Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tyres for toys

I took my mom to the tailor's yesterday. She works out of the house of someone who is on the look-out for a suitable boy for her daughter. Remember, this is India--the land of Arranged Marriages, so don't be so shocked when you read such stuff; it's more of the norm over here. My mother, in order to save fuel in the car, said we'd go on my bike, or rather my dad's bike, which is a scooter that I like to call a bike because scooter somehow doesn't seem right. Anyway, so it's 4:15 PM and we have about 45 minutes left until my father has to leave for the shop (that's what we do--we're shop-owners, or at least we own the one shop, which is a Stationery that my pop opened after he retired and came back here).

So, where was I--ah yes, the marriage proposal that my mom had gotten (she's very heavily involved in this sort of stuff these days, and is constantly reminding me that I have to settle down as well before I hit 30; I'm more like--we'll see--35 sounds like a much better age for me).

I park the bike (scooter) outside the house, my mom gets off and walks into the tailor's. They both greet each other and my mom sits down with the envelope that contains the prospective bridegrooms bio-data (a must-have over here for anyone willing to wed his son off to someones daughter), with a picture inside (another must-have). Especially for the girls, because the guy's side of the family always have many demands.

A couple of minutes later, a lady dressed in a white सलवार खामीज़ stepped down from the first floor, along with a very cute little girl, followed by an even cuter little kitten, and all three of them headed for the tailor's suite to meet my mom. (They must've chatted for about half an hour or less, even though my mom had said that she would just take a minute or two, and I thought I'd keep myself busy looking at this kid who was playing on the side of the road with a tyre that he had found.)

He must've been no older than 5 or 6, a boy who had no business being on the side of the road, playing with a ratty piece of used rubber. The boy was dressed in a pair of dirty shorts and an old T-shirt, and was running back and forth with the tyre, pushing it with a stick, trying not to let it fall and at the same time maintaining its balance. This is a very popular game here amongst kids who do not have any other means to entertain themselves with, except what they find on the streets.

I observed him for a few minutes, and locked onto the smile that he had while he was playing his game. I think there was no other kid on earth who could've been happier at that moment than he was. The game lasted for a few minutes more before the tyre was hit a little too hard, and ended up in the middle of the road, right between the traffic. It was odd the place where it chose to settle down, plopping right in the centre of where the median should've been, but since this is India we don't have too many of those on our side streets. (I suppose you don't have them abroad either so it would be unfair of me to criticize India alone for it.)

Anyway, the traffic continued to whiz by, the people walked past without a care in the world, and the little kid was hiding behind a tree, wondering what would happen to his toy now, too afraid to venture after it into the middle of the road. It was then that I noticed the Sugar Cane seller at the far end of the street, with his Sugar Cane cart and machine, who was no doubt the father of the boy by the way he was looking at the tyre, figuring out how he would get it and still continue to do his work. His wife, noticing his apprehension, hurried onto the road and grabbed the tyre as quickly as she could and turned around to head back to safety, returning the tyre to her son, and listening to the worried admonishments of her husband by running off like that.

The kid, happy to be reunited with his toy, and not wanting to risk another mishap, decided to give the tyre a break, and went and hid it behind a road sign, along with his stick, careful to cover them both up with some cardboard pieces, if in case there was anyone around who'd be interested in swiping his loot.

On his way past me, we both looked at each other, but neither one wanted to acknowledge the others presence--I, for fear that he might think I thought poorly of him for playing on the road (or even worse), maybe even thinking that I was trying to steal his tyre--and him not wanting to let me know that he had just exposed his secret hiding place to this stranger. We both just looked at each other and almost gave each other a smile, like the other knew what he was thinking about.

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