Lalu Krishnan



Lalu Krishnan


Anvi’s Secret Bag

Anvi’s Secret Bag

10 mins

Anvi looked at Tanu. Her large, doe eyes were moist.

“What?” asked Tanu. “Not again! Don’t look at me like that.”

Anvi sat still. She didn’t shift her gaze.

“Why’re you behaving like this?”

Anvi lowered her eyes. She tried in vain to leash a stubborn tear that threatened to roll down from her right eye on to her cheek. Soon, her sobs gave way to a deluge of tears. She ran into her bedroom as fast as her ten-year-old feet could run and closed the door behind her.

“Enough of your drama,” Tanu howled. “Come back.” Anvi didn’t respond.

Tanu shook her head. “What’s wrong with her these days?”

“Nothing,” said Jay – an indifferent mumble. He took turns to jab into his laptop and his cell phone. His brow was creased, his lips, twisted, his mind, sunk into a presentation that was due later that day.

“I told you,” he said. “She’s seeking attention.”

Tanu took a deep, exasperating breath. “I wish you were right, Jay,” she said. “Deep within, I know that you’re not.” She stared into the horizon, shutting down her laptop. She sighed. “I’m sure, you know that too.”

The orange sun splurged its plethora of latent hues into the evening sky. It immersed into the deep, dark sea far away. Jay looked up – for the first time, that day. He shrugged. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, Jay,” said Tanu. She strutted across the sprawling living room of their deluxe apartment, towards Jay. “Of late, Anvi’s been weird. I just asked her not to bite her nails. Look at how she’s reacted. She’s never been like that.”

Jay looked into Tanu’s eyes through his thick glasses. He couldn’t hold the gaze for more than three seconds. He lowered his eyes and muttered something illegible.

“What?” said Tanu.

Jay’s unease ebbed into an uncanny calm. His lips stretched into a wry smile.

“Don’t worry,” he said. He placed his palm over Tanu’s. “She’s growing into her teens. It’s an outcome of that.”

Tanu was quiet. She wasn’t convinced. Neither did she want to prolong a futile discussion. She walked towards the bedroom to check on Anvi.

Anvi was at her study table, a book in her hand. A quiet, introvert child, she was a prolific reader. She carried a book wherever she went – on her way to school, in a mall during her mother’s elaborate shopping escapades, at the doctor’s clinic – almost everywhere. Tanu wondered where Anvi got this addiction from. Neither she nor Jay read anything beyond newspapers and the minimum that was required for their work. She didn’t mind, though – not so much because it was a great habit; rather because she could focus on their more important and interesting tasks.

Anvi noticed Tanu from the corner of her dark, glittery eye. She’d stopped crying.

“Sorry, ma,” she said in a whisper.

Tanu’s eyes were moist. She hugged Anvi tight and kissed her on her forehead. She brushed her fingers over Anvi’s smooth, chubby cheeks. She was still a small child.

“My daughter…”

Her daughter, Anvi. She was an angel. But for her recent, rare tantrums, she was a sorted, balanced child. Her thoughts, speech, and attitude were far more mature than the average ten-year-old. Tanu caressed Anvi’s light, loose hair, and drew her close to her chest. She recollected the words of her class-teacher during the parents-teachers meeting the previous week.

“Anvi,” the teacher said with a broad smile. “She’s a well-rounded child. She’s good at academics and sports. She has a clarity of thought, helps others, speaks well, and enjoys herself. My only advice to her would be to not change herself.”

Later that day, Anvi’s various feats led her to win the Scholar’s Trophy. Tanu and Jay felt very proud of their daughter.

But Tanu was worried. The frequency of Anvi’s weird stints had increased during the past few months. The last instance was a couple of weeks back. Anvi cried without provocation. She was inconsolable for fifteen minutes. Tanu was shocked as she tried in vain to comfort Anvi.

“Why did you cry?” she asked after Anvi was fine.

Anvi looked at Tanu. Her eyes drooped in guilt.

“I don’t know, ma,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Something was bothering her daughter. She didn’t know what it was and how she could help her.

Tanu and Jay were a self-made, well-to-do couple. They were classmates in b-school. Other than their interest in movies, they connected through their middle-class upbringing and a shared aspiration to make it big. A decade and a half after they first met, they did indeed make it big. While Jay led the recently launched India operations of the consumer electronics giant, ZigmaWave, Tanu had rapidly risen through the hierarchy of KashBank to head its credit card sales.

Since the age of one, Anvi spent most of her time at a daycare. Tanu or Jay would drop her there in the morning, sometimes even before she woke up. If she was awake, she would cling on to them and cry. After the first few weeks, she stopped crying. She knew that she had no choice. Avoiding eye contact, she would stagger towards one of the inner rooms, sit in a corner, and follow what she was asked to do. She would stay there till late evening when one of her parents would pick her up. It was not too different when she started going to school. The school bus would drop her at the daycare after school got over.

So, for the past nine years, a big part of Anvi’s life revolved around the daycare nanny, her two children, and five other daycare kids elder to her. During this time, Tanu and Jay were busy constructing their careers. The weekdays were not enough. Work spilled over to the weekends and holidays. They took turns in their work-related travel. Their synthetic lives revolved around their jobs – a lot more than they’d realized.

Anvi was on her own, except for the templated annual international vacations when the three of them were together.

But, she was fine. She did well in her studies, made friends in school, and in the daycare and molded herself into a well-rounded child. Tanu and Jay graciously spent on books, home tuitions, and music classes. These were alibis to keep Anvi at bay so that she did not disturb them when they were at work.

