Anu wanted to see what I was reading on the net. I told her it was about someone that had died. Died young. She wanted to now who it was. I showed her the picture of Heath Ledger. It wasn’t that I had seen any of his movies or read anything about him. In fact it was the first time I had heard that name. I had chanced upon the news on the internet and went on to read it.
Anu asked the familiar question “How did he die, Mama?” I started to take the news a little more seriously than just a tabloid item. “Well…”, I said “He ate some sleeping pills”. The next inevitable question came, “Why, Mama”. I was at a loss there. Instead I asked her, “Which one, Why did he die or Why did he have the pills?” She said “Why did he have the pills?” Hmm… I thought. How do I explain this? I took the easier recourse for myself and the difficult one for her. I said “Rich people do that”. Logically and happily she quipped, “Thank God we are not rich, Mama”. I was glad that we had ended the conversation without having to explain about how her favorite Hannah Montana, for all you know, might one day be caught with anti depressants etc. Anu and I flopped, laughed and rolled on the bed hugging each other with me making up a nonsense song that ran like this: “thank god we are not rich, thank god we have no money, we do not kill ourselves with pills or honey”!!
However everyday Anu asks me “Mama, when are we having our own big house?”. My answer is the usual, “Well…..”. She knows she would never get a better response. But she never tires of asking the same question again and again. It keeps her occupied with something to look forward to, I think. This morning Anu told me “I know you will get mad with me if I told you this, but I just wanted to let you know”. I asked her “What?”. She said “Well, I wanted to go to my favorite Hannah Montana concert but you said we need to save money”. I give her a look that asked, “Who IS this Hannah Montana”? She knew better than to answer my look. She just walked to the car to go to school.
I heard on NPR that they were doing a show on “your favorite fictional character”. They were inviting essays on this. I thought of Anu’s character Hannah Montana. And then I thought of my favorite character. Scores of times in adverse situations I have thought of Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’ Hara. The selfish and vain Scarlett of ‘Gone with the Wind’ who ran her life on her whims and fancies but uncharacteristically shouldered the burdens of her family at the time of need. She was my favorite character when I was 17. I loved that book. She represented what a 17 year old would want to be. A credible mixture of bad and good but with the single characteristic enviable feature of winning against the most unfavorable situations, an unforeseen sense of fortitude and resilience that seeped from her at the time of crisis. One particular scene from the book that I have never forgotten: Scarlett has lost everything to the war. She is poor. There is a ball coming up in the town and she has nothing good to wear. Scarlett looks at the thick red velvet drapes that hang on her windows. She gets up, scissors down a drape and stitches a splendid ball room dress for herself. She walks in to the ball, the most attractive woman in the crowd. That picture still sticks to my head! Many times I have been ridden with the desire to do the same. Just like Scarlett. Standing up against unflattering situations to turn the course of time. I haven’t succeeded like Scarlett, but even so. If I were given a choice, not Hannah Montana nor Heath Ledger, I would run for Scarlett.
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