“…and save the princess,” said the old man with the white beard and a pointy nose.
Pranjal puffed his chest out and nodded his head once. He looked at his right hand which held the sword. He wasn’t tall or had a physique like The Rock. He was of an average height and build but that was the reason he would win where the others had failed. That was why he would slay the dragon and save the princess from the evil curse.
The old man picked up a twig from beside the big rock behind which they were hiding and began to draw the map that would help the boy save Fiona. He looked at this unlikely saviour and thought, if there is a higher power, help him. He will need it. He only hoped luck would be on their side tonight.
Pranjal didn’t need to be a mind reader to know what the old man was thinking. His thoughts were as clear as day on his face. He smiled confidently. His name would go down in history as the ‘unlikely hero.’
He took one last look at the rough map that was drawn in the dirt and memorized it. He tightened his hold on the sword and prepared to run when…
“Pranjal are you with us?” said Miss. Kalra, standing next to his desk, hands on her hips.
He immediately straightened in his chair and looked at his desk. Where had his English book disappeared? Wasn’t it on his table when he had been trying to save Princess Fiona? Poor princess, she would have to wait till the end of school to be saved.
He looked up to see Miss. Kalra hadn’t moved an inch from his table. Seeing the mystified expression on his face, she held up Pranjal’s text book which had fallen from his table. When he hadn’t immediately bent to pick it up, she had realized he had been day-dreaming…again.
The bell rang and Miss. Kalra told Pranjal to step out of the class so she could talk to him. Both of them knew where the conversation was headed but still, it needed to be said.
She waited for the coast to clear and then, “Pranjal, this is the third time in two days I have caught you dreaming in my class…don’t you get enough sleep at home? One more time,” said she, “and I will be forced to call your parents and report this behaviour.”
He offered no apology or explanation. He knew Miss. Kalra would report him and he would deal with it when it happened.
“Fiona, honey, if I don’t return in an hour, get yourself out,” said Pranjal, holding Fiona’s face in between his hands.
“Oh Pranjal,” said she, tears pouring down her face, “why can’t I come with you? Take me with you…please…”
He saw the fragile beauty of Fiona and nearly cried himself. But he couldn’t afford such luxuries. He did not care about his life but he couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to Fiona. He looked at her tear and grime stained face and his resolve hardened. “Fi my darling please promise me you will do as I say…”
“Fiona promise me,” he pleaded. He needed to hear that she would do as he said so he could go into the fight with the knowledge that his heart…that Fiona…was safe.
“PRANJAL! What the hell dude, I have been calling and calling…”
Dude? Pranjal didn’t use that word and neither did Fiona. He saw a big dirty hand waving in front of him. He turned towards his friend Nikhil, who was sitting next to him and glared at him. “Man, couldn’t you have waited five more minutes? I was just about to start shooting!”
Nikhil rolled his eyes. It had taken him some time to adjust to his friend’s oddity. He sometimes envied Pranjal who could, at will, be in another place, another time, saving girls and being a hero. It didn’t matter where he was or how many people were talking around him. He asked him, just like he had asked him numerous other times, “How do you do it man?”
“I dunno,” shrugged Pranjal nonchalantly. “It’s a gift…or a curse, whichever way you wana see it.”
“Dude it’s one awesome gift if you ask me. Who wouldn’t take saving the world over History or Math? I wish you could teach me. I have tried you know…I close my eyes and try to concentrate on a scene from a James Bond movie…it doesn’t work! Sure I can see myself doing those stunts but…”
“But what?” asked Pranjal, paying attention to Nikhil’s ramblings for the first time. He saw the embarrassed look on Nikhil’s face and pressed, “But what Nikhil?”
“But…it seems a little childish and foolish after some time. You know it’s cool to imagine yourself as 007 but come on, it’s not real and it’s not even impressive.”
“That Nikhil is the fun part.”
“The ‘it’s not real’ part is what’s fun. I can be whoever I want to be. I can be a dragon-slaying peasant boy one minute and a spy with a gun the next.”
Nikhil rolled his eyes again. “How about spending time with real people? How about saving real girls? How about playing a game of cricket with your friends? Isn’t that cool and fun too? Anyone can save the world…how hard can it be? Being real, now that’s what’s difficult.”
Pranjal tuned out his friend. He had heard this argument a million times. Be real…you are not a child anymore to be dreaming like this…grow up…blah blah. What he wanted to know was why should he grow up? Why should he stop dreaming?
