Rumjhum’s 8th Birthday
Rumjhum opened her eyes and looked at the calendar beside her bed. Her eyes twinkled. She was very excited. Tomorrow, 3rd October is her birthday. She will be 8 !
Rumjhum studies in class 2. She gets up everyday at 6 am. The schoolbus comes at 6.45 am and the assembly starts at 7.15 am. But today is 2nd October and her school is closed for Gandhi Jayanti. Rumjhum’s mother and father are also at home. Their offices are also closed today.
She quickly got up from the bed, brushed her teeth, combed her hair and went to the drawing room. Her parents were sitting on the sofa. She ran and sat on her father’s lap. Her mother was making a garland with the white flowers from the garden.
“Ma, why are you making this ? “ Rumjhum asked.
“Today is 2nd October – Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. I will put this garland on the picture of Bapu “, her mother pointed towards the framed picture of Gandhiji on the wall. “It is his 150th birthday, so it is special.”
“He is 150 years old ?” Rumjhum was amazed.
Her father kissed her on the cheek and said “Yes. If he was alive, he would have been 150 years old.”
“And I will be 8 years old tomorrow !” Rumjhum jumped with joy.
“Yes ! And we will have a birthday party in the evening when Rumjhum’s friends will come …” Her father smiled at her.
“And I will wear a new frock , cut a cake and play with my friends .” Rumjhum danced around the sofa in glee. Her father picked her up and made her sit beside him.
“You know Rumjhum, the whole country celebrates Gandhiji’s birthday every year. He is called Bapu – the father of our nation.”
“Baba, will my birthday also be celebrated by the whole country someday ?”
Her father looked at her mother. She said “Yes, why not ? But you will have to become like him.”
“How can I become like him ?”
“Well, to start with, you will have to always tell the truth.”
“Bapu never lied ? “
“Never. He said that truth and love always win.”
“Really Baba ? “ Rumjhum’s eyes were wide as she looked at her father.
“Yes. But it is very difficult. Gandhiji had to go to jail many times but even then he never let go of his values.”
“What is value Baba?” Rumjhum was puzzled.
“Values like Telling the truth, honesty and many other things”.
Rumjum was quiet for a moment.
“Did the police beat Gandhiji in the jail ?” Rumjhum asked.
“Yes. The British police tortured him but in the end, they had to release him from jail.”
Rumjhum got down from the sofa and went near Gandhiji’s photograph. She looked at his smiling face. Her mother had put the garland and it was looking so beautiful.
“Rumjhum, will you wear the white frill frock to school tomorrow?”, her mother asked.
“And here is your box of chocolates.”
On their birthdays, the children were allowed to wear coloured dress to school instead of the school uniform. They distributed sweets in the class and to the teachers.
“In the evening, for the birthday party, you can wear the red skirt and the black top which your Grandmother has given you.”
“Hmm … Yes , Ma” Rumjhum had a strange expression on her face.
In the evening, Rumjhum called up Rina, her best friend. Rina’s mother picked up the phone.
“Yes Rumjhum, Rina will come to your birthday party tomorrow. Now she is sleeping. She was not feeling well.”
Rumjhum knew why Rina was not feeling well. Rina was punished yesterday for breaking a flower pot kept in the corridor of their classroom. Rina cried so much.
“Miss, I did not break the pot. Really I did not”. She sobbed and cried.
In the school, their lunch break is from 12.30 pm to 1.20 pm. During that time, the children are not allowed to be inside the building. They have to be in the field or the lunch-shade.
Yesterday, during lunch break, after Rumjhum and Rina finished their tiffin, Rina said “Oh ! Ma has given me sweets in another box. She has asked me to share it with you , and I forgot all about it. Let me quickly go to the classroom and bring the box. Then we will eat it.”
“But Rina, we are not allowed to go inside now. If someone sees us, we will be punished.” Rumjum was afraid.
“I will go and get it in 1 minute. You can stand her. If you see anyone coming, just clap your hands and warn me and I will hide.”
“Ok, but I am feeling nervous.”
Rumjhum stood there and Rina quickly ran towards her classroom.
Just after lunchtime, there was an announcement on the speakers.
“Children, the flower pot kept near class 2A has been broken by someone. Whoever has done that, come to the principal’s room immediately.”
After sometime, there was an announcement again. The principal spoke.
“This is really upsetting that no one has owned up. Miss Swaminathan has seen a girl running in the corridor during lunchtime. All the students will line up before Miss Swaminathan.”
Miss Swaminathan recognized Rina. “Yes, she was running away. The pot was broken at that time.”
Rina started crying.
“Miss, I came inside the class , but I did not break the pot.”
