Arjun pressed the doorbell of his apartment. He pressed it again after sometime. But no one answered the bell. He fished in his pockets, took out a key and then opened the lock of the apartment door. The apartment was empty. Anita, his wife, must have gone out with their seven-year-old son, Samar.
He changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, washed his hands and face and was thinking what to do next. He thought about spending some time on the treadmill but then decided in favour of watching TV with a cup of coffee in his hands. But he was distracted and wished Anita would come back soon.
He must have dozed off, for he woke up with a start upon the ringing of the doorbell. He walked hurriedly to the front door and opened it. There was Anita and behind her, on the bicycle, was Samar.
Samar rushed inside the house, grabbed the TV remote and started flipping through his favourite channels.
He frowned. “Samar, come back. Please take off your shoes and put on your slippers. Then go and wash your hands. And no watching TV right now. First we have to complete your homework.” He said sternly.
Samar ignored him and sat down on the sofa, his head bent forward and already absorbed in the television.
The child looked up, taken aback by his anger.
Anita, meanwhile, had put the bicycle to one side and was closing the door. “You have come back early today. What is it? You look a little disturbed,” she said, quietly closing the door.
Samar had stood up and was looking confused. He had always got to watch TV at this time before doing his homework.
“It is all right Samar. You can watch TV for some time. But after that, we shall sit down to complete your homework,” Anita patted Samar on the head, saying this.
The child sat down, watching television again and was soon lost into it.
Anita was now in the kitchen, getting out the vegetables and other things and arranging them for the maid who would arrive soon to help do the cooking.
Arjun walked slowly in the kitchen and watched Anita as she worked.
“The principal of Samar’s school had called this afternoon when I was in office,” he told her.
Anita turned around and looked at him. “What did she say?” she immediately asked, with a touch of anxiety in her voice.
Arjun shook his head grimly. “The principal was saying that it is getting worse. Samar punched some kid in the face today. The other kid’s nose started bleeding and first-aid had to be given to him. She said that if Samar doesn’t improve, then they would have to remove him from the school.”
Anita was silent.
From where they stood in the kitchen, they could see Samar.
Suddenly Arjun frowned again. He walked quickly up to Samar. “How many times have I told you not to watch this channel! Please don’t make papa angry. You are not to watch this channel, understand?”
The child looked scared at the sight of the anger on his face.
“Yes papa. I won’t watch this again,” Samar answered timidly.
Arjun looked at Samar for some time and then calming himself, switched the channel. Anita was watching from the kitchen. He went back to her.
“This stuff he watches on TV is not good. Such fighting, kicking and bad language! I wonder how they allow such programs to come on TV channels for children,” he said.
Anita nodded in agreement. “I do keep an eye on him and try to see that he doesn’t watch such stuff. But it’s difficult to keep checking all the time. He goes back to watching all those violent programs whenever no one is around to check,” she replied, shaking her head sadly.
“And you are right. TV channels meant for children should not be allowed to have programs full of violence and crude language. But I’ll try to keep a better check on him.”
“Yes, I shall also help in that whenever I am at home,” Arjun said.
They were both quiet again. Anita drying some dishes and putting them in their place.
After a while, Arjun spoke again, “What about those twins in tower number one? I hope you are keeping Samar away from them. They are bad company.”
“No, he doesn’t play with them anymore. I keep Samar away from them. But that isn’t showing any results going by what happened in the school today,” Anita morosely responded.
“Yes, I don’t really know what to do. He isn’t improving. In fact, it looks as if Samar is becoming even more violent now.”
Anita pursed her lips. “There is something that I hadn’t told you. Remember, you were asking why I had stopped taking him to the society swimming pool and instead make him ride his bicycle in the evening? Well I hadn’t given you the correct explanation when you had asked. The correct answer is that he was regularly getting into fights with other children in the swimming pool. Or more correctly, he was picking up fights and hitting the younger kids just for fun.”
“Really? This is very serious,” he turned, as if to go back to Samar again.
Anita caught hold of his sleeve and stopped him. “Nothing will come out from getting angry with him again. We have been through all that before. Leave him right now,” she said quietly.
He looked at her and then nodded his head in agreement.
“I think we should take him to some child psychiatrist,” Anita said after a while.
“I have already talked to one. One of my schoolmates is doing well as a child psychiatrist. I called him up later in the afternoon and told him about Samar’s problem.” Arjun said
“What did he say?”
“He said that it’s a problem that is increasingly being seen more. And all the violent stuff shown on TV channels meant for children are largely responsible for this. But he said that sometimes the problem can get aggravated and that may have happened in Samar’s case.” Arjun replied, biting his lips.
“Did he offer any advice?”
“Yes, he said that one common cause of the aggravation of this violent behaviour in children is the company of other children with such traits and that we should take care to remove him from the company of such kids,” he answered.
“But we have already done that,” Anita said, with disappointment heavy in her voice.
“Yes, we shall have to think of something,” Arjun replied. He took a deep breath and then opened the refrigerator and took out an apple.
