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A CBT PUBLICATION SHORT STORIES FOR CHILDREN This is a compilation of stories submitted by the participants at a Writers Workshop conducted by Children's Book Trust. © by CBT 1982 Reprinted 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008. ISBN 81-7011-314-8 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by Children's Book Trust, Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi-110002 and printed at its Indraprastha Press. Ph: 23316970-74 Fax: 23721090 e-mail: Website: SHORT STORIES FOR CHILDREN Children's Book Trust, New Delhi Contents Man Overboard 3 Vasantha Murthi When Papa Scolded Me 12 Ira Saxena To The Memory Of A Lion 18 Tara Tixoari The Triumphant Smile 27 K.C. Batra The Turkish Cap 31 B.P. Gupta The Goose Thieves 37 Padmini Bannerjee Christmas Bells 45 R.K. Murthi In A Guava Orchard 53 N.P. Singh All Because Of My Hair 59 S.G. Haidar The Pink Card 64 Indira Ananthakrishrwn The Unforgettable Journey 73 E. Sheila Varunkaka's Lemonade Pals 80 Valjayanti Savant-Tonpe Hanuman And I 89 Rupa Gupta At The Party 94 Anil Ekbote Outwitted 99 Tara Parameswaran That Sunday Morning 104 Savita Singh The Boy From Standard III 108 Pratibha Nath Illustrated by Subir Roy and Geeta Verma Man Overboard I stood on the deck of S.S. Rajula. As she slowly moved out of Madras harbour, I waved to my grandparents till I could see them no more. I was thrilled to be on board a ship. It was a new experience for me. "Are you travelling alone?" asked the person standing next to me. "Yes, Uncle, I'm going back to my parents in Singapore," I replied. "What's your name?" he asked. "Vasantha," I replied. I spent the day exploring the ship. It looked just like a big house. There were furnished rooms, a swimming pool, a room for indoor games, and a library. Yet, there was plenty of room to 11111 around. The next morning the passengers were seated in the dining hall, having breakfast. The loud- speaker spluttered noisily and then the captain's voice came loud and clear. "Friends we have just received a message that a storm is brewing in the Indian Ocean. I request all of you to keep calm. Do not panic. Those who are inclined to sea- 3 sickness may please stay in their cabins. Thank you." There was panic everywhere. An old lady pray- ed aloud, "Oh God! Have mercy on us. My only son is waiting for me in Singapore." A gentleman consoled her, "Don't worry, Madam, it's only a warning. We may not be affected at all." Another lady, who was sitting beside me, look- ed very ill. "Not rough weather! I'm already sea- sick. A rough sea will be the end of me!" I could not understand why all the elders were so upset. I remembered the several sea adven- tures I had read. Excitedly, I turned to the elder- ly gentleman sitting next to me. "Uncle, won't it be thrilling to face a storm on board a steamer? Have you ever been on a ship during a storm?" "It can be quite unpleasant, you know," he re- plied rather severely. "I remember a time when the ship on which I was travelling ran off course. We were wandering on the ocean for a couple of days." I remembered my class teacher, an English wo- man, telling us in class one day, "When I crossed the English Channel on my way to Singapore, there was a big storm near Gibraltar. The ship rocked to and fro. Everything in the cabins roll- ed up and down. Even the heavy pianos in the lounge went crashing against the walls." 4 This made my imagination run wild. Turning to 'Uncle' again, I said, "Wouldn't it be fun if the storm broke when we have lunch? Then the tables, with all the food on them, would run away from us. And the chairs, with us sitting on them, would be a merry-go-round." Everyone round the table stared at me in hor- ror. I thought to myself, 'Oh, these adults, they've no sense of adventure. How dull they are!' The storm didn't break, but in the evening a strong wind started blowing. The ship rocked to and fro, rocking and rolling to the music of the wind. Huge waves were dashing against it. Even though the deck was slippery, I was running around. That's when I noticed Uncle leaning over the railings. I ran up to him, thinking he too, was enjoying the experience. "Good morning, Uncle, isn't it lovely?" I asked him. But he wasn't well at all. He was retching over the rails and looked rather blue about the mouth. I felt sorry for him. "Can I be of any help? Shall I call the doctor?' I asked him. He couldn't reply, but only held up his hand. As another bout of retching shook him he leaned over the railings. At the same time a huge wave lashed the ship. It lurched violently and the man tumbled over the railings into the wild sea. For a second I stood rooted to the spot. Then I ran like someone possessed, shouting, "Help! Help! 5 Man overboard! Save him!" I must have made a lot of noise. I heard footsteps hurrying even that early in the morning. Tears streaming down my face and shouting incoherently, I ran full pelt into an officer. "What's the matter? Why are you making so much noise?" he asked in a stern voice, I was surprised to see it was the captain. "Oh Sir!" I blurted out in relief. "A man fell into the sea. Please save him." "Where?" he asked, immediately on the alert. "There," I said pointing a finger. He did not wait for more details but ran at once to a room full of officers. "Man overboard," he cried. "Stop ship. Drop anchor. Quick!" His instructions were immediately obeyed. The cap- tain then raced to the upper deck. I kept trailing behind him. "Lower the life-boats and crew into the sea towards the helm," he said. "There is a man overboard." Here again the men quickly obeyed him. People started crowding the deck. "What's happening?" somebody asked me. Word soon went round. Everyone was tense. Only an occasional, "There he is!" could be heard. Someone asked, "Who is he?" Another replied, "Don't know." Meanwhile two life-boats moved towards the man. I stood close to the captain. In his anxiety, 6 he gripped my shoulder tightly and I winced. "You're hurting me Sir," I protested. "I am