Rajani couldn’t take any more of the wild swings of to be or not to be – she sat down on the dusty field with a thump and burst into loud sobs.
Biji raised her eyes heavenwards. “Bahu.” Her voice was sugar sweet.
Well knowing what that particular tone of Biji, Kirti and Shikha renewed their attempts to pacify the terribly disappointed and distressed girl. “Hushhh. How will crying help?” Kirti tried to reason with her but had no impact. “Biji is getting angry.” That served to silence her sobs, even though her tears continued to flow unabated.
“And what are you doing here standing staring at my face?” Hariya paled. “Go and bring those rascals back. Immediately.”
In a flash, Hariya had rounded up the boys and presented the protesting boys in Biji’s court. “Where are the tickets Bholu? Show them to me.”
“Here,” he put his hands in his pockets. His face fell. He scrabbled around madly in his pockets but to no avail. A hush fell on the entire gang as they cottoned on to the gravity of the situation. No tickets meant no circus!
Happy made appropriate preparations to deal with the situation in the only way he knew how. He had just lifted his leg to literally kick up a storm when Bholu’s face cleared. “Oh I remember! I gave them to Happy to give it to Ammi. Right Happy?”
All eyes swung to Happy. He hesitated and put down his foot. “Me?” he blustered. “When did you give it to me?”
“Oho don’t you remember? When I was going to get the other cart, I gave you the envelope and told you to give to Ammi?” Bholu worked him through the steps. Happy’s face was witness to his recollection of the events.
Happy scratched his head. He scrunched up his face as he made a superhuman effort to recollect subsequent events. Alas for him (and the others) his memory was a blank canvas – until Biji cuffed him on the ear.
His brow cleared. “Ah now I remember.”
“What?” they chorused and held their collective breaths.
“What I did with the envelope.”
“What?” They were ready to tear him apart while Chotu geared up to take up the Happy-mantle. His little face turned a deep shade of red and his mouth opened but he was so furious no sound came out even though his eyes popped out. Chanda put her arms around his rigid body. Circus (and tears) forgotten Shikha and Rajani watched the unfolding drama in horrified fascination.
“I gave it to Biji.”
Chotu went limp and sagged against his mother – she was hard put to support his dead weight.
All eyes were now on Biji.
“Me? Nonsense!” Biji flapped her arms. “What do you know?” she dealt the hapless Happy another one.
“But Biji I did give it to you. I remember very clearly.”
“Yes earlier you couldn’t remember anything and now you very conveniently remember giving it to me. This is great. For one I plan so much to give you all a good time and what do you do? Put the blame on Biji. In any case, she is old and senile, what will she remember Right?”
Bosom heaving, nostrils flaring, Biji was a sight to behold. It was quite clear where Happy (and Chotu) had got their genes.
“But Biji, I did give it you,” Happy said doggedly, “and,” he clicked his fingers, “I remember where you put it!”
Rajani’s hand flew to her mouth and she exchanged agonized glances with Shikha – the tickets were at home!
Happy reached out and patted Biji on the chest. “Where you always keep money.”
“Oh really? Well let me tell you, you rascal,” Biji put her hand in her kurta and drew it out holding a white envelope. She stared while the others held their collective breaths. “What’s this?” She opened it. Her face was answer enough.
Their triumphant roar overtook the buzz of the swelling crowd and all but drowned out the cry of the bugle signaling the opening of the show.
“Come on! Let go. The show is starting!” There was a mad scramble for the tickets and God only knows what would have happened to the flimsy bits of paper in the hands of half a dozen desperate circus crazy viewers but for Meett’s quick thinking. She snatched the envelope from Biji’s hand and held it aloft away from their reach.
“Stop it now. STOP!”
They stopped. Badi Ammi rarely raised her voice. And when she did, they listened.
“Now queue up. Height wise. Shortest in front.”
Reluctantly they reshuffled themselves.
Meett counted out 8 tickets and handed them to Kirti and motioned her ahead while Hariya held up the rear end. The bugle from inside the top sounded louder, longer and more insistent.
