The mundane yet beautiful frangipani tree outside my window does look pretty. Usually filled with leaves, bunches of white flowers peering in between the green, the slender brown bark reaching for the sun…and a sturdy branch holding onto a swing. It’s a simple rickety, make-shift swing that can just about hold a little child’s weight as the kid would swing for a very short while and catch some cool breeze. It is a simple yet beautiful swing.
Children from the building I reside in usually catch some swing time in the evening and it’s a lovely sight, just as childhood should be.
The little lawn-cum-garden which doubled up as a garden-lawn needed sprucing up. It was obviously neglected and under my mother-in-law’s watchful eye, the supervisors relented. They unleashed a little army of workers on the garden – which would dutifully come every morning.
Every morning as I hung some clothes on a quaint steel rack in the balcony or hastily bustle around my room – trying to wake up the sleepy mind – I would catch glimpses of the army. Women dressed in shiny sarees that would glitter in the morning sun, trying to sweep the fallen leaves, men dragging the hose pipes in every corner, waking up so many caterpillars and squirrels, all tucked away. And their little children would play around – in the shade or run bare feet in the sun. I used to watch them from a distance – and with a distant mind. Just see them as part of the landscape and turn back to whatever work was occupying my mind at that moment.
My mother-in-law started a little tradition – which I discovered only later. And appreciated a little later.
Each morning, she would call out to these children playing downstairs and from our first-floor balcony throw a little packet of goodies – a paratha with some sweets, or special neat packets of biscuits ordered from the market. It became a tradition and a part of the morning routine. And still is.
At first, there was a little boy she named, ’naniya’ (little one) who would come running on tiptop. He disappeared – I think his father got transferred. And then another little child appeared – her name is Radhika and one would mistake her 4-year-old face to be that of a little boy’s. Painfully shy, she sits on the swing on the frangipani tree and will keep looking at our window. And my mother-in-law will keep a watch for her. And then the little girl will come running to our window and catch a little pink / white packet full of goodies.
One morning I was in my room, and my mother-in-law came in, almost in tears. “You were saying you wanted to buy clothes for one of the maid’s children. I think you should buy some for these kids outside,” she said, proceeding to describe Radhika’s shirt from that morning – the upper and lower parts held together by a large safety pin.
Just the thought of it distressed me, and I started rummaging through my drawer – desperately hoping I had a t-shirt that would fit that little one, somehow. I chanced upon two singlets – red and brown – worn out which I hadn’t touched for over 6-8 months. I then remembered another pink salwar kurta slip I had – which again was just making a comfortable bed in my drawer.
Radhika was nowhere in sight when I reached the window – the sweeper called out to his companion across the lawn and near the canteen building. The canteen guy spotted Radhika and her family, and they made their way below our building. When Radhika neared, I had to suppress a gulp: the shirt looked far worse than I imagined. She gingerly came below my window, her father caught the parcel, and she looked up quickly to acknowledge me and proceeded to go back, all the while opening the parcel.
Two days later, we didn’t see Radhika. I was disappointed…when I went to my study room, ready to log in my office hours, I saw a group of children hunching in a circle looking up at our house. So, Radhika changed her spot and got her gang along. My mum-in-law and I, two constables on the job, rushed to the window and the senior constable rushed to prepare a packet of sweets. As we threw the packet down, my eyes squinted in the sun – was that the red singlet? Radhika had teamed up the red number with a little black pajama and was already putting newly-opened chocolate in her mouth.
I felt a rush of emotions. Dismay – a piece of cloth I hadn’t touched for months was valued so much by another and happiness – it was being used by someone who needs it. And there was little Radhika, who was just happy with the sweet of the day.
I was riddled with doubt initially – would the singlets really be of use to the little child? And then hopeful – with plans of buying clothes for all the children at a future date. I’m just glad that I decided to do something then and give her whatever I could.
I’m not sure how often we want to reach out to others in life – but forget or get busy. Life has a way of getting others players in the race. Could be work, relationships, petty or large concerns, health…we’re all in for a long haul.
But every little action matters. From a sexagenarian religiously offering goodies to little children or a little child ensuring that every elder partakes of those same goodies. It matters to a little girl called Radhika, who sits every day on a little swing on a frangipani tree.