“The annual swimming competition will be next Monday,” announced the teacher. Rita’s heart started pounding. She needed to get sick by Monday. She couldn’t bear to see the other girls looking so nice when a swimsuit would make her look like a big hippo. But mother would be angry – five years of swimming lessons gone to waste, she would say. Rita wanted to run away.
Tapas couldn’t believe it. Moving from a big city to the little town of Golepur had been hard enough already. His mother reminded him, “Babu, we’ll come visit during Durga Puja.” But Tapas was not ready for this news; Golepur did not have a library!
His father believed that his school books were enough to keep him busy. “You can pay attention to your studies now,” he told Tapas. Mother was a bookworm so she understood. Patting his shoulders, she said, “We’ll find a way.”
So Tapas attended school and came home to warm food and a bath. Then he spent all evening doing his homework. Sometimes he felt annoyed because there was no new book waiting for him by his pillow. Every night, he read before bed time. It was a habit that he’d picked up from his mother since she first introduced him to the local library near their house in Kolkata.
Tapas looked at the stack of books on his table. He ran his fingers over the spines, each chapter memorised. He could describe every scene without opening a book. Still, he was bored and used to getting a new book every weekend.
“Mother, don’t the other kids like reading storybooks at all?” He hoped she would say yes. But she shook her head. “Babu, not everyone likes doing the same thing but I’m sure some of the kids here like to read.”
That evening, while Tapas read his lessons and solved his sums, his mother visited the neighbours. Indeed some of the boys and girls spent more time reading books than playing on their computers. She had an idea. So she visited one more person on her way back home – the head of the building committee.
“Hello. I am Mrs. Gita Bose from the 8th floor. May we discuss something?”
The gentleman said yes and they spoke about the neighbourhood children. “I know that we already have a separate area for them to play with a ball and run around, but what about exercising their minds?”
“How can we do that?” The committee head wondered.
“We can build a little library in the common room,” said Tapas’s mother.
She left after five minutes and a cup of tea. Meanwhile, Tapas was done with his studies for the day. He sat by her as they both read books. The phone rang. Mother ran to answer it. She smiled and said thank you. Then she came back to the sofa. “We’re going to make a library,” she announced.
Tapas jumped up. He was excited but confused. Mother told him that he and the other kids would donate all their books to start it. “And some of us adults will certainly have books for your library too,” she added.
So the next day, they carried three large boxes of books to the common room. Father came along. He and another neighbourhood uncle were preparing new bookshelves for the room. When they arrived, there were four more children and their parents. “We may have too many books!”
Father was joking because he knew Tapas would reply. And he did. “There is no such thing as too many books. Right guys?” The others nodded. Everybody got to work. They all munched on cookies as the parents made sure everything was in place. “Time to put the books in their places, kids,” said Rani’s mother.
Tapas and the others took turns filling the shelves with their treasured books. They chatted about their favourite books and authors. Payal loved historical stories as much as Tapas did! Ronnie disliked mystery books just like him. By the end of that day, Tapas had new friends and many books to share. They even created library cards for every neighbour, along with a register to keep track of the books.
“I’ll save up my pocket money and buy a computer for us,” said Tapas. “So will I,” said more voices. The library was already a success.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)
Vijay loved to draw. The walls in his room were full of his paintings. There was one of a beautiful fairy, one of a cat, and many of his mother wearing beautiful dresses. Whenever his father entered the room, he would worry. “I wish that he had more interest in things that boys his age like,” he said to Vijay’s mother. She did not agree. “All boys don’t have to like the same things,” she replied with a smile. Even at school, the boys teased Vijay. They never saw him play football or basketball. When they tried to talk to him, he just smiled politely.
Vijay carried a drawing book with him. Whenever the teacher was late to class or he had finished his lunch, he filled the thick pad with colour. He used coloured pencils that were a gift from his favourite aunt.
One evening, Vijay’s mother joined him at the desk. “Who is that? What a beautiful dress,” she praised. Vijay blushed. “Mom, this is you wearing a dress that I have designed.” His mother hugged him and asked, “Is this what you want to do when you grow up?” Vijay nodded. She had an idea.