sorry, my dear. The sea is very rough today. I hope my men can reach him in time. My ship has never lost a passenger before," he said crossing himself. He was watching the rescue operations through a pair of binoculars that hung round his neck. The boat was too far for me to see what was happening. I tugged at the Captain's sleeve. "What are they doing, Sir? Have they rescued the man?" I asked him. "They've caught him by the arms and are pull- ing him towards the boat." He was giving me a running commentary. "Oh what bad luck! A sud- den current has swept the man away dragging two of the sailors with him." He sounded nervous. Just then he noticed the passengers crowding against the railings. "Keep away from those rail- ings!" he shouted. "We don't want another accident." The ship had dropped anchor but was heaving up and down. I borrowed the captain's binoculars. Now I could see the rescue operation clearly. The crew in the rescue boats threw a strong rope to the two sailors in the sea and shouted, "Catch". Both of them were good swimmers and soon had caught hold of the rope. Then, with powerful strokes, they swam towards Uncle. One of them caught hold 7 of him, while the other tied the rope round his waist. With Uncle between them and the rope secure, the sailors swam back to the life-boats. The rescue team in the boats leaned over and heaved the three men into it. In a jiffy the boats were heading back to the ship. "Thank God!" muttered the captain making the sign of the cross again, "They've managed to save him." He turned to the passengers thronging the railings. "Please do not crowd round the man when he is brought up. He will need immediate medical care." Then he saw the ship's doctor stand- ing with a couple of nurses. A stretcher was also being brought close to the railings. "Doctor! Is everything ready for the patient?" the captain asked. "Aye, aye, Captain," nodded the doctor. The captain moved away to restore order on the ship. I edged close to the doctor and asked, "What will you do to him, doctor? Will he be all right?" "Aye, I think so. All the water will have to be pumped out of him. He'll have to be given arti- ficial respiration and kept warm." "How do you pump the water out?" I asked. "We put him on his stomach and massage him until he brings it all up," he replied. As soon as the rescue team reached the ship, Uncle was placed on the stretcher and rushed to 8 the hospital room. The captain then came to me and said, "Run along now and play with your friends. I'm busy, but will send for you when I'm through. I might even have a surprise for you." When he turned away, I quietly sneaked into the hospital room to see what they were doing to the patient. Two nurses were scurrying to and fro with trays full of medicines and syringes. Another was rushing off with Uncle's wet clothes. I stop- ped her and asked if Uncle was conscious. "Not yet," she replied, "but he's better now. He should regain consciousness in a little while." The ship was still rolling, so I couldn't play any games. I went and sat in a cosy chair in the lounge and started reading a story-book. I was feeling drowsy and must have dozed off. The next tiling I knew was somebody saying, "Wake up, child. You're Vasantha, aren't you? The Captain wants to see you in his cabin." I looked up to see a sailor standing before me. It took me a minute to recollect the rescue ope- ration and the captain telling me, "I'll call you afterwards." I followed the officer eagerly. He left me out- side the captain's door, saying, "Go right inside." I knocked and entered. The captain was stand- ing in the middle of the room. When he saw me, he came forward and literally swept me off my feet. He was still smiling when he put me down. 10 "You will have plenty to tell your friends, eh? Now close your eyes." I did so. Seconds later, I heard him say, "See what I've got for you." On opening my eyes, I saw a big brown box. On it was written: "WITH THE BEST COMPLIMENTS OF CAPT. LINDSAY." I took the box and eagerly opened it. "Oh, what a lovely ship!" I exclaimed. "Does this really belong to me? Can I keep it?" Lying snugly on a velvet backing was a most beautiful model of the ship. On it was inscribed "B.I.S.N. & Co. S.S. RAJULA." I placed the box carefully on the table. Then I threw my hands round the captain and hugged and kissed him. He patted my cheek and smiled as he saw me lift the box and walk happily out of his room. I proudly showed my present to everyone I met. "See what the Captain has given me. Isn't it lovely?" "Yes, indeed," was the unanimous verdict. I was the happiest person on board that day. 11 When Papa Scolded Me "Baby, come for breakfast. Your milk is getting cold," called Bhaiya, my elder brother. I quickly put on my slippers, picked up my favourite doll, Beeta, and rushed out into the verandah. It was a beautiful day. The morning air was most refreshing. "Ah, how lovely!" I said aloud, taking a deep breath. I ran across the verandah, with Beeta tucked under my arm. While I gulped down the milk, I heard Papa calling out to the driver. "Papa is still here, Bhaiya. He hasn't gone to the clinic, today," I said overwhelmed with joy. Being engrossed in a magazine, Bhaiya did not reply, but I could see Papa talking to someone in his room, which was opposite the dining hall facing the verandah. "Papa! Papa! I don't have to go to school, it's a holiday. Do you have a holiday, too? Look, Beeta has got fever," I said, all in one breath. "No, my dear child, I don't have a holiday to- day. You go and play while I talk to Mr. Singh. He is very ill. I'll ask the compounder to give your doll some medicine," Papa said lovingly. 