~ A Mystery ~

written at the request of my niece, Aishwarya, for her birthday


1. August preparations for Navaratri programme

It was a crazy time for everyone. You know how it is in August. The rains are really heavy, and half the time the school bus is late. Or your shoes get wet on the way to the bus stop and you feel so cold! And when you get to school, the prefect scolds you for being late or not wearing your socks. (I told her they were wet, but she just would not listen. She can be mean!) August is also when all the festivals come. I don’t know why they must always come in the monsoon. November, now that is a good month! Lots of good things happen in November. My friend Aishwarya’s birthday is in November, for example! August is a month of wet shoes and unit tests.

In the middle of all the unit tests and homework, this year, my school decided to have a dance program for Navaratri. Practices would start two months early, in August. Of course, Aishwarya and I raised our hands to participate. Aishwarya is the best dancer in my class. And I also love to dance.

There would be three different dance performances on the last three days of Navaratri. The small girls would dance the first day. They were going to do many folk dances of India—bhangra, garba, koli dance and dances like that. The big girls would dance the second day. They were going to dance some story about Rama or Krishna. The best dancers in the school—small and big—would dance on the third day. I feel very proud to tell you that we were straight away chosen for the third day. I told you Aishwarya was the best and I am also quite good. On the third day, we would each get a chance to choreograph (that means to make up your own dance and dance steps, in case you don’t know) a small dance item for about five minutes. We could choose our own music and if we wanted we could ask others to dance with us or we could dance solo. Wasn’t that exciting?

Aishwarya and I began to discuss what music we wanted to use. We both like to dance, but we like different music. I like film songs, remixes and pop music but she likes classical music. We decided to make up two dances but that we would both dance in both of them. I will explain—I would make up one dance and teach her and she would dance with me. Then she would make up one dance and teach me and I would dance with her. That way we would both do TWO dances! There was no prize of course, but still, we wanted to be the best. Wouldn’t you?

I chose my favourite singer’s song, which has his name in it, “Shaan Se.” I used some of the bhangra steps and the koli steps that we learnt in the third standard. Aishwarya chose a classical song from her grandfather’s tapes. It was quite long so she decided to use only the first verse. She was going to mix it with some modern dance steps. So we both got busy with the choreography and practice—first by ourselves and then to teach the other person.

Some of the bigger girls dancing on the third day heard that Aishwarya was going to use a classical song and they began teasing her. I got quite angry—after it was our choice and it’s none of their business. But Aishwarya was quite cool; she just told the girls boldly, “If you don’t know anything about classical music, what can I do?” They went away, laughing.

2. A chapter of accidents

On Teacher’s Day in our school, the teachers go away for a holiday and the senior girls teach. They dress up in saris and wear make-up and they come to our classes and we have to be nice to them. In the afternoon, they treat the teachers to lunch or to a movie, but we are not allowed to go. Anyway, that morning, while other people were in classes, the head-girl was supposed to check and make sure everyone had chosen their music and begun thinking about their dance. That was when it happened.

It was Aishwarya’s turn to play her music and show the head-girl that it would not take more than five minutes. When she reached into her bag, there was no tape. The head-girl got quite angry. Aishwarya said, “I promise, I brought it, I did the work, it was right here in this pocket.” But it wasn’t. I had also seen the tape there. I told the head-girl but she just scolded me also. Crest-fallen, we left the auditorium where we had assembled for this. Aishwarya was going to cry, I could see, so I consoled her saying that it could have fallen out of her bag when she was getting off the school bus.

“Was it a copy or the original?”

“A copy,” she said, brightening.

So I went with her to her house straight from school and we made another copy. We showed it to the head-girl the next day and played it for her and she said it was okay. We were very relieved!

We were already practicing by our selves, but the big rehearsals began on the 13th of September, which would give us about a month before the big show.

There is a girl called Rachna in the eighth standard. She has been learning dance for a long time and she was going to do a Kathak-style dance. She was putting on her ghunghroos when she suddenly screamed. Her hands and her foot were bleeding and there was blood all over the ground. She was crying and the head-girl held her while telling people to go get a teacher, get the first aid kit, and get someone grown-up. Aishwarya and I stayed put and we saw what had happened. There was a rusty nail sticking out of the ghunghroo from between the bells on the inside, so when she tied it on, it poked her and tore her skin. But why would there be a rusty nail in a ghunghroo she had used and put away carefully just the previous day?

