“Appa, you promised to take me to the park today,” Mallika reminds me for the third time.
Mallika, my five-year-old daughter calls me ‘Appa,’ which is father in my native dialect, Tamil.
Near my home there is a small public park. The park has swings, colorful slides, plenty of sand and a skate arena, which attracts many children and teens from the neighborhood. Tall trees form a canopy like a giant green umbrella casting a cool shade all over the area. Best of all it is only a block away from my home.
We walk. At the stop sign I say, “Malli, you should look to the left, then to the right, and then left, before you cross the road.”
Halfway across, Mallika sprints across the street like a rabbit. Sensing my disapproval, she is almost in tears. “Appa, you didn’t tell me not to run.” She promises not to do that again. “Never, never, never.”
My heart melts.
At the park Mallika glides like an eagle down the slide screaming ecstatically. She swings like a huge pendulum goading me to push her swing harder and faster. “See Appa, my feet are almost touching the tree tops,” she announces. What optimism!
“Be careful.” “Don’t trip over.” “Watch other children.” “Not that fast down the slide.” I remind Mallika as she darts from one place to another. I am unable to keep pace with her.
Mallika somehow hears the faint ringing of a bell and stops. “Look Appa, there he is, the ice cream man.” she points him out.
Already there are several children around him like ants near a lump of sugar. Mallika patiently waits for her turn and gets a Dora ice cream on a stick.
As she licks Dora’s head with delight, we stroll on the sand near the swings. Several children are staring at something in the sand, babbling excitedly. When we approach, they are silent. A beetle, the size of a big olive, lies on its back and struggles to get upright, frantically thrashing its legs.
A cute girl breaks the silence. Thinking she owed an explanation to the new arrivals she says, “It is a bug. Poor thing, it probably fell from this tree.” She looks up.
Another girl predicts a doomsday scenario. “Someone will step on it soon, yuk.”
I pick up a small stick and gently push the beetle upright as ten pairs of eyes watch me curiously. The beetle is beautiful with blue-green iridescent wings and India-ink black underneath. I prod it to fly.
The beetle struggles to move, falters like a drunkard and falls on its back again. Now I pick up a dried leaf and deftly manipulate the beetle and place it on the leaf.
“It will sting you,” warns a teen.
“Appa, don’t touch it. I’ll tell mom,” Mallika warns me. She is anxious and the children watch me silently as I take a few steps and gently place the leaf with the beetle at the foot of a tree on the grass, out of harm’s way.
“It is safe now,” I say.
Mallika is very proud of me. “This is my Appa,” she points out. Everyone looks at me as if I am Steve Irwin who has successfully relocated a dangerous crocodile. For a moment, I am a hero. Then the children realize that the show is over and run away.
One need not fly over tall buildings and save dainty damsels in distress to become a hero to children.
Just saving a beetle will do.