Startled, Shikha also looked around warily.
Silence. They had barely relaxed when they heard it again – that sound!
They clutched each other – was that the low growl of a lion? Was it in the room? The growl faded and was replaced by a low-pitched hissing whistle. The girls burst out giggling.
It was only Biji and Kirti snoring – each trying to out do the other.
“Shush!” Kirti frowned sleepily at the girls and switched to rattling while Biji coughed and shifted sides. The girls froze and held their breaths until Biji’s rumbling growl overpowered Kirti’s stuttering rattle. Undaunted Kirti chose to mix and match her rattling hiss with a low-pitched whistle that steadily rose to a crescendo and attempted to reach operatic heights. Biji registered her deep disdain for such sneaky tactics by rapidly and furiously fluttering her lips.
The beleaguered girls rolled about on the floor stuffing their hankies into their mouths in a desperate attempt to stifle their uncontrollable giggles. Admitting defeat, they risked life and limb to break free of all invisible chains that held them prisoners. They fell over each other as they made a dash for the door and scrambled out of the room. Tears streamed down their cheeks as they rolled about on the gallery clutching their aching stomachs, laughing and groaning.
What about the boys one may well ask – after all 5 boys locked in one room could hardly be good news. And its not as if the women of the house didn’t know it but paucity of rooms and an overpowering desire for uninterrupted siesta made it the only viable option. Unlike the girls, the boys weren’t in the least interested or worried about holiday homework – the last day of the holidays was time enough and if not caning or ‘murga posture’ was not only acceptable but also a sign of ‘manliness’. At end of term (and then again at the fag end of their lives) the boys compared notes as to who had got the maximum canings. Those who got thrown out of class and failed were deified – boy did he have guts – the weak hearted whispered in hushed envious tones as their betters strutted about in the school corridors.
Anyway I digress…
Having exhausted ways to keep themselves entertained – including a few wrestling bouts, they searched for innovative silent ways to keep themselves occupied. Mostly because Kallu’s agonized screams had woken Bade Papa – thirsty for blood, he had lumbered up to their room, unbolted the door and looked at them.
It had been enough. For a while.
The clear blue sky visible from the skylight teased them, tempted them, urged them and irresistibly beckoned them. They simply had to get out of the house, by hook or by crook. They huddled together scheming, drawing and discarding escape plans. Ultimately there was unanimous agreement that the only way out was via the skylight. They formed a human ladder – Golu and Bholu at the bottom Happy and Kallu on top of each other with the skinny, wiry, and youngest 7-year-old Chotu at the top. Pushing open the skylight with some difficulty he squeezed himself out. The blue sky, the blazing summer sun, the flying kites had never looked so inviting. Taking careful aim he made the perfect frog-leap to a convenient charpoy drying red chilies. Chotu made a safe landing while the chilies went flying.
He let out a victorious whoop to convey his successful escape to his partners in crime as they waited with bated breath for news of their imminent freedom. Chotu ran around the house and easily scaled the wall.
The girls, who had just managed to bring their giggles under control, watched in wide-eyed shock as Chotu jumped into the courtyard, ran upstairs and unbolted the door of the boys’ room. In their haste to escape, the boys came tumbling out, jostling and pushing each other. Bholu shushed them and prudently bolted the door. He took out a moment from his busy schedule to shake a threatening fist at the dumbstruck girls before running out to join his comrades.
“Hawww!” Rajani spoke first. “How can they do that? Let’s go and tell your mother,” she turned to go but Shikha held her back. “Wait,” she said urgently, “why don’t we also go out and play?” she suggested daringly.
Rajani’s eyes nearly popped out. “What! Are you crazy?” she squeaked in righteous indignation, “go against Aunty and Biji’s orders? How can we do that? Actually we shouldn’t even be here.”
“Exactly,” pounced Shikha, “in for a penny, in for a pound right? May as well make the most of it. I want to go out and fly kites,” she peered longingly out into the blue sky dotted with colorful kites, “you will love it too,” she added temptingly, “come let’s go.” She took Rajani’s silence for acquiescence and dragged her by the hand but Rajani dug her heels in.
