The Toddler and the Boys
They form a protective circle around her whenever they stand and talk about cricket scores and girlfriend mishaps. Her brother brings her along whenever he comes to meet his mates for an evening game of either table tennis or badminton, or probably none, and just lazying around talking about nothing in particular. She is around four or five. Her mother used to push her around in a pram two years back, and now she waddles out with her brother, trying to emulate his nonchalance. She watches the swagger with which her brother’s friends talk and walk, and subconsciously emulates them. It’s a sight to watch. The brother and friends don’t realize it, and neither does she. Only an onlooker, who has a keen eye for observation (yours truly) is able to make out these funny yet endearing mannerisms.
She tries to listen intently to their casual banter, pretending to understand every word of what they say, solemnly nodding to it as proof of comprehension. If she trips, she never wails out for help to her brother, preferring to pick herself up and dust off the fall. When the brother’s friends give her a brotherly pat on the head, she ducks them and sticks her tongue out. When they form a circle, she is in the middle of it. When they take rounds of the colony, walking in rows of two, she is in the middle of it. They could be rogues-in-vogue, but their protective instincts peaked with her around. The toddler sitting on the swing and giggling up at the band of boys brings a smile to your face and lends you a moment to make your everyday mundane reality a little more bearable.
The sister lived right across the block. She was divorced and had a serious-faced eight-year old as a daughter. Every night, at eighty-thirty p.m., without delay she would drive down in her van to the adjoining block, blow the car horn, and her brother would come out. He would return a couple of empty boxes that had contained the day’s lunch. And in return, she would give him another couple of boxes that would be his dinner. He was living on rent in one of the rooms in the three bedroom house which he shared with two other flatmates. His job at the call center made him run around the clock and barely left him with anytime to cook for himself. Most days, he would be missing his evening MBA classes. If given a choice, between a good meal and attending the MBA class or making up for it somehow, he would definitely go for the latter.
Because the latter was a step towards progress. Towards quitting the graveyard shifts at the call center. Towards quitting those hours travelling back from work when he tried to sleep in the cab that blared crude Bhojpuri music (which the driver refused to turn down) but could not because the blinding lights on a dark road bothered him more than the music. He often asked his sister to give up the tiffin service that she personally delivered to similar call center professionals. But she wouldn’t listen. The divorce led her to giving up her job at the print agency which would create neighborhood newsletters and local restaurant fliers, and she ended up taking the tiffin service idea seriously, after helping out her brother on the food front for a couple of months. Every night, without fail, at eight-thiry, after giving her brother the dinner for the night, she would drive down personally to the select fifty addresses where similar men and women awaited their one proper home-cooked meal of the day.
The Wheelchair-bound Spirit
He was fresh out of the engineering college in Punjab and had just got a job with one of the leading automobile manufacturers of the country, when he met with the accident. It was a cold Tuesday night in February, when he had been asked to work a little late to finish some pending tasks. Tasks that were pending not from his end, but from his bosses’s end. He had always found it difficult to say no to people. And at the start of a promising career like his, a refusal would be the very last thing coming from him. So he readily and rather eagerly took up the pending tasks. He bid a cheerful good night to the guard at the gate; he was happy for no particular reason. Probably just the prospect of work well-done being appreciated the next day. Just then, his cellphone buzzed with the Mohammad Rafi song that was a favorite of his father. Because of the slow, soft and mellifluous tone of the song, it was usually difficult to hear it in the midst of traffic, but at eleven-thirty at night, when the roads were silent, it rang out beautifully. It was his mother calling. His frozen hands held the phone and he assured her that he would be home in twenty minutes. She told him that his favorite sweet dish – gur payesam awaited him. He had only just kept the phone back in his jacket pocket, when everything went blank.
For the first two years after the accident, he was in a coma and doctors had subtly asked the family to give up any sort of hope. That he would probably pass away one day, while in the comatose state. But his family never gave up. He was only twenty-four when the accident happened. Too young an age to be given up on. His spine and legs had no strength left in them. He was declared to be a paraplegic for life, in case he ever managed to wake up. After the first two years, the family decided to take him out. Not just the usual sitting out in the balcony, but with the help of nurses and attendants they made sure that he got onto a wheelchair and did the rounds of the colony, even though they were not sure he realized he was doing them. One attendant would hold his head upright, so that it would not fall onto either side, while the other two would gently push the wheelchair ahead. On the weekends, the family would come out with him and take turns to do the same. People would stop and ask. Their faces a picture of probable concern and curiosity. All this while, his eyes would remain half-open. Seeing but unseeing.
Then a couple of months passed, and he did not come out. People began to assume that probably the worst had happened. Then one evening, he came out. His head was still loosely falling onto either side if not held, but his eyes were open. He could see people. The dribble at the side of his mouth was gently being wiped away by one of the attendants, whenever he tried to say something.
In the fourth year, after the accident, on a bright Saturday morning, he actually tried to take his first steps. He tried to hold onto one of the rods of the monkey bar to stand upright, as much as he could. His weak back and legs could only support him for a couple of seconds, when they finally gave away, and he was caught just in time by his attendants.
He still can’t talk; and his hand quivers tremendously whenever he tries to lift it to shake hands or touch somebody. But its the eyes. The eyes that tell you that this is not it. That this cannot be it. The eyes that look towards his family and attendants with so much love…that you have to look away…scared that you would choke on some unknown emotion hidden deep within you.