‘‘I thought I finished distributing ellu to everybody," said Shreya, as she watched her mother arrange a packet of ellu, sugar candy, a banana and a piece of sugarcane on a tray.
"What is this tray for, Amma?"
"This if for the new family that has just moved into apartment 301," said her mother. "They have a girl about your age."
"Yeah I know - Preeti," said Shreya. "A snob."
"Have you met her?" asked her mother.
"No, but my friends say she doesn't talk to anybody." "Perhaps she's just shy, Shreya. You shouldn't jump to conclusions like that."
"Whatever. Anyway we have decided not to be friends with her."
"Nonsense. Go now, and give this to them."
"But they are from Orissa, they won't even know what Sankranti is!"
"All the more reason for you to go and introduce our festival to them."
Shreya made a face, but knew that she had no choice. She picked up the tray, opened the door, and snuck a look outside. None of her friends were around. She ran up the stairs, and rang the doorbell of apartment 301.
Preeti's mother opened the door.
"Hello! I am Shreya, I live in 206. This is for Sankranti," said Shreya, offering the tray.
"What is all this?" Preeti's mother asked with a smile.
Shreya dutifully rattled off what she knew about Sankranti. "Sankranti is a harvest festival. We celebrate by exchanging these with our loved ones." She pointed at each item as she named them. "Sugarcane, sugar candy, fruits, and ellu - ellu is a mixture of sesame seeds, jaggery, groundnuts and dry coconut. It is symbolic of sweetness. We say, 'Ellu-bella tindu, volle maataadu.' Eat sesame and jaggery, and speak good things."
"How lovely, Shreya. Thank you. Do come in!"
Shreya stepped inside. Preeti was sitting on the sofa.
"This is my daughter Preeti. Preeti, this is Shreya from 206."
Preeti gave Shreya a small smile. Shreya smiled stiffly.
"I'll bring you some juice," said Preeti's mother and went into the kitchen.
Shreya sat down, and avoided looking at Preeti. Shreya knew that Preeti was trying to catch her eye. Preeti actually seemed quite sweet and good-natured. Shreya suddenly felt that she was the one who was behaving like a snob. Ashamed, she was wondering what to do when she spotted a musical instrument propped up against the wall in one corner.
"Isn't that a sitar? Who plays it?" Shreya asked.
"I do," said Preeti.
"I've never seen a sitar this close," said Shreya, walking up to the instrument and touching it carefully. "I play the Veena, and it is kind of similar, but..."
"Oh, the Veena is a wonderful instrument. Will you play it for me sometime?" asked Preeti.
"Oh, okay," said Shreya, surprised.
But any further thoughts were arrested as she spotted a book-case bursting with books of all kinds.
"Oooh, are all these yours?! You have so many Roald Dahls! Isn't he wonderful? I have read only Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though."
"What? You simply must read Matilda. You can borrow it," said Preeti.
"Hey, thank you! Who is your favourite author?"
And Shreya and Preeti launched into a long discussion. They chatted over fruit juice and biscuits, and shared thoughts like old friends. Shreya lost all track of time until the doorbell rang and she heard her mother's voice at the door.
"It is already 7 o clock!" Shreya exclaimed, and skipped to the door with a couple of Preeti's books in her hand. "Thanks for these, Preeti! Come home anytime and borrow all the Montgomerys you want." Preeti waved as Shreya walked away with her mother.
"Looks like the two of you hit it off well," said Shreya's mother. "Oh yes, Amma, Preeti is so much fun! I am sure we'll be great friends."
"But what will your friends say?" asked her mother with a twinkle in her eye.
"Oh, they'll like her too, once they get to know her! Don't we all make mistakes?"
Shreya's mother smiled. Sankranti had just brought some extra sweetness into their lives!