A plate of sunshine…

Leaf and fruit
Dew and rain;
Melting sugar
On my tongue, here it snows!

Mani ambled along the village road, on her way to the market to buy some vegetables and fruit. It never snowed in that hot village, (you would not be able to find it on a map!), but Mani, like many ten year olds,had a fertile imagination. She was friends with the elves in her cupboard, who ruffled her clothes and made a mess; each night she said her goodnight to the man on the moon. Her teacher often told her mother that her marks would really improve if she just learnt to channelize this creativity into more productive pursuits.
She reached the market where the familiar sabzi uncle would give her all that she needed before she even asked. It was convenient, she could carry on with her silly rhyme!
Here it snows,
like milk and cream
Kanha’s dream
in flakes of white.

She packed her vegetables in a dirty old cloth bag her Amma had given her, and started on her way back. She reached the stone bridge over the river, where the banks glistened in the sun. Stopping for a minute to admire the view, she was jolted back into the present by Rani, her friend from school.
” Hey, Mani. What are you doing?”
Mani turned around and smiled. Rani was like that, always catching you by surprise. Mani loved to call her the Sudden Girl, because most things happened to her all of a sudden! Why, just last week, the maths teacher had let her off without a beating for scoring one on twenty, because, all of a sudden, he felt that her marks would surely improve the next time!
“Amma wanted some vegetables for dinner, “Mani replied. “And what is the Sudden Girl upto?” she asked with a wicked grin.
Rani seemed pensive as they started walking towards their homes. They lived really close to each other and spent most of their free time together- plucking mangoes or doing homework. Sometimes they packed leftover rotis or dosas in banana leaves and had a picnic by the river. They always had fun, what with Mani’s imagination and Rani’s serendipity.
Today, Rani seemed extremely quiet. She did not smile and looked very scared. Finally, just when they had crossed Ramana Uncle’s house at the end of Temple Street, she blurted out in sobs,
“Appa is very sick! Amma and Anna are taking him to the town hospital tomorrow!”
Mani was shocked. What was so serious that it needed a visit to the town hospital? People went there only if there was no other way out. Why was Rani’s Appa being taken there?
Thoughts ran helter-skelter in her mind. But she had to help Rani. She offered her soothing words and took her home. Mani’s Amma already knew and invited Rani to stay the night. In the attic room, with the termite-infested bed, Mani and Rani spent the night, worried and scared. After all, ten year olds cannot embellish their conversation with fancy words, they could only worry and fear.
Day dawned. There were chores to do and of course, school. The girls could barely concentrate on anything that was happening. Even when their history and class teacher, Dhanamma Ma’am announced a picnic to Chocki Hills, Rani and Mani were the only ones in class who couldn’t scream in joy. They waited for news from the town. Rani’s Amma had promised to call. Rani waited by the phone all evening. Mani just paced the courtyard, trying to memorise the poem for Recitation Exam.
Finally, after what seemed like ages, the phone rang. Rani picked it up, tears streaming down her face. Just the anxiety of waiting had made her such a wreck!
“Rani, Appa is feeling much better now. Do not worry. Stay with Aunty and do not trouble them. Anna and I will return in a few days. I will call everyday, ok?”
” But.. but what did the doctor say?” Rani mumbled, flustered with all the instructions.
” Rani, ” her Amma seemed stressed and exasperated, ” the doctor has asked for a certain medicine. Unless we get that, Appa might not survive.. Rani..” she paused for a second, ” Appa has malaria.”
Tears flowed down Rani’s cheeks like rain.
“What is that medicine, Amma?”
“Sontoshin.. anyway Rani, I’ll go take care of him now. Be a good girl. Do not worry, my dear. God will take care.”
Rani put the phone and sat down quietly next to Mani, who was writing her ‘barahkhadi’.
After a while, she asked Mani, ” Eh.. Mani.. where do you think we can get sontoshin?”
” What?” Mani was flummoxed. She had never taken a pill before.
“It’s a medicine, that can save Appa.”
Mani thought hard. What kind of medicine was that, ‘Suntoshine’? Were they talking about the sun? Yes, that was it! The sun can cure any disease, her grandmother had told her that. Even now, every sunday, Mani recited the slokas to please the sun god.
” Of course, I do, Rani! It’s Sunshine! Soon, your Appa will be dropping you off at school on his bicycle!”
Rani was elated. ‘ Come on then, let’s pack it and take it to town!Let’s run like the wind, Mani!”
“Wait a minute! It’s sunshine, but how do you we pack it? We can’t wrap it in a banana leaf, can we?”
“True, Mani.. what do we do now?” Rani sounded dejected.
Mani could not bear to see the disappointment on her face.She was determined to find a way out. The girls went to bed, trying to think of various ways to gather sunshine, but of no avail. Sleep tugged at their tired eyes and they could keep awake no more.
Early next morning, Mani woke Rani up.
” Rani, wake up! I have found a way to gather sunshine! Come with me, quick!”
Rani ran behind Mani all the way to the stone bridge. The banks were dew-covered.
” There, ” said Mani, ” this is where I see the sun everyday, glistening from those grains of sand. We’ll gather this sand on this copper plate that my Ammamma gave me, ” she announced proudly, producing a shiny plate from her satchel.
Painstakingly, two little girls gathered the sand and lined the plate. Mani told Rani that the sand had to remain slightly wet at all times, or the sun would escape. Rani was extra-careful, so she laid her muslin handkerchief over it, to keep it moist until they reached town. Clutching the plate with both hands, the girls clambered onto the bus. They did not make contact with the curious onlookers, for they knew the medicine would not work if they frittered away their energy in idle talk. As field and river and bridge and grove passed by, they had only thought on their minds : Rani’s Appa. Rani had asked her Amma for the address of the hospital the night before. Her Amma seemed wary, but had indulged her. Rani must be missing her Appa, she felt.
” Rani and Mani, what are you doing here?” asked her Anna, amazed to see them, early in the morning, with a copper plate in their hands!
“We found the medicine!” Mani hissed, “here it is!” There was much jostling and arguing after.
Just then, the doctor passed by. He wanted to know what the commotion was all about.Mani repeated the events for him: how they gathered sunshine to save Rani’s Appa. The doctor listened patiently and took the plate from their hands. ” I see.I do not know how to thank you girls for this. We have been looking for this very medicine. Now let me administer it to him. You want to take him home with you, yes?”
“YES!” chorused Mani and Rani in tandem, so excited that they could not see the doctor winking at Rani’s Amma as he took the plate into the ward. Forty-eight hours later, an emaciated but completely cured man, emerged from the hospital room. He was received by warm hugs and tender tears. He was so happy to be going home with his family. The famiy thanked the doctor for all his help. The doctor smiled and asked Rani, “Do you realise what actually cured your Appa?”
“A plate full of sunshine!” he added, his eyes crinkling in good-natured teasing.

Many years later, Rani and Mani learned how much the nice doctor had worked to save Rani’s Appa. They realised that true sunshine that heals, lives not on the river banks, but in people’s hearts. That’s when you can offer, plates full of sunshine.. to heal, to protect, to cherish and to love.

Just for your information, Rani grew up to be a famous doctor, inspired by the one who saved her Appa and Mani? Well, her imagination still is strong as ever and guess what she does for a living? She writes stories for children! Amen!

(A huge thanks to the prompt from http://creativewritingprompts.com/ !)

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