My mother was always good with children. She told me that children are the most innocent beings in the world. Somehow, I never warmed up to kids. For the first time in my life, my friend gave birth to a baby girl. I wouldn’t say that I had an epiphany and my attitude changed but I slowly learnt to play with her.
One fine day my friend asked me to babysit Ishani for an entire day. I dreaded the fact that I have to spend time with a six-year-old for an entire day but at the same time I also felt guilty. My friend came with Ishani at 8 AM in the morning. She told me, “Don’t worry, she has her iPad and she can also watch TV.”
“Oh! I had bought tickets to the circus and also thought I could take her to the Zoo?”
My friend laughed, “That is a brilliant idea. But you know it is your weekend too. Are you sure you want to go out with her?”
I was bit confused, while it would be easier for me to switch on the TV and let her watch cartoons but I did buy the tickets and I used to love circus when I was a child.
“Umm Ishani? Would you like to go to the zoo with me?”
“There are giraffes in the zoo.”
“But I have seen giraffe videos.”
I remembered my friend telling me that she loved the Jungle book.
“Ishani you might see Kaa from the Jungle Book,” I said looking at her hopefully.
“Okay. But I am taking my iPad.”
I drove her to the zoo apprehensively. I bought the tickets to the zoo and went inside with Ishani. I was about to buy a cotton candy when Ishani yelled, “Look it’s Balu.” Before I realised what happened I saw Ishani running towards a cage. I ran behind her and she handed her bag to me. I saw her eyes roll in excitement. She again bolted towards another cage. I was panting by then. “She is beautiful!” exclaimed Ishani looking at the giraffe.
The giraffe ducked and offered her pointed nose to the crowd. Ishani touched the giraffe’s face. She laughed aloud exhilarated. She sat on bench nearby and ate her cotton candy.
“Animals live in jungles right?”
“Yes. It is their home Ishani.”
“Then why are they not at their home? You shouldn’t take people away from their house.”
I smiled. “Yes but then you wouldn’t be able to see them, would you?”
“I don’t get it.”
“What Ishani?” I asked. “When if I tell mommy that I want to see God, she tells me that no one can show me God and here is poor Balu. He is away from his home so that I can see him. Why should I offer food to God and not Balu? How can you trust something which you cannot see? What if God is bad?”
I was stunned. Thankfully a lion roared and Ishani jumped up and sprinted towards the lion’s den. I walked slowing keeping the small kid in my sight. The rules we make have no answer. Would fanatics and extremists have an answer to her question? Do I have an answer?
“Ishani if you are tired let’s not go to the circus?” I asked her while eating lunch.
“No. Let’s go.”
We sat in the front row. The show started with the Russian ballet dancers, followed by jugglers and then the jokers. Ishani looked at them keenly. I couldn’t understand her emotions. She seemed excited but vaguely quiet at the same time.
After the circus at the park. I was tired. We could see only the north star in the sky amidst the city lights.
“How far is that star?”
“Very far Ishani.”
“why can’t I be in the circus when I grow up”
“Who said you cannot be in circus”
“I know. Aunties and uncles don’t talk about circus. They talk about my teachers, maths and karate class or about something which I don’t understand. They don’t talk about jokers or dancers”, she replied.
“You don’t talk much. When I grow up I will talk and you will listen! Promise me!”
“I promise!” I told the little girl.
We finally reached my friend’s place. I sat on the sofa tired.
“Get me a cola”, I commanded my friend. Ishani went inside to take a bath. My friend sat beside me.
“Tired?” my friend asked.
“Yeah!” I replied.
“Your mom used to say that children…”
“That children are the most innocent creatures. I remember. But they are not. They are just us, more honest and also permissive”, I answered.
“Hey will you do me a favour? Can you take Ishani out to the park or museum or science city once in a while. She does not seem to get out of that damn iPad. Ever since we were children you were the one to read and throw orange seeds at random people walking down the street. The only way I manage Ishani is manage her the way I did to you all these years.”
“I’ll try to take her out,” I replied.
“You promise?” she asked.
And just like that, I promised three people that day – a new friend, a struggling mother and the child that quietly waits inside me playing peekaboo.
Ishani came out. “Show me your photos”, her mother asked.
“We did not take any mommy. I don’t have to because I remember the bear, lion, giraffe, monkeys and snakes. You know what Mommy! One day I am going to travel to the star.”
“Why?”we both asked.
“Because I will show the picture of earth from the star and everyone will know how little they are. Then they will understand that no one should take Balu out of his home.”
Ishani slept off on her mother’s lap while we talked peacefully. I hoped that I day she really reaches out for the stars and shows the world a new meaning of the word home.