A very, very long time ago, Amit went to Finland and brought back a panda for the kids. Naturally, it was a stuffed toy panda. It was an FAO Schwarz panda – hideously expensive.
At first the kids were not very enthusiastic about the panda. They were a little bit scared of him. He wasn’t very big and he was quite soft and fluffy, but they didn’t really take to him.
Then, after a few days, Mrini slowly started to get fond of him. Meanwhile, Tara had befriended a horrendous orange teddy bear of the common or pavement variety and in short order they had torn an ear off the said teddy bear. What’s more, they proceeded to open various seams in the teddy bear which, since Tara had become quite attached to it, and since she also showed a strong inclination to stone-heartedly and systematically disembowel it, I had to sew up on various occasions. Why you would want to disembowel a teddy bear that you professedly love I don’t understand, but kids are like that.
For a while, the panda and the teddy bear became siblings for our twins. They even went so far as to feed them and sing them to sleep and were only just about dissuaded from actually giving them a bath. I thought, at the time, that it was like having another baby (or two) but I had no idea what lay in store. https://poupee97.wordpress.com/2008/10/09/and-then-there-were-three/
Tara’s teddy bear made the transition to our new home last year, but some time after that, when I found them ignoring him for weeks at a stretch, I asked Tara if we could give him away to a tiny girl who lived in the under-construction house next door. Her parents were labourers, so her toys tended to be gravel, cement, and bits of string. Tara, thankfully, agreed.
The panda never really went out of use, but it was only when one of their favourite friends had a baby brother who was eventually named Pranav, that the panda was christened Pranav-the-Panda. I think the girls decided that since they weren’t going to get a younger sibling they might as well adopt Pranav-the-Panda and initiate him into the role. It didn’t take long for Pranav-the-Panda to transition from “baby brother” to “baby”. We can even now hear them saying, “Now I’m the Papa, you’re the Mama,” and running off to fetch the baby.
Apart from spending many happy hours “taking Pranav to school” and “going to office” and “picking Pranav up from school” and “going to the market with Pranav” and “putting Pranav to sleep” (the current favourite) they also started taking Pranav downstairs with them when leaving for school or daycare in the morning. They would seat him (or sometimes throw him – so heartless are they with their baby) on the steps so that they could be reunited with him the moment they got back home.
Then Mrini asked whether she could take Pranav in the car with us when we went out. Well… why not? So Pranav began to occupy the middle of the back seat on our drives and often Amit and I would be summarily instructed to “Stop talking! Pranav is sleeping!” On other occasions, we’d hear them saying, “Pranav is crying for you,” and passing the baby from Papa to Mama in the back seat.
In all of this, it was impossible not to become quite fond of Pranav. Not that I had anything against him to start with – it’s just that he was, after all, a stuffed toy. Moreover, he was a stuffed toy who’d been thoroughly slathered with Vaseline on one memorable occasion when I happened to be busy elsewhere and consequently he had managed to pick up a good measure of dirt and was beginning to look less like a toy and more like a wild animal in need of a bath. So I’d kept my distance from him, at least emotionally. But gradually, unsuspectingly, I too grew fond of the creature.
And then we went on the trek. It was the longest that Mrini and Tara have ever been away from home. They’ve never shown any signs of anxiety at being away from home in the past. But this time, Mrini was at times concerned, worried, and outright sad. Pranav was alone at home. She was missing him. More importantly, he was missing her. I told her he was happy watching TV and playing with her toys, but she wasn’t buying it. I said, when we get back to Delhi, you can talk to him on the phone. “Pranav can’t talk,” she told me scornfully. “He has a lock on his mouth.” (He has a sprig of greenery in his mouth; the “lock on his mouth” bit comes from Mozart’s Magic Flute, where some poor fellow does have a lock on his mouth.)
When I got back home, alone on Monday evening, the first thing I did was to check on Pranav. He was lying alone in the living room, in front of TV (which was switched off). He did look a bit forlorn. I took him back to the kids’ room and kept him with the rest of the toys. I told Amit to tell Mrini that I was home and that Pranav was fine. I don’t know if she felt any happier that the poor fellow wasn’t all alone any more, but I certainly did. How can I be completely indifferent to him? After all, he is my first grandchild.