Megna was excited. She was going on a picnic with her cousins the next day.
Ten year old Megna was obsessed with everything foreign. Lately, she had become conceited too. She had little regard for Indian culture. Her mother had often tried to knock some sense into her but to no avail.
The next day Megna settled for a pair of white shorts and a deep red T-shirt. She wore a tea-colored straw hat.
She walked to Lakdi ka pool where she would meet her cousins.
"Hi, Amit, Sneha and Nikhil!" she cried as she strode over to the Peepul tree under which they stood.
"Boy! You are wearing a nice outfit!" cried Sneha.
Megna blushed. "Thanks," she muttered sarcastically. She wore such simple clothes and yet how her cousins reacted! "Where's Aunt Nita?" she asked abruptly changing the subject.
'Oh, she's probably stopped outside a tea shop to get some tea leaves and coconuts," said Amit.
"Poof!" Megna spat out in disgust. "I hate tea leaves and coconuts!"
Sneha, Amit and Nikhil were Aunt Nita's Children. Megna was an only child. She was pampered.
"Oh, there's mummy!" squeaked Sneha. Soon they were off to the picnic spot.
"Aren't we going to the Jamburee hill?" said Nikhil.
"Of course,' said Megna. "Don't you know, Hyderabad is a hillside place?"
"I'm not such a simpleton as you think!" began Nikhil crossly.
"I don't!" snapped Megna.
"There, there, don't you start squabbling!" said Aunt Nita stepping on the brake. "If you do, we go home."
They were at Jamburee hills at last. The picnic party chose a fine shady spot. Sneha and Megna set out the snacks and spread a sheet.
Nikhil began watching birds through his binoculars.
"Look!" Megna was excited. "Foreigners! I think they must be Americans!" she said to Sneha.
"So?" Sneha hardly bothered. "Nothing great. They too are human begins like us." Megna went red.
"I just told you," she murmured. But all the same she was excited. A tall woman of six feet two and a blond-haired man, led three children-two girls and a boy.
Aunt Nita had dozed off, a magazine in her hand. Amit and Nikhil had gone to bathe in the stream. Megna strolled over to the Americans.
"Hi! She said casually to one of the taller blond-haired girls. "What is your name?"
"Mine?" asked the girl with aquamarine blue eyes good-naturedly.
"Suzanne Whitman." The girl had a strong American accent. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a sleeveless light rose T-shirt. The other people from the American family had stopped in surprise.
"What made you-er-l mean are you bored or anything?" asked Suzanne abruptly.
"Yeah!" said Megna. "My brothers have gone to wade in the pond. My Aunt is snoozing and my little sister is taking wild shots in her camera."
Suzanne introduced her family. "My brother is Charlie Whitman - he's twelve, my sister, Fanny Whitman's about six and I'm about ten. And these are my parents." The woman smiled slightly and the man nodded emphatically.
"What don't you all go and chat amongst yourselves?" called out Mr. Whitman settling down on the grass and opening a book.
"Hallo," said Charlie and Fanny, smiling suspiciously.
"Did you come to India for a holiday?" asked Megna as they walked towards the stream.
"Yeah," said Charlie. "We're from South Brazil. We came here to meet our Indian relatives and for sight seeing too." The Americans spoke the language very quickly with a drawl. It was quite difficult for Megna to understand. The four children rested under a Peepul tree.
"How do you find India?" asked Megna impulsively.
"Aw! India is a pretty interesting place, I think!" said Charlie biting into a pink flavoured hamburger.
"Yep. I always liked tradition since I was small," said Suzanne. "I've been all over South India and I've tasted Indian food. The dances and Indian music are quite exotic. Besides Indian culture is quite rich and different from other cultures."
"Yeah," cut in Fanny. "I find it a - a kind of intellectually wealthy, but conservative country."
"I am learning Indian dance too, for the past one week,' said Suzanne.
"I've heard that there are a number of languages. All the languages, food, clothes, dances, music and culture are quite unique and meaningful and have been passed down the generations without much changes. It is amazing! There is so much warmth in family relationships. Indian families are bound by love and affection. We are surprised to see how you celebrate various festivals with such enthusiasm and unity. One doesn't get to see this kind of interaction in our country."
Megna had gone red. "My!" she thought. "I've never followed Indian culture. Here are some American children praising out country." She was ashamed. "I shouldn't have asked that question," she thought guiltily.
"And the dance school I go to is excellent," Suzanne was saying, "The teachers there..."
"Which city do you live in?" Megna changed the subject. She had heard enough of the American's praises for India. "We live in Venezuela," said Fanny.
"Oh, Venezuela? I've seen the Caracas mountains in Venezuela when I went there for sight seeing," said Megna.
"You did?" queried Suzanne in surprise.
"Yeah, it's a nice place," said Megna. "Why don't you come over and have snacks with us?" They headed for the place where Megna's people sat.
Megna introduced each of her friends to her cousins and Aunt Nita. At half past six, Aunt Nita glanced at her watch. "We must go home," she said, forcing a smile. "We'll exchange phone numbers and meet you later," she added. "Nice meeting you."
"Oh - same to you and thanks," drawled Charlie with a prominent American accent. "We'll tell our parents."
As Megna, Aunt Nita and her cousins walked to their car, Megna was very quiet.
"What's the matter?" asked Amit to Megna. "Why so quiet?"
"Er - nothing. Those Americans told me all they liked about India, while I, despite being an Indian, never understood the value of our culture." All of them laughed aloud.
"That will teach you to follow our culture and stop behaving like an alien," said Aunt Nita.
It will perhaps. Megna had learnt to respect India. She would gradually stop being arrogant, won't she?