I live in a street full of children. When the electricity goes off for indefinite hours, they come out in hoards with their plastic toys, dogs and skipping ropes. In the balconies women and men appear cursing the authorities under their breath. Along the narrow street, the balconies on either side look like extensions of the same space connected by an invisible bridge. People talk across the street, standing in their balconies. Women share gossips, men talk loudly on their mobile phones; women discuss the prices of vegetables and men that of real estate. Down there the ground level people, both men and women stare at darkness as thick and deep as their lives. They are muted beings with words lost in the darkness, dreams lost half way, with a life that leads to nowhere and yet they live on. But children unaware of all the vagaries of the world play on. Load shedding or scarcity of water does not seem to affect them. They live in a world where spirits are real things. Perhaps they have been there till a few years before, playing with their spirit mates. Now they are here in this nondescript street where the spirits also have followed them beckoning them to come back to the original abode of peace and bliss, exactly the way Azaro of Ben Okri’s Famished Road used to get allured by his spirit mates.
When there is load shedding (temporary outage of electricity, which is known otherwise known as current cut) I go out for a stroll. I walk with my eyes fixed on my feet. I can see a number of eyes watching me from balconies but I am not worried about those eyes. But I am worried of my foot steps as the pathway is uneven with rubble, cow dung, garbage, dilapidated vehicles, an array of water canisters, air coolers, folding cots and so on. One has to watch out the steps. But I keep my eyes open to the happenings around me. I hear the people talking; more than the talk of the elders I hear the voices of the children talking. They talk so many things that even their parents don’t understand. Had they been born to rich households their babbling and acts would have been video recorded or photographed by the doting parents. Here their actions are not registered, their voices are not recorded and their dreams are not captured. They get lost in the process of their growing up. But they seem to be eternally happy. I have been seeing a small girl with her right leg in a plaster cast, from her ankle to thigh. She seems to be absolutely fine with it. She runs, limping behind the other kids. Many times I thought of asking her mother, who cooks at the street side, about this girl. Why the cast is not removed so far? I resist myself; maybe they do not like an intrusive question. However, children in this street have become familiar to my presence. Occasionally they give me a smile. I secretly make faces at them and they smile again.
The other day I heard a few of them talking. One child, holding a small dog on a leash, was asking her friends whether they knew what her doggie told another doggie of a particular moment. I did not wait for the answer. But the question itself was enough to know the surreal world which they inhabit. They can listen to the communication between two dogs. One day I saw a very young child, must be three years old, playing with his toy suddenly leaving his toy aside and walking cautiously towards a cat which was lying near a water canister and licking her body clean. As the boy went near, the cat stopped cleaning herself and stared at the child for a moment. The child stood frozen. The cat looked at the child. They stood like that for a few moments. I could not listen to their communication but I knew something interesting was going on between them. After a few moments, their silent dialogue snapped. The cat got up and left, mewing calmly and the child went back to his toy.
Yesterday, while walking along the street, I saw a child playing with his tricycle. The blue tricycle had some extra fittings which made it look like a miniature spaceship in which aliens generally visit the earth at unearthly hours. The boy was not sitting on it, instead he was pushing it around and suddenly he realized that if he pushed it up on the rising side of the street, once it was released from there it would come down on its own. He was deriving tremendous pleasure. When I was coming, he with a mischievous smile on his face pushed the cycle up and the let it run towards me. I jumped aside and tried to stop it. He was feeling so good that he could frighten me. I bent down, touched the cycle and gave him a smile. He returned the smile but that was the smile of an alien; only aliens could smile that way.
When electricity comes back, all the children in the street make a sound. The coolers start buzzing and the television sets rambling and in the ensuing din the voices of the kids get submerged. I have seen children talking to the mangoes that they are eating; talking to the hand pump as they pump the lever up and down. I have seen children talking to goats. It is a beautiful world where under- privileged children make their lives happy without any modern distractions. They permanently eat outside because they eat sitting outside their one room homes. They play video games with stars, moon and anything that moves in the night sky. They visit theme parks and malls as they climb the garbage dumps. They have the book of life in their hand and street as their university. Unfortunately we fail to see their degrees. So they remain subzi walas, istri walas, auto walas, masons, samosa makers, dish washers and so on. But I am sure, one day they will come out and they will let their childhood take over their lives, and along the streets the spirits of the kids will come marching with placards that say, Give us our words back, Give us our meanings back, and Give us our memories back. Then there will be a revolution. I will not live to see that day. But I can see that these children are preparing themselves for that great march, that great uprising, for the time being camouflaged in kids' plays.