The children ran ahead uncaring of the bags that each was carrying – visit to the circus on a tractor! How exciting. But how would they all fit on a tractor? There was hardly any place in the front for all of them and what about their stuff? Where would all that go? Wondering, discussing, arguing, they burst on to the road where the huge red tractor with monstrous wheels stood waiting for them. It had a trailer attached to it.
“What’s that?” Rajani asked.
“That’s the trailer buddhoo. Can’t you see? That’s where we will all sit.”
“Yes but there’s a huge sheet of hay on top of it. And it is angled, if it was flat on the floor of the trailer, we could have sat on it but now where is the place for us and our bags and things?”
“Oho Rajani, you really are a buddhoo,” Kallu chipped in, “all our stuff will go back to the village in the bullock carts. We don’t need our picnic stuff any more do we? Or you want to take them along to see the circus?”
Rajani flushed a beetroot red. She hadn’t thought of that. “Yeah but still there is no place for us to sit.” she shot back aggressively.
“I know!” Shikha burst out who had been staring intently at the unusual cargo, “Oh I know!” she turned to the others, “it’s meant to be a roof for us! Can’t you see? We are supposed to sit under its shade. It’s so hot and sunny. That’s why Chote papa must have sent it like a big umbrella for us.”
“Yes! That must be it.” Rajani was convinced and happy that Shikha had come up with the solution rather than one of the boys. Call her a budhoo will he – what right had he to call her a budhoo? Shikha could, Shikha was after all her friend. Besides, she gave her ample opportunity for returning the compliment. Who knew if in the few remaining days at the village she would get the chance to get back at Kallu?
While Rajani was off on her own trip, the boys squabbled amongst themselves. Each of them wanted to sit in front next to the driver. “Me, no Me, Me, Me!” They almost came to fisticuffs and Hariya had to step in to forcibly separate them. But at one against five, he was quite outnumbered.
Biji didn’t have any such problem.
“What is going on here? Who wants to go back home in the cart?” Biji stood there dripping wet.
Instantly peace was restored – it was as if the fight had never been.
“Go on now, climb on to the trailer under the cover. Hurry up otherwise we will be late for the circus show. It’s quite a distance from here.”
Obediently they all rushed to queue up. Ramu and Birju held up the lower edge of the hay sheet with one hand and heaved up the girls with the other. The boys refused any such help and scrambled up, though Golu needed help. All four boys from above and a strong shove from below and he flew up and crashed on to the boys. Yells, shouts and curses flew thick and fast – until Biji stepped in. Silence, if not peace, descended. Mutters and scuffles still sounded from undercover. The ladies too came up on the back of the tractor while Biji declared she preferred to sit in front. She was wet and looked forward to being cooled and dried while they cut through the wind. And who could argue with that?
Ramu and Birju securely tied down the ‘sunroof’. “All okay Biji?” they looked to her for approval while she stared critically at it.
“Hmmm, you could wet the hay. It will be cooler that way.”
So off they went and got back pots of water and splashed it all over the sunroof – squeals and giggles greeted them as some of it trickled down to the residents underneath. Biji requisitioned a wetted a towel for herself – she knew it would hardly take a few minutes for her to dry off.
Finally Biji was satisfied. She let them go with a last check at the picnic spot for any forgotten belonging. So with a heave and shove (much like Golu’s) Biji ascended her seat and the tractor rolled ahead with a clang and a clatter, with the attached trailer tagging along rather reluctantly groaning, swaying and jerking.
The occupants of the trailer were a bit cramped no doubt but they were cool and well protected from the blazing sunrays, which was at its fierce best. But since they couldn’t see outside or move about freely (and they were rather tired after their long day) squabbles broke out amongst them until Meett and Chanda quite at the end of their tethers dealt each of the boys a tight slap. It worked like a charm. Stumped, they fell silent and within a few moments, one by one dozed off on one another – as did the girls against Kirti. The ladies looked at each other and smiled wryly. They caressed their sleeping angels affectionately and soothed by their deep breaths and light snores, they too fell into an uneasy but much needed doze.
Another round of excitement awaited them and best to recharge their worn out batteries.
Fresh and cool from her nap and dip, Biji sat with Hariya as he drove the tractor with practiced ease and placidity. He took the opportunity and rare honor of brushing shoulders with Biji by offloading his familial woes, debts and mundane ills besetting his life. Biji offered expert advice and viable solutions. “Come and collect the money from me tomorrow. But mind you I want every paisa back. Of course I don’t expect any interest but my principal I want it back and within six months okay?”
The tractor almost veered off into the fields as an overwhelmed and indebted Hariya made a dive for Biji’s feet.
“Okay okay fine fine,” Biji thrust him away, “don’t kill me before you get the money,” she said sourly, regretting her generosity. “And one more thing, don’t you dare tell anybody that I am not charging any interest.” She bent a fierce eye upon him. “If it gets out, be sure that I will double your interest.”
“Yes of course Biji. Why would I do that Biji? Your word is my command Biji. Just say the word Biji, my entire family will lay down their lives for you Biji.” Hariya in his urgency to convince Biji of his loyalty nearly missed the cut for the circus. But he made it in the nick of time.
Swaying and shuddering more than usual, the tractor left the main road and slid on to a makeshift dusty road by a huge open field. “There’s the circus Biji.”
“I am not blind,” she responded caustically, “and frankly I couldn’t care less. Go tell those impatient monsters at the back.”
Hariya ran to the back and wrested the roof away with some difficulty. One by one the occupants woke up, refreshed and hungry for more.
“Oh are we there? Are we in time for the circus? How quickly we came! Oh such a big field. What a funny smell. So many people!”
“Come on hurry up.” Hariya herded the children and then rushed to assist Biji calling to Bholu to help him.
“Okay, I will wait here. You go ahead,” he bowed obsequiously to Biji.
“What about the tickets?” Kirti asked.
“Tickets?” Hariya stared at her. “I don’t know anything about tickets.”
Biji frowned. “But Pappu told me he had bought tickets. Chanda did he give them to you?”
Chanda shook her head.
The girls looked at each other in consternation. No tickets! Now what?
The boys weren’t bothered they had wandered off towards the huge enclosure, impatient and eager to be in the thick of things.
“So careless of Pappu!” Biji grumbled. “All this exercise wasted. No choice but to turn back.”
Rajani clutched Shikha’s arm as tears began rolling down her cheeks. It was too much after so much drama to miss the circus! She couldn’t bear it.
“Biji can’t we buy tickets here?” Shikha asked a little belligerently.
“Do you know how expensive the tickets are? For so many people, to buy tickets all over again would cost a fortune. And besides, have you seen the crowd, I doubt if tickets will be available. No we have no choice but to turn back. What a waste! Hariya go and call the boys back.”
Hariya ran off calling the boys. He held a brief discussion and came back beaming. “It’s all right Biji.” He panted. “Everything is fine. Bholu has the tickets. He was supposed to give to his mother but he forgot.”
The girls perked up and exchanged relieved smiles. Rajani scrubbed her face dry and sniffed happily.
But there was more.
“Uff!” Biji smacked her head, “but are the tickets fine? He was busy playing in the water wasn’t he? Even if they haven’t been washed away surely all that soaking would have damaged them?”
Up next Chapter 51: Comedy of Errors