The pre-circus day was unbelievably quiet and peaceful. Kirti determined not to risk messing up anything (she dreamed that Biji lost her temper once again on some flimsy grounds and forbade the girls from going to the circus – the boys went off for the picnic and the circus whilst the girls were handed a pile of washing – she woke up sweating and couldn’t help shuddering whenever she recalled it) kept the girls out of general circulation by keeping them glued to their holiday homework.
The boys’ mothers too grasped the possibilities of the perfect day, kept them busy on the myriad tasks that needed the attention of the boys but they couldn’t be coerced into doing – not even at gunpoint, I mean cane-point (why didn’t they use their Brahmastra – tell all to your father – you wonder? Well they didn’t want to risk the boys’ wising up to their mothers’ empty threats), including homework.
The boys had an easy way of getting out of all the work (cleaning the yard, cutting up wood, muck out the buffalo shed etc.) – whine and plead with Biji. She of course would use her veto powers and send off the boys to play and enjoy their holidays, which was also not meant to be wasted studying! But for once the mothers had the upper hand.
“Okay fine, don’t do any work,” they shrugged rather nonchalantly, “we will do it.”
The boys looked at the suspiciously. Something was cooking they were sure.
“Didi, I shall go and tell Biji that we won’t be able to go for the circus…”
“Yes, Chanda, that’ll be the best I think…”
“Not go for the circus!” the boys were aghast. “But what about our picnic? Who will cook for us?” Chotu voiced their common and uppermost concern.
Badi Ammi flared up. “Ungrateful wretches! That’s all you can think of – food. What about us missing the circus? We toil away day and night and does anyone even bother to ask if we have had the food that we cook for everybody?” Meett choked and broke off.
Chanda patted her consolingly and seamlessly carried on, “Look what you did with your thoughtless words! Serves you right if we don’t go. What’s the point of having five sons if not one of you can spare a thought for your mothers?” Chanda was on a roll. “Don’t you have any sense, any shame? Go away. Play, enjoy, and loll about while we toil away. We can’t come tomorrow, because don’t you understand, half the day will be spent on doing these chores. It will be too late to go for the picnic.” She said decidedly and turned away. “Oh wait. How about you and the girls cooking? I am sure Biji will be more than happy to teach you all?”
The boys’ expressions of horror and dismay were too much for their gravity. They sniggered behind their veils.
The boys held an urgent council of war and graciously accepted their assigned chores without any further protests or objections.
Biji was most astonished to find her beloved grand-boys laboring so hard. “Leave that dear. It’s too hot. Go in and rest. Go on,” she exhorted each of them in turn but they brushed her away.
“We are fine Biji, in fact such fun. I wonder why we didn’t do it earlier? Besides, best if we take care of these chores today. After all we don’t want to be late for the picnic do we?”
Biji looked at her Bahu’s with dawning suspicion. Her lips firmed and she huffed and puffed. “Very far-sighted of you boys. Beware that such sensitivity and sensibility may not turn all of you into wimps stuck to first their mothers pallu and later your wives.” She walked to her throne. “Bahoo, what about my hookah or will I have to ask one of the boys to do that as well?” She pulled at it but her hookah was all ready and prepared. Not that it pleased her – if anything it irritated her. Now what could she fuss about? “My throat is parched…”
“Biji, for you.” Chanda was at her elbow.
“What’s this?” she wore a closed expression, ready to reject anything and everything.
“Aam panna Biji. We made for tomorrow’s outing. It will be good in the heat. If you could taste and tell us if anything further…”
Biji yielded – oh so they weren’t living it up! Besides she did like aam panna and would be good in the heat. “Hmm. Not bad,” she took another cautious sip. “It’s too sour. Add a little bit more jaggery.”
“Yes Biji.” Meett coughed. “Biji, the boys prefer it sour although perhaps the girls may like it sweeter…”
Biji was in a quandary. “Ok, ok fine fine, just sweeten this glass for now. And don’t forget to carry jaggery along with you tomorrow.”
Sipping the cool (now sweetened) aam panna, Biji looked upon her laboring brood with a kindly eye – her darling children. She frowned. “Bahu where are the girls?”
