Innocence in flesh and bones – that’s what kids are. They know no trivialities, no problems and the world around them more often than not turns perfect if they are born in a family of more than mediocre means. They are well provided, loved and taught.
On my journey back to Delhi, I met two such kids. Lovely and energetic duo. Would have loved to give their names but after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to keep them anonymous. They were students from 5th grade, on their way to Agra for their annual school trip. They took the window seats beside me and the train started chugging. I pulled out my headphones, grabbed my novel and started reading – The Associate by John Grisham.
At first they pretended to be shy and didn’t talk much, but then the tea arrived and with it came our first conversation while I was preparing my tea from a tea-bag, dried milk and hot water –
“Bhaiya (elder brother), would you mind if I watch you?” he said pointing at the tea.
“No, not at all!”.
And then I taught him how to prepare tea while his all-knowing buddy kept instructing him from behind. They had very sweet voices and I may sound soft for such a hard spoken man but I have no better words to explain how their manners combined with their voices, won my heart completely. They kept asking me questions about myself – if I was married, if it was a love marriage and we kept holding the conversations. I liked answering them even when they never cared to let me read my novel. There was something very satisfying to go with their flow. They kept asking me to leave some space to let them use the loo and I obliged. On other days or with other kids, I may have even kicked their teeth in after the third or the fourth time but not them. With every passing quarter-hour, they kept spreading the word about a “Super Cool”, “Super Awesome” Bhaiya who would let them listen to the amazing songs on his phone. They even learnt the password for my phone the very first time they saw me drawing it.
One by one each of their mates came and shook hands and told me – “You are truly awesome Bhaiya!” full of reverence. I could only smile.
They kept arguing about my age, if I am 18 or 40. Some told me that I look very fearsome sometimes and some said I looked sweet and cute. Some were confused whether they should call me Uncle or Bhaiya. For them, Uncles are married and Bhaiyas aren’t. The two beside me had a strategy and I’m gonna lay it out flat in front of the world – “Their Secret” – both of them were very adept at impressing their teachers and used their impression to get extra marks.
At some point there was a cut throat race between the students to impress their teachers with food. Our lad here, who had a pizza in his bag, held all the aces though. When the rummaging was going on, he, with a bang, pulled out his box and offered the entire thing to his teacher. He looked all around and with this move stopped all the scuffing for food. He was proud and it showed on his face. It wasn’t going to last long though. When he landed back on his seat, he wanted his pizza back. He now wanted to share it with his best buddies and not her but couldn’t ask the box back. He kept cribbing for next 20 minutes about it when the box landed in his lap and the teacher, who wasn’t too interested in the pizza, asked him to offer it to other teachers. The boy though had other ideas. He quietly slipped it back in his bag and pretended he hadn’t heard what the teacher had told him. I was laughing my ass off!
They kept offering me eatables though (including the pizza) but I stuck to my philosophy to not eat from any strangers when travelling.
They even made me give their parents missed calls, so that they could call back. I was the main subject in those calls too.
But what happened at the end of their journey struck me the most. One of those two kids, came running back from the door and touched my feet as mark of respect to the elders. I just touched his face and said – “Now go. You are late!”
When they left, I could only think about my mortal nausea at seeing so many kids together at the platform and dreading my journey from there on. How wrong was I?