Just in front of my house is a small park. Small but beautiful and I often thank our 'Residents Welfare Society' for its excellent upkeep round the year. Frankly, I have very limited knowledge of flowers and ornamental plants. What I admire are the flowers of different hues during the winter through spring and I love the shades of various manicured plants during summer.
I have been living in my house for nearly ten years now. In fact, I shifted in the newly constructed house four years before my superannuation- retirement in common parlance. I vacated a spacious government accommodation quite close to my office which my friends and well wishers thought was being foolhardy. In short, they were not happy. Often retired government servants retain government accommodation several months even after superannuation; many seek post retirement employment just for the sake of retaining government accommodation. I but always felt otherwise. I wanted to be rid of the yoke, we the fraternity of government servants bear for three decades or even more. Let me share with my readers, I immensely enjoyed the thrill of shifting to my newly constructed house. To tell you the truth, it is no less exciting than the company of the newly wedded bride.
Well, let me not go astray. These days I go for a morning walk to the park and in the evening I often sit on a bench and enjoy reading a magazine, sometimes sipping tea and watching the children playing, running and shouting mirthfully. I see parents and grandparents walking leisurely and many of them sitting on benches and gossiping.
The park has a couple of swings, very popular amongst the children. There is a merry go round, a sliding plane, a monkey ladder, a parallel bar for little grown ups, couple of see-saws and many other play things.
In this playful melee are my three grand children also; two girls and a boy, eldest of them being less than ten. My grand son, the youngest among my grandchildren likes the see-saw, clasping the handle very firmly.
On the farther end of the park just near one of the entry points there nearly every day comes a balloonwallah. He comes on a bi-cycle. There is bamboo stick with cross bar at one end, which is tied to the frame of his bicycle. On the cross bar are coloured balloons of different sizes and other toys. He has a flute like instrument, which he plays to attract the children.
Generally, I notice the balloonwallah from a distance unless my grandchildren drag me to him to buy them toys or balloons. The balloonwallah is generally surrounded by children and is busy talking to them, making funny noises from the toys. He talks to the children very courteously and at times speaks to some of them in English. To me, he looked a gentleman undergoing the duress of fortune. I felt sympathetic about him.
At times, I noticed him giving away balloons or toys to the eager children asking them to bring the money next day. I wondered if he got back his money in full and that surprised me. I also noticed that he sold the balloons and toys at very reasonable rates, even at lesser rates than in the market.
The Dusshera festival was round the corner. The atmosphere was charged with gaiety. There being school vacation, children were delirious since they had all the time to play. The weather being pleasantly mild, the children were seen in the park even during day hours playing heroes from the epic Ramayana and some rehearsing plays they were to enact in the Kalibari temple of the sector. The balloonwallah was by and large relegated from their memory.
One of those evenings I walked towards the balloonwallah. He was sitting on a plastic stool that he carried as part of the contraption.
"Poor sale these days," I mumbled.
"Hard times for you, I mean how do you pull along- your family expenses."
"God's grace," he replied with a thin smile.
"What is your family? I mean how many children do you have? How do you manage?" I was genuinely distressed.
The balloonwallah sighed and then looked towards the sky. I could see his quivering lips and tears welling in his eyes.
"Sir, I don't sell balloons for my livelihood. I am a retired government servant. I have a small house to live and my son is an officer in the army."
I was stunned. The balloonwallah continued.
"I have a ten year old grandson who is afflicted by polio. Bed-ridden, he gazes at the toys we bring for him or his father brings whenever he comes on leave from the border posting."
The balloonwallah paused. I couldn't find any words to speak.
"Sir, I pretend playing with my grandson and watch him trying desperately to stretch his hands towards the floating balloons. Time and again he fails and on those moments my heart cries to see the feeble smile on his face."
The balloonwallah took out a handkerchief and wiped his tears. I simply gawked.
"Sir, I come to this park to seek a few moments of relief. When the children here play with the balloons and toys I sell them, I see in them the happiness that could have been of my grandson too."