I began typing this sitting outside my son’s school, waiting for it to get over for the day. As always, I was the first parent to arrive, because I am yet to get over the look in his eyes when he sees me as the first person at the classroom door. Before any other ma or papa or driver uncle. I like it that way, so I make sure I leave home a little early and catch his face lighting up before the crowd catches up with our special moment.
Today, though, I was exceptionally early. There were 65 minutes to go before I could get up from this plastic chair under the tin shed and walk up to his class to take him home. Who knew the part of the Ring Road that was squeezed by the Metro workers for months would be thrown open to traffic. What a relief really to have a full road, but still … how much can I just sit and look around now? And look around at who? Or what?
But then, have eyes had time and had to look around.
The recess had just got over. While the bell announcing the end was met with a loud uproar, a sudden silence was descending over all visible parts of the school. Much like how a dry dupatta falls off the clothes line on the first floor and comes gliding down. In no real hurry but getting there. The silence. The breeze felt nippy. I tightened my stole around my shoulders, hid my hands inside, and re-crossed my legs for the 14th time. Some minutes must have gone by, when I heard a screech loud enough to make the bus driver in the far corner of the parking area turn, and make me look up from fidgeting with my phone.
The guard at the main gate had dragged his chair two meters away from the post and was now sitting in the sun; the metallic letters on his shoulders making tiny reflected moons on the nearby tree. And his face? Gloriously snug and warm. Seconds later, as if it was a sign I was waiting for, I did the same. I shifted my own grey chair right on the shadow line where the tin roof’s shade ended and a sea of sunlight began.
To describe what I felt when I re-crossed my legs for the 15th time, this time in the sunlight, is impossible for me. It did not feel like first love, no, but certainly like the first warm kiss of the season. I knew that the dark blue top would absorb too much too soon and I will have to relocate, but who worries about teething babies on their honeymoon night itself? I still had a lot of time on my hands, but at least my hands were in the sun now. I looked at them. I ran my left thumb over the slightly visible veins on top of the right hand. Like a ship breaking through pieces of ice, tiny brown wrinkles of collected skin formed. Dryness, despite the lotion. That’s when a scene from my childhood scooped me away from the present …
It either used to be petroleum jelly, which one of her NRI sons brought for her, or mustard oil. Most of winters you would find her rubbing either of those on her arms and feet. My grandmother. My dad’s mother who would enjoy the winter sitting on a folding bed in the tree-lined back yard, and always in the sun. More than the gold bangles it was the patterns on her wrinkled skin that held my childish attention. If I think now, I would say they looked like hexagons made from the most delicate glass. They shone so bright. So thick the layer of oil, so thin the skin. Once done, she would call for her sacred book and its exquisite wooden stand and go oblivious to the world around her, a world which was making its own life around the winter sun.
The older children, with their backs towards the brightness because young girls just didn’t want to get tanned, would be busy with their school books. Winter holidays never came without home work! One of us from the middle rung would be seen helping an aunt spread the orange peels and amla slices on newspapers. To dry. In another sunlit patch, empty plastic jars would sit agape, to be ‘dry-cleaned’ to hold this winter's pickles. Pickles too would be basking in their preserved glory a safe distance away from the two youngest imps throwing mud around, digging the flowerbeds and burying broken idols hoping for a temple to grow. At least one pair of just-washed sneakers would lean against a wall, snoozing in the sun, much like the writer of this post would right after lunch and just below her favourite mango tree, with a shawl on her head because some falling leaves can have tiny bugs on them, plus those fruit flies ...
There was so much happening in the Sun back then, that the Sun just couldn’t have got bored for the day. Today, I sit wondering here in Delhi - where is the time, the space? Where are the people? And where is the full blown winter sun to enjoy? And then I answer myself – I think we bored the winter Sun away. Because even when we have such moments of free time on our hands and a bright sunny sky, we just don’t know what to do with them.
Maybe, those bright patches of yellow sneaking in from our windows and doors or catching us unaware outside offices and schools are just asking us to see. To look closer, even if at our own hands. For who knows what streams of thoughts, what journeys into the past are waiting to happen. What bonds asking to be re-lived. And what stories knocking up there, hungry to be told. Spontaneous ones … told just as they come to mind, like this one here. Unedited for now, but a polished version of it waiting especially for him, for bedtime tonight.
Him. My son. The one I was the first to pick, today again, and around whom my life now revolves. My sun for all seasons to come.