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And they all Came Out Crying from the Park
by Dr. Anil K. Prasad
From the balcony of our apartment in the college street beside the Central Bank often we could notice a rainbow umbrella moving. We did not pay much attention to it. We knew that there was a children’s park over there, coming up slowly to meet the demands of the children of this locality to provide them with fun and excitement and a healthy personality. We were only two persons, in those days, sometimes we sat in the balcony of our apartment, hiding ourselves lest we could be noticed, by the watchful guards of the bank or by the students of the college who were waiting for their afternoon classes. We loved to look at the mountain which appeared as a big wall between this beautiful city with a unique climate that was comfortably cool all the year round cleaning the mountains, roads and concrete houses with heavy showers of rain in the afternoons and the far off villages whose beauty was beyond description, after the rainy season.

In the evenings we used to drink our tea in the balcony which was adjoining the living room and listen to the programs in our language on the radio kept there behind the window. In fact, Sharada was very fond of those programs like daily news, news analysis, film songs, classical songs, radio plays and interviews. Besides, in a way, these programs helped us in connecting on many levels, with our home land. After that we used to go for evening walks, in the course of which, we used to pick up things which were needed in the house for daily consumption.
Once in a week we made a detour and went to the post office to check our mail in our post box. The post office was on the eastern side of the government hospital in the same compound beside the college of Dentistry. The postmaster was a very kind man. His son, who was very young, used to help his father in his work. The postman used to keep our registered letters and parcels of books and journals very carefully. Father and son reflected the culture of this land which was so rich in human values, especially towards a person like me who was from another country and for that reason, they thought; I must be treated well, like an honored guest.

The birth of our daughter could not change our daily habit of sitting in the balcony. After a couple of months she joined our group as the third and the most lively member of the group making us more alert at times, in taking care of her climbing attempts on the parapet of the balcony, of her sudden attempts to drink tea from our mugs of tea and of her food which she was very fond of taking in the balcony while watching the traffic and sometime flocks of sheep or herds of cattle who were returning from a nearby grazing ground. Our evening walks, of course, discontinued for some time, until she grew from her toddling and waddling stage and entered her walk-able age. It was a real pleasure to walk with her unsteady steps putting her in between ourselves taking her tiny hand in our hands amidst the appreciation of the neighbors and passersby who seemed to be very fond of children. But it was also a vexation sometimes later when she had had her own ways with her physical and mental growth and the growth of her sense of independence. At times she incurred the displeasure of the father when he got irritated and the matter was controlled by the mother by bringing peace between the two parties. Mothers are known and will always be celebrated for their patience and understanding.

On Fridays, the weekly holiday, she had a habit of incessantly reminding me of taking her out for a walk. This was after we had already finished our breakfast, between 10 and 11 in the morning. This used to be one of my proudest and refreshing moments in life. “Bye, Mamma, she would brighten up the long quiet staircase climbing down sixty nine steps sometimes trying to put her feet down by herself without my help, jerking her hand from my clutch. The moment she would come out of the building she would make her pace of walking faster until she reached the turn which went down to the main street of the city. She had picked up some expressions of the language spoken here. As children pick up language faster. She was too young to know that her maternal great-grandfather was a great scholar of this language. He was revered for his knowledge which he had acquired of the language and literature of this Oriental tongue. The inhabitants of this city felt amused when they heard their language coming out from the tiny lips of this little girl. It sounded sweet and funny.

Her walk would not be complete without telling me to buy a packet of juice and a chocolate for her. Sometimes the sun would not be so kind when he would begin to feel bored of warming this world every day and even then she would not feel tired of walking under the sun. She would like to move on and on and on as if in anticipation of reaching eternity. On her weekly rounds on Fridays she would ask question after question until she comes closer to the main door of the building. And to her surprise she would find a cat walking before her. In this city one can come across cats everywhere. When she met one of them who was heading for the garbage waiting to be carried up to its destination by the musical garbage vans so unique a feature to this city, she would follow her saying, “ O, cat come, come, please come to me, I want to play with you I will give you chocolate and cake and juice.” In the meantime, the cat, in alarm, ran away and disappeared behind the plants of marigold, winking at her from behind them as if she also had the same wish but it seemed the familiarity between them had not reached that level of intimacy to provide confidence to play together. She climbed the stairs with such zest and zeal that I remembered the nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill went up the hill’’ and also our young days when we climbed the never-ending steps to reach atop the heaven of fun and joy on the famous Gol Ghar in Patna, a granary built by the British government to store grains to be used in the periods of drought and famine turned out to be such a fascinating memorial for children of the entire region. And then at once she would remember her Mamma, “Mamma, please open the door.” Her Mamma would be already hiding behind the curtains having heard her favorite mantra to give her a pleasant surprise by suddenly appearing in front of her.

We tried to avoid taking her to the park on a Friday for the reason that the park would be very crowded. We used to take her to the park usually on an afternoon. The first day when we took her to the park she was extremely excited. While I was buying the entry passes in the mean time she crossed the tiny gate clambered the steps and ran towards the swing. On her way she stumbled, slipped and tumbled until I anxiously ran to catch her and make her stand on her legs. She cried loudly and grabbed me hard. She was afraid. Thank God she was not hurt.

