I was 16 and in my last year of school when the first incident happened. School had finished for the day and I was waiting for a rickshaw outside my school to take me to the railway station, from where I would take a train home. Hearing a rickshaw approach behind me, I turned hoping that it would be empty. It wasn’t and as it sped by me, I saw a horrific sight. A man and a woman were struggling in the rickshaw and the man had a knife in his hand.
I saw all this in a flash and for a moment I thought that I had imagined the whole thing. But then I reasoned that I couldn’t have imagined the glint of the knife, could I? Just then an empty rickshaw came and I saw to my relief that the driver was someone I knew, in the sense that I had travelled in his rickshaw many times.
I told the driver about what I had just seen and asked if we should give chase. The driver said that I must have imagined the knife and what I must have witnessed was some friendly “wrestling” between a couple. Besides, wouldn’t the rickshaw driver have done something if he sensed that there was something wrong going on? No, no, I must have had a stressful day, and it would not do for a girl like me to have such an active imagination. I should concentrate on my studies and try to get home as quickly as possible. With these words of advice, he dropped me off at the railway station.
Heidi was the first book ever purchased for me. I was about 6 or 7 years old at that time, the same age that Heidi is when her story begins. Heidi was also the 16th and the 73rd book bought for me. Yes, you read it right. Till date, I have owned 3 Heidi books and each one has a story attached to it.
Heidi-1 was with me for just a day. Raju, my maternal uncle, had just received his first pay cheque and in a fit of generosity decided to buy something for his 8 nephews and nieces. So what does he do? He goes and buys some books, one of which is Heidi. Only, Heidi is not one book here — it is a serialised version spread over 6 palm-sized books with tiny illustrations and microscopic lettering. He then distributes these 6 “Heidis” to 3 of his nieces and nephews in a random manner. I am one of the recipients and get books 2 and 5 of Heidi.
We 3 recipients of the Heidi books were so thrilled with the gift that neither its random distribution nor the impossibly small lettering bothered us. We could squint and read, couldn’t we? It was a Saturday that day, so we didn’t have to worry about school either. After lunch that day, we got down to reading the books in serial order, with each one reading his or her books aloud for the others. I still remember the instant connection I felt with Heidi — her spirit, loyalty, adventures and love for her family and friends proved irresistible. At the risk of sounding corny, I knew that I had made a friend.
I am not sure whose mother discovered the books that evening. The small lettering was deemed unsuitable for us children and were confiscated, never to be seen again. My poor uncle got an earful from all our mothers for buying something so child-unfriendly. And that was the rather dramatic end of Heidi-1.