“Biji, Biji,” clamored the children.
“Uffo, get off me! Never a moment’s peace in this house. Always something or the other. Let me sit down will you?”
She sank down into her chair and pulled at her hookah. But of course it was dead. But before she could throw a tantrum, which she was clearly itching to do, Rajani butted in.
“Let me get it refilled and lit for you Biji.” She snatched up the contraption (almost as big as her) and rather awkwardly lugged it inside, stumbling once in a while. Rather than risk meeting Biji in this mood, Meett asked Rajani to call Bholu so that he could carry it back.
The boys (and girls) shuffled about in an agony of impatience as Biji took a deep long pull at the hookah. She blew out smoke and closed her eyes. She took another pull.
“Biji?” Chotu dared – after all he was Biji’s favorite.
“Biji!” everyone jumped in.
Biji raised her hand. There was silence. She opened her eyes and stared at them. “Only one person should speak.” She paused. “And only one question.”
Person was not a problem – Chotu of course – but one question? They went into a huddle and had a heated argument. Biji smiled to herself and savored the few minutes of peace and entertainment.
“Let’s ask if we are going to the circus.”
“But what about the picnic then?”
“Ok let’s ask if we are going to the picnic, if we are then obviously we will go to the circus! Right?”
“Right but what if we are only going to the circus? Biji will say no and then we wont know anything.”
“What about Happy? Where is he? Has he been punished? Will he not be allowed to go for the picnic?”
And so on and so forth went the discussion. Kirti came up and served Biji her breakfast and called the children in as well. But they pushed her away promising to come soon. They were hungry but more important matters occupied their attention. An amused Biji watched them as their arguments and counter-argument flew thick and fast.
Finally Chotu detached himself from the group and approached Biji. He took a deep breath and rattled off at top speed, “Biji, at what time will we all go for the picnic today?
Biji burst out laughing.
The children crept close to Biji, “When are we going Biji, when are we going?”
Biji raised her hand. “Soon,” she shook her finger at each of them individually, “provided you behave yourself. Any misbehavior, like Happy, and you can be sure you wont be going to any picnic or circus. Why bother to go for a circus? This house is a mad circus.” Biji leaned back and closed her eyes. She opened them to stare ferociously at them. “Now why are you all standing at my head? Go away and leave me in peace.”
Chastened though not very convinced, the children wandered away one by one. Only Rajani stood there.
“Now what?” Biji asked without opening her eyes.
“Happy is not going for the picnic?”
Biji sat up and glared at her. “Do you also not want to go for the picnic?” Her voice was soft and dangerous. “Don’t you dare go upstairs…”
Rajani backed away.
“Aunty where is Happy? Will he not be going for the picnic?”
Kirti rolled her eyes. “Are you going for the picnic?” she countered. She relented as the faces of both girls fell. “Chote Papa is trying to arrange some transportation. Let’s see what happens. But you girls must also learn some patience.”
“But where is Happy?” Rajani was like a dog with a bone.
“Happy is in Biji’s room. He has been locked in as punishment for his bad behavior.”
“Just locked in?” Rajani was disappointed. “When I hadn’t even done anything, then Biji said she would beat me up…”
“Oho Rajani, Biji only said she would beat you, she didn’t beat you did she?” Kirti was annoyed. “Why are you raking up old buried issues? Besides, how do you know Happy hasn’t been given a caning?”
Rajani faltered – Happy had been caned? Poor thing must be in so much pain – tears rose to her eyes.
“Hey Bhagwan! What do you want Rajani –for him to be punished or not?” Kirti tottered off. She didn’t have time to hang around with the girls.
“Let’s go and see Happy,” Rajani mumbled unhappily.
“Are you crazy?” Shikha shook her. “Do you have any idea of the consequences if Biji caught us? And why should we? How can we help him? We aren’t doctors are we?”
“Come on, let’s help Mummy to pack the stuff for the picnic. Biji will be happy and she will make sure we go for the picnic, come on,” she dragged an unwilling Rajani, who cast a look up at Biji’s room. She could clearly picture Biji giving him the thrashing of his life – his limp lifeless body sprawled on the floor, blood oozing out faint cries of “Ammi, ammi” reached out to her. Sniffling and sobbing, Rajani broke free and ran upstairs.