12 It was quite unusual to find my father at home at that time. Normally he was in his clinic before I woke up. So I was very happy. My father wiped his spectacles with the kerchief as he listened to his patient carefully. I was on the balcony when I heard, "Baby! Baby! Come here, see this." It was my brother from the verandah. He had spread himself on an easy chair and our dog, Tom, was dancing round on his hind legs. I burst out laughing. "Papa will give medicine to Beeta," I said, showing off. "And I'll ask Papa to give some medicine to his darling daughter, because. . . .because she laughs and laughs," said Bhaiya, tickling me and sending me into fits of laughter. Being the youngest child in the family I received everyone's attention and affection. Papa of course, was the most affectionate. I ran from one end of the verandah to the other and then onto the balcony, staying close to Papa's room to attract his attention while I played. I swung on the curtain, thumped on the door, tap- ped on the table, pulled and pushed the chair. "Look, Bhaiya, what a variety of sounds they make," I said, pulling the chair, then leaping up and rapping on the door, clapping my hands, jumping all the while. "Don't," pleaded Bhaiya, not taking his eyes off 13 the book in his hand. Racing back to the window of Papa's room, I saw him still busy with the patient. I loved to see him there before me, while I played. 'He must be liking it, too,' I thought, 'to see me play around in his room.' I dragged a chair and climbed onto the table. This at last drew Papa's attention. "Baby, be careful, you'll fall down," he said tenderly. "Look, Papa, I am taller than everyone," I grin- ned from ear to ear making my eyes disappear. All one could see was a set of white teeth and chubby cheeks. Both Mr. Singh and Papa smiled. Papa did not look convinced. So I said again raising my hands above my head. "Papa I'm a big girl, now." He nodded with a smile and continued talking to the patient. I touched all that I could reach with my hands till I got to the black switch. 'No, you should not touch it.' I was imagining what my mother would have said. 'If you touch it, you'll get hurt,' Bhaiya had told me once. This was a 'forbidden' article for me, but how attractive it looked — black against the light blue wall. Unable to resist the tempta- tion to touch it, I pressed the switch and the light came on. I immediately switched it off. I was 14 scared, I looked at Papa with large anxious eyes, but he was busy writing. He did not see me. I looked at Papa again and then at the switch which begged my hands to touch it again. 'I'll do it just once more, okay?' I said softly to myself. I repeated the mischief once more and was unable to stop myself from doing it again and again. I seemed to have disturbed Papa who was 15 concentrating on the patient's problem. Without looking up from the book, he said in a serious voice, "Don't do that, you might get a shock." The klick-klack of the switch and the glowing bulb fascinated me, "Baby, come here, let Papa do his work," called my brother. I ignored everybody. This was the most fasci- nating game for me at the moment. TIow fantastic! I press — the light is on, I push — the light goes off', I muttered. The patient, obviously, had some serious prob- lem. My father sat with four books open in front of him. My running around had certainly disturb- ed him. Completely exasperated, he put down his pen and spectacles and shouted at me, "You're not listening to me. GET DOWN FROM THERE!" His loud voice broke my trance. I gaped at him wide-eyed. He fixed his gaze on me, ex- pecting to be obeyed instantly. I was shocked at being scolded so loudly by him — scolded by Papa. Papa, a very soft spoken person, who was known never to raise his voice, had SHOUTED in anger at his darling daughter. I was very angry with him. I jumped down from the table with a loud thud and raced up and down the balcony. My breath quickened, my face went red with anger, and my eyes felt hot with unshed tears. Throwing my hands about, I raced up and down wanting to 16 destroy everything that came in my way. Hearing the commotion Bhaiya came out. "What is it?" he asked. My fury found a ready victim and I ran towards him and pushed him. I felt like bursting into tears. I rushed and pulled at the curtain in Papa's room, which came down with the force. I saw Papa talking to the patient with his usual patience. How unthoughtful of him! He is not a bit bothered about my being so angry with him. 1 was fuming all the more. I went back into the room, stamping my feet noisily in anger. Standing close to Papa, I raged vehemently, "Why couldn't you say it softly? Why did you speak so loudly to me?" The next moment I came out on the balcony and stood beside the money-plant pot. My eyes were now full of tears. I plucked a leaf and shred- ded it to pieces. The sound of a chair being pushed in Papa's room reached my ears and then I heard his footsteps coming closer to me. I tried to run away in annoyance, but Papa caught me. He pull- ed my face towards his and picked me up. Tears came rolling down my plump cheeks. He patted my head lovingly and wiped my tears. "Oh, you big cat!" said Papa, ruffling my hair. This affectionate gesture melted my wrath. A moment later I was once again happy playing round the house. 17 To The Memory Of A Lion Tanaji Malusare was Shivaji's childhood friend and companion at arms. He was very brave and daring. Shivaji proudly called him his Sivnha or Lion. Tanaji had planned and fought many a bat- tle by the side of his leader. They were deter- mined to free their land from Mughal domination. Tanaji lived in the small town of Umratha. One morning, Umratha wore a festive look. Colourful bunting fluttered in the streets. There was a Mangal Kolas* at every door. Tanaji's son was to be married that day. People went in and out of his house, busy running errands. Just then a messenger came galloping down the street. "Look!" cried a man who had noticed him in the distance. "What news can he be bringing?" he asked Tanaji's servant who was near him. Be- fore the servant could reply, the rider came to a stop in front of them. He leapt off his horse and said, "Where is Tanaji? I must see him at once." "In the house Sir," answered the servant. He had recognised the rider. "I'll take you to him." "Sire," the servant called out. "Pots decorated with mango leaves and a coconut. 