Oh God! I’ll be late again. Working overtime out of pleasure and loneliness is now becoming a pressure.
I pushed the start button of my scooter and accelerated. As I was out on the housing complex road, I saw a small girl. The distance only allowed me to catch her side face. She was just inside the park and was looking at the playing kids, as if hoping to join them. On this thought, my mind’s camera started rolling back.
“Hi, I am Niranjana. Can I play with you?”, I asked two girls, who seemed to be about my age. They gave a casual smile. Thinking that we were now friends, I too jumped on the car bonnet and started chatting. My family and I too, believe that I was born just to talk.
“Actually, we shifted here over the weekend. I didn’t see any one of my age in the past two days and got really scared. But thank god I met you two today. Otherwise, who would I play with. By the way, why do most people here stay indoors during the evening? And why is the park so dirty? Do you just play on the streets? And.....”
As I blasted them with my questions, I saw them talking amongst themselves and not paying me any heed. I stopped talking and looked at them with a frown. They too looked at me and said, “We don’t get much of what you are saying. We don’t know Hindi well.”
Hearing this, I started laughing and said, “Then, let’s stop talking and start playing.”
As we started playing, those two girls kept talking in their local tongue constantly ignoring me. They did talk to me, but that was all play-related. This continued for a few days until...
“Niru, it’s 6 pm. How come you are still at home?”, asked Mom.
“I don’t want to play. I don’t understand a word they say. It’s like I am forcing them to play with me. I don’t want to go!!!”, I blabbered and switched on the television.
The next day Mom forcefully got me downstairs and made me play with other kids. Over the weekend, Mom and Dad would play badminton with me. After a few days, I got fed up and completely stopped going downstairs, becoming a TV addict. I had good friends in school but having friends to play with in the evening was what I really wanted. For any seven-year old, playing in the evening is the most important thing. I really missed Saksham, the society in my previous city. The situation was a contrast here, leaving me helpless.
One fine day Mom came back from the market, gave me a big grin and presented to me ‘Collection of short stories by Enid Blyton’. I was never fond of reading, I wondered why she had got me the book. The next evening, bored with television too, I picked up the book and started reading. It drew me in quickly. I was amazed at how the English alphabet was woven into something so beautiful. Slowly, reading became my passion. Evenings that were supposed to be spent playing, laughing, doing mischiefs were now spent with books. It was as if I had taken refuge in them. From a chatterbox, I now became a book-loving introvert. In school, we are taught that good language skills are necessary everywhere. No one understands this better than me, I guess.
Then came the seventh grade where we shifted to a new house in a new society. This society reminded me of Saksham. Here everyone was so lively. But I had become so withdrawn that I didn’t feel like going to the playground initially. Eventually, due to the repeated attempts of my family and neighbours(yes, they were that sweet) I went downstairs hesitatingly. After five years, I finally saw some hustle-bustle. It felt amazing. I played with the kids and oh, they were so warm. Now playing became a routine. However, due to my shyness that friendship couldn’t blossom beyond a certain level. I again stopped going down, even on social gatherings and became withdrawn in my studies. Even at school, I had a limited circle of friends. It had become a task to talk to anyone and everyone and joke unlike most others of my age.
In college again, the same thing... Now I even understood the local tongue well, enjoyed the local flavour, roamed around, but the same thing bothered me. I can’t scream, talk, laugh like I could before. That bubbly little girl is gone forever.....
Then my scooter came to a halt and so did my thoughts. I had reached my office.
Oh god! I reached safely despite being so absent-minded, well kudos to my driving skills. After all, nowadays reaching safely with good, concentrated driving is also not a surety.
As I walked in the Bloomberg gate, the clerk greeted me and chuckled, “Mam, yesterday’s tea....”
“Yeah, here you go.”
“Hmm, mam...”, he handed me the extra hundred rupee note I had given him by mistake. I was not surprised as my fifteen-year life in this city has made me used to such honesty.
My column drives me, stays with me 24x7 and when I am within the four corporate walls nothing can make my mind waver hither thither. But that day was different. It was, as if I had seen the mirror after a long time. Thoughts of that girl and my past kept flashing back and forth while I stared at my empty laptop screen. I really needed to be pinched hard and there I was....
“Hey Niranjana, congratulations...”
I gave a weird expression. I guess it was yet another one liner from Meera, my colleague cum sole friend and confidante in this office.
“For your new Mac. Well, I can see that you can use invisible ink in it. Nice way to keep your story a secret from everyone. As such, you are covering a reformed Alcoholics Anonymous member this time. Makes perfect sense.”, she jested and sat on the chair beside me. “What’s wrong? Your eyes are fluttering, face looks preoccupied....”
“Okay, stop... Yeah something is disturbing me”, I answered. It was not difficult, but impossible to hide anything from Meera. She reminds me of Donna Poulsen, the high-profile secretary in the TV drama Suits, to say the least.
“I think I saw the mirror today after a long time, in the eyes of a young girl”, I sighed. Over lunch I explained her most of the details. We couldn’t finish our conversation, courtesy, our big fat boss.
Lunch is a grand affair. It is when the cosmopolitan vibes of the city come through at their best. Theplas, roti, subzi, chhole bhhatura, poha, pasta, dosa etc...With food from all across India, lunch was no less than a hotel buffet or maybe even better. You name it and it is here.
That evening I decided to leave early. I was eager to meet the new girl. As I was leaving, Meera gave me thumbs up from a distance and smiled. I too felt a child-like excitement. It was as if a treasure was waiting for me back home.
I finally reached my complex. At first, I couldn’t find her anywhere. I looked everywhere-in the playground, in the garden and even in the common area of all blocks. Finally, I saw her sitting on a swing in the smaller park, looking upset. I wasn’t too comfortable staining my formals and dirtying my pump shoes. But I knew that I had to talk to the girl right away. So, I went and sat on the swing beside her.
“Hello, I am Niranjana. You are?”
“Deepali.” After a pause, she suddenly blurted, “Do you know Hindi? I am new here. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone. No one seems to understand anything except Gujarati here.”
I understood the connection. The same thing happening again, but I won’t let it. I held her hand and took her to the park. I introduced her to everyone there and scolded the kids for not being welcoming earlier, as I knew that language was definitely not that big a problem here. Things got sorted out. In no time, Deepali was playing and enjoying with the other kids. After that day, I saw her every evening in the park. I felt really happy. I had saved a happy-go-lucky child from becoming a loner. Every Sunday, she came to my house to learn Gujarati to help her adjust here faster. She was like a house on fire, chatting and blabbering non-stop.
Many a times, my conversations with her reminded me of my childhood, the one where I too could not talking-“Niru, my chatter-box, my always working tape recorder, please let your sister talk for sometime now...”, my cousin said sarcastically.”