A NEW RELIGION!
Sneha's bicycle was stolen.
It had rained heavily and their school compound had become a waterlogged muddy quagmire. So everybody had to park his or her bikes outside. A thief had promptly taken advantage, selecting Sneha's red and gold racer. A police complaint brought no result.
To prevent further thefts the principal did her best to get the rainwater drained. It was found that polythene bags and Styrofoam cup debris had clogged the rainwater drains. After the removal of the blockage the water drained out and the school compound became dry.
"But my bicycle is gone forever!" Sneha kept on wailing.
"It was the best bike in the world!"
Without her bicycle she would have to walk to school with her heavy school bag. Without her bicycle she could not meet Ritu to share her grief. Oh doom!
Preksha dropped in to ask how Sneha's essay on 'How to Protect Our Environment' was progressing. Their class teacher had asked Sneha, Preksha and Siddharth to participate in an essay competition, as the three were good at writing. The first prize was a whopping Rs. 2001!
"I have already finished!" Preksha said smugly. Preksha
was the class scholar. /
"I don't think I can write without my bike."
"I did not know you wrote with your bike!" Preksha squealed with laughter. Sneha gave Preksha's braid a sharp
pull in revenge.
It was all right for Preksha to crack such jokes as she came to school by a car. She did not have to worry about time lost and fatigue caused by walking a long distance.
"Well, who has time for essays?" Sneha said feigning indifference although she wanted to write.
As she walked to her tuition that evening, thinking about the essay, she had to negotiate many mud puddles and cow pats. A lorry swerved so near her that she had to jump plumb into a quagmire of mud and dung. Thick, black diesel fumes momentarily choked her.
When she finally reached her class (late!) all noticed her smelly feet!
"Today we will study how the ozone layer is affected..." the teacher began and Sneha pricked up her ears. This might help in the essay. Could she win the prize? There was Preksha who had a computer to write and check her spellings and a printer to print her essay. Sneha felt she
had no chance of beating Preksha.
"...So don't use CFC perfume sprays!" the teacher concluded the lecture.
"What horrid perfumes some girls use!" pretty and smartly dressed Priya said pointing at Sneha's feet. All boys and girls laughed. Sneha felt her ears burn. Priya took out a perfume spray and spattered herself with it. A pleasant whiff of jasmine wafted.
"At least I do not spoil the ozone layer with CFC," Sneha said pointedly and stamped out.
Back home Sneha asked her Dad if he would buy her a new bicycle.
"Not possible now, dear," he said. Sneha knew they were not so rich.
"But my back will break if I carry my school bag, Dad!" "We will buy you a second-hand bike soon," Dad assured.
Late that night after finishing her homework Sneha had just begun jotting down some points of her essay when her Grandma reminded her about evening prayers.
"What about my essay?" Sneha pouted. Grandma smiled and gently reminded her that they had to remember God at least once every day. Sneha reluctantly began prayers.
The next day Preksha and Siddharth showed the rough drafts of their essays to their teacher, while Sneha had not even begun.
"You can read my essay after I have won the first prize," Preksha said in a teasing tone when Sneha asked to see it.
"Bought a new bicycle yet?" she further asked.
Telling Preksha about her financial difficulty would have made her show false pity and sympathy. Better to try something that would silence her.
"I am not going to buy a new bicycle because I do not want to damage the environment."
"How can buying a new bike spoil the environment, silly?" Preksha asked.
"Ore for metal will have to be dug, spoiling topsoil. Then refining ore will give off C02." Sneha said. "Plus toxic colours will have to be used. Rubber for tyres will use poisonous elements like sulphur..."
"All bunk!" Preksha jeered.
"What she says is true. To make one ton of steel we have to burn many tons of coal." Siddharth said.
"Where did you learn all this?" Preksha asked, concerned.
"While doing research on my essaj^ on environment," Sneha said, pleased that she had had Preksha worried.
