There are days when I log on to Facebook to find a series of ‘likes’. All the likes are from Swathi. I smile.
Swathi is 15 years of age. Too young to understand the meaning implied in many of my posts. For her, the like is about her feelings towards me- a mix of love, adoration, admiration and trust. The unconditional love that is so rare in the modern world. Like her mother says, I am her gold standard. If I say something, it must be beautiful. That is her perception of me. She doesn’t question it.
When she comes home in the evenings, she has a pile of worries from school. She has only a few minutes with me, but in those few minutes, she unburdens all her worries.
‘I still haven’t managed to get my completion for Physics practicals!’
‘I am fed up of tuitions!’
‘I don’t know which course I should take up!’
‘Aishwarya didn’t talk to me today!’
‘We had our class photograph taken today and this pimple on my nose chose this very day to erupt! My friends made fun of me.’
Her worries are centred on a multitude of issues ranging from trivial to serious.
For the child, they are all equally disturbing.
I have nothing much to say in reply for her mother is already screaming at her. But there is something in our interaction that comforts the child.
‘Why isn’t your teacher helping you out with the practicals?’
‘Tuitions are such a pain, aren’t they?’
These are the only answers she needs to feel lighter. She likes her feelings to be acknowledged. She likes to be reassured that it is quite normal to feel angry and sad.
‘Look at the sky! It is so beautiful!’, I exclaim.
She turns to look at the sky.
‘I love that part of the sky. That spot beyond those branches. Where the sun sets. The colors are most beautiful there’, she replies.
We talk a little about sunsets and bird baths and fireflies.
Her mother screams.
‘I better go’, she frowns.
But as I watch her walk towards her house, I realize she has already forgotten her worries. She is in that other world of beauty-
That world where sunsets, bird baths and fireflies replace tuitions, practicals and pimples.
She walks in gay abandon, a little smile on her face, her eyes lit up with the perceptions we have just talked about. She hastens as her mother screams again.
Now I understand why my presence is so important to her. My reciprocation to her feelings sets her free.
Free from the mundane.
Free from the troubles of her little world.
Free from all the prisons that lock up her childhood and prevent the free flow of her personality.
My reassurance is the security she needs to convince herself that it is alright to break free from these prisons-
These prisons where one’s worth rests on accomplishments, achievements and pimple-free faces.
The child finds in me a source of positive regard that dispels her feelings of worthlessness.
Sometimes, she shows me pictures she has clicked on her mobile. Pictures of flowers and birds. She swipes and her picture comes up. She is quick to change it.
‘Let me see that’, I tell her.
‘I don’t look good in that. My face looks very tired. Mother said the pimples are very obvious’, she blushes in embarrassment.
I take a look at the picture.
‘I love your hair. Such a cute expression you have here!’, I smile.
She looks at her picture, a little surprised that there is something of beauty there.
She does this often. There is this fear that her appearance is flawed. The fear of criticism. In truth, she is beautiful. There are dreams in her eyes, and her hair is wavy- like the cascades of a waterfall. She is tall and she carries both Western and Indian outfits well. But her sensitivity to criticism has made her focus on the undesirable aspects of her appearance. In her mind, her pimples are a calamity-
A calamity no less than small pox.
On some days, I see her riding a cycle. Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, her hair tied in a high pony, she looks beautiful. She reminds me of those young girls riding horses on meadows in 19th century England. She is totally oblivious to her beauty. And that is perhaps what makes her most beautiful.
I am surprised at how fast time has gone by. I cannot believe Swathi is a beautiful young girl today. To me, she will always be that little child who hid behind the computer monitor until the traumatic kidnapping scene had passed in the movie ‘Kakothi kavile appooppan thadikall’.
That little child who believed that the dog by the blue gate was grinning at her when it showed its teeth.
That little child who couldn’t imagine cats and dogs having no beds to sleep in.
That little child who was very disappointed when a glass sheet was put over the skylight in my house.
Until that point, she had savoured the open view of the sky from within the house and she had dreamt of soaking up the raindrops from within the house. For her, it was a fantasy come true- the outdoors captured into the house.
‘I always feel nature is walking into your house’, she would tell me.
Once, when the bulbul had made its nest in our garden and we had accidentally discovered it, the birds had demonstrated panic. They had already laid eggs and they were concerned.
‘We are not going to harm your eggs, birdie’, she would say to the birds.
And the child would refrain from going near the nest so as not to alarm the bird. She also kept it a secret from her brother who liked to destroy things. Swathi was quite the opposite. She never liked to disturb the integrity of her world. When the pigeons fed on the grains, she would walk with quiet steps, scared that she would frighten them. In her beautiful mind, she had a regard for all the creatures on this planet. She could never be happy alone.
Her happiness was rooted into the happiness of all that surrounded her.
The child was very good at sketching and painting. Once, she drew a girl dancing. I watched her and realized how spontaneous she was. In her eyes, there was the perception of what she wished to draw. And I saw her sketching with her mind. A few strokes, and there was a dancing girl. It was full of imperfection, but it had conveyed that perception of gaiety that she wished to convey. I was spellbound.
As she grew up, I saw less of her. Tuitions had started to fill her leisure time. Also, her mother was not very happy with my influence on her. Her mother wanted her to get serious with academics and think more about exams, scores, tuitions and career. She was exasperated by the child’s interests and inclination. The child talked about the eagle teaching its children to fly.
‘They start by 7 am. The children sit on a high branch. The mother flies to another branch and the children follow her. Some fall, and she makes a desperate dart towards the child, guiding it towards a branch’, she would recount.
We would hold conversations from our bedroom windows at night. Into the silence of the night, she would shout:
‘What color is your Krishna? We bought a blue colored Krishna. But father didn’t like that shade of blue. He painted it all over again. Now it is a deep blue. Did you buy garland for the Krishna? We bought marigold garlands. But I like Tulasi garlands more.’
Her mother was fed up of these ‘childish’ conversations that had no place in the scheme of reality. Over time, she tightened her leash on the child and our interactions dwindled.
It was now limited to birthdays when the child eagerly waited for her present. She knew that I would gift her something beautiful. That was easy for me because I knew that she would like everything that I liked. Whenever I found something enchanting in a shop, I would buy two of the same. One for me, and one for her. It always delighted her.
Facebook was a ray of hope that came her way. Though her access to Facebook was restricted, she loved the fact that she could stay connected to me on Facebook. Also, my absence has always been traumatic for the child. When I was doing my post graduation in Mangalore, she would wait for weekends and for holidays despite the fact that we wouldn’t get to meet. But the fact that I was within reach, offered her a strange comfort.
‘Isn’t Valentine’s day a holiday? Why don’t they give a holiday for Valentine’s day?’, she would frown.
When I had finally completed my post graduation, she was delighted. My job at Calicut had disappointed her. And now, when I am finally back for good, she is the happiest. Every evening, those few minutes that she gets when she comes to collect her house keys, are most precious to her. On some days, when I am not around, there is a sudden worry in her eyes:
‘She won’t be going away, right?’, she asks my mother.
Swathi is the daughter that I would have liked to have. She is nature’s very own child. She is not an individual; she is a world. We communicate in a language that is our secret, and that bypasses all the constraints that come our way. Between us is a bonding that is created out of our love for this planet and for all its creatures. And that language communicates more powerfully than the language of words. It is for this reason that her ‘likes’ to my posts on Facebook are most precious to me despite the fact that they come from a mind that has not understood anything about the content of those words.
But then, it has understood something far beyond what those words have to say!