Sunday, July 31, 2016

Niece

I was the youngest in my family. Always the pampered one. The one who was asked to crawl under the bed and fetch things. The one who was indulged, the one who was protected, the one who was adored.

And then came this little girl, 23 years younger to me. I had never been very fond of kids, but when I met her, I had a change of heart. I was taken by surprise. I never realized I could love a tiny thing so much. And quickly she started growing up. From holding her gently in my arms to picking her up like a ball, to running behind her, to lying down next to her taking turns at telling stories. She is all of 5 years old. And I have a strange ‘friendship’ with her. Both of us are like kid adults. We get along great.

For my wedding we had dressed her up as a tiny bride. She wore a pink benarasi saree (yes you get miniature ready-made sarees for kids) and a golden crown. I had to persuade her months before the wedding so that she agreed. She wanted to dress up like Elsa (grrr…) or some other fairytale princess, which essentially meant wearing a pink frock! But I glorified being an Indian princess because she was in India (hehehe, it was a logic that worked well on her imaginative mind. She lives in Australia).

I went home 5 days before my wedding and she was my constant companion. When the house filled up with relatives, brimming with stories from different bunches of people scattered in different corners and rooms (you know what happens when relatives reunite!), both of us spent time singing songs and playing with her make-shift toys. Papers, balloons, empty cardboard boxes, old stuffed toys and dolls that I had grown up on.

Swinging on the bamboo jhoola in the balcony, going round and round, high and low, I taught her one of my favourite songs. My favourite things from Sound of Music. I had sung this song in one of my schools’ annual function. It’s a number close to my heart for all the memories attached to it. Hours of practicing, new school, new friends, new teachers, first performance. And a lesson learnt very early in life – when you are sad, you can think of happy things and make yourself feel better. You have the power to turn your day around.

Weddings are not easy. It is overwhelming. It is emotional. Although I was not “leaving home”, somewhere in some darkest corner of my heart, I knew that things were changing and I had to adapt myself quickly. Having her around, her laughter, her innocence reminded me of who I was and what I would have to leave behind. I wanted to hug her a little longer, keep her in my embrace, not ready to give up on what she represented. I am a 5 year old at heart, I realized. And with her I could continue to be that for at least a little more time.

She might not even remember the wedding when she has grown up. Pictures are a testament of great memories, and you see her hanging next to me in almost all the group pictures. She would jump in from nowhere and stand there posing with me. Through out the entire wedding, even while we sat in front of the pious fire, she kept handing me flowers. She would sneak in from behind, or run across the hall, holding a peach colored Gerbera.

Bonding with her during the wedding, I thought about how fragile childhood is and how she may not remember all the fun we were having together, and how we may not get this chance again. She may have traces of these memories and feelings etched somewhere, but no physical manifestation or understanding of this ephemeral friendship. She will become somebody in a few years, a person with a distinct identity, in discovering herself, her likes and dislikes. And we might become strangers, meeting once in a few years.

She represented Change.

I sat there holding on to her a little longer and then letting her go. With the swing moving back and forth, we swayed together like a pendulum of a clock. Time was ticking.