“Anish， wake up. Its six. You will be late for your maths tuition.”
Anish rubbed his eyes open and looked up. His mother Mahima was standing beside his bed， a look of stern disapproval on her face.
“Please Ma let me sleep for five more minutes. I am feeling very sleepy.”
“Nothing doing. You said the same thing yesterday and were half an hour late for your tuition. Get up.”
Anish struggled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom.
Ten minutes later he was cycling away to his destination. He was still feeling quite drowsy. Last night he had stayed awake till eleven thirty doing science. Left to himself he would have slept long back. But Ma had being sitting beside him making a model question paper which he was to answer today.
Anish was a class five student of Saint John's Convent School - one of the best schools of the city. He was a good student and in the last two years he had topped his class in final exams.
Of late however， Anish had started feeling very tired. His schedule was becoming more and more hectic： 6.30am to 7.30am - maths tuition； 8am to 2pm - school； 3pm to 4pm - Computer classes； 4.30pm to 5.30pm - Cricket coaching， 7pm to 9pm - - homework and from 9.30pm onwards as long as he could keen his eyes open study， study and more study. The only time he had for relaxation was from 6 to 7 in the evening when he could watch TV or read a book.
* * *
“Anish revise thoroughly. You know you are getting very careless. Check each calculation very carefully. You have to get hundred out of hundred or else you will lose your rank.”
Anish kept nodding his head mechanically not even bothering to listen to what his Ma was saying. Last night she had kept him awake till twelve thirty making him revise again and again till she was satisfied. He was still feeling sleepy.
The paper was quite tough. He started by answering the easiest questions first and then slowly moved on to the tougher ones. When the bell rang he was half way through the revision.
When he came out and compared the answers he was in for a shock. He had made two mistakes one in fractions and the other in mensuration. These mistakes would cost him ten marks.
Ma saw waiting for him at the door.
“How was it？”
“Tough， very tough.”
“It must have been tough for others but not for you. You will surely get hundred won't you.”
“What do you mean you can't say？ You must have written down your answers in your question paper.”
“I did not have the time，” he lied.
The other exams went off well and on the last day Anish felt a great sense of relief. The school was breaking for holidays and at least for a month he would be able to relax.
* * *
“Ma， why don't we go somewhere for a holiday？” Anish asked his mother. The two of them were sitting at home on the first day of his holiday. Anish's father Ashwin Sahni was in the Merchant Navy and was away on duty. He would be returning only after two months.
“Don't be silly Anish. How can we go on a holiday？ I don't want you to miss your classes.”
“What classes？ My school is closed for a month and my tuition won't commence until after the holidays. Our cricket coach has also gone to his native place.”
“I forgot to tell you. I have enrolled you for an advanced course in computers. You have already completed Level one now you can start Level two.”
“But Ma that is for much higher classes. Don't you think it is too early for me to learn all that advanced stuff？”
“Listen Anish， to succeed in life one has to do something extra - something out of the ordinary. You are not like the other boys. You are brilliant. With some effort you can achieve success in anything you take up. And moreover ， you have the advantage of having a mother like me who spends so much of time and energy on you. When I can devote so much time for you why can't you make a slight sacrifice for your own good？”
Anish kept silent and continued staring sullenly at his feet.
* * *
When Anish received his report card he was taken aback. While he had done very well in all the other subjects in Maths he had got only 85. The highest in maths was 100. These fifteen marks had pushed his rank from number one down to number six. His first thought was for his Ma. She would be absolutely livid. 'How was he going to face her？'
As he cycled back he was filled with trepidation. He didn't want to face Ma.
“What happened Anish？ Why are you looking so serious？ You have stood first isn't it？” Mahima asked Anish right at the door.
He didn't utter a word. She followed him in to the drawing room. He removed the report card from his bag and handed it to her.
She glanced at it and her face turned red. She looked at him her eyes blazing. “What is this Anish？ You have got sixth rank. How could you do this to me？ With the kind of preparation I had made you do you should have walked away with the first rank. Now how will I show my face to others？ I had told everyone that you would top. Late last night when your father rang up I told him the same thing. He was really thrilled. He is planning to get you lots of gifts when he returns next month. I even made sweets for distribution to our neighbours and friends. What am I going to do now？”
She sat on the bed clutching her head. Anish stood by， his head hanging in shame.
“Where did you lose out？”
“In maths I got 85 while Pratik and Irfan both got 100.”
“Who got the first rank？”
“Pratik！ His mother， the snooty Mrs. Pinky Malhotra， will really enjoy herself pulling me down. Last time itself she had declared that this year Pratik was unstoppable.”
