“Yes dear.” Come on now help Biji get down first then you both can get down, I will help her from below.” But it was quite an impossible task as neither of the girls were strong enough to push Biji and nor was Kirti robust enough to give adequate support to her. Chanda and Meett only managed to confound issues further until Biji was quite out of patience with all of them. Finally, Ramu and Birju, the cart drivers, managed to download Biji – for those of you who are wondering, Pappu had uploaded Biji. He wasn’t just a champion marble player you see – darn it there I go rambling again…
Rajani got down reluctantly from the cart and looked around in great trepidation, “What if there are lions and tigers?” she clung to Kirti. “I don’t want to go there,” she whined. “I can’t even see the boys. I am sure they have all been eaten up.”
“The only thing you need to be scared of out here is me,” proclaimed Biji. “Boys!”
One by one, they emerged bright faced from the bushes. “Yes Biji?”
“Who is going to unload the cart? Your Biji? Go on, hurry up. It’s not all fun and games you know. The sooner the cart is unloaded, the sooner, food will be ready and only then we will be in time for the circus.”
At the appropriate keywords, the boys pitched in with alacrity. Even the girls picked up a bag each and reluctantly trailed the gang as Bholu led the way. Rajani refused to leave Kirti’s side, casting nervous wide-eyed looks around.
“Shikha aren’t you feeling scared?” she whispered.
Shikha shrugged. “What’s there to feel scared? Everybody is here. And Bholu bhaiyya said they often come here for a picnic, nothing has ever happened.”
“But that doesn’t mean OWWW! Mammaaa!” Rajani dropped her bag and clutched Kirti for dear life.
“Hahahaahaha.” Kallu and Chottu laughed till tears came into their eyes. They had dumped their stuff and doubled back via another path just in time to latch on to Rajani’s fear. And of course they were duty bound to make the most of this newfound information – they jumped Rajani with a ferocious snarl.
Rajani burst into tears and clung to Kirti. To tell the truth, even Shikha had been startled out of her wits and barely managed to bite back her scream. But she was smart enough to act unconcerned and nonchalant. She knew if the boys got to know she was just as vulnerable and susceptible, she too would be targeted.
Rajani’s fear knew no bounds, and couldn’t be convinced to step further into the dense foliage. “I want to go home. I don’t want to go to the picnic.” She howled and howled.
“But dear,” Kirti grimly hung on to her patience, “it was just the boys. See,” she shook her gently, “just look at them, laughing away.”
“Yes Rajji. I saw them growl and jump at you. It really wasn’t some wild beast. Besides,” Shikha leaned closer and whispered, “who knows we maybe the ‘beauties’ to change the ‘Beast’?” Tempting as the thought was, Rajani wasn’t appeased. Besides, she was a one-woman man – Harry and Rajani forever.
Finally it was Biji who took matters into her own capable hands. “Ramu, please escort Rajani to the cart. She can stay there until we return from the picnic.”
“No!” Rajani’s stranglehold on Kirti increased.
Biji put her hands on her hips. “Make up your mind – in the cart alone or in the jungle with us. I will count to 3 and then Ramu will pick you up and…”
It was of course a no-brainer.
“I will go with you all,” Rajani burst out.
“Hmmphh. Come on.” Biji turned away and her entourage followed with Rajani clutching Kirti and Shikha’s hands tightly. Ramu took charge of her discarded baggage.
A few minutes later they burst upon a clearing.
“Oh! How beautiful!” Rajani looked around in wonder. It was indeed a picturesque spot. A green shaded open area edged by a sparkling stream that gurgled as it dashed and rolled over stones and boulders littering its its bed. The faint rustle of leaves, the contented chirping of the birds just added to the song of the river. Tall trees enclosed their hideout, which showed signs of having been encroached upon before. There was a makeshift brick oven, even a couple of earthen pots.
Her scare forgotten, Rajani moved ahead, “Oh look a butterfly! And what’s that?” she pointed to a red and black insect alighting on a green leaf.
“That’s a ladybird dear,” Kirti said, “it’s a beetle, an insect. We used to collect them in jars when we were children.”
