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The Battlefield
by Amita Sinha

The taxi turned inside the gates of �The Dream Abode�, boarding school for girls. Sugandha got down and went inside to meet the Principal, Mrs. Lal. Her parents, Shreela and Kaushal Verma accompanied her inside. The Principal turned out to be a middle-aged woman with a smiling disposition. She wore a cream colored sari and had short curly hair reaching the nape of her neck. �Good Morning Mrs. Lal. I�m Kaushal Verma. This is my daughter Sugandha, who will be staying with you for two years.� �Hello Sugandha. How are you?� smiled the Principle. �Very well, thank you maam, �replied Sugandha in a slightly nervous voice. �Mrs. Lal, I have given Sugandha every thing you had asked for. I�m sure she�ll be very happy here,� said Shreela looking around the small neat room. �Well Sugandha it�s time we left for the station. Your luggage is waiting outside. Bye for now. Keep writing.�

Sugandha went outside with her parents and hugged them with tears in her eyes. �I�ll miss you both. Come and visit me soon.� �We will darling,� Mrs. Verma kissed her daughter�s cheek. Sugandha stood waving till the taxi disappeared outside the gate. �Come Sugandha, I�ll take you to your room. You�ll be sharing it with Deepti, Anuradha and Bela,� said the assistant, Miss Pamela. They went up a short flight of stairs and reached a long balcony out of which opened many doors leading to comfortable homely rooms on both sides. Pamela, who was in her late twenties, was very good-natured and helped everyone, the staff and students alike. If anyone had a problem, they just had to consult her and things would be smoothened out as quickly as possible. �Here�s your room Sugandha,� said Pamela, opening the fifth door on the left side. The room had a nameplate on it. It was called �Sunshine�. Likewise the other rooms were called �Moonlight�, �Primrose�, �Rosemary�etc.

�Hello! Girls! meet Sugandha, your new partner. Do make her comfortable please. I trust you to welcome her properly Deepti and Anu. See you later Sugandha.� �Thank-you Miss Pamela. Bye for now,� said Sugandha. �Well hello everyone! I suppose that�s my corner,� said Sugandha, turning to the right side of the door. �Hi! Sugandha,� chorused the two but Bela made a funny face mumbling something and continued darning her socks with great concentration.

The next few hours were spent learning about each other�s background and then it was study time. At lunch, Sugandha was introduced to many more girls and most of them were very friendly. The girls sharing rooms on her floor were very keen to come to �Sunshine� at night and share some goodies, which Mrs. Verma had packed for Sugandha.

There was only one problem in room �Sunshine� which diminished the shine from the sunny room. It was Bela�s attitude towards Sugandha. She always acted dumb when addressed and never apologized for her rude behaviour. At night she would snore (though awake) purposely so Sugandha couldn�t sleep. A few days after Sugandha had come to �The Dream Abode�, something really terrible happened. She lost her most precious possession, a diary, which had been with her since childhood and contained all her personal notes. She looked everywhere in the room and throughout the building and grounds, asking everyone of the girls and staff but it had simply vanished. Sugandha said to Anu and Deepti, �I have a dirty feeling that Bela has hidden it somewhere. She was hostile towards me from the beginning and I think she has played this dirty prank just to spite me. Couldn�t we go through her luggage now, she�s downstairs at the moment.� �I don�t think Sugandha. You�ll be punished if she finds you snooping around. She�ll promptly report you to the Principal,� said Deepti. �Why don�t we try coaxing her to tell us what she has done with it,� chimed Anu getting up and opening the door. She closed it quickly, �here comes Bela. Ask her nicely Sugandha.� Bela came inside, glared at the three and went to her corner munching a chocolate cake, she had bought on her day out. Sugandha neared her bed saying, �Bela, I know you can tell me where my diary is. It is very precious to me. Do give it to me please.� At first Bela acted as if she hadn�t heard a thing, then she said in a grudgingly indifferent voice,� how do I know where your precious diary is? I�m not a magician that I�ll produce it miraculously�. She turned her back towards the others and started flipping the pages of a teenage magazine. �Well! if you won�t be helpful, I�ll just have to force it out of you, isn�t it?, said the now fuming Sugandha shaking Bela vigorously by the shoulders. This was too much for the snobbish Bela. She got up and pushed Sugandha hard who fell headlong on the other side hitting her head on her own bedpost. Anu and Deepti rushed to her side and saw that there was an ugly spot visible on her forehead. �Come Sugandha� we�ll take you to Nurse Vrinda. You are hurt�. Sugandha had to have first aid at the sick room and the matter came into the hearing of the Principal herself. �Sugandha you had no right to question Bela in this forceful manner without proof that the diary was really with her and Bela you did a very wrong thing in hitting Sugandha. You are confined to your room for one day and night and will get only khicheri to eat. Sugandha, you will have to stay in your room too though you can have regular meals.