We felt very sorry for Rachna. It did not look like she would be able to dance for a few days at least and we knew that if she missed practice she may not be allowed to dance at the show. How disappointed we would be in her place!

The teachers arrived, and the head-girl was sent to take up practice again. So we got distracted too.

Practice was everyday and so we were back the next day in the same place at the same time.  Everybody except Rachna was there. That day, our dance teacher and the vice-principal also came and as the head-girl called us one by one, they made some notes. They wanted to decide the sequence in which we would dance at the show. At the end of the session, we walked over to where we had kept our bags and shoes. Aishwarya and I were busy talking, as we got ready to go, when something fell.

We swung around and it was a big cardboard box full of old newspapers. One of the seventh standard students was standing under it and she fell, but when she fell, she knocked down an umbrella stand. Thank god, there were no umbrellas to poke her eyes! She just sat on the ground in shock. We just stared, rooted to the ground. No one moved to help her. It had happened so fast that we were stunned. The teachers came running. One of them helped her up and checked for injuries while the other turned around and asked us, “Who kept that box there?”

“We don’t know, ma’am. We didn’t see anybody.”

“Who else was here?” We couldn’t answer that question either. It was not a very good question anyway because during the day anyone could have come there. And in any case, only some of the big girls could actually reach that place to put something there.

The third day, we heard that Rachna had to have tetanus injections. We did not know if she would be able to dance in the show. The seventh standard girl was there—we found out her name is Meena. The rehearsal went smoothly except that some of us started giggling and couldn’t stop at all. But even the head-girl was smiling so it was okay. We escaped! When we came out, one of the girls put her foot in her shoe, and screamed—there was a dead lizard inside. The shoes had just been there an hour or so. How long does it take for a lizard to crawl in and die? We shuddered and left. Still, we gave it no thought. After all, our school had large grounds and a garden.

The next day, when we went for practice, our teachers came back. They wanted to finalize the sequence of dances. So we all did our dances according to the order that they had prepared earlier.  Just after mine was a fifteen-minute dance by three girls who had pooled in their time. It was very nice, a little story actually. I was removing my ghunghroos and standing under a fan, when one of them slipped on stage. Ouch! The teachers, the head-girl and everyone else crowded on stage. They made us all go away.

I did not understand. Aishwarya and I had just danced there and we had not slipped. I was going to say this to Aishwarya and I noticed she wasn’t standing with me. Everyone else had gone and the stage was empty. Maybe she went to the bathroom, I thought, and I picked up her schoolbag and mine and went outside.

We heard the next day that there was cold cream on the stage. What I did not understand was how anyone could have put cold cream on the stage between our dance and theirs. There was hardly any time in between and everybody was right there. I replayed what had happened then. I left the stage first, and then Aishwarya did, a few seconds later. As soon as I got off, the head-girl came to ask me if my dance had a name. Then the teachers also came to talk to me. They wanted to tell me that I needed to bring full information about the song I was using—whose music, whose lyrics, etc. Aishwarya came as they were going back to their seats.

I had just read a detective story about jinxes. I thought about it. Was this program jinxed? Every single day something had happened. Aishwarya laughed at me.

“You are just imagining things,” she said. Well, it was possible. I do like to make up stories and my mother says I daydream a lot.

Our next day’s rehearsal was cancelled since they had to clean the stage. When we met two days later, the head-girl was absent. Another captain took up our practice. She was allergic to something in the room and kept on sneezing, her eyes watering. It was very mean of us but we could not stop laughing. Finally, she stopped practice early and we all came home.

The teachers came the next day because the head-girl was still sick. For three days, the rehearsals went smoothly. Then on the fourth day, something else happened.

Again it happened to Aishwarya’s tape. I was sure it was jinxed. She put her tape in and it did not play beyond a couple of notes, it did not play. So we all crowded around the cassette player to see. It was stuck. Well, that happens, you will say! But here’s what was really strange—it was stuck by bubble-gum!  Just minutes ago, one girl had been dancing to another tape, and now suddenly there was bubble-gum in the cassette deck. How could this happen?

