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One day, during the summer vacations, sisters Ashna and Prachi, went to Lumbini Park in Hyderabad to see the statue of Gautama Buddha, built on a small island in the middle of the Hussain Sagar Lake next to the park.

To see the statue up close, visitors had to take a ferry from the park to the island. Being vacation time, there was a long queue for the ferry ride.

Ashna was bored. “When will we get on the boat, Didi?” she asked her sister.

“It looks like it is going to take a while. That is why I asked you to bring a storybook to read,” replied Prachi, looking at the long queue.

Prachi liked to read books. She carried one wherever she went. It came in handy while waiting—be it at the doctor’s clinic, the salon, or even at the supermarket check-out counter.

Ashna too liked to read books, but she preferred making up stories in her head over reading.

As the sisters waited in the queue for their turn to board the ferry, Ashna heard someone calling out to her. She turned around and saw a girl in the lake.

“Hello, Ashna!” greeted the girl.

“Hello,” Ashna replied hesitantly.

“I am Mandira,” said the girl. “Are you waiting for the ferry ride?”

Ashna nodded her head.

“It’s going to take you a while to board the ferry. In the meantime, why don’t you come visit my house? I live in this lake,” said Mandira.

“Really?” asked Ashna surprised. “How can I visit you?”

“Just hold my hand,” said Mandira.

Ashna held Mandira’s hand and slipped into the water. That’s when she saw that Mandira did not have legs. She had a tail fin like a fish! Ashna realised that Mandira was a mermaid.

Ashna and Mandira held hands and swam all around the lake. Mandira led Ashna deep underwater. There were many fish, frogs, tiny crabs and some small water snakes as well.

“Mandira, is that a lizard?” asked Ashna, pointing to a lizard-like animal.

“No, Ashna. That is a salamander. It looks like a lizard but is actually an amphibian,” said Mandira.

“What is an amphibian?” asked Ashna.

“Amphibians are creatures that live on land as well as in water, like frogs. Although salamanders look like lizards, they are comfortable both inside and outside of the water,” explained Mandira.

Ashna was amazed. The salamander waved at her before walking away. Another sight caught Ashna’s eyes.

“Look, Mandira! There is a snail stuck in the mud near the edge of the lake,” said Ashna.

“No, Ashna. That’s not a snail; it’s a slug. A snail has a shell on its back but slugs don’t,” said Mandira.

“You know so many things, Mandira!” said Ashna in awe.

“That’s nothing, Ashna. The lake is my home. So, I know all my neighbours,” said Mandira.

“But why do they look unhappy?” asked Ashna.

“This is because of the pollution caused by human beings who dump garbage and other waste in the lake. This makes the lake dirty and dangerous for us to live in,” said Mandira.

Ashna saw a beautiful palace ahead, but the walls were very dirty. “Is this where you live?” she asked Mandira.

“Yes,” replied Mandira.

“Why is it so dirty?” asked Ashna.

“Not just mine; everyone’s house is dirty. We clean our houses every day, but by evening, they become dirty again. Polluted water from factories, homes and hospitals flows into the lake. Many creatures have died because of this. They cannot breathe in this dirty water,” said Mandira sadly. “See those children standing at the edge of the lake? They are throwing empty plastic covers into the water. These covers choke small fish and turtles.”

“Oh!” Ashna was very sad to hear all this. “Please tell me how we can help you, Mandira.”

“You can start by asking you family and friends to protect the lake by not throwing garbage into lakes and rivers; recycle and reuse plastic; dispose them responsibly.

Besides keeping our water bodies clean, it is also important to plant trees to ensure adequate rainfall,” said Mandira.

“I will surely tell my family and friends to do their bit for our planet,” promised Ashna.

“Thank you, Ashna,” said Mandira, who was back to her cheerful self again. “Come, I’ll take you back to your sister. Hold my hand.”

Suddenly, Ashna heard her sister calling out to her. “Wake up, Ashna! It is our turn to board the ferry.”

Ashna woke up and looked around dazed.

“Oh, Didi! Was this all a just a dream?” asked Ashna.

“What was?” asked Prachi puzzled. Ashna narrated her dream to Prachi.

Prachi smiled and said, “Though it was only a dream, there was a harsh truth in your dream. Our planet is full of garbage that is harming the environment.”

“Yes, we must speak to our parents, teachers and classmates, and tell them to keep our rivers, lakes and ponds clean. We should plant more trees as well,” said Ashna. The sisters agreed to take steps to make the planet greener.