Biji was seated on the bed with one leg was folded under her while the other dangled just above the floor. Her eyes were closed and her lips moved silently as she fingered the rosary in her hand. The girls stared at her and then at each other. Biji was clearly praying and it would be best not to disturb her. Yet they hung on, hoping against hope that Biji might, just might, open her eyes, smile benevolently at them and give them permission to play hide and seek.
Quiet as mouse, they waited patiently. They perked up. Biji’s lips had stopped moving. Her head dropped and her shoulders drooped. The girls looked on, half-confused, half-hopeful – perhaps this was some end of prayer ritual. They hung on determinedly. Biji breathed softly and her head went lower and lower till her chin touched her chest. Her lips fluttered and an unmistakable rumble reached the girls. They glanced at each other. Rajani’s nostrils flared and her eyes watered. Shikha stared in horrified fascination. Biji’s rather ample figure swayed dangerously on the edge of the bed – surely she would fall off the bed!
Wide-eyed, Shikha clapped a hand to her mouth and looked to Rajani for help. But Rajani was on her own trip. She clutched her tummy as she attempted to physically restrain her giggles from erupting and disrupting Biji’s trance. An acute sense of survival (evidently absent in Rajani) prompted Shikha to grab hold of Rajani and forcibly drag her away before she got into any further trouble. It was quite a task for Shikha to pull Rajani away but she managed somehow.
“Rajji! Shhh!” she hissed, “Biji will hear you, shhhooo.” But Rajani was beyond control, she giggled and giggled till tears ran down her cheeks and she lolled about on the floor. Shikha was in quite a fix. Fortunately an antsy Kirti came up to investigate. She took in the scene at a glance and whisked the girls away to safety.
“Rajani!” Kirti was quite annoyed. Didn’t she realize how close she had been to getting into trouble? “Control yourself. If Biji had gotten to know,” she shuddered. “No need to play hide and seek,” she snapped.
That sobered Rajani. “But why?”
“Because I said so and Biji is,” she coughed, “busy. Don’t disturb her otherwise you two girls will have it,” she warned.
“But then we are bored, what should we do?” grumbled Shikha.
“Why don’t you play passing the parcel or Chinese whispers? Or even better, you go to your room and do your homework. There’s a lot pending.”
“No!” The girls protested.
“Not homework Mummy please!” Shikha rolled her eyes, “It’s not fair Mummy the boys never seem to do any homework.”
“Well,” Kirti shrugged, “maybe they don’t give holiday homework here. You shouldn’t keep comparing yourselves to the boys,” she chided. “It’s best if you stay away from the boys. If both of you got into any more trouble with Biji, I am afraid…”
“But Mummy, it’s no fun playing all by ourselves.”
Kirti stared. “Oh is that so?”
“Yes Mummy. We are now friends.” She smiled. “Can we play with them please?”
Kirti sighed and gave up. “Okay but don’t get into any fights. And don’t create a racket. Play any game that doesn’t involve running around. Come on.” She led the girls downstairs.
Prudently, Kirti decided to monitor the children and ended up helping them play passing the parcel. She made the chits and placed them in a cloth bag. She had Bholu procure the tape recorder from Lukhi’s room and set it up. She took control of the music and started the game. The boys had never played such a game before and found it quite interesting at least initially. Later, they became rather fidgety but remained under control because Biji deigned to come over and watch them. Later, even the men joined in to watch the fun. The remaining ladies of the house too shyly crept up. The rather tame punishments (proposed by Kirti) – jump up and down; tell a joke; recite a poem etc soon gave way to more impromptu and exotic punishments which brought zing to the game. Excitement levels rose as the punishments became more and more daring. Drink 5 glasses of water (to Golu); sing a love song (to Bholu the one he sang to Jeeto – don’t forget Bade Papa was sitting right there twirling his mustache); walk on your hands (to Chotu – which he did quite easily); giggle (to Rajani – strangely she found this a tough call and protested vehemently that she wouldn’t be able to do it – until Kallu took matters into his hands and imitated her. That set her off and all but put an end to the game). Happy and Shikha probably had the toughest of the lot.
