Nikhil hated going to the crèche. Desai Aunty was rude and Tulasi very nasty. The food Desai aunty cooked also tasted horrible. He had complained to mummy but she only scolded him. “Nikhil, you have to learn to adjust. You can not always get everything you want. And anyway you are having only lunch and a little bit of tiffin there. For breakfast and dinner I’ll make things of your choice, okay?”
He had nodded his head.
One day mummy had given him two boondi laddus and an apple. Tulasi had given the apple to him and hogged the laddus herself. Nikhil had told mummy and she had spoken to Desai aunty. A few days, in the afternoon, when Desai aunty was sleeping Tulasi had confronted Nikhil. “You little runt. How dare you complain about me. Next time you squeal I’ll tell my brother Rana who is a dada. He’ll give you such a thrashing you will forget about Daddy, Mummy and everyone else.”
Nikhil was terrified. After that whenever his parents asked him whether he had any problems in the crèche he said no.
At home too he felt very lonely. He missed his Baba very much. He had suddenly left him and gone somewhere. He still remembered that day very clearly. It was a Sunday and he had found Baba packing his bags.
“Baba are we going somewhere? Are we going to Bua Dadi’s house?”
Baba’s sister lived in a village on the outskirts of the city. Baba had taken him once there. They had spent three days and Nikhil had really enjoyed himself. Bua Dadi had made lovely things for him to eat – kheer, gajar halwa, hot samosas…..
“No, Nikhil, we are not going, I am going.”
“Where Baba? Take me with you, please.”
His father had entered the room just then. “You can’t go with him, Nikhil.”
“Like you go to school, Baba is going to his school.”
“You are lying Daddy. How can Baba go to school. He is not a small boy.”
“Yes, son, I know he is not a small boy. That is why he is going to a school which is meant for old people.”
Confused Nikhil looked at Baba. But Baba continued his packing without looking at him. Nikhil knew something was wrong. He went into the kitchen and asked his mummy, but she too was evasive.
He went back and asked Baba. “When will you come back?”
“I…I can’t say son,” Baba replied, not meeting his eyes.
“We’ll go and visit him every week,” Daddy told Nikhil.
Just before Baba sat in the auto, he picked up Nikhil and hugged him. Nikhil clung to him and started sobbing. Very reluctantly Baba handed Nikhil to his mother and wiping his eyes got into the auto.
That night Nikhil refused to sleep alone in the living room. Finally after a lot of shouting and screaming he was allowed to sleep with his parents in the bedroom. However, in the middle of the night when he woke up he found himself all alone in the living room. He looked around for Baba, but he was not there. Then he remembered, his Baba had left him and gone away to his school. He started sobbing loudly. A few minutes later his mother came and took him inside. He still couldn’t sleep for hours. He just clung to his mother and cried his heart out.
The next few days Nikhil insisted he would sleep with his parents. One evening his father told him, “Son you are now a young man. You have to learn to be brave. If you get scared like this everyone will call you a sissy.”
“But Daddy without Baba I feel very lonely. I keep thinking about him and start crying….. and….. and Daddy when the lights are switched off I also get scared.”
“Nikhil you should not behave like a cry baby. You want to meet Baba, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Nikhil said his face lighting up.
“Well then if you agree to sleep alone I will take you to meet your Baba this Sunday.”
Nikhil quietly got up, picked up his pillow and went to the living room. There he planked himself on the sofa and tried to sleep….