Classic Collection of 22 SHORT STORIES

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Published Date:02-07-2017
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A CBT PUBLICATION 22 SHORT STORIES CLASSIC COLLECTION 22 SHORT STORIES Children's Book Trust, New Delhi These stories are largely a collection made from the prizewinning entries from the Competition of Writers of Children's Books organized by Children's Book Trust. Illustrated by Surendra Suman EDITED BY GEETA MENON Text typeset in 13/16 pt. Bookman Old Style © by CBT 2005 Reprinted 2006 ISBN 81-7011-970-7 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by Children's Book Trust, Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi-110002 and printed at its Indraprastha Press. Ph: 23316970-74 Fax: 23721090 e-mail: Website: CONTENTS 5 Birds Of Different Feathers Tithi Tavora 12 The Apricot Tree M.S. Mahadevan Simon Says 18 Cheryl Rao 24 The Backwards Genie Vidya Pradhan 31 Brought To Book Madhumita Gupta 38 The Rangoli Tithi Tavora Home At Last 42 Renuka Vishwanathan 47 Pebble On The Beach Ramendra Kumar 54 A New Religion R.S. Khambete 61 The Crooked Picture Cheryl Rao 68 Climbing A Hill Devika Rangachari Raju Becomes A Businessman 74 Tithi Tavora Aapa, Don't Go 81 Girija Rani Asthana The First Flight 88 Manoj T. Thomas Bhooloo 94 Bani Majumdar Sanctuary 100 Ramendra Kumar The Report Card 107 M.S. Mahadevan The Two Jars 113 Yerra Ramtulsi Walking Tall 119 Manjira Majumdar Hope In The Ruins 127 Devika Rangachari "Will You Come Again, Santa?" 133 Ramendra Kumar Fluff 140 Tithi Tavora Birds Of Different Feathers Tithi Tavora It was summer and the mango tree was heavy with plump, ripe mangoes. The parrots were happy. They cackled noisily as they pecked the delicious fruit. Mrs. Popatlal and Mrs. Totaben were chatting over a particularly sweet one when Mithu, Mrs. Totaben's son said, "Mummy, we have a new neighbour." "This place is indeed getting too crowded," grumbled Mrs. Totaben. "Very soon there will be more parrots than mangoes." "The new neighbour is not a parrot," said Mithu. "Must be a crow then," retorted his mother. "What is the difference? They eat mangoes too." "It is not a crow either," said Mithu. "It is a funny, brown bird. It stays there," he said pointing to a small hollow close to the trunk. "Inside the tree? What kind of a bird stays inside a tree?" asked Mrs. Totaben. "You must be mistaken, Mithu," said Mrs. Popatlal. Mithu was not mistaken. That night, when all the birds were fast asleep, they were shaken out of their feathers by a deep, low call. 5 "TOO.. .WHIT.. .TOO... WHOO" "That must be the new bird," said Mithu to his mother. "No, Mithu, a wild animal, probably," said his father, Totabhai. "I will see who it is." He ruffled his feathers self-importantly. He happened to be the Chief Parrot. Totabhai stalked onto the branch and peered into the darkness. He could see nothing. Then, he nearly jumped off the branch in fright. "TOO...WHIT...TOO...WHOO" came the call again. "WH...who is that?" he quavered. "I am Shri Ullunath, the owl, pleased to make your acquaintance," said a deep voice politely. "Well, I am certainly not pleased to meet you," retorted Totabhai still trying to focus in the dark. "What kind of a bird are you? Making such a racket at night. Waking all of us up." By now, many other parrots and a few crows had gathered. "Yes, yes," they agreed, "this will not do. We cannot allow you to stay here. This is our tree." "I am afraid that is not true," replied the owl quietly. "Trees belong to all birds. To all living things, in fact. This tree is as much mine as yours." The parrots were taken aback. They had expected the newcomer to cow down but he was standing up to them. "Well, you shall not hoot then," said Totabhai, trying to regain some of his dignity. "I am sorry for having disturbed all of you," said Ullunath. "I will try not to do so in future." Saying this, he flew off into the night. The birds settled back to sleep. Next morning, Mithu went up to the hollow. There was no sound from within. He peered in. Ullunath was fast asleep, his head tucked into his feathers snugly. He did not emerge the whole day. "You mean he sleeps all day?" asked Mrs. Popatlal. "What did you expect?" sniffed Totaben scornfully. "All that hooting at night must have made him tired." "Teacher Parakeet said owls are very wise birds," chipped in Mithu. "Huh" said his mother, "how can someone who sleeps all day and hoots all night be wise?" That night, Ullunath did not hoot. But the birds did not sleep anyway because they wanted to catch a glimpse of him. They were not disappointed when Ullunath emerged. All that was visible in the darkness was his squat form with a triangular head and square shoulders. It was only three nights later that they got a good glimpse of him. There was full moon and