Nunnu: Ma, Where Did I Come From?
Anuj came running with sweat dripping from his face, a heavy school bag on his back, muddy black shoes, his tie hanging loose, his shirt popping out of his tight white-black striped belt. “Ma, tell me, where did I come from?” he said trying to contain the tears.
Amused, mother looked at him and before answering his question, she held him close, loosened up his tie, unbuckled his belt and started unbuttoning his shirt when he jerked himself away from her, “Nooo, you first tell me, where did I come from?” His mother, laughing, said, “Come near me, I will tell you in your ear, don’t tell it to anyone!”
“You first tell me. You are not telling me what I am asking.”
“Nunnu, you came from the sky,” said his mother trying to gather him.
“You go and tell this to Neetu,” he said angrily.
“Why? What did Neetu tell you?”
“She told me that I am the son of that dirty old woman in the village and you got me from her because she could not take care of me.”
“Oh no honey! You are very much my son,” said his mother taking out his shirt. The shirt was wet with sweat and the sleeves had distinctly marked black lines, which he got while skidding on the balustrade of the stairs in his school. She looked at those lines and gave him a stern gaze. Anuj, like always, quietly looked down. He had perfected the trick by instinct.
She then took off his pants and there stood the young man aged six in his white vest and blue underpants exposing the soft supple masculine shoulders, biceps, thighs, legs.
Before his mother could dress him up in his regular t-shirt and half-pants, “Oye Nangu!” said Neetu – Anuj’s elder sister – as she entered slightly bent forward with a heavy broad school bag on her back.
Without minding the latest teaser, he said, “Mummeee! Now tell her that I am your son and not of that old woman.” Mother laughed again and said, “He is my son Neetu and you shut up!” Neetu went into her room smiling at mother’s banter.
Mother’s strict verdict did appease Anuj but not completely. Not after long he asked, “But mummee, where did I come from?”
“What do you mean honey?” said his mom, as she arranged the utensils for lunch.
“I am your son. That is fine. But where did I come from?” said Anuj, talking like an octogenarian.
“Go and ask your father, I don’t know,” she replied getting fed up. She sighed with relief as he made his way out of the lobby.
Anuj went to his father, who was in his office room buried under some half-open books with his spectacles hanging at the tip of his nose and was busy working up something on a calculator.
“Hmmm…” replied his father without moving his head.
His father gestured, asking him to wait a minute, then kept his calculator on the table and lifted Anuj in his lap, saying, “Yes my chicky-bone, what’s the problem?” as he pecked him on the cheek.
“Dad, where did I come from?”
“What did you say?” asked his father after a pause.
“Dad, I was asking Mom where did I come from and she sent me to you,” said Anuj with frustration mounting on his face.
“Arrey Shaanti! What are you teaching your kid?” he shouted to his wife. His wife came out of the kitchen with the top end of her saree tucked on her waist, “Arrey Baba! What can I teach him, he is teaching me instead.”
“Someone rightly said, child is the father of man.” Father with a big smiling face answered, “Sweetie! you came from the heavens up above,” and laughed to himself.
The answer suddenly lit up Anuj’s face and he jumped out of his father’s lap. Sooner than anything else he ran to update Neetu. He muttered to himself, “Mom says I came from the sky and Dad says I came from the heaven up above.” He went into the open yard and looked towards the heaven up above to see if he could witness the marvel of babies falling from the sky or being driven in a carriage pulled by winged horses, as he had seen in TV serials likeRamayana. After burning his eyes in the bright sun and failing to watch the spectacle, he thought may be the kids come in the night when the bright sun cannot scorch them. Satisfied, he walked into his Amma (grandmother) and Baba’s (grandfather’s) room, to discuss the findings with his Baba. He had built a rapport with his Baba, who had been in Anuj’s house over the last few months, owing to his ill health. Baba with his huge collection of stories and poems was a constant source of entertainment for Anuj. Anuj was in turn an object of amusement for everyone in the family. Siddharth, his elder brother, was his story book. In the struggle between Neetu and Siddharth, when both of them competed to get Anuj to sleep with them, Siddharth used to take him away by luring him with a story.
“Ma, where did I come from?” asked Anuj, reconfirming her answer. She was stirring the curry she was making for dinner. She was sweating all over – working in the kitchen always made her do so – and was in no mood for fun.
“Beta! you get out of the kitchen.”
“No! I am fine, You first tell me – I came from the heaven, right?”
“Go and ask Amma,” she said getting rid of him. So Anuj went to his Amma.
His Baba sat there huddled together wearing a white dhoti and a white shirt. Amma was also sitting by the side of the bed peeling oranges.
Amma was not very fond of Anuj as he asked a lot of questions. She preferred docile kids. But Anuj, without caring what his Amma thought, shook her and asked her loudly, “Amma, where did I come from? Daddy says I came from heaven, is it?”
“Ya, right!” said his Amma. His Baba gestured to him to sit by his side and offered him an orange slice.
“What’s your question?” asked his Baba.
“Baba, Daddy says that I came from heaven. But Neetu says that I came from Ma’s stomach,” he said as if sharing his anguish with a friend.
Hearing this, Amma got scandalized and chaffed him but Anuj was in the safe custody of hisBaba. Had it not been for Baba he would have got one on his head.
Baba raised his eyebrows and gestured to Amma asking for an explanation to Anuj’s question. While Amma shied away, Baba thought to himself, “Where do we come from? And where do we go? No one really knows…”
“She was showing me a picture from Siddharth’s biolology book. It had a photo of Ma with stomach bulging out and a baby sitting inside, rolled up,” continued Anuj.
Neetu, who was doing her homework on the dining table in the lobby, overheard him. “It’s not biolology. It’s biOlegy stupid!” she shouted.
Now Amma could not take it anymore and almost chased him out of the room and poor oldBaba said, “Arrey! what are you doing? Keep your cool, he is a kid.”
“Ya! You only let these kids talk such scandalous things. You better not promote this,” warnedAmma.
Baba usually avoided conflict. Especially with women he would revisit Tulsidas’ “Dhor, Ganwaar, Shudra, Pashu, Naari; Sakal Taadana ke adhikaari” to vindicate himself.
Meanwhile Anuj had escaped to the safe zone of the lobby, where Neetu had now engaged Siddharth in helping her get through her homework. His mother was also taking some fresh air in the lobby as she wiped the sweat from her face, hand, neck, stomach.
“Come here!” she called Anuj in a strict tone.
“What did Amma say to you?”
Neetu and Siddharth sat there smiling at each other.
“She called me scandalous,” said Anuj, as if happy with the compliment. “I was telling Babathat Neetu told me that I came from your stomach and not from the heaven up above. Neetu showed me a picture in Siddharth’s biogy book.”
“BiOlegy stupid!” said Neetu and got a tap on her head from Siddharth, who was explaining something to her.
Before his mother could say anything Anuj reached for Siddharth to confirm the knowledge he had received.
“No dear, babies do not drop from the heaven. Bacchu! I will tell you where you came from.”
The idea that Siddharth was going to expand on the process, mortally terrified mother. She was wondering what to do, what to tell, where to run and hide her face. She was sweating again.
After a brief pause, Siddharth added, “I will tell you the full story tonight, will you sleep with me or Neetu?”