“Daddy, I fell down, I feel pain below the knee,” she complained, with tears in her eyes which had become red. I tried to soothe her. I held her close again, hugged her and said, “Don’t worry, my dear, you’ll be alright soon.”

“Now, look there, go and climb and slide down from that thing.” I said to her pointing to an iron structure of red and yellow with tiny rungs to go up to the top and then to slide down.

Her face beamed with the desire to play once again. She forgot her pain caused by the rough and tumble for riding her hobby horse of entering the park in such a hurry as if it had not happened at all. And she quickly went ahead in that direction and put her right foot hesitatingly on the first rung looking at her mother as if asking her to lend a hand. Her mother encouraged and helped her to go to the top and then to slide down carefully by holding the sides of the slide by both hands breaking her speed to come to a halt slowly touching the ground with her feet. She liked that. She smiled with joy and went again for a slide. This time she climbed on her own and slid on her own, enjoying the play. And she played several times until she became bored and now wanted to go for a swing.

When she approached the rows of swings she was welcomed by a loud cheer from the other children most of them girls swinging to and fro, forward and backward with such jubilation and fearlessness that it was a sight to be cherished for a long time. She was helped by other mothers standing there in climbing on the swing and to make her sit securely on it which was specially made for small children, one of the older girls came forward to pull and push the swing for them. For a moment our daughter was scared then she became normal and started enjoying the rock and roll of the swing. I was looking at her from a distance while talking to an acquaintance of mine who was also there with his wife and children. None of them sitting on the swing wanted to come down. Whenever the girl who was making it go forward and backward asked them, More?” They sang in chorus, “Yes, More and more!” The girl asked them again, “More!” And they again repeated this lovely chant in their high spirits, “Yes, More and more!”

The sun was looking down on the earth straight and hard and his gaze made the guardians of the children conscious of some of their other daily demands. We were the first to feel that. We wanted to take her home. But she didn’t want to go home. Unsurprisingly, home looked an old dull building beside a children’s park with swings and slides, toy trams and cars and merry-go-rounds of swans and elephants as seats and horses hanging from the rainbow umbrella on them one can sit and fly into a wonderland never to return again to face the harsh stage of growing up inside the walls of a house! Her mother lifted her from the swing and gave her to me. I carried her to the gate and then we are out, out of the gate of joy and delight! She kept on saying amid her whines and kicks, “I will not go. I want to play more.” But we took her. She was crying all through the way. We thought it possibly only a trait in her that she never seemed to be satisfied with anything.

We came back home. We reached our apartment climbing the interminable sixty nine steps. The eyehole of the grey-colored main door blinked at her blank and vacant. After a while I found her immersed in the world of toys scattered around her and it seemed that she had forgotten the pain of being separated from the joy of playing in the park in the company of other children. Then I noticed that she was doing something. Her tiny tea-things were in front of her and she looked at me and said, “Daddy, wait, wait, I will give you some tea.” She looked around and she asked about her Mamma. I told her that her Mamma was in the kitchen. We were already late for lunch. “Mamma come, I have made tea for you,” she called out to her. She gave us tea – in two tiny green cups and saucers on a tiny pink tray! We both, as usual, acted out drinking tea with great relish and satisfaction. “Is the tea good?” she asked and smiled. “Tomorrow I’ll give you coffee, o.k.” and she picked up an old magazine sat down cross-legged and looked closely over the pages. I asked her, “What is written there, my dear?” And pat came the reply, “Raja Beta, Chuga-Muga, Hira-Moti.” These were the words of endearment used by her mother for her, meaning to tell her that you are a son, a prince, a bird, a pearl and a diamond. We were called by her mother to have our lunch. Her mother had already laid the table. While eating she said, “Daddy, shall we go to the park tomorrow?” Suddenly I found that the most animated member of our group had become quiet and when I looked in her direction her small spoon was about to fall from her grip; her eyes were half closed and she was dozing. I lifted her and took her to the bedroom placed her on her bed and drew the small blanket over her. She was fast asleep.

The next few weeks passed very fast, hectic with our household tasks inside and the responsibilities from without. We didn’t realize that both of us had been awfully busy. Then one afternoon we thought to take Gargi to the park again, remembering her wish. She climbed the stairs and ran towards the swing, this time without falling down. We did not know how time passed and it was the time for the park to be closed. The bell rang as the signal to close the main gate. Still all children were lingering there. They refused to go out. They were running away from their mothers and they were trying to catch hold of them. Most of them were giggling and chuckling with delight that came out from the triumph of certain naughtiness peculiar to children that their mothers were not able to catch them. Very courteously, the guards and gatekeepers told us to leave for it was time to lock the main gate. Besides, it was getting dark too.

The dark lady had already descended from the mountain, leisurely entering the city, looking back now and then, in veneration at the departing sun whose visage has turned from a red afternoon tan to a vermillion red. She had been walking down from the villages beyond; her velvety black shawl was falling over the length and breadth of the city. She took out the moon and the stars from her magic bag making them visible. The mothers took their children by force out, coaxing them, comforting them by promising them, to bring them again into the world of joy and delight. And they all came out crying from the park.
15-Jan-2010
 
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