Sampat Chacha,the sturdy middle aged rickshawwala stood at the gate honking thrice. Ricky was getting late for school and he had to pick up two more kids and a teacher on the way.
“Shruti hurry up ! “ her mother shouted as she ran towards the gate with her daughter. Her mother called Shruti ‘Ricky’ out of love , so did all the others in the family and relatives. Ricky was like a magic box full of surprises for anyone who wanted to know her. Her report card had only one remark till class seven “ very very talkative, should be more sustained”.
Sampat chacha warned her, “If you are late like this tomorrow I shall leave you and move on to pick up Sabita mam do you follow?”
Ricky pleaded with chacha saying she would never be late again she promised. He nodded his head in approval saying “ok” and pulled the rickshaw to pick up Mrs. Sabita Biswas, the headmistress of Ricky’s school. She knew her teacher since kindergarten because she was tutored by Mrs Biswas who not only loved her very much but took special care to groom her. Ricky’s mother, Mrs Sen had a very good rapport with all her teachers who loved Ricky for her lively nature but things began to change when Mr. Sen decided to send Shruti to a boarding school. Thick dark clouds of melancholy loomed above this chirpy little girls head. One morning as usual when Sampat chacha was taking her to school he suddenly felt an uncanny quiet on his backseat and he enquired chuckling!
“What is it beta? Why are you so quiet? Did mummy scold you? Or are you not well?”
Ricky felt hot tears welling up in her eyes, at the same time she felt assured that chacha couldn’t see her crying. She said “ mama and papa don’t love me anymore chacha, so they find some fault or the other in me and scold me.”
He made her understand that parent’s sometimes have to be strict for the good of their children so she should not take a tiny dose of spanking so seriously. Ricky kept quiet as she heard chacha sermonize and thought to herself how she would miss this guardian who took her and brought her back from school every single day since last three years. Her thoughts kept drifting to the unfathomable depths of loneliness of having to leave all her loved ones; friends ; familiar sights and smells and be transported to a no man’s land where she had to be confined for the rest of her life. She heaved a sigh! Feeling lost and tired but to convince papa was a daunting task, he was unshakeable when it came to decision making.
On a cool February morning, Mr and Mrs Sen along with their 7 year old daughter left home for the hills for the new school session. R icky was a bubbly girl but very obedient. She never defied her parents and specially her papa whom she deified like a God. He was the centre of her world, papa was her icon, her role model and everything she ever wanted was to be close to him. Mr. Sen on the other hand could not get a grasp of this highly sensitive issue that was killing his child. He looked like a man on a mission, tying to shape the future of his daughter by sending her away to a place that was clinically jeopardizing for her. He ignored the doctor’s advice and left Shruti at the boarding school. Shruti was despondent. She didn’t want to leave home.
Shruti never looked back as she climbed the burnished wooden stairs that led to the junior dormitory. Her eyes were streaming with hot tears, her throat ached as she climbed slowly wishing , her papa would shout and say “Ricky come back sweety , we are going home but all she could here is the stairs creaking beneath her feet and a numbing cold which felt painful. On reaching the dormitory she was welcomed by her peers and the matron, Mrs Bose. She walked down the hallway seeing beds on each side made and tidied, the dormitory had 60 beds and she was led to the bed just beside the main door. A tiny locker stood beside it to keep her belongings for daily use. As she started to unpack, her homesickness took a backseat for a while and she carefully unpacked her hold all. Dinner time was fixed at 7pm everyday. Ricky was introduced to her peers at the dinner table, most of them being the local inhabitants and less familiar faces. She felt slightly weird and afraid to mingle, but her heart kept in telling her that everything was going to be fine. First day of school was memorable. After breakfast of the yucky! Porridge which she managed to gulp down pressing her nose, she took her satchel and followed the others towards the main school building. It was an uphill climb of 3 minutes but the slope was so steep that she fell on her face, both her knees were badly hurt and she was bleeding. Thoughts of mummy made her cry loudly but aid came quickly, she was given first aid and sent to class. A ‘tuckwala’ came every weekend with goodies in his black trunk, candies; stickjaws; cakes and other stuff . The boarders crowded around him to get their favourite tuck with the pocket money provided by their parents. Ricky was liking this new experience as she joined her friends to buy stickjaws, but deep inside she was still lonely, insecure and shaken to be in unfamiliar territory. Her English teacher Mrs Jones, an English lady lived in the teachers quarters with her only daughter Susan. They loved to hear Shruti sing because she had a melodious voice that enticed this mother and daughter as a gift Shruti received a hard rock candy everyday. By luck she had been able to carve a niche for herself in the minds of her teachers and a few chosen friends but the melancholy never left her as constantly pined for her mummy and papa.
6 months passed , her parent’s paid a visit or two to cheer her up but she could not convince herself , gradually she fell sick due to intense cold and one morning her matron Mrs.Bose found her unconscious in the dormitory. She was burning with high fever and a kind of rash had covered lips and nose that made breathing difficult for her. She was rushed to the hospital immediately. Her parent’s were informed on emergency and her uncle who was a teacher in a boy’s school a few minutes away from her school was fetched. Doctors attended her trying to get her back to consciousness, it took time but she responded well to the medication. On opening her eyes the first person she wanted to see was her papa but he was still on his way she was inconsolable. She kept on mumbling that Sampat chacha was waiting at the gate to take her to school, that she could not finish Sabita aunty’s homework and she would be thrashed. Doctors realized that she was heartbroken and needed immediate reconcilement with her family but the clock ticked on and her parent’s were still on their way. The journey from the plains uphill would take almost 6 to 7 hours but Ricky did not have that much time in hand. Her pulse slowed down, temperature fluctuated, she was in delirium and all she wanted was to go home.
She lay inside a small coffin hands crossed on her chest and a faint smile on her lips, she finally found freedom, no one was going to confine her ever again. She loved her papa more than anything else in the whole world and she hoped that just as she pined for her father he too must be in the same state of mind and would come soon to take her back home but that would never happen again.