Aishwarya is so finicky, her first reaction was not, “My tape is spoilt!” but “Yuck! Jootha bubble gum!” I couldn’t stop laughing, but inside a part of me was wondering. What is going on?


3. Stuck at home with sore eyes

The following morning, I asked one of the girls in my class, Annie, who was in the other program if their rehearsals were going okay. She said, “Yes, we are practicing everyday. But I heard that things keep happening at your rehearsals.” I told her about the nail, the dead lizard, the cardboard box, the missing tape and the bubble-gum. She shook her head and said, “Too bad Nancy Drew isn’t here!”

No, I thought, but I am. Did I already tell you that I love detective stories? Why don’t I solve this mystery, I thought. The first puzzle was to decide whether these were just many accidents or very foul play.

Could there be so many accidents in a row? That would make it a jinx. But do jinxes exist? That was a mystery I could not solve. I knew that. It seemed highly unlikely that everyday for a week almost one thing should go wrong. I decided it was foul play because it just did not seem right to me.

I was going to tell Aishwarya about it. After all, she was my best friend and we kept no secrets from each other. For some reason, I did not get a chance that day. The next day, I woke up with red, itchy eyes. I hate conjunctivitis! So I could not go to school or see Aishwarya after school. No storybooks, no TV. But I had a lot of time to think about this mystery as my mother made me lie down with my eyes closed.

I went over the events of each day.

Day One: Aishwarya’s tape had gone missing. One minute it was there and the next, it wasn’t.

Day Two: Rachna and the rusty nail. Even now I shudder to think about it.

Day Three: The falling cardboard box and the near miss with the umbrella stand.

Day Four: The dead lizard.

Day Five: Cream on the stage. Right after our dance.

Day Six: Chewing gum in the cassette deck. Poor Aishwarya!

I began to think about it. Detectives in storybooks always look for motives. So why would anyone do these things? Were they meant to be a joke? Impossible because the rusty nail could have become really seriously septic and box and cream resulted in fractures. I couldn’t think of anyone who would find those things funny.

Someone, I thought, was trying to stop the program from taking place. But who? And why? Maybe it was someone who was not chosen to take part. But they would have had to be at the rehearsals each time. The dead lizard was put into that girl’s shoe during the rehearsal. The cream on the stage and the bubble-gum in the tape deck were put right before they were found. In the case of the first, we had just finished dancing and in the case of the second, someone else’s tape had just been taken out of the deck.

This brings us to the next question all detectives ask. Who had the opportunity? All the girls who were at the rehearsal. I could not suspect the teachers. After all, what would they gain from the cancellation of the programme? For that matter, it was hard to see what the head-girl would gain or what any of the participants would gain.

Still, a good detective would not give up so easily. So I began to think. Who could have removed the tape from Aishwarya’s bag? Only she and I knew it was there. I did not. Why would she?

Who could have found a rusty nail and put it in Rachna’s ghunghroo? Anybody could have found the nail. Who would have had a chance to put it in the ghunghroo? I thought about all of us at the rehearsal. We would come in to the lobby of the auditorium and take off our shoes and leave our bags. Then we would go in with our ghunghroos (if we were using them) and put them on. Then, I remembered. That day, Rachna did not put hers on immediately. She was putting them on in the middle of rehearsal when she found the nail—or rather, the nail found her!

So, someone could have put the nail there while she was watching the rehearsal. I began to think of who else was in the room. We were not allowed to the leave without permission and as far as I know everyone stayed inside. Except Rachna. She got permission to use the toilet, and her ghunghroos were lying in the seat next to Aishwarya. Everyone else was sitting too far away to get up and walk to them without being noticed or scolded. But of course, Aishwarya would never do such a thing. I was left pondering.

Similarly, who could have put the cardboard box in that odd place? First of all, none of us were tall enough. Yes, anyone could have walked in and done it, but why would they? It had to be someone from this group. That was a tough one. Someone would have had to carry it in unseen, and then found a way to keep it on top so that it would fall down.

