Tuesday 10 August 2021

Aditya Valli, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

Two Shots Of Su(o)nShine


Another weekend arrived for Sanvi to unwind and relax a little from everyday churning. But yes, terms and conditions applied. She still had to make preparations for the coming week, sort out the groceries, take care of the clothes, clean the house, take care of the kids’ assignments, and of course drive her daughter to the weekend painting classes. The list seemed endless.

Sanvi worked for a Government company and had Saturday and Sundays off. Her husband Raj worked for a private bank and worked on most of the Saturdays. At times she would get the feeling that he has been working since she was a child! She chuckled at the thought and went about prioritising things for the day. It was already half past 8 in the morning. Sanvi usually prepared breakfast and lunch by half past 8 every day and weekends were no different. That way she would be done with cooking and can focus on other things for the rest of the day. Raj was all set to leave for work. He walked into the bedroom to see Arjun and Anjali, their seven-year-old twins feigning sleep. He tickled them and in a few seconds the room was filled with giggles. Raj kissed them and waved goodbye. Meanwhile Sanvi shouted from the kitchen, “Okay now, go and brush. Milk is ready”. “Okay Mammaaa”, came two cherubic voices in unison. It was not more than 2 minutes, that Sanvi heard shouts and screams from the bathroom. She hurriedly ran towards the bathroom and was startled to find Arjun applying toothpaste on

Anjali’s hair. Anjali almost kicked him with her knee in defence. “Can’t you not fight for a few seconds, Arjun what is it that you are doing? Sanvi asked clasping hands over her mouth.

“Anjali is not allowing me to turn the tap on and also pushed me, she started it” Arjun said angrily, his little ears turning red. The “you started it..No you started” arguments from both the munchkins went on for a few seconds and finally peace prevailed after Sanvi instructed Arjun to go and brush in the other bathroom.

“Dinggg Donggg” rang the calling bell. Sanvi looked at the wall clock in the hall out of sheer habit. It was exactly 9 o’clock. Six months ago, she hired Shanthi as a house help. Initially, Sanvi used to observe the exact time Shanthi would come and now it has become a habit to glance at the clock. Shanthi was from Nepal. She and her husband moved to Bangalore along with their six-year-old daughter Maya in search of greener pastures. The area where Sanvi resided teemed with Nepali families. The men would work as security guards mostly in big apartment complexes and the women as maids in the flats. After a couple of years, when they would have amassed a sizeable amount of money, they would go back to Nepal. Another set of families would come as a substitute and the cycle continued.

Anjali ran and opened the door before Arjun could. She saw a little girl holding a doll in one hand and clutching her mother’s dupatta with the other. Maya rarely accompanied her mother during work. She was a quiet and shy child. “Hi Maya, come inside” Anjali said sweetly. Maya beamed and walked in. “Didi, shall I leave Maya here for a little time after work? I need to go the medical shop. Bishnu is fully occupied with supervising the plumbers on the terrace,” Shanthi requested. “That’s okay Shanthi but hurry up. You know I need to take Anjali to the

painting class.” “Okay Didi sure,” Shanthi replied happily and got down to business. Meanwhile the kids sprawled on the mat in the bedroom. Anjali was fascinated by Maya’s little doll. As they chatted, she took out a comb from her vast collection of Barbie’s accessories and combed the doll’s hair skilfully. Maya was awed by the variety of Anjali’s collection of dolls and trinkets. She picked a few and fidgeted with them. Shanthi finished her work with jet speed in half an hour. She instructed Maya to behave well and left.

Sanvi ordered Arjun to get ready first while the girls played. He refused saying that Anjali should go first. Sanvi tried coaxing Arjun and when it didn’t seem to work, she lifted him up in her arms and left the room. Anjali and Maya squealed with laughter. Arjun enjoyed being carried around and laughed too. Sanvi got him ready and then it was Anjali’s turn. Though Arjun and Anjali were born less than a minute apart and were equally playful and naughty, somehow Sanvi felt that Anjali was more mature and obedient than Arjun. Perhaps girls are made that way she thought to herself.

Sanvi prepared Ragi (Finger Millet) Dosa for breakfast following her friend Hema’s suggestion. Hema was a human rights activist and a lawyer. Her son Akshay was of the same age as Sanvi’s twins, so the mothers discussed widely about every little thing related to parenting. Arjun and Anjali were fussy eaters, so it became imperative for Sanvi to ensure that

they had enough nutrition. She used to tell them about how carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals helped their bodies grow strong and healthy. Sanvi entered the kids’ room and beckoned the twins to the dining table. “Keep playing Maya, they shall join you shortly”, she told Maya. Maya looked up at Sanvi and nodded docilely. While Arjun and Anjali started having breakfast, Sanvi rummaged in the snack box and took out a few biscuits.

