We will be free, God willing…” I said it too. Suddenly, Aai flared up. “God willing? What has God got to do with it? So many of our people are languishing in jails, so many children are waiting for their fathers to return… All this can’t be for nothing! We will be free one day! And then there will be everything for everyone”
Aai’s words made me feel very happy. I hugged her and went off to sleep. Aai was always like that. A little on the loud side whenever under stress, but…
She gave speeches, I believe, before I was born. And when she made a speech she had no fear, none at all.
The purple haze bathed the needlework, the Inspectress, everything in its purple glory.
But the class teacher did not stop making her demand. For a yard of cloth.
Not that I asked Aai again.
We were preparing for the welcome ceremony. I was going to be the leader of the welcome group. So the teacher stopped pestering me. Aai was busy with her school. The inspection was to be held in her school too, so she was late every evening. When she came home, we exchanged notes — what her school was doing for their inspection, and what we were doing for ours.
The Great Day came. I had decided to get up before Aai, have a bath and touch her feet. When I opened my eyes, Aai was ready to leave for work. No time even for a quick namaskar. “Blessings can be taken once the work is done,” she used to say.
I had my bath. The previous night I had put my one good yellow frock under my pillow. For it to iron itself out. As I slipped it on, I heard that fatal sound. A rip! I was in tears. But I had no time. I looked for something whole to wear. I rummaged through all the trunks.
They were full. Of torn clothes. But I finally did see something that was still whole. A black blouse. With a gold border. I was pleased. I looked over it carefully. It was absolutely all right, except for the buttons. There was not a single button on the blouse. I put it on over the frock with the tear. Then I rushed to Dabholkar kaki and asked her to stitch up the blouse in front.
All this took a lot of time. I ran as fast as I could to school.
It seemed like it was the auspicious muhurta of a wedding.The school was all decked up. Mango leaves had been strung to decorate the main gate. The fragrance of agarbattis, supplied generously for the occasion, filled the classrooms.
Place the plantain leaves for the food, Vasanthi! In a straight row, plase! The headmistress did not say that, of course, but she might as well have.
The class teacher spotted me in all the hectic activity. “Late again as usual,” she said. She had no time to say anything else.
Kasturi, Pramodini, Prema, Shevanti…the whole lot gathered round me. To admire my blouse.
uContinued next week
From The Bell
Illustrations: Suman Choudhury