Kirti was no match for the boys, or for that matter even the girls, she was wily nily swept on ahead on a human tidal wave, till she was almost sprinting, panting, sweating, gunning for the finish line, err the main entry gate.
Meett and Chanda flanked Biji and walked on sedately ahead – though Chanda was getting butterflies, the lions were roaring, the elephants were trumpeting, the horses snorting, the music enticing, inviting. She subconsciously hastened her pace. Biji was the first to reach the ticket checker. She waved to her two vassals to attend to the needful without a break in her step and swept ahead rather grandly.
In the meanwhile, the other gang had all but gatecrashed the venue. The ticket checker was thrust aside as they barged in eyes glued to the ring while Kirti apologetically smiled at the guy even though her eyes too kept straying to the stream of acrobats parading into the ring wearing their attractive glittery costumes. Rather than be annoyed at the unseemly haste, the gateman was pleased. He was the owner of the circus and was flattered at their rather obvious enthusiasm. He smiled and waved them ahead. The children slipped down on the rough wooden planks assigned to them barely noticing anything other than the unfolding grandeur.
The view, the music the atmosphere all held them spellbound in their grip. They barely remembered to breathe. Shikha and Rajani stared and stared –oh so many acrobats! And look at that little girl on the horse. Oh no! She was going to fall no! They were throwing her around like a ragged doll. Heart in their mouths, afraid to blink they got a crick in their necks from the unnatural angle they held their heads for minutes on end. They barely had time to ease there aching muscles, when the next program swung in to action – it was a tough choice. Whom to watch the incoming group or the outgoing one? They needed more eyes. It was impossible to keep track of all the activities going on – and the clowns. They were so funny! They made things even more difficult. One never knew when or where they would pop up. It was so frustrating when everyone burst into laughter and Rajani was clueless. “What happened, what happened?” Rajani whispered.
Shikha tried to explain but then somebody went, “Oh look at THAT!”
“Shhh! Look there’s the hippo! He is going to eat up the girl!”
“No!” Terrified Rajani closed her eyes. But of course she peeked through her fingers. The hippo opened its mouth – big- really big. The girl walked up to him and bent her head as if to put it in “NOOO!” Rajani shrieked and stood up, just as the hippo’s jaws snapped shut on a whole loaf of bread.
A thunderous applause broke out. The girl bowed low holding out her flowing cape gracefully.
It was interval and their hands were sore from clapping and throats hoarse from cheering.
Shikha and Rajani finally tore their eyes away from the ring to look at each other each starrier eyed than the other.
“So exciting isn’t it?”
“Yes! Did you see the clown fall down? It was so funny!”
“But after that when the acrobats took over swinging from one end to the other…”
“Ohh! When? I didn’t see?”
“Of course not! You were as usual busy giggling at the stupid clowns.”
“They are not stupid! They are cute and funny and so little. They look grown up but are so little. I wonder why. But I wish the bigger one wouldn’t always hit the little one with the bat.”
“Rajani dear,” Kirti smiled, “they don’t hit for real, they just pretend to.”
“Ohh!” Rajani chewed on this bit of information. “So do they pretend fall also?”
Kirti smiled. “Most of the times, yes.”
“Buddhoo.” Shikha couldn’t resist taunting. “Laughing like crazy at pretend while missing the real fun. Buddhoo.”
“Well I had fun! Pretend or not. More than you! So there!” Rajani crossed her arms and turned away haughtily.
The boys too were excitedly discussing the various acts amongst themselves but Golu had more pressing concerns. “I am hungry. And thirsty.”
Thus infecting the others with similar afflictions. A clamor of demands arose. Harassed and hassled by the less vocal but no less persistent naggings of the girls, Kirti gave up. She stood up and recruited Bholu and Happy to assist her even though Golu was more than willing to offer his services but Kirti wasn’t sure if that would be good idea.
She returned with cold drinks and chips for all them including Biji. Golu (and the others) weren’t too happy with each of their shares, but then the bugle blew – it was time for the show to begin again!
Up next Chapter 52: Circus Times