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Reaching High

Nilima Sinha

Jhumki skipped down the kuccha path that led from her school to her hut in the village. School was over! She had done well, so Masterji had told her. No wonder her feet danced so lightly and gaily as she ran home. How happy her mother would be when she told her she had come first in her class.   She burst in through the door into the one-room hut that was her home. The light streaming in through the window fell into an empty room. Her mother was not there. Where was she? She raced out, shouting. Perhaps she had gone to help her father in the fields. The rains were over and it was time to plough the earth and sow the seeds.   Jhumki found her mother at last. She was not in the fields. She had gone, pitcher on head, to the village to fetch water from the well. And while there, she had decided to wash the clothes too. She was crouching near the well, rubbing soap on the clothes before rinsing them with water that she had already drawn and filled her pitcher with.   ‘Oh Ma, I’ve been looking for you! You know what? Masterji told me I have the highest marks in class!’ Jhumki cried.   ‘I’m so glad,’ said her mother, her face breaking into a smile. ‘This is your last year in school. You’ll leave with a good feeling.’   Jhumki’s excitement vanished. With shocked eyes she stared at her mother. ‘Last year? What d’you mean, Ma?’   ‘This is your fifth—or is it the sixth—year in school? Isn’t that enough? You have studied for so many years already. Now it is time you stayed at home and helped me . . . see, there is so much work . . ..’ She rubbed a weary hand over her forehead. ‘It becomes too much for me…’   A pang of guilt shot through Jhumki’s heart. She wished she could help her mother; but then she longed to go to school too. She quickly bent and took the soap from her mother’s hands. ‘Let me do it. I can do both, Ma. When I return from school, I will wash the clothes and the utensils. I can also clean the hut afterwards . . . just leave it to me. I’ll take care of the work. I promise I will, Ma!’   Her mother looked relieved and ...

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