Their biology teacher had asked the children to separate the different parts of the flowers on their desks. When Ma’am called out “Sepals”, they were supposed to hold up the sepals; then the petals or stamens or ovary. Stuti could not bring herself to ruin her cute purple flower, though her classmates were doing just that.
|Winning pair Stuti & Dhwani.|
Digital sketch: Harjeet
The boy sitting next to her nudged her: “What are you waiting for?”
She shook her head silently. When her turn came, she stood up, held up the full flower and pointed to the stamens nonchalantly.
“Why did you not pull the flower apart?” Ma’am asked.
“I want to keep it this way.”
Ma’am decided to overlook it, for there was no gainsaying Stuti.
The child was so sensitive and self-assured. She was also very responsible and helpful, willing to fetch and carry study materials for her teachers, sharing her tiffin with her class fellows or setting their school ties right as they poured into the assembly hall.
Indeed, Stuti was the talking point among her teachers. What spooked them was Stuti’s total lack of self-consciousness. She did exactly what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted. The physics teacher often recounted the incident of the pencil. A boy in the front row had come to school without a pencil. Stuti did not wait for Sir to ask if anybody would lend the boy a pencil. She rose from her chair as Sir began scolding him, passed on the pencil and was back at her seat without a word.
The English teacher had another tale to share. Stuti came to the rescue of four or five children who could not fill in the blanks, turn by turn. While they shuffled on their feet and stammered, she just uttered just one letter that made it easy to guess the word.
No amount of persuasion or harsh words could deter Stuti if she thought she was doing the right thing. She was just about 14, but her demeanour was one of a peaceful sage. Not for her the typical tricks that children play on each other; no antics, no teasing. Her soft “Good morning” shamed her naughtiest classmates into returning the greeting. Pranksters kept away from her.
Every morning, Stuti wiped her desk with a piece of flannel she pulled out from her bag. Then she would lay out her books period-wise inside the desk, pencils and rubber to one side. She never forgot to bring the right books, her pen never ran out of ink and she always had a rubber and sharpened pencil at hand. She submitted her assignments on time and she also topped in class, invariably.
The teachers noticed that the rest of the class stood in awe of her. They knew it was not fair, but they could not resist shifting a recalcitrant child next to her. The child would be miraculously reformed. Stuti never exerted herself or imposed her will on them; they just submitted to it. She could do no wrong, unlike them. She did not scramble out of class, she did not push or shove, she never stuffed her books into her bag anyhow and rush out when the bell rang. Her placid manners won her admirers, but she was friends with none. Rather, all were wary of befriending her.
That did not seem to bother her. She lived in a world of her own. Her teachers brought up the subject with her parents, who said she behaved exactly like that at home as well. She was a loving child, but kept to herself. All efforts to draw her out were in vain, they said.
Stuti’s well-organized world went topsy turvy with the arrival of Dhwani. The new girl in her class was as noisy as Stuti was quiet. She was a tomboy, playing a prank on the unsuspecting math teacher the very day she joined. She banged her desk shut, scraped her chair loudly, and merrily nicknamed her classmates by their looks.
One was dubbed “Mr Hairy”, another was called “Miss Curly Hair”, yet another “Mr Broad Shoulders” and so on, but somehow the ebullient Dhwani could not fathom Stuti.
The tall Stuti just walked up to her when Ma’am introduced her to the class, shook her by the hand and said: “Hi, I’m Stuti. I sit in the second-last row.” No other child in the class had done that. It was not the norm, anywhere. And Ma’am had not blinked.
She determined to try breaking “The Silence”. Yes, Dhwani decided, that would be her name for the enigmatic girl beside whom she was made to sit the very next day. She refused to be intimidated by Stuti’s orderliness and self-contained bearing.
Dhwani would sing loudly during lunch break, exhorting the others to join in. She would play pass-the-parcel with a greasy lunch box, wipe her hands on her skirt, empty her bag onto the desk if she couldn’t find a book – and the class was loving it. She was normal. They flocked around her, enjoyed her silly antics and generally became a livelier lot.
Stuti watched apprehensively. She did not grudge Dhwani her boisterousness, but she could not digest such lack of restraint either. She did not want to be seen as stuck-up, but she couldn’t join in.
Being deskmates, they had to spend a lot of time together. So one day when Dhwani left her rough notebook at home, she sheepishly accepted the sheets Stuti handed out from her own notebook without being asked. Dhwani sprang to massage Stuti’s foot when her chair toppled down on it. And when they knocked their heads trying to shoo away a lost-looking frog from under their twin desk, they shared a hearty laugh.
The teachers could see the change in the two girls. They compared notes in their common room on the pair of complementary role models in the making. One was opening up to the world around her, the other was getting tamed.
Stuti was not as stand-offish now. She could make shy conversations of more than one syllable. She even played the parcel game with Dhwani, whose lunch box was no longer grubby. Dhwani did not slam her desk or screech like a parrot during lunch hour any more, and moderated her jokes that Stuti was beginning to smile at.
The companionship was sealed the day the girls won an inter-school debate. They had independently signed up to represent the school in a declamation contest, in which they had to think on their feet, be on the same wavelength and bond well to take on the competition. The topic: “Who comes first – friends, or me?”
The usually pushy Dhwani hung back, allowing the once-reticent Stuti to step forward and receive the trophy, and to make an elegant acceptance speech on behalf of them both. There was a loud cheer backstage. Only their classmates and teachers knew it was more in celebration of a newfound friendship.