She joined school on a Wednesday, mid-term, when we were in the 9th standard. She was very quiet and on the heavier side of the scale. She wore spectacles that made her eyes seem like they were lost at the end of a tunnel. And these were just a few of the things we used to tease Sudha about.
Normally when we have a new admission in class, we are warm and friendly. We take the pain to meet the person, ask their name and basically make them feel at home. Now, why we did not do the same for her is no mystery. She was different. Queer maybe.
We were young. Impatient and intolerant too. We did not have it in us to understand why she was so slow in everything she did. Better than waiting for a few minutes for her to process what we just said and to give her the time to respond and get used to us, we chose the easier heartless way out. We chose to interact lesser and lesser with her until that day when another new girl from Trivandrum joined our school.
The new girl, Asha, was a charmer, as our history teacher who was also our class teacher called her. She brought good grades and many certificates declaring that she had represented her previous school at many state and national debate and quiz competitions. This one had all the credentials to make her the one of most popular kids in class, if only she had made the right choice.
Even though she spoke to all of us and was on good terms with every one of us, she was always found goofing around with Sudha. The guys were almost beginning to come up with weird terms for the inseparable duo. It was then that we noticed a gradual change in the behavior of the queer girl. She was beginning to act almost normal, answering the questions teachers asked in class, submitting her assignments in time and participating in sports instead of whining about a non-existent migraine.
It was not an overnight change, but change it was, definitely. Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, we saw her come out of her own cocoon and evolve into someone we never thought she could become. There was something Asha did that caused Sudha to behave the way she was behaving and we were quite puzzled at the outcome.
One day, Atulâ€™s curiosity got the better of him and he began catechizing Asha on what magic she had done on Sudha. Asha quietly walked up to the board and changed the ‘thought of the day’ on the blackboard to: Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
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