Day 15 -Book That I Read For School

30 Days Book Challenge – Day 15 –Book Story That I Read For School

We had various books like Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, Malgudi Days etc. But No! I am not talking about a ‘book’ here. It is a short story that we had in our English, CBSE Main Course Book. It was a set of 9 letters to be precise.

Dear Pen Pal by A. E. Van Vogt

There are a very few stories from school books in my mind. And this one is the most intriguing. Let me repeat. This one IS the most intriguing.

When I say short story, do not expect descriptions, narrations or conversations. This one is more of a monologue. It is a series of letters addressed ‘Dear Pen Pal’ and signed ‘Skander’. The Pen Pal being a human child and Skander being an alien from the planet Aurigae II.

Image courtesy:

We learn the contents of the child’s letter from the reply that Skander gives in his letters.

Why do I remember this? Trust me! You don’t want me to tell you why. You can unveil it for yourself and if you like it as much as I do, you’ll never forget it. If this post has piqued your interest, and you want to read the story, you just got lucky.

DEAR Pen Pal: When I first received your letter from the interstellar correspondence club, my impulse was to ignore it. The mood of one who has spent the last seventy planetary periods–years I suppose you would call them–in an Aurigaen prison, does not make for a pleasant exchange of letters. However, life is very boring, and so I finally settled myself to the task of writing you. Your description of Earth sounds exciting. I would like to live there for a while, and I have a suggestion in this connection, but I won’t mention it till I have developed it further. You will have noticed the material on which this letter is written. It is a highly sensitive metal, very thin, very flexible, and I have enclosed several sheets of it for your use. Tungsten dipped in any strong acid makes an excellent mark on it. It is important to me that you do write on it, as my fingers are too hot–literally–to hold your paper without damaging it. I’ll say no more just now. It is possible you will not care to correspond with a convicted criminal, and therefore I shall leave the next move up to you. Thank you for your letter. Though you did not know its destination, it brought a moment of cheer into my drab life.
Dear Pen Pal: Your prompt reply to my letter made me happy. I am sorry your doctor thought it excited you too much, and sorry, also, if I have described my predicament in such a way as to make you feel badly. I welcome your many questions, and I shall try to answer them all. You say the international correspondence club has no record of having sent any letters to Aurigae. That, according to them, the temperature on the second planet of the Aurigae sun is more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit. And that life is not known to exist there. Your club is right about the temperature and the letters. We have what your people would call a hot climate, but then we are not a hydrocarbon form of life, and find 500 degrees very pleasant. I must apologize for deceiving you about the way your first letter was sent to me. I didn’t want to frighten you away by telling you too much at once. After all, I could not be expected to know that you would be enthusiastic to hear from me. The truth is that I am a scientist, and, along with the other members of my race, I have known for some centuries that there were other inhabited systems in the galaxy. Since I am allowed to experiment in my spare hours, I amused myself in attempts at communication. I developed several simple systems for breaking in on galactic communication operations, but it was not until I developed a subspacewave control that I was able to draw your letter (along with several others, which I did not answer) into a cold chamber. I use the cold chamber as both sending and receiving center, and since you were kind enough to use the material which I sent you, it was easy for me to locate your second letter among the mass of mail that accumulated at the nearest headquarters of the interstellar correspondence club. How did I learn your language? After all, it is a simple one, particularly the written language seems easy. I had no difficulty with it. If you are still interested in writing me, I shall be happy to continue the correspondence.
Dear Pen Pal: Your enthusiasm is refreshing. You say that I failed to answer your question about how I expected to visit Earth. I confess I deliberately ignored the question, as my experi-ment had not yet proceeded far enough. I want you to bear with me a short time longer, and then I will be able to give you the details. You are right in saying that it would be difficult for a being who lives at a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit to mingle freely with the people of Earth. This was never my intention, so please relieve your mind. How-ever, let us drop that subject for the time being. I appreciate the delicate way in which you approach the subject of my imprisonment. But it is quite unnecessary. I performed forbidden experiments upon my body in a way that was deemed to be dangerous to the public welfare. For instance, among other things, I once lowered my surface temperature to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and so shortened the radioactive cycle-time of my surroundings. This caused an unexpected break in the normal person to person energy flow in the city where I lived, and so charges were laid against me. I have thirty more years to serve. It would be pleasant to leave my body behind and tour the universe–but as I said I’ll discuss that later. I wouldn’t say that we’re a superior race. We have certain qualities which apparently “your people do not have. We live longer, not because of any discoveries we’ve made about ourselves, but because our bodies are built of a more enduring element–I don’t know your name for it, but the atomic weight is 52.9 #. Our scientific discoveries are of the kind that would normally be made by a race with our kind of physical structure. The fact that we can work with temperatures of as high as–I don’t know just how to put that–has been very helpful in the development of the sub-space energies which are extremely hot, and require delicate adjustments. In the later stages these adjustments can be made by machinery, but in the development the work must be done by “hand”–I put that word in quotes, because we have no hands in the same way that you have. I am enclosing a photographic plate, properly cooled and chemicalized for your climate. I wonder if you would set it up and take a picture of yourself. All you have to do is arrange it properly on the basis of the laws of light–that is, light travels in straight lines, so stand in front of it–and when you are ready think “Ready!” The picture will be automatically taken. Would you do this for me? If you are interested, I will also send you a picture of myself, though I must warn you. My appearance will probably shock you.