“By the way, I checked into the local shops for that toy washing machine he has been clamouring for. They didn’t have it. I am thinking of going to the mall tomorrow, in the first half, to check there. They have a much better collection. It should be available there,” he said, biting into the apple.
“What time would you be going,” Anita asked.
“Somewhere around eleven in the first half.”
Next day was a Saturday.
Samar was playing with his toys, when he looked up, noticing Arjun dressed up to go out.
“Papa, where are you going!”
Arjun smiled. “Papa has some work to do. He will be back in a few hours. Then we’ll play together Samar.”
“Papa, I too want to come!”
Arjun was quiet, thinking it over.
“Please, please papa!”
“Why don’t you take him along?” Anita, walking up said.
“Okay, come along son. But papa first has to go to one of his friend’s place. You will have to behave there. Promise?”
“I promise papa!” Samar got up, jumping in excitement.
“I will get him ready. But to whose place are you going?” Anita asked, while leading away Samar to change his clothes.
“It is Bhanu. He was also in school with us, in the same class. He’s a bachelor and lives alone,” he replied
“You had met him once in our school get-together. But you may not be able to place him. For it was only briefly, very briefly in fact, that you had met him.”
Anita nodded and then walked away with Samar to change his clothes.
Samar came running back with a fresh set of clothes and his shoes on.
“Let’s go papa!”
“I shall be back by lunchtime,” Arjun told Anita as he walked out the front door, holding Samar by his hand.
“Yes, don’t be late,” Anita replied and then closed the door.
Bhanu had worked for some years in a Gulf country. Right now, he wasn’t working anywhere. Returning from the Gulf, Bhanu had bought a small plot and had a simple, small, single storied house built there.
In about twenty minutes time, they had reached Bhanu’s gate. A private security guard stationed there opened the gate for them. Arjun drove inside, parked the car to one side and climbed out, picking up Samar from the seat and putting him down after closing the car gate.
The security guard had said that Bhanu was in the backyard and they would find him there.
Arjun stood and looked around for some time before moving to the backyard. Much of the space in the compound was taken up by an amazing variety of plants. There were a number of flower beds and all sizes of pots holding multitudinous greenery. Samar was skipping around excitedly touching the pots and the flowers that lay just about everywhere.
Arjun called him back and then holding his hand went to the back yard. And there was Bhanu, with his back to them, working on a flower bed. He turned around hearing them coming up and smiled when he saw Arjun and Samar.
“Wonderful, wonderful! Samar, how are you! This is the first time that we are meeting, isn’t it son?” Bhanu said walking up to them, embracing Arjun and then picking up Samar.
Samar looked at Bhanu, opening his eyes wide. For Bhanu was a big man, really big and he took care to stay in shape. Samar then seemed to have made up his mind, and he smiled back. Bhanu’s warmth had reached the child.
Bhanu continued to hold Samar as he talked to Arjun.
After a while, putting Samar down, Bhanu took out a remote bell that he had in his pocket and pressed it. From the house emerged Bhanu’s man-friday, Nandan, who had been with Bhanu for some time now.
“Nandan, get out some chairs for sahib and get us something to eat also. What will you have Arjun; tea, coffee or,” he added after a pause with a smile, “beer or gin or something else?”
Arjun laughed. “Yes, get me some beer,” he replied.
Nandan had the chairs out soon and laid out a table on which he put the plates holding various eatables like biscuits, peanuts, sweets and pastries. Samar had one pastry and then he started wandering around in the backyard. And Bhanu and Arjun talked and laughed, sitting in the chairs. This time of the year, there were a number of butterflies attracted to the greenery present in Bhanu’s place and they fascinated Samar making him run after them laughing, giggling and turning around to ask numerous questions.
“So many butterflies papa! I’ve never seen so many! Aren’t they beautiful!”
“Yes Samar. They are beautiful son,” Arjun replied, evidently pleased.
Bhanu was watching with an interested eye.
After sometime, Bhanu started doing miscellaneous things with his plants, flowers, shrubs; watering some, pruning some other, rearranging some and digging the flower beds here and there. Arjun followed him, for this is what Bhanu invariably did most of the time and Arjun was used to it. Rather, Arjun liked that. Moving around in dreamland of a setting that this luxury of flowers and plants created; it always brought a great sense of peace and that is why he had decided, in fact, to visit Bhanu’s place today. The problem about Samar’s increasingly violent behaviour had been weighing far too much on his mind.
But Samar was looking so different now. He looked such a baby, just right for his tender years. Otherwise, he would tend to have a look far beyond his age and also act so to Arjun’s irritation. He was running on the grass lawns, peering with great interest everywhere with unending questions. In fact, Arjun was struck by the entirely different sight that Samar was presenting now; so innocent, happy and without any sign of troublesome mischief that, these days, so often marked Samar’s face.
Hours passed quickly and it was time to go back.
“Say bye to Bhanu uncle, Samar.”
“Bye Bhanu uncle!” Samar shouted from inside the car.
