So, without ado, I bring you here another episode from his eventful childhood. It might evoke different emotions in you––from humour to sympathy to indifference––depending on what strikes your imagination.
But, for Kanti it was a traumatic experience. Read on…
One evening, Kanti came charging into the house and began rummaging the only drawer he was assigned in a chest of drawers to keep his belongings. It was a little beyond his reach even when he stood on the tips of his toes; he had to climb a stool to reach it. That inability to access his drawer was one of the main reasons he wanted to grow tall, really soon. And, that was the reason he accepted everything his mother gave him. “Eat it; it’ll help you grow tall,” she would say.
Kanti grew desperate as he looked for something, which seemed to evade his eyes. In a last ditch effort, he pulled out the full drawer, the weight of which, his tiny frame couldn’t bear. And, lo and behold, he lost balance and fell to the ground with a massive thud. All his toys came tumbling out––three cars, two tennis balls, crayons, pencils, a kaleidoscope, a piece of coloured glass, a top, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders board and a dozen other things.
“Maaa… heelppp!” Kanti yelled as he fell.
“What happened?” Maya, a concerned mother ran out of the kitchen in response to the distress call of her little one. She was aghast at the sight of Kanti lying spread-eagled on the floor facing the roof, a bit dazed; the drawer see-sawing on his little chest and a dozen and more marbles still traversing different paths on the floor in the hope of finding a state of equilibrium.
“Oh my God!” She staggered, “What happened? I hope you aren’t hurt, my child!?” She enquired with great concern even as she stepped on a marble and tripped and tumbled. Only a heavenly intervention enabled her to grasp the arm of a dining chair and avoid a fall. In one quick action she removed the drawer from Kanti’s chest and helped him on his feet.
“I’m fine,” said Kanti. But a face contorted by a spasm of pain, and a clearly visible limp in his gait gave away his actual condition.
“What happened,” was the repeated question, the doting mother asked as she hugged him and looked for signs of injuries.”
“Nothing really!” said Kanti. “I was looking for a red marble.”
“Now Kanti, you could have waited for me, as you always do. I would have helped you with it.”
“But you were in the kitchen and I was in too great a hurry. I couldn’t have waited.”
“Couldn’t you have waited? What do you mean?” Maya distorted her eyebrows to lay stress on the questions.
Unmindful of Maya’s concern, Kanti started picking up the marbles strewn on the floor. He was still looking for the ‘red’ marble.
Maya gave a glass of water to Kanti who still appeared hassled. “Tell me, what is the matter? And, look there. Yes there, under the chair. There’s your ‘red’ marble.” Maya said as she pointed at it.
Greatly relieved, Kanti picked up the ‘red’ marble and pocketed it. He then hugged her mother tightly (Shashi Tharoor would rather have called the hug, a “kwtch”. A “kwtch” is more than a hug).
“Maa, you have saved me from ending up in prison.” His eyes welled and a tear rolled down his little pink cheek.
Maya’s face wore a big question mark.
“It’s like this… This morning I was playing marbles with Dinesh when he was called by his mother. He quit the game but left his red marble in a hope to re-join soon. But he did not return. So I picked up all the marbles and returned home. I carried his “red” marble too, to hand it over to him later.”
Curiosity was killing Maya: “Ending up in Jail? Red marble? What was going on in Kanti’s mind?”
Kanti continued with the seriousness of a grown up.
“Just a while ago, when I was playing outside with Veena (remember Veena? Kanti’s cousin of his age, and his living encyclopaedia of worldly knowledge) we saw a policeman passing by. In his tow was a handcuffed man. Veena told me that he was a thief being taken to the jail where he would be kept away from his family and friends for many days. She told me that a thief is a person who takes away someone else’s belongings without the owner’s consent. She also told me that…”
“Of course, thieves get punished. So how does that bother you?” Maya was impatient and wouldn’t let Kanti complete his story.
“I have taken Dinesh’s red marble without his consent. I am afraid the police will jail me for being a thief. I don’t want to be away from you and Dad,” sobbed Kanti.
“Oh my dear. You are not a thief. You have taken the marble only to help your friend. Thieves take away things with bad intention; not to return them,” Maya allayed Kanti’s anxiety. “Now go and handover the marble to Dinesh.”
Kanti was panting when he returned from Dinesh’s house. Maya smiled at him. “So that’s the end of it.” She thought.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Later, in the evening at the dinner table the three––Kanti, Anil (his father) and Maya––exchanged notes on how each spent the day. That was the family’s way of unwinding every day. Maya was the first one to speak. She had nothing to talk about her day. So she told Anil about the red marble and Kanti’s woe that afternoon. She chuckled as she shared the incident. Anil struggled to hold back the impulse to smile at the story when he saw a quiet Kanti lost in some thoughts.
“So Kanti, did you return the red marble to Dinesh,” Anil asked Kanti to get him involved in the conversation.
“Yes Dad, I did… and Dinesh was happy to get it back.” Kanti still wore a blank look. His discomfiture couldn’t escape Anil’s eyes.
“Is there something still troubling you, Kanti?” Anil poured all the tenderness that a caring father could in that question.
“Dad, Veena told me a lot of things about the thieves and the jail. She told me how they make the inmates clean, sweep and work hard in the jail. The police even shave off their heads.” Anil was all ears, nodding occasionally as he absorbed Kanti’s bits.
Then Kanti paused and looked around as if to make sure that no one else was listening. Once assured of the privacy, he brought his mouth close to his father’s ear and started talking in a hushed tone. “And Dad, do you know…?” He glanced around the room again and spoke in a whisper, “We are surrounded by thieves! Brij Mohan Bhaiya (the milkman), Ramu Bhaiya (the dhobi), and… even Ramesh Uncle (Major Ramesh, a friend of Anil)––all of them have shaven heads. As Veena said, they must have served sentences in the jail.”
Rest of Anil’s evening, and the following weekend was spent in convincing Kanti that all men with shaven heads were not thieves. Anil realised how easy it was to teach a child a new thing rather than erase things from its tender mind.