Mid-day today, there's a little knot of people -- a teacher, the girl in question and two other girls peering over shoulders. They are picking through the hair of the first girl, and she has her head down and ... is she weeping? And what is that in the teacher's fingers, a safety pin? IT is.
I get up from the bench I'm sitting on, and I go over to see what's going on, I find the teacher picking at a spot on the girl's head with the pin, and the girl shakes a bit with the pain.
The teacher tells me there's a thorn that's buried in the girl's scalp, and they're trying to get it out. "Isn't that dangerous," I ask. "You shouldn't use a pin for something like that. Might cause more infection."
"But we've tried with our fingernails and we can't get it out, she feels a lot of pain," the teacher says.
I ask the girl, how did you get that thorn in there?
"This morning," she says, tears running down her cheek. "My mother hit me."
This evening, I meet the girl at her home -- one in a depressing colony of post-tsunami shelters, one end of Nagapattinam. She still has the thorn in there. "I'm going to the doctor tomorrow morning," she says, a shy smile on her face. "Want some tea?" When I say no, she opens her fist. "Want a piece of mosambi?" she asks.