It is my daily routine to pick my three-year-old son from his play school. We would then shop for groceries and vegetables on the way, in a near-by shop, before heading home. On that day, I noticed a row of hut houses opposite to the grocery shop, next to the ongoing construction work. By the time, I paid the bill and turned to my son, I saw him holding a long branch of a tree. He seemed excited about something on the other side of the road though I couldn’t first spot what it was. I asked him from where he had picked the branch. He pointed towards a little girl who was rolling a dirty torn ball with a similar tree branch, on the other side of the road.
She must be of the same age as my son, wearing a soiled pink dress that was meant for girls much older than her. Her hair was unevenly cut that could not have seen a comb or oil ever. It was obvious now what my son was amused at. The girl turned to our side. With a happy smile, she gestured him to join her in the ball play. Without a thought, my little fellow eagerly moved in her direction. I reacted immediately; held his hand and pulled him towards me. Disappointed by the arrest, he let out a loud barbaric cry. The little girl stopped rolling the ball. The smile on her face slowly faded until she took a glance at me. I must have appeared like a witch to her for I could see the terror at once in those small eyes.
Even a long time after I reached home, the incident disturbed me. All along, I’ve regarded compassion as a great virtue. I had looked at myself as a kind and thoughtful woman. I always made it a point to donate to children homes on birthdays and anniversaries. But was that all my compassion about? Why did I not let my son play with the little girl? Was it because she looked shabby? Was I scared that my son would incur a disease from her? Was I worried that my son could pick up unfavourable habits from her? Or was it because I deem her to be of a lower class in the society? Well then, don’t higher class children go down with fatal diseases? Aren’t street children healthy at all, in spite of never having given vaccination and nutritious food? First of all, does social class really matter for small children to play together? It was a pointless, perturbing conflict of emotions that I encountered that day because I knew I can never allow my son to play with an under-served child.
The following day, while I was picking up vegetables from the shop, my son was glued to the little girl in the pink dress again. With a closer look, I noticed that she was carefully stepping on dried leaves on the roadside. With every step, the crumbling of the leaves would delight her and she would give out a silly giggle. She soon recognized our presence and once again called out to my son to play with her. By now, my son has realized the ‘NO’ factor and remained still. The little girl kept smiling at him though she didn’t understand why he just can’t simply join her. On the way back home, I was surprised to see my boy tread carefully over dried leaves. He seemed to rejoice the little play, for the giggle that followed told so.
I thought about it a little deeper that night. She’s just a small child as my son. And she wants to play with a fellow kid. How guileless a desire?! For what fault of her is she ostracized by people like me? Does she even understand what social classes are? Again by the end of the battling insights, I knew I can never allow my son to play with her.
It was raining heavily the next day while we took shelter under the shop’s roof. My eyes scanned for her until I spotted her near a large pool of dirty mud water on the road side. She seemed to be in heightened excitement, leaving paper boats to sail on the pool, her pink dress fully wet by now. It was a sight of intense admiration for how the little girl was celebrating the glory of the moment! She waved her hand to my son in-between her flurry of excitement. In a jiffy, I felt disappointed that my son was missing what she owned – nature! In fact, the longing look on his face revealed what he yearned to do; get wet in the rain and do what she did.
Soon after we reached home, I made paper boats for him. We made them sail in a bucket of water. However, it didn’t seem to fascinate him; needless to say, one would know why.
My heart softened for her that day. Despite the fact that my son doesn’t join her, she continues to call him to play with her every day. Indeed, innocence and children are never apart; at least not yet. But it will not be long before she identifies society’s insensitivity towards children like her. I couldn’t imagine how this would affect such children as they grow up. When people of other strata turn their cold shoulders to them, they might begin to bear the brunt of social arrogance. Perhaps, most criminals and rapists have such stories in their past. For another time, this mental squabble left me in a state of havoc. All may be said well, but it was my family and my child that was important to me. My responsibility towards the society around me certainly seemed a bush-league stuff. I may say this with shame and guilt but to put simply, I am tied.
As we stopped at the shop the next day, the little girl was seen calm. She was sitting on the road-side, making play dolls with the wet mud softened by the rains of the previous day; her pink dress was almost brown. She made a big ball and a small ball with the mud. She joined the two, attaching mini hands and legs to them. She quietly smiled at my son who was having a banana. Accidentally, the banana fell off from his hand. At once, the girl ran towards us to collect the banana from the ground and quickly ran away.
My son was given a weekend project at his play school to make a clay car at home. As we opened the kit, I explained him how the car would be built. I left him for a while to explore his hands with the clay. When I came back, I was utterly surprised with what he had made out of the clay. He had made a big ball, a small ball and attached mini hands and legs to them. What my son was taught in a play school, children as her learn through nature. What irony, I thought!
The scene of the little girl picking up the sand-clad banana from the ground recapped on my mental screen. My heart went out for her. With no second thoughts, I decided to get bananas and a play ball for her the following Monday. And why not let my son play with her for a little while?! For the first time, I came out of my conventional conditioning. Yes, I wanted to add a little more joy to her already care-free, cheerful days. Why, wouldn’t it be nice to see them walk together?! After the series of troubled nights, my conscience found peace at last.
I had already bought some fruits and a ball. As we neared the shop street, I noticed that vehicles were blocked to enter the lane. Pedestrians could still proceed. There was a huge crowd for a few feet before the shop. I could not possibly guess what the matter was. We kept passing into the crowd and what I heard just shattered me. A little girl had accidentally fallen off from the being-constructed building and died on the spot. Before I could rush to the spot of the accident, I saw the body of the girl being carried by a man. I couldn’t see the girl’s face but the pink dress with dried mud on it was clearly visible. A thin woman cried her heart out, addressing the little girl as Asha. I could no longer contain my emotion. I dropped the fruits and the ball on the ground that was smeared with blood stains. Dragging my heavy heart and legs, I wearily managed to reach home that day.
What a little girl had changed in me in four days, I doubt if it could have ever happened to me otherwise. The mother, the writer and most of all, the human in me found a new inspiration in her! As a mother, I’ve begun to let my son dwell with nature whenever possible. I allow him to walk over the road corners so that he can rejoice stamping on dry leaves. I take him onto the road side pools when it rains instead of teaching ‘Rain rain go away’ at home. I occasionally let him explore Mother Earth’s natural clay. Above all, I make him share his toys with a few underprivileged children near our home with the hope that the seed for social equality and compassion in a real sense gets sown in him. He now discovers new plays with sand, trees and insects such that he is no longer dependent on expensive toys for fun.
As a writer, I now know that it’s just not about what’s being written. Inspiration is when the ‘who’ behind the writing undergoes metamorphosis; that marks a writer’s threshold beyond which there is no control over the flow of the content.
As a human, I’ve realized how important it is to look at every person as a unique being, capable of bringing about positive changes, irrespective of their position in the society, of the place they live in and the dress they wear!
Asha, my inspiration!
This post is part of the #madeofgreat campaign which celebrates the association of the Football legend, Lionel Messi with Tata Motors.
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Disclaimer: This work was my contribution at Writer’s Ezine