It was easier to see how someone could slip a dead lizard into a shoe. But the thought that someone would find a dead lizard, carry it in and then drop it in a shoe was just horrible. Who was so full of hatred or anger that they were willing to carry a dead lizard? I could not think of anyone like that, least of all in our dance programme group. Then, I remembered something really unpleasant. Aishwarya had found a dead lizard in her house and was going to bring it to school to show in science class. She was less squeamish than I about animals but I know her, I love her and I know she is not like that. She is too nice to do such a horrible thing.

The cream on the stage was the next accident. Again, I remembered that Aishwarya had not been with me right after our dance. We were all talking on the side and she came joined us a minute or two later. She certainly had the opportunity. But what would be the motive? After all, a cancelled show meant that she would not get to dance.

I could not believe I was actually wondering about my best friend. I got really angry with myself and tried to fall asleep. But that doubt remained with me.

And then it cleared. After all, Aishwarya was the victim of the next accident. Why would she spoil her own tape with chewing gum? My mind answered: so that no one would suspect her.

This was not nice at all. I did not want to be a detective any more. I wanted to cry. But my eyes were hurting and it was hard to cry. What a horrible day!

4. Suspicions and some answers

It is not nice to walk around school suspecting your best friend of doing mean things. For that matter, it is not nice to walk around school suspecting that anyone there would be that mean-spirited. I think most people are actually nice.

But all the facts pointed to Aishwarya. I could not get away from that.

I could not tell anyone what I thought. After all, she was my best friend and I could not say bad things about her. It was a horrible day at school. Particularly because Aishwarya was so nice to me all day.

As soon as I walked in, she came running and gave me a hug and said, “I missed you so much!” Then she had got me a chocolate. I had spent the entire day at home thinking about how she could have done those horrible things. So I decided, such a nice person cannot do those things. It is impossible. I am a very stupid and a very bad person.

We had rehearsal again in the evening. This would be the last one for a week. We had to practice everyday by ourselves but would not practice in sequence until next week.

Everyone wanted to know where I was the previous day, were my sore eyes okay now, where did I catch the disease. It was nice that all the big girls also came and talked to me. I felt very important.

I cannot forget what happened that day. In Aishwarya’s dance, there was a part where we had to dance together like those ballerinas. You know, where the male and female ballerina dance together and the male ballerina holds the female ballerina? They do very hard things like jump and he carries her in the air and all. Of course, we could not do all that.

We were supposed to circle the stage with Aishwarya standing behind holding me. We were moving really fast, and suddenly she left me. I fell on my face, and cut my chin. I also bruised my knee. There was lots of confusion and people after that. But I remember two things clearly.

First, I remember that everyone crowded around, asking how I was, telling me not to cry, getting me water. Aishwarya was not there. She was just standing in the back. And she did not say sorry.

Second, I remember thinking, this is today’s accident and again Aishwarya is responsible. I knew that is why she was not saying sorry.

When I thought that, I started crying. I know I am not a baby and I should not cry like that. That is what my mother said when she came to school. When I saw her I cried even more. How could my best friend be so mean?

When we reached home, I said to my mother, “Aishwarya did this on purpose!” My mother was very shocked. “Your best friend?!”

Then she sat down and said, “Tell me what is on your mind.”

So I did. What a relief to tell someone all about the accidents, and the motive, and the opportunity, and how terrible it was that my best friend would do these things. She listened quietly.

Then, instead of saying, “We must get her expelled,” she began smiling, then laughing. “My dear girl,” she said, “what you have is what Perry Mason calls circumstantial evidence! Those are all coincidences. It does not mean Aishwarya did those things. It is just that she could have done them or that they happened in ways that she could have done them.” When she said that, I felt so light. Of course. I always watch Perry Mason on cable TV. Of course. Actually, I was never sure what circumstantial evidence meant, but now I knew and I was so happy to know.

Just then, the phone rang. It was Aishwarya’s mother. “Aishwarya has not stopped crying since she got home. She says she made your daughter get hurt. Is the child all right? Can we come over?”

