A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
- Walter Winchell
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"How do I look, mom?" a sweet, innocent voice asked. He was proudly looking at his mother, expecting some words of admiration.
"Oh dear Rutu, you look so perfect. Just like your dad." She replied while looking at her 11-year-old, who had just suited up for the first time. It was quite an elegant suite: one with a deep blue color, and golden cuffs. She did not notice, but pride from her eyes had already spilled over and spread over her smiling face, and then her hands, which were pulling chubby cheeks of her son now. His reddened chubby cheeks. She could never stop herself from pulling his cheeks. Even more, since he has returned from a year-long stay at a hostel for his studies and would be returning soon there. He would live with them for just a month more, and she wasn't even slightly inclined to send him back. But his father was keen on his education and wanted him to study in the best school in the country, and wasn't ready to make any compromise on it. She had missed him a lot during the past year, and her eyes that showered love smiles that sprinkled care and hands that pulled Rutu's cheeks now were trying to compensate for all the lost time. And they were not getting satisfied at all. After all, Rutuz was such an adorable kid. A chubby, little, adorable kid.
"Mom, stop it, I am a grown up now." Rutuz would always say that, but he secretly liked it. Rather, he craved for it. He loved when his mom pulled his cheeks and then give him a sweet kiss on his forehead, just like she would to his dad. He loved his dad than anything else. So, when his mom said, that he looked like his dad, he couldn't stop blushing. He got onto his bed and started jumping in the air. It was hard to contain happiness in that small 3 feet 6-inch body of his. It was overflowing and jumping on the bed with him.
He liked imitating his dad. He would see him off to his office, and then stand in the gate when he arrived and would help his dad park his car. His small hands would first open the gate, and then his little voice would guide his dad to park the car safely. Then he would take his dad's briefcase and walk with him to his house. He'd have his evening milk only with when his dad would have his evening drink. He would also stand up on a table so that he could talk to his dad like an adult and discuss what he did the entire day. Love isn't enough to describe what he felt, he worshiped his dad. His father was everything for him.
"Beta, don't jump on the bed. You'll make a mess of that lovely suit you are wearing now. And your dad would not like that! Dekho ha, Wo daatenge tumhe (He'll scold you)"
He stopped immediately. He didn't care much about the suit, but he was afraid of displeasing his dad. Rutu's dad had a short temper, and he had already scolded Rutu a couple of times for jumping on his bed, and Rutu didn't like when he'd get a scolding. Rutu was scared of his dad's scolding. Even more afraid than he was of the cockroaches, or but lesser than staying away from his parents. He had cried so much while he was sent away to the hostel, but his dad didn't listen. His mom had convinced him, that his dad is doing for his benefit only, and his dad wouldn't like if he cried so much, and only that had stopped his tears.
Staying away from your home is not an easy thing. Definitely not at a delicate age of 10. He was so scared when he had first entered the unknown territory of his new hostel and school. The rooms would feel like jail and supervisors like wardens. He had watched the Lion King when he was 9, and he could completely relate to Simba in his early days. A poor little Simba, separated from his parents.Teary-eyed Simba.
But as the time passed, he got used to the hostel life. Rather he became fond of it. The other kids became his dearest friends, as Simba would eventually find Timon and Pumbaa. Being a bright kid, he also became favorite of all the teachers as well (and they'd also like to pull his red, chubby cheeks). And he developed a significant mastery in playing cricket too, something which his dad had asked Ramu kaka to teach him to play (and he had picked it up very quickly). He liked playing cricket, cause he had seen his dad watch matches for hours and hours.
"Chalo Beta, now get into the car. We've to leave now, otherwise, we'll get late." His mom was wearing a deep blue saree, which perfectly matched with the suit Rutu was flaunting. It was her turn to flaunt her son now.
"One minute, mom." He was combing his hair for the third time now. Mildly oiled, and then pushed back with a few rapid strokes of comb: he wanted it to be perfect. He wanted it to be just like his dad would do them.
He was so happy when his dad told him that they are going to a charity dinner, and both of them will wear similar suits. He had been wearing the suit since the afternoon and had asked his mom zillion times if he really looked like his dad. His dad was going to come directly from his office, which had disappointed him a little, but still, his enthusiasm was too much to handle for his mom. She had soon realized, that she'd have a hard time to contain this little hyperactive kid in her car.
"Mom, mom, when will we reach there?" He shot it just after entering their car. Today, his mom has allowed him to sit on the front seat, and he was very happy about that. His dad would occupy that seat when his mother would take them for long drives and he was forced to sit on the back seat, which he hated the most. But today, the entire front seat was his to capture, and he was delighted to claim it. After all, he was capturing the seat that was reserved for his father.
"Just half an hour beta, but fasten your seatbelts first." His mom commanded. She was slowly getting the car out of the garage. She was a skilled driver and was always the one to take on the wheels. Rutu's dad didn't like to drive. Even when he'd go to his office, he'd let his driver drive the car and sit quietly in the back seat.
"No, I don't want to do that. I won't be able to jump then." He said it in a sweetish tone possible, while making his eyes big, face small and then looked at his mom. The innocence in his voice was trying to hide his naughty intentions, but his mom was used to all his tricks now.
He really liked jumping in the car. It was his favorite pass time. Whenever their car would sit idle in the garage, he'd ask his dad to unlock the car and then he'd go and keep jumping on the back seat. He has grown up now, and could hardly stand on the seat without connecting his head to the roof; so he'd sit on his knees and do half-jumps. Yes, he is a smart kid, and could easily figure out ways to unleash his naughtiness. Lovely and smart, and naughty, and so cute: his mother just couldn't stop adoring her child. Sometimes the naughtiness would get out of her hands, but then she knew how to control it. The key was: his dad!
