Monday, May 4, 2009

The Last Letters in My Diary

The sunlight flooded my books as I threw the window open to the cold November wind. It had been a dreary, cloudy month and I had spent most of it secluded in my house, huddled around the electric heater and hidden under multiple layers of sweaters and socks. The only thing that I had been going out for was college on the weekdays and a rather special place on the weekends. The Sun was out today, but a spot of cleaning still kept me tucked in my room. A noisy wind flew in through the window. He danced around me, waltzing on the bed, flitting through the pages of the calendar until his eyes fell onto my study desk. Icy fingers turned the pages of the thick blue book in a frenzy, like someone ruffling the pages of a directory in a hurry, looking for a name or a number. A few months were skipped and the diary suddenly lay still, displaying a page from November- two months ago and the strident wind finally settled down, as if to read.

Date: 10th November, 2008
Dear God,
My sister was telling me about the children at the Home today. Apparently, all of them have two names. The names they originally had and the names they got after they were found. Listening to their stories put me in a really poignant mood. We have begun our workshop on water color painting there. I met them all yesterday. Some of those children can't even believe their luck yet, I think. That they are finally safe. When we were trying to give them the sketchbooks, some of them actually asked if they're supposed to keep them or return them...! I guess it happens; if something you really want comes your way you just can't believe its happening and you're too scared to do anything fearing you'll lose it all..! I've felt it so many times..! It was quite a journey, exploring their lives for the first time and entering the current scene as a diverse character in each of their plays. There is so much one can learn from it all. So many interwoven webs, all delicately balancing the others- each with a new mystery to unfurl. Considering what my sister had told me, I found most of the children quite cheerful and friendly- except a few.
One girl, especially, was very silent; she didn’t even look at me when I spoke to her and was a little rude that way. But as time passed, it was obvious that she was actually enjoying painting; it came out the best. I felt she was just afraid to show it, for the fear that it'll all turn out too good to be true...and was also a bit shy, I guess... I saw so much of me in her...! I was afraid that people might mistake her quietness for rudeness or arrogance. So, I stayed with her all through the class. We were trying to draw a fuzzy creature- something fun for the introductory class. In the end, when I was telling everyone to name the creature they'd drawn and painted just to make them feel like they’d just done something thoroughly enjoyable, she actually came up to me and said "Look, I've named him "Hardy " as in Laurel and Hardy...” All I could do was smile.

I wished I could spend more time with her and be her friend though. On the inside, she seemed very fun loving and sincere...and naughty..! She told me the paint she'd mixed in water was juice and asked if I wanted to drink some of it..! Haha..!
Until next time,
Good night.

The untidy room lay abandoned behind me. The wind seemed to be holding his breath. My walk into the past had awoken sleeping memories. The excitement of the very first day of the workshop and the eager, curious faces of the children. My very first impression of the place was that of a cramped space, too small to hold so many people. A slightly meandering stair led to the corridor through the kissing gate, where a rack stood with 20 names crudely painted on in red. School shoes and sandals lay piled on it, neatly. We were then greeted by the silent proprietor in the verandah cluttered with two overflowing desks and an old computer. He sent us in to meet the children. They were probably just as nervous as we were, sitting in orderly rows with their arms folded tightly on their chests in a small room that broke off into a smaller dormitory and the kitchen. I had left the place with a smile on my lips that day, just like the one at the end of my letter. I went back to my diary as another lane of thoughts presented itself to me and I turned there, like a specter, wishing to delve further into the myriad depths of the long forgotten pages of the thick, blue book.

