The low hanging trees were always in demand. As Raji rushed for the nearest one, with her little brother in her tow, she cast a quick glance at the tree to survey the bounty. It was laden with fresh guavas, alright! Pumped, she put her foot on the lowest branch and pulled herself up. Raji had barely put her foot on the next branch, when she felt a tug on her skirt. Feeling a nudge of irritation, she peered down at her four year old brother.
“What is it, Appu?”
“Where’s my guava?” he demanded.
“Will you at least wait while I climb up?”
She resumed her climb up carefully, so as not to tear her skirt. The trick was to choose the right branches.She had barely moved up one level, when she felt a tug again. She looked around for the nearest ripe guava and hurled it before Appu could speak.She heard his chuckles of delight as he dug into large juicy bites. That settled, she ensconced in a comfortable branch, and began her feast of the large, ripe guavas.
Summer fiesta. That’s what this was! As she sat there curled up, throwing a guava to her little brother, every once in a while, listening to the distant sound of the 2nd period school bell, she chuckled. She could see a pair of legs hanging from nearly every tree in the vicinity. Oh, how she loved being a part of the Sankaran family!
The Headmaster had no idea how all the twelve Sankaran cousins had escaped school through the back gate and were now nicely settled in guava trees in the neighbouring Guava orchard. Poor fellow. To think, he called himself the “torch bearer of wisdom”.
The Sankaran cousins were ill-famous in their school. A dozen naughty children, spread across all classes, who ganged up at the drop of a stone – that’s what they were famous for.
She heard the doubtful sound of her brother’s voice. Just as she was about to throw another guava, his quavering voice shot up, “Is that Narasimha Mama?”
“No, silly. What would Mama do here at this time of the day?” She retorted.
Nonetheless, she carefully parted the leaves and peered at the dusty road. Sure enough, there he was. His dhoti tied up above his knees, an angry look on his face as he strode determinedly towards the school building.
“Abbah!” She exclaimed.
She slithered down the tree, grazing her knees and tearing her precious skirt. But there was no time.
“My fate.” Grumbling, she dragged Appu’s little hand and ran towards the little hedge, whistling softly to alert all her cousins, enjoying their fruits in the trees. A flurry of activity began under each tree.
Raji got on her knees and lowered herself into the little hole in the hedge and pulled herself on the other side in to the school complex. Then, sitting on her shin, she pulled Appu too. Once the whole family had re-entered the school premises, they ran to their classrooms and when the Master was not looking, slipped quietly into the class.
Five minutes had passed. She could see Mama talking to the Maths Teacher. He looked serious.
It beat her. How did he get to know about the Guava orchard adventure? There had to be a spy amongst the cousins. It must be Murthy. Always trying to get Brownie points, that ragamuffin of a fellow.
Mama looked towards her, and she knew her life was over. Oh, it was that look again. The look he gave her when he had caught her licking the pickles kept for drying on the roof. She stared down at her torn skirt. Not even the skirt could escape the fate of the day.
The Maths teacher looked at Raji and said, “Rajalakshmi, your Mama needs you home for a family emergency. Please call all your cousins and go immediately. Don’t worry about the class. I will teach you fractions tomorrow.”
Sighing, Raji picked up her books. Fractions. How nice they looked now.
Once they were out, all twelve cousins looked morose. The esteemed Sankaran family would probably disown them. Mama walked determinedly in front and only when they were out of the school’s reach, he turned around and shouted, ” Okay, you rascals! You have so much work to do today. Your Tatha’s dear friend Ranga is standing for the elections this time. But his rally is empty and I want you all to fill the chairs there. That’s not all. You have to shout and cheer really loud! Can you do that for me?”
Whether it was the relief or the excitement, no one could say, but the loud collective shriek that erupted from the children next convinced Narsimha Mama that he had made the right choice. Putting his hand up, he said, “And one more thing. Ranga Tatha has promised that if you are good, he’ll let you spend the entire night in the Guava orchard. You do know he owns the orchard, right?”
With that he turned around and started leading the kids, but not before winking at Raji.
My Ammama (Maternal Grandmother), like all Grandmas ,tells me many stories. Last year, some day, I decided that when I turn 40, I’ll write a book, with all her stories about life in the 1940s. Life of a maniac Brahmin family in a village in Andhra, that found pleasure in simple things, that had forty odd cousins living under the same roof, that saw adversity as a means of learning, that came together despite misunderstandings.
Impatient that I am, I thought the book could wait till I am 40, but I could always test the characters. And hence this story. I chose this particular story out of the thousands she told me because this story spoke about so many varied aspects – the characters, the simplicity of life, the crazy twist with the rally. All masala for a good story.
Whether I have done justice is something you decide. So feedbacks & brickbats most welcome! The more brickbats, the better, because when I do release that book and force you to buy it, you should not regret the money you spend on it. Fine, I am kidding. I will not force you to buy the book, I’ll only blackmail you! 😀
There’s, of course, the huge chance that I don’t write the book at all, because I am not good enough for that, but for now, let’s just act optimistic.
PS: I added Email Subscription on popular demand! Okay not “popular” demand, but a very cute blogger friend, Scorpia’s request. (Thanks for the idea, girl). So, check out the first block on the right-side panel! Beware – I enter your mailbox now! Muahahaaa! 😀