The next day was Saturday. Vijay’s mother asked him to get ready. He looked up from his drawing book and asked, “Where are we going?” His mother said it would be a surprise. “Bring your drawing book with you,” she only said. Vijay laughed. He never left home without it.
One hour later, after a short walk which had become longer because they had stopped to chat with so many neighbours, they stood in front of the tailor’s shop. Vijay was confused. He never came to the tailor for his clothes. Even mother and father liked buying their clothes at a store in the mall.
Mother held his hand and they walked in. The tailor was a friendly old man who looked happy to see him. He patted Vijay’s head and asked him to sit next to him behind the huge table that had piles of cloth and a sewing machine on it. Mother stood next to them. “What kind of dress do you want for me, Viju?” She did not have to wait long for an answer. “This one is my favourite,” he said, opening a page of his precious drawing book.
The tailor put on his glasses. It was a long blue dress with little roses along the sleeves and neck. “Mother, you will look so nice,” Vijay said shyly. So the tailor was given measurements for the dress. He promised to make it exactly like the drawing. Vijay said thank you and left with his mother. He couldn’t wait to see his first design!
The rest of the weekend was boring. Vijay was too excited to draw anything new. He could not sit still. Mother told him to read a book. He tried but couldn’t. Finally, it was Monday. Vijay would get to see the dress after school. The tailor had called to say it was ready.
The day passed by slowly. Vijay did not hear anything that the teachers said. He kept on looking at his watch. When the final bell rang at 3 o clock, he jumped up and ran to the gate. Mother was waiting.
When they reached the shop, the dress was on a hanger. Customers were staring at it. One of them asked the tailor, “Can you make me one like this, please?” The old man said yes and added, “Let me introduce you to the designer of this dress.” The women wondered if they had heard wrong. “Such a little designer!” They almost laughed.
The next day, Mother wore the dress to her friend’s house. Everybody wanted one! And the tailor had to hire another tailor to help him make so many of them. Vijay was famous.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)
Dia was excited. Mrs. Das had just made an announcement. The school play festival was coming up and her class would be putting up Cinderella. “I will be Cinderella,” thought Dia. She knew that everybody found her beautiful.
Mrs. Das walked over to the blackboard. “Please raise your hand if you want to try out for the role of Cinderella,” she instructed. Dia looked around. The other girls knew that they didn’t stand a chance. Mrs. Das was always praising her. Whenever Dia dressed in pink, she would say, “You are looking like an angel, child. You’re so fair.”
Dia raised her hand. She knew there would be no competition. She would be Cinderella. Suddenly, she noticed something. Maya had raised her hand too. She looked nervous. Still, her hand was up high. Mrs. Das wrote their names on the board and asked the class to raise hands for the other parts. Dia did not hear anything. “How could Maya want to be Cinderella? She was so dark!”
The next day, Dia, Maya and their classmates, were supposed to act out the parts that they wanted. Three boys wanted to be Prince Charming. Raj got the part. When everybody clapped, he said, “I hope that ugly Maya isn’t Cinderella!”
Maya ran to the bathroom to cry. After she sobbed to her heart’s content, she made a decision and wiped her eyes, heading back to the classroom. Dia was at the centre. The whole class was clapping loudly.
“Maya, come say your lines,” the teacher called her. Maya looked down at her feet. She replied, “Ma’am, I don’t want to try out for this part. May I please try out for the evil stepmother’s role?”
Dia jumped up from her seat. “I’m Cinderella! I’m Cinderella!” Raj was happy too.So, Maya tried out for the stepmother’s part. All of her classmates voted for her. One of them said, “She’s the perfect evil stepmother because she’s so dark and mean looking.”
On the day of the play, the parents came to school field where a stage had been set up. Many grandparents came too. Dia’s parents sat in the front row. “That’s my daughter,” her father pointed out proudly to the parents seated next to him.