The days passed and all was forgotten. Bela was openly hostile now and troubled the three even more. The girls would come back to �Sunshine� and find all their belongings strewn about, while Bela kept snoring in her bed. When questioned� she would say, �how do I know who came to the room and touched your things. I was sleeping soundly. I have a headache and anyway why should I touch your filthy things.�

Anu and Deepti took everything in their stride but for Sugandha life with Bela had become a total battlefield in which she always found herself to be the retreating party.

Furthermore, the girls would find dirt and dust on their bed and insects inside their shoes and socks. One day Sugandha decided to teach Bela a lesson. A parcel had just arrived for her and Sugandha took it saying she would give it to her on her way up. She brought the parcel upstairs but left it outside the room. Bela came and seeing it picked it up. She saw Sugandha Verma written on the front. (Sugandha had purposely scratched Bela�s name and written her own on it.) Everything was pre-planned. The three girls acted as if they were taking their afternoon nap and had covered their faces with their see-through dupattas. Bela went to her corner, sat on her bed, looked at the three supposedly sleeping girls and opened the parcel without making a sound. She took out the contents and laid them in front of her. The first thing she did was to tear the envelope with a letter in it without even glancing inside. She tore the contents into small bits and threw them towards the girls giggling in a beastly manner. Then she felt the next packet finding it to be some sort of eatable and plunged it into the dust-bin. Now came another large envelope and thinking it to be some sort of important papers, she tore it into four pieces and threw it into Sugandha�s dust-bin. Then she smiled viciously and left the room.

The girls got up and Sugandha picked up the torn pieces from her dust-bin. The three put the pieces together and saw that it was a cheque for five hundred rupees for Bela sent to her from her father. They put the torn pieces on Bela�s bed and made sure she could make out it belonged to her. They lay down on their bed waiting for Bela�s return. Sure enough, after about an hour she came strolling inside, now drinking a soft drink and singing a new hindi movie song which sounded terrible because of her horrible voice. She went straight to her bed and her face turned a monstrous colour. She stamped her foot on the floor and screamed� �how dare you do this to my money, I�ll report you to the Principal and get you rusticated from here.� She came flying towards the three pulling them out of bed one by one.Anu, Deepti and Sugandha laughed, �you yourself have done this. We changed the name on your parcel. You not only destroyed your parent�s letter and cheque but also threw a packet of home-made goodies into the waste-bin. Serves you right, you mean horrid thing.�

�I�ll go just now and report your wickedness to Mrs. Lal. How dare you change names,� fumed Bela. �Go ahead, dear. The Principal will have proof at last of how you have destroyed Sugandha�s diary. Run along sweetie-pie, what�s the problem?�

Bela sat sobbing on her bed she knew she was beaten. Not only had she no money but she had also lost her parent�s presents and letter. She was ashamed for the first time.

Next morning, a subdued Bela said, �Good Morning� to the trio and smiled at them for the first time. Sugandha knew the �battlefield� had become a �playfield� now and suddenly room �Sunshine� had a new shine to itself.     

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