“It’s perfectly normal for kids of that age to have imaginary friends, Neetu. Don’t worry about it,” Doctor Mamtha said. She patted Neetu’s hand and smiled.
“Hmm,” Neetu said and sighed. “ I guess I’m just being paranoid. It’s a new place, and maybe Shaalu’s just trying to fit in. She’s shy, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Mamtha said. “Tell me something – this place you’ve bought. It’s a little way out, right? Did you buy it because of the low price…or..?”
“A bit of this and that. It’s closer to Rajan’s workplace. Plus, the entire campus is so pleasant. One with nature. The infrastructure’s good. And it’s well connected, not very way out.”
“Hmm. Ok. You know, it’s good you didn’t get Shaalu this time round. Give her some time. Her own space. Encourage her to make friends with the kids. Have a small kiddy party. Just for fun. Know what I mean?”
“Mamma, mamma, today you know what happened? He flew. He actually did. Right from there, that rooftop to ours. Awesome, na, mamma?”
Neetu just smiled. Then she pulled Shaalu close. “Hmmm. What’s his name – this friend of yours?”
There she goes. Neetu pulled a deep breath. “Baby... This friend. Is he Hanuman? As in Lord Hanuman?”
She’d seen the Bal Ganesh and Hanuman films where the Gods made friends with kids. She prayed it were so – even if it were Shaalu’s wild fantasy.
“No, mamma. I know Lord Hanuman no? He has a tail. He has all that – monkey face, wears the old ‘King’ style clothes.” Then she mocked a frown. “Mamma..I’m not so dumb. I know, I’ve seen those movies na?”
Neetu was worried now. “So then?”
“Soooo… this Hanuman is just like us. He is a person, mamma.”
“Beta you’re scaring me now, you know?” Neetu’s voice quivered.
Shaalu touched her cheek. “Why mamma? He’s..just…a person.” Her voice softened, and she looked genuinely puzzled at Neetu’s worry.
“Does he speak with other kids? Does Dinesh chacha talk to Hanuman?”
“What about that guard uncle? Him?”
“See? That’s what I mean. He’s not spoken to any of these people. He speaks only to you. And that worries me, sweetheart.”
Shaalu was silent.
“Will he come home if you invited him?” Neetu asked.
“Yeah,” Shaalu said, matter-of-factly.
“Ok, call him tonight then, ok? Where does he live? Does he work some place?”
“I don’t know mamma.”
“You should also make friends with other kids, no, beta? Introduce them to Hanuman perhaps. Then we can have a flying show.”
Mother and daughter laughed at that little joke.
“Yeah, mama, that’s a good idea,” Shaalu said. Her eyes shone with excitement.
As a special case that day, the maid arrived in the evening to do whatever dishes there were, and a round of mopping. Maids were hard to come by, and since they’d just moved, Neetu had had to ‘borrow’ the neighbor’s for a day. Neetu expected her to come with a lot of conditions.
Kamali, she called herself. She turned out to be chatty, as Neetu discovered pleasantly. As she scrubbed the dishes, Neetu got the pot ready for coffee. She was thinking of getting a cook also after a few days. She worked as well, and this arrangement was short-lived. A whole of arranging, sorting out, planning etc was on her mind.
“Akka,” Kamali called out. Neetu turned.
“You not from this city?”
“You come from outside?”
Neetu knew where she was coming from. She smiled. “We’re from this city. Only we used to live in the northern part.”
Kamali smiled and went back to scrubbing.
“This is good place, akka. Nice – many of us get job here because of this building. The owner no? Good man. He give all of us job. Even small house he built for us.”
That’s nice, for a change, Neetu thought. Who went to such lengths doing all this?
“Why? Were you living on this land before?”
“Then? Why did the realtor, err..building owner get you houses of your own?”
“Akka,” Kamali’s voice softened. “This place belong to circus.”
“Yes. Circus. Hear about it? ‘The Great Bombay Circus’, Kamali said, like it were the name of a famous emperor. Neetu smiled and shook her head.
“Yes. But circus land was sold. Bad times for the circus man. We used to come see as many shows. I was small then.”
“That’s nice,” Neetu said.
They took a break and Neetu offered her some tea.
"Trees," Kamali continued. "Lots of trees here. We climb. For guava. I could not climb. But Hanuman could."
Neetu was about to raise her cup to the lips. She stopped. “Who?”
“Hanuman,” Kamali said smiling. “He work in circus. Strong and big.”
“You mean, there’s actually someone called Hanuman?”
“Yes,” Kamali said, amused.
“Oh, Thank God,” Neetu said, heaving a sigh.
“He jump high, climb tree just like Lord Hanuman, and get us all the fruits.” She giggled.
“Yes, yes. Just like flying, huh?” Neetu said.
Kamali laughed. “Oh yes. Hanuman can fly.” She then sipped her tea and remained silent for a while.
“Shaalu has taken an immense liking for this person, you know” Neetu said. “In fact, I asked her to bring him over tonight for dinner. You know how kids are, huh? Get attached.”
“Bring for dinner? Who?”
“Who will bring?”
“Shaalu. My daugher? You know, I had a maid earlier – her daughter would read all of Shaalu’s books. She would even play with her. We don’t discriminate like that. So, you know - this Hanuman guy...my daughter's kind of taken a liking for him. So I asked her to...”
“No no, wait" Kamali said. "But Hanuman dead. Ten years ago. Hang from tree. A few yards from this building.”