NUNNU WANTS A TOY
Nunnu Wants A Toy
Nunnu was returning from his evening session of sports, which was guaranteed to him by his father. If it was left to others like his mother, grandmother or siblings he would have to spend all his evening in front of books pretending to study. Nunnu was not particularly studious. He studied just enough to escape the wooden ruler, which was an active instrument of learning in his school. He had his own ways of attracting punishment though, but the thrill involved made it all worth it. He never thought so – he just did it.
One summer evening, when the sky was done with the shimmering saffron ball and wanted the cool white one, when birds were done with the fight that each day brought and flew in a “V” across the sky cackling and wanting to retire to a good night’s sleep, Nunnu, after a long day at school and then later in the park with his so-called friends, decided to give vent to his wish. It had long been on his mind, but today his tryst with Rahul took the water above his head.
Nunnu, along with a couple of friends, played in a park which was just a couple of blocks away. They played football by keeping two bricks as the goal posts. Since the football belonged to Rahul – the rules of the game were ruled by Rahul. If he said it was a goal, it was a goal. If he said the ball was too wide or too high – so be it. He did not like Rahul’s snobbery, which became utterly frustrating when Rahul would just pick up his ball and start walking back towards his house. Nunnu hated to stop him and play with such a loser. But he had no choice. So he decided to ask his father to save him from such embarrassment and frustration.
Nunnu had a football at home, which was abandoned by Siddharth after the stitches on the white-black jacket wore out and the orange colored bladder started peeping out. The ball could not even be inflated to a pressure that made it hard enough since the orange bladder would pop out. Consequently the ball became very soft and sluggish like Rahul, a chubby boy, round like a football. His cheeks and tummy jumped up and down, very much like the football Nunnu had. The ball when hit would take the whole toe inside, as if making love with it. Not just that – the white patches were peeling off to reveal the dirty underskin and since it lay in the dusty cobwebbed store room, it had assumed the same dusty appearance.
Nunnu’s father generally came back from office while he was playing out. Sometimes, while his father drove on his gray Bajaj Super, his friends would point out to him that his father was coming, with the expectation that Nunnu would be scolded and asked to come back home, like other parents did. Nunnu would take a break to wave a ‘Good evening, dad’ to his father and resume playing.
Today he finished his game earlier than usual and waited for his father. He waited for a middle aged man – impeccably dressed, with well combed hair, and a composed serious demeanor driving a gray-colored Bajaj Super – turning into the lane towards his house.
His face lit up as he saw his father on the scooter approaching the house. His father always maintained his scooter very well. Every day before he left for office, he would wipe it clean with a wet cloth except on Sundays when Siddharth would do it in return for a small drive around the block they lived. The first thing his father did after returning was to change his clothes, wash himself up and settle down for a tea. All the kids in the house were instructed not to disturb their father, till he had relaxed for a while at home. He needed some time to get on with the business of the house and hated being bombarded with the concerns of family life straightaway.
He opened the door with a cheerful “Good evening, dad.” Every evening when his father came from office, he got a bag full of vegetables and seasonal fruits. This was summer, a season of mangoes, of Dushehri. Dushehri mangoes were the only thing that could replace his father’s tea.
Nunnu closed the door behind his dad, who walked with the scooter turned off. He offered to carry the bag inside, which was not quite light for a young man of his age, as his father put the scooter on stand and took out his small office bag.
“You did not go to play today?” asked his father.
“I had gone but came back early,” he replied. “I don’t like playing with Rahul,” he added.
“And why is that?”
“He is so be-imaan. He cheats at every step and if you tell him anything, he takes his football and walks away.”
“So, what do you guys do when he does that?”
“Nothing, what can we do. We have to agree with him.”
His father nodded his head as if trying to solve the issue. Nunnu was just about to put a proposal for a possible solution when he remembered the protocol and waited.
Nunnu’s mom brought a cup of tea as his father, dressed in a neat white kurta-pyjama, flipped through the pages of the Times of India, briefly stopping at the page which carried the advertisements for a car or a car loan. He was one of the very few amongst his peers who drove a scooter, everyone else drove a four-wheeler. He had been wanting to buy a car for a long time.
“Get me some mangoes first,” he said on seeing the tea.
“This will get cold,” Nunnu’s mother blurted out. “And then you will ask me to make a new one, because re-heated doesn’t taste good,” she added sarcastically.
Before anything else was said or done, Nunnu froze. He knew this tone and it took his senses no time to set the alarm bells ringing portending an altercation – some heated words, some red eyes, a pinch of anger and loads of pain. It did not even occur to him that his wish for a football had been suddenly wiped off his mind, right now he just wanted to escape being a witness to this.
“What’s wrong?” said his father in a not particularly cajoling tone. His mother did not reply and angrily took the cup of tea as she headed back to the kitchen.
Nunnu was surprised at this breach of protocol laid down by his mom herself – not to trouble his father till he had relaxed for a while – and was baffled by the disruption of the queue when he thought he was the first one with his wish for a football.
“Okay, get me the tea only, I will have mangoes later,” his father cajoled his mother. His mother came briskly and kept the cup of tea on the table looking straight into the eyes of his father, who was hovering on the brink of an outburst after a dog-day-work at office, yet he added, “Will you sit here for a while?” So his mom sat there staring into the blank wall. His father sipped the tea and then coolly, as if by a sudden spark, barely concealing his laughter, said, “What do you want?” He had lived with her long enough to know what was on her mind.
Everybody has her own way of asking things.
“Today Mrs. Arora sent an invitation card for her daughter’s marriage this Saturday,” whimpered Nunnu’s mother. There was a pause as his father sipped the tea and waited for further elaboration on the problem as an invitation card could not be the reason for someone’s anger.
“I don’t want to go to any party. I am not going to attend any marriage-varriage,” she said as her angry sadness filtered through her voice. “I have been crying to get a pair of bangles for ages. I am not going anywhere to make a fool of myself looking like a beggar.”
By now Nunnu had reached his limit of tolerance – he couldn’t bear this interplay anymore. He looked for Neetu, who was his regular escape plan from such a situation, but she was nowhere to be found, so he went back to his mom asking for her, “Ma, where is Neetu?”
“I have no clue where the hell she is,” said his mother.
“Why are you taking out your anger on him,” bantered his father, but before his father could call Nunnu, he had escaped to his Baba’s room, where his Baba and Amma were having tea together. That room had its quietude no matter what, primarily because Baba and Amma always talked in a hushed tone such that absolutely no one could overhear them. Even he had tried sometimes but would not understand anything – he often heard names of people he had never known. Yet he would listen intently trying to make some sense of the sentences.
Nunnu heard his Amma say something like, “Jewels for the wedding ceremony…trip to Vaishno Devi is eternally postponed,” and then a contortion on her face followed by a long pause. As usual it did not make any sense – but Vaishno Devi struck a spark in him. “Baba are we going to Vaishno Devi?” asked Nunnu enthusiastically.
“Why don’t you go and ask your mom?” replied his Amma, with her very own acerbic tone.
Baba frowned at her and gestured to Nunnu to come and sit in his lap. Nunnu nestled into his Baba’s lap, while his Baba very cautiously held the teacup in his right hand. Nunnu started playing with his Baba’s wrinkled and sagging cheeks which were similar to the deflated football he had. He rubbed his supple cheeks against the white stubble which tickled him. The memory of an irritating friend, the wish for a football, his mother’s anger or the remarks of his Amma, nothing was potent enough to disturb him as he nestled in his Baba’s lap.