18 Tanaji and his wife were busy selecting and packing clothes and ornaments for the bride and the groom. "Who is there?" he asked. "Suryaji," replied the servant. Tanaji put aside the jewel-case he was holding and stepped forward. "Come in, Suryaji". Suryaji entered and bowed to Tanaji and his wife. "Welcome, my friend. What brings you here?" he asked. His wife, too, stopped inspecting the sari she had in her hand. "Ka/e* wants you at Raigarh immediately," re- plied Suryaji. Tanaji knew at once that it was something serious. He turned swiftly to his wife and put his hand affectionately on her shoulder. "My dear," he said, "you know I have to go. Postpone the wedding. My first duty is to my leader and my land. Come, smile and bid me farewell. Do not wony. Suryaji and my men will be with me." Tanaji's wife was stunned. She held back her tears. "Please wait," she said and went in to prepare the ' tilak an d 'arti'*** for the farewell. "His Majesty. s 3Vermillion mark on forehead. co "moving a lighted lamp round a soldier before he goes to battle. 19 Tanaji buckled his sword and stepped out of the room. He ordered his men to be ready to ac- company him. The news spread and soon the soldiers assembled outside his house. After his wife had applied 'tilak' on his fore- head and performed the 'arti\ Tanaji took leave of her. Leading an army of horsemen, he rode fast to reach Raigarh fort. Tanaji walked straight into Shivaji's room and found him sitting in a pensive mood. "Raje, I'm here at your service," said Tanaji bowing. "Oh! my Sivnha has come!" exclaimed Shivaji. He embraced Tanaji and said, "Come, sit down. We have a difficult assignment. Ma Sahib* feels that the other forts are not safe so long as we do not recapture Kondana fort. "Udai Singh Rathor is in command of the Mughal forces. His men are guarding the three gates. His sons are also with him. All of them are brave fighters. There is also the killer elephant Chandrawati. She is a force by herself. I have thought and thought, but can't find a way of cap- turing the fort. You are the only one who may be able to find a way." The lines deepened on Tanaji's brow. Then he spoke. "I have a plan. The fort is guarded only on three sides. We will try to enter from the west." "What?" Shivaji sprang up. "Enter from the west? You're not planning to climb that precipice? It is unassailable." Tanaji said coolly ��� "No, Raje, it is not the way I intend doing it." He then explained his plan to Shivaji in detail. "It is a daring plan," said Shivaji anxiously. "Very difficult to execute. Everything depends on just one thing." "Yes, it is difficult, Raje, but not impossible. 4 Queen Mother. 21 We will prepare well and we will succeed." Tanaji sounded confident. "Very well, go ahead with your preparations. May Goddess Bhawani* bless you." Tanaji bowed to Shivaji and left. He called Suryaji and some of his personal friends who were waiting in the adjoining room. He swore them to secrecy and then told them of the plan. "We begin preparing at once. Drill the soldiers, perfect them in the use of arms, but do not tell them for what. We have to take the enemy by surprise.' Soon everything was ready. Tanaji called his friends, and announced, "Tonight we attack. It is a moonless night and nothing will be visible. All of you must be absolutely silent as you ap- proach Kondana fort. I will take the iguana Yash- wanti. With her help, we will scale the rock." Then he turned to Suryaji. "You are to take the rest of the men and wait at Kalyan Gate. We will throw it open for you." Last minute preparations over, they marched to the fort quietly as shadows. In a short while they reached the foot of the precipice. Tanaji tied a rope to Yashwanti's neck. Then he threw her up hard, so she could clutch the wall. But the iguana lost her grip and slithered down. "Shivaji's family diety. 22 1 "Oh, it is a sign of bad luck!" exclaimed one of the soldiers. Tanaji whirled round, "Who said that? There is no place for superstition in a soldier's life. He must only have faith, in himself and in God." Tanaji once again hurled the iguana up with greater force. This time Yashwanti gripped the top of the fort wall. Tanaji breathed a sigh of relief. "Hand me the bag containing the ropes," said Tanaji. A soldier gave it to him and he slung it on his back. "I go up first. I will tie the ropes to the pro- jections on the wall and let them down. With their help you can all climb up. Remember not a sound." Tanaji held the rOpe tight and climbed up and up till he reached the ramparts. The soldiers followed him. Within minutes they were at the top. Tanaji whispered, "There must be a number of guards posted on the ramparts. Take them unawares and silence them. They should not be allowed to sound the alarm. We'll get down and attack the soldiers inside the fort. Let's go." The men stonned the fort and overpowered the guards in no time. Shouting 'Jai Bhatoani', they rushed into the fort. The Mughal soldiers offered stiff resistance and a fierce hand to hand fight ensued. 23 One of the Mughal soldiers quietly slipped out and rushed to inform Udai Singh. "The Marathas have entered my fort? But how?" cried Udai Singh. He sprang from his bed and hurried to the next apartment. "Wake up, my sons. Tell the mahout* to get Chandrawati. She'll crush the Marathas in no time." Udai Singh's sons joined in the battle and the mahout sent Chandrawati charging into the fray. The Marathas fought bravely. The casual- ties were heavy. Among the first to perish were Udai Singh's three sons and Chandrawati, the elephant. Tanaji went looking for Udai Singh. Udai Singh had by then heard of his sons deaths. He rushed into the melee. "Tanaji, you have a lot to answer for. You can't escape me." "That we'll see," cried Tanaji. With drawn swords, they closed in. Both were brilliant swordsmen. The battle raged fiercely round them. The attackers had got the better of the defenders. In a strategic move, a section of the Maratha soldiers had thrown open Kalyan Gate. Tanaji and Udai Singh were locked in a life and death struggle. Both were tired and bleeding profusely. Udai "Elephant-driver. 