Sundri's Books

Short Stories >>Masoom Ilteja

Short Stories

Written By: Smt. Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by Kamlesh Moorjani

Today, I have slapped my Mohini! Her cheeks became red and she cried aloud! All our neighbors watched a small child refusing to go to school. The school bus came and forcibly took my writhing-bawling child away from me. With a heavy heart -and gripped by fear- I sat alone in my small house.
 

I can well visualize Mohini sitting on her school bench, a bench that is larger than she herself is. I have seen those benches with my own eyes. Her class is probably as small as her six year old heart. There are children big and small, sitting in a disorderly manner and moving around when the teacher is not around. Some children are crying, some are shouting and some big ones are even beating up the smaller ones. Sitting here, I feel like a gardener, who has been compelled to plant his valuable seedling in a poor quality soil.
 

I may well be asked as to why then am I planting my seedling in poor soil? But what can I really do? After all, this is the soil that happens to be my very own, and indeed the soil that I am half in love with. This is the soil that has been passed on to us in legacy by our forefathers. This Sindhi medium school is my very own school. I am also aware that it is because of the undying dedicated efforts of some of our own wonderful Sindhi brethren that Sindhi Culture - "Sindhyat" as we call it- is still in existence.
 

I am determined to see that my little Mohini studies in a Sindhi only. At the same time, however, I find no similarity between this school and the Tolaram Girls School of Hyderabad (Sind). That school had large breezy class rooms, a large park surrounded by flower beds and had swings and slides. Above all, it had a clean and friendly environment. I still have vivid memories of an early morning when, accompanied by my father, I was returning home after a walk in the gardens situated on the banks of river Phuleli. I had jumped with joy when my eyes first fell on the Tolaram Girls School on our way back.
 

I had immediately told my father: "Father, I shall study at this school only". Upon reaching home I made my mother’s life miserable, insisting time and again that she must get me admitted to that very school. My mother preferred that I rather attend a school in the neighborhood, but I was adamant -I even cried- insisting that the other school was not as beautiful.
 

I also remember that one day, when my mother was busy making papads (a popular Sindhi snack), I dragged her away and showed her the school that I had fallen in love with. As soon as we entered the school’s large gate, we saw a large play ground. Overjoyed, I had started clapping my small hands and joyfully exclaimed "La!’
 

But today I have pushed my Mohini to this small school, while she bawling and crying, and said "I will only go to school that has garden and swings. Mother please get a new school built for me."
 

I wonder if I am to blame. With the circumstances I am in, do I really have a choice? When Mohini was only four years old and had developed some understanding, she became fond of listening to stories. No sooner I finished telling her one story, she would ask for another one and then yet another. Getting fed up I used to turn and tell her, "Mohini, why don’t you start reading the stories on your own, you have scores of books lying around. I have to cook, sew clothes and clean the house".
 

"Why don't you send me to school then, so that I can learn to read?" She would respond. "My little flower, you are still too young to go to the school. Grow up a little more and I shall send you to school".
 

From that day onwards, she used to watch school going children, through the window bars and with her finger on her lips used to ask "Mother am I not old enough now"? The day I told her that she was six years old and can go to school, she became so happy that she put her arms round my neck and said" Mother, will I be able to read all the stories now? The stories of "A Tny Girl and a frog " and stories like "Little loopy flower" and of course the story about "My pot goes to Timbuktu "? She was in very such high spirits that she even kissed my face. I immediately picked her up, and made her stand on my feet and gave her a swing on my hanging legs, simultaneously chanting the famous childhood nursery rhyme ‘Gula golari, makhan pholhri, will you like to go visit your maternal grand parents or to paternal grand parents?"
 

Her prompt response was: "No mother, ask me instead, if I will go to school." "All right, all right, will you go to school or rather stay at home?" "School", she shouted back and laughed showing her pearl like small teeth, her laughter creating small dimples on her cheeks and making her little face glow with the sweet anticipation of going to the school.
 

I kissed her and told her. "The school will have a park, a swing and a wonderful Dadi (teacher) ." She quickly rhymed back "Dadi ji shadi" (Teacher's marriage)! Amazed at her rhyming capability, I wondered if my little girl will turn out to be a poetess one day. While continuing to swing on my legs she asked, "Tell me mother, what else will be there in the school?" Teasing her, I too started rhyming back "Yes the teacher will marry and produce a daughter, the daughter will come to school and study with you and become your friend". Hearing this she burst out laughing; her laughter's echo filling the whole room. I continued "The school will have a library that would be full of story books, a room for music, large classrooms, a large playground, a large flower garden and a shops full of delicacies to eat and lots of milk to drink."

