My younger sister Veena’s nickname was Ostrich. Because, when confronted with a problem, she runs to her room and buries her head beneath a dozen pillows. For example, last week, Veena remembered on Sunday evening that she had to submit her Science project the next day. She panicked and ran into her room and sought refuge under a pile of pillows, while the rest of the family members took charge and used our brains to make a windmill with whatever material we had at home. Veena came out when the windmill was done.
Today, Ostrich was quivering in fear beneath the pillows. “What happened?” I asked, trying to conceal my anger and irritation. “Seema akka! My class teacher has asked me to give a speech on Global Warming, next week during assembly. I can’t face a big crowd. There are lots of good orators in my class. Why did Roshini ma’am select me?” wailed Veena.
“Yeah, why did she select you?” I asked in surprise. Veena was not bold, bright or confident, and these are the qualities a teacher looks at during selection.
Ostrich hid under her pillows all evening, until mother agreed to meet her class teacher the next day and lie about us going to some family function, so Veena won’t be able to give the speech. In the evening after school, we went to the staff room to meet Roshini ma’am.
She smiled at us. “Did Veena send you here to stop her from giving the speech?”
My mother and I were stunned. How did she know?
A gentle push
“I have noticed that Veena is always passive,” said Roshini ma’am. “She never shows any enthusiasm to participate in group discussion in class or school programmes. When I asked her to give the speech, she immediately came up with dozens of excuses on why she can’t give a speech. Veena can’t be running away from challenges all her life.”
“Veena will give the speech. Thank you for giving her the chance to step out of her comfort zone,” said my mother to Roshini ma’am. At home, Ostrich refused to come out of her hiding place and continuously shouted, “I can’t give the speech.”
Mother marched into her room. “It is high time you learned to be confident and bold. We are not going to do your work anymore. We are responsible for making you like an Ostrich. You should rise up to challenges that come your way,” said my mother in a loud voice, much to everyone’s surprise.
After dinner, Ostrich came out of her hiding place. “Who will write a speech for me?” None of us answered. Ostrich went back to her hiding place. Next morning, we were surprised to see Ostrich, no, Veena sitting in front of the computer. My mother went and sat next to her. “You said you won’t help me anymore,” said Veena.
“We are always ready to help you. But we won’t do all your work,” said my mother. Within a few hours, the speech was ready. Veena memorised the speech and practised in front of the mirror.
The day when Veena gets to stand in front of the mike on stage for the first time in her life, finally arrived. I watched proudly as Veena said her name. She had a terrified look on her face. Her knees trembled. But she gave her speech. She forgot some lines, but still managed to complete it. I clapped with joy.
We stopped calling Veena, Ostrich. Not because she was transformed. Even today she hid under her pillows, as she had a dentist appointment. But she did not hide when she had to do her record book. She did not ask anyone’s help. So what should her new nickname be? Veena also found out from the internet that it was a myth that an ostrich buries its head in the ground when there is danger approaching.