The Colour Pencils

The Colour Pencils

Six-year-old  Chinnu hopped merrily as she walked home with her mother. Her frock was torn and her little bare feet were calloused. She didn’t mind.  A good lady in the train had given her a bar of half-eaten chocolate that her child had discarded. It wasn’t every day that Chinnu got treats like this. Her mother had managed to sell all the colour pencils. They wouldn’t have to go to bed hungry. It was their lucky day.

Chinnu’s alcoholic father had abandoned them when he found that his wife was expecting again. They lived in a tiny makeshift tent in a colony of migrants who came to Mumbai to earn a livelihood. Many of them worked as labourers, maids or peddlers selling knick-knacks on local trains.

As her mother grew heavily pregnant, she found it difficult to leave her home. Chinnu had to sell the pencils or they would starve. Carrying the satchel, too heavy for her frail shoulders, she boarded the morning train. 

“ Didi, Madam, want colour pencils? These are the best pencils you will find,” she said in a sing-song voice, imitating her mother. Some shooed her away, some ignored her. A couple of women smiled at her out of kindness, touched by her innocent smile. No one wanted the pencils. As darkness fell and the train lights turned on, she had sold only two sets. She went home, disappointed. Her bag was still heavy and her heart heavier. That night, they had a bun each for dinner.

The next few days weren’t any different. Her throat was sore from shouting. Hunger brought tears to her sunken eyes. She drank thirstily from a water tap at the station. Staring greedily at a group of teenagers eating ‘vada-pav’, she licked her lips. 

“Ma, why are we poor?” she asked her mother that night. 

“It is written in our fate,” Ma mumbled sleepily.

“Who wrote it?”


“Can he change it if I ask him?”

“No, he can’t. He wrote it before you were born,” said Ma, hugging her.

“That means,” Chinnu  paused thoughtfully, pointed to her mother’s belly and asked, “He has not written this baby’s fate till now?”

“No, I guess. Now sleep. You talk too much,” Ma scolded gently.

Chinnu had an idea. She was excited.

The next morning, Chinnu woke up early and went to the old Shiva temple. She emptied her bag and dropped all the pencils in the offerings box. With closed eyes and folded hands, she prayed, “God, I know you didn’t have good pencils when you wrote my fate. Please take all my pencils. These are the best you can find. Don’t write my brother or sister’s fate like mine. If you use my pencils, it will be beautiful, Please God, Please.”

That night, she slept on a hungry stomach, but her heart was full of faith and hope. She was sure that God had got her pencils and was writing her sibling’s beautiful fate. She drifted away to slumberland, feeling blissful.
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Shailaja Pai
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