* THE ADVENTURES OF WAIWAI *
“Daa – du, Daa -du”, murmured Waiwai as he swayed himself on Daadu’s leg. Peeping his head below the Sunday newspaper that Daadu was reading while sitting on his chair.
“Are you not going out to play?”, asked Daadu keeping his eyes focused on the paper. “No”, replied Waiwai in haste digging his head in between Daadu’s legs. “No one is there, I think, Daadu. No one has called me out.”
“Then, why don’t you go out to the park, just like that. Take your glasses and go there and spend some time” Daadu remarked. “Glasses? to the park? But it is the park, what is there to see?”
“Why not Waiwai? Just because you go there so often and regularly like a habit, that you don’t feel it is part of the outside city?", enquired Daadu further.
Waiwai, did not reply to that question. He now sat upright looking at Daadu and smiled at him. While sitting on Daadu’s lap and seeing him read the newspaper with utmost concentration, he realised what Daadu said was true. Waiwai, in fact had taken this space for granted and his regularity had never prompted him to observe further. Little did he know that it is a tendency of human behaviour to take things for granted when things are easily approachable, regular and part of the day to day to life. To cover his little uncomfortable acceptance of truth, Waiwai got off Daadu’s lap saying, “No, Daadu, I usually go to play, that is why I never carried the glasses”. Daadu, just nodded to that.
On his way out of the house, Waiwai made an announcement “I am going to the park!” Making such loud statements of certain actions was common for Waiwai and this time he (specifically) made it loud and clear for Ma and Papa to hear, who he knew were still retiring in the bedroom.
Waiwai carrying his glasses, treaded hesitantly towards the park and then went up and stood sheepishly at the edge. He did not even try to enter the park, for he realised that this is the first time he is coming to the park without an action – he did not come to play cricket like the usual. Today, he was here to just see. Nobody ever just visited a neighbourhood park. So, he leaned against the fence, held it with both hands, and through his glasses he began to see. Waiwai saw, all those things that he had seen before; not really seen but he was aware of before. He recognised a few familiar faces, most of the usual actions and lot of the heard noise that he had perceived but never quite registered while playing. It were the same activities – few people taking a stroll, some jogging around the periphery of the paved pathway, little groups scattered laughing away, a few benches under trees occupied by elderly and young couples, the group of uncles sporting their mini shorts while playing badminton and of course the pet of that next-door friend of Ma pacing up and down the center of the field.
As the fence started to blur in front of Waiwai’s eyes, his focus shifted towards the actions. It was difficult to ignore the actions as the park got a character from these individual activities. Though each activity seemed vastly different from the other, for Waiwai no one seemed to disturb and neither get disturbed by the other. Like the group of uncles who were playing by making a lot of noise, never bothered Daadu’s friends who were standing and laughing, quite obliviously next to them. The laughter never perturbed the old aunties who were sitting on the bench closing their eyes and breathing. The presence of these aunties did not harm the boy and the girl who were sitting holding hands and whispering to each other. Not just that, even people running and walking in front of them in circles never really turned their heads to focus on the several others, occupying spaces around them.
Each one was performing the action they had come for and at the same time accommodating the other. Even the hustling of trees from time to time never deviated one from the activities they were performing. Almost as if there was a defined space around each of them, in which each was comfortable. A personal space in the open, under the sky, within the streets - which everyone occupied as and when they wanted to – without having to ask or be answerable.
Back at the breakfast table, Waiwai kept swinging his legs from the table, much to the discomfort of Ma but he could not quite help it. It was his restlessness to talk that was getting the better of him.
“What happened” asked Papa. “No, no nothing", answered back Waiwai.
“Say what you have to, or you will not let us stay at peace", exalted Ma.
Waiwai held Daadu’s hand on the table and said, “The park is like a giant house. A house that belonged to everyone!”
“A house?”, asked Papa as he raised his eyebrows and shuffled his eyes only to be quickly patted by Ma on the back.
“Yes, Daadu a house!! Just like this house has a living room, Ma Papa’s room, kitchen, your room, my room, the verandah where we do specific actions, the park is the same. Just that in the park these walls are invisible Daadu.”
“So how did they decide which room to do what”, enquired Daadu.
“Hmm. That I don’t know exactly who decided Daadu , but somehow everyone has. May be Daadu, like me everyone goes there often, and they have chosen where who is most comfortable. Because there is certainly no boards or instructions in the park, Daadu. But I am sure, that those old uncles always stand in that specific corner of the park under that big tree and the running uncle always runs in that same direction along the inside of the footpath. I remember now Daadu, I swear. Just like how we play cricket at the same place every time, in line with that big tree. It is not like that other big park we went to remember – that one close to Papa’s friend’s house - where everyone was following the other, like visiting the place for the first time!! This park is like a habit Daadu, it is my park, our park!! Actually, it is my playground!"
Waiwai’s own words ringed in his ears ending his excitement and left him pondering upon the conversation. He gently moved towards the verandah of the house, leaned over and kept looking at the park outside. Waiwai realised that in the morning when Daadu spoke of habit – he was not referring habit as in the action of playing cricket – but the habit that comes with belonging. Waiwai belonged there, just like the rest.
The park belonged to all who would want to make it their own, but it was no one’s property. There was a sense of responsibility, comfort, assurance all blended within that fence line. Just outside of that -where the ironing uncle stood sometime accompanied by the groundnut selling man – it was different but within that fence one could be what they chose to be, how each wanted to be. Not everyone was ever talking to the other, but a few glances, a little smile and even at times no form of interaction with the person next to you would make someone feel out of place – out of their chosen space. It was an enclosure for one and for all.
“So, you are looking at your new house?” asked Ma leaning beside Waiwai along the verandah railing.
Waiwai pulled out his teeth, made his eyes smaller and made a noise in the same tone as Ma’s question to reply her back. This was Waiwai moment of certain self-realisation, which he would try and hide through exaggerated gestures. Ma knew what Waiwai was going through, as she put her arm across Waiwai and watched him staring at his new-found house. A house where Waiwai could exercise more freedom even though he spent much lesser time there.
To exercise his belonging, Waiwai went back to his playground in the evening. This time he strode towards it, even though he had not gone to play. For if it is house he knows, he would be given space for any reason he went there. He kept an eye on all the actions, almost similar in nature to the morning ones, this time performed by few new and certain familiar faces yet in the same rooms. He made himself stand right in the centre of the field, with hands on his hips and large smile on his face and kept looking at all the others who were sharing the space in the house – only to be suddenly disturbed by a soft noise on his shoulder. As he glanced across his shoulder and look up at the sky of the crow flying by, Waiwai remarked,
“It must be his house too!"