Meett came forward, “Yes Biji.”
“All your fault,” Biji attacked her, quite conveniently forgetting her own culpability, “you are the one who spoilt him with your blind love and affection…”
The main door slammed. “Biji,” it was Chote Papa, “the carts are here…”
Happy’s bravado deserted him. He fell at Biji’s feet, “I am sorry Biji, I am sorry, please let me go for the picnic. Please Biji.”
Biji could have wept in relief. Finally an escape route!
Biji had had no choice but to give Happy the mandatory whipping, more as a warning to the others to mind their p’s and q’s than because she was really mad at him. But she had been quite in a fix as to what her stance should be regarding his attendance at the picnic. Rajani’s involvement had given her a way out of the Happy-fiasco and she had intended to extend Rajani’s pardon to include Happy as well – quite a happy solution to her problems. But then Happy with his adamant stick-in-the-mud attitude had put a spoke in her wheels.
She was unable to find a way to pardon him (she didn’t want him to miss out on the fun) without setting a bad precedence or facing accusations of partiality (the other boys were watching her with hawk eyes and they would no doubt inspect, analyze and compare his welts with a microscope).
By apologizing, Happy had put Biji back on top, where she belonged. “Are you really sorry or are you just apologizing because you want to go for the picnic?” Biji asked a very pertinent question.
“Of course I am sorry Biji. I don’t know what happened Biji. I was feeling hungry and then I just went sort of crazy I guess. I truly sorry Biji.” He looked at her with a tragic expression, which didn’t fool Biji one bit.
Biji grunted noncommittally. “Are all the things packed and ready?”
“Yes Biji.” They chorused.
“Go on then put them all in the cart. Girls…”
“Yes Biji. Come on girls, come on hurry up.” Kirti urged them away. “We are getting late.”
“Biji,” Rajani hung back, “please, can Happy come too…”
“Didn’t I tell you to mind your own business girl?” Biji flared up.
“Oho Rajani, come on,” Kirti hustled her away.
“But Aunty, will Biji let Happy go as well?”
“That is not your headache. You focus on yourself. One more word and you wont be going.” Kirti was quite out of patience with Rajani.
“Auntiee…” Rajani’s voice was plaintive.
“Rajani…” Kirti’s was dangerous.
“Rajji!” Come let’s go and see the cart. I have never seen a bullock cart. Have you?”
“If you haven’t seen, where will I see?” Rajani snapped.
“Just imagine, neither of us has ever seen a bullock cart and today we are going to the picnic on it. Such fun isn’t it?” Shikha looked anxiously at Rajani. But Rajani wasn’t looking at her. She was staring ahead.
“What are the boys doing?”
“I don’t know. Come let’s go and see.” A relieved Shikha steered her away from ‘Happy-based’ dangers.
The boys were awkwardly lugging and tugging a rolled up mat. The girls ran up to give them a helping hand. Soon they had heaved it on to the bullock cart.
“Oh is this our transport!” In her excitement, Rajani ventured unmindfully rather close to the massive ox strapped to the cart. It snorted a warning and swished its tail for good measure.
“Ouch!” Rajani shrieked and back away. “I am not going in with that!”
“Fine you can stay at home.” Shikha was quite out of patience with her. “Alone. Even Happy is coming.” She nodded behind them as a triumphant (and quite unrepentant) Happy came rushing out carrying a basket full of goodies.
“Oh Happy, I am so happy you are also coming,” Rajani gushed. “After all I did ask Biji…”
“But of course I was coming! What did you think – Biji would leave me? Me, her favorite grandson home, huh.” He got rid of the basket and waved his free hands in front of Rajani’s nose, “Don’t think Biji let me go because of anything you said or didn’t say – she never was going to hold me back in any case!”
Rajani and Shikha stared at him perplexed. “But Biji did cane you. She also locked you up in the room…”
“Oh that! Obviously, she had to cane me. I only forced her to.” Happy nonchalantly took credit for his caning.
The girls stared at him open mouthed.
He rolled his eyes, disgusted at their dim-wittedness. “She had to punish me, because I was so bad.” He explained. “And if she didn’t punish me, then the other boys would have complained. It was all sorted – I was bad, I was punished and when the time came Biji would forgive me and ‘allow’ me to go. Everything was set. But then you had to come and spoil everything. Because of you I almost didn’t…”
Rajani’s mouth opened and she retorted hotly, “Because me, you didn’t go or because of you I almost didn’t go?”
Happy raised a hand. “Didn’t I just say – we have sorted and it went like a clockwork except for you? But because you interfered, Biji needed to punish you and then because of you, she had to punish me more. But how? By obviously…”
“Oh my goodness,” Shikha interrupted to divert their attention which seemed to be again reaching a flash point going by Rajani’s black expression, “look the cart is almost full up with our things! Where will we sit? And where are Bholu bhaiyya and Kallu?”
They turned around and stared. The two boys were coming on another cart. This one was a fancy one – brightly decorated on the sides.
“Oh there are going to be two bullock carts!” the girls jumped up and down in excitement. “Let’s go tell Mummy,” Shikha grabbed Rajani’s hand and ran off.
“Mummy, Biji, hurry, both the carts are here.” They burst inside.
Everyone was hard at work whilst Biji stood in there midst shouting instructions like a general preparing for battle. “Don’t forget the matches, take some kerosene oil as well. Oho don’t keep it there – keep it separate from the foodstuff. Don’t you have any sense? What if it spills? Nobody will be able to eat a thing.”
“Bahu, what about the aam panna you made yesterday? And the extra jaggery? Pack some maththi and sweets for the children. And that can of lassi. It’s so late.” She fussed as she squinted and looked up at the sky. “When will we reach when will we eat? All of you are such slow coaches. And God only knows what rot you are going to feed me in the midst of the jungles. Best if I don’t go…”
“Biji!” Hope and worry warred for supremacy in their combined bosoms. Hope that Biji wouldn’t go, give them some peace and quiet.
On the other hand – if she didn’t go, who would have to stay back to look after her? And God forbid if something did go wrong, they would never hear the end of it. “Biji, you have to come,” they spoke in one voice.
“I know that!” she flapped her hand, “as if I would leave my beloved grandchildren at the mercy of their mothers, pshaw! Did you take my digestive tablets? My medicines?”
Chanda flushed and ran in.
“See?” Biji rested her case. “And you think you can manage by yourselves?”
“But Biji we never said…”
“Come on hurry up girls, what are you two doing standing there staring at us. Help your aunts. You,” she pointed to Shikha, “Go and bring the bar of soap from the wash basin. Yes that one, wrap it in a piece of paper, look behind the door, Bahu start carrying the things to the cart. Hurry at this rate we will have to directly go to the circus and miss the picnic!”
“Biji!” The boys had come in and were just in time to hear this dire prediction. “Let us help, come on let’s get moving.”
Amidst much shouting, cheering and panting, everything was finally loaded on to the cart and with a jerk, a holler and a tug they were off – creaking, rattling and swaying. Shrieks of laughter and gaiety rent the air.
Except for Rajani who, quite unlike herself, looked glum and solemn.
Care to go through today's Post? More Training Up next: Chapter 46: On the Way