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This was written during the Duckbill Workshop in Delhi. Our thanks to Kirti for allowing us to use this story.

The school was abuzz with action, Kamloo and Harish could barely contain their excitement.

“Come on, hurry up or else we will be late” they heard Pranjal Bhaiya’s voice from a distance. Harish and Kamloo winked at each other in anticipation of the adventure and ran to join the group that was waiting at the school gate. “Quick, let’s move”,  Pranjal bhaiya thundered in his firm, loud voice, “and remember, stay together”.

With a loud thud the huge, iron gate closed as the last boy in the group stepped out of the school compound.

On the way, the girls and boys chuckled and giggled, only an occasional, “follow me, be careful” in Pranjal Jauhar’s loud voice breaking the laughter and the chatter. Though normally a man of few words, Master Pranjal Jauhar or Bhaiya as the children called him, kept giving instructions, even though he knew that the children had done this earlier too.

As they walked on, the vegetation thickened with  plants, shrubs, bushes and creepers taking over every inch of the space, even the earth they walked on. It grew darker as well with huge trees, each in a different hue of green, allowing little or no light to filter through their crowning canopies.

Walking ahead, the chatter  within the group gave way to the quiet and the peace of a forest. Only an occasional cry of the cheetal breaking the tranquillity.

Harish and Kamloo walked side by side  almost matching steps with each other. Suddenly Kamloo’s attention was drawn to a moan. It was barely audible, but Kamloo’s sharp ears had heard something and he stopped, wondering where it came from.  As he looked around, Harish came up to him. Kamloo whispered, “Can you hear something ?”

Harish gave him a puzzled look and said, “ What are you taking about?”

Without answering him, Kamloo brushed him aside and almost leapt towards the big tree on the side.

There lay a tiny creature, lying still and bleeding from a cut on its paw.  Kamloo couldn’t quite make out what it was. He hadn’t seen anything like that before – a mouse, he thought, no, a squirrel perhaps –no but then squirrels don’t have these funny quill like things on their bodies, he thought to himself. Kamloo kept muttering things to himself while Harish stood still, watching him in silence. In a while he nudged Kamloo and said, “Now what do we do with it”.

“Carry it back with us, what else,” Kamloo said without a moment of hesitation. They both looked at each other, like they were signing an unsaid pact, Kamloo picked up the little animal in one swift swoop and placed him gently on the palm of his left hand and covered him with his right hand.

“Let’s hurry,” Harish said almost panicking. “Everyone has walked ahead,  I don’t want to spend the night here in this forest.”

Guarding their little new-found friend, Kamloo and Harish quickly joined everyone else. “What’s up, why are both of you panting, what have the two of you been up to ?” Suddenly Pranjal Bhaiya appeared from nowhere. So many questions together rattled the boys. Quickly regaining his composure, Kamloo said, “Nothing Bhaiya, we were just tired and couldn’t  keep pace with the rest, er…. er…we’re, we’re ok now.”

“ Make sure you stay with the group now, I don’t intend to come back looking for you”, said  Pranjal Bhayia, loud and clear as usual.

“ Yes bhaiya, absolutely”, replied Harish this time.

As Pranjal Jauhar walked ahead, Kamloo and Harish heaved a sigh of relief.

Late that night, back in the school, both the boys tried to look for a suitable dwelling for their new friend. They also needed to nurse the wound on the tiny paw and perhaps give him something to eat or drink.

Pencil boxes, cupboards, mattresses, they tried everything, finally settling him down in a small shoe box. Kamloo even placed some leaves and grass. “I hope this is comfortable for you,” said Kamloo, as he gently placed his new friend in the box.

That night as Kamloo and Harish lay down on their thin mattresses on the floor, they thought about the tiny creature, wondering what to do with him now that they had got him to the school. As sleep descended, their worry disappeared but not for too long.

Kamloo and Harish soon realised what they had on their hands.

Slowly, over the next few days, the little creature was nursed back to health and now had a name too –Polki.

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