Laila, Sunaina and Vidya (Li, Su and Vi among themselves) were best friends. They were in the same class – 4 A, they stayed in the same neighbourhood and were even on the same school bus. The three were inseparable. Li was the maths wiz but shy, Su was great at sketching funny pictures and Vi considered herself a young counselor for she loved to help solve others’ problems.
Only the other day, Megha from 4B came to Vi asking for her help. She had brought her Hatchimals toy to school that day and Jay, her class bully had snatched it away from her and was refusing to return it. Megha couldn’t complain to her class teacher because her toy would then get confiscated. It was against school rules to bring fancy things. Would Vi be able to help, she asked. And so during the lunch break, Vi carried out “Operation Takeback” with the help of Li and Su, and reunited Megha with her Hatchimals toy.
Things were going fine for the three friends until one Friday Li told them that her doctor parents were going out of town for a conference the coming week, and that she would have to stay at her cousin’s place. She would come to school by bus number 19 as Aashu bhaiya’s house was on the other side of town.
The following Monday, when the three friends met, Li was quieter than usual. She did not laugh at Su’s funny caricatures nor did she answer Maths Miss’ questions as she usually did. It was though something was troubling Li. Su and Vi took turns to ask her what was wrong but Li only shook her head. It was really puzzling.
On Wednesday, Li told them that she wanted to speak to them during lunch break. ‘It’s the new servant at Aashu bhaiya’s place,’ she told them. ‘I’m alone there when Aashu bhaiya goes for his tuitions in the evening. Uncle and Aunty reach home only after 6. When I watch TV, Bura comes and sits right next to me … and … and …’
‘And what, Li?’ Vi asked her.
‘He sniffs my hair!’ Li said and started sobbing. ‘I hate it when he comes nearby. I hate it when he touches my hair. I hate him!’
‘Have you told Aunty?’ Su asked.
‘He said that he would poison Rufus if I told anyone,’ Li told them. Rufus was her nine-month-old Labrador puppy that her parents had given her for her birthday. And Li loved him dearly.
‘I hate to go to Aashu bhaiya’s house now because of that horrible man,’ said Li.
Su and Vi looked at each other. This was a very big problem indeed and they didn’t know what to do or how to help Li. But they were not going to let her be sad and miserable. In the past two days, Li had become so quiet – so different that she seemed like another person. Su and Vi wanted their old Li back.
‘Li, you are coming with us right now and we are going to tell Asha Miss,’ Vi said. Asha Miss was the school counselor and Vi’s favourite teacher. She had helped so many students with their problems and Vi knew that Asha Miss would know exactly what to do.
‘No, no!’ Li shook her head. ‘I can’t talk about this to anyone else. I just couldn’t.’ And she started to cry.
Su put her arm around Li and said, ‘Li, you need to tell a grown-up about this. Your parents are not here and Vi is right, Asha Miss will be able to help you out.’
‘Yes Li,’ Vi said. ‘We will come with you. Don’t worry about anything.’ So the three girls kept their unopened lunch boxes away and quickly went to see Asha Miss. When they reached her office, Vi peeped in and told them that Miss was there.
Li looked at her best friends and knocked on the door.
Li was very lucky to have good friends like Vi and Su, who gave her the courage she lacked. They also steered her to the right person who could help – a responsible adult they could trust.
Children are always vulnerable to the perverted side of society. The number of children who fall prey to child abuse is horrifying. Some, like Li are lucky and are able to get the right intervention. Sadly there are many who are not so lucky. These little children end up being deeply altered for life. The depravity of a few moments becomes the soul-crushing, personality-shattering, guilt-overwhelming space of time that becomes – if neglected – their life afterward.
Li decided to tell her teacher about her experience. In the Strange Case of Nayantara, our little protagonist deals with this in a different way. To know more, visit our website:
Tania Rose Josun