Talking to kids is a difficult area for me. What do you ask them besides ‘how old are you?’, ‘what grade are you in?’ and ‘what subjects do you like?’ I walked around my terrace with two girls following me, alternatively interjecting a question about my mom’s roof garden. “What is this?” the elder one asked curiously pointing to an overgrown pot of grass. “Umm… That… That’s just grass. It’s been growing for years in that pot, that’s why it looks weird.” She smiled and plucked on a blade to inspect. “What about this one?” “Now those are….” I racked my brain trying to figure out it was. I bent down and peered into the pot to inspect. “Ahh, this is onion. You know those small ones. Come here.” I beckoned and showed them the onion peeking out from underneath the wet mud. The elder one called to her sister, “Look, you can see the onion.” Honestly, I was amazed by their curiosity and innocence. Pure innocence. They walked around the garden in the midst of towering adults discovering and commenting on the plants. I watched them quietly and answered when they asked me something. The ladder leading up to the water tank caught their attention. “Is the ladder fixed?” I was confused. “What? What do you mean?” “Is it fixed up there? Will it move?” “Ohh, actually it isn’t fixed. It can be moved. But it won’t move if you try to climb.” Yes, that was my feeble attempt at reassuring a nine year old that the ladder was safe. She looked at me sceptically. “I’m scared of ladders. I’ve never climbed a ladder.” The younger one piqued in, “I’m scared of heights.” Then both of them demanded that I demonstrate this feat of climbing up the ladder which ‘wasn’t fixed’. I looked at them and I thought, Ohh dear. What have I got myself into? Well, at least they will be convinced that I hadn’t been lying. So I quickly scampered up the ladder and suddenly I was the second tallest object on that roof. Victoriously I smiled down at them and beckoned them to climb up. “Come on, nothing is going to happen.” The elder one stood there contemplating. “How are you going to come down?” I demonstrated the ‘climbing down’ feat and stood next to them quite satisfied with myself. She finally decided to climb up. “Okay, I am going to climb up, but you have to hold the ladder.” After the promises had been made she very slowly ventured up, holding her red polka dotted skirt around her. Yes, she made it up. The younger one stood next to me undecided. In her small, cute voice she kept reiterating that she wanted to go up and then decided not to. She would climb two rungs and then scamper down and put on her white pointed shoes. She did this at least six times. Then she gathered up her courage and climbed four rungs when her mother came around and said “Here, let me help you get down.” Without another word she scuttled down the ladder. Both us, in unison said “But she was going up not coming down!” In the end she stayed on firm ground.
Back inside in my home they looked at the paintings around my home. “Did you paint that?” the elder one asked me as she pointed to the huge glass painting in the living room. I smiled and replied, “No. I don’t paint. My sister painted that. All the paintings in this house are by her.” My mother nudged me and whispered, “Go show them the other paintings.” I led them to my bedroom and showed them the abstract painting of tulips, circles, triangles and other geometric shapes. They loitered around my room pointing to different objects asking if I painted them. Finally, the elder one asked, “Have you done anything?” My heart broke a little and I quietly whispered, “You see, I don’t like painting. But I write. I write short stories and poems…” They nodded and slowly walked out. As the evening passed and the sky darkened I wondered what was on their mind. What do nine year olds and seven year olds think about? I asked them to write whatever was on their mind and handed them my diary and pencil. They sat and thought and thought and finally wrote this:
I honestly cannot remember what I used to think about when I was as young as them. Fanny wants to be an agricultural engineer. She is just nine years old but she sure knows where she is heading. Unlike me, a twenty year old, studying English, who still cannot explicitly state what she would be doing after her Masters. In this era of mechanical engineers and software engineers it is refreshing to hear that someone wants to be a teacher and yet another enjoys growing plants. Fanny actually made us play a whole round of scrabble! I was ecstatic. There is hope for the coming generations. There are kids who like gardening and want to play scrabble. I rest my case. There is hope.