eyes and felt his pain and he cried. He cried for him, for his wife and children and for himself. He had to move forward. He had to live with the knowledge that he was saved and so many others had been lost in a tragic, ambiguous war against terrorism which could have been avoided had his country’s polity been honest, not corrupt.
The sound of tyres crunching on the bituminised road saved him from his dilemma. An old, beaten white Fiat car pulled into the driveway and an old woman stepped out. The driver, an old man, got out, too. They stared at him, standing mute and motionless, wondering what he was doing in their house.
Major Sirohi stood there, staring, as they spoke and suddenly a look of horror came over the woman’s face. She screamed, dropped her package and rushed towards him, leaving the old man to finish his sentence to her back. She took the steps two at a time, grabbed his coat with both hands and said, “What is it, tell me. Who are you and what’s happened to my son?”
“Oh, damn,” he thought, “I found Sapra’s mother.”
He reached out and took her hands and said as softly as he could, “My name is Major Prem Sirohi and I have come to see Kusum Sapra. Is this her house?”
The woman stared at him, listening but not hearing, trying to comprehend what he had said. After a long moment, she began to shake. Her body moved with a violent thrashing and, if he hadn’t been holding her hands, she surely would have fallen off the verandah. He tightened his grip and they fell against the door with a loud crash.
Kusum Sapra came out and took in the scene. She looked with great hostility at Sirohi as if to say ‘who the hell are you?’
“‘Papaji, what’s going on here?” she asked the old man.
“I ain’t sure,” he said. “This man’s just standing in the verandah when we get here and your 2ammaji jumps at him yelling about what’s happened to your husband Vijay.”
She looked at the stranger with a question mark in her eyes. Slowly the man said, “My name is Major Prem Sirohi and if you’re Kusum Sapra, I wish to talk to you.”
She calmly said, “Yes, I’m Kusum Sapra. I’m a little confused, but you can come in, and would you help ammaji in, too?”
Gently, as gently as he could, he led ammaji into the room, through the door.
He helped ammaji into an overstuffed chair and stepped back to wait. The silence became unbearable and he cleared his throat and began to talk just as Kusum began.
He said, “Excuse me, please continue.”
She said, “I’m sorry, but I heard the crash and was concerned, and when I saw you standing in the verandah holding ammaji, I just naturally...”
Prem Sirohi interrupted her. “Please, don’t apologize. I don’t know just how I would have reacted in the same situation, but no harm done.”
“Would you like some tea?” she asked. “Shouldn’t you take off that wet coat? You’ll catch a cold.”
“Yes to both,” he said. “I would love some tea and I’ll be glad to take off my coat.” Removing his coat gave him something to do while he gathered his nerve.
With that exchange, ammaji seemed to relax and Sirohi was given a very careful once-over by the old woman and her husband.
Ammaji slowly pulled herself up tall in her chair and said, “My son Vijay is a Captain in the army and he is stationed on the front fighting terrorists in Kashmir and he’s coming home in two weeks.”
Sirohi said, “I’m glad to hear he’s safe and coming home. I’m really glad he’s coming home soon.”
She looked at his short hair and fawn coloured dirty coat and said, “Are you in the army? Were you in Kashmir too?”
“Yes,” he said. “I just got back today and as I’m tired with the journey, please excuse me for my unkempt appearance.”
As he finished, Kusum came into the room with a tray of cups, biscuits, milk, sugar and tea. It smelled wonderful and he wanted a cup very badly. Anything to keep the atmosphere light and to keep his hands from shaking.
They chatted for a little while and then Kusum said, “Well, Sirohiji, it is a pleasure to meet you and talk to you. But I’m curious. What brings you to my house?”
At that very instant, the front door burst open and two little girls, aged five and four made a noisy entrance. Each took two steps into the room and then twirled around in an exaggerated way to show off their new clothes.
Major Sirohi’s presence and his mission were forgotten. They all oohed and aahed over the girls and their new clothes and told them how beautiful they were and how lucky they were to have such lovely new clothes. When the excitement wound down, the girls were settled in the adjoining room at a play table, and when Kusum returned, she said :
“And now tell us why you are here.”
Sirohi took a deep breath, reached into his pocket and said, “I don’t exactly know how to begin. Three days ago I escaped from a terrorist camp in Kashmir.’’ He turned and looked directly into Kusum’s eyes and said, “While I was a there, your husband Vijay was brought into the terrorist camp, more dead than alive. He had been shot while on a mission, captured, and brought to this camp. I did the best I could, but he was too badly wounded and we both knew he was going to die.”
Kusum brought her hand to her mouth and made a little squeaking sound, her eyes riveted to Sirohi’s. Ammaji and Papaji both sucked in the air and somebody said, “Dear God.”
“Vijay said that if I made him a promise, he would help me escape from the prison camp. To be honest, I thought he was delirious but I promised to do whatever he asked.”
By this time they were all crying and Sirohi had to stop to collect himself. He looked at Kusum Sapra and saw that she was seeing something far off in the distance. Her eyes glassed over and she cried into her hands. When he was able, he continued.
“Vijay said, ‘Promise me that you will go to Batala and tell my wife, Kusum, that she is still my girl friend and that I was thinking of her and the girls when I died. Will you promise me that?
“Yes, Vijay, I promise. I will go to Batala; I said.