She looked at him. He was still staring at his feet. His silence angered Mahima even more. She reached out， caught hold of his tie and yanked him forward.
“You shameless wretch. There is not even a little of bit of shame on your face.” She slapped him hard twice， got up and walking into her room slammed the door behind her.
Anish just stood there tears flowing down his cheeks.
* * *
Mahima opened the door of her room at nine. The house was still. She looked into Anish's bedroom. It was empty. She looked into the kitchen， the bathroom， the drawing room. she went out into the garden and looked into the garage. Slowly a fleeing of panic began rising inside her. Where had he gone？ She ran inside and picked up the phone. One by one she began dialing all his friends and their family friends and relatives. Everywhere the response was the same. Anish was not with them. They hadn't seen him that evening. By the time she had finished it was past ten.
She dialed the nearest police station. A half drunk voice answered.
“Is this Gandhinagar Police Station.”
“My son is missing since evening. Can you please help me？”
“Do you have a photograph of his？”
“Then send a few copies along with his name， age and the description of the clothes he was wearing.”
There was a click. The policeman had replaced the receiver.
She got up and hunted for Anish's photograph. She managed to locate four copies. She scribbled the details the policeman had asked for on a piece of paper.
“I hope he has not changed his clothes before leaving，” she prayed to herself. She placed the photographs and the paper in an envelope. She than called Narsingh - her maidservant's husband who live in the servants quarter and asked him to rush to the Police Station and hand over the envelope to the inspector who was in charge.
After Narsingh's return Mahima spend the night calling the police station every half an hour. When she made the fourth call the Inspector who lifted the phone sounded angry.
“Madam will you please stop bothering us. Because you are a lady I am telling you very politely. We get these kinds of complaints by the dozen every day. When I get any information I'll call you. Now let me sleep in peace.” He banged the phone down.
Mahima didn't know what to do？ Even her tears had dried up.
She just sat in the drawing room praying and cursing herself.
She lost all sense of time as， with each passing minute， her panic increased.
Suddenly the stillness of the air was shattered by a shrill sound. She got up with a start. She must have dozed off. She looked at the clock. It was 4.30. It was still pitch dark outside. 'Who could it be at this hour？ Please God！ Let it be some one with news about her Anish'. She stumbled to the door and opened it. Outside stood Anish looking dirty， disheveled and tired. He was still dressed in his school uniform. His face was streaked with tears， grime and dust. Beside him stood a young man whose face was unfamiliar.
“Aa. . .Anish. Thank heavens you are safe. Where did you go away baby？ I was so worried. She pulled him close and started crying.
After a few moments she recovered herself and looked at the young man.
“My name is Basant Tripathy madam. I am a typist in your son's school. I had gone to the Railway Station to receive my brother who was coming by Ajanta Express. Since the train was late I was walking up and down the platform when I saw Anish sitting all by himself on a bench. I became suspicious and asked him what he was doing all alone in the middle of the night. He didn't reply. When I told him I would take him home， he refused. Finally I threatened him. I told him if he didn't come with me I would hand him over to the nearest police station. I think this scared him and he agreed to come home.”
“Thank you， thank you very much Basantji， I can't tell you how grateful I am，” Mahima managed to mumble.
* * *
Mahima was sitting in the living room going through the syllabus of class six. The classes had started two weeks ago but the syllabus had been handed over to the students just yesterday. Anish had gone to school and she was alone. Ashwin was due to return next Monday.
The bell rang. Mahima got up and opened the door. She was taken aback to see Mr. B. R. Dutta， the Principal of St. John's Convent Standing outside. He was holding a file cover in his hand.
“Good morning， Mrs. Sahni. Can I come in？”
“Y. . yes sir， of course. Please come in.”
After they had taken their seats in the living room Mr. Dutta cleared his throat and said， “Mrs. Sahni， you must be surprised to see me at this hour. I wanted to talk to you about Anish in his absence.”
“Has. . .has something happened Sir？ Has he， has Anish got into trouble？”
“No， no， nothing of that sort. Anish is one of my favourite students. He is a bright， intelligent and sensitive boy. Of late however I have noticed some change in him. He is not his usual， cheerful self. I am also getting reports that in the class room he is not as attentive as he used to be. In the last exam his rank slipped to sixth. Last week Tripathy told me about. . .he was mentioning that Anish had tried to run away from home，” Mr. Dutta paused and looked at Mahima who remained silent.
