“Come here Daya, he will bite you” “it won’t mamma, it is so cute” but the mamma still watched with concerned eyes, she disliked Daya’s love for animals. The six-year-old girl can’t see an animal without also going “ooo”, wanting to touch it and hold it – whether it be a bird, stray cat, dog or cattle. Once mamma had been just in time to ask her to step down from window frame of their third-floor apartment which she had climbed in order to reach out to sparrow sitting on the branch of a tree in the park of their building.
Ever since Mamma won’t let her out of eyes (except for school) and she was right in that attitude. It was as if Daya could get high on mere sight of animals.
Daya’s love for the puppy she was holding at the moment only increased over time. She named it ‘Toffie’ and even trained him to some extent for such simple things like ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘be quit’ – the English words that is, for she was one of those city children whose English-medium educated parents always gave her ‘apple’ rather than giving her same fruit while using words from an Indian language. And so while her mother’s first language was not English, Day’s Mother-tongue was still English.
In much the same vein, one can say that her belonging to a well-to-do fully functional urban family easily meant that she hadn’t yet faced rougher aspects of life – including knowledge of death.
That people or animals die was something she did know, but she knew it in just the same way as she knew that sunsets – never ever sparing it much thought.
Her first brushing with death came a year after she had met Toffee. She and her mother were standing at the end of their street waiting for her school van when saw on a roadside, the corpse of a crow – a few steps away from them.
When Daya saw it, she thought for a moment that the bird was sleeping (a couple of people curved around the corpse to avoid being near it but that Daya, in her innocence, thought was because they didn’t want to disturb the sleeping bird) and, as usual, was attracted towards it; she had never seen a bird that closely – its beak was sharply angled to black eyes scared her for a moment, the sharpness of features suggested something maleficent – only for a moment, she could never hold any negative feeling for anything for long. The very next moment the attraction had overcome malignity and she had started to walk toward the bird but even as she took the first step she felt that there was something strange about the whole thing and, the very next moment, she realized what it was – birds don’t sleep on footpaths they sleep, she didn’t know where they do, perhaps, in their nests or on trees but definitely not on roads. But then why should this … She was startled by the answer that suggested itself – now that she stared hard – she discovered that some part of its chest was rotting; yes the bird must be … But something in her won’t accept the fact, the phenomenon of death. She was scared but the fear was not of death, rather she felt repelled when she saw it was rotting and this was a new feeling – making her uneasy. And so she called “mamma” and pointed with the finger towards the corpse.
Mamma who was till now chatting on WhatsApp was quickly attentive by the expression on the child’s face and when she looked at what the girl was pointing at was quick to realize the cause of her concern. That didn’t help much though – she was clueless as to what to do. “Don’t look at it, baby” was all she could mumble.
“Is it…. Dead?” Daya asked ready to weep.
There are moments when the truth is fully clear to us and yet is so unbearable just like burning sunlight and so we sought shelter in the shadow of a lie. We sought reasons to be able to believe in a lie, and yet the obviousness of truth shatters shelters of lies that such proofs might create. Had ‘mamma’ lied and told her it was not dead, it wouldn’t have helped anymore or less than if she had told him it was dead.
But mamma really did was to tell her not to think about it, she took the girl by arm, told her she won’t be going school as the two of them must spend the day together.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan