It had been a rainy autumn. Tola, Pola and Rascal were meeting from time to time in Pola’s tree hollow but everyone was suffering from the cold and the humidity.
– Pola, it’s so cold in here, maybe we could visit a country where it’s warm, even for a while? You know, just to warm up in the sun… – asked Tola, cuddling up to Pola’s feathers.
– This sounds like a good idea. – Pola grabbed her compass. „All that is good, all that is new, take us away, show us the truth. Take us to India”.
The hollow whirled around them, they saw golden rays from the scorching sun and suddenly, they found themselves just above a large field covered with regularly spaced light-green grain ears.
– Watch out, we’re landing! – !’ Tola was flapping her wings, remaining just above the ground. Rascal and Tola fell straight into the crops…
– Ugh! We’ve landed in the mud… – cried Rascal.
– I’m drowning! I’m drowning! – screamed Tola, whose head was the only part of her body that was sticking out from the mud like an additional grain ear since her paws and belly were under the mud.
– You’re up to your ears in mud! – laughed Rascal but quickly grabbed around her neck and carefully pulled her out of the mud.
– ‘I wanted to land somewhere warm, not in the cold water and mud! – Tola started to cry, feeling desperate because of her wet fur.
– Oops… I think we’ve fallen into a rice field – said surprised Pola, flying up so she could better see the whole area. – ‘Rascal, come in my direction – she called – Here’s the end of this muddy field, I see dry grass. You will dry fast up here – the sun is scorching!
After a few minutes, friends managed to leave the muddy field, although they were still covered from head to toe with mud.
– Booohooo – the kitten wept even louder – I wanted the sun! And sunshine! I don’t want to dive in the mud!
– ‘Don’t worry, Tola! – Pola tried to cheer her friends up. – The mud will dry in a few minutes and you will enjoy the sun.
– Yes, it’s like a mud bath in a spa – added Rascal with a wide smile. Tola rubbed her tearful eyes but still didn’t look happy.
After an hour, animals were indeed dry. The sun was so hot that even the kitten finally suggested hiding somewhere in the shade. Rascal, in turn, complained that he felt a bit hungry.
After a short walk, the friends found themselves near a big building standing in the middle of the rice fields. It looked like an abandoned school. A monkey was sitting in front of the building, cooking something over a hearth. Right next to her, there were 50 or so plates with rice. The monkey was pouring the rice with a sauce from the huge pot.
– Rascal, take three of these plates for us! I’m so hungry! I had only two buns and some milk for breakfast, and we haven’t taken anything with us… – said Tola, showing her empty bag.
– Tola, we can’t do that! And don’t encourage Rascal to… – objected the owl but Rascal wasn’t able to hear her. He ran fast towards the nearest plates and, before the monkey had a chance to notice, grabbed three meals with rice and dal (a sauce with lentils and other vegetables).
– Oh, that’s really tasty – Tola smiled, polishing off her meal. – Do you think we can eat a bit more? – she asked hesitantly.
In fact, the portions were not big, so Rascal once again ran towards the field kitchen to bring them two more plates.
The friends hid behind the building and were busy eating, not caring about the fact that they had taken something without asking. But Pola was so angry, that she didn’t eat anything from her plate.
After a while, a group of animals suddenly ran out from school – there were monkeys, dogs, cobras, even two tigers and a buffalo. When they all gathered in the yard, the buffalo grunted loudly to attract attention of others.
– Moo! Children, let’s eat our lunch now. Wash your hands and hide in the shade. There is a plate for everyone so please don’t take away each other’s meals.
Animals ran towards the well, drew the bucket with water and washed their hands and snouts. Then, they came back to form a queue in front of the monkey who was giving out their meals.
– बोन अप्पेतित [bon appetit] Enjoy your meal – said the monkey in Hindi.
– शुक्रिया [siukrija] Thank you – cried children cheerfully and ran away with their plates.
Then, it turned out that there are no more plates, but there were still five students waiting in the queue.
– Mrs Radhika, what’s going on? – the buffalo spoke to the monkey who was giving out meals. – There are five portions missing. Did you forget to bring more plates? – he asked with a loud and stern voice.
– I forgot? No, I… – muttered Mrs Radhika, sounding confused – No, I’m sure I didn’t. I counted everything to make sure everyone will have their meal. I checked it twice, I swear. This has never happened before.
