It was a regular Saturday for me at Kat-Katha. Yes, I was late again. I walked through the narrow lanes of old Delhi, struggling amidst thelewals, rickshawalas, cows, dogs, cats and other hurried beings, and somehow managed to enter Shahtara Gali. There’s something in the air of that place which actually repaints you with new colors of life. The aura was perfumed with the delicate smell of tempered mustard seeds, turmeric, jeera, and other Indian spices. I suddenly felt hungry. Thrilled prattle of voices mixed with holy Islamic hymns offered a great sense of energy. I climbed up the steep stairs of our school slowly, catching some breath.
As soon as I opened the half-shut door, the kids came running and shouting. We all hugged each other in the very next second. It was more of a ritual now, especially at a place where Love is the only religion. Before I could have become conscious, I realized that I was being pulled from every direction. Babujaan wanted to climb up on my shoulders, Fiza asked (actually ordered) me to lift her up in the air, Pari commanded me to play a swing for her, and everyone else had some or the other claims ready with them to just fire upon anyone who comes their way. This was when the kids had already been worn-out of rolling and jumping in the morning before I came. They’re extremely energetic, believe me!
I straight away went inside the study room, trying to be in charge of everything around me as there was no other volunteer, but all goes in vain when our little girls just want to play and play again. I thought for a minute and decided to play “Fill in the blanks” with our children. I thought it’d be learning and having fun at the same time. They sat with their tables, boxes, etc and asked me about the game.
At first, I thought that they would kill me as soon as I tell them it’s “Fill in the blanks”. To my surprise, I’m still alive as they happily agreed to play the game. I crossed my fingers and told everyone to settle down. I recited the rules to them. I asked them to split into teams of four each. There were Nimish, Kunal, Babujaan, Pari, Komal, Fiza, and Aslam. I wanted them to muddle up to make the game a bit fairer but Pari, Komal, and little Fiza wanted “Boys versus Girls” without realizing the fact that it was more of a knowledge game, and Nimish, Kunal & Babujaan were in higher grades which makes them more clued-up in every sense. The girls were adamant on their decision and I had to agree in the end. For me, now the game was completely one-sided with our confident big boys- Nimish, Kunal, Babujaan, and Aslam in the same team while on the other hand we had mysterious, magical and happy-go-lucky team of Pari, Komal and Fiza. Yes, it was four big boys versus three pretty girls!
In no time, they segregated themselves and sat according to their teams. Our kids are so smart that they would arrange the board, marker, and duster before you could ask for it.
We started the game. I made two columns for writing the marks and left some space for writing incomplete words. Pari was the captain of girls’ team and Nimish was leading the boys. ‘Okay, I am writing the first word. It could be anything for example, a fruit, an animal, a bird or even someone’s name. 5 marks for each correct alphabet you guess, 0 for wrong, 20 if you guess the whole word in a go, -10 for wrong guess, if you want a hint you need to give me your 10 points, and you can only speak one alphabet at a time as the turn will keep on rotating if you’re incorrect,’ I hope I made myself clear. They nodded so confidently as if they’ve been playing this game from past several years. They were looking unbearably cute!
The room was full of charts of Vehicles, fruits, vegetables, and a picture of Mahatma Gandhi just above the white board. I looked around for a word and started writing the first one.
O _ A _ _ E
They are smart enough to follow my eyes and look for the word around them but I told them not to do so. Making another attempt to make the game unbiased, I gave the first chance of guessing to girls. They thought sincerely, sincere enough to blow me off. ‘One alphabet at a time,’ I announced again. They actually discussed amongst each other for that single alphabet which shows a trait of team work in them, I was delighted to see that.
After a minute of murmuring, Pari said ‘P’. I made a face and slashed the letter. It was incorrect. The boys laughed at them and the girls seemed unhappy with their first guess. The clock rolled by and kids were guessing the alphabets one by one. Komal said R and they won first 5 points then Nimish’s team said N and won their first 5. They kept on shouting alphabets. Nobody asked for a hint.
At this, Babujaan guessed the whole word completely and won 20 more points for that. The girls were at 5 and disappointed. They even said that I am boy so I am playing in favour of boys. I had nothing to defend myself. I just smiled and wrote the next incomplete word. The game was going good. They boys played extremely well while the girls also managed to get some points for guessing a few right alphabets for the next few words. A lot happened in next few minutes. Kunal and babujaan giving high-five to each other for getting right alphabets while Pari, being the captain, scolding Fiza for guessing wrong alphabets randomly without any discussion and wasting crucial chances.
They were lost amidst words in that small room. The answer to every question was around them in those chart papers. There was a stage where Boys were at 65 and girls at 30.