“Biji, they are studying.” Kirti said. “They have a lot of homework to catch up on.”
“Homework? A likely story.” Biji sniffed. “By the way, what about their new dresses?”
“Yes Biji, Bhaisahab got the suit pieces last evening. I will stitch them today.”
“Hmmph. Make sure they are ready by tomorrow,” ordered Biji, “I don’t want the girls gallivanting all over the countryside showing off their bare legs. It’s bad enough in the village. People would talk but for that fact Shikha is my granddaughter.” She looked at Kirti. “Don’t you think it’s high time they stopped wearing frocks? They are growing up fast.” She looked meaningfully at Kirti who took the easy way out and nodded. “Yes Biji.”
She frowned and shot Kirti a dark look. “Don’t just ‘yes Biji’ me. Next time I don’t want to see Shikha in anything but salwar-suits. Is that clear?”
“Hmmph. Now go and make those suits for the girls. Don’t you know one can’t be too careful with girls? Have you no sense at all?” Biji castigated Kirti. “Before coming here, you should have thought about Shikha’s clothes. Earlier it was all right but now she is a big girl. I tried to keep quiet but for how long? Everything has a limit.” She fumed and ranted. “If anything goes awry, all blame will come to me isn’t it? Nobody will point fingers at you but everyone will ask why didn’t Biji take preemptive measures? How could Biji let the girls run about like hoydens?”
“Yes Biji.” Controlling her tone with a superhuman effort, Kirti walked off raining silent curses on her absent husband. Biji’s taunts and restrictions were growing day by day. Enough was enough. There was no way she was going to come and stay in the village for Shikha’s next summer vacations. For sure Rajani’s parents wouldn’t send Rajani and Shikha in any case would kick up a fuss about coming here alone. No, no chance, she was coming for this God-forsaken place again where you toil away in the heat and all you got in return was a tongue lashing. By hook or by crook she would make sure that Lalit himself would make his excuses to Biji, Kirti swore to herself.
“What are you doing Mummy?” Shikha and Rajani jostled each other as Kirti sat down at the sewing machine.
“Stitching salwar-suits.” She said shortly.
“Salwar-suits? For whom?”
Kirti sighed. She couldn’t resist the twin pair of bright curious eyes looking so intently and expectantly at her. She tweaked their noses. “For two naughty little girls.” She twinkled at them.
Their eyes grew round as saucers. “For us! Really?”
Kirti laughed, their enthusiasm and excitement washed away her seething indignation. “Yes! Really!”
“For me too?” Rajani asked a bit hesitantly.
“Yes of course for you too.”
The girls jumped up and down in excitement. “Come on now stand still.” Kirti admonished them. “I need to take your measurements.”
“I want this one!” Shikha picked up the pink floral printed piece.
Rajani’s face fell. “Shikha,” Kirti intervened, “let your friend choose first. She is a guest in the house. And don’t forget to thank Biji, she is the one who told your Chote Papa to get for you.”
“Rajji, you like blue don’t you? Take this one.” Shikha held out the blue one.
Rajani looked longingly at the pink one. But she swallowed and gracefully accepted her blue piece. “Yes, I do like blue. Just like the sky.”
“See Mummy!” Shikha said triumphantly, “I know which one Rajji will like. Right Rajji?”
“Are you sure Rajani?” Kirti shot her a keen look.
“Of course she is,” Shikha interjected, “Mummy, when will it be ready? Oh I am so excited. My first salwar suit with a dupatta! I can’t wait to wear it.”
“Mine too!” Rajani smiled.
“Tomorrow.” Kirti smiled at their stunned expressions as she finished taking their measurements and put away the tape.
“Yes. You both are going to wear it for the picnic and the circus.”
“We are going to wear it for the picnic and the circus. We are going to wear it for the picnic and the circus. We are going to wear it for the picnic and the circus.”
The girls sang and danced around Kirti as she began cutting and sewing their new dresses.
Exhausted they fell back on the bed. “Oh I can’t wait for tomorrow to come!”
If you have the time to spare, do check out today's post - What if? For next chapter click on link below: Chapter 40: Unsuitable Issues