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The Boy in the Blue Shirt

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By Savitri Narayanan
“Auntiji please keep an eye!” said the little boy as he kept his water bottle under the bench, close to Sameeksha’s feet.

“Ok beta, you go and have fun!” she smiled and got back to her book. The Golmaidan Park was a good meeting place for the young and old alike. Recently retired, Sameeksha and family had vacated their government quarters and moved into the housing complex and she enjoyed her hour on the park bench. With both her son and daughter-in-law glued to their computers and video calls, the family interactions were intermittent and functional. There was an air of expected silence at home. Used as she was to lengthy phone calls with friends, Sameeksha often felt constrained at home. So she all the more relished her evening hour in the park. After taking a couple of rounds she would happily settle down on her favourite bench below the harsingar tree. Over the months, the children’s faces had become familiar, and a child or two offered her sweets on their birthdays.

“Poor children, the way this virus is spoiling their childhood!” thought Sameeksha as she looked around. Usually, by now, there would have been a dozen children fully engrossed in their games. Mothers and grandmothers would escort the younger ones and sit around to exchange news.

“See the corona effect! Golmaidan is deserted!” said Padma as she came with her knitting bag and eased herself on to the next bench, “I went out to pick up some potatoes this morning, the supermarket was deserted!”

Slowly the children’s play area came alive. As they played, there were minor tiffs but they found ways to resolve the issues and continued to play. Those who owned rackets found their partners. Some chased a football on the far side. A few boys with nothing to play with devised their own game when one pretended to be a dog and chased the others with his funny bark.

“Virus or no virus, children find a way to be happy,” said Padma as she continued to knit.
“True, look at the way they amuse themselves!” agreed Sameeksha, “A cure will surely come out soon – the way our scientists are working round the clock!”

“Auntyji, I am thirsty,” a little boy in his tattered trousers approached her. Sameeksha noticed how his shirt had missing buttons and was unwashed too.

“Drink from your water bottle,” said Sameeksha affectionately, “What’s the problem?”

“Auntyji, I didn’t bring mine”, he said pointing at another boy, “He has water but he’s not sharing!”

The boy in the blue shirt held on to his water-bottle and looked the other way.

“Promise I’ll drink just one sip,” pleaded the boy in the dirty trousers, “I’m thirsty!”

The boy in the blue shirt ignored him. As if on cue, the boys came down from the parallel bars and the jungle gym to sort out the issue and find a solution.

“This boy here is thirsty but didn’t bring his water bottle,” Sameeksha stepped in to be the arbitrator, “And this boy here’s not sharing his water!”
There was silence as they looked at the thirsty boy and each other looking for a solution.
“That tap there,” one boy pointed in the direction of the swings, “There’s water there! Go drink!”
“Of course not!” said another boy, “That’s not drinking-water; that’s recycled water for watering the grass!”
“That’s true,” agreed another boy, “I’ve seen the maali kaka put a looong hose and water the grass! The hose is so long that it can go round this golmaidaan!”
“You’ll get dysentery if you drink tap water; Mummyji always boils the water.”
“My Mummyji also boils the drinking water, every day!”
“Why didn’t you bring your water bottle?” asked one boy.
“I forgot,” he replied, “I am very thirsty now!”
All eyes were on the boy in the blue shirt. He did not relent, looked away in dignified silence.
“Who else has got a water bottle? Who wants to share water with this boy?”
“I have water but can’t give him,” said one boy adjusting his glasses, “It will become jhoottha!”
“Me too,” said another boy, “We don’t eat or drink others’ jhoottha!”
Quite a few agreed with him, “Even we don’t!”
“I’m glad to hear that,” said Sameeksha, “‘Jhoottha’ is an old concept but quite relevant even today; saliva is the carrier for some infections…”
“Corona virus spreads too,” the boy with the water bottle spoke up for the first time, “My mother said not to share the water-bottle with anyone,” he said, “Because the virus spreads!”

“Your mother is right and it’s up to us to stop the spread!” Sameeksha signalled to the boy, “He is not being selfish but is acting responsibly! He is stopping the spread, isn’t it?”

It took a while to sink in, for them to understand what Sameeksha meant. Soon the guilt, the blame and the shame were gone from the air. A new-found respect for the boy reflected in their eyes and he stood tall with a bright smile. He uncorked his waterbottle, offered it to the thirsty boy with the words, “Oopar se pee ley; don’t make it jhoottha!”

“Remember, it is the duty of each one of us to stop the spread,” Sameeksha concluded, “Be aware and responsible like this boy! See how he found a way to stop the spread yet help a friend!”

The boy in the blue shirt glowed in the acceptance and respect in his friends’ eyes. Within seconds the group dispersed and headed back to play. The ground turned noisy as they got into their groups and devised their games.