Children

What Selvi saw

“All I have to say is: See for yourself. Thank you.” Saying this, Zai returned to her seat in the second-last row of her classroom: 7B. After a few seconds of shocked whispers, the children burst into applause, punctuated by hoots and cackles. “What the ...”

“Arvind! Mind your language!” Rosanna Miss’s voice rang stridently across space to cut off the rest.

“Miss, I was only going to ask what the meaning,” came Arvind’s meek defence, drawing far-from-meek laughter from his classmates. Rosanna Miss rolled her eyes at him and ran her gaze over each of her students before coming to rest on Zai. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked.

“That only I was asking, Miss,” stage-whispered Arvind.

It was June 5 and yes, it was World Environment Day. According to custom, it was being ‘celebrated’ by each student of Class 7B making a short presentation on what the day meant. Sections A and C were also making presentations in their own classrooms, as indeed was most of the school.

Celebration in the classroom

In 7B, around 10-11 children were done. Someone talked about Nature, another talked about water, a third about green being clean, and so on and so forth. Most managed to speak for about 2-3 minutes, including the ‘umms’ and ‘aahs’ and awkward giggles. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out how long Zai took to say what she did: “All I have to say is: See for yourself.” The ‘thank you’ was less than a second more. However, Rosanna Miss wasn’t going to waste any time; she had 36 more children waiting to go through drill of World Environment Day.

As the children poured out of the classroom after the last bell, Zai felt someone scratching her right elbow. ‘”What did you mean?” asked Selvi, breathing down Zai’s neck. “See for yourself?”

“What I said,” said Zai. “Open your eyes,” she added.

Selvi’s eyes widened. Now her interest was properly piqued. This sounded like a mystery she simply had to unravel. When they clambered on to the bus that took them home, she made sure she grabbed a place beside Zai. “Okay, tell,” she said, settling herself comfortably.

Zai didn’t have much to say. “Nothing yaar, it’s just that I love plants,” she said. “Big, small, in gardens, on paths, in forests ... everything from seed to tree. That’s all.”

No matter how much Selvi pushed and prodded and crushed her against the wall of the bus, she couldn’t get anything more out of Zai. Because, really, that’s all there was for Zai.

But Selvi was made of solid stuff. She was no giver-upper. She thought and thought and tossed those thoughts about in her head until…

In the balcony

The first thing Selvi did the following morning was to rush to the balcony where her mum maintained zillions of pots — with plants in them, of course. Selvi didn’t exactly love gardening. That was her mum, the gardener, the one with the green thumb. But Selvi didn’t hate plants either. It’s just that she’d never noticed them. In fact, she rarely ever went to the balcony — too many pots and too wet floor most of the time.

“Ammmma!!!” muttered Selvi, surveying the scene. Some pots boasted flowers — red, pink, yellow, white. Some plants stood tall, some were propped up with sticks. Some looked like heads of broccoli, some looked like toothbrushes. Here and there, tendrils were coiled tightly around the railings. Selvi tried to uncoil them. The tendrils resisted, fought back. She retreated, defeated.

As Selvi straightened up, she experienced an unmistakable ambience of joy in the balcony. Selvi saw how the leaves —tiny, broad, dark green, splotchy, long, round, spindly, thorny — danced in the gentle breeze. It was as if they were acknowledging the warmth of the early morning sun. Selvi looked.

When Selvi looked, she saw. She observed how some plants stood upright, some flopped, others needed to be propped up and still others grabbed what help they could find. She saw colours, she breathed in fragrances. Some had no scent at all but still the flowers nodded. Leaves shook when she flapped the end of her nightie near them.

Selvi shifted her gaze beyond and saw the trees in the compound of their apartment block. She recognised a neem, a peepul, a raintree, an Asoka and a mango. That much she knew about trees. And coconuts, of course. She heard the tinkle of the peepul leaves as they free-danced like they were smiling at the sturdy, fan-like bunches of neem leaves. She thought she heard the musical movement of the wind as it passed through each foliage as if to the score of a soothing melody.

All this Selvi saw and smelt and heard and felt. Energy flowed like a sap of joy through her veins and reached up to the sun. She became a plant on her mother’s balcony. Plantes selvinus.

Selvi couldn’t wait to go to school and tell Zai that she had seen, like she said. The whole world.


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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 9:38:10 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/children/a-sh/article65456044.ece