“My my! Someone’s looking like thunder today? What happened Amrita?” Runoo Mosi’s (Mosi: Mother’s sister, aunt. Forming bonds with people one is not related to is very common in India) voice was concerned, her brows puckered up.
“Nothing Mosi”, said little Amrita looking utterly woebegone. Her eyes lowered, she took her place amidst the other children on the large rug on the floor.
This rug in Runoo Mosi’s living room floor had a cozy familiarity for an entire generation of children. They came here to study, ostensibly. This room wasn’t only an evening prep room to the children who came to it. It was a sanctuary. This was the place where they asked question other grownups were too impatient to answer. This was where they learned why people behaved the way they did. This is where they learned life.
Amrita remained listless all through that evening. As it neared the time for them to disperse, Ronoo Mosi gave Amrita a long poem from a book to copy into a thick notebook.
“That’s because you always write so neatly, sweetheart”, Runoo Mosi said entreatingly. “Please will you do it for me? I have to give this poem to someone and I don’t want to give the book. I’d really be grateful.”
“Of course I’ll do it Mosi”, Amrita said proudly, though still subdued.
One by one, the children left. Amrita was still copying the poem. Runoo Mosi sat beside her quietly, reading a book. Once in a while, she would absently stroke the child’s hair though she said nothing. Half an hour later, Amrita was done copying the poem.
“Wow, this is so neatly done Amrita! I am glad I asked you to write it. Your handwriting is beautiful.” The child’s smile was like a feeble sun peeking out of a thick bank of clouds.
“Shall I go now Mosi?” Amrita asked.
“Oh, are you in a hurry? I thought we’ll have a mug of hot chocolate and some cookies before you go. How about it?”
The child’s shining eyes were answer enough. Nodding and looking pleased, Runoo Mosi left and came back in a jiffy bearing a tray with two mugs of delicious chocolate and a plateful of cookies. They sat sipping their chocolate and nibbling on cookies. Neither of them spoke, just smiled contentedly at each other from time to time.
“Runoo Mosi….”, said Amrita hesitantly, looking into her cup will all her concentration.
“I want to ask you something. Can I?”
“Of course you can Amrita.”
“When grown ups talk to each other about a child who is present with them, why do they think that the child can’t hear them? Why don’t they realize that a child has feelings too? Do they think children are made of stone?”
“Did someone do that today? What happened?”
“There is a boy in my class. His name is Rahul and he is my friend. Recently, his parents got divorced. He is very upset about it. He can’t cry because he is a boy but I am sure he wants to cry very often. One day I told him also to go ahead and cry, but he didn’t.
“Today, when our math teacher was leaving the class, our Sanskrit teacher was walking past our class. They both stopped by to talk. They stood at the door of our class and talked for almost fifteen minutes. We could all hear every word they were saying. They started talking about Rahul and how bad it was of his father to leave his mother with two children to raise by herself while he wanted to run after another woman.
“The whole class turned to look at Rahul. He had never told anyone why his parents had separated. Mosi, Rahul was very embarrassed. His face puckered up and turned red. He bent down and pretended to look for his rubber and I saw tears falling from his eyes. But no one saw them, only I did.
“During recess, Rahul got into a fight with some of the other boys in the class. When I asked him about it, he shouted at me and told me to leave him alone. I am sure those boys must have asked him about his parent’s divorce. Even the girls were whispering about it among themselves. I too cried a lot today. Rahul must be feeling so bad and I couldn’t do anything for him.
“Did the teachers think the whole class had gone deaf? Why do grown ups behave as if young children can’t hear them? Or do they think that we can’t understand what is being said?”
Distraught, the child began sobbing for the pain of her friend. Silently cursing the two teachers and all of their ilk, Runoo Mosi held the child close and let Amrita cry it out. Before long, the child’s tempest was over and she sat with her head lowered, sniffling a bit.
“Do you really want to do something for Rahul?” Mosi asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“Yes I do. But what can I do?”
“I can think of one thing you can do. But you’ll have to be brave”, deliberately, Mosi allowed a note of dubiousness creep into her voice. Amrita rose to the challenge.
“Tell me what I can do and I will”, she said determinedly.
“Which of the two teachers did you like better before this incident?”
“The math teacher. She teaches very nicely and is very funny too sometimes.”
“Then you have to go to this teacher. Make sure she and you are alone. Don’t talk in front of other teachers or students. Okay?”
“Then tell her how Rahul was embarrassed by their talk the other day. Also tell her that their conversation made Rahul’s secret public and that it humiliated him enough to make him cry. She must also be told that the other children are now teasing Rahul, making fun of him and gossiping about his parents. Ask her what she will do to help Rahul.
“After you’ve said all this, just stand quietly and look at the teacher. Don’t say a word after this. Tomorrow, come and tell me what the teacher did and say. We’ll take it from there. Can you do all this?”
“Is this all?”
“Yes, this is all. It won’t be easy to do. It isn’t easy for a fifth grade student to talk to a teacher alone. You think you can handle it?”
“I will do it Mosi. Are you sure it will help?”
“I am sure it will help beta. If not then we’ll think of something else, right?”
“Absolutely! I’m so glad I told you everything Mosi. I am feeling happy now.”
“I too am glad you told me. Just one thing more. Don’t tell Rahul that you are going to do this. He would feel even more embarrassed. Will you remember that?”
“Oh, okay. I won’t tell him or anyone else either. They might tell him. Can I go now?”
Runoo Mosi gave a hug to the now smiling girl.
The next day, Amrita came skipping joyously to the living room way before any of the others had arrived.
“Mosi..! At last I can tell you!”
“Yes, yes tell me what happened?”
“I told the math teacher everything exactly as you told me to. By the time I finished, she started crying. She kept saying sorry. She was really feeling bad. She said she hadn’t realized what she was doing. Then she hugged me and thanked me!”
“Oh wow! That’s great!”
“Wait… there is more. She called Rahul to the staff room during the recess. I went with him. She and the Sanskrit teacher apologized to Rahul in front of all the teachers.”
“That’s very good Amrita!”
“There’s more! She came to our class before the last period and sent Rahul to another section to bring our copies. While he was gone, she talked about her conversation with the Sanskrit teacher. She said it was wrong of them to discuss something that was personal and private to Rahul. It was even worse to do it in front of the whole class. She asked all of us if we would like our personal issues discussed by other people. When we said no, she requested us all not to embarrass Rahul but to be kind and supportive towards him.
“By that time, Rahul returned with the copies. She gave out the copies, hugged Rahul and left.”
“Looks like it turned out fine after all. We wont have to drink another cup of chocolate again now.” Mosi was smiling. Amrita grinned back mischievously.
“Oh but Mosi, I love to drink hot chocolate with you!”