Children

A fair exchange

Illustrations: Sreejith R. Kumar  

Bodhi Ram ran as fast as he could. Angry shouts followed him.

“Pakdo! Pakdo!” a voice said. Bodhi was sure it was the tall boy, the leader of the group and the one who had first attacked him. Bodhi had been thinking sadly of having to leave school, when the gang struck. The first day, they tripped him and sent him sprawling. Since then they had got bolder, grabbing and tossing him around, laughing and jeering. But now Bodhi had become more alert and, today, he had surprised the gang; running straight on, when they had expected him to make for the maidan.

It had taken them a few minutes to understand and chase him and that helped Bodhi get away to a safe distance.

But Bodhi knew they would not give up easily and looked around for a place to hide. Up ahead, he could see a large circle; he veered off to the left and leapt easily over the low wall.

Hidden away

He landed with a rustle among some bushes and peered out carefully. The house ahead was beautiful, with a pillared balcony running around it and a smooth dome on its roof.

He heard loud voices; it was the gang. Bodhi bent low and crept away, careful to stay hidden in the bushes. The angry voices died away and Bodhi heaved a sigh of relief when he heard a burst of laughter. He parted the leaves and looked around.

He saw some children on the lawn: four girls who sounded eager and happy. But there were sudden arguments which the oldest girl, whom they called Indu, settled with quiet confidence. The others were Lekha and Tara while the youngest was a chubby child called Rita. It was oddly comforting to watch them go about their games. He was smiling at something Rita had said, when a sudden shriek sounded.

“Mamu!” they called. Who, Bodhi wondered, was this uncle? Curious, he edged forward and slipped. He recovered at once and moved away but the girls had heard him.

“Mamu!” Lekha said fearfully. “There’s something there!”

“It must be a squirrel,” Mamu said. “You aren’t afraid of a squirrel, are you?”

There was silence.

“Remember,” Mamu said, “Sher ka bacha rota nahi!” (A lion cub never cries)

“But I am not a lion. I am only Tara!”

“Your Mummy and Papa are lions. I am one too. That makes you all lion cubs!” Mamu said.

“But what if a lion cub gets scared?” Lekha asked.

“It could happen,” Indu agreed and Bodhi nodded. The world was a scary place, whether you were a child or a lion cub.

“When a lion cub feels scared, there’s only one thing to do,” Mamu declared.

Secret formula

A fair exchange

Bodhi leaned forward eagerly. Here it came, he thought, a secret formula to help him overcome his own fears.

“Now,” Mamu said, “say it with me: Sher ka bacha rota nahi!

The girls spoke in a ragged chorus, their voices uncertain. But soon their voices grew stronger. In the bushes, Bodhi chanted with them, “Sher ka bacha rota nahi!” A warm courage filled him.

When Mamu asked the girls, “Feeling brave?” Bodhi also nodded eagerly. Much later, walking home, he sang with every step, “Sher ka bacha rota nahi!” The words filled him with a calm, leaving no room for fear.

Bodhi often went to the house to see the girls playing. Once, Mamu was leading them in a march, holding flags and shouting, “Bharat Mata ki jai!” Another time, Mamu was alone, dressed in his usual spotless white clothes. He looked so worried that Bodhi longed to cheer him up. But what could he do?

Looking around, Bodhi saw a rose and had an idea. But what if Mamu scolded him? “I am a lion cub,” he reminded himself, as he stepped out. Mamu was surprised when Bodhi pushed the rose into his kurta pocket. Mamu smiled at its beauty and Bodhi’s heart sang with joy. After that, he bought the reddest and most beautiful roses for Mamu.

But a rose was too small a gift for the man who had changed his life. What could Bodhi do for Mamu? Bodhi worried about this till he discovered that Mamu was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India. Bodhi stared, shocked. Then he saw the red rose. Bodhi smiled.

Mamu had given him a chant that filled Bodhi’s life with courage. Bodhi had given Mamu roses, whose perfume continued to linger.

It was, Bodhi thought, a fair exchange.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 9:13:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/a-fair-exchange/article33063156.ece

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