This story was written during the Duckbill Workshop in Delhi. The participants were asked to develop a story in a particular genre featuring a given object. This is Sharanya Deepak’s historical fiction. Our thanks to Sharanya for allowing us to use this story.
Subhadra used to tie her hair in two staunch pigtails that stood above her head. Her grandfather used to say that she looked like a small giraffe. Whenever she came into the room, he used to chuckle, waving his rolled up newspaper at her. ‘Here comes Grumpy the giraffe’, he used to say, as Subhadra jumped on his lap and tickled his beard. ‘Do you know where giraffes are from, my child?’ he asked her once. Subhadra nodded her head solemnly, her two horns bouncing against each other.
‘China! Maybe one day we’ll take you there so you can meet your real dadaji,’ he grinned.
Her father hated her two pigtails. He would glare as Subhadra ran around the house like a reckless cat, breaking things with every step she took. He had told her once to start behaving like a lady before it was too late. Subhadra didn’t understand.
Subhadra’s father worked for Bharat Bats, Ranchi’s famous bat manufacturers. He was tall and thin, with a smiling moustache and an unsmiling mouth. His eyes were hard and Subhadra hated to meet them. Sometimes he used to take her to work, where her eyes would drop into her lap as she looked at the shiny new bats all lined up.
‘One day I will have my very own,’ thought Subhadra, ‘and then I will hit sixes and fours and twelves and make centuries and double centuries and triple centuries. I’ll show that stupid Sonu and Dadaji will be so proud of me.’ Sometimes when she walked around the factory, she would touch the smooth handles of the bats, and feel their new wood against her small fingers. ‘Subhadra, what have I said, don’t touch anything!’ her father would shout from a corner.
Today, Subhadra stood on the pavement outside her house, watching Sonu bat as his little minion, Pappu, gave him easy throws. Sonu’s father and Subhadra’s father were brothers, but she remembered overhearing that they didn’t get along. Six years ago, when Subhadra was four, she remembered hearing her grandmother weep near the kitchen door, saying how she wished her sons could see ‘eye to eye’. ‘But they can see eye to eye,’ thought Subhadra, confused.
‘Remember Pappu, I am a batsman and you are a bowler, that means I am better than you!’ said Sonu. Subhadra hissed with disgust.
‘It takes batsman and bowlers to make a team, Sonu. If everyone just batted, there would be no game. Dadaji was a bowler!’
‘Keep quiet, girl! What do you know about games? You’re a girl!’ Sonu grinned at her, his round face red from standing in the sun.
Subhadra toyed with her blue box as she looked on jealously, watching the boys play.
‘What’s that?’ asked Sonu, eyeing the box with a greedy look in his eyes.
‘It’s a box Ma gave me, isn’t it nice?’
‘Give me it.’
‘Only if you give me your bat and ball,’ said Subhadra, smirking at her cousin’s sweaty face.
‘Have it your way, Sonulal!’ cried Subhadra, sticking her tongue out at the boy and pleased that she had had an effect on him.
As she pranced inside the house, she could hear the radio announcement and her eyes glittered with excitement.
‘Kapil Dev’s team reaches the World Cup Final. In a few minutes, we will have Mr Dev himself telling us how it feels.’
Subhadra jumped up and down in front of the radio, she couldn’t wait to tell Sonu.
SONULAAAAAAL’, she screamed, running out of the house in search of her cousin. He mother smiled from the window as she saw the cousins doing a choreographed jig.
‘Are you excited about the final, Papa? I hope the radio doesn’t give us trouble again’, Subhadra asked her father, as she was sent to bring him his tea.
‘No, what have I told you, cricket is a waste of time, and I will not have you distracting yourself from your studies. Do you want to be a doctor or not?’
‘Ummm,’ Subhadra hesitated, ‘I don’t know?’
‘Well it’s what you have to be’, said her father, curtly. ‘When you’re old, like me, do you want Sonu to have a bigger house than you? Do you want him to have a car while you to run around on your bare feet like you do now?’
‘He already has a bigger house Papa, they even got a colour TV yesterday. Sonu says there are only ten in Ranchi!’
‘Don’t waste my time, go tell your mother to pack my lunch, I have to leave for the factory.’
Subhadra glimpsed from the window, Pankaj, who her mother thought was a ‘handsome young man’, and his friends race around in a tempo, waving India flags madly. Their faces looked like they were torn apart by the wind, as they shouted and screamed.
‘You better study, or you’ll end up like that’, grumbled her father.
Subhadra didn’t think that was so bad. She picked up Kapil Dev, her newly acquired puppy and walked into the house.
‘Two overs left! Oh no! Come on Kapil dev, come on Sunil Gavaskar, come on!’ she thought out aloud. The radio was always troublesome, it always disappointed her right at the end, at the crux of every match, She had of course, asked her father if she could buy a new one, but had without doubt, been refused in a second. The radio buzzed and stuttered, and Subhadra was shaking so hard that her little giraffe horns moved almost in circles. ‘What is happening, what is happening!’ she cried.
Unable to take it anymore, she ran out of her house, seizing her blue box. She ran to Sonu’s house, where the whole family was crowded around the new colour TV.
‘Hey Subbu!’ Sonu said, ‘Look at our new TV!’
‘I don’t care. Give it to me.’
‘What? The TV?’
‘Your bat, stupid!’
‘Why? Where’s your pretty blue box?’
Subhadra spotted the bat lying in a corner. She raced to it, picked it up, and threw the box on Sonu as she ran out. She could hear Sonu shouting after her.
‘Subbu, we WON!, we just WON!’
Subhadra stood outside the house, breathless with her sudden outburst and her newly acquired possession, as she heard the town erupt into happy chaos. ‘I knew we could do it Kapil Dev’, she said to her little puppy peering up at her in fright.