“Wait!” Chotu held her by the arm. He was the one to have jumped off the skylight and unbolted the door. “You can watch us and learn. See even I am not actually flying kites.”
The girls generously accepted the compromise. They spent a pleasant evening in the company of their cousins, cheering and egging them on while booing down the rival gang.
The triumphant gang swaggered home, sweaty, hot, thirsty and hungry yet talking nineteen to the dozen – the boys outdid each other in boasting about their prowess and escapades on and off the field while the girls lapped it all up in worshipful awe.
Bonhomie, goodwill and camaraderie were at its peak – until they reached home.
Biji stood at the doorway. She was holding a stick and wore a fierce scowl. “Where were you girls?” she thundered. “How dare you go out without my permission?”
The girls shrank back and clutched each other for support, “Bi…ji,” Shikha quavered even as the boys silently melted away from the line of fire and stood behind Biji watching the unfolding scene with ill-concealed glee, “we took Mummy’s permission.”
“Mummy! Who is Mummy? This is my house.” She used the stick to drive home her assertion. “My orders and permissions matter here not your Mummy’s. You shall be punished for this, yes punished, severely punished,” she waved her stick threateningly.
Rajani flinched and hid her face in her hands tears streaming down her cheeks. Biji’s face was red, her lips curled in an ugly grimace baring her yellowed fangs showering them with spittle.
“Biji.” It was Lukhwinder aka Lukhi aka Bade Papa. He took in the scene in at a glance. “Biji, please calm down. It’s not good for your blood pressure. Please go inside. I will deal with the children.” He turned to face the girls. “Well?”
Rajani paled and almost fainted in sheer fright. Even the boys were terrified of Bade Papa, as they should be. He was huge, almost mountainous with black bushy eyebrows framing round permanently bloodshot eyes. “Well?” He growled menacingly once again.
“We didn’t do anything Bade Papa,” Shikha found her voice, “we went out only after taking permission from Mummy.”
“Yes Bade Papa,” Rajani vigorously nodded her head, “It was the boys who went out to play without taking permission. They used black magic to unlock the door,” in her desperate need for self-preservation, Rajani spilled the beans quite unaware of the consequences.
An eerie silence descended on the courtyard as Lukhi turned to the boys. Kirti bit back a gasp. The women folk had of course known about the boys’ great escape and had privately had a fond laugh over the outrageous audaciousness of their little daredevils amongst themselves. They would have turned a deliberate blind eye to it (like they had so many other times) but for the fact that the girls knew about it. They had no choice but to discipline the boys and they had full intentions of doing so – a thrashing or two followed by the worst kind of punishment: threaten ‘tell all to Bade Papa’ without actually tell him.
But now the fat was in the fire and even Biji shuddered – oh my poor little darlings.
“Ohhh!” Biji moaned theatrically.
“Biji!” Lukhi was instantly by her side.
“Son I am feeling faint. Oh my head. I can’t breathe,” she moaned.
Lukhi picked her up and strode inside barking instructions left right and center, “Switch on the fan. Get some sweet lassi. Biji, are you okay? No, get some shikanji. Biji! Are you okay? Call the doctor dammit. Clear the room. Hurry. Why the hell isn’t anybody doing anything? Bijiii!”
“I am okay Son,” Biji mumbled in a faint faraway voice. “Don’t worry so much. No need to bother the doctor.”
“Biji please just rest, okay.” Lukhi’s voice gentled. “The doctor will be here soon. We just want to make sure everything is okay. After all you are getting on in years…”
“Yes yes, I am fine. I am hardly that ancient,” affronted Biji sat up. “Your Biji is strong as a horse don’t worry.” She bragged quite forgetting the ‘cause’ of her sudden illness. Recollecting it, she hurriedly put a hand to her head, “It was just the heat,” her eyes fell on the boys hovering by the doorway, “what are you all doing standing there?” She bent down and picked up her slipper, “come here you good for nothing rascals, come here,” she roared as she made to get up. Lukhi forcibly held her back and made her lie down. The boys of course vanished from the scene, as did the girls.
“Relax Biji. Don’t stress yourself. They are just boys,” Lukhi exhorted, “you relax, I will ensure that those donkeys are disciplined….” Lukhi’s face darkened with anger once again.