the grove was bathed in moonlight. Mithu had been waiting for this chance. Peeping out of the nest, he saw Ullunath perched on a nearby branch. He had a speckled, tawny brown body with a lighter brown chest. But, his most arresting feature was his eyes. Huge. Round. Amber. Deep. He looked very knowledgeable. Mithu woke Kala up and they both stared at the owl. Meanwhile, Mithu's mother finding him missing from the nest got up in alarm. She twittered angrily when she spotted him and Kala, but Mithu silenced her and pointed at Ullunath. Mrs. Totaben stared at the owl for a minute, then hurried back to shake her husband awake. "Looks like that blighter won't let us have any sleep, one way or the other," grumbled Totabhai, ambling over to see the owl. Kala too woke his parents up and soon many birds had gathered to see Ullunath. Hearing their muffled twittering, Ullunath turned to look at them. "Oh, hello" said he. "Glad to meet all of you. Unfortunately, all of you are asleep when I come out of my hollow." 7 "You bet" said Totabhai rudely, "we are not crazy to stay awake all night." "Ah but I have to," replied Ullunath. "That is the only time I can hunt for food." "What do you mean?" asked Parakeet, puzzled. "Well, I prey on rats who scurry about at night," replied Ullunath. "Ugh" said Mithu. "Why don't you eat mangoes instead of rats like the rest of us?" asked Kala. "I prefer rats," answered Ullunath. "Prefer rats to mangoes? Now, I am convinced you are crazy," declared Totabhai. "That is all right," replied Ullunath benignly. "Were you to live in a tree full of owls like me, they would find you pretty odd too." "We are not odd," bristled Parakeet. "We are far superior birds. Look at your dull feathers and compare them with our lovely, bright ones." "My friend," explained the owl patiently, "the feathers that you are so proud of are so coloured to help you merge with the green leaves of branches you live on. I nest, in the hollow of the tree trunk. God coloured us according to our respective habitats so that we may be camouflaged and not easily spotted by our enemies." It all made a lot of sense to Mithu, but the rest of the clan seemed unimpressed. "Now," continued Ullunath, "since all of you are already awake, please allow me to hoot a while" Saying this, he let out his low whistling call of "TOO...WHIT... TOO...WHOO" and flew off. The next day, something happened that had everybody so worried that they forgot all about their new neighbour. Polly Parrot was the first to raise the alarm. Many ripe mangoes had fallen to the ground the previous evening. The birds were looking forward to eat them the next day. When Polly went to nibble one for breakfast, she found that each and every mango had been gnawed through. "Oh My goodness The Rat Brigade has been here again," she screeched. Hearing her, all the birds started looking around. They surveyed the dozens of mango seeds scattered on the ground. Tiya, the oldest of all parrots, shook his head in dismay. The birds were inconsolable, to lose so much of the ripe fruit to the rats The worst was that the remaining mangoes would only ripen after a few days. What would they eat until then? And what if those, too, fell to the ground and the rats finished them before the birds could? Everyone was worried. It was Kala who came up with a solution. "The other day, Ullunath said he preys on rats. Why not ask him to tackle the rats?" "Terrific idea" said Mithu. "Let us find my father and tell him." Totabhai pooh-poohed the idea. "What can that oddball do for us?" But Tiya and Parakeet felt otherwise. "The plan is worth a try. We could drop a few ripe mangoes to the ground and then let Ullunath attack the rats when they come." It was decided that the three elder parents would approach the owl at once for his help. "Do you really think he will help us?" said Parakeet, uncertainly. "After all, we have hardly been friendly to him." "No harm in trying," said Tiya. As expected, Ullunath was asleep. When the three parrots clicked their beaks in unison outside his hollow, he 10 emerged. His feathers were ruffled and he looked annoyed. "What is it?" he asked gruffly. "We need your help," said Totabhai meekly. "What You need my help?" asked Ullunath sarcastically. Totabhai squirmed. "Yes, please," he replied humbly. The parrots then proceeded to explain their plan to the owl. He heard them out patiently. Finally, he said. "I may help you, but on one condition." "What is it?" they asked apprehensively. "I should be allowed to hoot every night," replied the wise Ullunath. The birds heaved a sigh of relief. A little disturbed sleep was a small price to pay for getting rid of the rats. Over the next few days, as the mangoes ripened, the birds dropped them to the ground. At night, they waited in suspense. After what seemed like ages, they heard the