24 Singh made a gallant effort and plunged his sword into Tanaji's chest. Tanaji stumbled and fell. Quite unexpectedly he sprang up and inflic- ted a mortal wound on a triumphant Udai Singh. He fell dead. Tanaji, too collapsed and died. All was quiet when Suryaji entered the fort. He rushed around, looking for Tanaji. He found him lying in a pool of blood. He knelt to feel his pulse. He looked aghast at his dead friend. His grief soon turned into anger. "We must complete your task", he muttered, drawing his sword. The Marathas, infuriated by Tanaji's death, fell on their foes like tigers. Udai Singh's death had taken the fight out of the Mughals. After a brief struggle, the Marathas won the battle. Kondana fort was once again in their hands. Suryaji returned to Raigarh fort to inform Shivaji of their victory. He was anxiously waiting for them. "Raje, the fort is taken," said Suryaji. "Good. But where is Tanaji?" Suryaji hung his head and remained silent. "Speak, Suryaji!" cried Shivaji shaking him by his shoulders. "What has happened to him?" "He is dead!" Suryaji said in a broken voice. Shivaji's face went pale as he mumbled, "The fort is won, but my lion is gone." He turned and walked to the window. 25 He stood there looking out. A memorial to Tanaji stands on the spot where he fell. It is called 'Sivnha Garh "The lion's fort. The Triumphant Smile Humayun lay in a coma. His father Babar stood beside his bed, sad and worried. The Chief Vizier and the nobles crowded behind him. The queen with tears in her eyes begged of the emperor, "Save Humayun's life, my Lord". In between sobs she said again, "Save my son from the clutches of death." Babar stood aghast and moaned in grief. "O God, how helpless am I! I can't even save my son. I can't save my own flesh, my own blood.... " The palace herald announced, "Here comes Shahi Hakim."* The Hakim entered the room and offered his respects to the emperor. Babar knelt before him pleading, "O life-giver! Save my child." The Hakim was taken aback and bent down to raise the Emperor to his feet. "O my Lord," he said, "I'm just an ordinary servant of yours. I promise I won't leave any stone unturned. But to grant life is in God's hands. Have faith in Him. He is Rahim. He is Karim, the kind and the merciful. Beg His "Royal physician. 27 mercy, Sir. I can only examine the patient and diagnose the illness." The Hakim felt Humayun's pulse. Then he ex- amined the closed eyelids. He tried to open his mouth too, but it was shut tight. The Hakim un- buttoned Humayun's shirt and applied a strong- smelling balm to his chest. The prince slowly opened his eyes and mouth too, but did not show recognition. "Asalam walekumPrince," the Hakim greeted him. But there was no reply. "Asalam ivalekum," he repeated. "Look at me Prince. Look at your father. Don't you recognise your mother sitting by your side?" There was still no response. Humayun's va- cant looks were fixed on the ceiling. The queen took Humayun in her arms and moaned. "O Humayun, my son, won't you call me Anuria* * anymore? Here, here look at your Abba* * * Say something my son, say a few words!" But Humayun didn't utter a sound. Babar stood dazed beside the Hakim, while the queen's heart- rending cries continued to fill the room. The Hakim opened another bottle and poured a few drops of nectar into Humayun's parted lips. But the drops flowed out. The Hakim mumbled, "God bless you (Muslim greeting). 0 0 Mother """Father 28 "He has not accepted the medicine. I'm sure his throat is swollen and clogged." He took a piece of paper and wrote down the names of some medi- cines. "Here my Lord! I can only prescribe these potions for the patient. Kindly try them. Howal shaft'•!* May God cure him," said the Hakim. He handed the slip to the Emperor and left the palace in dismay. Babar passed the prescription on to the Chief Vizier. Meanwhile, one of the court priests had entered the chamber. He bowed low and said, "My Lord! Kindly offer to God whatever you love most. I am sure God will be kind enough to give Humayun a new lease of life." "Should I renounce my wealth and my king- dom?" asked Babar. "That's up to you, my Lord. You should offer what you love most," the priest replied. "What do I love most?" the Emperor muttered. "Only you can answer that my Lord." "Dearest to my heart is Humayun," Babar replied. "Surely, to save the Prince, Your Majesty would not hesitate to offer something equally dear to Allah?" urged the priest. "Ah! It is my own life that I love most," said Babar with a triumphant smile. °God bless you with good health. 29 "Allah-O-AkbarIn the presence of all nobles and courtiers of my empire, I, Zaheerud-Din Babar, do hereby offer my own life to God Al- mighty to save Humayun my dearest son. Let his malady strike me. Let Humayun recover. May I die and may Humayun live for ever and ever." As soon as he had finished speaking Babar sat down on the mat to offer prayers to the Lord. The anguished queen flung herself at Babar's feet and cried, "No, no, my Lord. You cannot die. Let the Almighty take my life. Humayun must live under your patronage." "No, Begum.0 My pledge to the Almighty must hold good. I must defeat death. I have lived a hero's life. Let me die a hero's death for Huma- yun," muttered Babar as he lay down on the mat feeling faint and dizzy from the pain in his chest. "Allah-O-Akbar," whispered Babar again with the same triumphant smile on his lips, as his eyes closed. At the same time Humayun regained cons- ciousness and opened his eyes. "Allah is the Greatest. "Woman of noble rank. 30 The Turkish Cap The school bell rang. Recess at last! We rush- ed out of the classroom. I took the 'gulli ° out of my satchel before I ran out. Khushal took the ' clanda an d followed me. Panna, Raghu- bir, Brijpal, Prakash, Kaushal, Bishen, Nityanand, all dashed out, followed by others. We reached the ground outside our school compound where we usually played. Prakash drew a big circle. Khushal entered it. It was his turn