“She will be fine and it would be a wonderful idea for you to come over.” Ma looked at me and said, “You have to clear this up with Aishwarya.” She was right, as always.

Aishwarya and her mother came within an hour. “I am so sorry,” she said. “My hands were sweaty and you slipped out of them. We can change that part of the dance.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I am sorry too.”

“What for?”

Then, I told her. She got very angry with me. “How could you think I would do such things?” I was very quiet while she talked to me angrily. I thought I deserved it for my suspicions. Suddenly, she began laughing. That is Aishwarya for you—one moment angry, one moment giggling.

“What are you laughing at?” I asked, puzzled.

She could barely speak. “How could I have put that cream, silly? You know I am allergic to cream and that is why I have to use coconut oil on my face and body. And that is why my hands got sweaty today.” I was so relieved, I also began laughing.

We began talking about all the things that had happened and how strange they were. We decided that someone was trying to stop the show and that we would have to do something about it.

5. Investigation underway

The next day during the short break, Aishwarya and I went to the corner of the school ground. We had a plan. At the next big rehearsal, we would not sit together before and after our dance. We would sit at two ends of the room and watch everyone closely—who comes in, who comes out, who looks suspicious. And if anyone left the room, one of us would sneak out and shadow them.

 The rehearsal began. Now, we were practicing in the sequence of the final program. Aishwarya’s dance was fifth and mine ninth and so we both had to be present at the fifth and ninth items. That could not be helped. We would just have to hope that nothing happened at that time. Luckily the first person to leave the room left during the eleventh item. Aishwarya left to follow her, and I stayed behind to make some excuse for Aishwarya if anyone noticed.

Aishwarya followed the girl to the toilet and straight back. That was both a relief and a disappointment. Just as she was coming back, another girl got up to go out, and she did not ask for permission. That made me suspicious. I got up to follow her out, but Aishwarya had not returned. Luckily she entered just as the girl was slipping out of sight. I moved quickly and slipped out of the auditorium.

The girl walked out to a safe distance and pulled out a cigarette. I was shocked! But I was also a little relieved. The truth is, I am not sure what I would have done if she had been the person we were looking for. I am not the police or the principal after all. I saw her put the cigarette in her mouth, and then I went back to the auditorium. It was her problem that she had this bad habit and if I told, I would have to explain my sneaking out. She came back a few minutes later. I don’t know how she hid the smell.

The rehearsal ended, and we went out to the lobby area for our bags. The teachers kept their shoes at the end of the shelf. On the shoe next to theirs, there was a cigarette stub that was still smoking.

We now had a suspect.

The girl whose shoe it was, was Annie’s cousin Louisa. The teachers were very angry with her and took her to the principal. I couldn’t say anything, I felt really bad. The girl who was smoking just looked and looked away.

We were convinced.

Who was she? The next day, we asked some of the other girls who were one class ahead of us in school.

“Do you know all the girls in the programme?”

They knew most of them. So we asked about each one—the girl in Rose house, the girls with the long hair in Lotus house, the girl whose shoe had the lizard. The girl who was smoking was Aarti and she was in the ninth standard.

Aishwarya’s cousin’s friend was in the ninth standard, so we sat next to her at lunchtime. “How come you are not dancing in that program?” we asked her. “How did people get chosen in your class?” We did not really care, but we thought she would tell us about the other girls. We were quite clever. She did.

Aarti had won a dance prize last year. Priya told us that she had lived in Japan when she was a child and she only joined our school two years ago. Aarti had a twin brother who went to another school (naturally, because ours is a girls’ school). Aarti was also a good tennis player and she and her brother played together. Now, we were not that interested in Aarti. We did not know what information we really wanted so we let Priya talk and talk. We did not tell her what I had seen.

We were going to watch Aarti like a pair of hawks. But the next week was uneventful, almost as if the culprit knew she was being watched.

One week before the program, we had one dress rehearsal so the teachers could check our costumes and we would have time to change them. At that dress rehearsal, we were watching Aarti closely. She just sat there. She had brought a book with her, and the only thing she did was to quietly read it while pretending to pay attention to the rehearsal.

