I was returning by the 9 O’ clock slow train from Churchgate. Tired and exhausted I felt it was a monotonous drudgery as the train would screechingly halt at every station. I was with my friend Sree Lakshmi and cribbed and complained about the discomfort of a second class compartment which we had managed to board that night. The train moved on, carrying along millions of people and their lives too. Every person would have a different story to narrate of how the day was done, if personally interviewed. I was caught up in this ordinary backdrop not knowing I would encounter an extra ordinary event.
As I was expressing my unpleasantness to my friend I heard a little child calling out: “Laali Le Lo… Laali.” The sweet baby voice created a thrill in that dreary existence of a Mumbai local. I craned my neck and moved about, my eyes searching through the melody of the sweet voice and it caught the glimpse of this delightful sight. I saw a child barely three years of age, her hair unkempt, her dress worn out, her hands burdened with the weight of a box full of lip liners that she was trying to sell. What struck me was the brilliant smile she wore. She looked so happy oblivious to the poverty that made her small hands sell instead of playing around with a toy. My heart swelled with a surge of love for her. I called her with a gesture of my hands and she ran away. I saw her back was bare as the dress had no buttons. She surely never cared for all that, as happiness was embedded in her heart. She derived it from her own self probably enjoying what she was doing. A little baby selling lip liners never complained that she ought to hold a pencil to frame the alphabets “A,B,C”, to hold a doll and dance around. I felt ashamed, disgraceful that despite having all the opportunities of life right from the start I was grumbling over a journey by a local train which would end in fifty minutes to give me back the comfort of an air-conditioned bedroom where I would have a restful sleep.
I called the girl again and this time she came running to me. I’m gifted with this passion for children and even more with the beauty of children instantly taking to me. I don’t know how this magic unveils but I thank God for this blessing in my life. As she came close I gathered her in my arms and kissed her. She was elated and her laughter rang through my ears creating music. I asked her the price of the lip liners she was selling. Incoherently she said, “Do rupaiya… Paanch rupaiya…” and then she started giggling. Her father heard her out and came running to me to tell me “Madamji usko kuch paise ka hisaab nahi maloom. Woh to aise hi mere saath aa jati hai jab main dhanda karne nikalta hoon. Dus rupaiye ka hai ji”. I happily took out a ten rupee note and handed it to her. She took the money not even knowing its value and left the box of lip liners on my lap. She flit like a vibrant dear in the train that was moving very fast. I wanted to run and hold her to protect her from falling. I wanted to hug her and tell her, “I wish to give you all that you want but don’t sell things at this tender age it’s not done.” I knew she would understand nothing so I kept looking at her longingly. A man got up from the next station selling out things and I called the baby to choose a pencil pouch for her. Her baby mind selected one with pink roses. I paid ten rupees for it and gifted it to her. Her delight and her smiles changed that ten rupee gift to a million dollar one. I cuddled her in my arms and the child started bonding with me in an incredible manner. She looked searchingly into my longing eyes and kissed my hands and snuggled close in the warmth of my affection for her. She seemed to be at complete ease with me as if she was mine forever. Sree Lakshmi, my friend looked at the two of us with a glint of delight coupled with amazement and captured the emotions on her camera phone.
I picked the child on my lap and asked her for her name. She spurted out in excitement “Lala, Mela naam lala hai… mela naam lala hai”. With great difficulty I understood what she was trying to say. After all no adult has the intelligence to understand the innocence of a child and how could I be superior to that three year old frame. I hugged her closer and on conversing with her father came to know that she lived in the slums at Vasai. God! it made me feel inferior to her. Having nothing she seemed to have everything as she was such a happy soul. And here having the best of things I was disturbed just by the idea of a slow train taking me back home.
Lala picked up the box and started in glee once more trying to sell out. Her hands were too tiny for the huge box she held yet she managed with undaunted spirits. When the train crossed Dahisar I got up as my destination Mira Road was approaching. This time she came up to me and was clinging on to me. For a moment I felt like her slave. I wanted to do anything for her, just anything. She gave me a sweet flying kiss and said “Bye”. And I pecked her cheeks and said ‘Bye Darling!’. I know not whether she understood the endearment embodied in that word “Darling” but she blushed and giggled as I repeated it again. For the first time I felt I did not wish to get off at Mira Road. My journey with “Lala” was so magnanimous that I feel the essence of it always. I wish to meet her once again. Lala the little girl is enthroned in my heart and has enslaved me forever. “Lala I love you and surely will meet you again”. I need to see those small fingers writing the syllables that will change your life. I want the weight of the box of lip liners to give way to the beauty of a school bag. I want your smile that enhanced my spirits that night to be radiant forever. I want your innocence to last a lifetime. I want to tell you, “MY DARLING YOU DESERVE THE BEST AS YOU ARE A CHILD”. Lala, 'My Kid Teacher', I promise you this.