“Don’t Park vehicles here” the voice of the watchman.
“If you come late, you won’t be allowed inside” shouted the primary school teacher.
“You better get a haircut before you come tomorrow” admonished the PT master.
Familiar scenes on a weekday morning in front of Hariram Matriculation School at Ashok Nagar, Chennai. School day morning on the ever busy railway colony street was always a chaos.
Weena Chandra, a 16-year-old class 11 student, was walking towards the school. The school bag hung loosely on her shoulder with a big print of Messi and Ronaldo. Weena always maintained a I-am-not-a-barbie-fan stance. She reached the school and entered her classroom.
She heard a voice shout out to her “Hey Wind Chime, did you ‘theep’ ok? Did you find the ‘thoup’ too hot this morning?.” By habit, she had learned to tune out these questions along with a bad imitation of her lisp problem. Few classmates had named her ‘wind chime’ due to the lisp sound she produced when she said certain words. She didn’t hate them for it. She was mature beyond that and only felt sad for them for their silly behaviour. While she didn’t look forward to these jibes every morning, she certainly looked forward to the sight of the arrival of her best friend.
Prashant Anand or Prachu, as she addressed him affectionately, a lanky, curly haired boy who shared her bench was her bestie since kindergarten. He had vision only in one eye from birth and didn’t make any fuss about it. He had a nick name to that someone coined for him few years back. It was photo album, because we close one eye when we click a picture through a camera. She adored Prachu for the way he went about his life and didn’t bother about such sarcasms.
“Something is up, Prachu. I can see there are some silent discussions going on in smaller groups” Weena remarked.
“Probably conjuring up more nick names” retorted Prachu.
As the group noticed their class teacher approach the room, they broke up, but certain last-minute comments wafted the classroom.
“I hope it is a rumour” “It can’t be happening here” “I am scared” “Should we tell our parents?”
Weena and Prachu exchanged quizzical glances and sat looking straight ahead.
Their class teacher, Ms Ramya entered the class and took the attendance for the day. She stayed silent for a minute and then began “All of us are born equals and everyone has the rightful space and identity on this earth. It is up to us to recognise each human for what they are and for the uniqueness they bring along. It is easy to judge anyone and to pass comments.”
But we wouldn’t know the impact and scar it would leave on them. I have trust in you all, to do the right thing and behave your best possible. We should be an example.”
While most of the class was confused on where this was going, the small group that had huddled together a few minutes ago, exchanged knowing looks that said, “I told you.”
The teacher ended her talk with “Let’s see who all behave the way I expect and become model citizens of this country in the future.”
The teacher went out the door and brought someone along with her.
In walked a new student looking nervous and eyeing us all and the classroom. She was introduced as Eswari who had joined us from Sarojini Matric school in . Ramya ma’am advised us to give a warm welcome the new student. She was dressed properly in a neatly pressed school uniform. Eswari introduced herself and spoke about hear family, her ambition and why she chose this school etc.
While she was talking, someone from the small huddle group whispered a little loudly “The rumour is true. She is a trans.”
Eswari was shocked, stopped mid-sentence and looked down with tears well up in her eyes. Her expression was sadness combined with a I-knew-this-would-happen-look. Ramya ma’am was shocked too.
There was chatter across the classroom. “She is different” “Whom do you mean, he or she?” “Why is our school allowing this?” “I need to tell my parents” “Why are atypical people allowed to join here.” There were voice all around.
Weena was seething with rage. The immature classmates of her were here again having a go at someone new that they found was different. Who are these people to call someone atypical? Wind chime, photo album, loose pants, maggi boy, curd rice lunch were names that she felt were unnecessary and discriminating.
She looked up to see Prachu stare straight at the blackboard. She knew this expression and understood he was going through the same emotion. He turned and their eyes met. A slight nod from both sealed a silent pact. That’s what best friends do. No words are necessary.
Ramya ma’am admonished the class for such behaviour. She had her arm around Eswari’s shoulder which seemed to calm Eswari. Ramya ma’am stated “it is up to us make Eswari comfortable and feel at home. The principal would also be addressing the class this afternoon..”
She turned to Eswari and said “Welcome to the school! I am here for you for anything you may need. You can trust me. I am so glad you are here. Now find yourself a seat”. Eswari just nodded. She seemed to have lost her voice.
She turned and looked at the class. Not one person was inviting her to share the bench with her. She put her down embarrassed and not knowing what to do next. She heard someone calling out to her and looked up. It was Weena who affectionately said, “Come Eswari, you can sit with me and Prachu.” Eswari was overjoyed that she was saved the task of asking someone for a seat.
She walked slowly to their desk, gave a slight smile, and sat with them. The morning classes whizzed past quickly and during the short recess Weena gathered information that one of her classmates, whose mother was also a teacher at the school, had overheard the information on Eswari and had told during the small huddle that morning.
It was lunch hour soon and Weena and Prachu spoke to Eswari and enquired about her home, siblings, place of birth, hobbies etc.. Eswari was so elated, that not one did they enquire or ask her about HER situation. They made her feel so welcomed.
The lunch hour was up, and the bell rang for the next class to start.
Weena said “Before the next teacher comes, let me say something. Let anyone say anything. We both like you and we want to be out best friend. I am called Wind Chime due to my lisp and Prachu is called Photo Album. We laugh at this and don’t mind it anymore. Who are these people to call us atypical. It is nothing when typical people achieve things. When I was born, doctors said I won’t be able speak at all, but I did albeit with just a lisp. Prachu was told he won’t be ever able to ride a bicycle or play cricket with just one eye. But he does both of that and has amazed his family, teachers, and doctors. We don’t have to be down that we are atypical, we are the atypical in atypical where we break the odds and achieve.”
Prachu added “Weena is stealing the words from my mouth. Don’t mind the naysayers. It is so satisfying to beat the odds and win. We are with you Eswari. If you notice, we are the only bench where a boy and girl sit together. We have always sat together, and it is so befitting that you sit in this bench where there is no differentiation and discrimination between the genders.”
Eswari responded with a beaming big smile “I am so glad I found you both on my first day. I was wondering what I was going to do. Thank you both very much. I think the names windchime and photo album are cute and nice. I need a nick name too if I am going to be the third musketeer. What should it be?”
Weens didn’t miss a beat “You would be ‘Echo.’ That’s your nickname. You may have lost your voice when you did your introduction this morning, but I have no doubt you would find your voice and it is going to be heard loud and clear in a very short time throughout the school. It won’t be just one voice that would be heard, but the effect of your voice will reverberate and echo all around the school. That’s why you are Echo.”
Eswari beamed at the beautiful magical sounding nickname. They high fived each other and just when the teacher entered, Prachu said “We are going to take you somewhere after school this evening. Our neighbours are the most-lovely family around and we need to introduce you to them. You are new to the area and would be good to make more friends. Shalu and Raj are our age while Diya and Aditya are two little cuties. We go there to listen to amazing stories from Vanaja Maami and to relish her delicious crispy vadaams.”
All three salivated at the thought of the vadaams that evening and opened the textbooks for the next class.
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