Four girls were about to perform a Naga dance. They had brought bamboo sticks with them and placed them on the side of the stage. When they went to pick up the sticks in the middle of the dance, the sticks were neatly cut into halves. They would have to go around Bombay looking for new sticks. The girls began crying.

Aishwarya and I were dismayed. Aarti had not budged all hour long. It was not she. Then who?

We left the rehearsal frustrated. We were silent all the way home and then I went to Aishwarya’s house with her and we discussed what had happened.

The girls had placed the sticks there, full at the beginning of their item. No, actually, they had done so right at the end of the previous dance, which was only by one person. There was however, some problem with their costumes and it was ten minutes before they started their dance. We tried really hard to remember where everyone was at that time and who went on stage.

Rachna did. She had dropped something on the stage. But the rusty nail had hurt Rachna. Louisa went up to look for her ribbon, which had fallen off. Aarti had just sat and stared into space. Who could it have been?

6. Dress rehearsals and decisions

Aishwarya and I were really puzzled. Perhaps we were just not good detectives. I told my mother this, and she said, “Of course not, you are great detectives. If you want to do something you can do it excellently.” Then, she looked at me and said, “But beta, some things are just meant to be mysterious.” That did not make any sense to me. If we could be excellent detectives, why would we be unable to figure out who was causing these accidents? Sometimes mothers say strange things.

We were getting really busy. The costumes had to be cleaned and pressed and ready. Each of us had two costumes and then we had to choose matching jewellery and things. Both our mothers were strict about what jewellery we could wear and so as far as possible it had to be things we made ourselves—no real jewellery and no buying jewellery and both our jewels had to match. So we were becoming good at crafting what we needed from aluminium foil, gold-colour paper, old beads and buttons. That is not what this story is about though—all I wanted to tell you is that the last week before the programme was really busy with all these small-small things.

We had the first dress rehearsal—the first time we were meeting after the bamboo sticks were broken. All of us were tense. After all, so many accidents had taken place through the last two months. This rehearsal went off without a hitch.

Maybe the jinx was over. Maybe we had had so much bad luck that now there was none left to have. That is what we hoped.

They were false hopes though. I still cannot get over what happened at the second and final dress rehearsal (which was on the day of the second programme, but we used the stage first in the afternoon).

I told you that in our programme, each of us had to choreograph an item for five minutes. The teachers did something really clever. They saw all our items and using something from each of them, made up an introductory and a farewell item in which all the students danced together.

As the final dress rehearsal began, all of us then went on stage, and as we started dancing, one of the floorboards on the stage just snapped!

I can still feel the stunned silence. We just froze where we were. Luckily no one was standing at that spot but we had all danced over it in the previous minute or two. The floor was fine all these days and the board just snapped right then.

Some of the girls began crying. To tell the truth, I also felt like crying but I couldn’t. I was like ice. I slowly looked for Aishwarya and she was shivering and sweating at the same time.

The teachers came running up and the prefects also came and began leading us off-stage. The teachers sent for the school caretaker. This was a serious safety issue and also in three or four hours, parents would be coming in for the evening programme.

We just sat around quietly for an hour or so, sometimes talking, sometimes just crying or sitting quietly. None of us could understand what was going on.

After a very long time, the teachers came and sat down and asked us how we were. We muttered that we were okay. Isn’t it strange that you never really say you are not? And I suppose that by saying you are okay, you become okay too.

The vice-principal said, “It will take them a few hours to repair the stage, so today’s programme is being postponed to the day after tomorrow.” How disappointing for those students and their families! Then she looked at us and said, “This particular group has had more than its share of bad luck, so I am going to ask you this and I want you to tell me honestly as if I was your friend or your mother. We are willing to cancel this show if you all feel like you don’t want to do this any more.”

This was even more stunning than the breaking floorboard.

“Think about it. If you don’t want to do it, we can announce the cancellation today, and then you can perform this quietly during a school assembly some time. Nobody will say anything to you. Nobody will scold you.” She paused again. “If you do decide to go ahead with the programme, then we will have the rehearsal in the morning, and the programme can go on in the evening.”

The other teacher said, “We will let you talk about this amongst yourselves for ten minutes and then come back to you.” They went away.