to begin the game. He placed the 'gulli' in the centre of the circle, and took the 'danda to strike the gulli. The others took their positions round the circle. Everybody's eyes were on Khushal. He struck the 'gulli' hard. It flew out of the circle and went quite far. None of us could catch it. Nityanand was the first to reach the 'gulli'. Picking it up, he threw it back with all his strength. Khushal struck hard again. It went flying in another direction. Bishen was fielding that side. He tried to catch "Short stick used in the game of tip-cat (gullidanda). "Stic k used in the same game. 31 it but it slipped through his fingers. He picked it up and threw it back towards Khushal. Khushal once again hit it back. It was my turn next. But the way Khushal was hitting I felt my turn would never come. I would have to wait till the next day. I was hoping Khu- shal would miss just once. Then I would be able to start. But Khushal was proving too good a player for us. Then Panna threw the 'gulli to Khushal. It did not even reach the circle. Khushal struck it force- fully towards Brijpal. Brijpal could not catch it either. It should have been an easy catch. I curs- ed him for missing it. Brijpal was also sorry foi the slip. But what could he do now? He flung the gulli back with a vengeance. Khushal didn't miss this time either. The 'gulli was now flying towards me. I was ready to catch it. But it never came! All of a sudden there was a lot of noise. A man in kurtci* pyjama was standing in the middle of the play field. His turkish cap was lying on the ground, upside down. The 'gulli seemed to have hit the cap on its way to me. The wonder of it all was that the 'gulli' had landed inside the cap. The man was furious. "You naughty boys! See, what you have done. I will teach you a lesson," he shouted. "Long loose shirt worn with pyjamas. 32 "I am sorry, Sir," Khushal said promptly. "I did not do it deliberately. It just happened. But, I am very sorry." . "Is this your playground? Why don't you play in your school compound?" the man shouted. Brijpal went up to him. "Sir, we are sorry for what happened. Our school compound is very small." "That is why we play here everyday," Bipin added. "And this is how you play here, isn't it?" the man said wryly. "I'll go to your headmaster. Then you will leam how to play and where to play." Khushal and Brijpal pleaded. "Sir, please ex- cuse us. We will be careful in future." The man did not appear to be satisfied. I thought I could save the situation. I picked up his cap to hand it over to him. He snatched it from me. I could not remove the 'gulli from it. Turning round, he started walking rapidly to- wards the school. All of us followed him, begging his pardon all the way. But he wpuld not listen. I stole a glance at my friends. They all looked mournful. I too was scared of the headmaster's temper. The man entered the school building, and went straight to the headmaster's office. The peon out- side tried to stop him. He just brushed him aside and went in. We could hear loud voices coming 34 from within. All of us were praying silently. We had crept to the courtyard facing the headmaster's room. We tried guessing the conversation they were having and the consequences. Soon the peon came and called us. One by one we enter- ed the headmaster's room. "Who is responsible for all this?" he asked in a thundering voice. "How many times have I told you to keep within the school compound?" We looked at one another. No one could say a word. The headmaster raised his voice, "Are all of you dumb? Why don't you speak up?" I made bold to reply, "Sir, we are sorry. We shall be careful in future." The headmaster merely said, "Apologise to this gentleman, all of you." "We have been begging his pardon, Sir," it was Brijpal. "You must apologise in my presence," the headmaster insisted. We chorused, "We are very sorry, Sir." "O.K. boys," the man said and turned towards the headmaster. "And thank you, Sir." He look- ed satisfied, and moved towards the door. Just as he was going out and we were about to leave, the headmaster asked, "Now, whose stroke was it?" I looked towards Khushal. He was looking at me. I looked round. My heart was beating faster 35 and faster. But how could I blame my friend? With a sinking feeling, I decided I would take the blame. A faint smile played on the headmaster's face. Somehow I felt it was not for any punish- ment that the question was asked. I opened my mouth to reply. But Khushal was quicker. "Sir, it was my stroke. I am very sorry." "What a stroke!" the headmaster exclaimed. "You strike the 'gulli', hit a man's cap, make it fall, and then land the 'gulli' inside it! A master player, no doubt!" I could not suppress my laughter. But I could not laugh in the headmaster's presence, either. So, I checked myself and with some difficulty managed a wide smile. When I looked round, the others were also trying to suppress their laugh- ter. We were eager to go out and have a hearty laugh. The man with the turkish cap also turned round at the door. He too looked amused. Still smiling he went away. We trooped out of the room. Then we let our- selves go. 36 The Goose Thieves It was Bina who first got wind of what was happening. She happened to be passing the school kitchen where they cooked meals for the nuns and boarders. George, the school-bus driver, was lounging around talking to the cooks inside. Bina, who was looking for some botanical specimens in the backyard, stopped suddenly in her tracks. Waddling sedately towards her was a bevy of large, awkward looking geese. "Oh hello, Christopher Columbus, hi Marco Polo, hi Captain Cook, hello Amundsen," she greeted them. The geese hurried towards her, their heads bobbing back and forth. The boarders had named the geese after famous explorers be- cause they were constantly exploring the school grounds. Once they had wandered into Bina's classroom, during a very boring civics class and had scared the daylights out of Miss K. The class had roared with laughter as Miss K. tried to chase the intruders