“Vishal, there’s an inter-class short story competition,” said Gagan.
“I know. I’m participating.”
“I will also participate this time,” said Gagan, enthusiastically.
Vishal shot him a mocking glance. “You think I can’t write a story?” exclaimed Gagan.
“I’m sure you will write the best story and win the first prize,” sniggered Vishal and the other boys joined him. Gagan felt a churning sense of humiliation inside him.
It was dark when Gagan returned home after winning a cricket match. His father was sitting on the patio, waiting for him. “How many times have I told you to come back early and pay attention to your studies? Look at Madhukar…”
Gagan looked at Madhukar who was studying under the light of the lantern. “I’m sure Madhukar will get the first prize for the short story competition. And you? I’d be surprised if you even passed your exam” snapped his father.
Gagan sat down to write a story. He tried to imagine something interesting but nothing popped up in his mind. Determined, Gagan began to scribble.
The next morning Gagan was elated. “You know, bhaiya, I wrote a story. I know I won’t win but…”
“But the good thing is that you tried,” smiled Madhukar, as he searched his backpack.
“What happened, bhaiya? It is getting late.”
“I can’t find my story. I remember putting it inside my bag last night. Today is the last date for submission. I don’t have time to rewrite because I have my Maths test today.” Madhukar was upset.
“Maybe Ma has kept it safe somewhere?”
On D Day
Finally the day of the function arrived and the winners of the short story and other competitions would be announced. The hall was packed with excited children and eager parents.
“The third prize for the short story competition goes to Vishal Sharma,” announced the teacher. Everybody clapped cheerfully. Vishal didn’t look very pleased. Maybe he had been expecting the first prize.
“The second prize goes to Meera Ghosh.” Meera was Madhukar’s classmate. The applause continued.
“It’s a pleasant surprise but, yes, the first prize for the short story competition goes to Gagan Sahay.”
A wide smile appeared on Madhukar’s face, as he clapped enthusiastically. “Wow! Congratulations! Well done, my brother. I was sad that I could not participate but now I am so happy. I’m so proud of you.”
“Gagan, please come here.” The principal called out, encouragingly.
“Go!” said Madhukar. Gagan walked towards the stage, his vision blurring as his eyes filled with tears.
The principal was smiling, as she handed over the award and said, “Well done! We are proud of you, you naughty boy.”
Gagan wiped the tears off his face. “I am sorry, Ma’am, but I can’t accept this award. I don’t deserve this.”
Gagan faced Madhukar, who looked utterly confused. “I am sorry bhaiya. This award is yours.” The hall was filled with confused clamour.
“What are you saying, Gagan?”, asked the perplexed principal.
“Ma’am, I did not write that story. That was Madhukar bhaiya’s story and I … stole it from his bag. Bhaiya, I stole your story. I am a bad boy. I am a deceiver. I don’t deserve any award.”
Tears stroll down his cheeks, as he tried to explain, “Everybody made fun of me and I …” Gagan felt ashamed to be admitting this before so many parents. But it served him right.
His principal spoke up. “You are right. What you did is completely wrong and you deceived your brother. But it takes a great deal of courage to accept your mistake and tell the truth in front of so many people. You’re courageous and I am still proud of you.”
Madhukar clapped, his eyes filled with tears. “Come here, Madhukar, and receive your award,” the principal called him.
Ashamed and frightened, Gagan looked at his father, expecting an angry look. But his father was also smiling.