Siddhartha Vaidyanathan | Updated on January 24, 2020

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Megha turned three on Monday. We had booked a trip to Princessland over the weekend, so I explained there would be no party.

“Okaaaaay,” she said, wearing her Snow White backpack. “Amma already told me that.”

“You’ll get the cake you wanted,” I said.

“Yay. And balloons please.” She wore her Ariel sunglasses.

We bought two red, two pink and two purple balloons. A Rapunzel balloon and a Belle balloon. A “3” balloon and a unicorn balloon. The colour balloons we tied to the dining chairs’ shoulders. The Rapunzel and Belle sailed to the ceiling. The “3” we taped to a photo of newborn Megha, her angelic face nestled in my palms. The unicorn balloon she held tight when blowing out the candles on her raspberry cake. We sang Happy Birthday. We clicked many pictures — but “no selfies, please!” Megha tricycled around the hall, then exhausted herself tap-tapping balloons.

The unicorn was her “bestest gift”. A balloon twister had inflated eight cylinders: Four white balloons for its face, neck, body and tail and four smaller black balloons for its legs. The ears were pink donuts. The horn was glittery, golden. A black sketch pen marked its eyes and brows.

“No balloon in hand when eating your cake, okay?”

“I kept a name for this balloon, Appa. Yuni.”

“There is frosting all over his face!”


Megha wished to hold Yuni when having her bath.

“Don’t dip that balloon in water, Megha!”

“It’s so much fun. Too much.”

She insisted I apply lotion on Yuni.

“He is feeling co-oo-ld. He needs a onesie.”

“He is a balloon, Megha!”

She halted her glass-shattering screech only when I wrapped a bib over Yuni’s body.

“Should we brush Yuni’s teeth?”


“Just playing, Appa. Yuni doesn’t even have teeth.”

She laughed her way into the bedroom.

On Tuesday, Megha held Yuni till she was dropped off in daycare. She didn’t take him further only because I warned: “What if your friends want Yuni?”

That evening, she collapsed on the carpet when she saw I hadn’t brought Yuni to pick her up. Back home, she held Yuni close to her chest and promised to “never, ever” leave him again.

“Can we give him pizza?” she asked, throwing a sideways glance. “He is feeling very bad.”

We should have known about Yuni’s dietary preferences. He was crazy about pizzas and ice cream. He loved Maggi — but “no vegetables!” Berries were great but other fruits — “no no.” Idli and dosa he tolerated — but only with sugar and ghee. Upma? “Yuck.” Curd rice? “Yeewwww.”

Megha brought Yuni along to the library since she wanted to buy him a “cake pop” at the adjoining Starbucks. She misplaced him in one of the aisles in the children’s section... but thank god for a helpful staff member. “Bad, Yuni, bad, bad. Twenty-three bad boy points for you.”

On Wednesday, Megha awoke in a panic.

“Yuni has become small!”

Uncontrolled wailing.

“Balloons lose air, Megha!”

Copious tears. Snot around her lips.

“Didn’t I tell you that water was bad for balloons?”

No acknowledgement of my sage advice. Only cacophony.

“We will get you another unicorn balloon.”


“Don’t cry first thing in the morning.”

“Yuni will become a star!”


“Miss Sarah says people who go away from us become stars. Like Ananya’s doggy.”

“Oh no.”

“Ananya keeps looking for him in the sky.”

She hugged Yuni tight. And resumed her meltdown.

Yuni’s body and neck were wrinkled. His legs were prunes. His face was the size of a strawberry, now enclosed in her right palm.

“Megha, listen.”


“Yuni won’t become a star.”

Between sobs, a puzzled look.

“Yuni has become smaller, okay, but he will never ever go away from you.”

Pouted mouth.

“He will lose air. His body, legs and tail will shrink. But he won’t disappear.”

Furrowed brows.

“He will always be with you, Megha. You can keep him in your pocket. Or in your piggybank.”

Mental gears meshing at great speed.

“He will always be tiny. But we can get him a friend. Maybe another unicorn?”

A twinkle in her eyes: “A princess friend?”

“Of course, Megha.”

“And a dinosaur friend!”

“Perfect. We’ll get two balloons.”

“Ohhh. I have a great idea, Appa.”


“Yuni can get a party. With balloons. And cake. And pizza. And juice. And ice cream.”


“And we can get him some gifts. But like Ananya’s birthday, no gifts is also okay. And Ananya and Zoya have to come. And we’ll sing. And cycle. We’ll play hide-and-seek. And then Yuni can go into my piggybank.”


“Lots and lots of balloons. Right, Yuni? He says that’s a great idea.”

Yuni was in a terrible state. He had ceased to be a set of balloons that someone had transformed into a mythical creature. For Megha he was a baby, a friend and a soulmate. She would be inconsolable if we didn’t give him a send-off. She was going to have that party, come what may.

“Sure, Megha,” I said. “We will plan something special for Yuni.”

Her legs were off the ground. Her hands flew over her head. She screeched a “Yaaaay”.

Her pigtails swirled.

Elated, she curled her fingers... and crushed Yuni’s face.




And Yuni collapsed into Megha’s shivering fist.




Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer and editor based in the US. His debut novel What’s Wrong with You, Karthik? will be released by Picador India in May 2020

Published on January 24, 2020

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