Saraswati madam was taking her class. She saw Sunita from the corner of her eyes sitting morose in one of the rear benches and frequently wiping her eyes. She knew the girl well and was also aware the young thing had lost her mother and her father was an alchoholic.He had married again but the step-mother was not kindly disposed to the poor girl. The thought sat heavy on her mind. She went through the lessons hurriedly and was relieved when the bell rang announcing lunch time. She called the young girl of thirteen near her.
“Sunita, I have been observing you during the class and you were crying. Stop it and cheer up. Tomorrow is the annual day when prizes would be distributed by the chief guest. You have been an outstanding student topping the school in every examination and class. You are being given a special medal and there will be a special mention by the Principal about you. You must be happy. Tell me what is troubling you?”
“M’am, you know all the prize winning students have been asked to bring their parents for tomorrow’s function. They are required to be on the dais along with the student while receiving the prize. You know the situation in my house. Dad will not be in a fit condition in the evenings to come to school. My mom has also refused to come. There is a fight daily in the house and yesterday it was the worst.”
Sunita remembered how she sat crouched in fear in a corner listening to the noise from the hall. It was his drunken dad mouthing profanities and her step- mother sobbing. There were the noises of glasses, the bottle-opener dropping down followed by loud swears, beatings and finally slamming of the door. She never went down when her dad and mom were together. He had begun drinking ever since Sunita’s mom died, three years back. He was a loving dad but never demonstrated his affection even when her mom was alive. It was only her mom who was her best friend in whom she could confide anything and everything. Her step-mother Savitri was also very affectionate to her initially. It was all the mistake of her dad which turned the affection to dislike. He would taunt her needlessly telling her he married her not for her beauty but only to take care of the motherless girl. In the process, unknowingly, he drove a wedge between them.
The school was in all festoons and the music blared through loudspeakers. The lawn was filled with students, parents and teachers. In a corner, snacks and tea were being served. Groups of people were seen standing along with their children talking animatedly, some with teachers and others amongst themselves. Saraswati madam was looking for Sunita and smiled to herself when she saw her in the corner where tea was served helping the guests with spoons, sugar and paper-napkins. An announcement was made requesting the guests to sit down in their seats and the prize-winning students to assemble by the side of the dais with their parents. Saraswati went near Sunita who was standing at the rear with a glum face, and said “Look here, it is not your fault that your dad and mom could not be here. Cheer up. I am there for you. Wipe the tears off your face, my darling girl.” She moved away as the proceedings began with a prayer song.
After the welcome, the prize distribution started. As the name of each student was announced by the Vice-Principal, Saraswati madam, the student along with parents came up the dais to receive the prize from the hands of the chief guest. There was an endless stream of prize-winners coming up the rostrum with beaming smile, with their parents in tow. Finally, Sunita’s name was read out with the special mention that she was declared the best-student amongst all the classes not only in academic performance, but also in all extracurricular activities. When the chief guest stood up with a medal, he saw the girl coming alone in the dais towards him. He remarked “Where are your parents? Don’t they know this is a red-letter day for their child?” There was a murmur amongst the audience and some muffled jeering remarks. Saraswati madam walked towards the girl and stood behind Sunita. She loudly announced that her parents were not in a position to attend. Turning to the chief guest she said “You can deem her as my adopted daughter.” When the chief guest saw her with a puzzled look, the Principal was seen walking towards them telling “Sir, you may consider me as the god-father of Sunita. She has made us all proud by her achievements and good behaviour. I may add she is a role-model for all the other students.” Saraswati madam was seen wiping her tears even as she clasped Sunita tightly. The chief-guest pinning the gold medal on her loudly said “Pardon me Sunita, I didn’t know the circumstances of your parents not being here. I am so happy to hear the praise heaped on you by your teacher and the Principal. I pray to the Almighty for your success and happiness in life. Do remember that you are doubly fortunate in getting such a teacher and Principal.” The entire crowd was surprised when they saw Sunita falling full length at the feet of Saraswati madam and the Principal.
The entire audience rose as one man and gave a standing ovation amidst joyful cries of “Sunita, Sunita” It is not often that we come across teachers like Saraswati with such compassion and empathy, helping the children realize their self worth and esteem.