The girls (importantly even the boys) were up early next morning.
“Mummy did you alter my kurta? Did you?”
Rajani crossed her fingers and held her breath.
Kirti rolled her eyes and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm let me see, I did intend to, but then I think I fell asleep…”
Shikha burst into loud sobs. Kirti was taken aback, “Hey! I was joking. I did do it. See?” She held it out.
Shikha (and Rajani) wiped her face and reached for the kurta. “Go on try it on.” Kirti encouraged.
“Is it okay now?”
All smiles, Shikha nodded her head. “It’s perfect Mummy. Thank you.” She hugged her tightly. “Isnt it Rajji?” she modeled for her.
“Yes. It’s looking lovely.”
“Come on now hurry up and change. Come downstairs. Biji would also like to see you both, isn’t it?”
Needing no further prompting, they changed into their respective suits and stared quite besotted into the mirror.
Rajani carefully place the dupatta over her head. “Oh this is lovely. If Harry were here, he would sweep me off on his broomstick.”
“Not if he saw me first,” Shikha pouted unable to drag her eyes away from the mirror. She turned this way and that way
“Even then!” Rajani stuck out her tongue at Shikha who couldn’t care less – she was too busy admiring herself.
“Now come on, let’s go otherwise we will be left behind.” Rajani flounced off. A worried Shikha ran to catch up.
“Biji, how do we look?” the girls presented themselves for inspection confident of the answer.
“Hmm not bad,” Biji grunted, “from now onwards, you should only wear clothes like this, no more frock-shock.”
Before they could react at the wishy-washy and rather unpalatable response, Chotu ran up to them and skidded to a halt.
“Biji!” Chotu looked in horror at her, “why aren’t you ready yet? We will be late!”
“Late? The circus show is at 3 pm and it’s barely 7 am. What’s the hurry?”
The boys crowded her. “Biji.” A clamor of voices rose.
Biji raised a hand. “One at a time please. Yes Chotu you say. What’s the matter?”
“What’s the matter?” Chotu exchanged incredulous looks with his siblings. “Have you forgotten or what? We are going to the picnic first and then the circus, which in any case is at least one hour ride away…”
“Picnic?” Biji wrinkled her brow, “when was this planned? I have no idea about any picnic-shicnic.” She leaned back into her throne and watched them through half closed eyes.
A deathly silence descended upon the courtyard as they stared at each other in dismay. No picnic? It was too awful to even be contemplated. Emotions overcame Rajani and she burst into tears. Not one to be left behind, Shikha joined in noisily. The boys looked with dawning hope at Biji.
“Stop that wailing!” Biji cracked her whip.
The girls instantly froze – though intermittent hiccups still shook Rajani.
“What is there to cry about?” Biji thundered. “Life is full of disappointments. We plan for things but then they don’t often happen the way we want them to. What can we do but bear them with good grace?”
“But Biji are you serious?” Chotu dared to question her. “There is no picnic?”
Biji heaved a deep sigh. “What can I do son? The truth is even I was looking forward to the picnic. But God wills otherwise.”
“Meaning?” This time Kallu spoke.
“Meaning the bus Pappu had arranged for broke down and now we don’t have any transport. Be happy that the mechanic has promised to have it repaired in time for the circus show. And God forbid, if he doesn’t keep his word, then we will have to miss that even.”
Happy went berserk. He ran around the courtyard in a frenzy, pushing and overturning anything and everything that came his way – a bicycle, a flower pot, the day’s wash until Biji barked. “Someone stop him!” The girls turned tail and dashed away from his trajectory.
Meett and Chanda came running from the kitchen. Meett caught hold of him while Chanda dealt him a tight swift slap. But he broke free and pushed them away. Golu and Bholu jumped into the fray and wrestled him to the ground. He was finally pinned to the ground with the combined effort of his siblings – undaunted he shook his head violently from side to side, screaming at the top of his voice.
Chote Papa entered and took matters into his own hands. “What the hell is going on here?”
The entire unit sobered up – including Happy. He got up and dusted himself quite nonchalantly. “If there is no vehicle, I don’t care, I am going to the picnic and the circus,” he declared.
“Oh Happy control yourself dear,” Biji spoke in soothing tones, “do you know how far the circus is?”
“I don’t care. I am going. That’s it. Ammi pack my food. I am leaving now. And if you don’t pack, I don’t care I am leaving in any case.”
“Stop all this nonsense at once.” Pappu interrupted him. “Have some patience. Show some decorum. Is this anyway to speak to your elders? Apologize for your behavior at once.”
“Why should I apologize? You were the one who broke your promise.” Grief and despair made Happy lose perspective and manners. “Biji only said we will go for a picnic and circus, now nothing? This is not done.” He picked up a flowerpot and smashed it to pieces.
“HAPPY! Behave yourself. Otherwise, I swear you will be the only one not going for the picnic or the circus.”
Happy’s transformation was instantaneous. “You mean we are going?” he asked eagerly.
Pappu glared at him. “The others are going. I am not so sure about you.” He said grimly.
“Yes!” he jumped up and punched the air in exuberance.
“I have a good mind to punish you by not allowing you to go for your bad behavior. Just look at the destruction you wrecked.” Pappu waved his hand around the courtyard. “Is this any way to behave because of a change in plan? If not today, we would have gone tomorrow. It’s high time you learnt to rein in that destructive temper of yours.” Pappu was getting madder by the minute and things were again beginning to look very ugly indeed.
“Bahu,” Biji intervened, “why have you not served breakfast to Pappu yet? He has been out since morning with just a cup of tea. Give him some cold lassi as well. Poor thing, he has been working since morning trying to arrange things for you while all of you just lap it all up. Good for nothing, useless nincompoops!” She heaved herself out of her seat and went over to him. She patted him and gave him a light push. “Pappu dear, go and wash up, eat your breakfast. Let me deal with these ungrateful rascals. I will give this bad-tempered boy a taste of his Biji’s temper, then he will get some sense, come here you bad boy,” she caught hold of Happy by his ear and dragged him to her room giving him a whack with her cane.
The children followed her wide-eyed but she stopped them. “Where are you all going?” She pointed her stick at the courtyard. “Clean up the mess. When I come back I want to see everything spic and span.”
Muttering and whispering furiously amongst themselves the children set about putting things right in the courtyard. But their hearts were not in it – an agony of impatience and curiosity seized them. Were they going for the picnic or not? Had another vehicle been arranged? Or had it been postponed or worse cancelled? What was Happy’s fate going to be? Would Biji thrash him – surely not? Besides they couldn’t hear any screams or shouts. But after wrecking mayhem and outright disobedience and talk back, was it right that he go scot-free? So not done. The girls looked disapprovingly at each other.
Chote Papa finally emerged and left the house calling instructions to his wife. Biji was still closeted in her room with Happy. The children gheraoed Kirti – what happened? Are we going? How are we going? Will Happy be allowed to go?
“Hang on hang on,” Kirti raised her hands and pleaded for silence. “If you all insist on talking how will I tell you what’s happening?”
Obediently they fell silent. Shikha tugged her kurta impatiently and shook her hand questioningly.
“Okay okay the gist of the matter is the bus that Chote Papa had booked is under repair and hopefully it will be available to take us to the circus.”
Babel of noises arose – we know that. What about the picnic? What if it isn’t repaired?
“Well, the thing is,” Kirti looked up. Biji was descending the stairs. Kirti clammed up. “You can ask Biji about all that.” She escaped before Biji accused her of stealing her thunder and God only knew what else.
Up next Chapter 43: Nosing around