“Mr. and Mrs. Negi, thank you for coming in,” said Miss. Kalra. She showed them into the classroom. They sat down and seeing the look of concern and anxiety on their faces, she hated herself for complaining about their boy but time had come when some action needed to be taken.
She offered them water which they quietly refused. She took a breath and said, “Pranjal’s day dreaming habit is getting out of hand Mr. and Mrs. Negi. It has started to affect his school work now. He doesn’t listen, pays no attention in class. He always has a blank expression on his face like he isn’t here at all but somewhere far away. Pranjal is growing up, he’s almost fifteen now, and this needs to stop.”
“What do we do? We have tried everything madam but there seems to be no improvement. We are at our wits end,” cried Mrs. Negi.
Miss. Kalra nodded and plunged on, “I think Pranjal needs professional help now. Someone who can figure out if something is troubling him or is it a result of some other condition whose underlying cause could be dangerous.”
Seeing the horrified expression on Pranjal’s parents’ faces, Miss. Kalra quickly said, “You could see Dr. Mahesh. He is really good with teenagers and has helped a lot of our students.”
“Are you sure professional help is the right way to deal with this madam?” asked Mr. Negi. “What can a doctor do that we, as his parents can’t do?”
“Mr. Negi I am only trying to help. Please understand, seeing a psychologist does not mean that Pranjal is ill. Sometimes teenagers find it difficult to talk to their parents for various reasons. Just talk to Dr. Mahesh once. Please…just…talk to him.”
Pranjal was sitting in a steel room with a single overhead lamp. His hands were handcuffed behind his back. This was a waste of time…precious time that he could have utilized to find Fiona. The longer he stayed here, the farther she would go.
In front of him stood a six foot three man who had the air of being the one in charge. He was wearing a brown hat, brown coat, brown trousers and a white shirt with a brown tie. He removed his hat and put it on the steel table. He crossed his hands across his massive chest and looked disapprovingly at Pranjal.
He wanted to scream, I am innocent! I didn’t kidnap Fiona. How could I? I am the one trying to get her back! He however kept quiet.
He stared at the man and the man stared right back. It was going to be a battle of the wills…
Dr. Mahesh had been observing Pranjal for ten minutes now. He knew precisely when Pranjal had stopped listening to him and retreated into his make believe world. He didn’t ‘disturb’ Pranjal and waited to see if he would ‘come around.’
After another five minutes, Dr. Mahesh shook Pranjal to ‘bring him back.’ “Would you care to tell me what you saw?”
Instead of answering, Pranjal asked his own question. “Who are you exactly?”
Mahesh thought about the question very seriously before settling on, “I am a guide.”
His answer surprised Pranjal because he had expected Dr. Mahesh to say that he was a friend, who was only trying to help him through a difficult time. So he asked, “What do you do?”
Mahesh smiled. “Listen to you if you will share your thoughts and talk to you if you will listen to mine.”
A slow smile spread across Pranjal’s face. There were very few people he liked and he was happy to acknowledge he liked Mahesh. “What are you thinking now?”
Mahesh sat down behind his desk and smiled again. The boy was very sharp. This would be very interesting. He said, “Well it’s four so I’m tired…I am thinking about tea, biscuits and looking forward to a warm bath. What are you thinking about?”
Pranjal nodded his head several times before answering, “I am thinking that this is all a waste of time. And I am also thinking about what my friend, Nikhil, had said two days back.”
“Why do you think this is a waste of time?”
“I am not ill. I just have a concentration problem,” said Pranjal cheerfully.
“What do you like to do in your free time, besides dreaming,” said Dr. Mahesh. He wasn’t making fun of the boy but merely teasing him.
“I watch television but other than that, nothing.”
“Nothing? Don’t you get bored?” asked Mahesh seriously.
Pranjal shrugged his shoulders. “I have my private world,” said he, winking at Mahesh.
“Tell me about your parents,” asked Mahesh, dropping the subject of Pranjal not having any hobby besides ‘dreaming.’
“I…they are really nice people. I know they are concerned about me and frustrated because they cannot help me. They have always been reasonable with their rules and expectations. In fact, they are the perfect parents I could have asked for.”
Mahesh, as a rule did not make written notes during a session. Not for fear of them being misused but most of his patients were teenagers and they did not like it. It was as if they were back in school where they were being given marks depending on what they said. Mahesh did however make a mental note of how Pranjal spoke of his parents; like they were strangers.
At the end of their session, Mahesh went towards the wall on his left which was full of books from the roof to the floor. He selected ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ from his collection. Pranjal would surely appreciate a book about wizards, witches and Hogwarts. “Here,” he said, handing the book to Pranjal. “I want you to read at least five chapters of this book and when you come next week, we’ll discuss it. Okay?”