Sincerely, Skander
Dear Pen Pal: Just a brief note in answer to your question. It is not necessary to put the plate into a camera. You describe this as a dark box. The plate will take the picture when you think, “Ready!” I assure you it will be flooded with light.
Dear Pen Pal: You say that while you were waiting for the answer to my last letter you showed the photographic plate to one of the doctors at the hospital–I cannot picture what you mean by doctor or hospital, but let that pass–and he took the problem up with government authorities. Problem? I don’t understand. I thought we were having a pleasant corres-pondence, private and personal. I shall certainly appreciate your sending that picture of yourself.
Dear Pen Pal: I assure you I am not annoyed at your action. It merely puzzled me, and I am sorry the plate has not been returned to you. Knowing what governments are, I can imagine that it will not be returned to you for some time, so I am taking the liberty of inclosing another plate. I cannot imagine why you should have been warned against continuing this correspondence. What do they expect me to do?–eat you up at long distance? I’m sorry but I don’t like hydrogen in my diet. In any event, I would like your picture as a memento of our friendship, and I will send mine as soon as I have re-ceived yours. You may keep it or throw it away, or give it to your governmental authorities–but at least I will have the knowledge that I’ve given a fair exchange. With all best wishes
Dear Pen Pal: Your last letter was so slow in coming that I thought you had decided to break off the correspondence. I was sorry to notice that you failed to enclose the photograph, puzzled by your reference to having a relapse, and cheered by your statement that you would send it along as soon as you felt better–whatever that means. However, the important thing is that you did write, and I respect the philosophy of your club which asks its members not to write of pessimistic matters. We all have our own problems which we regard as overshadowing the problems of others. Here I am in prison, doomed to spend the next 30 years tucked away from the main stream of life. Even the thought is hard on my restless spirit, though I know I have a long life ahead of me after my release. In spite of your friendly letter, I won’t feel that you have completely re-established contact with me until you send the photograph. Yours in expectation Skander
Dear Pen Pal: The photograph arrived. As you suggest, your appearance startled me. From your description I thought I had mentally reconstructed your body. It just goes to show that words cannot really describe an object which has never been seen. You’ll notice that I’ve enclosed a photograph of myself, as I promised I would. Chunky, metallic looking chap, am I not, very different, I’ll wager, than you expected? The various races with whom we have communicated become wary of us when they discover we are highly radioactive, and that literally we are a radioactive form of life, the only such (that we know of) in the universe. It’s been very trying to be so isolated and, as you know, I have occasionally mentioned that I had hopes of escaping not only the deadly imprison-ment to which I am being subjected but also the body which cannot escape. Perhaps you’ll be interested in hearing how far this idea has developed. The problem involved is one of exchange of personalities with someone else. Actually, it is not really an exchange in the accepted meaning of the word. It is necessary to get an impress of both individuals, of their mind and of their thoughts as well as their bodies. Since this phase is purely mechanical, it is simply a matter of taking complete photographs and of exchanging them. By complete I mean of course every vibration must be registered. The next step is to make sure the two photographs are exchanged, that is, that each party has somewhere near him a complete photograph of the other. (It is already too late, Pen Pal. I have set in motion the sub-space energy interflow between the two plates, so you might as well read on.) As I have said it is not exactly an exchange of personalities. The original personality in each individual is suppressed, literally pushed back out of the consciousness, and the image personality from the “photographic” plate replaces it. You will take with you a complete memory of your life on Earth, and I will take along memory of my life on Aurigae. Simultaneously, the memory of the receiving body will be blurrily at our disposal. A part of us will always be pushing up, striving to regain consciousness, but always lacking the strength to succeed. As soon as I grow tired of Earth, I will exchange bodies in the same way with a member of some other race. Thirty years hence, I will be happy to reclaim my body, and you can then have whatever body I last happened to occupy. This should be a very happy arrangement for us both. You, with your short life expectancy, will have out-lived all your contemporaries and will have had an interesting experience. I admit I expect to have the better of the ex-change–but now, enough of explanation. By the time you reach this part of the letter it will be me reading it, not you. But if any part of you is still aware, so long for now, Pen Pal. It’s been nice having all those letters from you. I shall write you from time to time to let you know how things are going with my tour.
Dear Pen Pal: Thanks a lot for forcing the issue. For a long time I hesitated about letting you play such a trick on yourself. You see, the government scientists analyzed the nature of that first photographic plate you sent me, and so the final decision was really up to me. I decided that anyone as eager as you were to put one over should be allowed to succeed. Now I know I didn’t have to feel sorry for you. Your plan to conquer Earth wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, but the fact that you had the idea ends the need for sympathy. By this time you will have realized for yourself that a man who has been paralyzed since birth, and is subject to heart attacks, cannot expect a long life span. I am happy to tell you that your once lonely pen pal is enjoying himself, and I am happy to sign myself with a name to which I expect to become accustomed. With best wishes Skander

