I’ve learnt the hard way now that it is pointless to love and rear other people’s children. They are bound to leave even more surely than your own will. At most, you will be fragments of some distant childhood memory for them. Which is a good thing. You don’t want a child you love to go through angst because of you.
As I write this, Mini Riya is some 20,000 metres or so above the ground and flying away to Dubai. She will live there, study there, and grow up there till they move elsewhere. In between they will visit because we will still be landowners in the same locality but I feel it’s like the end of an era.
I’ve known her from the time she was in her mother’s womb. I once gingerly touched Saritha’s stomach to feel the baby’s movements. My family was the first to visit when the baby was finally born and we were thrilled to bits that it was a girl. Not to be sexist or anything but everyone with any sense loves baby girls more. It’s a known fact. And she was really cute. Pink, and round, and wrapped in green. When I uploaded the pictures on Facebook a few people thought I had given birth to a daughter. As at the time I had been blogging about having a child out of wedlock and all such things.
Since then she sort of grew up with us. In our house. More than she did in her own. As is the way with most Indian households. As was the way I grew up too. In Pillar Aunty’s house. It’s remarkable how alike and sort of full-circle this seemed to us. Mini Riya coming over, eating with us, sharing her stories with us, and living with us.
I taught her English and to count. At 2, she can spell her name and knows all the letters of the alphabet. She knows all the animals on the planet and has her own unique sound to depict the noises animals make. She is very familiar with birds and loves to draw and paint. And she can count till 15. As anyone who knows me will tell you that is pretty much my upper limit when it comes to counting.
Unfortunately, she refuses to name colours. She will annoy me by calling red green and because she sees I get annoyed by that she says, ‘purple’ as if that is a magic word and I will now be less angry. It always worked. I think she was testing me there. From her I learnt rudimentary Telugu. Her language evolved far quickly than mine and she can hold involved discussions about life as she knows it in Telugu and I rarely understand anything. But any Telugu I can speak now is because she taught me how.
Another thing she grew fond of because of me was nail polish and jewellery. She loved nothing more than to rummage in my cupboard. She’d tell us she was going to arrange Bhumika’s room and play with my chains and rings and all that sort of thing. For someone who supposedly didn’t know colours she always picked and wore the chain that matched her outfit the most. It’s the messiest my room’s been. It was the happiest I’d seen her.
My parents and I had become this annoying family whose stories often centered around a child. She replaced me as the centre of my father’s universe. He would take her everywhere, share food with her. She in turn, would get his insulin injections from the refrigerator, take his cigarette lighter out for him, and regale him with stories. She progressed from calling him Uncle, Anand Uncle, to Ay Mr. Anand. It always amused everyone on the road to hear this child screaming, ‘Hey, Mr. Anand, I am coming to your house now.’
People in our area kept away from my father so as to not hear the latest Riya update and how she is a really feisty, and brave child. Like when the neighbourhood strays bark loudly and annoyingly, she would move close to where they were and command “Inti ki po” meaning “Go home.” Another favourite story my dad has is how she screams hello to the moon from her balcony. And how she always told him, “Uncle, choobi (see) the moon is following us wherever we go.” He would also brag about how she always said our house was her house and the other house was her Mummy’s house.
I tried not to fall into the trap but some stories are too awesome to not be told.
Like the time when Mini Riya went to a bank with my father. She was naturally excited to be in a new place but she was also struck by how the fan above the cashier was the only one that wasn’t running. So loudly she asked my dad in Telugu, “What’s the matter, doesn’t that lady feel hot or what?” and had the entire bank grinning. In the same bank she is known to have pointed towards an old lady and remarked loudly again, “Look at that old lady, she is so pretty.” After which, the old lady apparently pointed her out to her colleague and remarked what a clever child she was. Naturally, the colleague told her that the old lady was saying that only because the child had praised her. Since all these were loud conversations, everyone in the bank that day had a good time. That’s Mini Riya for you, the queen of good times. She even knows how to say cheers and knock her glass with yours and look into your eyes.
As a baby, she loved to fall sleep cuddled up in my arms. In fact, she would refuse to sleep if I didn’t hold her and that alarmed her mother no end. So Saritha started to breastfeed her before putting her to sleep every single time so she wouldn’t depend on me. She needn’t have bothered.
As Mini Riya grew up, she became rather more fond of my parents than me because unlike me they never tried to discipline her. She could do anything she pleased in our house and it was all okay because. My mother she loved. She would tell her all sorts of stories.
If she’d have a fight with her brother or mother, she would come home and tell my mom that she had done bad, but it was okay because now she would live with my mom and not go home. One day after she had hit me and I had bled, she didn’t say sorry to me immediately but she went and apologised to my mother and said that she had been a bad girl. It was very important to her what my mom thought about her. She sought her for advice, love, comfort, and acceptance. Including checking with her on what dress she should wear after her bath. After a haircut which she didn’t like getting, she didn’t go to her mom for comfort but instead clung to mine.
My mom thinks that Mini Riya thought she and I were the same age because often she gave me her toys to play with and we wore similar frocks at home. For the longest time Deepak her brother, also thought I was the same age as him because I mostly work from home, am fed food by my mom still. He got a rude shock one day when I got all dressed up and went out in a friend’s car. So it’s not surprising that when Mini Riya wanted to be nice to me she would give me a flake of her orange or half a bite of her chocolate, and would allow me to use the series of My First books that I had bought for her, and when she felt overcome with love for me she would call me ‘putchki’ my special name for her. If my parents were around she would rarely sit with me. But if they weren’t, then the entertaining fell to me. She knew how to sit at the laptop and look like she was working. I had taught her the difference between document files and picture files. A past time for both of us was looking at all the numerous pictures I took of her.
She knew why she was called Mini Riya. Because she had met Rheea, my scatter-brained partner, who had come home and made faces at her. It didn’t take her long to make the connection. I cannot say the same though about Rheea. Often when I narrated Riya stories, my other friends including Rheea would ask me, “Which Riya are you talking about?” And that’s how we decided that we need to call them Rheea and Mini Riya. But Mini Riya didn’t quite like being called Mini Riya. She told us that her name is really, ‘Riya Paapa’ and not Mini Riya and we were to call her that. Naturally, we all obliged. We didn’t have a choice. She would walk in to our house all hours of the day or night, with a “Hello, look, Riya paapa has come. What are you all doing?”
Who can resist that?
And now that’s not going to happen.
Hopefully she will learn to love and give unconditionally like my mother tried to teach her, and say, ‘please’, ‘thanks’, ‘sorry’, and ‘God bless you’ when someone sneezes, like I taught her. And help others, laugh, and drink with a ‘cheers’ like my father taught her.
As we sit sunk in gloom at home, we are all hoping that she should always be happy and suffer no pain ever. We had her with us for over two years and we feel like we got a lifetime of happiness through her. But that’s human nature, we are greedy. We want to have more. We want her to come visit, demand for oranges, and photos, and walks, and things to play and read with. I want my books and papers to be scribbled upon, my pens to dry without their caps, and feel that irritation when she makes a mess of my cupboards.
It’s rubbish to love someone else’s daughter as your own. It really is. But love, who can stop that? We have no choice, really, when it comes to whom we love and give of ourselves to. In the end we hope that it will all work out for everyone. Someday maybe she will read this and learn how much she was loved in our house. She really was our pride and joy, my putchki was.
Oh and in highly cosmic irony, I never even got to kiss her goodbye because of the damned herpes. At this rate I will become the next Sophocles or something.