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Out on a Walk with Dadiji


By Savitri Narayanan

“Neha, hurry up! The school bus will be here any moment!” her mother called out from the kitchen.
Neha was already on her way out. Quickly she put on her shoes and shouted back from the verandah,“When Dadiji comes, give her a big hug; unpack her bags only when I’m back from school!”

Dadiji lived in their ancestral village, Meeraganj. Once in a while she would come down to spend a week or two with them in Hiranagar where Papaji was posted. Neha always looked forward to Dadiji’s visits. It was exciting to be home when she arrived!

Dadiji usually boarded the village bus that left for Hiranagar every morning. She brought along boxes of not chocolates and cookies but things that grew in their garden like mangoes, guavas or corn. Once, she even brought along a ripe jackfruit! The neighbour Ramu kaka and even the staff of the bus were very helpful in loading and unloading her bags. Dadiji’s coming was a celebration!

It was almost two years since they had met. Everyone had stayed home due to the lockdown. Once in a while Papaji went to the village to spend a day or two with Dadiji but he went alone.

Everything changed in December, when Papaji was transferred to Gurgaon. From their three room house near the market they shifted to an upmarket apartment complex. Neha changed schools too – from the primary school in Hiranagar to the Modern English School in Gurgaon. But the change of schools didn’t really make much difference as the classes were online. There was no chance to meet or make new friends.

What really changed was their lifestyle. It was a promotional transfer so Papaji was eligible for a bigger house. He was given an apartment in an upmarket housing complex. The packers and movers came one morning with their truck and by evening everything from their three-room house in Hiranagar was shifted to their 10th floor flat.

Life was interesting in Highland Heights. It seemed like a place for rich people. Within the complex, there were gardens, a badminton court, a restaurant and even a swimming pool! Children’s play areas had swings, slides and monkey bars. There were lifts in all the buildings. Inside the lift there were buttons which could take one to whichever floor one wished!

Somehow, the life was so much fun that it did not seem like lockdown. Neha was eager to roam around the complex with Dadiji, to show her the exciting new things in Highland Heights.

The school bus pulled in at the gate, blaring its horn. As she got in, Neha waved to her mother in the verandah and reminded, “Mummyji, promise Dadiji’ll unpack only after I come back!”
With Dadiji around, Neha’s days turned fun. “Dadiji, let’s go down! It’s playtime!” Neha called out from the front door. Wherever, whenever Neha longed to go, whatever she wished to do, Dadiji was ready to go along. She would tell stories, sing songs, play games and even dance with Neha and her friends.

“Come fast, Dadiji,” Neha called out, “the lift’s here!”
“Dadiji, I love to skip with Meenal!” she said, “Yesterday we did a hundred skips!”

Hand in hand they headed for the children’s play area. Every now and then Dadiji paused to pick up something from the ground.

“Dadiji,what are you doing?” Neha asked, “what are you collecting?”

“Can’t you see?” laughed Dadiji.
Neha was puzzled. A biscuit wrapper, a lollipop stick, a tissue paper, a plastic packet – every now and then Dadiji bent down to pick up some garbage! And then she would look for a dustbin to deposit these!

“You’re collecting rubbish! Why?”

“Because it’s there! It must be in the bin!”

“Dadiji, this is not your job!”
“True it’s not my job, it is everyone’s job!”
“There’s cleaning staff to do this, let them do it!”

“Take responsibility, my child! This world belongs to us! When each one of us does our bit not to dirty but to clean up our surroundings, the world will be a better place for you to live!”