Till four years back, she would approach her parents with:

“Pa, how do I do this sum?”

“Ma, what’s the meaning of this word?”

“Ma, Pa, today miss read out my classwork to the rest of the class!”

The responses would be:

“Ask your tutor, Anvi. Can’t you see? I’m a little busy now.”

“I don’t know. Can’t you ask these doubts to your teacher?”

Or, simply: “Oh, that’s good Anvi!”

Anvi got the point. For the last four years, she seldom approached her parents with such questions. She thrived in her world of reading and imagination. Her parents, often, chided her for staring into oblivion with no care of what transpired around her. But, that was her outlet – teleportation into her make-believe world.

By and large, her parents were happy. They could focus on their work and progress up the pedestal of prosperity. After all, they were doing it for Anvi – for her education, for her future.

“Your bag is getting heavier by the day,” said Tanu one day – one of those rare occasions when she observed Anvi struggling. Such occasions often culminated into didactic monologues, to which Anvi maintained a stoic indifference.

“Why do you take so many books to school?”

Anvi was silent. Tanu took off the school-bag from Anvi’s shoulders and opened it.

“Do you need all of these books?” she asked, rummaging her bag and taking out a few books. She, then, lay her hands on an old cloth shopping bag folded into half. It covered something hard and boxy.

“What’s this?” she asked. Anvi stood agape. Her lips quivered. A bead of sweat emerged from her forehead. Before Tanu could take out the content of the bag, Anvi grabbed it and put it back into her school bag.

“I’ll need to take that, Ma,” she said. “It’s for a project.”

“A project?” asked Tanu.

“Yes,” said Anvi. The bead of sweat rolled down her cheek. “I’m getting late for school, Ma. Let me go.”

Tanu was taken aback. But she let it be. Anvi packed her bag and hurried away. Tanu was sure that there was something about the cloth bag that Anvi wanted to keep to herself.

Tanu was intrigued. She noticed the cloth bag neatly tucked into Anvi’s school bag on a couple of more occasions and accosted Anvi. But Anvi was secretive and protective about it. Tanu discussed her curiosity with Jay. He brushed it aside with a guffaw and a swipe of his hand. He was just too busy to even consider Tanu’s mundane suspicions. With time, these qualms died a natural death. Neither of them was bothered about Anvi’s cloth bag.

2020 was a very different year – different for a very different reason – the COVID 19 pandemic. Since mid-March, the whole world was locked indoors. Tanu and Jay, too, had no option but to work from home. Their busy work lives got executed over online meetings and calls.

“When will this crap end?” said Jay. The TV news channel was blaring the clichéd constant – of the ever-increasing number of cases and deaths. He sipped his coffee, browsing his significant other, his mobile, with intent.

“Hope this nightmare ends soon,” said Tanu. “I’m raring to get back to the office. Feels so suffocated being at home.” She sighed. The depressing sounds of the news bytes seemed like noise. She switched off the TV. The restful calm was a welcome disruption. Tanu closed her eyes and placed her palm over them. She sought a momentary flicker of solace in the darkness.

“But, I don’t want this to end.” Anvi’s cherubic voice cut through the silence of the late evening. Tanu and Jay jolted back into reality – Tanu from her trance and Jay from his mobile. They looked at her. She was unflustered, taking turns to look at each of them in their eyes.

“Why?” asked Jay.

Anvi lowered her eyes and took a shallow breath.

“This is the first time I’m getting to be near you for so long.” Anvi smiled. Her eyes glittered. “I can always see you around. Otherwise, I miss you so much!”

Tanu and Jay looked at each other. After a few seconds of silence, tears rolled down Tanu’s cheeks. Jay’s eyes were moist. He flipped the mobile on to the center table and looked at Anvi. She came towards them – her beatific smile, large eyes, composed demeanor. She was their brave, beautiful princess. They hugged each other in a huddle for a good half-a-minute.

“You’re our darling,” said Tanu. “We’ll be there with you – always.”

Jay nodded in approval.

“Ma, Pa, you wanted to know what’s in the bag I always keep with me. Didn’t you?”

Before Tanu could react, Anvi freed herself from her parents’ clutches and darted towards her room. She came back with the cloth bag and exposed what was inside. There were three hard-bound, thick notebooks. Their worn, creased covers gave an indication of how much they’d have been used.

Tanu and Jay surfed through the contents. They looked at each other – not for the first time that evening.

The notebooks contained Anvi’s writings of the past three years.

Soon, the room was filled with smiles, laced with tears, and punctuated with doses of laughter.

The notebooks were full of stories, poetry, and random ruminations – high-quality work painted through her superlative imagination and observation. She wrote about her naughty, yet adorable sister, although she didn’t have one. There was one about how nice it would have been having she been born as a social dog. Another was about a hypnotist creating and ruling a fantasy world. There was a lot more. For the next hour, the three of them were engrossed in reading, discussing, and critiquing some of Anvi’s work. 

“Why were you so protective about this?” asked Tanu? “This is so good! Why didn’t you show this to us before?”

Anvi looked down. “I thought you and Pa would scold me, Ma.”

In a few weeks, the COVID 19 situation improved and the world moved back into the normal – rather, the new normal.

The new normal –

Anvi continued to write. Her notebooks were free of its secret confines. Tanu and Jay would read and critique her work.

And, to Anvi’s delight –

Tanu and Jay took turns to Work From Home

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