‘’Hello, old friend. You failed me.’’
I reached to pat her fluffy cheeks, but she dodged it with a lithe ballerina twist, “You promised to teach me dance. You never did.”
I sighed, ‘Kiddo, I tried. We completed 3 levels, remember? “
“But not all 7 levels.”
“You know Life – exams, peer pressure, cut throat competition, corporate world. The innumerable whirlpools that suck one down – Stress, worry, hurry, deadlines, projects. Priorities change.”
She stifled a giggle, “Life has you dancing to its deadlines,” Then she sobered down, “You do know that your Life has its deadline in Death, don’t you?”
I winced and shifted positions. My knee joints creaked alarmingly.
“You sound like Grandpa’s knees. You … are old.” she observed.
“Gymnasium knees. I’m not old. I am mature.” I ventured with dignity, but she was not fooled.
“Older than Grandpa. He at least hums along to old Md. Rafi songs. And he goes all dreamy when Madhubala flashes her lopsided impish smile. When was the last time you hummed a tune?”
“Look, Kiddo. I am short on time, not on what to do with it. Unlike Grandpa.” I muttered the last bit, “I have to pay the home-loan installments and pay the maid’s salary…”
“Your full-time maid spends more time than you do, enjoying the home whose installments you spend all day working to earn.” Her wisdom had outgrown her age.
“Yes, Ms Smartie. But the house will be in my name after I die.”
“Wouldn’t you rather live in it?” her voice forlorn now, “You stumble out at dawn and stumble in past dusk. You don’t even speak to it anymore.”
“Speak to … you want me confined to a loony bin?”
“We used to whisper secrets to our old home. It was our Faraway Tree, our Magic Carpet, our Zoo, our farmhouse. It had soul – and it had memories. This poor thing has neither. Is that why it looks so sad and so lonely?”
“Looks fine to me. Needs re-paint.” I tried to shrug off the uneasy twist within me.
“Remember? Long ago, on Kojagiri nights after slurping on Masala milk, we used to sprawl all over the terraces and count the twinkling stars.”
“And now all I count is IT returns and investments.” I anticipated her wise crack and beat her to it.
“You failed me.” she insisted serenely once again, “You promised me sunsets and rainbows; you promised me music, melody and twirls; you promised to dream.”
She clambered onto my rickety knees, “Why did you tell me fairy tales? Prince Charming, Happily ever after, Angels and fairy Godmothers?”
“I was trying to initiate you into the world of ambition, of jealousy, of violence, of backstabbing, of sibling rivalry. Remember Snow White, remember Cinderella, remember Mahabharata?
Don’t blame me because you believed only the rosy parts. Life is cruel. Life is vicious.” I spoke through clenched teeth.
She threw her delicate arms around my neck, “What have they done to you? Where’s your innocence? Where’s your faith and trust? Where are your dreams?” her eyes brimmed with tears.
Her virgin gaze seared into my cynical bitterness, “Without me, you are the living dead. Hold on, hang on. Don’t allow them to win this battle.
My childhood. My innocence. My Self. My best long-lost friend.