Having left his virtual friends back home and all alone in a new school, Harsha soon makes a best friend.

Harsha stood outside the classroom, his eyes darting from one bench to another, searching for an empty seat.

“New boy? Come in,” beckoned the class teacher. “Find an empty place and settle down quickly.”

Harsha hesitated as no-one seemed to want to accommodate the new arrival.

“There’s a place here”, called a low voice from the last row. Harsha spotted the speaker — a thin, bespectacled boy. He squeezed through the sea of white-uniformed 13-year-olds and sat down beside the boy, relieved.

Opening his textbook, he dwelt on the unfairness of it all. His working parents had been transferred to a remote town and had decided to send him to his Paati’s for an uninterrupted schooling. Packing hurriedly, he had left behind his Playstation, computer games and cartoon films, his chief sources of entertainment. He missed them dreadfully. Now, stuck in this boring town, he felt like running away.

The bell rang shrilly for lunch recess and most of the boys ran out to play, thumping each other boisterously. Only a few stayed back, keen on demolishing their lunches first.

“Feeling lonely?” asked the boy next to him, whom Harsha had almost forgotten.

“Oh, no. I’m not a sports person. Except for virtual games. Aren’t you playing?” queried Harsha.

“The games they play are quite rough. The doctor said that if I get hurt, my wounds won’t heal as fast as the others’. So I stay away. I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything, though,” smiled the boy cheerfully.

Harsha forgot his own predicament for a moment and demanded, “But if you can’t play, what do you do all day long? Do you have a computer?”

The boy shook his head and answered simply, “Books.”

Harsha stared at him, aghast.

“You mean you study for fun? It’s bad enough at school, isn’t it?”

The boy laughed for the first time, his laugh lighting up his face.

“No, not text books. Story books! They’re my best friends. The school library has so many books! I read about daring adventures in dark forests, dragons and chimaeras breathing fire, gripping murder mysteries, sensational court hearings, wizardry, timeless classics... I think I could go on forever about it. Once you start reading something that interests you, you can never put it down.”

Harsha’s mind reeled with all this information. Was it possible that he had found a solution to his boredom? The idea of reading pages packed with action, mystery and magic excited him. There was, however, one problem. He had been too occupied with his electronic entertainment devices which hadn’t left much scope for reading all these years.

“But I’m 13 and I’ve never read books. Am I not too old to start reading at this age?”

“The earlier you begin the better. But you’re never too old to start reading, trust me. Once you’re into it, it will become the habit of a lifetime,” reassured the boy, kindly.

Harsha brightened up.

“Could you take me to the school library after lunch?” he asked eagerly.

“I will. On one condition,” replied the boy ominously.

Harsha’s eyebrows shot up quizzically.

“Only if you tell me your name! I’m Ravi,” he laughed, extending his hand.

“And I’m Harsha,” he grinned as he shook hands vigorously with Ravi.

The two boys gulped down their lunches hurriedly, talking non-stop.

Harsha felt happier than he had in days. He wouldn’t be lonely anymore. He had found not just a new pastime, but also a new friend.