Bhuvan’s parents had just moved to Chikmagalur from Bangalore. They had been waiting for a long time to get away from the pollution, noise, traffic and fast paced life. They thought Bhuvan being only six years old would adjust with ease to life in a small town. But Bhuvan was far from pleased. He didn’t like the children in his school from the first day. His friends in Bangalore had been so smart. Here everybody wore unsmart clothes, spoke in Kannada and carried curd rice to school. He decided that he wasn’t going to like this place at all.
Bhuvan looked so unapproachable that no child dared to come and talk to him. As a result even after a week in the new school, he had no friends. Bhuvan was not used to games. He couldn’t run as fast as the others in his class. He did not know how to ride a bicycle. Madhav could even ride an adult cycle. All this made Bhuvan hate the place even more.
Bhuvan had made himself quite unpopular with his behaviour. The other children in his class had a good time laughing at him. Some children were jealous of his expensive things and would taunt him because he wouldn’t share anything.
Bhuvan was quite miserable. He wanted to teach them all a lesson. One evening at home, he was crying and talking to himself. “I wish I was smarter than everybody else in my class. I wish I could recite any poem in the world and count up to a thousand without stopping. I wish I could run faster than everybody else. I wish I could ride a bicycle. I wish.. I wish…,” he said wringing his hands in despair. As he said ‘I wish’ for the second time, he got a faint fragrance in the room and there was a strange glow on his study table. As Bhuvan went closer he saw a small man, attired like a king. The man was an adult, but only six inches tall. He was wearing a gold crown and a lot of jewelry. His face was handsome but had a sense of arrogance. “Hello Bhuvan,” he said, “I am the Gandharva of 5 ½ competitive wishes. I help anybody who wishes to be better than everybody else and makes 5 ½ wishes at a time.” Bhuvan was wonderstruck. He rubbed his eyes and pinched himself. The Gandharva was for real. Bhuvan noticed that the Gandharva had 5 ½ fingers. " You want to outsmart everybody, don’t you. It will happen,” said the Gandharva with a gleam on his face.
Bhuvan was thrilled and was unable to get much sleep that night. He was excited and anxious about the next day.
The next morning in school, they had a lesson on mosquitoes. There was a small exercise where a child had to pretend to be a mosquito and another had to chase it with a flit pump. Bhuvan suddenly found himself saying, “It is incorrect to use chloroflorocarbons because they create a hole in the ozone layer and cause global warming.” Mrs. Acharya stopped short in her tracks and glared at him. She just did not know how to respond. “Well, what else can we use,” she asked dryly. “Neem based pesticides, citronella oil and fumigated marigold petals are organic and effective,” said a puzzled Bhuvan, who could neither believe nor understand what he was saying. Some of the children started giggling. “Somebody has been teaching you to be extra smart. Maybe the principal can reverse the process,” she said sternly. “Why should anybody teach me anything? I am pretty informed myself,” said Bhuvan, by now fervently wishing that the Gandharva would stop working his magic.
Mrs. Acharya dragged Bhuvan to the principal’s room. She was flustered because she had not dealt with anything like this before. She explained the situation to Mrs. Hegde, the principal. “Yes Bhuvan,” she said kindly, “You seem to know a lot more than you should at your age. What all do you know?” “I know the inner workings of an atom and I believe I can unlock the secrets of the universe,” said Bhuvan wishing he could disappear.
Mrs. Hegde almost fainted. She was too puzzled by Bhuvan’s behaviour. It seemed unreal and nobody knew how to deal with it.
The whole school was agog with jokes of Bhuvan’s wisdom. “What do you think Bhuvan is up to now, complex geometry or Shakespeare?” “Maybe he is computing the volume of his bath tub.”
Bhuvan was miserable that the Gandharva had betrayed him thus. He wanted to be normal once again. His teachers had dismissed his talents and his classmates called him an idiot because his intellectual conversations were beyond them.
He decided that he would invoke the Gandharva again and fight with him. He started wishing once again, " Oh I wish people wouldn’t shun me. I want to be one of them. I wish they would share their lunch with me. I really don’t want to be the best. I really wish to be a normal loving little boy. I wish, I wish….” Bhuvan paused waiting for the Gandharva to reappear. There was an orange light and as Bhuvan prepared himself to fight with him, he realised that the little being in the room was not the same.
It was a woman with the same face as the Gandharva, but a kind expression. She was dressed in simple clothes and had no jewels on. She had 5 ½ graceful, slender fingers. “I am an Apsara, twin sister of the Gandharva of 5 ½ wishes. I know and understand what you feel. Do not worry. Trust me and I’ll make sure your wishes are fulfilled.” “OK,” said Bhuvan as though it was all happening in a dream. After the experience with the Gandharva, his head told him not to trust anyone anymore but his heart felt that the Apsara wouldn’t let him down.
The next day there was a painting contest in school. Bhuvan was exceptional at painting and everyone accepted that. He had a new set of oil paints that his father had bought for him. He was all set to win and he knew that he would win it with ease.
But by the time he reached school, his excitement started waning. If he participated and won, it would only be reinforcing what happened the previous day. People would perceive him as wanting to be one up on everybody else. He already knew he was the best. Maybe if he allowed the others to win, he could win their approval back.
Once in class, he found himself, going up to Mrs. Acharya and saying, “Ma’am, I would like to withdraw my name from today’s contest”. “Why Bhuvan,” she asked suspiciously. “I am not feeling too well,’’ he said. “But you’ve got a new set of paints,’ she said. “Yes, I brought them for Akshat,” said Bhuvan feeling dismayed. Akshat was the most jealous of his drawing skills. To think that the Apsara would make him give his brand new paints to Akshat! Akshat was thrilled at first but did not take the paints because he was sure that Bhuvan would have some tricks up his sleeve. So the paints were kept as a common resource for any child who ran out of paint. Akshat won the contest and Bhuvan went and congratulated him. All the children were puzzled and were watching Bhuvan closely.
Around lunch time when Bhuvan opened his lunch box, he found the pineapple cake that his mother had baked for him missing. To his surprise he saw Sowmya eating it. “Thanks Bhuvan,” she said, “Your mother is really a wonderful cook.” Bhuvan did not feel bad about not eating the cake.
He found Aditya and Rishi walking hesitatingly towards him. “You put your tattoos in our pencil box, didn’t you?” they asked. “Oh no! The Apsara had given away the tattoos as well,” thought Bhuvan. However he said, “I knew you would like them.”
“Why don’t you play with us?” said Rishi. Bhuvan ventured hesitatingly. Would he be able to run as fast? All the other children were very encouraging. Within 2 minutes he was very much a part of their gang, squealing with laughter. Who cared about tattoos and expensive pencil boxes any more.
That night he tried to call the Apsara once again. She did not appear. But she did come in his dreams. “I have shown you how to be friends with others. Now you should be able to make friends on your own. Just remember, it is important to try to be the best. But it is more important to share and co operate than to outsmart.” “Have I not understood that already,” Bhuvan thought as he smiled in his dreams.