It is from a compilation of Van Vogt’s stories. Do let me know your feedback on my recommendation. 😀 😀

The ‘teacher’ element.

‘Good girl! It’s the right answer & you get an ice cream’, ‘here is a star for you’, saying so she draws all these things on the black board.

‘Are you becoming like me because I was you first teacher?’ she asked after around ten years.

‘Remember, always have few friends but close ones. Most importantly make sure you have a girl as your closest friend.
Do you have one?’
 ‘Yes I do.’
 ‘Are you sure? Good. Don’t ever let her go’
this conversation was around eighteen years after she drew stars and ice creams on the board for me. She was my first class teacher. And one of the best. Today is for her.

‘Who is the best student in this class?’ a kid asked
It was lunch time, ‘You all are.’
‘No tell us one name Miss’ the class chorused.
‘You guess, I’ll say if you are right.’
A chorus of names irrupted for which  she kept shaking her head in the negative.
After almost all the names were called out, from a corner of the class a name caught her ear & she pointed at the kid who had said the name & nodded meaning he was right. The class quietened at first followed by so many ‘who?’s when she pointed at a little girl among the kids. The girl never forgot the day or the moment and even after seventeen years, she marks the day with a star & a smile.
That teacher had left a mark in her heart. Probably an ice cream or a butterfly that always stayed. She was my second class teacher.

No other person can make an impact in a child’s mind as much as a teacher can. A ‘good girl’ or ‘the best student’, a pat on the cheek, a smile, any appreciation or occasional reference in the class make a lot of difference to kids & we cherish these little things. Such is the power of a teacher.

Six years after I left my school, I returned for the annual day and came face to face with another teacher. She was short, fair with big round eyes and the same old cute smile as I had known her. She had a huge bundle of costumes in her hand and was evidently in a hurry. She stood there wide eyed with the familiar warm and welcoming smile saying my name over and over again, fretting with the things in hand, not knowing how to take the surprise. She was absolutely speechless, if not for the costumes she would have probably hugged me. My same old first grade class teacher.