“Why did you take out the biscuits Mamma?”, asked Anjali curiously. “These are for Maya”, Sanvi gave a thoughtful pause and continued “when you eat you should share with other kids too, they may not be your friends or go to the same school but you should always be nice and kind”, she sermonized. Sanvi wanted to instil courtesy and kindness in her kids and made it a point to use every small opportunity to mould them.

“But Mammaa…Anjali started in her usual way of dragging the “a” in Mamma whenever she had to say emphatically. She screwed up her beautiful little eyebrows and her cute round face bore an expression of serious contemplation. “Yeah, what is it baby? Sanvi said nonchalantly while closing the lid of the snack box. As she turned around, Anjali continued “Maya is our friend, why did you say that we need to share even if she is NOT our friend?”. Before Sanvi could reply Arjun queried “But why are you giving those biscuits to her Mamma. How will she be strong and healthy, if you don’t give her ragi dosa?” he asked innocently. The words of two kids just had a stupefying effect on Sanvi.

After a few moments of awkward silence, she lovingly looked at her kids and said, “Yeah you are right. Just thought her mother would have already given her something to eat before coming here. You keep eating, shall go and get Maya to join you”. Sanvi walked towards the kids’ room swelling with joy.

Traffic Signal

Sanvi was almost finishing with her daily Pooja (worship) which was replete with Stotra (hymns) recitals. She signalled the twins to get their bags ready. As she was nearing completion with the recital of Ardhanareeshwara Stotra (hymn describing the Supreme Form of Shiva and Parvati encompassing the feminine and masculine aspects of the Divine as one), Arjun wrapped his arms around her neck and listened keenly. He liked listening to hymns and songs that described God and asked many questions. Sanvi patiently answered all of them till his curiosity was satiated. As he tried to absorb everything with utmost attention his otherwise delightful face would seem to turn dispassionate for a moment.

A few moments later the kids saw Sanvi running to get her bag, car keys and trying to grab a few oats biscuits all at the same time. “Fasten your seatbelts kiddos”, instructed Sanvi. “We are done mamma...” Arjun and Anjali replied from the rear. It was almost quarter to eleven by the time Sanvi and the kids started for the painting class. Sanvi turned the ignition on and the engine sprang to life. The kids loved the new Sedan that their mother bought recently. “Here we go” they sang. “This car is so comfortable and huge!” exclaimed Arjun. “Yes, but I would have liked it more if the colour was pink, said Anjali. “C’mon you want the whole world to be painted in pink”, teased the “elder brother”. Anjali shrugged her shoulders and looked outside the window. Anjali had a flair for dabbling with colours and that too in an impressive way since she was three and it turned into a hobby as she grew up.

It has been only a few months that Sanvi enrolled her in a painting institute after substantial research on Google. Fortunately, she could find a good one just a few kilometres from her house. Anjali turned out to be a pretty good artist at such a tender age and was adored by all the teachers of the institute. Since a few months it became a weekend routine for Sanvi to drive her kids to the institute and wait in the lounge area for 2 hours till the class ended. Arjun also accompanied with his toys, books and other knick-knacks to keep him occupied for 2 long hours while Anjali mastered her painting techniques.

As they approached the famous Sony Centre Traffic Signal where there would be a jam at any given time of any given day, Sanvi started slowing down and was looking around cautiously. No longer than a few seconds she spotted around half a dozen transgenders badgering commuters for money. “Oh God, here they come”, she thought with a frown on her face. She saw a man on a two-wheeler immediately reaching into his pockets apparently to avoid a scene. A few who refused to give money had to lend their ears to interesting profanities. “Damn should’ve taken the other route and avoided this signal” she muttered under her breath. “Arjun and Anjali! Move to the middle of the seat, stop staring outside and for God’s sake stop leaning against the windows, Sanvi roared like an army commander bellowing orders to troops. The kids were surprised at the sudden outlash of their mother and sensing urgency, they instantly obeyed. Sanvi quickly rolled up the windows and checked if the child lock was on. Two of the transgenders approached and knocked at Sanvi’s window. Sanvi was already meddling with her phone, opened the message folder and scrolled through. There were no unread ones but still she kept on checking so as to avoid any eye contact. The transwomen outside kept talking in feebly audible Kannada to which Sanvi nodded in the negative without even glancing up. She observed them from the side mirror as they grumbled and moved on to the car behind. Finally, the signal got released for vehicles to proceed, much to Sanvi’s relief.

