“What happened?” Shikha nudged her.
“Nothing,” Rajani shook her head and then confessed, “I forgot to get my doll. She would have loved to see the picnic and the circus.”
Torn between sympathizing and regretting not thinking of it herself, Shikha was silent. She brightened. “It’s good you forgot.” Rajani looked at her with furrowed brows. “What if one of the boys threw her in the stream or the circus ring?”
Rajani’s eyes widened and her brow cleared. She nodded, “Oh I never thought of that! I am glad I forgot to her.”
She shed off her gloom and looked around with interest. Her eyes sparkled, her nostrils flared, she clapped a hand over her mouth – everyone looked so funny, swaying from side to side and every once in a while jumped up and down as well.
“What’s so funny girl?” Biji’s voice shook and quavered as they hit a particularly bumpy patch.
Rajani didn’t have to explain for the others latched on and fell about laughing and giggling. Biji turned away, wishing she had the hookah – it was so useful in such circumstances. It wasn’t that that the hookah had been forgotten (God forbid!) but it was loaded on to the other cart. This one was packed to the brim with people.
“I am hungry!” It was of course Motu. But why blame just him. Suddenly everyone was ravenous.
“Didn’t I tell you these rascals would be hungry the moment we step out of home?” Biji attacked her daughter-in-laws.
“Yes Biji,” they scrabbled around for their box of goodies but to no avail. They whispered amongst themselves getting quite restless first pushing Shikha to one side then Rajani, followed by Chotu – ultimately an unbalanced Chotu fell on top of Kallu while Rajani squashed Shikha and Kallu. “Ouch! Oye! Careful! Stop it. Owwww. Mummy!” The birds, dozing after their morning dose of worms, flew off in alarm.
But of course mummies were busy being ripped apart by Biji. “Useless nincompoops! Didn’t I tell you to pack all the stuff for the boys? They are bound to be hungry. What kind of mothers are you? Highly irresponsible. And see why I insisted upon the girls wearing salwar-suits? Just look at them. I shudder to think of them wearing frocks.” And so on and so forth Biji went while the women fumbled about muttering, “It was here. We brought it. In a red bag. There were parathas, laddoos and other stuff. I wonder if it is in the other cart. Kallu? Kallu. Kallu!”
“Yes Ammi?” He emerged red-faced from the tangled web of arms and legs.
“Where did you put the red bag?”
“Red bag? I don’t know any red bag.”
“Don’t know any red bag?” Meett gave him a cuff on the ear.
“Oh the red bag? Yeah I put here, somewhere.” He looked around vaguely.
“There’s a red bag behind Biji.” Rajani caught a splash of red.
“Behind me?” Biji leaned forward. Motu withdrew the crushed bag from behind her.
“And here I was thinking that finally my bahoos are concerned about my comfort.” Biji grumbled.
Silence descended on the cart as the hungry pack fell upon the food, uncaring of it being mangled beyond recognition. Sated, the children fell into good-natured squabbling interspersed every other minute or so with one or the other moaning, “How much farther. How much longer is it going to take?”
Immediate (and first) crisis of the day over, the ladies heaved a sigh of relief and had their share of breakfast, jostling and swaying, chattering and murmuring softly amongst themselves while Biji moaned and cursed with every jostle that rattled her aging bones. “I don’t know what possessed me to suggest this picnic. And the bus couldn’t find another day to conk off. All because of that townie! Wonder why Bahu brought her along? Wonder how her parents allowed her to come. I would never send off my daughter to another’s place. Neither would have my parents.” Biji’s thoughts drifted off to her childhood – how she had watched as her brothers went off to their mamas for weddings and even at other occasions and festivals, whilst she wasn’t even allowed out of the courtyard.
A groan brought her out of her reverie – her beloved Golu sat diagonally opposite her, his face all red and scrunched up. “Oh dear child! What’s the matter? Are you ill?” Biji was all worry and concern.
He shook his head, still wearing a pained expression. All eyes in the cart were now on him. He clutched his stomach and grimaced, distress written clearly writ on his face.