Halfway through the play, Dia had just come to stage wearing her white gown. She wore shiny silver shoes and a silver bow in her hair. Shreya was with her. She was the sweet, round, Fairy Godmother. Shreya started singing Bibbidi Bobbode Boo but was interrupted by a shout in the audience. “Get out,” a parent said angrily. Shreya stopped singing. The person being shouted at was a poor girl in rags.
Dia was upset. Her play was ruined. She jumped off the stage to tell the girl to leave. “How dare you come here? You are so ugly!” The little girl, who was Dia’s age, burst into tears. The other children came running. Maya walked over to the poor girl and put an arm around her. She said, “Stop being rude. She only wants to watch our play.”
Dia frowned. She said, “Maya, she looks like you. That’s why you are fighting for her.” Then she added, “Black and ugly girls.”
This time Maya didn’t cry. Instead, she took the girl to a chair. She asked all the parents to sit down. “Dia, the play must go on.” Dia followed her because the others looked too embarrassed to even stand near her. “What a mean child,” said one parent. Dia’s father did not sit in the front row this time. He was not feeling proud anymore. The mothers did not praise her after the show. Everybody had forgotten that she had skin like snow.
The evil, dark stepmother was not ugly at all. She was wonderful.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)
“Anil, tomorrow we will be going to the village to meet your father’s cousins,” his mother told him the day he landed in India. “Ma, I am home after three years. Can we go later?” His mother said “no” because the train tickets were bought and his father would be upset.
The next morning, they set out with bottles of water and a tiffin carrier full of food. Anil started munching on the goodies he had missed abroad. “Save your appetite for lunch,” his mother warned. “They will be cooking a big meal for you. It’s been so long, after all.” Anil laughed, thinking that six puris and three sweets were hardly anything.
When they reached the village, his relatives jumped on him, making him feel like a movie star. “Come sit by me, Anil!” “No, I am the oldest. He will sit with me!” The women in the family made a big fuss about him, while the men started a game of cards. “Lunch will be served soon,” Anil’s mother told him. “Just remember to never say ‘no’ to anything they offer you,” she instructed. Anil already felt full from snacking on the train ride and thought he would have a light meal and sleep right after. But his mother interrupted his thoughts saying, “Remember, saying ‘no’ will make them think their food isn’t good. The women will feel bad about their cooking skills.” Anil nodded.
The meal began well with all the women standing around Anil, watching his every bite. He gave them a smile every two minutes. This seemed to send the message that he wanted more. More rice came. More fish came. More potatoes. More of everything came. Anil found himself panting. Still he looked at his mother and said “yes” to all that was being offered. After three helpings of everything, he felt quite ill and had to stop himself from throwing up. Even the women in the house looked worriedly at each other. Their food had almost finished. But imagine telling a guest that there was no more food to be served! They wanted to serve Anil the sweet dish, but he still had not said “no” to the other dishes.
Anil could barely look up. His mother sensed trouble. She asked for the sweet dish. The women were happy but jumped up in chorus, “Anil! You didn’t like our food? Was it too salty? Or too sweet?” Anil shook his head as hard as he could without throwing up. More food came. Some of the women struggled to make more food in the kitchen.
When Anil burped for the tenth time and had almost collapsed, he managed to ask for the sweets. The women put one sweet after the other on his plate, watching him chew and smile. After each sweet came the question, “Did you like it?” Anil nodded and panted. Finally, there were no more sweets left and Anil had to run outside to throw up.
He came back inside with a smile and said, “The food was very tasty.” That day when he left with his parents, the relatives talked about his huge appetite and how they had to go back to the kitchen to rustle up more food! The head of the family was glowing with pride. “My cooking must be the best,” she beamed.
Anil spent the return journey crying, promising to be rude next time.
First published in TeleKids (An ABP Group publication)
“Everybody has one!” Leena was crying to her parents while they ate dinner. Her father chewed his food. Mummy tried to say no for the hundredth time. Leena’s little brother, Dev, played with his peas.