– But I’m hungry… – the cobra standing in the queue hissed silently
– Me too – added a little monkey, probably the smallest and the thinnest of all children. – haven’t eaten breakfast today and my parents won’t give me anything to eat at home. They won’t believe that I had no lunch at school.
Rascal and Tola looked down at their full bellies. They were so ashamed that they didn’t know what to say. Pola looked at them dissatisfied and, without a single word, went out from behind the building.
– नमस्कार! [namaskaar] Good morning. I’m so sorry, but it was me and my friends who took your plates and ate your dinner without asking.
– What? You took my plate? – asked the little cobra.
– And mine? – added the monkey.
– Yes– said Pola, casting her eyes down. Rascal and Tola also came out from behind the wall.
– We’re so sorry, we thought that no one would notice. There were so many plates, we were sure there would be enough food for everyone.
Tola, Pola and Rascal nailed their eyes to the ground. They were truly ashamed. Not only did they take the plates without asking, but they also ate the only meal that five of the students were supposed to have today.
– How could you behave so badly?! – yelled the buffalo, really angry. – Our children often have their only meal at school. What are we supposed to give them now?
– Maybe we should cook them for lunch?! – roared the tiger suddenly, quickly grasping Tola and Rascal with his huge paw. He raised them towards his mouth and roared again.
– Nooooo! He’s going to eat me! – yelled Tola, frightened.
– Ha, ha, ha! I’m just joking, ha, ha, ha – The tiger started laughing and licked their cheeks to show that everything is all right.
– Tiger, let our guest go – added the teacher. – Mrs Radhika, is there anything left in the pot? – he asked.
– I’ll check it out – smattered the monkey.
– I will give away my meal and I would like to ask other children to share their meals too. If you find some more food in the pot, Mrs Radhika, no one will go home hungry. Maybe you would like to eat some rice too? After all, no child should be hungry…
– I have a huge portion, I can share food with them – offered the tiger and put their new friends on the ground.
– Me too! – yelled another animal.
– Me too! – echoed the others.
Almost all children ran closer to give others one or two spoons of food from their plates. Within a few minutes, there was so much food gathered that it would be enough for ten, not only five children. All students sat down around the newcomers and began to eat, looking at them curiously.
– Do children really eat only one meal a day in this country? – Pola asked the burning question after several minutes of silence.
– See, it’s quite complicated – the buffalo started to explain – because some children eat three of even four meals a day. But other children have very poor parents and they can’t afford to buy many products. Apart from the meal at school, they can only have some rice for dinner. The little cobra, the monkey and cicadas would be very hungry if they didn’t eat at school.
– They don´t have fruit for lunch? I always eat fruit… well, at least when I remember to put them in my bag– meowed the kitten.
– Unfortunately, not always. Fruits and vegetables are very expensive here, so we try to give them to children at school. The school has a field where we can grow rice. It’s not far from here. Thanks to this field, we can gather food for the whole year.
– Oh no! We have to save the rice then! That must have been your field!– cried the kitten.
– Save the rice? – asked the buffalo, uncertainly.
– Sir – the kitten squealed, distressed – Not far from here, your field was flooded by mud and everything is under the water! Rascal barely managed to save me! We have to dry the field somehow, or else the rice will rot and the children won’t have anything to eat! – meowed Tola.
– The rice will rot? – asked the buffalo in disbelief. – Ha, ha, ha! – The teacher finally burst into laughter. – My dear kitten, I guess you’re not from here. Rice, before is good to eat, grows in the mud for a very long time. The more water, the better – he laughed again and looked at the animals with a wide smile.
– Oh dear… I had no idea – Tola looked very embarrassed.
All children started to laugh along with Mr. Buffalo – every Indian child knows that rice grows in the water.
– My children, you are not from India, so I think you don’t know that we’re celebrating Diwali festival tomorrow. It’s a beautiful and very important Hindi festival. We will all be very glad if you join us in celebrations.
Diwali? What festival is it? What happens during this holiday? You’ll find out soon…
Questions for careful listeners
- Which country have friends visited?
- Which crop grows in the water?
- Which Indian animals were learning at school?
- Do all children from school have proper meals and eat lots of fruits and vegetables everyday?
- What did the animals do when the cobra, the monkey and cicadas didn’t have anything to eat?