The Balloon Seller
As usual, Rishabh came for his evening walk to the public garden, that was not too far from his house. Since his retirement some five years ago, he had been a regular visitor here where he would spend an hour or so, walking. That day, for some change, he decided to go to the other end of that huge garden. There was a big water body that side and many birds came there, chirping, to play in the water. Rishabh thought of sitting there for a while. Actually he was sad, very sad. His son Rohan had come with his wife and kids to spend a week and they had left that afternoon, but during that whole week Rishabh and Rohan hardly spoke with each other. Generally the house would be filled with chatters and laughter but there were no conversations between the father and son. They would sit together, and yet alone to themselves in the mornings, with a cup of tea each, when the newspaper would come to their rescue and both of them would seemingly be engrossed in reading it, being fully aware of the lack of things that they could talk about. Rishabh sat there on a bench, involuntarily being pulled down the memory lane.
Rohan had always been a difficult child to handle. He was highly mischievous, always playing pranks on others. He was very intelligent too and was full of ‘whys’. Rishabh, like most of the fathers, hated to answer those ‘whys’. He found the questions ridiculous, and had no patience to encourage them. In fact he would be apalled when instead of a blind obedience, which was obviously expected of children, Rohan would dare him to offer explanations. Rishabh would get furious at such behaviour, for he never ever remembered doing that with his own father. How much he respected his father, he thought. His word would be a command for Rishabh, and that is how he had seen most of the fathers to be. Why was he so unfortunate to get a son who he thought was a rebel, just for the heck of it? Suddenly he was pulled out from his past by some noise and laughter. He looked around and just around the bushes, he saw quite a number of children jumping, giggling and running around. He went a bit ahead and saw a man, apparently a balloon seller, with a bunch of colourful balloons, chatting merrily with the kids around. The kids had balloons in their hands and were very happy playing with them. The children were around 4 –10 years of age and looked so happy around the balloon seller. For the next two hours or so Rishabh sat there watching the children and the balloon seller. What struck him most was the comfort between the children and the man. He was chatting with them to glory. They spoke about their school, teachers, friends, parents, problems, dreams and almost everything under the Sun. Rishabh was amazed at such communication. Soon they all dispersed and Rishabh too walked back home.
Came the next day and Rishabh walked up to the same spot of the garden, where he had seen the balloon seller the previous day. Lo and behold, they were all there! Again, for about a couple of hours, he witnessed the same beautiful interaction between the children and the balloon seller. This continued for a few days when Rishabh brought himself up and went up to where all the fun was happening. The balloon seller smiled at him and Rishabh sat on the small rock next to him. Soon it was time for the children to go and bidding the balloon seller a warm bye, they all left.
“My name is Rajbeer, Babu ji,” the man introduced himself with a nice, friendly smile.
“I am Rishabh. I have been watching you for the last few days and have been wondering how you have such a beautiful rapport with the kids. You have so much to talk to them and vice versa. I am pretty amazed as to how you do it.” said Rishabh softly.
“This is the best time of my day Babu. Being with these children transports me to another, beautiful world altogether. Why Babu, you too must be having a family? Children?” enquired Rajbeer.
“Yes, I have a son who is married and stays in the U.S. with his family,” replied Rishabh. “Tell me Rajbeer, how do you have so much to talk with these children?” asked Rishabh. “ You would have a very healthy communication with your children as well?” was there a tinge of envy in Rishab’s voice, thought Rajbeer.
“No Babu, I do not have a healthy communication with my son. In fact, I never had. He was such a handful to handle. We always had endless complaints from the school. How much I scolded him, many a times would beat him up too, but nothing worked. I would give him examples of other children around and his defiance would only increase. He would turn around and question me how I had the audacity to compare him with other children. Babu, you tell me, as a father, won’t I worry for him and his future? I only wanted his good but with every passing day my fear would keep increasing and would get expressed as shoutings, scoldings and violence. In return, my son’s defiance too kept progressing and reached a stage where both of us did not know what to do next. Both of us wanted to change the other and that desperation compounded our failure, leaving us completely at a loss as to how to deal with each other. Babu, how many sleepless nights I have spent, driving myself crazy in trying to find a solution, but alas! I failed and not knowing what to do, both of us chose the escape route. We started avoiding each other and drifted apart. My heart was breaking Babu, but I did not know how to bridge the gap. I wanted to hug my son but that was never to be. My wife was the mediator between the two of us but that worked only to keep each other informed about the important things in our life. My son was very intelligent and by the grace of God managed to do well in his studies and went on to have a great career. He got married and now lives in another city, with his family. But we still haven’t been able to bridge the gap.”
Rajbeer paused to wipe his tears and stopped, seeing Rishabh doing the same. Rishabh insisted that he carry on with his story.
“How then do you communicate so well with these children? They are not even your own.”
“Yes Babu,” continued Rajbeer, “Thankfully I have found this way to undo the terrible wrong that I did to my son. In the name of his future, I let my fear rule me and lost out on one of the most beautiful relations in life. One day, I saw a beggar with his son. Babu, I cannot tell you what a sight that was. They were laughing together, and were so immersed in each other, that I realised that day what I had missed out on all those years. I then made up my mind to practice communication. I thought of doing so with children as they are the least judgmental and make for excellent teachers. To reach them easily I took to selling balloons. The children are attracted by the balloons and I talk to them as their best friend. Soon I realized, how beautiful it feels to talk. The children open up so easily and they share with me stories about their school, their friends, their dreams, as well as their fears. Though late, yet now I have understood the beauty of communication. It is so satisfying to be able to understand others and the whole perspective only changes. Actually Babu, most of us spend our lives, wanting to be understood without realizing that it always helps to understand others, first. Here I am the listener, eager to hear and understand these children and so they are more than willing to pour their hearts out. After hearing, it is so much easier to help them meander on their own paths, willingly and hence happily. Maybe one day, I will be able to bridge the gap between my son and me too,” sighed Rajbeer.
Rishabh was sitting there, all wet eyed. It was as if it was his own story, which Rajbeer had narrated. He could not move when Rajbeer got up and, taking leave, walked away. After a few moments, Rishabh was shaken out of his reverie and he followed Rajbeer in the direction that he had gone. There was no sign of him till as far as he could see. He walked a bit ahead, up to the club house across the road, and sat down on one its benches. His mind was in turmoil. Rajbeer’s parting words were echoing in his ears. Suddenly a big car went past him, out of the club house gate. His eyes casually fell on the suited booted man sitting on the back seat. He was Rajbeer! He looked carefully and yes, he was sure he was Rajbeer. Rishabh was stunned. He quickly got up and went to the guard at the gate who had saluted the man in the car, while it was going out.
“Hello, who was this man in the car that went just now?” asked a surprised Rishabh.
“He? He is Rajbeer saheb, the big hotel baron,” replied the guard in awe.
“But I saw him as a ballon seller, just a while back,” muttered a somewhat confused Rishabh.
“Oh that! Yes he comes everyday, without fail, for a few hours, has balloons in his hands, goes to the park right there and then comes back, changes and leaves,” replied the guard.
“But why would he do so?” Rishabh questioned incredulously.
“How will poor people like us know why and what the rich do, Babu” said the guard with a half smile.
“To bridge the gap between my son and me,” was this what Rajbeer had told him? Wondered Rishabh, as he turned to walk back home.