“Leena, having a pet is like having another member of the family,” she said. “Your father and I both work outside all day and you are not ready to take care of one,” she added.
Papa asked Leena to eat her dinner. Leena swallowed everything. She had a plan. She would have a pet by the morning. “I will have somebody who will love to take walks with me and Dev,” she decided.
The next day, Leena woke up early. She hadn’t slept all night, thinking about her new pet and how she would take care of it. She went straight to the kitchen, feeling happy at the sight of the bright fruits and vegetables. Her eyes and hands found her new pet – a purple, chubby, big brinjal. “So cute,” Leena said out loud.
She carefully carried the brinjal to her room, hugging it tightly against her chest. In the room, she took out a string from one of her salwars and tied it around her pet. “See, Brinjal,” she said. “Now you have a leash.”
Mummy called Leena to come for breakfast. Dev was already there. It was Saturday so Papa was home too. “Coming Mummy,” she replied, patting Brinjal on his head. She was ready to introduce him to his new family.
When Leena reached the table, Brinjal was following on the leash. Her father saw it and looked surprised. “What are you doing with a brinjal on a string?” He asked with a laugh. Mummy came to see Brinjal. She began to laugh as well. Dev giggled because they laughed.
Leena was upset. Why were they laughing at her sweet little pet? She picked Brinjal up from the floor and put it on her lap. She rubbed it lightly so Brinjal would feel less bad about her parents’ laughter. “It is not a string, Papa,” she said. “And nor is Brinjal a Brinjal anymore. He is my pet,” Leena announced.
Papa started to say something but Mummy interrupted. “Oh! Then you and Brinjal should eat now.” Leena ate but didn’t know where Brinjal’s mouth was. She let him sniff the food.
After breakfast, Leena painted a picture of her pet. Brinjal sat and watched her. “Don’t worry. You’ll look nice in the painting,” she told him. She did not notice her brother staring at Brinjal.
Later that day, Ina visited Leena. She brought along her cat, Pushu. “You will like playing with Pushu,” said Ina. He likes to roll around and play with a dancing string. “See this.”
Ina took out a long string. She moved it around. Pushu rolled around the floor, catching the string in his tiny paws. He even said “meow” each time he could grab it. Leena was impressed.
It was time to introduce Brinjal to her friend and Pushu. “This is Brinjal. My new pet,” explained Leena. Ina’s eyes became round. This was the first time she had met this kind of pet.
“Pushu can play with Brinjal now,” said Leena, making Brinjal sit in front of the cat. The cat forgot his string. The two friends watched him stare at Brinjal.
“Pushu has never seen a brinjal before. He must be wondering what Brinjal is,” Ina told Leena.
Leena was sad to hear this. She told her friend that Brinjal was not just any brinjal. “Please be nice when you talk about my pet.”
Brinjal continued to sit silently while Pushu sniffed his head and touched his cheeks with his paws. Ina and Leena left the room for cookies.
When they came back, Brinjal was gone. “Pushu, where did you put Brinjal?” Leena was upset. Ina told her that cats do not like brinjals. Leena did not know what to say. Ina was being very rude.
Soon, Ina and Pushu went home. Brinjal was still missing. Leena looked under her bed. She searched her closet. She even checked her pillow cases.
“Mummy, I have looked everywhere,” sobbed Leena. Papa had an idea. “Let us check the roof. Brinjal may have been bored inside the house,” he said.
They all went to the roof. The crows said hello. They had no news of Brinjal it seemed. Suddenly, Leena remembered that she had not seen her brother in some time. “Where is Dev, Mummy?” Her mother said that he was taking a nap. Leena was angry. She wanted everybody’s help to look for Brinjal.
Leena went to visit her sleeping brother in their parents’ bedroom. “Dev, wake….” She didn’t finish her sentence. Brinjal was sleeping next to her brother!
Leena was happy to see how much Dev loved Brinjal. She placed the blanket on them. Brinjal’s round head peeped out. “Sleep well, Brinjal.” She kissed him lightly on his forehead.