Happy had to imitate Bade Papa. After a bit of shying away but encouraged and egged on by Biji, he did a creditable mimicry of his father.
He stood with an attitude, one hand to his waist, the other casually holding a thick stick. He thumped it on the ground and twirled his non-existent mustache and hollered, “Oye Meettt! Where is my food?! Will you bring it after I die?”
Cheers and laughter met this rather apt caricature. Badi ammi pulled the dupatta over her face as she blushed and simpered under the reflected glory while Bade Papa deigned to bare his fangs. Biji clapped her son’s back delightedly and quite squeezed the breath out of Happy. Biji wasn’t done yet, she warded off the evil eye and handed him a crisp ten-rupee note from the bag that hung from permanently her waist.
Happy was of course happy but jealousy tore into the hearts of his peers. It was not the money but the gesture. Why single him out when they all had been such sports? And he had had to be forced to play out his punishment unlike so many of the others. It wasn’t that good an imitation either.
So when it was Shikha’s turn, she made no fuss of the ‘punishment’ handed to her. Imitate Biji. This was after all her forte. In fact she was quite confident. It was Kirti who got the jitters. Who knew how Biji would react? No no she couldn’t risk it. “Shikha,” she said softly, deeply regretting her decision to host the game, “don’t do it. Biji may not like it…”
“Why not? Bade Papa liked it did he not? She also enjoyed it. I will do it,” insisted Shikha. In any case, she was itching to imitate Biji, she knew she could do it, and do it well too! Biji would surely enjoy it. After all what was not to like?
“No, no,” Kirti fussed, “It’s not right, Biji is so much older to you…”
“So what, Bade Papa is also so much older than Kallu…”
“Yes, but then Biji gave permission, in fact she insisted that Kallu imitate his father…”
“So let me ask Biji…”
“Shikha!” Kirti caught hold of her hand restrained her, “don’t ask her. She won’t be able to say no.”
“Well that’s good isn’t it?”
“Uffo Shikha,” hissed Kirti casting a harassed look at the impatient gaggle of boys, “you are too young to understand all the finer nuances of it – she will say yes, and then suppose you say or do something that hurts her. Then what?” What remained unsaid was I will no doubt save you, but who will save me?
“Biji won’t mind I am sure…”
Kirti prayed for patience, “If she didn’t she would have said something by now. Drop it,” she ordered curtly.
“But then what about my punishment?” wailed Shikha.
“Imitate Rajani,” Kirti said.
“Rajji? But she just imitated herself giggling didn’t she?”
“Yes.” Kirti nodded, “well that’s your challenge! To imitate Rajani, but something other than her giggles.” She looked around. “Won’t that be fun boys?”
“Yeah let’s see what you can do,” the boys accepted the alternative quite easily. Tough to do and who knows as a bonus, Rajani would get mad or begin crying – what fun! “Come on Shikha, go ahead and imitate your friend. But no giggling huh.”
Shikha shot Rajani a mischievous look and launched into her Rajji avatar – a fine tremor of her lips, a hitched breath, furious working of her throat culminating into realistic heartrending sobs. Hiccupping, she wiped her eyes and sniffed valiantly. She walked to the door and banged into it. She clapped a hand to her mouth and stared the door dumbstruck before rushing into solicitous concern and a flood of apologies. “Oh door bhaiyya are you hurt? Is it paining you? I am so sorry door bhaiyya. I didn’t mean to bang into you. Please forgive me. I am really very sorry. I hope you aren’t hurt too much. You sure you are okay na? Shall I call the doctor?”
Gales of laughter greeted Shikha’s act, even Biji laughed. The boys couldn’t help looking towards Rajani wondering how she would react. Rather predictably, Rajani was too busy giggling to take offense. She did attempt to register her protest at this exaggeration by violently shaking her finger but then the services of her hand were required to support her aching abdominal muscles, so that too went unnoticed.
All in a very peaceful evening – and therein perhaps lay it’s remarkability – something rare and precious.
And before you go, here's the post for today and the Blog Index For next chapter click on link below: Chapter 39: Biji at it again