“No no Son, no,” Biji started, “it is my right as the elder of the house to discipline the people of this house, you don’t interfere. Don’t worry about such petty things. Your mother isn’t dead yet.”
“Oh Biji please don’t say things like that.”
“Yes, yes but only if you promise not to interfere in household matters…”
“Of course Biji, anything you say Biji, whatever you think right Biji. Just don’t take any stress. You take care of your health. I hate to see you like this. Meett!” he raised his voice and called his wife. She came running.
“Yes?” she mumbled meekly.
“Yes? What do you mean by Yes? What the hell do you do the whole day? Can’t you even manage a bunch of boys? Just look at Biji, poor thing is so worn out. Can’t even take care of your hapless aging mother-in-law? Don’t you have any consideration, any shame? Don’t you even have the least bit of humanity in you? And you call yourself women? Mothers? Shame on you,” he spat as he directed his anger at the most convenient source.
Several heads bobbed up from the outer window, whilst the girls made a beeline for the inner one. Curiosity simply had to be quenched – consequences be dammed.
“Oh Lukhi, my dearest Son, don’t waste your breath on these useless nincompoops. It is not their fault. It’s because of my cursed fate, my past karma that I have been saddled with these ungrateful wretches.” Biji moaned. “Hey Bhagwan what have I ever asked from you? And what do I want from you? Just call me to you. I have had enough of this earthly life and its pains.” Tears choked her plea.
“Biji, don’t say that. What about your son? What will I ever do without you?” Her eldest son too was all choked up. “Oye Pappu!” he hollered, “where’s the damn doctor? Are you dead or what?”
“Here, here’s the doctor,” Biji’s younger son stepped up with the doctor in tow. The doctor took her pulse, check her heart, shook his head and after a lot of clucking he intoned, “She is very weak. Give her lots of milk, ghee, good food and rest. She will be fine. And Biji, maybe you should ease up on the tobacco…” he ventured hesitantly.
“Ease up on the tobacco?” Biji made a remarkable recovery, “why don’t you give me an injection to kill me already? Take away my only source of support and solace in this life – what reason will I have to live?” She sank back wearily onto the bed, “I have nothing to live for since ‘he’ left me,” she said tearfully. “Ever since your father left for his heavenly abode, life has become meaningless. In any case, I am just an unwanted old bag of bones, best I die anyway…”
“Oh Biji,” the doctor plodded determinedly, “you have such a wonderful caring family. You have such lovely grandchildren – five boys! Tell me who else in this village has three sons and five strapping grandsons? If you are not there who will look for suitable brides for them? Don’t forget you have to live for your great grandchildren. Surely you wouldn’t be so cruel as to deprive them of your blessings and wisdom?”
Biji heaved a big sigh, “As the Almighty wills, so it shall be.”
“Yes, that’s the spirit Biji. You know you are inspiration for the whole village don’t you? Everyone respects you and looks up to you. You have a duty and responsibility towards them as well. You must take care of your health and live a long life for their benefit.”
Biji smiled sourly. “Doctor you have such a smooth tongue. Your sweet talk can sweep away any illness in a jiffy. Go on now I am fine.” She sat up.
The doctor allowed himself a triumphant smile, “Here are some medicines for Biji,” he wrote out a prescription, “make sure she gets them regularly. I will come again in the evening to check on her.” He tore it out and handed it Biji’s son. “Oh no, no I cannot take any fees for Biji’s treatment,” horrified he backed away after touching her feet, “she is like a mother to me.”
There was a bit of a tussle between the determined son and an equally adamant doctor regarding the payment of fees until Biji stepped in. “Let him be Lukhi. He is right. How can he take payment for treating his mother?” she smiled fondly at him. “Tell me, everything well at home?”
“Yes Biji, thank you Biji,” he folded his hands and bowed obsequiously and then scratched his head.
Biji looked at him shrewdly. “And your wife? Is her brother still staying on with you? Does he do any work?”
“That’s what Biji,” the good doctor came clean, “he is such a wastrel! He is either sleeping or eating. I look at him and my blood pressure goes up.” He coughed. “I was wondering if Lallu Bhaisahab could arrange some job in the city…anything, anything at all,” he looked hopefully at Biji.
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