Date: 17th November, 2008
Dear God,
Yesterday, a lot of things happened that touched my heart. Remember the girl I was telling you about...? She has really progressed very well with the brush. I knew she'd love to paint and yesterday, everyone was praising her for her great work with the sparrow. Her painting was the most sparrow-like..!
Deciding on an impulse that told me that it was time to look away, I turned my attention to the youngest one in the group. I was holding her hand and helping her draw. After two sketches, she softly told me that her mother also used to teach her draw just like that when she was at her house. I didn’t quite know what to say. After a few minutes, she said she wanted me to teach her how to draw a 'gini' [parrot].
I asked her: "Why..? Do you want a cute little gini like yourself to pet..?"
"No, I want an 'amma gini'...” came the reply.
A mother parrot. I was struck dumb again. I told her softly the baby parrot can play with friends, study hard and before she’d realize it, the mother parrot would come to take her home. She smiled so sweetly that I think a part of me completely melted. I promised her I’d teach her how to draw a gini. Later, she told me she missed her teacher as well... "Miss Vatsala"... The name itself struck me as that of some nice lady, who might've been as a mother figure to the little one. I didn’t have the heart to leave her after that. It felt like she looked up to me just like she looked up to her Miss Vatsala...
When I was near the door, I whispered to her, feigning secrecy, of our promise again and she gave me a flying kiss... Everyone all around was laughing...
It was like a dream...
Today, when I woke up, I really wondered if it could all really be true. How could someone abandon such a beautiful child...? Or torture her into working at a tender age or subject her to god-knows-what horror that she had to run away from her home or be rescued by the people at the Home. It's even worse, if she wasn't rescued but admitted there... As if she had the contracted the deadly disease of being born as a 'just another girl' in a poor family where a son was ‘needed’, and a girl was just a burden.
I set to work looking for an old painting I’d made of a parrot when I was in primary school. Among my school things, I found a greeting card, a childish imitation of an Archie’s card that was too expensive for me to buy. It was for my mother. “Happy mother’s day” was scribbled inside along with a poem that rhymed too much…!
I never found the painting of the parrot though, no matter how much I looked. I just made a few. My hand was warm and sweaty when I was drawing; I suspect that was your doing. The pictures came out well. They were an instant hit and the parrot fever lasted long. So did the smile on that child’s face, I hope.
Thank you,
Until next time,
Good night.

I was hypnotized. The hand-writing looked a lot like mine and yet, I wondered if it was me who had entered all those words in that book. The pages stared back holding the truth, solemnly, as I turned them gingerly. It was like watching a movie you were the leading lady of and the characters were also all too real. Many of the pages that followed were empty. Like glaring chasms in my path that forced me to skirmish around and remember my preoccupations at those times- so many problems that wreaked my soul from time to time, torturing it, as was their wont. But, oddly, I couldn’t remember most of them… At last, I arrived at a written page. Scribbled in, by the looks of it.

Date: 30th November, 2008
Dear God,
I’m sorry for writing to you so late. I don’t want to delve too deep into myself these days. A fear clutches at me, each time I do.
Today, the workshop ended. The children were sad to think we would not meet for another three months at the very least, or probably not at all. But there is no time for either of us to dwell on such thoughts. Exams stand at the beginning of this week like fire breathing dragons, and I don’t think I’m sufficiently well prepared for it. I wonder: will I ever be..?
Until next time,
Good night.

The last question burned on my eyelids and I closed the book just as I shut my eyes. It had been more than a month since I had touched my diary. It was waiting patiently on my desk like an old friend, for me to notice it, I felt. A thought occurred to me, smiling tantalizingly. I was toying with the idea of giving the children an unofficial visit...I had tried very hard to forget about them for more than month, surely they wouldn’t remember me…
But the question still lingered in my heart.
I don’t think I’m sufficiently well prepared for it. I wonder: will I ever be..?

In the next two days, the last letters of my diary weighed on my mind until I finally found myself in front of the familiar kissing gate. The shoe rack stared at me as I walked in self consciously. I was greeted by the house keeper who led me in. The children were studying inside. For a few nervous moments, I sat, waiting. And then, all I felt was an inrush of several warm, tender arms attached to grinning faces, all screaming my name. Each one had a different greeting on his or her lips, but not one had forgotten me. I felt instead that they had been waiting for a visit. And I thought again, just like I had while looking at the blank gaps in my diary:
What was I thinking…?

I owed never to keep my diary empty again, or to hesitate in stretching out a friendly hand. All that was in my power to give those children was a lot of loving care, a few memories and friendship that will last a lifetime. A friendship that will, I’m sure, find a way of leaving a mark on me, as well: either as a tiny parrot, flying unfettered, at the back of my mind or just a corpulent Hardy giggling away silently.

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