Monday, September 11, 2006

The Boy Who'd Never Grow Up

Neil, in Bangla, means blue, the colour of the sky-the colour of freedom. But the Neil I know doesn't know what freedom tastes like. Neither does he know the taste of phucka, or golgappa as it is known in other parts of the country. For he has to remain home all day long-because he is different from the other kids of his age; because, as the naturally vague and bombastic doctors like to put it, he suffers from a rare mental disorder, one that wouldn't let him grow up mentally. He is destined to be Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, only that he never opted for it voluntarily.

Being with him is like keeping a date with innocence - except that you feel sorry, paradoxically somewhat that the innocence would never end. His life is simple; apart from the routine daily chores that he goes through, often with a grumble, his life revolves around music, his small rubber football and a comb that he always carries with him, although I never quite managed to find out why.

His repertoire of Hindi films and Hindi film music is astonishing. One just has to sing the first line of a song and he would excitedly shout out the name of the film- an accomplishment that brings him much pride in his otherwise uneventful life where people either view him with sympathy or with curiousity, but seldom with respect.

His other pastime is the rubber ball, or rather the catching of it, a game he plays with anyone who visits him. And every time he manages to catch the ball or his opponent fails to do so, he bursts out in peals of laughter- a vociferous appreciation of his own triumph.

I have always been amazed by his knack of connecting to people instantly. Probably, it is one of the few advantages of not growing up, since he does not need to calculate the gains that he may derive from his associations. Every time we meet, he shakes my hands warmly, a gesture of courtesy that the grown-ups in the family have probably taught him. And, as he shakes my hand and smiles beamingly, he squints his eyes. Every time, it makes me wonder what goes on in the inner chambers of his mind.

Now, how a grown-up thinks never interests me much- unless the grown-up is someone like Einstein or Tagore. For, chances are, the grown-up would think like me, considering things rationally with the occasional irrational and illogical behaviour. Of course, in my case, how often I think rationally is a matter on which opinion is widely divided.

But Neil’s mind is different; his thoughts are simplistic, but not simple. How does he feel when he sees others leave for work every day? What thoughts surround his mind when he stares out of his window into the street, where people walk by and the rains cause the gutters to overflow? I know that he doesn’t think the way a child would; he is sixteen now and one can almost feel the difference that the years have brought in his thought process.

I never feel sorry for Neil; rather, I feel sorry to be in a world where he is an aberration rather than being the norm.

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