Summer was well on its way out, winter far from settling in. Rains were scanty and almost nonexistent in the season calendar of that hot town of Neelangadi. The town itself bustled with energy as was its wont, the town’s people on their toes 24/7.
Not for nothing was that road in the middle of Neelangadi called “School Road”. It housed 5 different schools in quick succession, much time having elapsed since people had forgotten its original name. School Road, unlike the rest of Neelangadi, had worn a desolate look for some time now. Like a wizened old man awaiting the shroud, withered leaves had adorned its dusty self, while an unwarranted silence had enveloped its soul.
All week, the trees had waited in anticipation, budding a bit here, blossoming a bit there, as if for this very moment. After a two-month hiatus, School Road was suddenly snapping back to life, some new zest having been pumped into its old self. Today, the flowers were in full bloom welcoming the kids back to school, for it was the month of June, a month of new beginnings.
Cycle rickshaws scurried through School Road, unmindful of the humidity and the dust, towards the first bell at school. In one such rickshaw perched round and chubby 10-year old Swetha. With her were four other school-mates. Though school mornings were usually a little subdued and sleepy, today was an exception, this being the first day after the summer vacation. The kids were looking forward to school, exchanging notes on what had happened over the vacation. Swetha was the loudest of the lot, not to forget the most argumentative and talkative too. If she had been a member of the Parliament, it would have been difficult for the other members to get even breathing space, let alone talking time. The chattering continued well up to the school gate, where the rickshaw driver struggled to be heard above the din with a “Run along now. I will be here at 2.30 p.m. to pick you all up. Don’t be late. I have another sawaari at 3.30 p.m.”
In another ten minutes, everything was quiet again, School Road having slipped into a longish nap, while the children inside excitedly sat through first day, with their new books, and freshly bound and covered notebooks. At 2.30 p.m., as if on cue, the din resumed, an even louder one than in the morning, for children always seemed to be much fresher by end of day than in the mornings. Swetha and her group got into the waiting rickshaw and made their way through the labyrinth of bikes and cars and auto rickshaws on School Road to reach the end of it, where they were stopped abruptly by a huge traffic constable. “The Minister is going to pass any time now this way. Turn back and take another route.” The rickshaw driver started pleading with him explaining how the other route was very circuitous and involved the main road, which was not safe for rickshaw driving. Swetha, without batting an eyelid, turned to the constable and said, “Uncle, you cannot really stop this rickshaw. The Minister is going to be very angry with you. Don’t you realize I look just like her, round and chubby and sweet? I am her niece.” The constable gave his brightest smile ever, and turning to the rickshaw driver said, “Look. Scurry off really soon. She is not expected to pass through for another ten minutes now.”
At home that evening, Swetha was excitedly telling her mother about how smartly she had behaved on the road today, while her mother ground coconuts in the Minister-provided mixer, while the Minister-provided television blared in the background. Listening to the account, her mother chided Swetha saying, “Sweetie, you are not supposed to lie like that. That’s not what we have taught you.” Swetha thought for just a second before retorting with a “But Mamma, I was not lying. Didn’t the Minister announce the other day that she is distributing TVs and mixers to ease all our lives as we are like family to her?”
Elsewhere, a huge traffic constable was recounting the day’s events to his wife saying, “That girl was so cute and smart, I did not have the heart to deny her passage through the road today.”