By: Siddhartha Choudhury
The mother of the child was visiting the fair for the first time on request from her close friend, according to whom this was a good opportunity to introduce the children to ‘true’ Indian culture. She looked at the toy, then at her child and said, ‘but you already have two train sets, why do you want this engine?’
Her friend waved at her from a stall further away, prompting them to come over there.
‘Look, Shashi auntie is calling us. Let’s go.’
‘No, no, no, I want that engine,’ the boy insisted, nearly breaking into a wail.
At this the mother asked him, ‘when was the last time you played with the trains you have, Arman?’
The boy looked forlorn, and then a gust of annoyance hit his face, ‘I want the engiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnn!’ He pulled her hand downward, as his body arched sideways away from her, till his grip came off and he fell on the ground – plop!
‘Arman, behave yourself.’
‘I want the engiiinnnnnnnnnn – waa–aaaaaaaanh!’
The steam engine was an eight-inch long handmade wooden craft with a giant chimney. It sat bereft of bogies, alongside a bicycle, a vintage car and a truck – all as large as itself and carved in wood, among other sundry wooden articles. The colourfully garbed Rajasthani vendor observed the proceedings sitting on his haunches with his lean arms hanging idle over his knees. He was watching the child’s histrionics with much interest, and when his smile broadened, his long moustache curved upward funnily, and the wrinkles around his eyes multiplied making his cheekbones prominent.
‘You may have it,’ he spoke to the child who momentarily hushed on hearing his soft voice.
‘Oh no, bhaisaab, thank you!’ intervened the mother.
‘I insist madam,’ said the vendor, ‘that he takes it home since he likes it very much. It is after all for children.’ His eyes twinkled merrily as though his mind was gushing with fond memories of his own childhood.
‘It is kind of you, but I don’t think he should have one.’
‘He can have it for free.’
‘Oh, no – I would have bought it if I really wanted it, but thanks for your kindness.’
‘Okay, no problem,’ said the vendor politely and looked away towards a new round of customers approaching his stall.
‘Nooooooooo,’ the boy wailed. ‘I want the traaaaaaaiiiiin iiinnnginnn!’
‘What happened? What’s taking you so long?’ asked Shashi, as she strode towards the stall with her two children, one nine, the other seven. Both were absorbed in their Play Stations.
‘Arman is simply being recalcitrant,’ the mother replied. ‘He’s just crying over a toy.’
‘Oh, I always wanted to buy him a toy anyways,’ declared Shashi. ‘How much does it cost, bhaiya?
‘No Shashi, why are you doing this? He has two complete sets and he doesn’t play with them at all.’
‘Hush babes, he’s just a kid – he’ll need new toys every now and then anyways.’ She began fishing out change from her purse. ‘Which one is it? That truck over there?’
‘No, it’s that one over there.’
‘There you go,’ said Shashi, and she handed the engine to Arman whose wailing came to an abrupt halt as he held the toy close to his bosom.
‘Thanks Shashi,’ said his mother. ‘Arman, say thanks to auntie!’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Shashi as she put her purse back.
Arman, quite disinterested in their presence, placed the engine on the ground. He pulled it backwards and released his hand.
‘Come, you’ve got to see the carpet I’ve chosen for the new poolroom,’ said Shashi to her friend. They began walking towards a stall further away.
Arman dragged the engine back and forth vainly hoping for it to accelerate, but only managed to draw dust from the red ground beneath it.
‘Come on Arman, lets go,’ the mother called after her son, as she walked further away from him.
Arman muttered at the toy. Leaving it on the dirt, he ran towards his mother with a fresh sense of urgency, ‘Mummy wait, I’m also coming!’
‘The truck! The truck!’ reminded the mother, chiding him for his carelessness, her eyes wide with reproach over his recent behaviour.
As for the vendor, he was already busy attending fresh customers.
(Siddhartha Choudhury is the author of numerous stories and abstract ruminations that lie placid in his hard drive. He made his first publishing appearance in Apocrypha and Abstractions in April this year, and has works forthcoming in the Journal of Microliterature and The Stray Branch. He lives and writes from Mumbai and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)