“Rajji” hissed Shikha but to no avail. Rajani had to see for herself that Happy was… “Ohh!” She stared wide-eyed through the barred window. Happy was lolling about on Biji’s cushioned armchair. He leapt up and assumed the murga posture. He looked up to find Rajani staring at him.
“You!” He straightened and walked up to her. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you. I thought Biji had given you a thrashing, I felt sorry for you but you aren’t even sorry!” Rajani screeched with righteous indignation. “She punished you, locked you up to be a murga and here you are relaxing on her armchair! Just you wait, I will go and tell Biji.” She turned but Happy’s arm shot out from between the bars and caught hold of a thick plait. “Ouch!”
“Shhhh,” Happy clapped his other hand over her mouth and whispered menacingly into her ears (just like he had seen the movie villains do), “don’t you dare say a word to anybody, not even Shikha. Understand? If you do, you have had it.” He thrust her away from the window.
Rajani stared fearfully at Happy as he glared at her through bloodshot eyes. She stiffened. “I will tell Biji. What can you do?” she dared. “You are locked up inside.”
“Go on. I dare you to tell Biji. I bet she wouldn’t like it that you have come here without her permission.”
Satisfied, Happy nodded his head as she flushed. “If you don’t tell her, I will,” he promised, “and then you will meet the same fate as I have.”
“What fate?” jeered Rajani, “locked up in a room, lolling about on Biji’s comfortable armchair is any punishment?”
Happy shook his head. “Nope. But what about this?” He turned around and flipped up his shirt.
Rajani gasped in shock. Red welts marked his back. She backed away as Happy turned around. “Well what do you say now?”
Rajani ran. But she was back in an instant. “Please don’t tell Biji I was here. Please.” Her breath caught in her throat as she begged.
Happy stood there unyielding and inflexible.
“Please, please don’t tell Biji,” tears rolled down Rajani’s cheeks as she felt the first of Biji’s lashes on her back, “please, I will do anything. I promise.”
Happy looked at her. “I am starving.”
Rajani wiped her face. “I’ll get you something. Just wait.” She vanished.
“Where were you Rajani?” Kirti asked her in an undertone even as she pushed her to sit beside Shikha for her breakfast.
Rajani hand flopped. “Umm, washroom,” she muttered in an indistinct tone.
Shikha looked at her and back at her mother. They both wore identical disbelieving frowns. “Okay, now finish your breakfast quickly. We have other work to do.” She served them crispy and freshly roasted stuffed parathas. Taken with curd and pickle, it was simply out of the world. There was silence as they wolfed it all down. Only Rajani was in some dilemma. Now what? How can I carry food to Happy?
“Aunty, can I go and eat in my room?” she asked.
Kirti looked at her askance. “But why?”
“Nothing.” Rajani mumbled. “Just thought I would do my homework,” she trailed off, probably realizing how lame she sounded.
Kirti didn’t even deign to respond to that but Shikha nudged her. “What’s the matter with you Rajji? Are you crazy or what?”
Rajani ignored her. She was busy trying to work out a foolproof plan to smuggle food upstairs without being caught.
“Fine! Be that way. Even I don’t want to talk to you.” Done, Shikha strode away from there. Rajani looked after her retreating back in dismay. She raised her hand to call her back then changed her mind as even Bholu and Chotu got up and left. Only Kallu and Golu were left.
Now if only she were left alone in the room she could sneak out with something for Happy. But then how? She looked yearningly at the shorts of the boys. They had such big pockets. Maybe she could hide it in the folds of the dupatta. But that would mess up her new suit. She started. But what if Happy told Biji? What if he had already told Biji? Her heart thumped madly and she barely noticed that the boys had also left.
“What’s the matter Rajani? Why aren’t you eating?” Kirti came in to check.
“Nothing Aunty. I am fine Aunty.” Rajani hurriedly began eating.
Before you go how about a look at today's post - Chasing Spring Up next Chapter 44: Biji is Trapped