Ten sessions later
“Dr. Mahesh, we cannot thank you enough,” said Mrs. Negi, dabbing her eyes with a pristine handkerchief. “We have seen tremendous improvement in him. For the first time, he is showing interest in something. You have given him a passion…reading.”
“We won’t need your assistance anymore,” said Mr. Negi confidently.
Mahesh had been nodding his head absent-mindedly but at Mr. Negi’s comment, his head snapped. He said hurriedly, “Mr. Negi, I have only diverted the problem, I still don’t know the underlying cause for his listless behaviour towards life.”
Mrs. Negi though wasn’t being biased. Pranjal had definitely improved. There was an animation on his face that hadn’t been there ten weeks before. He took interest in the things surrounding him and it was easier to hold a conversation with him. Yet Mahesh was sure he hadn’t uprooted the problem which had triggered Pranjal’s behaviour. How could he explain all this to his parents convincingly?
“Can I ask you a question before we end today’s session?” he asked out of courtesy. He could guess why Pranjal treated his parents in that detached way of his but he needed to be sure.
When they nodded their assent, Mahesh asked, “Is Pranjal adopted?” There was no delicate way of asking this so he didn’t try to skirt around it.
He didn’t need a verbal confirmation. The expression on their faces was all the confirmation he needed. It still did not explain why he spoke about them the way he did. “How old was he when he was adopted?”
“He was 7 years old. He knows that he is adopted. We didn’t tell you because we didn’t think it was relevant,” said Mr. Negi apologetically.
“Did something happen while you were adopting him? Was he close to anyone in the orphanage?”
“Why are you asking us these questions?” Mrs. Negi had tears in her eyes again. She couldn’t understand why this was happening to her son. Pranjal was a wonderful boy and except for this little issue; he had never given them any cause of trouble.
“Please understand…I’m only trying to help your son. Pranjal has a recurring theme in these ‘dreams’ that he has. I have a theory that they may be related to someone from his orphanage.”
“We aren’t aware of any such incident which stands out,” said Mr. Negi getting up, thus putting an end to the session and the discussion. He shook Mahesh’s hand, thanked him again for all his help and escorted his wife out.
“Hi Mahesh,” said Pranjal cheerfully. He sat down on a chair opposite Mahesh’s table and looked around him. His parents had told him it was his last session. While he was relieved, he was also sad at the thought of never meeting his friend again.
“Hi Pranjal,” said Mahesh. “Today is our last session so I thought we would do something different. He pointed at a red comfortable chair kept in one corner of the room and told Pranjal to sit on that.
He took a stool and sat down near him. “Okay Pranjal are you comfortable?” He waited for Pranjal to say yes. “I want you to take a deep breath, relax and close your eyes. I am right here Pranjal so you don’t have to be scared.”
Pranjal opened his eyes and said, “I’m not scared Mahesh.”
“Yes,” smiled Mahesh. “Okay let’s do this again. Close your eyes, relax and take three deep breaths.”
This time, with his eyes closed, Pranjal said, “Are you trying to put me off to sleep?”
“Pranjal don’t ask questions just yet. I’ll answer them when we are done.” Mahesh waited to see if Pranjal would say anything but he didn’t. Mahesh continued, “I want you to concentrate on your breathing.”
After a minute, Mahesh asked Pranjal in a quiet voice, “What do you see?”
Pranjal started to say he didn’t see anything but then he stopped…
They had been searching for her everywhere. He didn’t want her to get into trouble so he waited till everyone was busy checking the rooms on the second floor.
He raced up the stairs and opened the door that led to the terrace. He stepped forward and was shocked to see that he was a lot closer to the ground than he was used to. He couldn’t worry about his small size right now…he had to find her.
He started from one corner of the terrace, making his way to the other end. He found her near the water tank, sobbing. He went and sat down next to her.
She said, rather dramatically, “I am dying.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“No I swear Pranjal, I am dying. I heard them talking about it when they thought I was sleeping.”
“Fi, nothing is going to happen to you. Somebody will adopt you and you will have a wonderful life.”
“How do you know that?” asked she, still sounding heartbroken.
“Fi, you are smart, you are pretty and you have the softest hair I have ever touched. Any couple will be lucky to adopt you. Don’t worry; nothing will happen to you…I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Pranjal sat up straight; his solemn promise to Fiona still reverberating in his ears. He said after a while, “But she didn’t…what she had overheard was right…she died two weeks after our conversation on the terrace.”