The girls ran to the well and peered over the side only to meet with darkness and a musty smell.
The girls rounded on Kallu. “Why did you do that!” Shikha screamed.
Kallu stood his ground. “She pushed me first! And she called us thieves.”
“I did not,” Rajani squeaked wiping her face, “I only said…”
Kallu raised a hand. “I know what you said and you did push me first.”
“Only because you were going to hit me.”
“So what if she did push you? Here I will push you.” Shikha was well and truly riled. “Now will you throw me into the well?”
The fight became ugly and the other boys looked on their eyes glittering – aha fun times were here again!
“Don’t provoke me,” Kallu warned.
“Why shouldn’t I? Are you God or something? Then get my stones out of the well. I want my stones.” Shikha began pummeling him whilst he fended off her puny blows. But when she dealt him a surprise blow, he hit back at her.
Rajani stood stock still for a moment or two, possibly too stunned react. But Shikha’s scream roused her; she dashed off in search of reinforcements only to crash into Bade Papa.
“What happened child? Are you ok?” he caught hold of her just as she would have stumbled and fallen.
Rajani burst into loud sobs.
“What happened? Tell me.” He sank down on his haunches and shook her gently. “Did any of the boys…”
“Ye…esss,” sobbed Rajani, “Kallu threw our stones into the welllllll. A…and now he is beating up Shikha.”
“Near the well,” Rajani pointed, “all our beautiful stones which we had collected at the picnic yesterday, Kallu threw them into the well.”
Bade Papa strode off. Sniffing and hiccuping Rajani followed him.
Shikha was lying on the ground, weeping disconsolately whilst the boys surrounded the unrepentant culprit. “I don’t care. Let them say what they like! How dare she compare her useless stones with my marbles…”
“What happened?” Bade Papa pulled up Shikha and dusted her. “Are you okay beta? Are you okay?” The boys instantly deserted the battlefield – even Kallu made a dash but Bade Papa was quicker.
He turned around to the girls and said to Rajani. “Take her home. Come on now.”
Rajani held Shikha by the hand and they walked off slowly, intermittently looking back.
Shikha scrubbed her face dry and muttered, “Why did you tell Bade Papa?”
“I didn’t tell him.” Rajani turned around after one last look behind. “I crashed into him and he asked me what was wrong.”
“So you told him…”
Rajani spread her hands, “What else could I do? He was looking so fierce and angry, suppose he beat me? I had to tell him, isn’t it?”
“So what did you tell him?”
“The truth, that Kallu threw our stone collection into the well. That you and he were fighting…”
“You didn’t do right Rajji.” Foreboding filled Shikha.
“But why?” Rajani flared up “It’s the truth. He shouldn’t have done it.”
“Yes he shouldn’t have,” Shikha explained, “but it can’t be reversed can it? Besides, you pushed him first…”
“What! I don’t believe this you are taking his side? And I was only trying to save you.” Rajani walked off in a huff.
Shikha easily caught up with her. “I am not taking his side. I am also just speaking the truth. You did push him first. So why are you getting angry?”
“I only pushed him first because he was going to hit us…”
“Going to, but didn’t did he?”
Rajani threw up her hands. “I don’t understand! Why are you siding with Kallu – just because he is your brother?”
“Rajani,” Shikha looked at her reproachfully, “that’s not fair! I am only trying to make you understand that you shouldn’t have said anything to Bade Papa.”
“But why? Kallu deserves to be punished.”
“But what will Bade Papa do? He will just thrash Kallu and Biji will again get angry, with you, me, Mummy…”
“It’s not my fault,” Rajani said mutinously, “I only spoke the truth.”
Shikha sighed. “I know but still it’s not right. And now there will be trouble once again.”
“Where were you girls?” It was Kirti. She looked at their tear-streaked faces. “And what happened outside?”
The girls fell over themselves in trying to bring Kirti up to date with the preceding events.
Kirti was silent.
“Mummy,” Shikha pulled her dupatta, “Rajji shouldn’t have told Bade Papa right?”
Kirti heaved a big sigh. She slowly shook her head, which was throbbing heavily. It was so hot yet she was feeling so cold and now this.
“But why Aunty? What did I do wrong? I only spoke the truth.”
Kirti closed her eyes wearily – how to explain to her? Bade Papa would be furious. He would punish Kallu, probably give him the thrashing of his life. Biji wouldn’t like that and if Biji didn’t like something, there was no saying where that would take them all….
How to explain that in such matters, prudence took precedence over truth…partial truth over the whole truth…silence over truth? But no! That would be the wrong message to pass to the girls wasn’t it? They would learn to avoid confrontations for fear of provoking the other person. But then diplomacy was also an art they had to learn, the importance of timing, whom to speak the truth to, when to speak the truth and that should there be a time and place for truth – but truth was truth wasn’t it? …Kirti was beginning to feel dizzy. She put a hand to her throbbing head.
“Yes dear. You should have come and told me. I would have managed it. But anyway, I am going to my room.”
She turned away, feeling queasy and feverish. The heat had finally gotten to her.
“What happened Mummy?”
“Nothing dear. Just tell Biji that I am not feeling well would you dear? I am going to lie down for a bit.”
The girls went looking for Biji albeit with reluctance. “Biji…”
“You girls! Come here.” Biji pounced on them. “What is this I heard from the boys?” Her eyes darted from one to the other. “Where’s Kallu? What did you say to his father?” Her eyes narrowed down on to Rajani who shrank back in alarm.
“Aunty is not feeling well she has gone to lie down upstairs. I am going to sit with her.” Rajani ran off without waiting any further. Shikha too took to her heels as if the Devil himself was after them.
“Girls!” Biji roared but the girls refused to risk it without Kirti’s protective armor.
Just then Bade Papa entered half carrying, half dragging a very bedraggled Kallu.
“Puttar!” Biji rose up.
“Enough Biji.” Bade Papa didn’t even look at Biji, he continued to his room while Kallu wept and pleaded. “I don’t want to hear any explanations. He saw him fighting with Shikha with my own two eyes. He must be punished. It’s as simple as that.”
Bade Papa shut the door of his room with an ominous crash and then began the thrashing. The others winced and in deference to Kallu, one by one, shuffled away. Kallu’s cries of Biji Biji, help Biji smote Biji but she didn’t move from her seat. The deed was done. And her son had the right to discipline his son. Her lips tightened and anger flared within Biji’s ample bosom – as usual it was that girl’s fault. Why did she have to complain to him? Didn’t she have any sense? She looked up. Sure enough the girls were on the balcony watching the fun and enjoying her beloved Kallu’s thrashing. She shook her fist at Rajani who disappeared from the view.
After an eon, the door opened and Kallu staggered out and fell into his mother’s arms. “Yes!” her husband attacked her, “now you go and undo any good the thrashing may have done. Don’t come crying to me later when he goes to jail for his unruly ways. Leave him I say.” Meett fell back. “Go and call the girls.”
Meett came back with Rajani and Shikha clutching each other for support. Bade Papa pushed a sniveling Kallu. “Apologize to them.” He barked.
Kallu wiped his nose and looked up. He could see the other boys from the corner of his eyes. His humiliation was complete. But with Bade Papa standing behind him, he had no option. “I am sorry I hit you Shikha.” Bade Papa prodded him with the end of his stick. “I am sorry that I threw your stones into the well. In return you both can choose,” he swallowed but then as the stick rose up, he continued, “you can choose any marble,” he swallowed; Bade Papa gave him another prod, “and as many marbles from my collection. I am really sorry.” Head bent, he snuffled and used his sleeve to wipe his face.
Up next Chapter 55: Trapped