rustle of the rats. Ullunath was ready. He soared, plunged and came back, looking content. "There, I think he has eaten one rat," whispered Mithu. Again and again Ullunath swooped and struck till the rats went scurrying off. The next night the rats did not come. The parrots were overjoyed. That night, when Ullunath hooted, "TOO...WHOO "TOO...WHIT..." the parrots did not mind at all. They chorused happily, "We love you, Ullunath" The Apricot Tree M.S. Mahadevan I have lived in the camp for close to a year now. When I remember my old home, somehow I love it more than I ever did. It was spring when we left. And the barren, grey mountains were slowly turning green. The apricot tree which my grandfather had planted as a young man was heavy with ripening fruit. Abba and Usman were making last minute arrangements before taking our flock to the high pastures. I begged to go along with them. "Not this year," Abba had said firmly. In a kinder voice he had added, "Maybe next summer." Usman was fifteen. I was eleven. It seemed like I would have to wait forever to be as old as him. Meanwhile, there was school to attend, and Ammi and Habiba to look after. "They are your responsibility," Abba had said proudly. Usman, securing bags of barley flour, salt and dried meat, put them onto a mule's back, had given me a sympathetic smile. I envied him the days of adventure and freedom that lay ahead. While I would be in school, cramming useless stuff like tables and grammar, he would be out in the mountains, fishing in the streams, sleeping under the stars. I watched them go till the flock was just a cloud of 12 dust in the distance and the barking of dogs, an echo in my head. Four days later, the first shell landed on our village. It came across the ridge and shattered the police chowki. The third period had just begun. Our teacher Sadiq Ali was at the blackboard when there was a loud, dull BOOM The walls shook. The blackboard toppled off its stand. Sadiq Ali's spectacles fell off his nose. The rest of us looked at each other in astonishment. Before Sadiq Ali could stop us, we ran out of the school and up the road to the village square. We had barely crossed the grocery shop when another shell landed on it. When the dust settled we saw that one wall had a big hole. Through it we could see the owner cowering behind a sack. He was covered from head to toe with its contents—flour. The bombardment continued for another hour. Six shells hit our village. Several more fell on the highway and the river beyond. A giant spray of water splashed every time a shell landed in the river. In the late afternoon, a jeep roared up into the village square. A man got up on top of the bonnet and yelled through a loudspeaker, "You are informed that this village is under attack by the enemy (as if we did not know that already). This is a war zone. For your own safety, you must evacuate your homes. Take only the bare essentials. Go to the camp at Drass. Make sure that all women and children leave the area." He jumpe d off, got into the jeep and roared off in the direction of the next village. Our neighbours, old Suleiman and Amina refused to leave. Chacha was ninety-five years old. "I can't leave my animals behind," he said angrily. "Who will feed them?" "Fine then, if you are not going, neither am I," Chachi said emphatically. 13 "Don't be stubborn," Ammi pleaded. "This is a matter of life and death. Come along with us." "You go, beti" Chachi said. "Your children are small. When Arshad miyan and Usman come home, we will tell them where you have gone, We will take care of your animals too." Ammi was unhappy about leaving them behind. But what could she do? There was hardly any time. The villagers had begun to leave; their belongings—pots, pans and bags of rations—piled on mule backs or on their own heads. "Take your school books," Ammi said. I was hoping she would forget but I knew better than to argue. She let Habiba take her favourite doll and a new pair of shoes. Ammi left a letter for Abba. We joined the straggly line heading for the town. The narrow road was chock-full of army trucks loaded with soldiers. In the fields next to the river, men were scurrying about carrying boxes of ammunition, pitching tents and setting up big guns. We made slow progress. Habiba started to complain: her new shoes were pinching. She wanted to take them off and throw them away. Ammi picked her up and carried her. By sunset we had covered only three kilometres. We spent that night in the open. It was very cold. The soldiers did not allow us to light fires. Habiba snuggled with Ammi. I had my own blanket. I thought I would not sleep a wink. It was a clear night. Around us, a ring of jagged peaks rose up to meet the stars. Somewhere in those peaks were Abba and Usman, thinking we were safe in our beds Would I ever see them again? Before