A journey of discovery

A journey of discovery

SHORT STORY

The mango tree in Mala’s compound had luscious fruit. Just looking at the mangoes was enough to make the kids in the neighbourhood drool. But Mala wasn’t in any mood to share...

Mala and Maya lived in a small community. Their names began with the same letter, they went to the same school and were in the same class. Other than that, they didn’t have much in common. Maya was an extrovert, popular, kind and considerate. On the other hand, Mala was an introvert, quiet and shy, who kept to herself.

If Maya saw a neighbour struggling to balance two heavy carry bags, she immediately offered help. If someone wanted documents photocopied, she would be only too happy to do it. If a loaf of bread needed to be bought from the local shop, she could be depended on to get it.

She could even be relied upon to take care of small kids for a couple of hours. She was civic-minded too and did her bit to keep the surroundings clean. She would request friends and relatives to use cloth bags as they were eco-friendly. And she was a great tree lover. She encouraged her friends to plant saplings in their compound and take care of them. “Soon they will manage on their own and reward you with shade, flowers and fruit,” she would say.

That’s how she had convinced Mala to grow a mango tree by gifting her a fast-yielding, hybrid  sapling for a birthday.

Mala wouldn’t go out of her way to be helpful. She was less spontaneous and forthcoming. She would help if asked, and not too willingly. She would make it seem as if she was conferring a big favour. Since she was a bit grudging, it wasn’t often that people sought her help. (Actually, her attitude got her out of doing many chores!)

That season, the mango tree in Mala’s compound was bursting with lovely, luscious fruit. Just looking at the mangoes was enough to make the neighbourhood kids drool. It was a temptation very hard to resist. But Mala wasn’t big-hearted. She didn’t offer anybody any mangoes, not even Maya who had given her the sapling. Several mangoes would fall to the ground. Even those would be picked up and taken into the house. So it wasn’t surprising that the kids didn’t include her in any of their games. Maya would often take up for Mala and suggest that it was mean to leave her out, but she would be shouted down. As Maya was one against many, her idea would be vetoed.

As the mangoes grew bigger and juicier, so did temptation. Healthy, high-spirited kids couldn’t be expected to overcome it. Gopi, one of bigger boys in the gang, had a bright idea. “We will strike when the iron is hot,” he declared.

 “And when will that be?” asked the bright spark Raghu.

Gopi gave a superior smile. “The day after tomorrow, the family will be out the whole day. We will carry out our plan then.”

“How do you know that?” questioned Kittu, who liked to be sure about details.

“Our gardener takes care of their garden as well. He told my mother that they had given him the day off. He wanted to go to his village and asked my mother if she could give him the day off too.”

A few of the group thought it was a stealthy thing to do.

“Remember, Maya gave Mala the sapling so it entitles her, and through her, us,” argued Gopi.
“That is true,” they murmured though they sounded doubtful.

So Gopi scaled the mango tree and shook the branches vigorously. Quite a few mangoes fell to the ground and were quickly picked up by the gang. Gopi clambered down the tree and dusted himself. All the kids made their way to a small nearby park. Together with the salt and chilli powder that one of them had smuggled out of the house, they had a grand feast.

Everything was fine until Gopi’s mother found his dirty shirt in the wash. “How did you manage to get the shirt so badly stained?” she demanded. Gopi tried to evade the question, but his mother would not be put off. Having no way of escape, Gopi blurted out the truth. To say that his mother was not pleased is putting it mildly. “No chocolates for a week,” she announced. Gopi groaned.

 “It’s good to be a leader, but to lead your friends the wrong way is bad,” she continued. Worse followed. “You will go to Mala’s house with your friends. You will confess the truth to her father and apologise for your behaviour.”

Gopi didn’t much like the idea, but his mother was not one to make idle threats. Reluctantly, he led his group of friends to Mala’s house and stood before her father, his face downcast.
“What’s this delegation in aid of?” asked Mala’s father.

Gopi told him. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.” He sounded really contrite. Mala’s father guffawed. Everyone’s eyes widened in wonder.

“Nothing to be so shame-faced about. I’ve done it scores of times in my boyhood,” he said. “In future, just ask me and I’ll give you as many mangoes as you want.”

All the kids grinned and said in one voice, “Thank you!”

“Mala will see that all of you get mangoes, won’t you, Mala?” he asked.

“I will,” she answered, feeling ashamed of her meanness. And she kept her word, adding guavas and gooseberries when they were in season.

Maya was the first to befriend her. Soon she was accepted by all the others. She saw that all of them shared whatever they had. She too learned to share, to bond with the group, have fun and be happy. She hadn’t realised how alone and isolated she had been.

It was as if she had started on a journey of discovery. The spirit of sharing is to be practised every day, she thought.

“I only wish I had realised it earlier. But I guess it’s better late than never!” Laughing at herself was one of the things she had discovered.

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