There was singing, dancing, musical chairs, cake and wafers.
Cousins, aunties, friends and even my NRI dad was there. It could not get any better and yet it did. As was the norm, my 6th birthday party was coming to an end with the mandatory opening of presents. All my friends had their eyes peeled on this big, big present, the package almost as big as me, a surprise from my Papa.
I carefully removed the wrapping and opened the package. It was the biggest doll that I had ever seen. She had beautiful blue eyes, a shimmering green gown and a dark, black ponytail. And when I stood her in front of me, she almost looked into my eyes. Or that is how it felt anyway. My friends, all 20 of them were dumbstruck. I stared in awe at this most magnificent doll, holding it close to me and immediately it became my child, my best friend, my most trusted companion and my father, who would leave for Dubai soon.
I bathed it, clothed it. I untied and re-tied its ponytail. I played tea party, talked to it about school, took it along in my tricycle to see the world when I went out to play. And in the night when it I slept, right next to it, I knew I was never going to be alone.
Then one day I came home from school and it was gone. Before leaving, as usual, I had swaddled it and left it in a corner of my bed, promising to be back soon. And now it was gone.
For an excruciating three hours or so, we looked everywhere and asked everyone if they had seen the doll. Frantically searching for it, my mother remembered that one of our neighbors, daughter in tow, had come in earlier. The daughter was my friend, one of the 20 girls at the party.
Some hushed conversations took place between my mother and the neighbor. We returned home and after another painful wait, my doll was brought back to me. Her gown had been cut into strips, hair pulled out in patches and eyes scratched with a pointed red color pencil. Mutilated and destroyed beyond recognition, my beautiful doll was now returned to me with a sorry.
The neighbor explained to my mother that her daughter, Sakina, had ‘taken’ the doll and had then tried to make her ‘different’ so that nobody would recognize it as my doll, and that they were so sorry.
Something so beautiful had been stolen and destroyed, because Sakina could not have it, and they were sorry.
Numbed after my confrontation with jealousy, I bravely bathed my doll, put some talcum powder on her, swaddled her in my favorite scarf and kept it as my most prized possession even after marriage.
Its beauty had been destroyed, but what it was to me, remained intact.
We remained neighbors, all of us, for many years after. This incident was diplomatically never mentioned again, but years later, when I took to mini skirts and Sakina took to covering herself fully, wearing a ‘rida’ (burqa) at all times, I couldn’t help wonder whether it was because she had discovered decency or it was to cover up her indecency.
Childhood lessons last a long, long time.