“Come on! You can’t take that much time!”
“ok, ok. Hmm… emor”
“What? What’s tha… oh I get it. You’re getting better every day!”
“tseb eht mi!!!”
“Yes you are, my darling, you’re the very best!”
Pari was hardly five and her thirst for geography was increasing every day. Sanjana, her mother, tried to keep up but it was just impossible to keep up with her mind. Sometimes Pari just baffled her with the kind of things she could do. She’d invented this variation of the game because she said the normal Atlas just bored her.
“What’s the fun mommy?”, she said, “Anybody can remember things!”
Sanjana looked at Pari, who had found herself a prism and was looking at the tube light through it. She had her eyes and her hair. She was the pure reflection of her impure self. She was the centre of her life. She shuddered, remembering the day when thought of giving her away had dared to cross her mind. She could never ever forgive herself for it.
Varun and her had decided to get Pari checked. She was hardly two then but some things she did arose both of their suspicions. They weren’t normal baby problems as she’d read. She would shout incessantly covering her ears if the traffic outside was even a little noisy. She would refuse to have a bath with lukewarm water, it had to be cold. Other tiny, insignificant things. But significant enough for any parent to be alarmed.
Aspergers Syndrome is what the paediatrician called it. They had no clue what it was. He told them it was a form of autism, nothing life threatening, but that she would have severe difficulty as a grown up as it inhibited social interactions. The subject tends to process….. She had not listened to anything more the doctor had said. Autism. Her child was autistic. That word kept ringing in her ears. Autism. Autistic.
It was strange how six letters could trigger so many emotions – fear, anger, helplessness, insecurity, failure. How six letters could cause such a massive upheaval in her mind. How six letters were enough to create a distance between her and her child. How they were enough to make her believe that she was less of a mother than she thought. How they were enough to crush dreams.
Varun had always been there. Always. Through the last three years that they had struggled with Pari, Varun had been there every single day. He’d made it less painful. Where after the doctor’s visit she’d gone into depression, Varun had stood by her, shown her that it was their child no matter what. That she was them and they were her. That she had her eyes and her hair. Pari loved her dad, like most daughters do, and for Varun there was no one more beautiful than her. “Darling, you’re the most beautiful girl in the world!”, he always told her.
Thanks to Varun, Sanjana came out of depression in less than a month. But that month had been the darkest time of her life. She’d contemplated leaving Varun, leaving Pari. She felt miserable all the while. She’d even contemplated suicide. But then all that changes when your child comes up to you and for the first time calls you, “Mommy!”.
It was like a wall had come crashing down. All her pains and thoughts and fears had been allayed. Ironic how five letters could be enough to change her. How five letters had the power to make her face the rest of the world. How five letters gave her armour not even bullets could scare. How five letters had turned her back into a mother. A protector. A nurturer.
Pari had never failed to amaze them. She made very few friends in school but had admirers in all. Her IQ was well beyond her age. She had an unimaginable interest in numbers and words and could sit for hours with a dictionary or solve math problems kids twice her age had a problem with.
And then there were other things. Like this one time, when it was Varun’s birthday the next day and she’d secretly gotten a present for him. How Pari came to know about the present she could never figure out but the next day when Varun excitedly asked her if she’d bought him a present, Sanjana had refused. Pari had looked at her mother with a strange expression, one that Sanjana hadn’t seen before.
Varun had obviously been disappointed and had gone sulking to the other room. Pari, apparently, went up to daddy and told him that mommy was lying! Varun went up to Sanjana and told her that he knew about the present. When she asked him how he knew, he told her that Pari told him. When she asked her later how she knew, Pari told her that she can always tell when mommy or daddy is lying. She said our faces changed and we did things.
Sanjana laughed and asked her when they had lied to her and she said that there were so many times. And then she’d rattled off.
“Like last week when you’d promised to take me to the fair, but you didn’t! Or the time when you told me that you would get me the blue and green dress. Or the time i broke my toy train and you told me that you would get me a new one. Or the time….”
