January 30, 2008


bounce. bounce. bounce. swish. plop.

for the second time on that wet morning, sree had to sink her feet in the mud.

“hurry up! come on, we only have five minutes till the bell goes…silly girl!”

sree heard them chuckling behind her, but she maintained a blank, not-affected look on her face, passed them the ball, then squatted down and buried her hands in the brown earth-water, her wide eyes glistening like her now-freshly-browned palms.

“hey! who’s going to be the donkey again? come back here, slowcoach.”

sree got up. she jerked her wrists in the air to shake the mud off, and walked back carefully. taking her place in the centre – a few feet away from both the girls, one on either side – she turned this way and that, and round and round, jumping to get a hold on the ball that the two passed from over her head, giggling all the while.

“will you let me have a chance tomorrow?” her small voice finally found the courage to ask the girls as they walked back from the playground for the next lesson. math. the girls laughed again. “why not? but you must be quicker.” sree calculated for a moment. “i…i dont want to be the donkey this time…”

“but you are one already!” they guffawed, others joining in their laughter.

math. the very mention of the subject made her want to hide below the bench. “get your homework out everyone, where i can see it on your desks.” ten minutes later, sree was making her way to the staffroom where all the teachers drank tea and shared stories of incorrigible children, husbands, and mothers-in-law. hands stiff and behind her back, with one finger she stroked her other hand where the cane had fallen, making a track of the hot-hot, soft skin. no homework meant kneeling down in the staffroom where her face too would turn hot with shame. when she came back to her class for the next not-so-dreaded english lesson, she found her name scribbled all over the blackboard: “sree is a bad girl. true / false.”

at home, sree ate her dosas in silence, watching the door, while a tv added to the kitchen cacophony. a click, a jingle, and it flung open at last, letting in her father and kid brother who bounded towards her happily. sree waited till the father went in to the kitchen, then smacked him hard on his head, and made him cry.

*i am not aware of how to translate jhattapatti in english. it’s a children’s game (from maharashtra) where one player – say x – hits or touches another – y – then y goes on to touch z, and so on. the game involves a lot of running barefeet, and sometimes you don’t know if the resounding slaps are coming from the feet on concrete, or from sweaty hands on skin.

ps: yes, when i read this piece again, it reminded me of TZP, and i winced. amazing how the mind travels…and all i thought of was a little girl being the ‘donkey’. honest.

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