Bandana studies in Grade 2. I saw her leaning over her copybook, as I cycled past the footpath on which she was perched, on the long straight of Delhi’s Outer Ring Road that separates IIT from the Rose Garden, and more recently, the works of the new metro station.
I slowed as I passed, then turned into the service lane between her intent form and the row of tents in which her family lived, among a clutch of migrant labour.
Bandana’s head was unmoving, as her little hand laboured to copy the text of a textbook - “Bhaalu khelta hai football”. Her father welcomed me, in a dialect which I scarcely understood, but when I talked to her, she replied in the clear Hindi she learned in a government school.
“Where is the school?”
Her father pointed in the direction of Safdarjung Development Area.
“What’s it called?”
Her father looked helplessly at Bandana. She shrugged.
A neighbour brought a little stool out of his tent, and insisted I sit on it.
“You teach her”, the father suggested, his eyes filling with pride.
Her little brother Sudeep joined us, his eyes shining with the joy of childhood and a new mise en scene. He tested the brakes on my cycle, couldn’t quite figure the gear levers, so turned to doing cartwheels on the footpath. “Yes, he goes to school, too.”
The portly policeman stationed 50 meters up the road strolled over. He smiled tentatively, then strolled away. 2 minutes later, he returned.
“Move back to your tents”. His tone was surprisingly soft.
“VIP movement?” I asked, sympathetically.
He nodded, almost apologetic, as we watched our little knot, which had now grown to 3 children and 3 adults.
I asked Bandana whether the bear also played cricket. “No”, she said after great consideration. Sudeep grinned widely, and regarded me from between his legs, as he struck a new asana.
“I’d better be off”, I stretched to get up from the stool.
“You’d better move off the footpath now”, the policeman was a little firmer.
At the entrance to Panchshila Park, scores of policemen milled around. A fire tender straddled one home, an ambulance another. Around the corner, at the entrance to George Fernandes’ home, an entire platoon of safari-clad security personnel tried to look busy. Policemen hustled neighbouring homes to move their parked cars out of sight.
“Has something happened to Mr. Fernandes?”, I asked, knowing he’s been ailing for years.
“No. Someone is coming to visit him”
Someone very important, clearly.
And would that really important Someone really be upset to see little Bandana studying on the footpath along Outer Ring Road, while Sudeep cavorts in the cool air of an autumn morning?