Bhanu waved his hands, “Come back soon son.”
Arjun waved at Bhanu, Samar waving too and then they drove off.
On the way back, they again passed by the nursery that was close to their home. Arjun slowed the car suddenly and entered the small lane which went up to the nursery. He stopped the car and got out taking out Samar with him.
An old man was there, sitting on a chair, who looked up.
“I live nearby and need some plants which are hardy, which don’t die easily,” Arjun told the old man.
The old man nodded and then got up from the chair, taking them off to one side. Arjun selected some plants which would fit in one balcony and three other plants which could go in the back balcony and a few more which could be kept outside the front door.
Samar was having a great time. “Are we taking them home papa?” he asked, looking happy.
“Yes son, we are.”
“Yippe!” Samar shouted.
Arjun arranged with the old man to have the flower pots sent quickly to their home and then drove back. Anita was waiting for them.
“Sorry, we couldn’t go to the mall. Time passed so quickly at Bhanu’s place. He has such a wonderful gathering of flowers and plants there. Samar had a grand time,” he told Anita.
Anita didn’t say anything. But after sometime, while laying out the lunch, as he helped, she said, “But do get it quickly for him, he has been asking for it for quite some time and you had promised him.”
“I promise I will get it in the coming week.”
Then he told her about the plants that he had bought, which would be getting delivered soon. She was silent. But again after sometime, as was her habit, she said, “But you will have to look after them and I want the balconies clean. Absolutely clean as they are right now.”
He nodded his head.
A tired Samar soon fell asleep and it was during this time that the flower pots he had ordered came from the nursery. He had them arranged on the balconies and outside his front door.
Arjun took Samar by hand when he got up and led him on the balcony.
Samar jumped in joy. “Papa, they are here, this was the one in uncle Bhanu’s garden, wasn’t it!” he shouted, pointing to one of the plants.
Arjun wasn’t sure. “Oh yes son, it must have been there, uncle Bhanu has so many flowers and plants there.”
That evening, Arjun worked on the plants, cleaning their pots, arranging them, watering some of them which looked to be a little dry. Samar was all the while with him watching him and trying to help. Next day, Arjun repeated the routine in the morning and again in the evening and all the while, Samar was again absorbed, asking questions and helping him as Arjun extended the activity.
Soon it became a routine with Samar to check the flowers and the plants, report the developments taking place and to help out in looking after them. “The big green plant in the corner in the front balcony has given new leaves and that one with the thorns needs some extra watering I think!” he would say.
Arjun got some smaller pots which could be placed inside the house and put appropriate plants in them. They added such an altogether different and eye-catching look to the house that Anita too soon was deeply involved in looking after them.
A month passed and then one day, in the evening upon returning from office, he told Anita, “Samar’s principal had called again today, she didn’t say anything, just asked me to come tomorrow for a meeting. I wonder what it is.”
Anita was silent, expressions of worry growing on her face.
“Do tell her to give some more time before deciding upon anything,” she said.
Arjun nodded his head, looking sombre.
“Mr Arjun, how are you,” the principal said, getting up and shaking his hand. “Please sit down.”
Arjun sat down in the chair in front of her.
“Thank you ma’am, I am fine. I hope everything is all right with Samar,” he said, hoping for the best.
The principal, a middle-aged woman with an expressive face and dainty features said, “Oh yes Mr Arjun, sorry to trouble you, but I had to meet you! Samar has changed dramatically and so quickly! I couldn’t help but talk to you in person to know the reason behind this. For we have such problems with other children too and it would greatly help if you can share what exactly it is which has fetched such great results in such short time!”
Arjun let out his breath in a sigh of relief. He looked down at his tightly clasped fingers. Taking a deep breath then, he stood up and went to the window behind the principal, who watched curiously.
He pointed to a plant in a small flower pot which stood there and said, “This is the medicine ma’am which has cured Samar.”
The principal looked confused.
Smiling, Arjun walked back and sat down. Then he told her about how Samar was now involved in looking after the flowers and plants at their home and how he had extended it to taking him to the best parks in the town whenever he could get time and getting him to be in close ties to all manners of flowers, trees and plants that he could find. The principal listened, looking thoughtful. “You know what Mr Arjun, I shall have extra flower beds planted in the school compound and try to have as much extra-curricular activity getting the children to be as much involved with greenery as we can. Thank you very much indeed, thank you!”
They talked about a few other things and then Arjun took his leave. As he came outside the school gate, he found himself whistling. He got into his car which was parked nearby and was starting the engine when something made him stop. He came out and went to a tree standing nearby. He touched the tree lovingly and then upon an impulse, he spread his hands and embraced the tree trunk, resting his face against it.
“Thank you, dear friend, thank you for changing Samar so. Long life to you!” he whispered to the tree.
Some passers-by looked at him curiously. A couple of girls coming out from the school gate stopped and watched him. He smiled at them, still holding his face against the trunk tree. They smiled back and gaily walked away.
Singing an old song, Arjun got back into his car and drove away.