Of confused principles and principals

It was the winter of 1990. I had just appeared for my first MBBS exams and the results were awaited. I reached home to find that my father was about to leave for Delhi for the next two weeks. He had been asked to attend a training course in the winter break. Being home for vacation and no Daddy to chat with seemed boring. “Can I come with you?”, I asked cautiously. He thought for a moment and hurried about trying to get my tickets. And so began my eventful trip to Delhi.

The Senior Principals’ Refresher Course was being organized in Kendriya Vidyalaya, RK Puram that year. They were probably updating them on new administrative rules and giving them some sessions on financial aspects. Some of the rooms in the school had been converted into guest rooms. And we stayed there.

Each morning, a number of greying men and women wearing thick coats and sweaters would gather in the dining room for breakfast. I would join my father for breakfast, and then escape to explore Delhi until the afternoon. In the afternoon, I would snuggle down with a novel until my father returned at 5 pm. We would then go out to meet friends or do some more sight seeing. I got to see the Qutub Minar, the Red Fort, the Lotus Temple, India Gate and some of the other prominent places in the capital to my heart’s delight on that trip.

My Dad was always jittery about my travelling alone in that huge metropolis. I got my daily dose of advice of how to select the right taxi. My modus operandi was simple. Find a taxi driver who was a Sardarji. I knew they could be trusted always.

One morning, I decided to visit Shankar’s International Doll Museum. Those were days of no internet or Google maps, and my decision was based on the fact that I had seen the board opposite ITO, while I waited for a bus there the previous day. So I was certain that I would get back safely. I had a great time exploring the museum on my own. There were several thousand dolls dressed in the costumes of at least 80 countries. The Indian section was equally impressive. As I stepped out of the museum, I saw a sign saying Children’s World.

Children’s World is a magazine for children published by the Children’s Book Trust. While I was in school I had contributed a short story to the magazine, and was thrilled when they accepted it. Then I had sent them two other short stories which had been rejected. I hesitated for a few moments wondering whether I should dare to do what my heart was telling me. I was just another acne-afflicted teenager, and I didn’t even have an appointment. Would I even be allowed beyond the gates? But I let my impulse get the better of me.

I entered the office and gaped at the reception. For someone who had stayed in small towns for the largest part of my life, Delhi dazzled to me. “I would like to meet the editor”, I said, my voice wavering. The lady there asked me my name and asked me to wait. A minute later, I was ushered into Ms Vaijayanti Tonpe’s room.

She told me to sit, while I stammered nervously. “My name is Anshu.” “Of course, I remember your submissions,” she said, and went on to name the title of my first short story. My heart lurched. You mean she remembered my name from one silly short story! I relaxed instantly. She then told me why they had rejected my other two stories. I was amazed that she remembered these too out of the several hundred manuscripts she must have been bombarded with. Children’s World was rather popular among kids those days. “Your first story was well-written. But we were not sure if these were the principles and morals that we would like to pass on to children,”, she said. It was a story of a boy who had been accused of theft. “As for the other story, it had a very depressing end. I’m sure you’ll understand that while it was realistic, we would rather keep kids away from grim stories,” she continued. There was something about her manner that made me really comfortable.

She asked me what I was doing, and until when I was in Delhi. She then said that the magazine was in the process of bringing out a special issue for the Year of the Girl Child, and asked me if I could write something for them in the next two days. “It needn’t be typed. I wouldn’t mind anything written on foolscap paper,” she said. I nodded excitedly, thanked her and left. On my way back, I already had the germ of a short story in my head. Back in the room, I grabbed some paper from my father’s files and began scribbling furiously. By the next morning, my short story, Suma was ready- neatly transcribed in my best handwriting. This time I had learnt the first principle of writing well. Know your audience.

I returned to the editor’s room the next morning. She skimmed through my story and told me it would work. I almost jumped with joy. Thanking her, I rushed back to RK Puram. My father was having lunch with his friends. I rushed into the dining room to share this news with him. He was happy for me and congratulated me.

“Excuse me Ma’am”, I heard a gruff voice behind me. It was a greying gentleman in a coat with a checked muffler wrapped around his neck. He looked rather agitated. One of the senior Principals attending the course, I presumed. “Who gives you permission to leave the course every day? I haven’t seen you attend a single session,” he said. Confused, I turned to my Dad and saw the twinkle in his eye. “Does she look like a Senior Principal, Sir?”, he responded, “She’s my daughter!”


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