This was around 18-20 years ago. It was a cold and windy winter night in my hometown, Nagpur. My parents and my elder sister were in Pune for 3-4 days, where they had to attend some relative’s wedding functions. I had, for the first time, insisted on staying back as I wanted to explore how did it feel staying alone and having the entire house to myself for a couple of days!
“In few years when Didi is done with her Engineering studies, she would go out to study or work. Then I’ll have to stay all by myself when you and Maa are gone out of station for weddings or office sports meets or whatever!”, I said in desperation as everyone continued to look at me.
“But Abhi, I’ll be worried for you all the time if you stay back and don’t come with us. How will my little brother manage?”, Didi said and smiled naughtily.
Maa joined the drama, “Yes beta, she’s right!”
“Maa, Noo…”, I reacted in reflex, “And you (turning my eyes to my sister), Little brother, yeah right…….”
In a fraction of a second, I realised and re-focussed on my priority task!
“But Papa, this is what I am staying back for. So that whatever small mistakes I make now, you and Maa can tell me how to correct them in future, No?”
Maa and Papa exchanged a brief look, then Papa spoke, “Fine, for first time. Make sure this doesn’t become the last time that we are letting you stay independently.” I thought they were convinced by my well scripted and planned pitch! I now understand, they just gave in to let me have my chance, since I had managed to put so much nonsense together to convince them.
But when the time to realise the dream came, I was more scared than excited. I could hear the whooshing sound of the wind passing through the slits of the tightly closed windows. I am not sure if it was colder than usual or was it my scared inner self. It was well past my usual bedtime. I switched on the tv, and put on cartoon network(there can never be anything scary about cartoons) and convinced myself that this was the ultimate solution to put myself to sleep. A thought crossed my mind. My cousins would be dancing or playing antakshari or having fun conversations while here I was, my teeth sounding like a Khartal!
In some time, I heard a knock at the door. I ignored. Another knock in few seconds, this time a little louder than before. I slowly got out of the bed, went near my cupboard, picked up my cricket bat and started walking towards the door. The knocks continued.
Who is it?, I shouted from inside.
“Hey, I need to talk to you Abhi”, I heard a firm, yet subtle voice through the door.
“What do you want?”
“You want to show your parents that you are a grown up enough to take care of you and the house, all by yourself, right?”
“Yeah!”, I said, curious, but still scared.
He continued, “At the same time, you also want this to be a happy experience and not something you would be scared to do again, correct?”
“Yeah!”, this time more curious and less scared than before.
“Open the door my friend, I am here to help you”, he said.
I don’t know why, I felt like trusting the man with such a kind voice. “Ok, I am opening the door, but don’t you dare try to hurt me, I have something really dangerous that can hurt you much more.”
“I know, but you can leave the bat near the couch and then come open the door”, he said, and sounded as if he was smiling while saying that.
I was a little shocked, although, also slowly able to trust the voice. Still,I didn’t park my bat aside. If I’d gone by the obvious that our parents always advise, I shouldn’t have opened the door.
But I, keeping the bat ready enough to hammer the man for a six if required, opened it!
There was no one.
I craned my neck out of the door a little, “Hello…. Man…. Voice…. Whatever….?! You there??”
There was no response. I turned back and slammed the door behind me.
The sound broke my sleep and I woke up. Yes, it was a dream. I sat on the bed for sometime, thinking about what I had just seen… I sat there for some 10-15 minutes, got out of my bed and freshened up. I stepped out and bought milk (I think this is the first time I did so, voluntarily). I then heated the milk, made myself Bournvita drink, made bread butter and ate breakfast, called Mami and informed her that I’ll reach her place by 12.30 PM for Lunch. “I know that beta, Mummy had told me. Come anytime you wish to!”
The day went by, and it was around 10.30 PM. I didn’t feel like watching TV, I felt like I wanted to read something. I called my sister’s mobile. Back in 2000-2002, we had one landline phone and only one mobile phone at home, that my sister was using, since she would go to college, different tuitions, etc. Just for her safety and so that she can update us with her whereabouts, in case there’s any change in her schedule, she carried the mobile phone. My usage of the mobile phone had been limited to playing Snakes.
Didi answered the call, “Yes Abhi, how are you? Done with dinner? What are you doing now?”
“Yeah yeah, all done…”
“You can’t imagine how much fun we all are having here, you should’ve come…”
“Hmmm… ok didi, that ‘Wings of Fire’ book is kept in your book shelf na? Can I borrow it to read?”
She responded after 5 seconds, “Abhi are you ok? Where all did you go today during the day?”
“Didi, why the drama now?”
She replied, “One, you want to read. Two, are asking me if you can borrow a book from my bookshelf! No, really… Tell me, are you ok?”
“Didiii… Relax! I am fine. Don’t worry. So can I?”
We spoke for next 30 seconds after which Maa wanted to speak to me and know how her son had managed to keep his tummy full the entire day, in her absence; although as a matter of fact, she had already made all the arrangements before leaving for Pune.
The last question of the call was on Papa’s behalf, “Beta, papa is asking if you are closing the main door carefully at night using all the 3 latches?”
