‘I don’t like you!’ she said.
‘Well, I can’t say exactly the same. You know why?? Because, I, actually, Hate you!’ he said and exhibited his hatred through a pattering tongue and thumb-on-nose with fingers waving.
She looked away to ignore; as every day, as every time.
He went closer to her, bringing his face right in front of hers, ensuring she sees his pattering tongue and, he wished, she receives a few drops of his spit on her face too. That would make the soul of his skewer rest in peace, he thought. He almost touched her nose with his right pinkie; while his right thumb remained touching his nose and the other three fingers still waved emulating playing a piano.
She slapped his hand away in disgust.
This was routine. They didn’t need a reason to fight; they just needed the two of themselves; nothing else, no one else. They were pros. They were skilled to spark a spat out of nowhere and convert it into a war. They would scratch the hell out of each other verbally and often physically too.
This is how the entire school knew two eight year olds; Arjun and Vaanya!
‘Ok children, sit down.’ Ms. Maria entered the classroom and the ceasefire was imposed. Arjun went back to his seat with his sword, tongue, back in the sheath, mouth. Vaanya gave him an ‘I will kill you!’ look as a parting note.
‘Alright kids. No one goes too far, out of my sight. Is that clear? Let’s move in a queue.’ Mr. Krishnan said; a black whistle hung around his neck in a red nylon thread.
Mr. Krishnan was the chief coordinator for the yearly one day class trip to the fun park. A couple of other teachers, Ms. Maria and Ms. Surveen, also were part of the picnic along with forty kids from third grade; Arjun and Vaanya – the foes, included.
A queue of forty curious minds walked through the garden, pebble walkways, by the ponds and fun rides.
Vivid tiny red, green, blue, purple, orange t-shirts – few sleeveless – with identity cards pinned on the left; shorts and skirts with dust patches on the petite buttocks; water bottles hanging around necks – few sipping through the straw while walking; knapsacks, stuffed with munchies, on the shoulders that were ready to be loaded with the burden of responsibilities in the years to come; curious eyes hovering above every little thing around them made the little ones look adorable. On a cool but sunny day, walking in a trail, forty shiny gems looked like bundles of sugar pies.
As they moved towards a ride with colorful helicopters alternatively going up and down, Arjun strategically positioned right behind Vaanya in the queue. His eyes were focused on her pink, ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ themed, bag on her back which was stuffed with exciting munchies.
Arjun’s focus was worth matching his namesake’s from the Mahabharata; when he aimed at the bird’s eye. Nothing else seemed present in his vicinity.
Sneaking through every one’s notice, he silently, seamlessly, like a professional robber, opened Vaanya’s backpack’s zipper. His right hand dug into his shorts’ pocket and came out as a fist. With a wicked look, he let the fist go inside Vaanya’s bag. With the same finesse, he closed the zipper. Mission accomplished! He did it with such flawlessness that even his own left hand didn’t know what the right one had done.
As the marching queue halted near the helicopter ride waiting for their turn, Arjun patted on his victim’s shoulder, ‘Vaanya!’ he said.
She turned around. She was surprised, and shocked, to see her enemy at the gates.
‘What?’ she asked.
‘I am hungry; can you share your snacks with me, please?’ he said like a gentleman.
‘Why? I share only with my friends.’ She grimaced.
‘Then…. let us be friends no?’ he offered an extended hand and an expression to fall for.
Vaanya had always wanted the war to end. She did not want to lose an opportunity of the treaty.
‘Really? Ok!’ She said with a hopeful grin and unloaded her backpack.
‘I will share my mom’s yummy chocolate cake with you.’ excitement overflew through her voice as she unzipped the bag and peeped inside to grab the one with cake from the pile of snacks boxes.
Arjun waited anxiously; and……!
‘Aaaaeeeeeeeee!!!!! Ooooooooo!!!!!!’ Vaanya screamed at the top of her voice.
She threw the bag away and like a sailor in the middle of a sea with a broken compass, she ran directionless. Her hands waved all over the place as if she was juggling twenty balls at once. Her feet jumped off the ground higher than ever as if the earth was on fire. She kept pushing whoever came in her way.
She tumbled. She toppled. She crumbled.
