All mirrors are created equal; their finish and frame decide their place. Just like all humans are created equal; their family and fortune decide their place.
This is not the time to be having such thoughts. C’mon…
“… and have a five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and courage to … courage to…” Again!? Tara stared at her reflection in disbelief. She shook her head violently and threw the paper roll mike on the mirror. There was no way she was going to impress her English Literary Club members at school if she was going to fumble at the wrong moment. Not even able to produce a quote verbatim! …Tch Tch.
A cone of dancing dust formed by the sunlight through the window converged on her face.
I am just another vernacular misfit struggling with her physics and pimples, she fumed.
At that exact moment, her mind chose to replay snatches from her years spent in a village before moving to Bangalore. Her small form reciting Kannada poem in the morning assembly on the stage followed by applause from the students. She playing hopscotch with her friends on the playground of the U-shaped government school building (to which half the teachers came from a nearby town when it was convenient to them and half the children attended the school when it was convenient to them).
She remembered distinctly a few moments of absolute realization that she was meant to do something more than her parents and circumstances had expected out of her. They came at the most unexpected of times-while swinging from the branch of a tree or walking on a dirt road after rains with sandals in her hand.
As fate would have it, her father had decided to sell his farmland and move to the city hoping for a better life for his family. Now, the prophecies from her early childhood looked monstrous to her.
She slept fitfully. The terror of speaking in front of a city-slick group kept her awake most of the night.
The classroom at the end of the west wing of Zenith International School was where the English Literary Club members met every Friday. Ms. Maya, a senior English teacher who was in charge of the Club was standing and chatting with the early birds.
Tara slipped in quietly and stood somewhere between the chairs and the members. Ms. Maya raised her eyebrows at a burst of unruly noise in the corridor. Shortly afterwards, the source group of noise walked in.
Ms. Maya clapped her hands and bellowed,
“Okay boys and girls, settle down quickly!”
A few lifted the chairs and others dragged them to form a circle. The cacophony died down quickly under Ms. Maya’s steely glare.
“Alright, children, as agreed in the previous session we are going to share … what in your opinion makes up the ideal atmosphere for producing great literature.”
It was a perfect topic for passing 2 periods allotted for club activity on a Friday afternoon. Vague. Open-ended. Ms. Maya did not believe in wasting her prep time on fads floated by the management. She was too clever and old for that. Now, the club members can make whatever they wanted out of her prompt. They could either cough up a couple of sentences or ramble on into paragraphs.
The snarky stud with S-shaped eyebrows replied, “A couple of Red Bulls and a broken heart!”. His buddies suppressed a chuckle.
Ms. Maya grimaced.
“Okay wonderful! Leela, can you go next?”
“Yes ma’am. Allow me to begin with a quote by R.N. Tagore- Where the mind is without fear and head held high….” Leela, the school magazine editor continued in her sonorous voice for some time and lulled many of the members into a pleasurable open-eyed siesta.
Why didn’t I sign up for the Gardening Club! Those guys are having a gala time in the open air and mud. Or even Yoga Club.
After what seemed like forever Leela concluded, “Thank you for being such a wonderful audience!”
There were claps in the circle, by Ms. Maya and Kevin, who was a fellow editor.
The session was turning into a slouchy horse that needed a whip. Ms. Maya looked around.
“Now, let’s have the newcomer’s perspective. Tara, why don’t you share your views?”
Now that the sheep had been thrown to the wolves, Ms. Maya was assured of some entertainment and settled down comfortably.
There was a pin drop silence.
A drunken monkey played Tabla in Tara’s chest. He would leap out any second and dance on her head.
She looked around. A set of 9th graders from across the sections. Most of them had studied in the same Private school since kindergarten; their polished shoes on steady feet, lips ready with neutral accent and ties securing their smug confidence.
At present, all eyes were fixed on her like dynamites under the bridge. Ready to blow up her confidence that was already chocked by her tie.
She cleared her throat. And locked her gaze to the floor at the centre of the circle. Her mind blocked out the quotes she memorised or at least had tried to.
“In my opinion…” damn it! A squirrel chattered outside. A couple of sniggers snaked inside. A strange force- reverse snobbery- propelled air into her vocal cords.
“Well, most of you may not know it was not a bird but a squirrel that made noise just now. You may also have not noticed that great literature exists in regional languages too… may be written by those who have no access to fancy private schools. I joined the English Literary Club as I thought it would help me with the language… to make better sense of the lessons that I was so used to learning in Kannada. That does not mean I don’t enjoy literature, I have always loved reading and writing too…maybe not great literature, maybe not in universal language but something that gave me joy and was true to my experience- about animals, skies, fields with farmers on them…all part of the atmosphere I grew up in.
So, in my opinion …it is not the atmosphere but it is what you experience within you that helps create great literature.”
A stunned silence, followed by a trickle of claps building up to applause reverberated in the classroom.
Ms. Maya beamed at her.
“Well said, Tara! I can see a good contributor to the school magazine this year!”
Tara inhaled deeply and lifted her head. There were a few smiles and twinkling eyes directed at her.
Suddenly, the English Literary Club was not a daunting place to be in.