I knew it, the sun was up and Ammi was shaking me awake. She looked tired, as if she had not slept a wink. She gave me the last of the naans to eat. It was hard and dry but I ate all of it. 14 "Hurry," Ammi said, "we must be on our way before the shelling starts." We passed two villages. They were totally deserted. There was not a single house without a roof or a wall missing. The ruined village made me sad. Everyone was quiet; even Habiba. Just as we passed the last house, there was a scuffling sound. Habiba shrieked. A big, black head stared at us dolefully out through a broken wall. It was a yak. It had a little brass bell that tinkled when it shook its head. It was a cheerful sound. The yak nuzzled its head against Ammi. Its eyes seemed to plead. "All right," said Ammi, "we won't leave you behind. Come along." She made Habiba and me sit on the yak's back and led it by the rope around its neck. The yak was smelly, but I didn't mind. I was happy to rest my feet. Habiba started to sing. We passed a hillside covered with yellow roses. Habiba made me get down and pluck a few for her. When the sun was just over the ridge, the shelling began. The first one landed just a few hundred yards away. It hit an army convoy truck. A huge ball of flame rolled out. Ammi grabbed Habiba and pulled me off the yak. The yak was frightened out of its wits. I could see the whites of its eyes. It dashed off into a field, its bell tinkling crazily. We scrambled into a ditch and lay low. Through the deafening noise of the shells came the shouts of soldiers, the wails of frightened children. I kept listening for the yak's bell. At last, the shelling stopped. The convoy started moving. "I must go and look for the yak," I said to Ammi. "No," she said, then, seeing my face, "all right, go. But be back in ten minutes. It may be..." "Dead?" I said, interrupting her, "but what if it is not? What if it is alive and scared and waiting for us?" "It is only a yak," she said gently. 15 It sounded cruel to me. Only a yak I clambered out of the ditch and ran into the field. There were huge craters where the shells had landed, as if a giant hand had clawed out the earth. The yak lay on the edge of one crater. It was still. Beneath it was a growing pool of blood. I had never felt so sad as I did then, looking at that poor, gentle creature, now dead. I looked up at the mountains that had always seemed friendly. Hiding in their folds were men who had so casually destroyed my whole world. What harm had we ever done to them? I heard footsteps. It was a soldier, tall and strong. With a beard and a black turban. His rifle was slung across his shoulder. He looked fierce, but when he spoke, his voice was not unkind. "Your mother is waiting. It is not safe for you to be here. We will give you a ride to town." Then he saw the dead yak. "Your friend?" I nodded glumly. Bending down, he took the little brass bell off the neck. "Keep this," he said gently, "to remind you of your friend." He lifted me across his shoulder and walked back. We reached the camp without any mishap. The first person I spotted was Sadiq Ali. "So you have made it," he said in his cool, precise voice. "School starts tomorrow." "But we don't have a schoolhouse" I protested. "We do," he grinned, pointing at a big, shady tree. "Class begins at 9 a.m." Since then, we have been living in a tent. It is crowded but cosy. Abba and Usman have joined us. So have old Suleiman and Amina. The winter has come and gone. Abba went to see our house recently. "We will have to build a new one," he said. "But the apricot tree is fine, it is in bloom." 17 Simon Says Cheryl Rao I begin to get the feeling that Christmas is around the corner when Ma starts making the sweets and the smell of burnt sugar and baking fills the house. The countdown begins and, every day there is some new activity—the lights of the Christmas tree to be checked out, the wiring for the star to be fixed, the thatch of the stable for the nativity scene to be mended, last minute chopping of the dry fruits to be done... Then, before we know what is happening, we start our rounds of carol singing, meet old friends and make new ones... Oh, the entire month is fun. This year, however, the first of December announced itself with an early morning phone call. Ma shook me awake and I looked at her with bleary eyes. "I have to go to the hospital, Reeta," she said worriedly. "Grandpa has met with an accident." That made me jump up. Grandpa is my favourite person in the world after my friend Latika. I can tell him anything, even grumble when I think his daughter, Ma, is being unfair to me. Because Grandpa cannot see, he is never distracted when I talk and I feel that he is the only person who gives me full attention. Simon does too, but that is different. 18

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