A few weeks later Sanvi and Raj visited Cubbon Park on a Sunday evening with their twins. The park was vibrant as usual and it offered the much-needed open space that most of the kids living in cities are deprived of. Sanvi and Raj too enjoyed going there as they could breathe in fresh air and take a walk in the woods. Cubbon park, situated right in the centre of Bangalore was an entire world in itself. Spread over more than 250 acres, it was a treasure trove of a variety of plants and birds. The Park was home to huge trees of all kinds one could think of and with its vast green expanses was akin to a mini forest but in the middle of a bustling cosmopolitan city. There were many pigeons at one spot which the twins loved as much as many other kids did. The kids would run right into the middle of where the birds would be flocked together and when they fluttered and flew up, all the children would clap gleefully.

After a while, Raj and Sanvi took seat under a bright Gulmohar tree. Arjun and Anjali were running around and hopping like little rabbits, of course within a close radius as instructed so that the parents could keep a close vigil. All of a sudden Arjun asked Sanvi “Mummaa, why is it that some people look like both boy and girl?” Sanvi was a little taken aback at this out of the blue query. She tried her best to be composed and answer it in a way that a seven-year-old could comprehend. “God makes a few like that kanna”, she answered slowly, still processing in her mind what else to say. Arjun was hopping around with his sister as he listened. “Okay, so it’s like half Shiva Jeji (God) and half Parvati Jeji”, he said and ran towards the pigeons….

A cool summer breeze hit Sanvi’s face as she brought the car to a halt near a traffic signal on MG Road. She is on her way to Rangoli Art Gallery, a stone’s throw away to MG Road Metro Station. Anjali’s work is being displayed alongside professional artists and the proud mother is visiting the gallery for the fifth time in a week. It is the first week of June and one of those laidback Sunday mornings. The Sun has appeared with his army of rays playing occasional hide and seek sometimes through the gaps between buildings and sometimes through the foliage of the trees lining a stretch of the main road. That is the beauty of Bangalore, many huge trees on main roads, a sight that is perhaps hard to find in most of the big metros. It’s been five years since Sanvi moved to this charming city and fell in love with its seasons and colours.

The wait seemed eternal when Sanvi noticed that there was some commotion in the front. She craned her neck out of the window to get a glimpse of the brouhaha but what she saw was more than delightful. There were exactly half a dozen transwomen lined up three on either side of the road in neat blue and white cotton sarees and one stood in the centre holding a megaphone. She started blaring out road safety instructions while the others gestured like the airline crew but of course in their own quirky and unique style! All the commuters including Sanvi cheered and applauded the crew.

A few seconds later when the signal flashed green and as the crew started dispersing, Sanvi steered towards them. She smiled and gave them a thumbs up which was returned with gusto and joy.

“Tring Tring…kept ringing Hema’s mobile. She was in the middle of an important meeting. When the calls kept coming incessantly, she excused herself and called back her best friend. “Is everything ok? What happened? she enquired” After minutes of silence Hema said “That sounds interesting, should work out let’s see. But you are going to get a proper hearing first or even better, a nice thrashing. The way you kept calling scared the daylights out of me”. Sanvi giggled on the other side. After a lot of discussions and brain storming sessions with human rights’ lawyers, NGOs, civil activists, State Traffic Police and other experts, all of them reached a consensus and zeroed in on Sanvi’s idea of outsourcing transgenders at signals to sensitise people on wearing helmets, seatbelts and on following basic traffic rules. Everyone agreed that this was a doable thing as it was already implemented in a couple of metros successfully. A plan of action was chalked out, human rights’ personnel explained the idea to the transgenders at all big signals and they agreed at once, much to everyone’s surprise. Hema knew a local MP with whose help all the approvals were obtained in no time. In just a few months all the efforts bore fruit-- sweeter than the sweetest fruit of the season.

So that’s how the perception of a seven-year-old kid, manifested into action. A small step that had the potential to uplift a few lives. As someone rightly said – “People sometimes think of God as just dwelling in some distant realm but He is in fact the One who impels beings from within their own selves.

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