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The Prejudice that Didn't Last (9).jpg

It was 12:15 PM—the start of the happiest hour of the day for students of grade 9 at Columbia High Senior Secondary School; however, for Rama, it didn’t matter. A young girl of 15, Rama had never been a fan of sports. She preferred sitting under the shade of her favourite tree in one of the far corners of the gigantic school playground, reading Shakespeare, Wilde, or Austen over spending an entire hour running after and kicking a random ball.

Another reason for her choice of the spot could be attributed to what lied on the other side of the fence surrounding the corner, or rather who. Two kids from a nearby slum had recently started accompanying, presumably their father, to sell second-hand books on the other side of the fence. The boy was always more interested in the game but it was the girl who intrigued Rama.

Just like Rama, the girl would sit in a corner, lost in the books her father had neatly laid on the road for customers; however, she was often reprimanded by her father for her hobby. Every time her father would “catch” her going through a book instead of her actual job of bringing in customers, he would snatch the book, hold her by her wrist, and cane her.

But the girl never gave up. She would take the beating, do her job for some time, and when her father wasn’t noticing, go back to her book. The girl’s love for books was what had grabbed Rama’s attention; she had never seen anyone in her class who was as obsessed with books as the girl. Until that time, she had considered herself to be the most-read person in her class, but the girl had forced her to reconsider her belief and motivated Rama to increase her appetite.

As the bell rang at 12:15 PM, like every sports period, Rama marched straight toward her favourite spot with a copy of Wilde’s The Works of Oscar Wilde clutched in her hands. After making herself comfortable under the cool shade of her favourite tree, she gazed toward the spot where she always found the little girl lost in her book. But today, all she was greeted by was empty space.

This repeated for the next three days. Unable to withhold her curiosity anymore, Rama snaked under the fence to the place where the man and his son sat. She tried to walk as casually as she could toward the boy and on finding the right moment, asked him about the whereabouts of his sister. What Rama learnt was incomprehensible for her—how could reading be a “waste of time” for a girl and that she was better off making herself “useful” by helping her mother with household chores?

For the rest of the day, Rama remained aloof, still reeling from her findings. Her class teacher, Mrs. Iyengar, noticed her atypical conduct and called upon her to enquire. Rama narrated the entire story to Mrs Iyengar who, after thinking for a while, asked her to not lose hope and get the girl’s address the next time she saw her brother.

When the bell rang at 12:15 PM the next day, Rama hurried toward her spot as usual but with a different goal this time. Instead of stopping under the tree, she headed straight toward where the boy sat and asked for their address. She cooked up a story about wanting to get some books later with her friends to make her request seem normal. Upon accomplishing her task, she ran straight to Mrs Iyengar to convey the information. Mrs Iyengar thanked Rama and asked her to carry on with her activities.

A few days had passed since the incident but Rama heard nothing from Mrs Iyengar. Her patience had almost diminished when one day she witnessed something unbelievable. Holding Mrs Iyengar’s hand was the same girl, wearing the school uniform, and a face-splitting smile.

Rama ran toward them eager to know what led to what she was seeing. Mrs Iyengar, with the help of the school principal, had convinced the girl’s parents to send her to school under their special Education for All program by providing both of them with jobs in the ground staff of the school.

The revelation sent Rama over the moon and off she ran with her new best friend to show her her favourite reading spot which she eagerly wanted to share with her.

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