Ms. Red Pants
I opened my eyes and there, I saw her.
Today, she was wearing a stark red pair of trousers that ended a little above the ankle. Her hair seemed even straighter, though I can’t say silky but surely a very dull brown shade. Almost malnourished. Her eyebrows always intrigued me. It had such a lovely natural arch, she would never have to get them ‘threaded’ in her entire life.
Her eyes had a sparkle, the smile-a dazzle and her fingers were as artistic as could be. It was something I noticed each time she would go…. Tak Tak Tak on the car window.
Red pants and an indescribable cream top, fully laden with dust. A body full of grime. A nose full of muck and yes the blonde undernourished mane all over her unwashed face.
Bare foot, this unnamed girl, came to the window and gestured towards the packed food, lying on the seat next to me, in the brown paper bag.
Drunk I was. Or I felt.
Can one feel drunk on food? I sometimes do. When the food is awesome, gluttony takes over the front seat of your taste buds. You overeat. You stop seeing things straight. You only visualize a soft clean bed and some good sleep.
How much one can eat, I wondered, as I went into a flashback mode to the table at this splendid new eatery in HKV. As always, gourmandizing led to more food on the plate as what could be consumed, with a substantial amount landing in the doggy bag.
Sloshed on gnocchi, grilled fish, cold salads and pasta, I sat in my car, ready to take a short nap before I reached home for another nap!
Just as I was to doze off, the car slowed down and I heard the Tak. Tak. Tak.
I was about to open my eyes groggily, ready to already shake my head in a no, knowing fully well it would be some kid or adult selling knick- knacks, at the signal crossing.
This fortnight, the highlight was a cute, neat nest made of jute, with two terribly artificial looking, colourful plastic birds perched on it. The jute nest had a plait on top with which one could hang it on the rear view mirror of the car.
But it was no seller. It was her.
We recognized each other for some time now. I saw her often at this crossing, sometimes trying to sell a bunch of red roses or on other days those huge Chota Bheem, Shin Chan and Mickey Mouse balloons. None of which interested me. I would however, share an apple or a sandwich with her merrily.
She was in for a treat today. The pesto pasta was good. I hoped she would like it.
I smiled at her and handed over the brown packet to her. All glee, she took the bag from the half opened window and ran away dodging the, slow moving motorbikes and the super-fast following brigade of her clan, children of all shapes and sizes!
In less than a minute, the team came back head hung in defeat. She had managed to skirt them and disappear.
It was raining sweets at home. No festival. No celebration. You know when friends and relatives from all over come home with a kilo of sweets, just like that? It was one of those weeks.
Nolen gurer sandesh from Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick Sweets, Kolkata to ghevar from Jaipur to the good old boondi laddoo from Meerut, there was an overdose of sweetmeats at home.
That day I decided to treat the Miss. Professional Dodger, to some desi ghee ke boondi ladoo. Hoping she would share it this time with her buddies, I took the 1 kg dabba with me.
I asked my gruff driver to take a detour. She now recognized my car too and came running. As was customary, I half opened the car window and handed over the boondi ladoo dabba to her.
What happened next, left me baffled.
She took the box in her hand, saw the contents, gaped at me and almost pushed it back towards me. As I juggled to balance the ladoos almost falling out of the box, what amazed me more was her reaction. She was laughing away to glory and shaking her head as if in denial and moved back towards the footpath still looking towards me, still shaking her head, and saying “Na, na, na, na ,na.”
She refused ladoos?
I never thought anyone could say no to the most favourite mithai around. That too a kid refusing?
Disappointed, I went on with my work for the day and decided to hand over the sweets to my grumpy driver.
Her reaction and her saying no to the ladoos that day, remained an unsolved mystery till about a fortnight later.
I was on the same road and busy signal during the office rush hour, a time I used to generally avoid. It was a Thursday.
There was an extra rush and jam that day. Traffic moved at a snail’s pace.
I did not expect the 9 year old, Ms.Red Pants to be there at this time. But she was!
She seemed busy at work with her mother.
Not on the road. Not selling balloons, novels or flowers but this time on the foot path to the left, which also had a series of very small roadside temples. One for each deity.
Her mother, wearing a faded soft cotton saree with a transparent polythene in hand, stood with one foot on the footpath and the other on the road. She motioned her daughter towards each of the small mandirs.
My nameless little friend, a little embarrassed followed the instructions and looked at her mother for an approval. The mother, gestured her to continue to the next temple.
That is when I noticed what she was doing. Thursday being a busy day at God’s home, passersby and regular visitors stopped by, lighted the ceremonial earthen diya and offered…boondi ladoos to the Lord.
Her job was to wait for them to leave, make a dash to the dark-stone mini temples, pick the ladoos and drop them in the see-through polythene bag.
I could see through it like how! The mother had two bags full of boondi ladoos!
As my car moved closer to the signal, I kept craning my neck to the left to see it all. When the girl came to drop the last set of ladoos into the poly bag, the mother endearingly, offered her one. To eat.
And the little girl cringed!!!!
Cringed at the sight of the ladoo.
Recoiled at the thought of eating a ladoo.
It seemed as if she asked her mother if the work for the day was over, because as soon as the mother nodded her head, Ms.Red Pants ran as fast as a child does when the school bell rings at 2 pm!
This surely must have been a weekly routine for them. The girl must have had such an overdose of ladoos that it lured her no more!
For Ms.Red Pants.
Ladoos? Na, na, na, na, na…