The New Neighbour

by Dincy Mariyam
(Bengaluru, India)

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was wiling away my time watching a wildlife documentary in the drawing room while Shivani, my colleague and flatmate, was reading a book in her room. Just when the leopard was about to pin down the poor deer, I was forced to pause by the door bell ringing. I waited, hoping my flatmate will forget about my existence and get the door. When I realised that would not happen, I walked up to the door mumbling about an afternoon being disturbed by that horrible sounding bell. We really need to request our landlord to change it or even better to remove it. Once at the door, I decided to look through the keyhole, as a safety precaution. A gentleman whom I recognized to be our new neighbour, stood at the door looking anxious and glancing at his watch repeatedly. I opened the door with surprise and suspicion still in my eyes. The gentleman smiled and said,


‘Hi! I’m Shankar. I moved here last week, and I live there.’ He said while pointing at his house. I introduced myself as social etiquette demands ‘Hi! I’m Divya. Nice to meet you!”

He continued into what was a long monologue ‘I know this might be too much to ask for, but you must understand that I currently have no other choice. I live with my 4-year old daughter Sapna. Her mother passed away recently, and that is why we moved to a new place. I haven’t yet had found a good nanny who can take care of her while I am away. I have been trying to get in touch with my other friends to take care of her for an hour while I need to attend to some official work, but haven’t managed to find any yet. As a last resort, I have come to request you to watch over Sapna for an hour while I am away. Please? She is a nice kid, and I promise she won’t be trouble at all. I just don’t want to leave her alone because she might get scared at home.’

There was so much sincerity in his expression that I couldn’t decline the request especially after learning the fact that the child was still coping with her loss. Moreover, it was just for an hour. I replied with a smile, ‘Sure. You need not worry, Sir. We will take care of Sapna until you return.’
‘Thank you so much. I promise to be back in less than an hour. I will bring my daughter in a jiffy’.
He left for his apartment, and I closed the door before walking into Shivani’s room. Lifting her eyes from the book, she curiously enquired, ‘Who was at the door?’
‘We will soon have a young guest coming to our apartment for a short visit’, and I continued to explain to her what happened.
She wasn’t very impressed with my handling of the situation as she is not fond of baby-sitting.

Our conversation was interrupted by the calling bell.
‘That must be him. I think you might want to keep Jurassic Park away for a while and join me to entertain young Sapna.’ Shivani looked at me with a puppy face hoping that I would let her continue reading and not deal with a kid. I ignored her tactics and added, ‘I’m not leaving you with a choice and I insist’ before leaving to get the door. She left the book on the bed and unwillingly followed me to the door. The man stood at the door with little Sapna on his right side, who was smiling and talking to her giraffe soft toy. ‘Hi. This is my daughter.’ And then he turned to his daughter, ‘Sapna, you have to stay with didi till dada come back. Okay, beta? ‘Okay, dada.’ He kissed on her left cheek, and she kissed him back. After handing her to me, he said, ‘Thank you so much! I will be back in an hour’ and walked away.

I held little Sapna’s hand and welcomed her to our humble abode. She was a cute kid who was very easy to handle. So we didn’t realise time passing by. An hour later Mr. Shankar came to pick up his daughter and also got us both a box of chocolates to show his gratitude. While we were talking, he said, ‘Are you interested in photography? I noticed the DSLR next to the computer.’ I looked in the direction he pointed and replied, ‘Yes…I am.’
‘Oh! That’s a nice hobby to have. I have a studio in the city and would be very happy to show you around if you want to visit us one day.’
‘That would be great! Thank you very much. I will definitely get in touch with you when I am in the city’.

While I found myself to run a few errands in the city, I called up Mr. Shankar to enquire whether I could visit his studio that day. After hearing an affirmative, I went to the studio. At the studio, he welcomed me and took me for a grand tour of the studio. There were various photo shoots going on. We both walked into the interiors of the studio, and as we walked, I asked him what kind of photography excites him the most. He replied with a diplomatic “I like everything….” As an afterthought added, “I especially like wildlife photography”. I was thrilled by this finding as I consider myself a budding wildlife photographer.
When we walked into a room, I was shocked beyond measure by what I saw. There was a photo shoot going on with a leopard standing on top of a table above the red-carpeted stage. It was being made a stand in particular poses that would look menacing on posters, all the while being whipped or poked by its care-taker to get it to behave. So this is what he calls "wildlife photography!”
When he went around to talk to the crew, I walked out of the room, still being utterly shocked at what I had just seen and wanted to express it to someone. I called Shivani at the office and when she answered, I just said 'I don't think I like our new neighbour!'
I couldn't hear what she said because my alarm woke me up!
***

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