Five minutes of drama-spiced action and she settled at the farthest end of the garden, huffing and puffing with hands on knees. Drops of her sweat dripped from her forehead.
Every eye around the park was set on Vaanya. With great difficulty, she assembled her breath and pointed to her bag.
Focus of eyes panned to the bag, all at once.
Ten seconds of suspense and…. from the half opened zipper, with the flare of a lion coming out of his cave, a greenish gray, frog hopped out.
With a hand-covered mouth, hiding behind Ms. Maria, Arjun tried his best to control the laughter, but failed. Vaanya, from a distance, exhausted fumes out of her nose and ears; face red hot. Man-of-the-moment, the frog, croaked ‘Ribbit…Ribbit!!!’ as a gesture of joy he felt on breathing the fresh air, which he had looked-for since he was kidnapped into Arjun’s pocket.
The fun day was approaching closure. Sun was about to set. Tired kids were standing by the pond reviving the day’s fun memories. A few lotuses, little fishes and frogs, friends of the man-of-the-moment, made the pond look creepy. Teachers chitchatted aside.
In a little huddle, Arjun chuckled with his friends. Sporadically, they sneaked a peek at Vaanya, who was standing a couple of kids away. Thanks to Arjun’s persistent nuisances, she looked annoyed; it was a horrible day for her. Just as Arjun’s exploits continued being appreciated by his flatterers, a loud ‘Splash!!!!’ drew all the attention to the pond.
It took a jiffy to recognize that one of the kids was in the pond.
Moments later, surfacing back from dipping, Vaanya managed to shout “Helpp…Helppp…” Her cries lasted only until being eclipsed by bubbles intermittently.
‘Vaanya!!!’ the kids screamed in chorale.
Before anyone –even teachers- could react, Arjun leaped into the pond, like a frog. In the four-five feet deep pool, that was precisely enough to overrun him, he did well to reach to Vaanya by jumping on the toes and lifting the face as high as possible.
He grabbed her from the waist and pulled her up to bring her face out of water. She inhaled in desperation with closed eyes. Instantly, Mr. Krishnan jumped into the pond; water submerged him chest high. He grasped Vaanya with one hand and Arjun with the other and dragged them back to ground.
Both the kids coughed heavily and spewed out swallowed water. Vaanya was traumatized while Arjun seemed stable.
Fifteen minutes of palm-feet rubbing and hair-drying later, Vaanya opened eyes and seemed close to normal.
‘What happened?’ Mr. Krishnan asked as soon as he smelled normality. ‘How did you end up in the pool, Vaanya?’
‘She jumped in herself. My harassment through the day must have been provoking.’ thought Arjun. He felt horrible thinking what could have happened if….
‘I don’t know sir; someone pushed me in the pond.’ Vaanya said looking at Arjun.
‘What???’ Arjun reacted before anyone else.
‘Yes Arjun. I think you were not satisfied with all the trouble that you had given me throughout the day so you wanted me to sink too, I suppose.’ she was steaming with anger.
‘Vaanya, I didn’t push you in. I can’t be so evil.’ He tried to defend. ‘I think you jumped in yourself and now you are putting the blame on me so that I get punished. That’s your plan, isn’t it?’
‘I may be stupid enough to bang my head against your nonsense every now and then, but I am not as stupid as to jump into a pond myself where I could have drowned to death, just to get you some silly punishment. I was pushed hard from the back, by you.’ she said pointing a finger at the suspect, Arjun.
‘Arjun, you have been after Vaanya the whole day and even in the school you don’t miss a chance to annoy her. But this was way too much. You will need to pay for this.’ Ms. Maria pitched in.
‘Ma’m I didn’t. I may be mischievous but I know the limits.’ Arjun’s maturity advocated.
And just at the right time, a bulb ignited over Arjun’s head to assist. ‘Had I pushed her in, why would I jump in the water to save her?’
‘What? Was that you who pulled me up when I was sinking?’ Vaanya was surprised at the breaking news.
Arjun nodded. Everyone agreed.
‘Ok, Vaanya did you jump in yourself to blame Arjun for it? I want the truth.’ Mr. Krishnan played an interrogator.
‘No sir. I really got a push on my back, a hard push.’ She said.
‘Hmm! Who did it? I want to know, now!’ Mr. Krishnan asked authoritatively turning to the pack of kids.