out by flapping a large, che- cked, board duster. As Bina patted them, she heard one of the cooks giggle and threaten George. "If you keep 37 demanding more food, we'll really fatten you up and have you for the Christmas feast like those geese outside." Bina's heart sank. These sweet, lovable geese were actually being fattened for Christmas! It couldn't be! The schoolgirls were much too fond of them. But what could they do anyway? Bina sought her friends Vinita, Valerie and Nishi and told them what she had overheard. Nishi exploded. "Nonsense! Not our Marco Polo and Amundsen, our poor Captain Cook, and Columbus — no, no we won't let them be killed and eaten." Valerie however was the thoughtful sort. "But how can we stop them? They have every right to do what they like with the geese. That's done every Christmas. We have no right to make any- body do anything. After all, they aren't even our geese!" Vinita was close to tears. "But we've seen them around for weeks. School won't be the same without those darlings waddling in and out of the classrooms. We can't let them be killed!" Bina had been quiet all this time, working out a plan. "I think we can do something about it," she said finally. "In fact there is something we can do to stop the geese from turning up on the school dining table for Christmas." Nishi muttered disbelievingly, "If you're going 38 to suggest to Mother Superior that we should have a heart-to-heart talk about it, count me out. I quake in my boots when I see her coming." "Besides," said Valerie, "who are we for her to listen to? " "Listen to me," Bina interrupted. "I have a real good idea. The more I think about it, the better it appears." "Out with it, Beans," Vinita was impatient. "We'll kidnap them!" Bina exclaimed and sat back to watch her friends' reaction. "What!" burst out Nishi, "kidnap!" "You mean it'll work?" Vinita sounded doubt- ful. "Why not?" Only Valerie said slowly, "It's a possibility! We could keep them in my backyard. We have lots of space." The four sat together and thought. Gradually it struck the other three that Bina's idea was workable. If they could but grab the four geese and smuggle them somewhere far away from school there would be no geese for the cooks to fatten and slaughter for the Christmas dinner. The next few days, the four of them thought over and discussed plans in secret, till the rest of the class almost went crazy. They would huddle in a comer of the lawn or in the assembly hall or library. Whenever anybody wanted to find 39 out what they were discussing, they would innocently say like Valerie once did to an inquisi- tive girl — "Oh we are discussing the exploits of Marco Polo the traveller." "But we learnt all about him in geography last year," said the stubborn girl and went off, mumbling to herself. D-day drew nearer. It was mid-December and getting very cold. The girls came to school clad in heavy blazers. The day before the plan was put into action the four friends met on the lawn. "All set?" Bina looked round and blew on her hands for warmth. "Everybody sure about their parts?" "Hmmm." "Of course." "Everything's fine." "Good." The next morning Bina went to school, wearing a large sized blue overcoat. Mother Superior noticed her at once, even before morning assembly. "What is this?" she asked Bina. "You know very well that you're not supposed to wear any coat except your blazer to school." "Yes Mother," Bina said innocently, "but on my way here the upstairs lady threw out some water which fell on me. I couldn't come to school wear- ing a wet blazer." 40 Mother Superior nodded. "That's all right," she said. She was however dumbfounded when three other girls of the same class turned up wearing oversized coats. She shook her head in disbelief as they in turn made some excuse for turning up in their mo- thers coats. "This is too much,'' she shouted. "Four of you! Is this some kind of a practical joke?" Nishi looked nervous. Bina patted her arm and said aloud, "What a coincidence. Four of us turn- ing up like this! It's funny, isn't it?" There was a pause and then Mother Superior smiled, "Go on, go to your class. But I hope coin- cidences like this do not happen too often." The girls fled to their classroom. The others stared at them in surprise. The moment classes were over for that day, the four friends charged out. Their natural science teacher already totter- ing rather unsteadily on stilettos was thrown off- balance and fell heavily against the tall human skeleton in the corner of the room, as the four ran past her. Their classmates squealed in sym- pathy. Bina, Valerie, Nishi and Vinita had already disappeared down the corridor, past the library and assembly hall, across the courtyard and to- wards the kitchen. The kitchen was deserted and 41 there was nobody in sight either. Just then, as if on cue, the four explorers walk- ed out from behind a bush. "Grab," yelled Nishi forgetting to whisper and lunged at Christopher Columbus. "Eee-yowa," howled Bina as she reached for Marco Polo and was left with a feather from his tail as he slipped away. Valerie ran after Amundsen, and Vinita after Captain Cook who was scurrying across the cab- bage-patch. Bina caught her prey and tossed him inside her overcoat. But he was larger than she had thought and he stuck out conspicuously on her left side as he straggled to free himself. Bina ignored him, and shouted instructions to the others, "Get him from over there, right there... . Oh no! he's gone behind the bench... . you go from this side... . got him. . . .no? Oh there he is.. . . quick get him.. . .great!'' Nishi gripped Amundsen tightly, Christopher Columbus having fled to- wards Valerie who was chasing him round and round a cactus bush. "That's enough!" a sharp authoritarian voice lashed out. The girls looked up with instinctive dread. Mother Superior stood on top of the kit- chen steps, tall and unapproachable. The cook, Mary, peeped out from behind her. There was pin-drop silence for a few seconds. 