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The Gifts of Love 

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By Savitri Narayanan

Children in uniform running around, some clustered in small groups exchanging news, some walking in, escorted by parents – the school ground had come to life. Teacher on duty, madam Sunita Joshi, stood under the badam tree, generally keeping an eye around.

In the far corner near the foyer stood a few students. As the group grew in numbers, she moved closer to find out the reason. Had someone fallen down? Got hurt?

The centre of attraction was a student from her own class! Clad in her frilly pink frock, Mili stood there, thoroughly enjoying the attention!

“Yesterday was my birthday, Amol uncle from Hongkong sent this frock,” there was joy and pride in her voice as she continued, “Meena aunty bought these matching bangles and necklace! But I also got so many gifts that I didn’t like- toys, dresses, plates…”

‘You’re so lucky!’, ‘You got so many things!’, ‘Good for you!’, all were full of admiration tinging on envy.

Mili laughed, “You tell me, what to do with three duplicate colouring books, four sets of sketch pens, frocks that I don’t like and two geometry boxes…”

The bell chimed and the group, still in admiration, escorted Mili to her place in the assembly line.

%%%

It was the fourth period, time for EVS in Class III.

“Good morning, madam,” the students rose and greeted her as the teacher entered the classroom.

“How nice, today we’ve a birthday girl in our class!” Sunita madam smiled and patted Mili’s hair.

“My birthday was yesterday, madam! We had a party at Horizon’s, so many people came with so many gifts!” Mili was full of news, “But I liked very few!”

The class spontaneously got into conversation. It turned out there were several of them who ended up with unwanted gifts!

With an air of command and wisdom, Sunita madam said, “Each of us have our own likes and dislikes which are different and personal, how can we expect others to know it?”

‘True, I like yellow frocks but my sister can’t stand yellow!’

‘When mummy buys a dress, I like it but if papa buys, we end up exchanging it!’

‘I want gifts, that I like!’

Time moved on as everyone had something to say. Sunita madam looked at the clock and said, “I’ve an idea, shall we have a ‘gift exchange day’ here in our class?”

The class was full of attention as she laid down the rules.

“Let’s call it ‘the gift of love’, meaning you give away something that you love! You can give only what’s YOURS like a toy, a pencil, a story book, a toffee etc.; absolutely no money to be spent to buy something new; pack up something that YOU like, DO NOT write your name or a friend’s name, remember it’s a gift of love! Tomorrow morning when you’re here, quietly place your packed gift on that corner table, that’s it!”

The class was quiet in thought as they moved out at the dispersal bell.

% % %

Mili was thoughtful as she walked home with her mother. Her home in Shikhargaon was only about ten minutes’ walk but mummyji or dadiji escorted her as they had to cross the stream.

“Why are you quiet today?” asked mummyji, “Got a scolding?”

Mili paid no attention, her mind was elsewhere!

There was a small lake on the right, along the path. There in the shallow, muddy water, a few water lilies danced in the breeze.

“I want a water lily!” Mili stopped and signalled, “That one, the pale pink one!”

“What’s the matter with you?” Mummyji was puzzled. They squatted on the rock as Mili told about the gift exchange day. “I love that waterlily, that’s my gift tomorrow!”

“Sounds good,” said mummyji as they got up and headed homewards, “We’ll pluck it tomorrow on the way to school, ok?”

%%%

Mili rushed to the class with her waterlily wrapped in a large circular leaf. The corner table was decked with several packets of various sizes and shapes. The bell chimed as Mili placed hers too and rushed out to the morning assembly.

All eyes were on the corner table but they kept their promise. Nobody went near it or touched it. In the last period, Sunita madam completed her EVS five minutes earlier and announced, “Children, it’s time to pick up your gift! Remember, every item on that table is a gift with love! Pick up one, open it only when you reach home!”

Sunita madam kept an eye as the children in small groups walked up, picked up a gift and left with their school bags.

Mili was the last in the line to pick up her gift. She was shocked to see her water lily still there, slightly wilted, looking forlorn!  She quietly picked it up and walked home.

“How was the event?”, asked mummyji and Mili broke into tears, “Nobody liked my gift…”

“So, what’s the big deal?” laughed mummyji, “You still like it, right?”

Mili took a long look at the drooping waterlily wrapped in the wilted leaf and said, “Yes, of course! Alas! If I hadn’t plucked it this morning, it would have been still there beautifying the lake!”

“Be like the waterlily,” smiled mummyji. “Ignore what others think, feel or say, be yourself; shine and add cheer to the surroundings!”

(Savitri Narayanan is a retired educationist at present in Bangaluru. A mother and grandmother, loves readig, writing and
travelling.)