No one said anything. Everyone must have felt a little like I did. I was scared—what else could happen to us? But not dancing tomorrow was such a sad thought.

Then my best friend said, “I think that we should still have the programme. After all, if someone is doing all this on purpose, we should not let them have their way.” Then Aarti said, “I agree, we have been working so hard on this.” She looked at Aishwarya and asked, “Do you really think someone is doing this on purpose.” I almost blurted out, “Yes, and we thought it was you!” But luckily, I didn’t.

One by one, everyone expressed similar views. And Rachna said, “I must confess I am scared. I have already had one accident and so many horrible things have happened, I am afraid of what is left to happen.” When she voiced that fear, she gave us all permission to be scared also.

Scared or not, the teachers came back to a clear decision: The show must go on.

7. Finale

We went back the next morning, with a prayer in all our hearts that everything should go well. Everyone—our parents, our teachers, and our classmates—told us we were really brave and they were really proud of us. That made us feel much better. Making the correct decision always feels good even if it is not safe or easy, don’t you think?

The morning rehearsal went well, although we were getting nervous. Everyone was really nice to us and one of the teachers actually bought us all samosas as a treat. (Although, if one of us had got an upset stomach it would not have seemed like such a good idea!)

It was actually a holiday so we went home for lunch and returned at 4 to put on our first costumes and get ready. The show began at 6.

From the stage we kept peeping out to see if our families had come yet. I spotted Aishwarya’s family—her grandparents were there, and her baby cousin and all the other people. I spotted my family too—my mother was there and so was my sister. I pointed them out to Aishwarya. She began waving as if they could see from that distance, and she was waving so hard she almost fell out to the other side of the stage curtain!

It was 5.45. The teachers came in and made us all close our eyes and sit quietly for a long time. Then they asked us to breathe deeply, in and out, in and out. We learn yoga in school and that is called pranayama, in case you did not know. It makes you calm and it gives you energy.

At 6 p.m. sharp, the curtains went up. The first chords of the first item started, and we all trooped out on stage.

After that it was like clockwork. In to change, out to dance, in to change, help someone else, out to dance, in to change, sit quietly, help someone else, out to dance, start clearing up and packing up, out for the final dance item and then curtains.

We got a standing ovation. Naturally. First of all, we were really good. Secondly, the audience had people who loved us and they would have clapped anyway. I said this to Aishwarya and she gave me that disapproving look of hers and said, “Come on, just accept that they liked it!” Sometimes she sounds like a grown-up!

 The principal was saying something on the mike. Suddenly, someone burst into the green room and said, “Come back to the stage all of you!”

What a surprise awaited us there! Each of us got a special certificate (my mother called it “commendation”) for courage and tenacity (that means that you stick to something once you start; I thought she said tennis-city!). The principal had told the audience all the things that had happened to us during rehearsals. She told them that in spite of everything, we wanted to dance that night.

The audience stood up and gave us a standing ovation. Wow! I cannot tell you how great I felt. Aishwarya, who always has the right words for everything said, “That is what the seventh heaven of delight must be like.”

Aishwarya and I met our families off-stage and they had another surprise for us—we were going out for dinner and could choose between chat and pizza. Wow! What a perfect day!

8. Curtains

All is well that ends well, they say. They are probably right.

Aishwarya and I still don’t know who did all those things. For that matter, no one does. Were they really accidents? Did someone try to stop us and fail? Maybe we will never know.

What we do know is that we had a lot of fun—dancing, planning the dances and the costumes, playing detective (except for when I suspected Aishwarya) and then being the brave heroines of the school. I wish though that Rachna had not got hurt and the other bad things had not happened. And I am sorry that I had to keep quiet when Louisa got into trouble; luckily, they believed her.

As our mothers said at the celebration dinner, you cannot know the reason for everything. And maybe it is not worth knowing. Maybe. I will leave it to you to solve the mystery. Why do you think it happened? Who do you think did it? How do you think they did it?

While you worry about it, my friend and I have exams to study for, and Diwali to get excited about, and then Aishwarya’s birthday on November 18th! All I can say is, “WOW!”

Swarna Rajagopalan
Chennai, November 17th, 2004

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