I was cooking dinner the night before the big Latika Vihar picnic when Vikram appeared at the kitchen window. Lakshi was in his arms, looking sleepy, but determined.
"Ma'am," he said, a bit embarrassed. "Lakshi wants to talk to you."
This seemed important. Vikram generally dismisses his children's concerns with the typical Indian father's dismissiveness. What could Lakshi want to talk to me about that she couldn't do on her own?
I opened the door and she trotted in and put her arms up for me to hold her. Those eyes. The very ones you see in the photo.
"Kya hua, Lakshi?"
"Why can't I go for the picnic?" Straight to the point. That's my Lakshi.
"The picnic is for the older kids," I said, already feeling inadequate. "You have to be six years old to go."
Lakshi's face shut down. "Humph," I could almost hear her saying. The only thing stopping her was not knowing the word.
"You used me for the Latika Vihar dance," she said accusingly.
This was true, though "used" isn't the word I would have chosen. Lakshi was an important member of the "All Is Well" dance troupe, as were many of the little ones at Latika, none of whom were allowed to come for the picnic.
It was a safety thing, as well as a realization that while many children under six can manage without their parents for the two hours that Latika is open, seven hours at a picnic, with all the rough and tumble of a long ride on a bus, water play and missed naps, is too much for most of them.
Except, perhaps, for Lakshi.
Grandchildren of staff (honorary or not) are allowed, I decided on the spot. Those eyes.
"You can come with me," I told her. "You and Vijay. Moy and I will take you in our car. We'll leave at nine."
She looked at me solemnly, as if to gauge my sincerity, then scrambled to the floor to walk back to her flat with her Dad.
The next morning, both children were at my door at nine sharp. I NEVER leave on time and this morning, with Padma out, Ravi traveling and Naina late, was no exception. But there they were. Waiting. Sighing. Waiting some more.
By 9:15, I was ready. Moy was ready. The bus leaving from Latika Vihar with 70 children and staff was not quite ready. No matter. We packed the car and set out for the picnic spot.
Lakshi couldn't quite believe her luck. We arrived at Dr Kalhan's farm and there wasn't another soul in sight. Just us. She and Vijay had the pool all to themselves.
That moment was enough to justify the whole day. The nap she needed to take on the lawn while all the other children carried on, the tummy upset from all the excitement and overeating, the tiniest bit of clinginess and anxiety - all worth it for this expression of joy and delight and amazement:
It's not often in this world that we get to see such abandon, such astonishment, such awareness of the marvel of being alive. I would take her anywhere.