One of the first times I met her was when she came to the office with her backpack stuffed with entertainment for the day. Her parents were both at the office and she didn’t have school, so she was instructed to busy herself and not disturb anyone else.
I was almost done with the newsletter and had some free time so we went for a short walk and picked up some leaves. I showed her how to colour over the veins and make patterns through paper and she showed me how to wrap a dupatta around my head and transform myself into a queen.
Another time she was visiting, I heard singing. I grabbed my tea and peeked into the conference room and Ananya was dancing around the table with flowers tucked behind each ear and scarves draped over her hands.
‘Whatchu doing?’ I asked.
‘Ohfo,’ she turned around impatiently, ‘Can’t you see? My husband and I have been married for seven years and I’m doing a puja to see if we still love each other.’
‘Oh, okay,’ I said casually, ‘Can I watch?’
And when she nodded I quietly sat down in the nearest chair.
‘Can’t you see?’ she said, her eyes as big as saucers, ‘That’s where my son is sitting.’
I quickly switched chairs and asked how old her son was.
And then she danced and sang and swished her scarves around and chanted Om most soberly, indicating the ceremony was done and that I must conclude by saying ‘shanti shanti heee.’
I told my Project Coordinator - her mom - about the love-test puja later and she rolled her eyes. I think it has to do with being an only child, she said. And then she looked at me and asked if I was happy as a kid.
I was, I replied. And I’ve never really missed having a sibling because you find that you’re an interesting enough person to spend time with, I smiled, signalling to Ananya reading softly to herself.
Ananya’s in school now, learning arithmetic and pottery and the life cycle of butterflies.
Soon she’ll learn too much. Her smiles will be reserved for those she knows, never for strangers. Her treks down the road in search of the perfect flower will be bartered for tuitions.
Her wide-eyed belief in the tooth fairy, who sneaks into her room and slips a five rupee coin under her pillow, will be traded for gift coupons at the mall. Her screeches of delight at having her father announce it’s time for swimming class will be swapped for crossed legs and polite thank yous.
Soon she’ll grow up and she’ll remember what was. Maybe she’ll have a blog and write about first crushes and head rushes. She’ll meet friends of her parents who’ll tell stories that embarrass her in front of her friends.
Now Ananya sings songs out loud whether the people in the room are real or imaginary. She instructs me not to pick up completely dried leaves from the ground because the ritual of dying is complete and mustn’t be interfered with.
She runs into the room and removes my headphones that cocoon me from the rest of the world so that I can pay attention to her latest masterpiece in crayon and photocopier paper. She tosses her hair authoritatively over her shoulder and grabs the latest Down to Earth, tucking it under her arm like it’s a purse. She announces that her children have to be dropped to school (the balcony). She slurps iced tea with her legs dangling from the chair.
But I love best that she smiles with her eyes before the corners of her mouth begin to dance.