Jayanti Basu

A children’s fiction-addict.

Open your eyes
Open your eyes, Mayu. Ma. Ma is never late. Never ever forgets to call her in the morning.
Mayuri opened a quarter of her left eye. The muscles on her cheek twitched. The left side of her lower lip pushed upward. But she will not open her eyes fully. Not now.
There are many kinds of opening the eyes. Sometimes when you open your eyes in the morning, you feel something sticky and watery around. Feels like you have eaten a ripe guava and not washed your mouth properly. Champa Masi says, if you have seen bad things the day before, your eyes become sticky. On some other mornings, you think you will get up and snap! Your eyes are wide open. Like doors pushed out with a bang. Seeing good things does this.
Yesterday Mayuri saw her brother Lala throwing a big stone to a dog. The dog was hurt and ran away squeaking. Mayuri hates dogs; so she did not say anything. Perhaps her eyes will be sticky and watery today for the poor dog.
Open your eyes, Mayu. Time to get ready. Mayuri twisted her body over the purple flowers of the bed sheet and stretched her limbs. Lala is still fast asleep beside her.

Why should I get up first everyday? Lala is allowed to sleep on.
Because you are a big girl, Mayu. You have your studies to do.
I won’t today—
Baba came in. You are such a good girl, Mayu. I am so proud of you, he said.
Mayuri loved her father’s slightly nasal voice. She opened her eyes languidly, like slowly moving a curtain. There was no water around the eyes. Perhaps the dog was not much hurt. She jumped off the bed and kissed her father. Then, she kissed her mother too. Good morning Ma.
Say Haloom, Mayu. Your mouth smells like a tiger’s den. Go and brush your teeth.
Mayuri giggled. The day began.
The Dream
Nothing like a train. There are many good things on a train, like the bread and omelette in silver coloured foils with a plastic fork, and the ladder to climb up and down the bunks. But the best are, of course, the dreams.
Lala’s father cannot sleep in a train. The jerking is disturbing, he says. It is not jerking, it is swaying, Lala thought. He not only sleeps very well in the train; he dreams wonderful things. Perhaps the continuous rumbling of the wheels is the sound of the dreams being cooked. Like the steamy sound of the pressure cooker in their kitchen.
At home, on certain nights, he has scary dreams. Yesterday he dreamt of a man whose face he could not see, but he knew it was horrible.
Nothing like that on the train. Besides, he will be sleeping nestled to his mother. Usually at home he sleeps with his didi. In the train, there is so little space in this middle bunk that he and Ma would huddle together throughout the night.
‘Chai – Koffi- Koffi-Chai…’ the chaiwala’s harsh voice near his ears startled him. The compartment is full of sunlight. Baba and ma are sitting on the opposite lower berth. Baba is buying tea. Ma is fishing out a packet of biscuits from her bag.
Whoosh — no dreams! Bad, Lala thought — but perhaps not entirely. He was still holding Ma’s dupatta in his hand. He could smell her.
The Clouds
Lala is mesmerized. This is the first time he has come to Darjeeling. They had arrived in the afternoon, and the chill hit him like a slap. They also had a walk in the mall and he rode one of those horses. Wasn’t he afraid! But he never showed that. If he did, Didi would tease him. After the ride, they had hot chocolate and sandwich. He expected all these. Baba had told him in detail what they plan to do in Darjeeling.
But this morning is something he could never imagine. Baba never told him that the clouds come so close to you in Darjeeling. There they were, like big white sheets on the trees and the rooftops. Some golden domes and dark green tree tops emerged from them as if floating in the sky.
Lala has seen her Didi drawing and painting pictures. When she draws, Lala sits silently beside her. Didi looks so powerful when she draws a line, then another, then another again, and suddenly he can recognize an emerging shape. Then she erases some, and adds some new lines. It becomes better, or sometimes dirtier. Something similar is happening outside now. The clouds are gliding unhurriedly from one place to another, revealing a tree now, and hiding another. A flock of pigeons flapped their wings and moved across the clouds; Lala could hardly breath, it was so beautiful.
Ma came in. Bad luck, baby, it is so cloudy. We will not be able to see the snow peaks, she said regretfully. Lala did not want to see the snow peaks, whatever they are. He wanted to see the clouds.
Didi can create pictures. She has power. Someone must be creating this vast picture outside, Lala thought. He wants to see her, this magnificent unknown artist. He would not disturb her; he wants to sit beside her silently, as she would move the clouds with skilful hands.
Eating sugar? No Papa
Mayuri had her exercise book and the Math book open in front of her on the table. Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. She had memorized when she was in Kindergarten. Now her brother reads those lines. But her all time favourite was Johny. Eating sugar? No papa.
Baba said that she should learn Bengali rhymes also. In the evening he seated her on his slightly floppy tummy and recited ‘Hattim atim tim’, or ‘Dol dol duluni’. This last one had a ritual as well that she always waited for. The rhyme spoke of a swinging motion, combing of the vermilion red hair, at the end of which a groom is supposed to come and take away the swinging girl. After reciting the rhyme, Baba always kissed her on both the cheeks and said, I will never allow anybody to take away my girl. That was so reassuring.
Now she must complete her math homework before she gets ready for school. She had been to a friend’s birthday last night. So the home work is pending. Ma has wakened her up early so that she can finish the job. She looked at the problem sums glaring at her from within the book. I don’t like you guys, she muttered to them. She doodled moodily on the back cover of her exercise book. Rikhia Ma’am is very strict. If she notices the doodles, she will be red with anger. Mayuri doesn’t care. My brother Lala had done these, she would say. Eating sugar? No Papa.
Ma entered the room. Don’t waste your time, Mayu. Please try to concentrate and finish these off. This is why I didn’t want you to return so late from the party yesterday; see how you yourself suffer.
I will do these sums, Ma. I am doing. Please go now.
Mayuri tried to concentrate, but the logic seemed to slip away from her. She started to calculate on a separate page, but all calculations seemed to get entangled. She silently uttered a word that she should not. Well, she is a big girl now; as big as in the Fourth Standard. She knows there is a way out. She turned the pages of her math book. At the end, the answers to all sums are given. She is not supposed to see them though. Rikhia Ma’am had said that she would readily understand if anybody has cheated. This cannot be true. How can Ma’am understand what she has been doing at home?
Mayuri opened the answer page, and checked. Yes, it seems to make sense, at least for some of the problems. She can now calculate back and understand the correct process. Ma will be surprised to see how quickly she had finished the home work. Rikhia Ma’am may ask if she had checked the answers. Of course not Ma’am’, she would say.
However, she would have to avoid her father this morning. Unlike Johny, if she had sugar in her mouth, and Baba had asked if she was eating sugar, she would never be able to say, ‘No Papa’.

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