Wants to know your story, over an orange ice-candy. Or, while she doodles.
I was at an august (if not austere) gathering, couple of evenings back. Fifteen minutes into it and I realized my attention was drifting, in spite of myself. The entire gathering was deeply into what they were doing, while I adjusted multiple times my seating-arrangement. It was then that I chanced upon a little girl, who was constantly in a circle of her-own-game-with-herself. She had irresistibly mischievous movements, and hard-to-contain eyes. Eyes that interacted, before words did. She chanced upon me too. Restless, the two of us. Yet both shying away from reaching out to the other. So I made the first move and flashed a smile. Her circle was immediately cut short by couple of inches in diameter, and she moved in closer. I winked this time, and gestured at an empty spot next to me. She took royal time to arrive, and settle. Finally, she went back to her mother’s purse, fiddled out something, and showed it to me. A photo of her in the mobile-phone. I smiled an ‘Awww-smile’. That, I guess, set her off. Next what began was rather unexpected, and very clever of her, to be unassuming in her pitch. Here goes:
Little Girl: “Which school?”
Me: (Trying to suppress a laugh; showing a sad frown to her) “No school.”
LG: “I, Apeejay.”
Me: Gestured a wow and a thumbs up. (It may here be noted that silence was ideally asked out of the gathering we were both in.)
LG: “Which class?”
Me: (How could she ask me this??!) “No class (almost showing her a very sad smiley out of my face).You?”
LG: “LKG-B. Lower KG-B.” (She explained.) Yes, that is the size that you can now assume of her! A tiny bundle of intensely charming energy. Bee-like. Very busy.
LG: “How many friends?” Very serious.
Me: Partying in my head, I acted out the saddest face I could and replied, “No friends. Zero friends.”
LG: “I, seven friends.” This, while she showed four fingers to me. My moment of victory.
Me: “Seven, or four?”
That little thing was capable of remarkable embarrassment. And replied, “You can draw flower?”
Me: Nodded a yes. And added, “Here.” Pointing at her little fair legs.
LG: The noblest, joyous laugh you could hear, was out that moment. Followed by “OK. Draw.”
Me: “No pen.”
LG: “Oho!” And ran to her mother’s purse and fished for one.
By this time, the silence of the meeting was at its end and people began conversing. And so we spoke freely, in audible hushes. Sensing she could find no pen, I asked for one from someone else and called her back, realizing I didn’t yet know her name.
LG: As if the conversation never ended, “Kaushani, Shivani…my friend.” She sat to examine the pen and after approving, offered me her leg. Which had a birth-mole kind of thing, around which I told I would make a flower. However, I realized it would be wrong of me to do so, and so asking her to wait, looked for a slight piece of paper. Finding one, we set to making flowers. And the orders rolled out.
LG: “House. Tree. Doll.”
I struggled, and maybe failed to live up to her expectations, and even made one fat-face in an attempt to sketch a doll in plaits. She said, “Kaushani” and took the pen from me.
At this point, we were both being noticed in our interaction, and I became conscious. Of the august gathering. And how I needed a break from it. And was in one. And smiled an awkward smile at people.
Her mother called her to leave. She immediately got up and went. I was smiling at the box-circle she had made on the paper in an attempt to replicate my flower.
Suddenly I found she returned and said rather somberly to me, “Bring pen. I your friend. We do flower.”
Me: “Yes please!” And she left.
A smile lingered within me. Those kinds which refuse to vacate your soul. At how friendships were formed. In prayers, and innocence. While we are bored, and restless, and trying and looking for a break.
Later someone asked, “What were you both speaking? You and Chhuti?”
Ok, I smiled on.
At the similar august gathering, I chance upon Chhuti again. She wriggles her way to me with her dainty bum and plop-steps and flashes that smile of recognition. Some making of faces and hide-and-seek moments later, she settles down next to me. Demanding my pen and a copy, she starts as if it was just yesterday she met me. “Draw flower.”
I obediently do. A marigold and a lotus. From one stem. Yes, strange. She asks, “What flower?”
We are still expected to maintain silence. So I arrow the marigold and write ‘You’, and arrow the lotus ‘Me’. And pronounce in whispers, “You-flower and Me-flower.”
She has an expression of a rainbow. Surprise, disbelief, amusement, happiness, savoury, sweet, faith. “Lotus flower no, this?” pointing at Me-flower. I smile. I love children. They are so smartly pure.
She pauses, “No, no. Me-flower. OK, draw ice-cream.” And herself drew a tiny orange candy. I mean she drew an ice-lolly which I would love to believe was an orange-candy. And then turned towards me the copy and said, “now you.”
I drew a cone. Complete with a rather happy-scoop melting away from one side, a cherry on the top, and a plastic spoon. I gave her the copy back. She saw, slurped, smiled and made a sound of delight which I cannot put to words. She behaved as if the cone was waiting in front of her to be had. Just by herself. Almost as if dutifully, she bent down to dot a strawberry. On satisfactory completion said, “Put on top.” Gesturing at where I had placed the cherry.
Turning the page to where the marigold and lotus grew from one stem into you and me flowers, I realized I may have led her to believe that I could place the strawberry for her on the scoop. On the page, at least!
Tomorrow, people in my world have the luxury of a Saturday-off-day. It makes me sad as I meanwhile would slog on to a tragic equation of ‘last-Saturday, working day’. I decide that I can either choose to complain about it and lengthen the pain of it, or, believe in the power of Chhuti’s belief, turn to the page, create and be comforted in a happy-holiday, out of none.
