My Favorite Place-continued...
by Ananya Sarkar
Continued from Previous Page
When I returned to Hashimpur, much change had taken place in the village. Usually, every year in summer, we all had to face a lot of hardships due to the abiding scarcity of water. This year too, was bound to be no different. But, the panchayat leaders and the village elders had this time decided to take some concrete step towards alleviating the problem. They had made efforts to make more sources of water available to the people. An old disused well was cleaned, dug up and put to function. This proved to be bountiful boon to everyone. There were fewer difficulties related to water this year which did not escape my notice when I came back. It was a wonderful piece of news and a great relief for everyone. However, soon after, I learnt that the well which was now put into use was none other than the well in my most prized place!
Though I continued to go to there as of old, the place had clearly lost its charm. While on the one hand, I was happy for my village, on the other, there was not a little disappointment at the change that had come over the particular spot. Now, almost always, there lingered a circle of women around the well, drawing water. At times, they rested underneath the banyan tree and closeted themselves in womanly talk. Their young children loitered about in the area, running, shouting, playing. It was noisy and crowded, with the semblance of any other common hubbub in Hashimpur.
I could no longer enjoy the undisturbed quiet of former days. My concentration got frequently diverted by the chattering and laughing around me. It was difficult to give the book my sole attention. Yet, I still frequented the place perhaps because I had grown quite fond of it.
One afternoon, as I was engrossed in reading underneath the tree, amidst the din of the surroundings, a pebble came rolling towards my feet. Taking my eyes away from the page, I noticed a small, bare-bodied boy grinning at me from ear to ear. The other children behind him were also looking in my direction, half-smiling, half-afraid.
The amiable boy now approached me meekly and pointed at the pebble. I gave it to him with a smile. The children resumed their play with an uproar.
I watched them hop on one leg from one spot to the other, shouting and jeering at each other from time to time. For the first time, their actual appearance came to my notice. The boys were bare-bodied and their pants were faded and dirty. The frocks of the girls were in an equally poor condition. The zip at the back of the dress of one girl was torn and she had stuck it together by means of a safety pin. Their hair was not oiled or combed, but instead, hung upon their shoulders in dishevelled locks. On the whole, they looked slovenly and uncouth. There was the unmistakable mark of poverty about their faces.
For how long did they play in that place, I wondered. My uncle had once remarked that he had seen them frollicking there even at one o’clock. They evidently did not go to school as they could not afford to. But then, did they play all afternoon? And evening too? I remembered having seen them play well into the evening also. Slowly, I pondered if playing for all these hours was the most fruitful way for the children to spend their time. Involuntarily, my thoughts drifted towards an uncharted territory. After some time, when a second stone fell near my feet again, an idea suddenly struck my mind. The girl whose playing tool it was gave me an appealing look. I held out the stone to her with an outstretched hand.****
It has been four months since I returned from my aunt’s place. But today, I am no longer at unease when I sit underneath the banyan tree. After school, I eagerly make my way towards the particular spot. The group of small children come running towards me in greeting as I reach the well. The women nearby nod at me affably. It is the mark of a tacit agreement that they would now talk in hushed tones. Putting down my school bag, I occupy my usual place. The children sit in a circle around me. Each of us has a sharp stone at hand. “So, let us begin our lesson,” I say, and begin to write out a word on the ground with the help of my stone. Each girl or boy copies it on the ground in front of them with their stones. This was one of the first few words that they were learning. Later, when they intently repeat the letters in silence, I become aware of the twittering of the sparrows. The sun gleams brightly making the sky appear like a canopy of gold. A tepid breeze blows against my face and also causes a dried leaf to waft to the ground. “This,” I say, smiling to myself, “is indeed my favourite place in the world.” End Go back to the first Page of this story Go back to the Main page of Children's Stories