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Neeti loved her Science, English and History periods in class seven at school. Science and English were her inclination. But History because she loved the way her History teacher made the rather dull subject full of life. But there was one subject that terrified her every Thursday. It was bound to come in the last two periods that day every week. Needle work.
"Why keep it for the last so that I have to worry about it the whole day ? Why don't they begin the day with it and simply get done with it! My class teacher Miss Mandakini is such a kind person. Why can't she be our needle work teacher?" She would mumble this every Wednesday night to Mummy as she would help Neeti pack her school bag for the next day.
Neeti went to a girls' Convent school. It was compulsory for students to try their hands on needles and threads from class three to class seven. "Ha Mummy. What a relief that I only have to do this for one more year. No worries at all when I go to class eight."
Neeti was in reality not 'not fond' of the subject. It actually fascinated her at times when she saw her mother doing beautiful embroidery on table mats and handkerchiefs. She was always proud to show off the crochet napkins that Mummy wove for her to carry to school. What made the subject so petrifiable was her teacher.
Her needle work teacher, Mrs Reddy was in her fifties. She was not bad looking. But one would find a permanent frown fixed on her face. No student had ever see her smiling. Although all other teachers would say that Mrs Reddy is very good at heart, the students never believed it. It was because of the embarrassing show she would put up for almost every one of them, except two or three of her favorites. She mocked at the choice of thread colour of one girl and whiteness of the handkerchief cloth of the other. Some she called 'crackpots' and some 'girl with no brains'. She once threw a girl's work outside the classroom window because the poor thing's stem stitch and chain stitch's lines on the practice cloth were not in the order as dictated by Mrs Reddy.
"She never insults those favorites because their families own huge shops and they offer Mrs Reddy good discounts."
"No no. I have heard that she has lost a family member recently. And that is why she behaves like that."
"She has a very despicable daughter in law whom she is very scared of. That's why she takes it all out at us."
Neeti had overheard all these 'reasons' during post school gossip sessions that usually took place amongst a closed group of her classmates.
"Whatever it is. I just do not like that lady. Period." Neeti said with a sulken face on a Thursday morning as she walked down the stairs with Pa when auto rickshaw wala Prakash Uncle blew the horn as an announcement of his arrival. Pa did not reply. "He obviously has other things to worry about. Needle work does not interest boys anyway."
On all other days, the needle work kit had to be kept in the classroom cupboard. Mrs Reddy knew that her students would never hesitate on asking their mothers to do their work for them. But on the previous Thursday she had asked them to carry it home for the week. Reason being either her laziness or unwillingness to actually teach the girls how to sew. She had to grade their work next week and there had to be something with everyone to give the grades on.
"I have eyes that of a hawk. If you forget to bring your kit even by mistake or if I find your work too good to be done by you, I will not grade you. And I assure you that those girls will stay back in class seven the next year as well." She said with her eyes digging deep at all the girls through her thick photo chromatic spectacles. Although all of them knew that needle work as a subject did not possess this power, Mrs Reddy's sturdy appearance and her confident threatening speech shook their belief.
Neeti was recalling this as she was about to reach school in Prakash Uncle's rickshaw. She said very happily to herself, "I don't think Mrs Reddy will give me anything below B grade. I have done a pretty decent job with Mummy's guidance all by myself."
Her class teacher had not come that day. So the first two periods being free, all the girls started showing off their masterpieces to one another. Some got envious compliments while others got assuranoes of their work not being as bad as to deserve to be thrown outside the window. Neeti, secretly very proud of her job this year, decided to pull it out and participate in the informal exhibition.
"Alas! No, it can't be."The needle work kit had been forgotten home. She had missed packing her pouch of needle work with blue and pink flowers on it in her school bag after she had shown it to Pa. He had generously showered her work with all the wonderful adjectives.
"What am I going to do! Mrs Reddy will say bad things to me. What if she talks about it to other teachers in the staff room who see me as their favorite student? My classmates think of me as a sincere girl. But that won't happen after today. What if she really has the power of not promoting me to class eight!"
Neeti sobbed on the last bench as she did not want any of the classroom spies to notice it. Who knew what kind of story would reach Mrs Reddy's ears before she could find a way out.
"Don't worry Neeti. You score so well in other subjects. I am sure nothing of that sort would happen." Said Neeti's best friend Janki who always stood by her side.
Soon it was recess time. Neeti could not eat. She was getting butterflies in her stomach. Her only hope was that Mrs Reddy had not come to school that day. But even that was crushed when one of her batchmates from another section had scared her with grading episode that had already taken place in her classroom that morning.
At one moment she decided to act unwell. "Mrs Reddy is very smart. If she makes out that I am lieing then it would get even worse." So she decided to prepare to face whatever was going to come before her in the next two and half hours.
Recess was over. Neeti dragged herself back to class and tried very hard to concentrate on the new chapter of 'Antartica' started by her Geography teacher Mrs Kher. Just as she was pretending to look out for the paragraph her teacher was pointing at, one of the school attendants Swati Didi entered the class after taking Mrs Kher's permission. She said something to her in her naturally low voice.
"Neeti, your father has come downstairs. He wants to see you for a minute."
"Uhhh? Pa? Was he not supposed to be in the neighbouring town for the day? He said to Mummy he will be coming back late today?" Neeti's father was a Pharmaceuticals Sales Manager. He had to often go for early morning to late night tours to the neighbouring towns for his sales calls with doctors.
Neeti went hurriedly and saw him reading the school notice board in front of Principal's office. He was dressed in his favourite blue shirt, black trousers and shining black shoes. But he was carrying something in his hands. The pouch with blue and pink flowers!
Before Pa could even turn back and see his little girl approaching, Neeti hugged him tightly, very tightly. "Pa!" Tears rolled down her eyes but she did not say thank you. That person was her saviour, her hero, her Pa. Not only today, but as long as she remembered.
"Here is your needle work. I remember you told me last night you were going to be graded on this today."
"But I thought you had to go on your tour today."
"I am your father after all. Even I forgot to carry an important file with me. So had to head back home halfway. Then your Mummy told me you left your needle work kit home. So I thought I might just check if they allow me to hand it over to you. I hope I am not late."
"No Pa. You can never be late." Neeti said with tearful eyes and a smile on her lips. Again giving him a quick hug.
The first half of the day now seemed to be a terrible nightmare that had come to an end. Neeti sprinted back to class. She could feel Pa still watching her even though she did not turn back.