She felt a little embarrassed but at the same time amazed that Pari had kept a note of all these things! She thought Pari had just forgotten about those things but apparently that wasn’t the case. She promised that they would never lie to her again and would try to keep every single one of their promises. Pari danced and twirled and then asked her if they would get her the toy train and Sanjana told her they would get it for her birthday.
“But mommy, why did you lie to daddy?”
Sanjana knew that for Pari the world was black and white. There were no grey in between. Sarcasm, metaphors, similes, etc were all lost on her. It was all about facts. So to explain to her how it was ok to lie sometimes would’ve been difficult. She just told her that she shouldn’t have lied and that lying was always bad.
Time had passed quickly enough and soon enough it was her birthday. Ribbons and cake was on the must buy list and her three closest friends had been invited to the party. She’d woken up to see the toy train on her bed side and had been playing with it all day. A lot of preparations had to be done. Unfortunately, the holiday Varun had planned to take on Pari’s birthday got cancelled in the morning. Dhruv, from office, had called and asked him to come immediately, something about a deal regarding a merger. Varun tried talking his way out of it, explaining that it was his daughter’s birthday but the hadn’t agreed. They needed him to be on the board. Varun had relented. Sanjana had understood but was very angry because there was too much to do in very little time.
Pari was the one who had to be consoled though. She was on the sofa outside lost in the world of toy trains. Varun looked at Sanjana for help but she gave him a look that clearly suggested that he had to deal with this on his own. He went up to her, “Pari darling. There’s some very important work that daddy has to do and I promise I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
Pari pleaded him, “No daddy no! Why? Where do you have to go? ”
“The office my dear. I have a… meeting”
At this point Pari looked at her father with nothing but disappointment in her eyes and shouted, “NO! You’re not going to the office!”
Both of them had been shocked. This was the first time Pari had shouted at either of them, and Varun definitely seemed hurt. He didn’t say a word, just looked at Sanjana, shook his head and walked out. Sometimes dealing with Pari took a toll on Varun too, but he never showed it and he never scolded her. Sanjana though shocked by Pari’s behaviour figured that Pari must’ve really wanted her father to be with her on her birthday.
In any case Sanjana knew that Pari had to be told that shouting wasn’t allowed in the house. But she feared that if she went a little too harsh on her she’d cause a meltdown. She didn’t want that. Especially not on her birthday. So she went up to Pari and politely asked her why she shouted at daddy. Silence.
She told Pari that daddy had not liked her shouting at him at all and that she should go and apologize to him when he returned from his meeting.
Pari just stared at her mother and kept quiet.
It was almost evening now and most of the preparations had been done, albeit with a lot of hard work from Sanjana, but Varun hadn’t returned. She tried calling his cell but the line was busy. She looked at Pari who was now standing by the door, looking out the window. The poor girl!
She went up to her and told her that she’d called his office and they said that he’s left and is probably on the way. “You’re lying mommy! Just like daddy was lying! Where is daddy??”, shouted Pari.
Although shocked at Pari’s behaviour, Sanjana’s mind was registering something else that Pari just said.
“What do you mean Pari? When was daddy lying?”
“When he said he was going to the office. I knew he wasn’t going. His eye twitched and he did that thing with his hand. He always does that when he’s lying. But he promised he’d be back. Why isn’t he home mommy?”
Sanjana slowly walked over to the kitchen and drank a glass of water. She called Varun’s cell. Busy. She picked up the phone again.
“Hello Dhruv, Sanjana here.”
“Hi Sanjana! How’re you calling?”
“Nothing, it’s just… Varun isn’t home. He told me there was a meeting he had about a merger… Aren’t you in office?”
“The merger? The merger’s done Sanjana. Varun and Malika handled it last week. We made a killing on that one. They sure know how to handle these big clients. Are your parents coming home today? He told me what happened last time…”
Sanjana sat down by the kitchen table, the phone struggling to stay in her hand. She poured herself another glass of water. A strange monotone filled her ears. Suddenly she felt her leg being pushed and pulled.
She looked down.
Her eyes, her hair.
She was jumping up and down, pointing towards the door.
“Mommy mommy! Look! Daddy’s here!”