The Principal was angry. “Rina, the pot is not important, but what it is very wrong that you are lying ! Bring your diary. I will write a complaint to your parents. They should come and see me.” Rumjhum was scared. Rina kept on crying. Even in the bus, Rina was crying.
While going to sleep, Rumjhum snuggled close to her mother.
“Rumjhum, are you alright?” , her mother asked her softly. “You want me to tell you a story ? “
Rumjhum put her face on the nape of her mother’s neck and shook her head. “No, I am feeling sleepy.”
When her mother patted her head and adjusted the rug, Rumjhum suddenly held her hand and whispered, “ Ma, where do people sleep in jail ?”
Her mother was surprised. “ They sleep on the floor, on a thin matress.”
“Do their mothers come and put them to sleep ?”
Her mother smiled and hugged Rumjhum.
“No. They have to sleep alone. Now go to sleep. Tomorrow is a big day for you … remember ?”
Rumjhum looked at her mother and slowly closed her eyes.
Next day morning, Rumjhum’s father and mother hugged her and sang happy birthday when she got up from sleep. She looked lovely in the white frilled frock. She put the box of chocolates in her bag and as she got into the bus, she turned and waved.
“I think something is wrong” He mother told Runjhum’s father. “Her eyes looked sad.”
“Hmm.. she will be alright in the evening when her friends are here for the party.”
In the school assembly, a small program on Gandhiji was arranged. Rumjhum had a beautiful voice. She was in the Choir team of the school. Rumjhum and the other choir members stood on the raised platform and sang the song “Vaishnav Jan to tene kahiye je … “, Gandhiji’s favourite song. Two girls from class 5 spoke about Bapu.
Rumjhum’s heart was beating fast. Her face was flushed.
Just after the speech, she went to Miss Swaminathan , who was standing near the mike , and said “ Miss, I want to say something. Please give me permission. Please miss..”
Miss Swaminathan was very surprised. She nodded her head.
Rumjhum walked to the mike. Suddenly she was not feeling scared anymore. She looked at all the students standing in rows in front of her. Rina was also there.
Rumjhum held the mike and started speaking.
“Today, we are celebrating Bapu’s birthday. It was yesterday, on 2nd October. Today is my birthday. On my birthday, I have promised myself that I will always tell the truth – just like Bapu.”
Rumjhum paused and tool a deep breath. She looked at Miss Swaminathan.
“Miss, Rina did not break the pot. I broke it … “
There was pin drop silence.
“Rina had gone inside to get her tiffin box. She had asked me to warn her by clapping. I saw Miss Swaminathan coming towards the corridor from the other end. I could not clap because she would have heard me. I saw her go inside the wash room and I ran towards the classroom to call Rina. I lost my balance and hit the stand on which the pot was kept. It fell down and broke. I was scared. I ran away. Just then Rina came out and Miss Swaminathan saw her running …”
Tears rolled down Rumjhum’s cheeks.
“Miss, I broke the pot. I did not tell the truth when Rina was scolded. I am sorry for lying. Do not punish Rina. You can punish me . “
Rumjhum bent her head and sobbed.
“I am ready to go to jail … “ , she whispered.
No one spoke for a minute.
Then suddenly, Miss Swaminathan started clapping.
Everybody clapped. Ms. Swaminathan and the Principal hugged Rumjhum. The Principal and Miss Swamninathan looked at each other and smiled.
“Rina, come on the stage “, Miss Swaminathan said.
Rina came and stood beside Rumjhum and held her hands.
“Rina, do you want to send Rumjhum to jail or will you forgive her ?”
Rina also started crying.
“Miss, Rumjhum is my best friend. I forgive her.”
The whole school cheered and clapped.
The Principal held both the girls beside her and said “Children, these two girls are not just speaking but actually living the values of Bapu. Rumjhum has spoken the truth in front of the whole school ! That needs lots and lots of courage. And Rina, by forgiving her friend, has demonstrated what Bapu has said. He said that the weak can never forgive. Only a strong and brave person can forgive. Both these girls are very brave. I am very proud of them. I know you will grow up to be great human beings and make us proud ! And let us all wish a very happy birthday to Rumjhum.”
Everybody sang the Happy birthday song. Rumjhum’s eyes shone with happiness.
As she held Rina’s hand and went towards her classroom, she waved at Gandhiji’s photograph hung at the majestic landing of the wooden staircase.
“You were right Bapu. Telling the truth is difficult but once you know that you are doing the right thing, you don’t feel afraid anymore ! ”
Rumjhum will always remember her 8th birthday.
1st October, 2019, Bungalow no. 14, Belvedere, Alipore, Kolkata