Sarita, a five year old little girl, lived in a joint family in a small town called Ramanapuram. She was the only child in a household of grandparents, uncles & aunts, and her parents. All her cousins were grown up and had left home to study at university.
Sarita, with her bright eyes, cute braids and colourful ribbons, was the sunshine in their lives. She flitted about like a butterfly, chattering away, playing with her friends & singing in her golden voice that stopped people in their tracks as they went about their chores. She was treated with goodies and bear-hugged and thrown-up in the air and caught, tickled & given toffees, by all her indulgent family members. Thus cruised her happy life.
Today was the annual town heritage fair and the whole town was bustling with activity. There were flags & ferris wheels fluttering & spinning in the breeze. It was a local holiday and everybody was in high spirits.
In Sarita’s house, after the main door was locked, the entire family walked down together to where the tents were put up. Blaring music carried through the breeze, the sound of drums could be heard, vendors were calling out to customers.
Sarita’s eyes sparkled with excitement. She did not know where to begin. She could see the candy floss maker, the potter, the lac bangle maker, the balloon seller, the bombay-mittai wallah, the astrologer with his two talkative parrots, and all this was not even the half of it.
She ran on ahead, in glee, trying to visit all the stalls at once. There was a stall selling delicious slices of raw mangoes with chilli powder and salt drizzled on them. She stood transfixed before the snake charmer, hiding behind the folds of her mother’s saree, just in case. That done, she ran to the bangle maker, where her mother bought a pair for her that perfectly matched her pretty frock.
Soon, they stopped to guzzle tall glasses of sugarcane juice. As she drank her juice, Sarita eyed the balloon maker; he had balloons in every colour and the girl’s heart soared in joy as she saw the balloons gently waving on the tall pole. The balloon maker was transforming balloons into flowers, animals and swords.
Sarita asked her mom if she could go ahead and take a look at the balloons. Without waiting for an answer she skipped towards the shop. There were a few children leaving the balloon stall as Sarita stood transfixed by the balloon maker’s hands, as he deftly sculpted a sunflower.
Suddenly, he looked up and saw the little girl studying him with bright eyes. He froze for a second & quickly analyzed and concluded that this moment could change his life forever. He left his balloon pole, walked towards Sarita and asked her, “Do you want a rainbow coloured balloon?”
“Yes,” replied Sarita breathless with excitement. He said, “Come with me,” and in the short span of thirty seconds, he held Sarita’s hand and walked away into the crowd, his pace increasing and his furtive glances looking behind to see if her family members or anybody else had seen him. He quickly threw his turban down. Now he looked quite different.
“Uncle, where is the rainbow balloon?” asked the little girl. The man said nothing, merely increasing his pressure on her slender wrists. Sarita was afraid now, as the tents seemed very far away, and they continued to walk down a narrow alley and then climbed some uneven steps. She tried to free her hand but it was in a vice-like grip. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she pleaded with the balloon seller.
Finally, after about ten minutes of fast-paced walking, they reached a small house and the man rapped sharply on the door . When the door opened, a woman stood there. She seemed to have been crying. She saw Sarita and asked him, “Who is this girl?”
The man said, “I can’t bear to see you mourning our daughter every day. It kills me. I saw this girl and she reminded me of Mita so I just brought her here from the fair. We should leave town now. I will come back for our stuff later. We can set up a new life with this girl…..”
The woman gasped. She said, “What is wrong with you? Have you taken leave of your senses? I do not want any other girl other than my Mita. Did you even for a moment think of how frantic her parents would be now? Go and drop her back right this instant. I am ashamed that you would do such a thing. I am sure the police are already looking out.”
The man mumbled, “I only did it to make you happy.”
His moment of madness had passed. With slouched shoulders, the balloon maker went inside and brought a packet of rainbow coloured balloons and gave it to the little girl.
The man and the girl walked back to the fair, her hand still in a tight grip. When he was within site of his balloon pole, his eyes scanned the crowd. Very soon the girl said, “My Uncle Pratap is there. Uncle, Uncle”, called out the little girl in a trembling voice.
The balloon maker shoved the girl in her uncle’s direction and quickly disappeared into the crowd.
nimi naren, 6 Feb 2015