"See, your dad would want you to fasten your seatbelts. He'll get angry if you don't do it." And this trick would always work, like a charm. He fastened his seatbelt and sat like a good child. He wouldn't want his dad to get angry with him.
"So mom, which dinner is it and why are we going there?" He asked, again, in his innocent voice.
She paused for a moment. She wasn't sure how to explain a charity gala dinner and complexities involved in it to an 11-year old. But then, she decided to put it in as simple words as possible.
"It's a dinner for a charity. Only those people who have paid a substantial amount for that charity are allowed for that dinner. We are going there cause your dad has paid a lot of money." Simple words, indeed, but they were indeed laced with a tinge of pride.
"My dad is so great." The pride reflected in his words too, as he was quietly looking out of the window, bemused by the running trees and passing vehicles.
His dad was great indeed, by all the standards of the society. He was an MBA from an ivy league college. He had worked for the best consultancy services in the world before he started one of his own. It was one of the well-known ones and counted several fortune 500 companies as its clients. Money, prestige, reputation: he had all that others would desire to have.
"Look, we are here!" His mom parked the car, held one of his hand, and proudly walked him over to the venue, which was right into the heart of the city.
Rutuz was mesmerized by the beauty of the place. It was a huge garden, with a lavish, golden Shamiana entrenched in the center of it. The place was open but was decorated to its teeth with figurines of animals, and rare ceramic pots and whatnots. He wanted to sit on those figurines, but his mom said, "Dad wouldn't like that.", so he didn't. He was asked to behave, and me a man of manners, just like his dad; and he was doing his best to fulfill those expectations.
"Let me all welcome you to this charity dinner. All the funds that we've raised will be given to the Animal Welfare Society. We thank you all for all the support and money that you have to lend to the cause." A voice said on a mic.
Rutuz listened carefully and remembered what his teacher has said, "Man is also an animal. In fact, we have evolved from monkeys." He has learned a lot of things in his new school, but more than that, he had learned about humanities. The school specialized into sensitizing children to the modern world problems, and ensure that they become good samaritans. Though the school demanded a lot of exercises and commitments from an 11-year old, Rutuz actually liked doing all those activities. Especially, playing with the nearby kids from the slum areas.
"Mom, where is Dad. I can't find him." He wanted to see his dad. He wanted people to see them together, and notice that they are wearing similar suits. He wanted people to say, "You are just like your dad." He wanted it so badly.
"I just called him, he is at the gate now. Will be here soon." His mom replied, and then got busy in talking to her friends. She was showing them her diamond necklace, which allowed Rutuz to slip from her gaze. He started running towards the gate. He wanted to welcome his dad. He wasn't in any mood to wait at all.
He heard some noise coming from the gate. "Security, security."
He stopped, confused. The voice was getting louder.
"What are these people doing in here?" He started running towards that sound. It appeared familiar to him. Way too familiar.
A person, surrounded by a set of his companions, was shouting at the security and a couple of beggars. The beggars seem to have entered the venue, in search of some food, and were confronted by that person."What are you doing in here? Do you know what this event is? Everybody has paid thousands to get in here, and you think you can just walk in? Look at your clothes, my servants wear better clothes than you." The person was furious. He could not tolerate when those beggars tried to barge in. He could not tolerate when the exclusivity of the event was compromised.
"Saab, khana chahiye that bas thoda. Galati ho gayi, maaf karo." (Sir, we just wanted some food. We are sorry for the mistake, please forgive us.) They pleaded. It was evident from their clothes, or whatever was left of them, that their condition wasn't good at all. The tired attempt to speak, and a crying child clung close to his mother, indicated exhaustion and hunger too. All they wanted was some food to keep their bodies standing on the earth. All they wanted was a little bit of life.
But the person was not in any mood to grant this little request. He asked security to throw those beggars outside. He made sure that they were thrown outside. The exclusivity of the event was more important than the life of those people. Animal welfare mattered more than the welfare of humans.
The person was wearing a suit similar to the one worn by Rutuz: Deep blue, with golden cuffs.
That person finally saw Rutuz, who was looking at the entire incident from some distance, with a shocked face. He came running and picked Rutuz up. "Aww, my Shona beta came to welcome me. So sweet of you. Let's go to your mom and then take a picture together. I want to capture this moment when you are wearing this suit of 4000 dollars. Now you are looking like a businessman yourself. A small, rich, dashing businessman" Rutuz didn't say anything. He didn't want to.
"Hey Friend, come here." His dad called one of the colleagues, standing not too far from them.
"Take this new iPhone of mine, and click a picture of me with my son. He is looking just like me tonight. He is going to be like me in future and make me proud."
Rutuz jumped down. He looked at his dad in bewilderment, but with a strange determination. Something has changed, and he could clearly notice it.
"No dad, I don't want to be like you. I will never be like you." The eyes were teary, and the voice was rogue. Two little hands removed his blazer and threw it on the ground. The suit wasn't a matter of pride anymore. The blazer was too tight, it was suffocating him now.
"Beta, what happened to you? Why are you throwing this blazer on the ground? It's so expensive, you know?"
But Rutuz was not there to listen to it all. He was running away, directionless, unaware of the hypocritic world his dad represented.
Towards the hypocritic world, the crowd embodied.