This was the time for the last and final word. Boys were already winners according to the score card. The girls were unhappy. The feeling of being defeated by boys was insufferable for three of them. As I announced the score the girls were like ‘We’re going, all boys are cheaters!’ Pari even said that ‘Agar koi mam hoti toh hume hi jeetati.’
For a moment I felt responsible for their loss. I said ‘Okay, this is the last word. Though the boys are clear winners but if girls want to win then they need to guess the correct alphabets and even the whole word at some stage.’
I looked up and started writing the last and final word.
M_H_ _ M _ G_N_H_
Well, the kids were taken aback as for them it was a long word. But the boys seemed over confident while girls were clueless again. Pari started with ‘P’ again. For her every word must have a ‘P’ in it being her favorite alphabet.
It was wrong. I slashed it as she made a face again. The room echoed with boys’ laughter.
After a few wrong guesses Babujaan made his first correct guess ‘T’
Everyone looked around for the word. The even stood up and went near the chart papers but found nothing. The girls now played for the sake of playing. They seemed no more interested in a lost game.
I told them that there’s only one letter that’d make them understand the word.
The boys did their first mistake by asking for a hint being over confident. They thought that they will guess the whole word but it turned it the other way.
‘Sir, we need hint,’ said Nimish. ‘Okay, I will deduct 10 points from your score,’ I said as they nodded. For girls it was another partiality from my side.
‘This is the name of a person, whom we admire, follow, and love. He preached peace and kindness all around the world and helped India to get independence.’ It was now 55 (Boys) and 30 (Girls) The boys thought for a minute. Girls were busy packing their stuff. They knew they had lost it but Fiza paid attention to what I said.
Babujaan seemed to know it but he didn’t want to take any risk.
Boys guessed a wrong letter and the turn was with the girls again. I told the girls to be careful, and made them believe that they could still win it.
I don’t know why, but Pari said to Komal and Fiza ‘Oye Komal, Fiza, chalo Pray kartey hain.’
I was like what? Pray? Before I could have managed to understand this gesture, I saw the girls closing their eyes, folding hands and murmuring something within.
The boys laughed again but the girls were so much into the prayer that they didn’t pay heed to what was happening around. They prayed with their eyes on God, not the difficulties. They surrendered every emotion and dwelled into faithfulness.
They say that you never pray alone. All the angels around pray with you, they look into the sanctity of your heart while you pray, and in this world nothing is pure than the heart of a child.
The very next moment they opened their eyes I smiled at them and told to guess an alphabet. Komal said ‘D’ winning 5 points making it to 35.
Boys guessed another one wrong. The next turn was with girls, and Pari said ‘I’, she always guessed the alphabets from her own name. But unfortunately she didn’t say ‘A’.
The girls were now at 40 and boys at 55. It still wasn’t clear to the kids. They still were confused regarding that word. Nimish guessed another wrong one. The game seemed to shift on girls’ side. I don’t know how.
And guess what? They prayed again, they prayed whenever it came to them. This was the time when boys started making fun of them but they prayed.
I told them to make a guess carefully. I repeated the hint, the girls paid attention. I don’t how, when and why but Fiza suddenly looked above my head, she saw something that no one else saw, she realized something that nobody else even thought about.
‘Gandhi Jweeeeeeeee,’ Fiza said in her usual style, raising her hand high in the air. The boys looked at me. I looked at Fiza. Pari also looked at Fiza but in anger, she thought that Fiza had made a wrong guess and they have completely lost it now.
‘Wah! Sahi Jawaab.. It’s Mahatma Gandhi. Girls have won the game,’ I said as I was in a complete shock. I was absorbing the fact that girls have won. I spontaneously went to the girls and hugged them. They boys seemed traumatized. They fought amongst themselves. They were angry for they didn’t pray.
The scoreboard said – GIRLS (60) BOYS (55)
The girls stood up, danced crazily, and THANKED GOD. The boys were jealous now and blamed me for cheating. I was screwed from both the sides.
I don’t know if it was co-incidence or not, I don’t know if should even use the word miracle but this particular instance has made me believe in the Power of Prayer.
This might be a very small incident, small enough to be explained in a paragraph, but this happening has kept Pari’s faith intact and made it even stronger than before. For her, now, prayer has not only the power of saving someone’s life or winning a game but it makes her feel safe. Komal thinks that prayer has power to get hold of all the energy in this world. For Fiza, prayer is simple two-way conversation between her and God. The best thing was that Boys thought that they should’ve also prayed. So, it has not only made girls win but also created ripples of the power in prayer. For them it’s the best way to draw strength from heaven. They don’t just pray before eating or while closing the school, they pray in their deepest, darkest moments, what really got them through was a prayer. Sometimes the prayer is ‘Help me.’ Sometimes the prayer is ‘Thank you.’ What they’ve discovered through these small incidents is that intimate connection and communication with the Creator will always get them through because they know their support, their help, is just a prayer away.
– Anurag Garg