“Mrs. Sahni did you find out from Anish why he tried to run away？”
“I tried， but he just clams up every time I broach the topic.”
“I think I understand the root of the problem.”
“What is it？”
“If you don't mind me saying so I think it is you Mrs. Sahni.”
“What do you mean？” Mahima sat up straight her face turning red.
“Please don't misunderstand me. I have come across many parents like you and also many children like Anish. I think you are driving him too hard. I know a little bit about you Mrs. Sahni. Your class mate Geeta Roy is a teacher in my school. She was telling me about you. You were working as Assistant Manager， Personal in a private sector Cement company when you met your husband and fell in love with him. You continued your job even after marriage. But after Anish's arrival you had to quit to take care of him. This may sound harsh to you but you are trying to achieve your unfulfilled aspirations through your son.”
Mahima started to protest when Mr. Dutta help up his hand. “Please hear me out first， I request you. As I was saying you want your son to fulfill all the dream which you had， but could not fulfill. That is why you are driving him so hard. Maths tuition， computer classes， cricket coaching - his schedule is really killing. He has now started feeling tired of this never ending rigmarole of work. He is also fed up of continuously trying to please you. He is very good at Table Tennis. But you discourage him from playing TT since you feel that cricket has brighter prospects. Your forcing him has even turned a sport like cricket into a distasteful chore. I am sure you are aware that he is good at painting. But you don't allow him to attend painting classes. You prefer that he concentrate on computers rather than art. Slowly he seems to be losing interest in everything. If this continues one day you will lose him.”
“Mr. Dutta I think you are exaggerating. I am his mother， his greatest well wisher. You are making out as if I am his enemy number one.”
“No， Mrs. Sahni， you are missing the point. I know you are his greatest well wisher. And I also know that you are doing all this so that he achieves success in life. Your end is noble， but your means are not quite right. And believe me no one knows this better than I do. Let me tell you about my life. I too had a son who was very intelligent and smart. I wanted him to become a doctor since I could not become one. My father was quite poor and I could not afford a proper education. As a result I had to start working while I was still in school. But I wanted my son to achieve everything I could not. I sent him to the best school， arranged a lot of tuitions for him and did everything possible to give him the right foundation for a medical career. Finally when the results of the medical entrance exam were announced his name was not there. I was shattered. I took my disappointment， my frustration， my anger out on him. Next morning when I entered his room I found him hanging from the ceiling - dead. I or rather my ambition had driven my son to suicide. And Mrs. Sahni I too was a well wisher.”
Mr. Dutta paused， removed a hanky from his pocket， wiped the tears from his eyes and continued，“ sometime back we had organized a painting competition in school. The topic was 'My Family.' Anish's painting was one of the best. But we could not give him a prize. Once you have a look at the painting you will understand why？”
Mr. Dutta removed a sheet of paper from his file and handed it over to Mahima.
The painting was really striking. It showed a crowd of people standing in a circle applauding and throwing coins in the center where a monkey was doing cartwheels. A woman was standing beside the monkey with a whip in her hand. Below it was written - 'My Mother'. Mahima peered carefully at the sketch of the monkey. Its head was human and its face bore a striking resemblance to Anish. Below it was scribbled 'ME'. Mahima's ace turned red with embarrassment and shame.
She looked up at Mr. Dutta who was now standing.
“Mrs. Sahni I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings. But I felt I had to share my thoughts and experience with you. I don't want another child to be sacrificed at the altar of parental ambition. Goodbye and good luck.”
As Mahima watched his receding back the started crying.
* * *
A year later St. John's Convent was celebrated its Annual Day. The programme was coming to an end. Mr. Dutta stepped forward and took the mike.
“Ladies and Gentleman and my young friends， we know come to the final part of today's programme - the presentation of the 'Best All Round Performance Award'. This year the award goes to a student of class six. This is for the first time that such a young student is getting this award. In the past this honour has usually been bagged by students of class eleven or twelve. The achievements of this year's winner are truly special. He has topped in the State Merit Scholarship exam and he is the youngest student to do so. In the inter - City Table Tennis Championship he was runners up. And finally， in the All India Painting Competition organized by UNICEF his painting was declared the best in the under 12 age group. You must have guessed his name by now. Yes， he is none other than Anish Sahni of class six A. And friends， usually this award is presented by the Chief Guest but this year， with his permission， I want to make an exception. I want to invite a very special person， who is the inspiration behind Anish's success， to present the award - his mother Mrs. Mahima Sahni.”
Mahima got up and walked towards the dais， to the sound of thunderous applause.