Vaswani Uncle loved playing with kids in the park. I always used to find him in the park swinging some child or helping some child get off the slide. He had a scooter and kids flocked around him for a free joyride. He used to indulge kids with chocolates and ice creams.
My son was a toddler then and he had a nanny who used to take him down to play. One day instead of the nanny I took him down. My son was running all over the place. I got tired running behind him and sat on a bench. An aunty from our society came and sat next to me. She smiled and after a couple of minutes she brought her face near my ears and said almost in a whisper “you should be careful with your child” I looked at her awkwardly but smiled politely. She continued “I have told your maid also, so many times but she never listens but you should be careful”. Now, I was intrigued, I looked at her with wide eyes. That kind of gave her the encouragement to carry on. Her voice was louder now. She said “Your son plays with that Vaswani but you should never allow him to play with Vaswani. He is not a good man”. I didn’t ask her why but the question was prominent in my eyes. She said, “He used to be very rich but then lost everything to alcohol and women, his daughter is a prostitute and this man does bad things to kids”. The last part of her sentence rang an alarm in my mind. These days we read so many cases in newspapers that this literally shook the mother in me.
I saw my son running and Vaswani Uncle running behind him with his arms ready to hold the little one if he trips. I ran to my son and took him away. I gave a polite smile and said thank you but tried to hurriedly leave the place. Mr. Vaswani came to me and said “your son is very naughty; your maid is not competent enough to manage him. You should be more careful with him.” The words of that Aunty were still fresh in my mind and therefore I was feeling uncomfortable in front of this man.
Next day onwards, I started bringing my son down myself. Each day that Aunty used to come and sit next to me and start talking about things that had absolutely no significance in my life. She used to talk about the maids and how the maids had affairs with the drivers, then she used to keep telling me that working moms are so negligent about their kids, etc, etc. Gradually, I understood that the Aunty was the quintessential Indian Aunty whose only job was to spread rumors. Yet, I was unable to give a clean chit to Mr. Vaswani and stayed vigilant about him.
A few months later, one day I was in the elevator when I met Mr. Vaswani. He looked at me and with pleading eyes said “would you send your son to a birthday party at my place today evening?” I was surprised as I knew he stayed alone. I asked inquisitively, “whose birthday party?” he replied “my granddaughter’s” his eyes were forlorn. I said that I never knew he had a grandchild. He sighed and didn’t reply to the question and just said: “please send him”.
Kids love birthday parties and they don’t really care whose party it is. In the evening my son got dressed nicely and went to the party. I sent my maid with him. He came back and said that the party was great fun, he played games, had tattoos drawn, danced and the food was also yummy. Later on, my maid said ‘Didi, Kiska birthday samajh mein nahi aya (I didn’t understand whose birthday it was.)
A few days later I again met Mr. Vaswani and I thanked him for the party and then asked “where was the birthday girl?” he looked at me and then pointed his index finger towards the sky. I skipped a heartbeat and almost choked. He said, “We lost her four years back but we keep her memory alive”. He then said ‘I love playing with kids because then I feel like my Ria is still with me.’
I started caring less about the rumor that he was a pedophile. I never stopped my son from playing with him and my son never complained anything about him. In fact, he used to be very fond of him. Mr. Vaswani became the local guardian of my son in the kid’s garden. Till date, he always keeps me updated about my son’s mischief’s in the garden. Even now, If my son gets bullied, he is the first man to run and save him. “Kuch to log kahenge, loga ka kaam hain kehna.…..”