Hello tomorrow! Let’s face each other. Without it being a Chhuti. With Chhuti.
It was the same, but no longer august and austere meeting that I had a scheduled evening at. The moment I put off my slippers, I smiled. A three-four year old’s bright blue rubber shoe was impatiently put out, one on top of the other. That must be Chhuti. Eagerly, I went in and scanned the smiles to land on her very shy eyes, spooned in her mom’s lap. I swam my way across the pool of people and settled down next to her. She was in a pretty pink frock, a dull pink set immediately to light with her movements.
How often have I mentioned that Chhuti reminds me of me? Uptight she appears, like a fist, not allowing the first word in a dialogue to escape, even though immensely capable of it. And thus there pervades this coiled silence between us. After the initial discomfort, Chhuti made the first move, a look that lingered into an indecisive smile. I smiled back thinking what kind of an impossible adult I am. With that response, Chhuti transformed, blossomed. The demure appearance, now a restless one, here’s what followed:
Chhuti: The similar fishing into her mother’s purse began. Out came a pen, and her voice — today, a little louder and higher in pitch than on earlier days. “Draw rain.”
The gathering became pleasantly aware of the two of us taking off for the evening. And I was kind of taken aback with the demand.
Me: “I can’t — ”
Chhuti: “Haaaahaaa. Hahaha. You only draw flower. I tell how to do rain.”
Me: “OK boss.” And passed the designated notebook to her.
As she immersed in the previous scribbles, her mother too took notice and said, “These are her doing, right?”
I smiled and tried a cloud before giving her the copy, some hurriedly done thick, teardroppy raindrops which apparently did not please Chhuti. She fought for her share of white space with her bite-size palms and once she had it, took the entire copy, got off the bed for a casual, unmindful stroll among the others. Oh, how she is cuddled by everyone. She returned to me with a packet (now we know it wasn’t unmindful after all!), opened it, looked inside and passed me a very, very mischievous smile, something which possibly said (in a very, very teasing tone), “You do not know what is inside.” Instead,
Chhuti: “You play ring-aa ring-aa? You dance?”
Me: “Yes. No.”
Chhuti: “Why no dance? I dance.” Here she valiantly flashes her winner smile.
Me: Shrug, and an attempt to find a reason more convincing than a “I-dunno.”
Chhuti: “You have school?”
I assumed she was inquiring about the next day, Mahalaya, A holiday.
Me: “No!” Quite a resounding happy ‘no’ at that.
Chhuti: Still smiling, “Then dance!”
Me: Big-eyed and groping for the meaning in her sequence of conversation, I murmured, “How?”
Chhuti: “Oho, tell what in packet?”
Me: “How would I know, Chhuti?”
Much obviously used to my range of negatives as replies by now, she carried on, “My Raincoat!”
God, the pride in her tone! The command of ownership – undeniable. She took it out and in that august, air-conditioned gathering, wore it. Her mother gave up trying to signal her not to, and some people could not help but laugh out. It was an authoritative show of her see-through raincoat, enveloping her pretty pink frock.
As I gestured a benign “give me”, she assertively stamped a “No!”
Chhuti: “You have pen, draw rain. I dance in raincoat.”
Alrighty, OK, I think I get it, my love. Your raincoat versus my pen. You win. Chhuti sits in her raincoat, as she too gathers that I have got a hang of her victory over me and shades my thick teardroppy raindrops in the notebook industriously. It is here I instigate her, even more mischief down my skin:
“Chhuti, draw raindrop on raincoat.”
She is arrested. Amused. She is super pleased and though she does not show it, I know she wants to get on with it right away. Two-one. I win.
Chhuti: “You do. My pen.” Generously, she offers me her mother’s pen. I pull her knee and scribble a cloud on her kneecap and on her elbow, another. We are both smiling. Playing.
Playmates we had become, and though staining the sanctity of the gathering, no one complained. With her mother’s permission and Chhuti’s supervision, each raindrop on her raincoat was now playful. She resembled some tiny Egyptian Empress, glowing over her newly acquired territory. The appeal of being amazed sat like a halo on her.
My phone rang and the call meant I had to leave. Chhuti understood and for the first time, shedding her poised air began nagging her mother to leave too. I tried telling her I would return, but I know she felt the lack of conviction in my voice. I stared helplessly at her, ruthlessly disturbing the ceremonious occasion. Her mother gave in and as Chhuti slipped on her bright blue rubber shoes, and insisted on not opening her raincoat, she, again for the first time, began conversing with me in a normal, non-hushed tone. It is the sweet sound of a waterfall, not too high. Free-flowing, fluent.
Chhuti: “Will you go my house? Will you come my school?” And a series of such questions went on to complete the length of the lane. I diligently answered each, truthfully. As we parted on the main road, Chhuti asked after my Bye-bye was delivered, “Will you play everyday?”
She made me sad, that bundle of joy. Her earnestness is infectious and I do not wish to lie to her or break her heart. I am not an overtly touchy person, yet I bent and silently hugged her to which she fitted like a jigsaw. She knew my answer. As she plopped away with her mother I saw her animatedly show off the raindrops on her raincoat.
Chhuti begins to end, but the unadulterated joy of Chhuti stays on.