a breath of fresh air

It was once again time to make the one hour car journey to Utpal's school for his PTM. And in spite of this being the nth time, the excitement was palpable.

With little Kiran the true blue childhood pal, I had packed the proverbial bag of goodies that contained all that was not allowed: chips, fizzy drinks and chocolates. We set out early and go there just as the clock struck 11 and the gates were opened. As we hurried to the residential block I realised that my heart was beating a little faster.

Utpal dressed in his Sunday clothes waited at the bottom of the stairs for his parents. This time we were six: Kiran, Chanda, Dharmendra and Barbara and Cyril, two volunteers who had decided to come along, not forgetting the old maam'ji! Presentations were made and I was thrilled to hear the confident "fine thank you maa'm" to Barbara's: how are you? Our little Utpal seemed all grown up as he set out to show his room and cupboard and introduce his Dolly ma'am.

The rest of the day passed in a tizzy. A metro ride, a shared pizza and then the now legendary lunch at the school where Utpal acted as the perfect host. But as the hour of departure approached I could see his tiny face crumble. He snuggled closer to me and said: you will stay awhile, won't you?

We did, but soon it was time to say our goodbyes, and for the first time I saw Utpal holding on to the tears that were welling up in his eyes. I held on to mine and hugged him a little tighter as I whispered: see you next time.

As we travelled back none of us spoke, not wanting to break the spell Utpal had cast on all of us.