The car drives slowly through Whitefield Apartments. On the passenger seat is Rajat, dressed in his school uniform, with a water bottle hung around his neck. For someone as tiny as him, the dashboard is always in the way, but still, he looks ahead with eager eyes.
Standing near the entrance of Block-E is a young woman in a saree. Rajat smiles when he sees her. The car stops in front of her and he steps out.
“Aap aa kyu nai re the itne din se?” he asks her why she hasn’t been coming for so many days.
“Now I am here, na,” she says as she takes his bag. They start walking into the building.
“You know, Rajindra bhaiya used to drop me at Singh aunty’s house. Then, in the evening, Mummy-Daddy would come to take me.”
They get into the lift. “Hm?” she asks.
“Haan. And one day at aunty’s home, they made yellow aloo for lunch,” he mentions.
“Oh, it must have been boiled potatoes. Even I can make that for you.”
They step out of the lift and into the corridor. “You also know how to make it?” Rajat inquires inquisitively.
As she inserts the key into the door, he notices her hands. “Why have you put colour on your hands?” he asks.
“It’s not colour; it’s mehendi”.
The door opens and they walk in.
“Not mehdi,” she breaks it into syllables, “Me-hen-di”.
“Me-hen-di?” he tries. “Yes,” she walks into the kitchen while he stops and gets down on his knees at the tea table filled with toys: a toy fridge, a small bus, and pencil boxes.
“Why have you put mehendi?” he asks as he starts moving the toys.
“Just like that. Quickly change your clothes, then we will eat.”
She takes out a plate from the shelf. At the tea table, Rajat slowly tries to find ways to move the boxes and toys past each other while imitating the noises of vehicles, “Brum brum peep peep — a traffic jam!”
“You know didi, today in school, Anju madam asked everyone what they wanted to become when they grow up.”
“Hm?” she puts rice on the plate.
“Siddharth said cricketer, and Ritu said scientist and Mayank said…”
“What did you say?” she pours dal.
“I said I don’t know.”
“Why? You could have said engineer or manager, like your Mummy-Papa.”
“No, Mummy and Papa are always in the office, when will I play?” his car finds a way between the toys and boxes. “Didi, when you were little, what did you want to become?”
She stops for a second and wonders. Then she walks out of the kitchen with the plate. “Why aren’t you changing your clothes?” she says firmly.
“No, food first!”
He gets up and sits on the large sofa, she sits on the single sofa beside him with the plate on her thighs. He looks at her face with attention. Then points a finger to her forehead. A red bindi. “This?”
He moves closer and looks at her hair – sindoor.
“Arre, all of these are things that mummy puts on. Why are you wearing these today?” She does not answer but the restrained smile on her face gives her away. Now certain that something was going on, Rajat gets more excited and starts tapping his hand on her knees.
“Tell na didi, tell me, why have you put mehendi and all this?”
She is hesitant. But then she relents and says with a shy smile, “Bindi and sindoor are worn by those women who are married.”
She looks down at the plate and mixes the rice, dal and sabzi. Gently, Rajat’s smile fades away. She takes the spoon to his mouth but he lowers his chin. As she tries to look at his face he begins to lie down on the sofa, then turns around and buries his head.
“Rajat?” she puts the plate on the table and touches his leg. He does not move. She gets up and moves to the large sofa near his feet.
“What happened?” she holds him by the waist and tries to lift him up. Tears are running down his face.
“Why did you not tell me?” he says accusingly.
“What didn’t I tell you? Why are you crying?”
“About your marriage.”
“My marriage?” Confused, she says, “Why?”
He sniffs, “Main karne wala tha aapse shaadi.” — I wanted to marry you.
“Arre? This is why you are crying?” she forces herself not to smile. “That’s enough, Rajat,” she wipes his face with her saree’s palloo. “Rajat you are so young right now. Shaadi is for grown-up people.”
“But I will also grow up one day,” he says.
“Arre baccha, but by the time you grow up, I will be very very old. Like Singh aunty!”
That makes him smile a little. “Still, I would have married you only”, he says tenderly.
She wipes his face again. “Stop now, no more crying, arre, when you grow up there will be so many girls for you. Now let’s eat.”
He sniffs again and sits properly. She picks up the plate and takes the spoon to his mouth. He takes one bite. She mixes sabzi and rice again.
With a tinge of jealousy, he asks “What does your husband do?”
He turns and looks at her, his eyes reddened with tears. Helpless, she clears her throat and says, “He is a mechanic — those who repair cars,” forcing a smile.
She takes the spoon to his mouth. Another bite.
He sniffs again, “When I grow up, I will also become a mechanic.”
She laughs, “Oh God!”
“Only then will you like me na?” he interrupts.
“I like you as you are, child. But if you don’t eat properly then nobody will like you.”
She smiles again, “By the way Rajat, do not ever say this at school.”
“Just don’t,” she laughs.
“Okay. This will be our secret,” he says, and continues to eat.
Sourabh Yadav has just finished his master’s in English literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Despite the tempting JRF scholarship and his parents’ concerns, he is quitting academia to try a career in filmmaking. You can find him on Youtube and Instagram.