I had started imagining Mohini drinking a glass of milk, when it suddenly dawned upon me that the khichidi (Sindhi rice dish) that I had put on the stove in the kitchen must have started boiling.I rushed to the Kitchen immediately. The rice was indeed cooked and ready. I added some butter to the rice and baked a papad. I dshed out a small portion of the rice and brought it in a plate to Mohini.

I found Mohini leisurely lying on her stomach, her small face resting on her hands supported by her elbows. She appeared to be engrossed in some deep thoughts. Perhaps she was day dreaming! I did not want to disturb her reverie and quietly sat on a chair nearby. Soon, even I started day dreaming! I imagined that Mohini, whom I had brought up with immense love and affection , will someday grow to be a person of exceptional compassion like the great Gautam Budha. Gautama's father had made Gautama grow amongst all the world's flower-like happiness and kept him away from all pain and evil. This in turn resulted in Gautama's heart being kind and full of love and compassion. Gautama grew to be an illustrious person of whom whole of India is proud. I imagined that I too shall give Mohini similar upbringing so that my Mohini grows up to be a person whose very presence will bring a perfume-like effect to her environment, her very presence signifying peace and culture .
 

I touched Mohini's forehead affectionately. Slowly, she came out of her reverie and asked "Mother how large will my school be, compared to our home?" "Much larger, my dear." I replied. Wasting no further time, I quickly fed her and took her to school. She appeared very happy that day and did not cry. She sat on a large bench. I, however, found that class rooms in the school were very small, even smaller than a room in our house. The walls were broken and had many holes too. The windows had no protection grill or bars. One small girl who was sitting next to the window could have easily fallen down and landed in the bazaar below.
 

Warning Mohini of the possible danger, I made her sit on a bench at the back. Some smaller children were crying and the bigger children were teasing the smaller ones. There was no play ground in sight. The passage leading to the class was so narrow that kids were bumping into one another while crossing it during the recess. In this melee a child's school bag fell down and the slate inside got shattered. A fight broke out between the two boys and they started pulling each other's collars, followed by a fist-fight. Even a passing teacher got hurt. He in turn slapped them both and then managed to separate them.
 

I feared that some day even Mohini may break her slate and may even be slapped on her soft little cheeks. If that was to happen, how will Mohini's lotus-like personality blossom into a full blown flower? Why our Sindhi Schools are like that, I kept wondering. Because she was very enthusiastic to go to new school that day, her mind did not quite register the pathetic condition of the school immediately. But much like the sun can not hide behind the palm of a hand for ever, the realization soon dawned upon her! When she returned from the school, her walk was slow and the brightness in her face had faded away. Quietly, she sat down on a mat and started scribbling something on her new slate.
 

I gave her a hug I asked "How was the school, dear"? She put her arms around my neck and bitterly complained "There is no playground in th e school and there are no swings either. It is a very small school. My friend Laj goes to a very large school." "That is an Eng lish Medium School, my dear." I explained. "I want to study in that school," she replied.
 

Next day I took her to the English School. Small children were reciting poems like "Jack and Jill went up the hill" and "Ba! Ba!! Black sheep; have you any wool?" One child quickly came and said to Moihini "Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you been"? Mohini did not understand anything and got confused. She was on the verge of tears. She seemed scared and continued to stare at the children apprehensively. Suddenly, an important realization dawned upon me! That our economic status was not compatible with the environment that exists in the English medium schools!
 

These schools may have large breezy rooms and large play grounds, but my Mohini will be out of place here. Suddenly, I felt like a very poor woman who at times is lured to handover her child to a rich childless mother but is overwhelmed by her motherly instincts at the eleventh hour and clings to thee child with tearful eyes and decides not to let it go; all the while showering her with an endless stream of kisses. Exactly in the same way, I chose to bring my Mohini back from the step motherly looking English school, abandoning the love of flowers and other perks. I brought her back to our very own Sindhi School.
 

Today I have forced her to go back to the Sindhi school. At the moment, she must be sitting on that large bench in that narrow class room with tears rolling down her eyes, trying to control her sobs while being surrounded by small children chanting Sindhi nursery rhymes like "Ten little sparrows were busy cooking on hot griddle; one fell down and they became nine…"; "One who drinks milk will be strong" and "Oh mother, may I be converted to a duck, whose chicks I see and get scared…"
 

And then, at the very same moment I imagine Mohini making her own sentence to rhyme along, like "Those chicks I see and I laugh….." I hope she ma y have started laughing by now, creating beautiful dimples at the places where tears on her cheeks ha d streamed down. Hopefully, she must have even forgotten about the resounding slap I gave her. I will, however, never be able to forget her innocent and earnest request: "Mother, please get a new school built for me."
 

 
 

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