An Independence Day Special Children’s story by Ramendra Kumar that explores the richness of diversity, culture, traditions and values India stands for.
The Geetanjali Express came to a halt. Sandeep Kumar ran towards the AC first class compartment with his thirteen year old daughter, Varsha in tow. As Varsha watched, a thirty-five-year-old woman got down followed by a young boy.
“Varsha, this is your mausi, Manisha Peters. And this handsome young man is your cousin Hari.”
Varsha did a namaste to her aunt and held out her hand to Hari. As they shook hands Hari’s tense face broke into a friendly grin.
“Nice meeting you Varsha,” Hari said in heavily accented English.
Varsha’s aunt Manisha was a Computer Professional in the USA. She had married an American, Henry Peters who was a Doctor. Manisha had come to India to attend a conference and had brought Hari along. This was Hari’s first visit to India in ten years.
As they were driving home Varsha looked at her cousin who was sitting beside her and staring out of the window. Even though they were both 12 years old, Hari was almost half a foot taller.
As they chatted, Varsha found Hari was quite easy to talk to.
‘I think I am going to like him and we are going to have a great time together,” Varsha thought to herself.
When they reached home Varsha’s mum and her Daadi came out to welcome the guests.
Manisha bent down to touch Daadi’s feet.
“Why did mum bend down? Did she drop something?” Hari whispered.
“No, silly! Mausi bent down to touch my Daadi’s feet. In India we touch the feet of elders as a mark of respect to them.”
“Who did you say the old lady was?”
“She is my Daadi, my father’s mother.”
“Does she stay with you?”
“Of course! Why? Doesn’t your Daadi, I mean your grandmother, stay with you?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Then she must be staying with your uncle or aunt?”
“No, she stays in an Old Age home.
“Oh! How sad…,” Varsha started saying and then bit her lip.
That evening after dinner Varsha told Hari, “Come let us go to Daadi’s room?”
“Why is there anything special?”
“She has a never ending stock of fascinating stories.”
“Really, let us go.”
Daadi made them sit beside her and in her quaint old fashioned English began telling her tales.
A couple of hours later when Manisha peeped in she found Daadi propped up in bed with Hari and Varsha, curled up on either side, fast asleep.
“Ammaji, should I…,” Manisha started saying when Daadi stopped her.
“Shh…! Let them sleep,” she said gently patting Hari on his head.
Next day Hari asked Varsha, “Does Daadi tell you stories every day.”
“Almost. I cuddle up with her every night and listen to her lovely tales. When I come home from school in the afternoon she is always waiting for me with something hot and delicious. Even though my mum makes lunch before she leaves for work, the dessert is always made by Daadi. You should eat her gajar ka halva, you’ll never stop licking her fingers.”
Hari was silent for some time.
“You know I too have working parents, but the big difference is I don’t have a Daadi waiting for me at home. I come home to an empty house, warm my food in the micro-wave, switch on the TV and eat with either NatGeo or ESPN for company.”
“What about dinner?”
“My parents usually come home late so I end up eating alone.”
“In our house we have made it a practise to have dinner together. Even though Papa sometimes gets stuck in the office he gives us a tinkle and we wait for him. And we never switch on the TV while we are having dinner. Mum says dinner time is private and sacred and there should not be any disturbance. We share the day’s happenings and laugh and joke with each other. Papa keeps pulling my leg and when he gets bored he switches his attention to ma. We have arguments too. But I think it is all part of the fun.”
It was Sunday evening and Manisha, Hari and Varsha were sitting in the living room. Monday early morning Manisha and Hari were to take the train to Kolkata and from there they would be flying the same night to New York.
“Mum, yesterday when Varsha asked me to go to her school to witness the Annual Day celebration, I was reluctant. I thought I would get bored stiff. But you know it was real cool?”
“That’s great!” Manisha said.
“I learnt so many new things. Almost all of Varsha’s friends can read, write and speak three languages and some even four and five. Isn’t it amazing? Back home most of us know only English.”
“Well that’s because there are 22 languages recognised by the Indian constitution. Apart from that there are hundreds of dialects. And you know Hari, it is believed that in India the dialect changes almost every twenty kilometres. Isn’t it wonderful to have this kind of variety?”
“It sure is. And Mum, talking of variety, the cultural programme presented by the students was awesome! The dances, the costumes, the music, I have never seen anything like this before. Wait till I tell my friends about it. They’ll turn green.”
“What did you like best Hari?” asked Varsha.
“Everything was wonderful. The Od…Odissi dance and the one with the sticks – what’s it called?”
“Ya, ya, Dandia, and then the one in which the dancers wore long skirts, brightly coloured masks with large eyes, Katha…….?”
“Ya, that’s the one. And that dance Bhangra – what an infectious beat it had! I had to sit tight to hold myself back from getting up and dancing.”
Manisha looked at Varsha and said, “You know Varsha, the minute we landed in India Hari had started cribbing. He went on complaining about the crowds, the pollution, the filth, the noise and just about everything. He wanted to take the first flight back to New York.”
“Is it true Hari?” Varsha asked in mock anger.
“Yep… my first impression of India was quite terrible.”
“And what do you think of my country now that you have spent ten days here.”
“Well I must admit after spending time with all you lovely people my opinion has been turned on its head. The respect you guys give to your elders, the tender relationship the grandparents share with their grandchildren, the amount of time the family spends together – it’s all so….so marvellous. You share your joys, your sorrows, your concerns, every little thing on a day to day basis – not merely on anniversaries and festivals,” Hari paused and looked at Manisha who was staring at him in surprise. She had never heard him speak with so much passion about anything.
“And Mum, the culture of this place also fascinates me no end. The colourful costumes, the pulsating beats, the terrific dances–there is so much vibrancy, vitality and variety here,” Hari said his eyes sparkling. He then turned to Varsha, “I should thank you for giving me a chance to enjoy all this.”
Varsha got up and walking up to Hari took his hand in hers, “Bro, it is I who should thank you.”
“Because I think I had started taking my family, my culture and my country for granted. Today you have made me realise how precious they all are.”
“So Hari, when you landed you called India the pits. What do you have to say now?” asked Manisha.
“Saare Jahan se achha, Hindustan hamara….” Hari said even as he indulged in high-fives with Varsha.
More to read in insipiring stories
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