Sneha was dog-tired after school as she trudged home slowly with her heavy satchel. Heaps of polythene junk, removed from the school's blocked drains awaited removal. "From where does this garbage come?" Sneha wondered. Then she remembered how during the lunch recess the whole school gathered near the snack bar and ate sandwiches and drank colas. Every food item came wrapped in polythene and liquid in Styrofoam or plastic cups. Most children threw their refuse in the garbage cans but some garbage accumulated and was washed into the gutters, which gradually blocked them.
Sneha was very tired when she reached home. 1 will feel better after eating,' she thought, but she was in for a rude shock. Her Grandma offered her only a banana.
"It is a Friday, dear, you have to fast."
"Oh, mother!" Sneha wailed but knew she had no choice. "Of what use is fasting?"
"Fasting is a self-imposed discipline. It helps us become better persons. All religions have days when one must not eat."
Sneha, poor dear, was so exhausted. On top of it, hunger made her doze off into Grandma's lap. But after midnight hunger pangs awoke her.
She thought, fasting was a type of religious discipline.
Without discipline we would become animals. But the way we were spoiling our environment was not good discipline.
Why did most people all over the world voluntarily remain hungry once a while? Christians, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists and Hindus—all fasted. All also undertook holy pilgrimages. All regularly prayed and followed certain codes. However, no one had any rules about preserving the
environment. Sneha sat up in indignation. The whole society was to blame. Look how cows were allowed on the city roads. Look how lorry drivers drove smoky vehicles. Look how industries emitted poisonous gases. Look how nations used nuclear fuel and made toxic garbage.
There was only one solution. If religion could be combined with the protection of environment, it would be an ideal discipline. Sneha quickly grabbed a flashlight and began scribbling.
Sneha's rules for A New Religion':
1. The sun is our father because he gives us energy.
2. The earth is our mother because she sustains us.
3. Trees are our elder brothers and sisters who give us oxygen, food and shelter.
4. Animals are our younger brothers and sisters who also help us.
5. Thus we must help and protect our family.
Sneha paused, liking what she had written but wondering whether it was good for her essay.
'I might as well write what I like because Preksha is going to win the competition anyway!' Sneha thought despondently. How could she ever compete with Preksha?
Sneha wrote furiously through the night. She was convinced that unless she finished her essay in one sitting she would never be able to complete it. All kinds of thoughts overcrowded her mind, but her fingers quickly recorded everything.
The next morning her mother found Sneha asleep in her chair, her head on the table, her pen lying on the floor and the discharged flashlight tightly clutched in her hand.
Sneha had fever. Over exertion had taken its toll.
The doctor was summoned and the treatment began.
Grandma began chanting the name of Rama.
Sneha's classmates came to visit her the next evening as her fever was still very high. Preksha pattered about her essay. Priya and Ritu changed the wet cloth on Sneha's forehead. Siddharth told her about the new computers in the school .
As soon as Sneha was better she searched for her essay but could not find it. All helped but without result. Someone probably had thrown it away as waste paper. The loss of the essay was a great disappointment.
"It was my best writing!" Sneha said sadly.
After a month Sneha and her friends came to know that someone from their school had won third prize in the essay competition.
"Of course, the essay that I submitted must have won," Preksha kept on saying. "I am surprised it didn't win the first prize." All booed Preksha for being arrogant.
The next morning during assembly the Principal called
Sneha to the dais and declared that she had won the third prize of Rs. 1000!
"How come...!" Sneha was silenced by the thunderous applause. The Principal read out Sneha's essay to the school and declared that they would enforce Sneha's rules
"I am surprised. I had not even submitted my essay, so how could I have won the prize?" Sneha said later as they slurped ice-creams.
"Didn't I say the essay that I submitted would win?" Preksha said revealing the suspense. "When I came to visit you during your illness, I read your essay. I found it was
far better than my essay. So, Sneha, I tore off mine and submitted yours."
Sneha hugged her friend, tears rolling down her cheeks