“Oh how nice!” Shikha and Rajani looked at each other. “Can we also take a few of them?”
“Yes, maybe a butterfly too,” Rajani added.
Kirti laughed and shook her head. “Just because I did something as a child doesn’t mean I was right! Tell me, would you like it, if somebody whisked you away to an alien place just because he or she wanted to collect little girls?”
Chastened, the girls looked around them with keen interest. It was all so bright and fresh. The sky was so blue and the water an irresistible shade of blue and green, the trees a dark green, the bushes a light green dotted with pink, red and white flowers while the cat-o-tails, bronze, mauve and wheat, lazily swayed in approval of their blessed life.
A flash of blue caught their eye as it swooped into the river and rose up in the blink of an eye.
“That’s a kingfisher!” Kirti’s face was awash with delight. Even the normally placid and expressionless ladies of the house couldn’t quite hide their pleasure and wonder.
“Oh how beautiful!” Rajani and Shikha clapped their hands and jumped up and down, “Where has it gone? Can we see it again?” they clamored for more.
“Who knows?” Kirti smiled. “Just keep your eyes open, there are many wonderful treasures to be seen here.”
The carts had been unloaded and the boys were grimy and sweaty from their hard labor.
Without any further ado, Bholu stripped his shirt and waded into the sparkling gushing waters. He bent down and showered those standing on the bank. The girls stepped back with a squeal. But the boys gave a loud yell, shed their clothes in a pile and ran into the water in their shorts. They wasted no time in splashing each other. Smallest of the lot, Chotu came into the cross fire and fell into the water. That was the signal they needed – their war cries echoed loud and clear as they began systematically dunking each other.
Their shrieks of laughter and joy were infectious drawing indulgent smiles from their mothers who had busied themselves in preparations for lunch.
The girls looked on enviously – the water did look cool and tempting. Could they join in? Would Biji agree?
“Come Shikha,” Rajani tugged at her hand, “let’s go in too.”
“No wait,” Shikha hung back, “we will have to ask Biji first.”
“Why?” Rajani objected. “The boys didn’t take Biji’s permission did they?” said Rajani.
Shikha shook her hand free. “Fine. If you want to go, go. I am not going unless Biji says so.”
“Let’s ask Aunty,” Rajani said.
“No! Then Mummy will also get into trouble.” Shikha was clearly a quick learner.
“Fine then let’s ask Biji.”
“Biji.” The girls looked at her with trepidation yet great expectations.
Biji sighed – they had hit the right note. She was gratified that they had turned to her first not that good for nothing Kirti. Finally they had understood who the real boss was.
“What?” she grumbled.
“Hmmphh, please. What please?”
“Please can we go into the water?”
The girls held their breaths as Biji looked into the distance where the boys were playing.
“Don’t you want to help your aunts to cook lunch?”
Their mouths fell open.
Biji cackled and slapped her thigh in delight.
She beckoned them. Hesitating a bit, they shuffled towards her. “What about your clothes? They will get wet.”
“It’s so hot Biji. It will dry soon.” Rajani said.
“And if you fall ill, what will I say to your parents my dear girl?”
Rajani flushed. She busily pleated the edge of their dupatta.
Satisfied, Biji nodded. “Hmm ok. You can play in the water but don’t go too far and don’t try to compete with the boys ok?”
They nodded with alacrity. In any case they weren’t too keen on joining them. Who wanted to be rudely dunked into the water? Not them!
Biji called Kirti and ordered, “Adjust their dupattas properly.”
Kirti took Shikha’s dupatta from where it hung string-like around her neck and spread it out to its full size and then folded it longitudinally. She then wound it across her tiny frame from shoulder to waist, made a knot and tied it firmly on the other side of her waist. She did the same to Rajani and looked at Biji for approval. Biji grunted and put out a hand to give it a tweak here and there to cover the girls with the dupatta much like armor and then reluctantly nodded.
Kirti gave them a gentle push. “Now go on, but be careful, don’t slip and fall. Stay close to each other, don’t go too far, don’t try to compete with the boys…”
Before you vanish like the girls, dont forget to check out today's post - Happy Holi-days for an important notice. Up next Chapter 48: Water Games