“Yes Maa! Good night!”
After we hung up, I sat for some time, my mind blank, reflecting on my sister’s words and then thinking about how I had spent my entire day. I think, I really did wake up as a slightly different person that morning!
YES, I DID WAKE UP A LITTLE…
Cut to the Present Day: This was just a few days ago. Covid-19 had already come in our world, our country and had begun to affect our lives. The lockdown, which most of the smart countries across the world enforced, demanded that their citizens stayed indoors. Like most of the global population, my wife and I have been working from home since then. It is true what we have been reading and hearing everywhere, that this is going to be our new normal for a long time!
This is from the initial days of the lockdown. My wife who is working for an IT company, had been awaiting system access to be able to work from home. Thus, she didn’t have much workload then, apart from a couple of calls during the day. Maa and Papa have been a tad affected by the lockdown, as Maa is unable to go out for interesting Street food and movies and Papa isn’t able to go for his routine evening walks.
One such afternoon, after our lunch, I was getting back to work. My wife, Maa and Papa went to their respective bedrooms for afternoon naps. It was around 3:00 PM. I was feeling a little tired and thus, I got up from my desk and went to the bedroom for a power nap. I hit the bed, and then in a few moments…
Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!
I heard multiple and simultaneous knocks on the door. As I was trying to figure out where was the sound coming from, similar knocks were heard again. It was sounding as if some people were stuck inside the house and were struggling to get out. I got up in microseconds and ran towards Maa and Papa’s room, to check if their door had been locked from outside. No, it was fine. I walked towards the living room. There were few kids in the living room. Shocked, as I walked towards them, this is what I saw:
There was a really cute little girl who was just smiling at me, first pointing at herself, and then towards the door. I understood she wanted to go out.
A boy was wearing a knee length transparent raincoat. Even he was pointing towards the door.
Another boy was wearing shorts and a sleeveless T shirt and a neck tie along with it. He was also pointing towards the door.
There was one more boy, who stood very close to the door, and was fidgeting with the latch and lock of the door.
I asked him what was he trying to do. He said, “I am trying different ways to open the door somehow, I wasn’t banging the door before, these guys were. I always try new ways!”
I asked the guy in transparent raincoat, “Why are you wearing a raincoat? It’s not even raining outside!” He replied, “what are you talking about? This is how I am always dressed. That’s how people can see through and I can have no pretence!”
I looked at the girl. She put on a very cute smile again. I gently pulled her cheeks She smiled further. She didn’t say anything.
I turned towards the boy who was wearing a tie and asked him why was he wearing a tie with shorts and a sleeveless t shirt. “Mom says I am a grown up now, and that I should dress up and behave accordingly.” He continued, “Leave all that, why don’t you let us out? Open the door, let us out!”
The boy wearing raincoat tugged at me and as I looked at him, the T-shirt inside his raincoat read, “Let me go out, please!”
The cute little girl was still smiling and just pointing at the door.
“Okay, but how did you guys get in?”
The boy near the door replied, “We’ve always been around.” As I was trying to absorb what he just said, he continued, “Just open the door and let us go out!!”
“Okay! Okay! Please step a little aside and let me open the door for you guys.” I said as I walked towards the door. I opened the door and turned, “There you are……..”
The kids weren’t there. I turned towards the door again, and craned out my neck to see if they were outside. I got inside and closed the door behind me.
And I woke up from my sleep. After opening my eyes, I was just trying to recollect all that I just saw and blur memories of something similar that had happened around 18-20 years ago started popping up. I tried to correlate.
So, 20 years ago, when the door was knocked in my dream, it was the ‘Maturity’ at the door that sneaked in my life and hence the changes started occurring in me since that day.
In the present day, in the above story, all these kids were some of the childlike qualities, which I may have stopped showing or expressing, since I am a grown up now and I need to behave accordingly.
One boy displayed Innocence, while he thought that just wearing a tie will make him look like a grown up. Oh how badly did I miss being that innocent!
Another boy showed Transparency. We as children are clean and transparent like glass. There is no pretence, no diplomacy. As kids we didn’t know how to lie and life used to be so easy that way!
One more boy, who would not stop trying, made me realise how after we grow old, we follow and stick to the stereotypes. We shy away from trying new things, fearing failures and embarrassment. He didn’t.
The girl continued to be polite and always managed a smile, throughout the five minutes that the kids were in that imaginary scene, the dream. Whatever the situation, we can always put on a smile, stay polite, look cute and stay strong.
It’s not that we have to stop behaving like grown ups. I am 32 now and I’d be considered retarded if I behave completely like a child. The maturity that sneaked in years ago, needs to always play it’s part. I think those young emotions and qualities which were banging the door from inside, wanted to tell me to let them also come out and not to refrain from exhibiting those emotions. As much as we need maturity, emotional stability and reasoning to sail through a grown ups life, the child within also needs to stay active and alive.
Whatever way of storytelling I may have chosen, I hope I was able to put across the message that I wanted to… Be a grown up, yet stay childish within… Always!