It was a Monday I think when I first met Lisa. She was new in school I guessed for I had never seen her before. I sat right next to her on the bus ride to school. We started talking inside the bus and I don’t think we ever stopped talking at any point of time. Lisa and I did everything together. I was surprised to find that Lisa wasn’t like other girls. She wasn’t scared to try anything. She was normally the first to volunteer to try something new. She didn’t shy away from playing and most importantly she didn’t cry for anything and everything. I liked talking to her. She didn’t make fun of my accent. She didn’t laugh if I mispronounced words, she corrected me. She would visit my house and would stay till late evening. She never seemed to want to go home and I loved the fact that I had found someone whom I could play with. It was almost like I had found my Ramu. I missed him less and less now that I had met Lisa.
On the day of our field trip to Chief Walking Wolf’s reservation, I told her all that grandpa had told me about the native Indians. The entire story of how America was colonized and how the original people of America had been the native’s and how now they were reduced to living on far off reservations. At the reservation we had lots of fun. We rode the ponies that the natives had tamed; we saw the wild horses running free and without a worry in the world. They even showed us all the different drawings that the natives had made. They even painted our faces for us. They explained to us the various rituals and what they were done for. I loved the whole concept of dancing around a fire, wearing a mask and chanting to the gods above. It was lovely. Then as we were about to leave, Lisa asked one of the chief’s children, “Where are you studying?” the boy looked at Lisa and said, “white man take away all of father’s land so he have no money to send me to school. So father teach us. He teach us about the land, the water, the animals and the birds. He teach us all that is important.” I looked at Ms.Ripley, how could someone not have enough money to send their children to school? Had this ‘white man’ actually taken all of the big chief’s money away from him? Why didn’t he give it back? Ms.Ripley hurried us into the bus and once inside after checking to see if we were all there she said, “Yes, its true that those children do not go to school like you do. They do not have the opportunities that you have. It is up to each and every one of you to make the best of these opportunities for there are those who are less fortunate than you who do such great things.” At that point I wanted to do great things too; I didn’t want to let Ms.Ripley down. Lisa and I discussed this on the way back home and I told her what grandpa would say. “They were here first. We are the intruders so we ought to give them enough space.” I told Ms.Ripley this too and she said, “I think you have something there. It makes a lot of sense. We ought to have more people who think like you.” I was so proud of myself. Ms.Ripley thought I was good. It really meant a lot to me.
Every school going child’s worst nightmare. The dreaded PTA. The Parent Teacher Meeting. I didn’t understand the reason why we needed something like the PTA. Every parent was sending his child to school only for a reason, to study. They paid the fees right on time; they never bothered the school authorities. Then why in the world would the school authorities want to put the student and his parents at an inconvenience and call a Parent Teacher Meeting? Why must the teacher and the parent meet at all? It was bad enough that the children met the teacher everyday, why trouble the parents at all? It wasn’t like I didn’t like class or that I didn’t like school, it was just that I was going to be evaluated for the first time in my life and the teachers were going to tell mama about the work that I had done and how well or badly I had done it. I didn’t want to get embarrassed in front of my friends. I didn’t want to have the teachers tell mama that I hadn’t done well either. I couldn’t let mama down. I had to do well. I had to perform. I knew I had done well but the whole point was what if things didn’t go as I thought they would then I’d be in a lot of trouble. Grandpa had gone back and I was going to be alone at home with some nanny mama was looking for.
Mama was a doctor. She worked at the local hospital. Back home she had been the in house gynecologist. Here she helped out in the ‘gynaec’ ward as she called it. She was a lot senior to the other doctors in the hospital but here all that mattered were qualifications. Dada would keep saying that she ought to be in charge but I don’t think it really bothered mama. She was doing just what she had always wanted to. It didn’t really matter to her if she was getting paid less or if she was working under anyone. When I asked her one day, how it felt to be the one ‘helping babies come into the world’ as she called it, she said, “Baba, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. That poor little thing is trusting you and putting its life in your hands. You have great power in your hands and with that power comes great responsibility.” She’d attend calls even late in the night. Dada didn’t like the fact that she would go so late to the hospital but she’d give him ‘the look’ and he’d end up driving her to the hospital. It was fun watching them. There was so much love in their eyes for each other and yet they would hardly show it to each other. Whenever there was something that annoyed dada about the way mama invited people in home or how she would donate money to whoever asked, he’d come out and say something sarcastic like, “Yes, why not Meena, why be so miserly? Why don’t you give them our entire savings? It’s not a problem. We have a tree growing in the backyard, it sprouts money. You don’t worry about our savings. It’s totally fine. Just give them all our money.” Then she’d turn to dad and give him ‘the look’ and that would be it. There would be no more complaining from dada. Grandpa and I’d stand by the door watching this and when dada sheepishly came away, he’d notice us standing by the doorway and then he’d pretend he had won the whole argument and say something like “Ok, ok. Just this time I’m letting you get away with this.” Mum would just look at him, smile and shake her head. It was lovely.
