Radha walked up to Anitha di’s flat to check on her in the afternoon. She took Nandu with her to Anitha di’s home.
They sat quietly as Anitha complained of a mild headache. Di was surprised to know that Nandu had visited the lake alone. ‘Did you, Nandu?’, di asked him with a smile on her face.
Nandu sat quiet. When Radha returned to work, Nandu stayed back at Anitha aunty’s flat reading books. Nandu decided to share what happened at the lake with Anitha aunty.
He narrated how Meenu, the meemi introduced herself and shared the concern of the lake dwellers with him. He spoke of Meenu, the meemi’s mentor, Turtle dodamma as well.
Anitha listened on, ‘ Is the boy delusional? He looks normal enough’. Maybe it is just his over worked imagination. Maybe I have been telling him too many stories. I have to be careful with him. After all he is Radha’s lifeline, now mine too in some ways.’
Nandu asked Anitha aunty about a few things that day. ‘Why is dirty water being flushed into the lake? Are there laws about waste water treatment? Why are they flouted? Who looks into all this? Is there a way to save the lake and do something for the fish and other lake dwellers? Does the polluted waters of the lake affect the water in the nearby wells, borewells?’
Anitha observed Nandu thoughtfully, ‘he seems to have grown up all of a sudden. Did he always think so much? ‘
Anitha shared her thoughts and whatever information she had with Nandu. She decided that Nandu needed some more help, as he had exhibited a deep desire to learn more.
Together they browsed Amazon to check what kind of mobiles were available that were cheap and affordable. Anitha told Nandu that he could come to her home and use his mobile to read and understand more. ‘Thanks to internet anyone can learn anything now, you too can do it, Nandu’.
Nandu happily accepted Anitha aunty’s offer. He did not feel awkward with her anymore. The walks continued uninterrupted the next day onwards now with a new twist. Post the walk, classes for Nandu started at Anitha’s home.
Anitha aunty allowed Nandu reading time on his mobile after he had learnt his lessons. When Nandu told Radha of Anitha aunty’s offer, she was hesitant but Nandu told her how important it was for him to learn.
The classes at the school were off and if he had to become someone big, he had to learn continuously. This convinced Radha who also agreed for regular classes with Anitha di for her son. ‘It is bound to benefit him anyways.’
Like most kids, Nandu was a quick learner. The mobile to him came as a boon, with Anitha aunty’s wifi he could read and learn as much as he wanted.
He read about the Puttenahalli Lake and how it had shrunk over a period of time. He came to know of citizen efforts to save it. But the dirty water which was Meenu, the meemi’s main concern needed a different solution altogether.
Nandu’s increasing knowledge base did not go unnoticed in the colony. He found an admiring crowd around him who wanted to listen to his stories of the lake, of Meenu, the meemi, of the hibiscus, of the wars, the heroes, of Gandhi, of Salim Ali and what not. The respect he got among his peers made Nandu bold.
He was not sure if Meenu, the meemi was real or a fantasy, he was not sure if she really talked to him or not. The truth is that after that day, Ms. Shiny Scales never appeared in front of him again. ‘Was she fine?’, Nandu often thought to himself.
As months passed, the colony became active for local elections. Nandu heard that the local MLA was going to address the rally in a few weeks time.
He went to his colony and talked to his friends. He told them how the apartments let untreated sewage into the lake. He said that if they supported him they could raise the matter in front of big leaders, this would make them popular too.
One of his friends, Raju asked timidly, ‘but we don’t live near the lake, nor in the apartment , how does it matter to us?’ Nandu listened to his doubt and answered that ‘every thing mattered to everyone, sometimes we do not realize it, that’s all.’ No one disputed Nandu’s wisdom. After all he even spoke in English. No school taught this kind of English, as far as they knew, maybe he was actually very smart. They kept quiet and decided to do as he said.
His group of friends were aged between 5-12 and there were girls as well as boys in it. The oldest boys and girls in the group worked on pieces of cloth to create banners which read,’ stop pollution’, ‘ save lake’, ‘we want cleanliness’,’ they also live’, etc.
Nandu requested Anitha aunty to buy him some paint and a few brushes. He already knew what to write on the cloth. Anitha did not think much of Nandu’s request, anyways, it was her deal that if he studied well and completed his lessons, he was eligible for special gifts. He also asked her for some old saris, light colored ones, ‘What are you doing, Nandu?’, Anitha asked him but gave an old cream sari she had with her. ‘Take this’, she smiled.
Radha noticed that Nandu had become more serious and that he and friends in the colony were always busy. ‘It is good to have kids busy,’ like all other parents in the colony she too thought the same. Radha did not bother much. ‘So long as they don’t create trouble’.
The MLA, Ranganath, finally came to the colony. Stage was set and mic was readied, blaring all kinds of songs. Some kids danced to the songs. Soon chairs were readied. Shri Ranganath walked to the podium. The colony which rarely saw electricity apart from the faint street lamps and a few bulbs here and there, was lit brightly that day. The entire area was in a festive mood. With free food and free liquor, there was no dearth of light hearted banter among the men folk. The women sat huddled here and there, they were mostly quiet.
The crowd applauded the MLA for everything he said. He seemed to be very high on energy. There was a few moments break in the programme when the leader looked down at a paper and was seen discussing something with a supporter.
The distracted crowd was surprised to notice a bunch of kids wearing garlands of rags and holding banners come to the stage. The motley group was led by a boy in shorts. The television cameras and the photographers looking for TRP turned their focus on the group. Dressed shabbily but walking erect, the kids in front carried banners which read. ‘Save Puttenahalli Lake’, ‘ Save the fish’, ‘Stop dirtying the lake’, ‘Stop construction near the lake’ and so on in English and in Kannada.
The leader on the dais was surprised at funny looking kids’ boldness but he chose to play to the gallery and called the boys and girls on to the stage. He asked Nandu if he wanted to say something.
That moment changed everything for Nandu. Nandu took the mic and spoke calmly about the lake, the fish in the lake and how they were unable to breathe. He spoke about his friend, Meenu, the meemi and Turtle dodamma and how it was important to all of us to save the residents of the lake.
The confused crowd looked on but the leader on stage started to clap for Nandu and every one joined with enthusiasm. As the news was broadcast, Anitha who watched the evening news was shocked and touched by Nandu’s speech, ‘So, the Meenu, the meemi stuff was real, was it?’
When a reporter asked Nandu why he was doing all this, he replied calmly, ‘ All life on the planet are connected. Though we live in this colony as poor people, we always dream of living in a good home someday. Similarly the fish in the lake too have a right to live in the best of waters, after all it is their only home. Besides, keeping the waters clean will help all of us. It is not the fault of the fish that the waters are being dirtied. We need to help them. A man can move to another village or town, but where will the fish go, what about Turtle dodamma, they deserve to live and die with dignity.’
The reply stunned the audience to silence. ‘Such wisdom at such a small age, surprising’, said the reporter who congratulated the boy on his boldness.
More interviews of Nandu and his motley team upstaged the MLA who had no choice but to play along. As the kids became prime time news items, it became essential for the authorities to make the right noise.
Last heard, the BBMP has promised to punish the builders who flouted water treatment norms. The MLA won the election riding on popularity votes for treating the kids with respect among other things.
A few moths later, Nandu’s life returned to daily grind but learning with Anitha aunty lifted his spirits. He promised to do more for the lake and for Meenu, the meemi, her mom and Turtle dodamma’.
Did he ever meet Ms.Shiny Scales again, perhaps not.
Nandu continued his morning walks with Anitha di. After all he was a small kid, but now he had a vision about his city, he knew that this was only the beginning of a long journey…