There was a sixth grade math teacher who promised a chocolate for the student who answered her question right. Just one student got it right & only she knows the value of that chocolate, while others know the price.

My ninth grade teacher said, ‘She was my faaaavorite student’, extending the ‘faay’ in a sing-song way. Even the tone she used, I treasure. I tasted those words & repeated them over & over again & after my nth repetition my sister said, ‘It’s the same dialogue teachers say to every ex student.’ I considered it. It didn’t dampen my spirits. Those words meant too much to even consider whether they were true.

Last but the best is the teacher who has been with me since my birth till today. She taught me how to talk, walk, pray, play, smile, laugh, color, sing, dance, count, read a book, read a clock, to love and just to be there. My grandmom. My firstest & forever teacher. This day & every single day of my life belongs to her.


What is that extra element that God used to make teachers? ♥

Days of innocence…

As I was cleaning my room today, I came across some of the old artifacts hidden away in a bag lost in the corner of a cupboard. It’s like archaeologists unearthing historical stuff. There were some coins – 5 paisa [the square ones], 10 paisa [the round cornered ones whose ends are like that of arrowroot biscuits  :P], 20 paisa pentagons, a broken ring, a piece of paper on which a coin`s shape was shaded. During those days these were called the ‘extra-ordinary things’ that gave us so much happiness;


When I looked at the imprint of the coin that I had shaded on to the paper, the happiness I used to feel was as though the coin itself was my creation 😛

In UKG or 1st std, we used to have painting classes where we used to paint fishes with finger prints, make flower prints by cutting ladies finger (Vegetable) horizontally and dipping it in paint & making the print on paper. Simple yet beautiful.

If we had 1 Re while returning home after school, sip-ups where the first priority – for thirst and for chilling out with friends  😀 (I liked red one the most)

Gold Spot was the orange flavored aerated drink –The famous one! (I always drank that whenever I had food from the Restaurant)


At school, Miss (Our class teacher) used to ask questions and for every right answer, she used to draw an ice cream or a butterfly or a star or any such cute shapes on the black board for the kid. And the kid used sit like he/she was a Nobel Prize winner 😛 (I was always one)

Being the ‘Class Leader’ and having the badge was like being the King. And of course ‘Asst. class leader’ meant being the minister :P. (I’ve been more of the ‘King’ and was a pretty good ruler too).

After games in the neighborhood, we had stories to narrate the way warriors narrated about the old battles. Stories of how we single-handedly or our team bravely won the match. (I had a similar story- Not of winning any match but of our kids’ gang bravely battling with a scorpion and killing it! I remember every single detail till today. But don’t understand why I claimed the scorpion to be pink in color :O)

A’ very good’,’ good’ and specially a red star in our books brought a broad smile to my face [Also words like neat, keep it up etc]. That’s when I felt that the red ink was so beautiful. Hang on! Some teachers used to even draw a smiling face ,sometimes with earrings :P.

Collecting those red seeds we call manjaadi kuru  was a favourite past time in those days. At school when it was the season we used to pick up those seeds and all used to be jealous of the one who had maximum.

Loved touching the green leaves of Mimosa Pudica plant [or thottavadi in Malayalam]. Loved the way they drooped down or fainted at my touch. It was another favorite pastime while walking home. And also collecting cat’s tail plant, appoopanthadi or grandfather’s beard etc.

It was exciting to keep the tooth, which came off, under the pillow and believe that the tooth fairy would come to grant boons.

Doordarshan was the only channel and all the shows were by-heart for me. Chitrahar and Rangoli were the main music shows. Sunday 4PM meant the prime movie time when all at home joined before the television.

Tele-tubbies, He-Man, Ala uddin & his magic lamp, Alif laila, The Jungle book were the best shows among kids. And serials like Om Namah Shivaya, Jai Hanuman and Sree Krishna enlightened the kids about the epics.


