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The Lunch Box

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By Savitri Narayanan
In Class V, the 5th period was EVS. Passionate about the subject, Pandey Sir went on and on about air pollution and the need to grow more trees. Most of the students had switched off. Under the desk Vinod had his drawing book and colour pencils out, Arun and Mihir sharpened their pencils and Mihika scribbled in her notebook. ‘We learnt all this in Class III and IV and now in Class V too!’ thought Meenal as she stopped a yawn, ‘Hope in the Upper Primary school there will be more interesting things to learn!’

The long bell came as a welcome relief. The lunchboxes were out of their bags and children were on their feet in a few seconds. They followed Pandey Sir out of the class and then broke into a run.The ground turned noisy as children ran in various directions to join their friends in their own regular spots.

Meenal and Amey usually ate lunch with Aniruddha and his sister. ‘Hope it is methi parantha,’ thought Meenal as she too ran with her lunchbox to their favourite spot under the laburnum. The routine breakfast at home was roti with a lump of jaggery and a glass of milk. After dinner, Maji wrapped up the extra rotis in a cloth for breakfast. But, today, she had got up early and had made ‘methi paranthas’. Even though Meenal had her fill for breakfast, she hoped that Maji had packed some in her lunchbox too.

From far, she could see her friends already seated under the laburnum tree so broke into a run. Somewhere in the middle of the ground Vaishali, who was also on the run, bumped into her and Meenal’s lunchbox fell down. The ‘methi paranthas’ and pickle were out in the open, in the mud!

“What’s the matter, children? Are you so hungry that you’ve turned blind!” said Shailaja madam who was on lunch duty. “See what happened!” she said pointing at the scattered paranthas. Her voice was angry yet kind. The children nearby came closer and stood quietly, sympathy in their eyes.

Meenal and Vaishali stood there, their heads lowered, waiting for reprimand.

“Shomu bhaiyya, please keep an eye,” Shailaja madam told the driver, who stood leaning on the school van. “Off you go children, finish your lunch!” she dismissed the onlookers. Then she nodded her head to the two errant ones to follow her to the staffroom.

Meenal bent down to pick up the soiled ‘paranthas’.
“Never throw food in the dustbin,” she said, “Leave it under that tree, let some birds eat it!”

It was the teachers’ lunchtime, too, so in the staff room some were eating their lunch. One was reading the newspaper and another teacher was doing corrections. Shailaja madam opened her bag and pulled out her lunch box.

She smiled at Meenal. “Today let the birds eat the paranthas! For a change, you have some rice for lunch!” she said transferring her rice, dal and subzi into Tarun’s lunchbox.

“Thank you, madam,” said Meenal, “But what will you eat?”

“Don’t worry, I am fasting so will have fruits,” she said. She handed over one banana each to both of them with the words, “These are yours!”

“Hurry up, the bell will ring soon!” the teacher who was doing the corrections reminded them. Then she turned to Shailaja. “So kind of you, ‘fasting teacher!’, she said as she put away the books and took out her lunch box from her bag, “You are the role model of a good teacher – ensuring that your students don’t go hungry! Please join me for lunch. It’s my honour to share my paranthas with you!”p