By Hridhima Tyagi, Contributing Writer
“A village? What is that?”
Jake looked at his five-year-old son’s innocent face and smiled. “You’ll see,” he said.
Michael was very excited. For the first time, he was going to visit a place called “village.” He wondered how it would look and what kind of people would be there: All sorts of questions peppered his mind. He stepped out of the house with a face as shiny as the sun outside, and Jake smiled at his eagerness. Michael checked for perhaps the hundredth time whether he had packed everything which his father had instructed in the small duffel he was carrying with him: a camera to capture the imagined picturesque view, a bottle of sanitizer, a handkerchief, some sunscreen lotion, and other such toiletries. He even had taken a diary to jot down what he would see; he was so in a tizzy.
Jake had told Michael that people in villages were not as rich as they were and that villagers led a very simple life. They dressed simply, ate simply, and enjoyed through simple activities. After listening to this, Michael had decided that he would try to mix with the people there; he put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, which were as comfortable as an old shoe when compared to a perfectly ironed shirt, a coat, a tie, a pair of trousers, and the flawlessly polished black shoes he usually wore. Michael was happy with his life, but all the same he wished he was born in a home built with love and not a house built with business money. He wished he could lead a simple life for once.
Michael happily sat in the car and waited for his father. When he finally arrived, Michael noticed that he had still dressed up in his daily formals he wore in office and not some plain clothes. When Jake saw Michael, he frowned. “What are you wearing?” he asked in an annoyed voice.
“Well, Dad, I did not want to look out of place there, so I wore…”
“Did you take a look at yourself? How shabby! Leave it now. We don’t have time.”
Michael glanced gloomily out of the window as they set out for the journey. He kept thinking what he had done wrong. He was just trying to enjoy as much as he could.
After about 20 minutes, they were in the outskirts of the city. “Wow!” Michael breathed. The skyscrapers had now turned into small cottages and single-story houses with cute chimneys just like fairy tales. The polluted air was now fresh, and the usual factories had now turned into lush greenery as far as an eye could see. Even the well-paved roads had now changed into dilapidated ones. Jake stopped the car. “We’ll have to walk quite a distance from here. I cannot afford to expose my car to mud.”
Michael trailed behind his father, glad that he had worn comfy clothes since the sun was in full glare. He noticed how uncomfortable his father was, and a little while later, he even removed his coat. After walking for about 20 minutes, the “village” came into view. Michael was very surprised. This was not what he had imagined. There were huts instead of tall buildings; large, spread-out golden fields instead of factories; half-naked children running on the fallen-in roads instead of fancy cars in the city. The picture of his extravagant house flashed in his mind. It rested in the lap of luxury and was lavishly furnished with everything that a man could ask for. It even had its own theatre. The ceiling was carved and skillfully painted while the embroidery on the sofas was no less captivating. Costly marble statues surrounded the house. Anyone who saw the house for the first time mistook it for a palace. Here, the picture was totally different. Huts the size of Michael’s room were made from bricks, but the ceilings were made of hay. Families of about six to eight members lived in these small huts. Life clearly was very difficult, but still, the people had smiles on their faces, the smiles that made Michael’s tiredness due to walking clear out in a minute, the warm smiles he had never seen on his parents’ faces. A ball came bouncing towards him, followed by a panting boy. “Sorry about that, mate!” the boy said, extending his hand to take the ball. Michael observed the boy. He had sun-dried skin like raisins and a strong, rangy frame, which Michael assumed he had gotten from staying in the sun for very long. He was wearing shorts but no T-shirt.
“Can I play with you?” asked Michael slowly. Even he did not know where these words had come from.
The boy grinned. “Of course. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. Hi! I am Harry.”
“Come along, Michael. We are playing football right now,” Harry said excitedly. Michael started to go with him.
“No! Wait, Michael. Come here at once,” Jake said fiercely. “You are not going to play with these dirty children…”
“Sorry, Dad.” Michael interrupted Jake, which he never did. “I will catch up with you after some time. Bye.” Then he turned to Harry. “Come on, let’s enjoy.”
Michael took one last look at his dumbstruck father, then turned around and started walking.
“Sorry about that,” he said to Harry when they were quite a distance away.
“Hey! It’s okay.” Harry smiled.
Soon they reached the playground. Many other children just like Harry were playing together. Michael was overjoyed. How he had longed to play games like football and cricket with children of his age! He was tired of playing video games sitting in his air-conditioned room. Harry introduced everyone to Michael, and soon he felt like a part of the group. He played football with them and even scored two points. They played for about three hours, but Michael still was willing to play more. “Will you come with us for a nice dip in the river?” Harry asked him.
“In the river?” Michael was horrified. He remembered his father ordering for filtered water whenever Michael had wanted to swim in their pool. “But…wouldn’t it be unhealthy?”
“No, not at all,” Harry laughed. “We enjoy in it every day.”
Michael followed Harry to the river. He was surprised. People of about every age group from 5 years to 50 were splashing around in the river. Women were washing clothes while children enjoyed the water’s coolness in the scorching sun. Michael watched Harry remove his shorts and take a dive in the river. “Come on!” Harry shouted to Michael. Michael reluctantly removed his T-shirt and jeans. He looked at Harry and dived into the river, into the cold water. The water seemed to have a curious effect on his body and mind. It felt as if the water washed away all his tensions and worries. Michael at once became calm and composed. Harry splashed water on his face and giggled. “Let me get you.” Michael laughed doing the same. He forgot everything in the world as he dallied with his new friend. Time flew by, and he did not want to come out of the river even after a very long time.
Half-heartedly, he wore his clothes, and then suddenly his stomach grumbled loudly. “Oh, you are feeling hungry,” Harry smiled. “Come with me to my house for dinner.” Michael hesitated a bit but then followed him. Soon they were inside Harry’s house. Harry introduced Michael to his family, who willingly accepted him over for dinner. They sat on the floor to eat, and Michael reluctantly joined them, remembering his dining table at home. Michael ate heartily even though he was surprised at their way of eating food using hands. When he was full, Michael asked whether anyone knew where his father was.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, followed by a familiar voice. “Michael? It’s time to go home.” Michael knew it was the end of his happiness. He bid good-bye to Harry and his friends and unenthusiastically trailed behind Jake.
As they set out for their house, Jake grumbled, “I don’t know how many unhygienic places you have visited there. I made a mistake bringing you here. Look how scruffy you are looking with all that dirt! And how dare you eat food with these poor people? We have some standard!”
“They are not poor, Dad. We are,” Michael replied quietly. It was time for the bitter truth.
“What?” Jake asked, taken aback.
“Dad, I have just a room to play games; they have the whole village. They have so many friends; we have none. We have a swimming pool to swim; they have the whole river. And most importantly, they have happiness and love amongst them, but all we do is fuss. We are so poor, Dad, all we have is money.”
Jake hung his head. A small boy had made him understand a very important lesson in life. We can get pleasure even in the simplest of things. We do not need luxury for that. We just need to find that happiness, as Harry and Michael did!