That evening grandpa was leaving for India. It was again like someone who had meant so much to me was again walking out of my life. I didn’t want him to go. Neither did Lisa. We both cried our eyes out at home. I refused to go to the airport to see him off. I don’t know if I would have been able to take the final goodbyes that he would have said. As I sat at home, I talked to Lisa. “Why did people come into our lives if they were to leave like this all the time? Why did they bring such lovely memories if they were going to end up bringing pain all around?” Lisa didn’t say a word, she just put her arm around me and we just sat there. We must have stayed that way a long time, neither of us said a word but we knew that we’d both miss him. A lot of things were left unsaid. Suddenly, the peace was shattered by the sound of the doorbell. Mama and dada couldn’t have been back so quickly. I looked through the peep hole and saw a very distinguished looking man standing at the door. He looked like a nice man but dad had said I was to open the door to no one else but them. So I asked the man who he was. He said, “Hello there. I’m guessing you are OC. I’m Lisa’s father.” Something came over Lisa’s face, something I’d never forget for a long time. The look had passed and she now wore this look of total detachment. She spoke up, “Daddy?” He replied from outside the door, “Yeah baby, its me. Now please ask this fine young gentleman to open the door for your daddy.” I was so kicked! He called me ‘fine young gentleman.’ Yes that’s what I was, a fine young gentleman. I hastened to unlock the door for him. That’s when Lisa ran up to me and whispered in my ear in a voice so filled with fright, “No! No! Don’t open it. Don’t let him in here.” I looked at her strangely. I asked her, “He is your daddy isn’t he?” she looked down at the floor and nodded. “So then what is the problem? Don’t worry about anything, I’m there aren’t I?” Her dad had called me a ‘fine young gentleman’ and fine young gentlemen never left their friends fathers standing outside locked doors. I opened the door and I got my first glance of Lisa’s dad. A face I was going to be seeing for a very long time. He seemed so handsome standing there under the light. He would have been what grandpa would call a gentleman. I just thought he was totally the best. (The fact that he thought I was a gentleman not swaying my opinion about him in any way.) As I let him in, the phone rang; I excused myself and ran to answer it. It was dada. He had called to make sure everything was alright. I told him Lisa’s dada was here to pick her up. Dada got a little worried and asked to speak to him. So I asked him to wait a second and I went into the next room where I had left Lisa with her dada. He was there and I told him dada was on the phone and wanted to talk to him. He flashed his lovely toothy smile at me and said, “After you, sir.” I was in seventh heaven. No one had ever called me sir. As I led him to the phone I stole a glance at Lisa. She was standing by the door and there was some unreadable expression on her face. I flashed a smile at her and walked on, into the room. He spoke to dada and agreed to stay on till dad and mum were home. I was very happy with this bit of news. I wanted dada and mama to meet this man who thought I was a fine gentleman. Grandpa I’m sure would have loved talking to him. We all went to the T.V. room and there we settled down and he watched cartoons with us. He seemed to know all there was to know about cartoons. He knew about Calvin, he knew about Superman and Batman. He told me the entire story of how Batman became the man he was. He picked me up and put me on his lap and then went on about them. He explained to me why Batman had chosen the symbol of the bat. He told me, “Batman’s parents were killed by those people that he had never known and done no harm to. They had attacked him for no reason. He wanted to strike fear into the hearts of criminals like them so that no one else would suffer the same plight he did of being orphaned at such a young age. His battle was for all those innocents who were affected by criminals and had no power to do anything about it. He wanted to fight for them. That was why he had chosen the sign of the bat. As a warning to all those who hurt the innocent, the bat would always save the innocents.” I looked at him in awe, how did he know so much? He was a grownup; they never knew anything about cartoons. I was so envious of Lisa. She had such an awesome dad who knew so much about cartoons! I looked across the room at her and she seemed to have a look of great concern on her face. Lisa’s father followed my glance and saw Lisa. Immediately there seemed to be a change, she tried to smile. Her dad called her over to sit next to her. She reluctantly got up and came and sat next to him. I couldn’t understand it. Why was she behaving so strangely? Then her dad leaned towards me, put his mouth to my ear and whispered, “She’s a little worried about tomorrow’s PTA meeting. That’s all.” Now I understood. I smiled at her and said, “Lisa there really is nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be ok.” Lisa’s dad smiled down at me and said, “See Lisa, look how unafraid he is. Spoken like a true man.” I loved him. He thought I was a man!
The doorbell rang and I jumped off his knee to go see who it was. Dada and mama had returned. I opened the door for them and ran straight into mama’s arms. I couldn’t wait to tell them all about Lisa’s dad. I went at express train speed, “Mama, mama, Lisa’s dad, is like the best ever. He called me a fine young gentleman. He said I was brave like a man. He knows everything about cartoons. He knows Calvin and he knows who Clark Kent is. He even knows why batman chose a bat as his symbol. Isn’t that cool? Isn’t he the best?” Mama put me down on the floor and said, “Alright, let me meet this wonderful man please” and followed dada into the house. I followed mama into the house. Mama saw Lisa’s father and immediately seemed to recognize him. She said, “Dr.Patterson! Oh how nice to meet you. You are Lisa’s father? Oh! Why that’s lovely.” Obviously she knew him from somewhere. All these doctors seemed to know each other. I was the happiest. Mama obviously thought highly of him. Dada offered Patterson uncle a drink but I didn’t think uncle would want to have the orange juice that dada drank. I didn’t think he’d like it. I had tasted it once without anyone knowing and it had been horrible. How anyone would want to have it out of choice was something I could not understand. He turned down dada’s offer. I winked at him letting him know that it was the wise decision to make. Mama asked him to stay for dinner but he said it was getting late and that he had better be leaving. He bid every one goodnight and then he bent down to me, ruffled my hair, smiled and winked at me. I said my goodbyes to Lisa and once they’d left I trooped after dada and mama into the dining room. Grandpa leaving was already out of my head. I was so happy that Lisa’s dad turned out to be such a nice person. Lisa must have been the luckiest person in the world. Her dada knew so much about cartoons. How much fun they must have together? I would never be worried about small things like a PTA meeting if uncle was there. I’d have been brave for then he’d think of me as a man! I smiled to myself when I thought about what he had said. He had thought that I was a fine young gentleman. I was still smiling to myself and thinking of all that he had said about Batman when I dozed off that night on the couch curled up next to dada.