Hand in hand, the girls stepped gingerly into the water. They squealed at first bite of the cold water as it swirled and streamed around their ankles. “Oh,” Rajani gasped, “this is awesome. The water is so clear. Look we can see the stones so clearly.” She bent over and grabbed a purple colored stone. “Isn’t this lovely?”
“Mine is better.” Shikha claimed a smooth white pebble with grey lines running across it. “Let’s see who collects the most stones shall we? Oh look! What are those?” Shikha pointed to the little black dots with tails wiggling about in the water.
“Eeeks!” Rajani scrambled away in some haste and stood on a convenient stone above water level. “Come away Shikha, come away. They will bite you I am sure, come away.” She was quite panic-stricken.
“Don’t be silly Rajji. I am sure they are harmless. Mummy!” she raised her voice and called.
“What are those?”
“Oh,” Kirti peered over their shoulders, “those are tadpoles dear. After a couple of months, they will become frogs.”
“Frogs! Really? How interesting. Did you hear that Rajji? Rajjiii what are you doing there?”
“Eeeeks! Frogs are worse! I am getting out of the water. Aunty please help me.” Rajani flapped her arms wildly from her little island. Kirti had little choice but to wade in and carry the squealing girl back to dry land.
But not content with being home alone, she shouted and called for Shikha to come as well. But, Shikha, having too much fun, ignored her.
“What happened Rajani?” Biji asked. “Want to help your aunts with the cooking chores?” Biji’s voice was bland. “You can start by first…
Rajani stiffened – crocodiles were preferable to Biji, what were a few frogs – that too baby frogs?
“No, no, I am going back in,” Rajani said. “I was just a bit hungry. I came to see what’s for lunch. But I can wait. No hurry.” She did an about turn and went back right into the water, braving the creepy crawly tadpoles.
“Come over here Rajji, no tadpoles over here,” Shikha called encouragingly. Gratefully, Rajnai waded over to Shikha and looked around in relief. Shikha was right – there were no tadpoles here, but why take the risk?
“Shikha let’s go and sit there.” She pointed to a low hanging branch over the stream. “It looks like a swing doesn’t it?”
“Yes.” Shikha nodded, “but will we be able to climb it?”
“Let’s try,” urged Rajani, “I will give you a hand up and then you can pull me up.”
Feeling very bold and adventurous, they waded against the stream and strayed away from the direct vision of their elders. Nobody noticed for they were busy preparing food. Besides the boys were just ahead.
But as they waded ahead, the shallow stream became deeper and muddier until they were almost waist deep in and the branch, which had looked within reach, was pretty high. But not one to give up easily, Rajani insisted on trying to hoist Shikha up to the branch.
In her enthusiasm, Rajani quite forgot that they were standing in waist deep water. She bent down to grab Shikha’s legs but ended up getting a mouthful, nose-full and eye-full of water. She came up gasping and choking. Blindly she struck out and hit Shikha who stumbled and fell. Her flailing arms found Rajani whom she held on to for dear life and the inevitable happened. They gave each other a good dunking before rising above water. After the initial shock had worn off, they went off into gales of laughter attracting the boys. They came over and joined the fun.
On dry land, the ladies could hear the ongoing revelry pretty much clearly even though they couldn’t see much. After a while Biji got quite antsy and sent Ramu kaka post haste to investigate and herd the gang back under her direct sight and vision.
But of course Ramu kaka was no match for more than half a dozen sodden boys and girls just beginning to get the hang of things. A full fledged water war was on and Ramu kaka was caught in the cross fire. Getting into the spirit of things he undertook some drastic retaliatory measures of his own and upped the game level. The children went wild with delight – catch me if you can in a stream – how cool was that?
“Ramu! Ramu! Are you dead or what?”
A drenched Ramu kaka reluctantly recollected himself and went off to report to Biji. He was roundly abused and upbraided for daring to return empty handed. Biji dearly regretted her hasty largesse and generosity. What on earth had possessed her to suggest not only the circus but also the picnic? Entirely that Maharani Rajani’s fault! She ground her teeth and was ready to drum her heels.
Finally she sent Ramu and Birju with her final offer, come out now or forfeit the circus.
Shouting, screaming, dripping, jostling, laughing and chattering the children made their way back to the shore with Ramu kaka leading the way and Birju holding up the rear end to make sure none of them slipped away like the eels (and God knows what else!) they were probably harboring on their persons.
“Hey Bhagwan! Just look at the state you girls are in!” Biji’s voice rose, “Bahooo, towel them dry.” She frowned at them, “did I not tell you not to go too far? How did you get so completely drenched? What will happen if any of you fall ill? Especially you,” she glared at the unfortunate Rajani, “what will I say to your parents?”
Rajani hung her head.
“I am sure you didn’t remember to bring any change did you?” It was Kirti’s turn next.
Kirti busy drying the girls, shook her head.
“Obviously not. After all it was my duty to remind you isn’t it? Do you ever use that head of yours?”
“Biji,” Golu interrupted her, “we are starving.”
“Oh yes of course! Meett, Chanda, why are you just standing there doing nothing? Come on serve these boys some hot kadi-chawal. Come on hurry up and get your plates and sit beside me.” She ordered them.
“And you Bahoo,” she called Kirti, “take off their dupattas and put them out to dry in the sun and make them sit with you while they eat. Let them not wander about.” She categorically warned. “They will dry up in no time.” Kirti nodded and hustled the girls away.
“Bahoo, untie that girl’s hair. Otherwise her thick plaited hair will never dry even in this heat.”
Silence reigned supreme as the picnickers gorged on steaming hot kadi-chawal under the blazing sun and by the time they had finished their lunch, their clothes were more or less dry. Much to Biji’s relief – she heaved a sigh of relief and settled down for a nap.
But now the children began fidgeting – it was past 1 pm and their transport hadn’t yet arrived. What if the bus wasn’t repaired? Would they miss the show? It would take a good hour or more to reach the venue, Bholu declared.
“Why is the bus not coming?” While Biji indulged in a bit of a shuteye, the ladies had to put up this question in its various avatars from each of the children multiple times. The mothers had had it. They were quite exhausted not to mention roasted from the heat of the chulah and the unrelenting summer sun. And on top of it, this constant refrain of ‘why is the bus not coming’ got on their collective nerves. Feeling rebellious, they left the children under the eagle eyes of Ramu and Birju and sneaked out. Giggling much like Shikha and Rajani, the three ladies cast nervous looks behind to make sure they well and truly out of Biji’s vision.
Nodding excitedly and holding hands, they stepped into the cool delicious water. “Ohh!” This was indeed heavenly. Unable to resist, Kirti threw off her restricting dupatta and flopped down onto the riverbed. Giving into temptation, she held her nose and went under and came out gasping wet but rejuvenated. Biji be dammed. Inspired (and tempted) her elders followed suit. It was indeed refreshing. They sat in a ring, splashing each other, giggling while talking in hushed tones letting the cool flowing waters wash away the heat, grime and tiredness of the day.
Now if only they could have a nap while they dried their clothes on their bodies under the sun – shouts of the children alerted them. Their bus had probably arrived.
They hurriedly picked themselves up and waded out to dry land. They squeezed out their clothes and hair (as much as was possible) and decorously draped the flowing dupattas over their heads. They cast guilty looks at each other. Biji was sure to ring a peal over their heads. But it was well worth it.
Squaring their shoulders, they marched off to face the one-woman firing squad.
While you are here, how about a look at today's post - Marching On Up next Chapter 49: Ups and Downs