42 Then, as Valerie and Vinita whirled round, their prey fled cackling loudly to safer pastures. Mother Superior looked sternly at them. "Now what's all this in aid of?" she asked in a quiet icy voice. "Is this your idea of fun?" There was a deathly silence. From inside Bina's coat Marco Polo gave an indignant squawk. Bina retrieved him and dumped him unceremoniously on the ground where he shook back his ruffled feathers and trundled off. Nishi put Amundsen down and he too waddled off. v Mother Superior was tight lipped. "Can I ex- pect an explanation?" The four of them exchanged glances. "We did not really mean it, Mother Superior.... We just thought it was very cruel. . . .And we're so fond of them!" "It's not fair to eat them.. . we love them so much." "After all there are so many other animals in the whole world. Why eat these?" Mother Superior raised one hand to silence them, "One of you explain. Not all of you to- gether. ... " Bina explained. She had a soothing voice. By the time she finished, Mother Superior was quite relaxed and trying to hide a smile. "Kidnap them!" she exclaimed. "Kidnap?" Mary, who had been quiet all this time, sud- denly roared with laughter. "Oh! Its so funny," she burst out. They all had an uproarious laugh. Finally Mother Superior said, patting the girls on their shoulders, "What- ever gave you girls the idea we were going to eat these fellow's? Certainly not. We're too fond of them. We won't kill them for the sake of one meal. They're yours girls! Yours to play with and look after." "Thank you, Mother Superior," four voices sang in chorus. "Its wonderful to know you never intended killing them in the first place." 44 Christmas Bells Once again, father was transferred. This time to the sleepy town of Palai in Kerala. On arrival at Palai, we moved into a house, surrounded by banana trees, beds of tapioca, roses and chrysanthemums. Bordering them were a dozen coconut palms, reaching out to the stars in the sky. I pranced round the house, exploring every nook and corner. My mother was busy unpacking the cartons and arranging the various articles in the proper places. I was bored. I picked up a rubber ball and went into the garden. I ran round the garden chasing the ball or watching squirrels scramble up the trees or observing the humming bees. The ball which I kept bouncing up and down went over the parapet into the compound of the neighbouring house. I saw a little boy, almost my age, rushing out and collecting the ball. He roll- ed his eyes, put out his tongue and teased me. I did not like his attitude. I too rolled my eyes and 45 stuck out my tongue at him. "Why did you throw the ball into my house?" he asked loudly. "I did not throw it. It came by itself," I replied. "Then let it come back by itself. I won't give it to you." "I will snatch it from you." Try. I climbed up the parapet, jumped over it and chased the boy. He ran off, turning and twisting, weaving his way through the thick vegetation. I raced round the garden after him. At last, after ten minutes of running around, we sank down, panting for breath. "I am Raman," I broke the ice. "Thomas," he offered his hand. "Glad to meet you." "Let us be friends." "All right. I need a friend." That was the beginning of an association that soon developed into a close and intimate friend- ship. We spent all our time together, eating from the same plate, playing hide and seek, chasing butter- flies, climbing trees, plucking unripe mangoes and sinking our teeth into the slightly sour pulp. Occasionally we fought like cats and dogs, claw- ing and tearing at each other, only to forget our 46 differences soon, swearing never to fight again. Nights were the hardest for us. Then we were pulled apart. We had to be carried away by force by our parents, while we raved and kicked and cried to be left to ourselves. Thomas told me all about Christmas. I listened to him, fascinated. He told me that Christmas came in the last week of December. He invited me to spend Christmas Eve with him. I looked forward eagerly for Christmas to come. I associated it with new clothes, sweet dishes, happiness and celebration. Thomas suddenly became docile. I did not like this change. I threw dust on his clothes. Still, he kept on smiling. I threw a stone at him. He winc- ed with pain. But, he did not retaliate. He only said, "I wish I could hit you back." "Why don't you do it, then?" I teased him. "Because I must be good and obedient. Only then will I get a gift from Father Christmas." I too wanted a gift from Father Christmas, whoever he was. I meekly asked, "Thomas, will he give me a gift too?" "Only if you are good," Thomas said in a sup- erior tone. Thomas and I waited eagerly for Christmas to come. We did not misbehave. We obeyed our parents. We gave up chasing squirrels. We gave up fighting. 47 It was a long wait for us. At last, Christmas Eve came. Dressed in my best, I ran over to my friend's house. His father, Mr. Jacob, took me by the arm. He led me round the house. Thomas accompani- ed me. I saw the gaily decorated Christmas tree. Tiny flames at the tips of the candles danced with the mild breeze that wafted along. Myriad candles threw gentle shadows and changed shapes with the flickering of the flame. Paper bunting and ornate cardboard lamps peered at us from every corner. Star-shaped lamps hung from the branches of the trees too. A jackfruit tree, further away from the house, stood in the hazy glow cast by a star-shaped light. We waited for Father Christinas to come. "When will he come?" Thomas asked his father. "Wait. He is due any moment now." "What will he bring for me?" Thomas asked. "New clothes and sweets." "For me too?" I asked. "Of course, for you too, my dear." Suddenly, Mr. Jacob shouted, "Look, there's Father Christmas, your own Santa Claus." We did a double turn and stared in the direc- tion of the jackfruit tree. What we saw was re- markable. We saw a bearded man, wearing a dhoti* and a full sleeved shirt, flashing a bright "Loin-cloth. 48 smile, descending from heaven! Over his shoulder hung a

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