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They were horses, but to Akankhsha, they were her friends. One particular big black horse was called Black Music and the two appeared to actually hear some music unheard by others.
“Hi, Amma!” said 8-year-old Akankhsha as she bounced into her mother’s bedroom. “Hi, Molu” said Arunima, a tad absently as she worked on her PPT presentation for the next day’s UG class.
“I want to learn riding, Ma” was the next announcement. Now Arunima sat up straighter. She was used to her daughter’s sometimes startling statements by now. Last week she’d announced that she had decided to become a Rockstar singer alongside being a doctor. Anyway, she always took her daughter’s wishes likes and dislikes pretty seriously. “We’ll think about it.” she said.
That night at the dinner table (the family always had dinner together, however late it would get for one of them), Arunima told Rakesh “You know, today’s highlight is Akankhsha’s new dream, she wants to learn riding.” “Oh! That’s pretty interesting,” was her husband’s response. “Really, Akankhsha?” piped up Aditya, her son. “Good for you,” he added. “Riding never fascinated me.”
Rakesh, an active sportsperson even at the age of 45, took a keen interest in his daughter’s new sport. That weekend the family went to the local riding club run by the Army. Akankhsha was thrilled. She went to see the horses in their stables. She was taken up with one of them who decided to nuzzle her neck.
Arunima was not as enamored. She was actually a bit scared of these big, strong animals and wondered how her daughter, a mere slip of a girl, could handle them. However, she decided to take the leap of faith along with her husband and daughter. Classes would be thrice a week, starting the next Monday.
The parents would diligently take her for the classes as it seemed to make Akankhsha happier than ever to go for the riding sessions. She would linger on after the class, leading the horses back to the stables, helping the grooms cool them down, wash them and feed them. Arunima had less patience with these activities as she was not very thrilled at the horsy smell that would emanate from her daughter as she would hug her!
Time went on and it was soon time to move to a new station up North. Aditya was staying back to complete his studies. Akankhsha was 12 and it was the first time the two were going to be apart. The family took it as a part of life.
In the new station, Akankhsha joined a reputed school after the mandatory entrance exam. As each one settled into the new place and jobs, Arunima noticed that Akankhsha was growing quieter. She remarked in it to Rakesh, too. “Give her time,” he said, “she’ll get out of it.”
But Arunima knew her daughter was unhappy. Not just the vagaries of a new place were the sole reason. She was entering her teens, her brother was away, she had left her best friends in the previous station and life in the new school was not easy. There were groups in her class which did not allow entry into them very easily. She needed something to be happy about. One day, she heard that there was a riding school in the station, though it was not very big. It was a good idea to enroll Akankhsha, thought Arunima and Rakesh. And within a week, so it happened.
It was a virtual turning point. They were horses, but to Akankhsha, they were her friends. One particular big black horse was called Black Music and the two appeared to actually hear some music unheard by others. Akankhsha no longer needed anyone to take her to the riding club. Even the harsh North Indian winters would not stop her from donning gloves in her riding gear and cycling down to the club at 5.30 in the morning so as to be in time to get her favorite horse before someone else claimed him.
The coach at the riding school spotted a potential show jumper in Arunima’s young daughter. He suggested she start training for an upcoming event in the city. Watching her daughter ride was one thing but watching her jump was just another ballgame. Every time the young rider would attempt a new bar, her heart would leap along with the horse. Rakesh was cool. If he wasn’t, he never let on. She had her share of falls which terrified Arunima but Akanksha would just get up, just her breeches and take off from where she had left.
The competition was soon upon them. Akankhsa was taking part in Dressage as well as jumps. Dressage was an elegant and beautiful communication between the horse and the rider. It was like a dance, where the rider and her mount were partners. Arunima loved watching her daughter go through the intricate course of steps that the coaches had laid out for her.
The area for the jumps was not so reassuring. The course was quite different form the ones they had practiced for. It was Akankshas turn. She came in from one end of the course, concentration write large on her young face. However, the rider and her horse were in tandem that day. There were 8 jumps to be cleared. They cleared each one of them with ease with no faults. Each time she neared the jump, Arunimas heart would begin to thud and each time she cleared it, her heart would try and settle back into its own rhythm! As Akanksha neared the last one, a wall, Arunimas heart seemed to have gotten stuck in her throat. The horse and rider approached the wall – there was the briefest of hesitations as Black Music took in the unfamiliar challenge, then a reassuring “Go, boy!” and a gentle nudge from his rider gave him the confidence to sail over it with his powerful legs.
Her team was the underdog that day, but it had heart and grit. They won a flurry of prizes in the smaller events as well giving them an edge over the favored home team. Their tired but happy faces told their own story as they cried themselves hoarse, cheering team members who went up to claim a prize.
Akanksha took her first prize in riding (first of many that followed in the coming years) that day in a haze of joy and sense of achievement. The leap of faith had paid off with the last leap she and her beloved horse had taken at the end of the course.
Arunima and Rakesh watched fondly as she went up to take her place on the victory stand.
Akanksha had found her passion and they were overjoyed that success had found her too.
Leaps of faith are part of many journeys of life. Leaps that are taken instinctively but pay rich dividends eventually.
Today all of them had seen it – though the hazy mist of tears of joy.
Their darling Akanksha had found her strength and a reason to smile.
Through a leap of faith – figuratively and literally.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the May 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: pixabay
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