“He handed me this picture and his wedding ring so that you would know that I was telling the truth.” Sirohi handed the ring and picture to Kusum Sapra and held her hands for a moment.
He leaned down and removed a knife from the inside pocket of his coat and said, “He gave me this survival knife, and I said, “Thank you, Vijay. I promise, I will be the first to go to Batala and tell Kusum this story.’
“Is there anything else? I asked.”
“Yes, could you hold me?” Vijay said. Just hold me. I don’t want to die alone.
“I held him and rocked him for a long, long time. In that time, he kept repeating, ‘Good-bye, Kusum, I love you and I’m sorry I won’t be around to see the girls grow up.’ After a while he died peacefully in my arms.
“I want you to know,” Major Prem Sirohi continued in between sobs, “I need you to understand, Kusum 1bahen, I did everything I could, but there was just too much damage. Ididn’t know how to stop the bleeding. I didn’t have any medical supplies. I...” At that he broke down completely.
They all spent some time crying and that brought the girls into the room. They wanted to know why they were all sad and why they were crying. Sirohi looked at Kusum Sapra and they both knew that he couldn’t go through this again so she said that Uncle Sirohi had some bad news but that everything would be all right soon.
This seemed to appease them and they went back into the ad¬joining room, and began to play. Sirohi needed to explain what Vijay’s valiant gesture had done, so he began again. “The knife Vijay gave me allowed me to over¬power the guards and free four other Indian soldiers that were in the camp. Your husband is a hero. Because of him four other Indians are free and I am sitting here, sitting in his chair, telling you of his death. I’m so terribly sorry to have to tell you this.”
Again he began to cry and Kusum Sapra got up from her chair and came to comfort him. She, with her great loss, was comforting him. He felt humbled and honoured. She took his face in her hands and looked at him and said, “You know, there are two hero’s here, my husband, Vijay, and you, Premji. You are a hero, too. Thank you, thank you for coming here and telling me in person. I know it took a lot for you to come here and face me and tell me my husband is dead, but you are an honorable man. You made a promise and kept it. Not many other men would have had the courage to do this. Thank you.”
He sat there stunned. He didn’t feel like a hero, but here he was listening to this woman, in the midst of her grief and pain, tell him he was a hero, that he was an honourable man. All he could feel was guilt and anger; guilt that he had survived and that her husband, the father of her children, was dead; and anger, an intense anger at the ambiguity and callousness of the government which had allowed the terrorist problem to grow to such dimensions. Why couldn’t the government destroy the terrorist bases in Pakistan. Why was the government not able to deal with the jamatiyas (religious leaders), who though unarmed were the real ideological motivators and financers of the terrorists. Why? Why? He couldn’t forgive his country or himself; yet here was a woman who had suffered an incredible loss, the loss of her husband forgiving him, thanking him. He couldn’t bear it.
They sat for a time and then he left to go back to his home. Hehad been granted leave after his escape and he wanted to get very drunk and stay very drunk, for a long, long time.
Helen Keller and her Teacher
Helen Keller became ill at age two and was left blind and deaf. For the next five years she grew up in a world of darkness and emptiness. She was afraid, alone and without any anchor. This is the story of her meeting the teacher who would change her life
The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.
On the afternoon of that evenful day, I stood on the porch, dumb and expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother signs, and from the hurrying to and from in the house, that something unusual was about to happen; so I went to the door and waited on the steps.
The afternoon sun penerated the mass of honeysuckle that covered the porch and fell on my upturned face. My fingers lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossom. I did not know what the future held for me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks, and a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way towards the shore and you waited with a beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began; only I had no way of knowing how near the harbor was.
'Life! Give me light!' was the wordless cry of my soul and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed it was my mother. Someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all things else, to love me.
The morning after my teacher came, she led me into her room and gave me a doll. The little blind children at Perkins Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I did not know this until afterward.
When I played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word d-o-l-l.
I was at once interested in this finger play and tried to imitate it. When I finally succeeded in making the letters correctly, I was flushed with childish pleasure and pride. Running downstairs to my mother, I held up my hand and made the letters for doll. I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.
In the days that followed, I learned to spell in this uncomprehending way a great many words; among them pin, hat, cup, and a few verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had been with me several weeks before I understood that everything has a name.
One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap; also, spelled 'doll' and tried to make me understand that 'doll' applied to both. Earlier in the day, we had a tussle over the words m-u-g and w-a-t-e-r Miss Sullivan had tried to impress upon me that m-u-g is mug and that w-a-t-e-r is water but I persisted in confounding the two. In despair she had dropped the subject for the time only to renew it at the first opportunity.
I became impatient at her repeated attempts and seizing the new doll I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment or tenderness.
I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of the hearth and I had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of my discomfort was removed. She brought me my hat and I knew I was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and skip with pleasure.
We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysucukle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other, the word w-a-t-e-r; first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers.
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool, something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house, every object that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange new sight that had come to me.
On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears for I realized what I had done; and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.
I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them-words that were to make the world blossom for me, like Aaron's rod, with flowers. It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day. For the first time I longed for a new day to come.
Note : Helen went on to graduate from Raddcliffe. She devoted the rest of her life to teaching and giving hope to the blind and deaf as her teacher had done. She and Anne remained friends until Anne’s death.