“What happened son?” Chanda asked, “your stomach?”
He shook his head but then as another spasm attacked him he groaned. “Yes. Owww.”
“That’s what happens if you hog so much without a thought for your poor stomach.” Chanda didn’t bother wasting any sympathy on him. Overeating was his besetting sin and it was high time he learned how to control his greed. But Biji was there to compensate for Chanda’s hard-heartedness.
“Oh my poor dear boy. Surely the food must have been bad.”
“But Biji, then everybody would be sick.” It was of course Rajani. The others had the sense not to interfere.
“You keep quiet.” Biji snapped. “Don’t you know it’s bad manners to speak when elders are speaking?”
Red-faced and seething, Rajani subsided grumbling under her breath, “But what did I say wrong? What Biji said is wrong.”
“Shhh.” Shikha poked her with her elbow and nodded to Golu, who seemed to be in dire straits. They looked at him with avid curiosity and then with dawning understanding. They looked at each other and muffled their giggles in their hands. The boys weren’t so kind or considerate. They burst into bawdy laughter and jeers. “Motu has got to go! Motu has got to go! Motu has got to go!
“Shut up you good for nothing rascals!” Biji dealt a tight one to the unfortunate Kallu within her reach and shook her fist at the rest of them. “Can’t you see he is in such agony? Just you wait one day, you will cry and he will laugh. Just you wait!”
But for once nobody paid any heed to Biji – they were on a picnic, out under the open blue sky and the perfect scapegoat – nothing on earth was going to stop them.
“Ramu! Stop the cart and throw off these rascals.”
Well apart from that of course. Silence descended as the cart jerked to a stop.
Biji glared at the children who shrank back wearing innocent wounded expressions.
“Give him my digestive tables,” Biji ordered Meett. “The hing ones.”
“Yes Biji I already did.”
“Ahh my poor son,” Biji clucked in sympathy. “How are you? Any better? Or do you need to go?”
Six pairs of bright eyes bore into him – valiantly he held on knowing that to agree was to invite a lifetime of jeers and taunts. But what to do – when Nature calls, she calls.
“Well, do you want to go? You will surely feel better,” Biji coaxed.
“Cheee! Yuck! Stinker-pinker!” groans and moans erupted but Biji beamed as if she had been handed her sixth grandson.
“There you are! Good job son.” Biji congratulated him. “All fine now right?”
A whisper of a snuffle and a choked giggle floated to Biji’s sharp ears but she was busy with Golu, who managed a weak nod and wiped his brow. Biji was all smiles and prayers of thanks. “My hing concoction never fails.” Proud and please as Punch she patted herself and ordered Ramu to step on it.
The cart resumed swaying amidst jolts and shakes. The rest of the journey to their ‘picnic spot’ was uneventful. Apart from of course the digs and taunts the beleaguered Golu had to face from his compatriots.
One by one, each of the boys defected to the other side of the cart, claiming possible contamination and stench.
“What nonsense!” Biji stoutly defended her beloved piece of liver, “don’t you worry dear,” she consoled him and petted him like a baby. This prompted the gag reflex in the boys and of course sniggers. Since Biji was busy comforting Golu, they escaped her eagle eye and long arm. But of course Golu knew what was going on and he fretted and fumed. Caught in Biji’s embrace, he could do little more than shake his fists at them and vow revenge at the earliest. The boys fell about laughing, as did the girls (well they delicately giggled into their dupattas (especially Shikha who had been longing to imitate her aunts for as long as she could remember). The more he got agitated the more Biji comforted him and more the others were entertained. And so it went on until the cart shuddered to a stop.
“What happened? Are we there? Is this the place? Oh yes, it is! I remember.” One by one the boys jumped down from the cart while the girls looked around in surprise. Picnic in the midst of a jungle – whoever had heard of that!
“Aunty is this the place we are having our picnic?” Rajani asked.
Don't forget to check out today's Post - You are Invited! And for the next chapter, click here - Chapter 47: Picnic Happens