Chapter 1

  THE BLUE UMBRELLA

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Bollywoodclip

Image from Bollywood film.

Neelu! Neelu!” cried Binya. She scrambled [climbed] barefoot over the rocks, ran over the short summer grass, up and over the brow [top edge] of the hill, all the time calling, “Neelu, Neelu!” 

    Neelu (Blue) was the name of the blue-grey cow. The other cow, which was white, was called Gori, meaning Fair One. They loved wandering [walking slowly] off on their own, down to the stream or into the pine forest. Sometimes they came back by themselves and sometimes they stayed away—almost deliberately [on purpose], it seemed to Binya.     

     If the cows didn’t come home at the right time, Binya would be sent to fetch [get] them. Sometimes her brother Bijju went with her, but these days he was preparing for his exams and didn’t have time to help with the cows.      

     Binya liked being on her own, and sometimes she allowed [let] the cows lead [take] her into some distant [far away] valley, and then they would all be late coming home. The cows liked having Binya with them because she let them wander [walk here and there, where they wanted to]. But Bijju pulled them by their tails if they went too far.     

      Binya belonged to the mountains, to this part of the Himalayas known as Garhwal. Dark forests and lonely hilltops held no terrors [fear] for her. It was when she was in the market-town, jostled [pushed] by the crowds in the bazaar, that she felt nervous and lost. The town, five miles from the village, was also a pleasure resort [vacation place] for tourists from all over India.     

      Binya was probably ten. She may have been nine or even eleven, she couldn’t be sure as no one in the village kept birthdays; but her mother told her she’d been born during a winter when the snow had come up to the windows and that was just over ten years ago, wasn’t it? Two years later her father had died; but his passing [death] had made no difference to their way of life. They had three tiny fields on the side of a mountain, and they grew potatoes, onions, ginger, beans, mustard and maize: not enough to sell in the town, but enough to live on.  

JanErkamp

Leopard. Photo courtesy Jan Erkamp at English Wikipedia.

     Like most mountain girls, Binya was quite sturdy [strong], fair of skin, with pink cheeks and dark eyes and her black hair tied in a pigtail. She wore pretty glass bangles [bracelets] on her wrists, and a necklace of glass beads.  From the necklace hung a leopard’s claw [toe nail]. Binya always wore it. Bijju had one, too, only his was attached to a string.     

     Binya had stopped calling for Neelu; she heard the cow-bells tinkling [ringing softly], and she knew the cows hadn’t gone far. Singing to herself, she walked over fallen pine needles into the forest glade [open space] on the side of the hill. She heard voices, laughter, and the sound of plates and cups. Stepping through the trees, she came upon a party of picnickers.     

     They were holiday makers from the plains. The women were dressed in bright saris, the men wore light summer shirts, and the children had pretty new clothes. Binya, standing in the shadows between the trees, went unnoticed [not seen]. For some time she watched the picnickers, admiring [liking] their clothes, listening to their unfamiliar accents, and gazing [looking] rather hungrily at the sight of all their food. And then her gaze [eyes] came to rest on a bright blue umbrella—a frilly [fancy] thing for women which lay open on the grass beside its owner.     

     Now Binya had seen umbrellas before, and her mother had a big black umbrella which nobody used any more because the field rats had eaten holes in it, but this was the first time Binya had seen such a small, dainty, colorful umbrella; and she fell in love with it. The umbrellas was like a flower, a great blue flower that had sprung up on the dry brown hillside.     

     She moved forward a few paces [steps] to see the umbrella better. As she came out of the shadows into the sunlight, the picnickers saw her.     

     “Hello, look who’s here!” exclaimed the older of the two women.  “A little village girl!”     

     “Isn’t she pretty?” said the other.  “But how torn and dirty her clothes are!” It did not seem to bother them that Binya could hear and understand everything they said about her.     

     “They’re very poor in the hills,” said one of the men.     

     “Then let’s give her something to eat.”  And the older woman beckoned [moved her hand] to Binya to come closer.     

      Hesitantly [slowly], Binya approached [came toward] the group. Normally she would have fled [run away], but the attraction [strong interest] was the pretty blue umbrella. It had cast a spell over her, drawing her forward almost against her will.


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Chapter 2 >

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