“No! I am not going. Aunty and Biji will be very angry. I am going to tell Aunty that those boys have run away…”
“No, better not do that, didn’t you see Bholu Bhaiya warning us to keep silent?”
“But it’s wrong what they are doing isn’t it? Going out without permis…”
“What are you girls doing outside?” It was Chotti Taiji. Some instinct had made her come to check the boys.
“No…thing Choti Taiji,” flustered Shikha stammered.
“The boys ran away,” in her nervous haste to absolve them of any crime, Rajani spilled the beans. Not that it mattered for, spooked by the eerie silence in the gallery, Taiji had unbolted the door – she nodded grimly as an empty room greeted her.
“Today they have had it,” she said in ominous tones.
Rajani and Shikha wore twin expectant expression. They stared in anticipation at Taiji’s retreating figure but to their surprise she went back to her room and shut the door firmly.
They could still hear the boys’ shrieks and yells in the distance – not fair! Maybe I should have listened to Shikha and gone out, Rajani thought regretfully.
But it was too late now. “What are you girls doing out here?” It was Kirti.
“Oh Mummy we were studying,” Shikha ran to her, “and then it was so funny that we had to come out to laugh and then the boys ran out to play. Can we also go out? Please Mummy?”
“What was so funny? How did the boys go out? Their room is still bolted from outside.”
The girls fell over themselves trying to recount the happenings of the afternoon.
Kirti shook her head. “Boys!”
The girls nodded in complete agreement. “But they will be punished won’t they?” Rajani asked with a strong sense of injustice, “Taiji said so but then she went back to her room.” There was a distinct note of complaint in her voice.
“Of course they will be punished. Don’t you worry about that,” Kirti reassured.
“Mummy,” Shikha tugged her kurta, “can we go out to play now?”
“It is still too hot and sunny. Maybe a little later.”
“But then you will say it is too dark,” Shikha grumbled.
“Go in and finish your drawing and then put away your things neatly. If Biji wakes up and sees…”
The girls bolted and then tiptoed inside. Biji was still snoring, although it no longer sounded like a growl but more like a pig grunting and her lips still fluttered and trembled with each breath. Another attack consumed the girls. Giggling and snuffling, they sank down and fell about rolling over their incomplete charts.
“Hey Bhagwan,” Kirti muttered and took the easy way out. She caught hold of each girl by the arm and dragged her out. She dumped them in a heap at a safe distance and went back in to clear up the mess they had left on the floor.
Poor girls, Kirti silently giggled to herself, it was funny the way Biji was snoring.
“Go and play outside,” Kirti yielded, “mind you stay in the shade and stay away from the boys.” But they had vanished and headed straight for where the boys were gathered. They were flying kites – Suri boys versus the rest of the village.
“Bholu bhaiyya we also want to fly kites,” Shikha panted as they came up to them.
“Go away,” he said rudely, “this is not a game for girls.”
“But we also want to fly kites!” Shikha wailed.
“And I want to fly a plane,” mocked Bholu, “heyy watch out you idiot and loosen the string,” he shouted at Kallu who was holding the reel. “Go away, you are distracting me,” he turned away his eyes on his kite tottering rather helplessly in the mid-sky while another more ferocious and confident kite surged higher. “Go away!” he shouted, “You are making me lose the game.”
“You have to let us fly the kites or we will tell Biji that you broke the rules and ran away to play in the afternoon,” Rajani said. Instantly, the other three boys gheraoed her. She clutched Shikha and glared back defiantly.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Golu said scornfully.
“Why wouldn’t I? And if you don’t let us fly kites too I surely will tell Biji.”
“You think we are afraid of two puny town girls or of Biji? Go on, go and tell her. As if she will welcome your complaints with open arms.”
Rajani faltered. That was true. Biji was partial to the boys and it was doubtful if she would entertain complaints about her beloved grandsons even if they were in the wrong. Past experience had shown her that. But then Rajani wasn’t about to back down after throwing a challenge. It would be too humiliating. “Fine!” she put her nose in the air and stalked off. “I am going to tell Biji,” she looked back, “and Bade Papa.”
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