Way back in 1999, one of my short stories was judged as a highly commended entry in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, run by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. I was surprised to find that the story was later used by the BBC in a guide to reading literature in English – http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/studyguides/pdfs/effectivereading.pdf Here is the story in its entirety:
* * *
Mr Nair had done it again. He had torn the essay that Ravi was writing and had growled, “You’d better do some work, instead of writing all this silly stuff.” It wasn’t fair. Ravi had already completed the given work at Mr Nair’s tailoring shop. He was an eleven-year-old orphan and was living with his father’s sister, Sheila, and her family. He was indeed lucky to be living with such a loving family, except that they weren’t well off and so Ravi tried to help by working at the tailoring shop. But Mr Nair made him work too hard and that hardly left any spare time for Ravi to study. Mr Nair was a good tailor, but he wasn’t that good as a person. His mood swings would put a pendulum to shame. He made Ravi work whenever he wished. He had been in a very angry mood that day and had torn Ravi’s essay. (People often pour out their anger on children.)
That afternoon, when Ravi came home, Aunt Sheila guessed something was wrong from his crestfallen face. When she asked what the matter was, Ravi told her everything. This wasn’t the first time that such a thing had happened. She did not say anything, but sat silently for a while, lost in her own thoughts. Suddenly, she got up. “Come with me,” she said, without looking back, and walked out of the house. Ravi ran after her. “Where?”, he asked, but she did not answer.
Ravi did not repeat his question, but kept walking. The sky was clouded. He felt suffocated, as if something was crushing him and it wasn’t only because of the hot and humid air.
He was surprised to see her enter Mr Nair’s shop. She stood unnoticed in a corner of the shop. The customers were engrossed in watching the cricket match between India and South Africa on the small television set in the shop.
Aunt Sheila gently touched a pink dress that was hanging near her, as if she was admiring it, and took a fold of it in her hands. “Look! Sachin’s going to hit a four”, someone cried. Everyone watched with bated breath.
Suddenly, a loud ripping sound ran through the silence of the shop. For a moment, Sachin’s four was forgotten, as
all eyes turned to Aunt Sheila. She had torn a large part of the dress. Mr Nair gave a look of astonishment, before it dissolved into a look of anger. Before he could say anything, she began to speak in a strangely calm voice. “You tore the essay that my nephew was writing. Do you know how hard he worked on it? The dress that I tore,” she said, pointing to it, “was stitched by you. You won’t understand someone else’s efforts until your own have been treated in such a way.” Then she placed some money in front of him. “This money is for what I did to the dress. But I doubt that you can make up for what you did to Ravi’s work, to his confidence,” she said, and stepped out of the shop with the same kind of calmness.
Without waiting to look at anyone, Ravi followed her outside. She looked at him, smiled faintly, and said, “Let’s go home, so that you can write that essay again.” Ravi nodded. It began to drizzle as they walked back home, hand in hand. He smiled to himself as he watched the loose end of her light green sari fluttering in the breeze, and listened to the familiar tinkling sound of her bangles.
* * *