No one uttered a word. Everyone looked at each other. The situation was similar to when a teacher asked a question in the classroom and waited for someone to raise a finger to answer; just that here it was about a girl who missed death by a whisker.
‘Do you hear me? I want to know now who pushed Vaanya in the pond. Confess now and punishment may be reduced, or else I will find it myself anyway and then you will lose the privilege of mercy. And parents will be called to meet principal to convey rustication.’
Few seconds of silence and a shaky voice emerged from behind a few backs in the crowd.
‘Sssir, I did!’
‘Who did? Come to the front.’ Mr. Krishnan had unearthed his culprit.
A little boy with a, red, spider-manned, water bottle hanging around his neck, in red jump suit with green t-shirt appeared with head facing down. He seemed frightened, almost shivering.
‘Shravan??? You??? Why?’ Vaanya sought explanation before Mr. Krishnan did.
‘I am sorry Vaanya. I am very sorry. I like you very much. I have always wanted you to be my friend, my best friend. I hated Arjun when he troubled you. I wanted to teach him a lesson. I thought if I get Arjun to be punished, you will become my friend. So, I did this.’ He explained.
‘So you did this?? You pushed me into a pool to teach him a lesson? Can you explain???’ she was disgusted.
‘If you were pushed in the pond, everyone would think, without a doubt, it had to be Arjun, I assumed. And it would have worked too had he not jumped in to rescue you. I thought you two were too harsh enemies for him to do something like that for you.’
‘Do you have brains at all? You Stupid! If you hated him so much and wanted to teach him a lesson, you should have pushed him in; not me.’ Vaanya suggested what should have been Shravan’s plan B.
‘Oh yes, I should have done that.’ The proposal excited Shravan.
‘What? You still think you should have done that?’ Mr. Krishnan intervened.
‘No, I mean. I am sorry sir. I am sorry Vaanya. I feel horrible. I really do.’
Arjun walked to Shravan, patted his shoulder and said, ‘You know what? I may keep getting on Vaanya’s nerves and she may not have too friendly feelings for me either. But I can’t do something as evil as you did to her. And by doing this if you wished to be her friend, forget it. I know her enough to say, she will never be friends with someone who can push her into a pool, for any reason. Nothing can justify this. Learn the difference between naughtiness and idiocy.’
For the first time, at something that Arjun said, Vaanya smiled.
‘I am sorry Vaanya. It was the revenge that I wanted from Arjun for being mean to you. I feel embarrassed.’ Shravan said.
‘Kids, you need to be responsible when playing pranks or even when such revenges are planned. This could have gone much worse had Arjun not come to Vaanya’s rescue on time. Only a true friend could do this. Well done Arjun. I am proud of you.’ Mr. Krishnan said.
‘Thanks Arjun. I don’t know what else to say. But I really mean it, Thanks.’ Vaanya said what she had not imagined she, ever, would.
‘It’s ok Vaanya. And I am sorry for all my meanness to you. I know I have been unreasonable with my pranks with you most of the times. But it is just that I can’t resist myself from the need of seeing you cry. It, somehow, makes me feel at peace. But if am asked to confess, yes, I like you. You are a fun girl and that’s what tempts me to tease you.’ He grinned.
‘Hunh! You rascal!’ She said, with a sweet smile and a punch in the air.
‘Can we be friends, actually?’ Arjun extended arm for the second time in the day, with a different heart this time, the loving one.
‘Sure. I have always wanted to.’ They shook hands. Others clapped; Shravan stood thwarted facing down.
‘Well done kids. I am proud of you for showing that you are growing up. Come on, give each other a hug.’ Ms. Maria said with a smile.
Arjun came forward to hug Vaanya. She responded with a novel heart.
Unable to resist his eternal temptation, with the hugging arms, Arjun snatched Vaanya’s hair band out, pulled her pony tail and ran with the trademarked pattering tongue. Vaanya chased him in the garden, grabbed him, jumped onto him, pulled him down to make him bite the dust, hopped onto him and scrambled his hair crazily.
The scene was not too different from what the history had seen; just the feelings were different this time. Anger had turned into affability, hearts were tender and laughter outshined yells.
At the crest of Hate, Love was born!