Santa Claus wasn’t an illusion. He was real and I believed for a long time that one Christmas he’d definitely come, or that he isn’t coming to my home coz we didn’t have chimney.

Birthdays were really my day. I was treated like The princess – Color dress to school, distributing toffees, extra attention, all singing for me- it also was a day to let my ‘best friend’ know that she was special coz she got extra toffees from me.

Those days all we needed was a toffee, a toy – a gun or a teddy, a paper, a pencil, drawing book, colors, stories, people to play with – be it dad, grandparents or kids from neighborhood etc. Sun could be painted blue and rivers could be painted yellow and still your paintings were the best for your parents.

Being loved meant the morning wake up kisses of mother, little loving punches from father and stories from grandparents. Tears meant skinned knees and broken pencils. Fights meant the boy next bench who pulled a plait 😡 or the girl who snatched my toffee.

And the biggest illusion was; there was only truth everywhere. Coz Gods and Angels were supposed to be really watching us and punished anyone who spoke lies. Irony being, Gods and Angels are still watching but as we grew we realized that truth is something seldom heard of.

Smile – The joy of Christmas

By chance, I was just outdoors when our apartment’s ‘president’ was walking down with a huge star in hand and few deco-things. As I followed her, I saw the tiny Christmas tree placed on the sunshade in par with the first floor. It was Christmas again!

This was my favorite festival, for the city turns happy by the end of November.  The crowded streets, the Christmas shopping, the santa claus and stars in front of every shop, the celebration, the joy, and something more! I can’t describe the feeling I get as November wanes to December. It’s simply The joy of Christmas.

A couple of years back, December was tiresome since it used to be our Sports meet season at college. The major and hectic practices used to go on then. Yet, we managed to find time to keep up with the Chris-mom Chris-child game every year if not with our studies ;). The little pranks that were in store for the month brought with them the joy of the season.

A few more years back in school, Christmas was the day for wearing ‘colour dresses’, taking snaps, playing Christmas-friend in groups, giving and getting lots of gifts which also showed how many friends you had and your popularity. Most importantly, it was the time for holidays.

Teenage had made life a bit sophisticated, egoistic, self-conscious, trend-conscious and many more adjectives could be added. Too many for that matter. What I cherish the most was the Christmas years before that. Maybe when I was in my Kindergarten.

Mom and Dad used to buy me a pretty frock. I wasn’t conscious at all then about anything in life- Dress was the last thing that bothered me. Ofcourse! The thought of wearing a color dress to school was exciting. The night before celebrations, I’d spread the frock over the bed neatly, keep all the accessories ready and would hardly get any sleep thinking about the next day. I used to take occasional peeks endearing looks at my frock! 😉

At school, teachers would appreciate our dresses, we would play games- Biting the bun, Catch the tail were a few from the many. We would decorate the classroom, the Christmas tree and then there would be a class photo with the teacher in the center while all of us would be struggling to be the ones near her 🙂 Santa Claus would come and the noisy class would all of a sudden become silent which would end in a new wave of laughter, noise, happiness and ofcourse jingle bells! Sure enough, as the Santa leaves the class, every tiny hand will be holding a gift and few toffees. This made our Christmas Merry!

Two days ago, as I climbed up the sunshade and began decorating the tree, I found that little child in me enjoying the feel of every shiny ball she hung on the tree, the look of every little stars and the illuminations around the tree. My little four-year-old neighbor was watching me from the ground floor. I could see the smile in his face and the child in me experienced the joy he experienced.

If we had asked him why he was smiling, he would simply say that the decorations, the shiny balls and the beautiful stars made him smile. But no one can ever put into words the reason for that smile. It’s the joy of christmas!

At night I showed mom the christmas tree and said for an nth time, “Mom! That is the Christmas tree I decorated today. How is it?” And my mom answered for an nth time, “It’s beautiful!” And, lo and behold!  The joy of Christmas! I smiled 🙂

Feel it! Smile when you see the stars in front of every home.  Smile looking at the Christmas trees. And smile at the Santa Claus and experience the joy of Christmas.