The year was 2005 and all kinds of luxurious cars had started finding a place on the roads of Kolkata. Nine year old Moni was leaning at the school gate, looking impatiently at the road, getting scolded by the guard almost every minute as other children’s parents came to pick them up in big gigantic colorful cars. Moni used to getting picked up by her uncle, Subroto Kaku in his bicycle. Moni’s father was a hard-working car mechanic and her mother was a tailor. How Moni ended up in this school was a story of fate.
It all happened three years back, when a senior teacher of Moni’s school, Mrs. Basu was desperately looking for a tailor to get herself a blouse stitched for an outstation wedding. It was the time of Durga Puja and all tailors were flooded with work. Every place that Mrs. Basu approached rejected her request. Until her cook offered to take her to her friend, Moni’s mother’s tailoring shop.
The shop was way below Mrs. Basu’s standards but Moni’s mother promised to deliver quality work within the time-frame. Mrs. Basu was amazed to see that this unknown tailor could stitch the stylish garment with such precision and finesse, in such a short time. She was also impressed by the woman’s sincere and polite nature. She had noticed Moni, a bright and well-behaved child who attended a Bangla medium school nearby. Moni’s mother had expressed how she wished she could afford to send her daughter to the most elite and reputed convent school in the city, where Mrs. Basu taught. Being a senior teacher, Mrs. Basu used all her influence to arrange for a written exam and interview, which Moni aced followed by a request for a concession in school fees. Within three months, Moni was part of the cream of Kolkata.
Or maybe not. Children can be brutally honest and insensitive. It did not matter that Moni was sweet, generous, and helpful. Everything about her was ridiculed from her uniform, to her hairstyle, shoes and tiffin-box.
When she got invited to the most popular and pretty girl, Shonali ‘s birthday party, she stood out. While she wore a long frilly frock stitched with much love and affection by her mother, other kids wore jeans, mini-skirts, shorts and all kinds of fashionable clothes. Moni especially, dreaded the last part, where Shonali was opening up all the presents.
Moni’s gift to Shonali was a long skirt stitched by her mother. Other kids all tried to push each other to gather around it, ready to laugh. Shonali was about to express some disappointment when her mother interrupted her and exclaimed,
“Oh what a lovely skirt. It is stitched! So precious and thoughtful! Say thanks to your mother, Moni”.
Shonali threw the skirt in a corner. Moni returned home, feeling inadequate and unwanted.
How could Moni’s parents meet the standards of presents bought by their much wealthier counterparts? But they tried. They tried to gift something decent and useful. They tried to teach Moni that she should be grateful to get the opportunity to get a good education. They wanted her to be a kind person and focus on her studies, not on materialistic things. But at that tender age, fitting in was very essential for her.
But today, three years after joining this school, things were about to change. Moni’s parents had been growing in their professions and were doing much better financially. Her father was about to buy a second hand car! Moni was super excited and had told all her friends. No more traveling on Subroto Kaku’s cycle, her biggest source of embarrassment!
Finally the day had arrived. It was a beautiful chocolate colored Maruti 800. After visiting the temple, Moni’s father drove her around the city. Moni held her head out of the window throughout the trip!. Nothing could curtail her excitement! The following day, her father would drop her to school in the car. Now Moni would be one of them, the other cool kids.
Moni had asked her friends to come to the gate to catch a glimpse of her car. She got out of her car, with newly found pride and waved at her friends, like a celebrity. Her father smiled seeing the joy on her daughter’s face and drove off.
Moni walked towards her friends excited to see their reaction:
This is your car! It is so small, like a toy car!
Look at this Khatara!
My old car was like this. We sold it to our servant!
The worst comment came from Shonali who said that she would never sit in this silly vehicle, which was only slightly bigger than her little brother’s battery operated toy car!
Moni came home and was unusually quiet. When her father came home from work, he asked her,
“Where does my beloved princess want to go today in the new car?”
There was a volcano of humiliation and anger building up inside Moni for days. It finally erupted and she snapped:
“I am not a princess! I live a small house and I hate this stupid, small car! I never want to see it again!”
The next few days were terrible. Moni’s mother was disappointed at her behavior and scolded her for not appreciating their struggles. She told her that she should be happy with what she had. If she kept looking at what she does not have, she would always be miserable.
It didn’t make any sense to Moni. She was unhappy because she had a small car. If she had a big car, she would be happy like Shonali. She was mad at everybody.
Finally, it was time for the exam results. Moni had stood second. Her parents had been upset about her recent behavior and tantrums but today they were very happy and proud. Her beaming father came to pick her up. She said bye to her friends who she would now be seeing in the next grade. As she got inside the car, she heard a loud scream and everybody started rushing towards the other side of the road. Moni’s father rushed to the crowd. Shonali, had fallen down road and hit the pavement, blood oozing out of her forehead. People started looking for her chauffeur, who seemed to have disappeared for a tea break.
Moni’s father picked up Shonali and immediately drove her to the nearest hospital. Throughout the way, he comforted her, and distracted her from her pain by telling her stories. By the time Shonali’s parents arrived, she had already received three stitches on her forehead and was better.
Two weeks later, Shonali and her parents were to visit Moni’s house. Moni had been very upset when she heard about it.
“Why are you letting them come to this tiny house! Her house is like a castle. Now she will make fun of my house also!”
Her mother ignored her and continued to prepare snacks for the guests. Moni dressed up in her best outfit and was going eccentric asking her parents to change their clothes twice, and helping them clean the house for the first time in her life.
Shonali and her parents arrived, after a brief struggle to park their Innova in the narrow lane leading to Moni’s house. Shonali’s mother had bought a cake, and some big gift-wrapped presents for Moni. She hugged Moni’s mother immediately.
“I don’t know how to thank you two. The doctors thought that you were a relative of ours, the way you took care of her. I don’t know what would have happened if..”
Over the next couple of hours, Shonali’s family mingled with Moni’s family. Shonali was also nice to everybody and played happily with Moni in her small room with her average toys.
“Your daughter is so intelligent. Always gets a rank and such a well-behaved child. Shonali’s class teacher is always full of praises for her. What a wonderful upbringing”, said Shonali’s mother. Moni’s parents smiled proudly. Moni could not stop blushing. As they were about to leave, Shonali pointed to the car parked outside. “Mom, look that is the car in which Uncle took me to the hospital.”
“That’s a beautiful and unusual colour. I wanted the same colour for our car but it was only available in four colours!” said her mother. Moni’s tiny car had finally received the ultimate validation.
As they were leaving, Shonali’s mother hugged Moni and bent down to talk to her.
“Beta, I had noticed how Shonali and other kids made fun of you at her birthday party. I am really sorry for their behavior.
You are very lucky, Moni. Your parents go out of their way to give you the best of the world.
There will always be people who put you down. But you should never hurt the people who love you.
You are a fine young girl, with a bright future. Don’t let shallowness of some people shatter the spirit and the beauty of your heart.
Life may have given us different things – some big and some small, some white and some black. But that’s all they are – things. It is the qualities that we have, that make us big as a person. Beauty lies in the little deeds of kindness, that we do that touches somebody else. I have been trying to teach my daughter the same thing.
But you already have it in you. Don’t lose it.”
Shonali’s family got inside the Innova and left as the host family waved at them. Moni leaned against her Maruti 800, hugging it, her smile wide from ear to ear. Moni’s mother smiled at Shonali’s mother, as a tear rolled down her cheek. Shonali’s mother smiled back and nodded. There was unsaid gratitude on both of their faces, a look exchanged that only the two mothers could understand.