By Savitri Narayanan
The neighbourhood park is a happening place, especially in the evenings. Children of all ages reach there from different directions. They come in ones and twos, some escorted by their mothers, grandmothers or maids, while some come riding their tricycles or bicycles. There is much talk and laughter in the air as many friends settle down on the benches to catch up.
Soon, I too got drawn in by the bubbling energy. The bench under the tamarind tree turned into an interesting spot to spend an hour or two. Chat with a friend, gaze at the sky, attend an online meeting, get lost in a book or in the web – the choices were unlimited. It also offered a glimpse into the ways of the world.
The children who roamed the ground seemed to possess unlimited zest. They met, played, fought, argued and made peace. Some settled their issues with fist-fights, some encouraged the fights, some offered to mediate, while some came to compromise. Often young mothers stepped in to support their offsprings, fight out their battles only to muddle up and upset the equations.
Like the boys who played cricket! They came nearly every evening and made the patch beyond their cricket pitch. Most of them lived in the housing colony across the road. Just stepping into their teens some had traces of moustaches waiting to grow. They came in ones and twos and hung around waiting to bat. They seemed to bring their bats in rotation to be used by the batsmen of the day. There was a sense of caring and bonding and they seemed to abide by their unwritten rules and regulations. As soon as the one with his bat arrived, the game started in earnest.
That winter evening, the game was in full swing when something went wrong. All gathered around the bowler and got into a heated argument. The batsman too joined in to put in his bit. There seemed to be some difference of opinion which they couldn’t resolve and soon the voices rose to a higher pitch.
“No, he was not out!”
“Of course he was! Run out!”
“No, I wasn’t! I had crossed the line”
“No, no, no, he wasn’t; he was in before the ball hit the wicket!”
“Of course not! He is out, he didn’t cross the line!”
While they were heading towards a resolution, a woman walked in to mediate. She shouted at everybody and told her son, “Chalo Munnu, let’s go home!”
“No Mummy, I am not out! I am batting!”
“You batting? You are OUT!” the argument continued.
“No, no no! I am not out, I am batting!”
“Chalo! Call it quits, let’s start a new game. Who will bat first?”
“Don’t play with these fighting boys, let’s go home”, said the mother taking the boy’s hand.
Munnu was on the verge of tears as he followed his mother with his bat on his shoulder. He kept looking back longingly at his friends. For a while the boys sat around looking forlorn. In the absence of a bat they changed the game to ‘catch-catch’ and started chasing each other all over the ground.
Soon a bunch of girls walked in. The only play equipment they had was a skipping rope, each. The tall girl who escorted them seemed slightly older. With her racket and shuttle in hand she looked around searching for someone.
“Have your fun but no fighting, OK?”she waved away the girls, “I will be here playing badminton with Nita, come back here in an hour”.
With that instruction, she sat down on the bench waiting for her friend. The children scattered with their skipping ropes. When they had had enough, they switched over to ‘catch-catch’ which got more exciting as they ran far and wide chasing each other. Soon Nita came with her racket and the two got busy with badminton.
The sun went down the western horizon and soon it was time to go home. The children came back running, sweat and dust on their palms and happiness aglow in their eyes.
“Didi, I am thirsty”, said one.
“Me too Didi,” said another.
“I am thirstier than everybody!”
“I am the thirstiest!”
“Please Didi, me first!”
This was getting interesting indeed! Half a dozen pair of thirsty eyes on a bottle of drinking water!
The young adolescent quickly took charge of the situation.
“I and Nita drank some so now we have only this much water left,” she said, holding up the bottle three-fourths full of water, “Enough for one sip each.”
“Yes Didi, yes, me first!”
“Me first Didi!”
“Please Didi, me first!”
The thirsty pairs of eyes looked up impatiently but with due respect.
“Line up, take turns; don’t put your lips to the bottle,” she listed the rules and continued decisively, “‘IT’ will take a sip first.”
Instantly they fell into a circle and chose the ‘IT’ by elimination. They lined up, had their sips of water and went home.
If only the grown-ups could be as clear and fair as these children! If only the children could be left alone to sort out their matters!