Shals Mahajan is the author of Timmi in Tangles, a hOle book.
I don’t hang out with kids much, at least I do not plan to. But I run into them now and then, like I run into other people and trees and cats and dogs and cows. And sometimes there is conversation.
The last one was when I was on my way to buy some bananas and atta and some such uninteresting but essential sundries, a few minutes walk from where I live. On my way back I was planning to stop and admire the strange big tree with thorns, big flowers and even bigger somewhat smelly fruit, which I am convinced are quite inedible, that grow from the trunk itself. I like this tree because it is unusual and cranky looking and over adorned at the same time. And also because I cannot make up my mind whether it is one tree or a tree and some other thing in a fabulously symbiotic relationship. This is one of those things that I like to speculate about in ignorance and I foster it gently by evading the google trap, even though in other things I treat google as a surrogate memory.
Anyhow, before I could get to the said tree, I saw these two young persons, with small bags on their shoulders doing this strange four steps forward two steps back move with slightly high-pitched unhappy sounds. Apparently there was a dog, a rather harmless-looking specimen, who was standing right where these two needed to be. Being the helpful neighbourhood person I am, I offered to walk with them to the other end of the lane. The shorter person seemed amenable but the taller one transfixed me with a stern gaze.
She asked shortly, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
A bit taken aback and trying to be as nonchalant as possible I replied, “How does that matter? You tell me.”
“I cannot decide. So what are you?”
“I am me. You can call me what you want. It does not matter.”
She was getting unhappier by the moment. “You have to be something,” she said. “You have to tell me.”
I wish there had been time to have a long chat with her, ask her why it was important for her to ask me these questions, and tell her why it was not important for me that I be someone she could give a name too. But it was the middle of the day and we were in the middle of the lane. And I am not too thrilled with the idea of children having chats with strangers either. Meanwhile the shorter person was getting bored and seeing a pause in the conversation, said a loud and cheerful bye and pulled the other one along. The dog had also helpfully gone away to explore other things. So that was that.
But with some other younger persons, I manage to have long conversations and there is time and space to admire strange trees together and speculate whether the fruit will be edible or not. Timmi came out of some such afternoons. And I feel that I am barely beginning to know her in these few short stories. There is so little she has told me and there is so much that we need to talk about. So I hope there will be more conversations and I will be able to share some of them with other people as well.