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Grandmas bag of stories, p.7
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.7

           Sudha Murty
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  Only Roopa was quiet. She did not have anyone to buy her new clothes or shoes or presents. The villagers were kind to her, but they had barely enough for their own needs so how could she expect them to get anything for her? Yet today, hearing all the happy chatter around her, she could not keep quiet any longer.

  ‘Even I will get a new sari this year!’ she told Rama, her best friend.

  Rama and all the other girls were astonished. Who was going to get Roopa her new sari? ‘I heard from a distant uncle the other day. He was working for many years in a faraway city and did not know that my parents had died. Now that he is back, he has promised to visit me on Diwali. I am sure he will bring some marvellous gift for me!’ Roopa had started weaving a story, and now she kept adding, telling all kinds of tales about her imaginary uncle. Her friends listened open-mouthed. Then they went home, telling each other what luck Roopa was finally no longer all alone in the world.

  As soon as the bunch of women had gone away, who emerged from behind a tree, but Bholu the trickster. He had been sitting under the tree, planning his next theft, when he had fallen asleep. Then he had woken up and seen the women at the river and had sat there still hoping to hear something about the villagers. Sure enough, he had heard Roopa’s story, and was now ready with a plan!

  Bholu decided to dress up as an old man and appear at Roopa’s house a few days before Diwali pretending to be her uncle! Then he would take her away along with any valuables she may have got from her parents.

  A week before Diwali, an old stranger appeared at Roopa’s door. He was carrying new clothes, sweets and other gifts. Roopa was out doing some errands so her neighbours came around to find out who he was. Bholu acted perfectly like Roopa’s long-lost uncle, eagerly waiting to meet her. When Roopa returned home, she found everyone sitting around an old man, who said he was the uncle she had made up a story about!

  Roopa was astonished. How had this happened? She had only been pretending to have a relative just so her friends would not feel sorry for her, and now here he was, a real person! Then her neighbour, who had looked after her all these years, said, ‘Roopa, this is your Uncle Bholu; he learnt he had a niece and came here looking for you. He wants to take you home with him and look after you like his own daughter. You are so lucky, Roopa, and we are so happy for you!’

  Roopa looked around at everyone, beaming happily at her, and thought what harm would there be if she went away with this uncle. She happily packed whatever little things she owned and waving goodbye to her friends and neighbours, went off with Bholu.

  No sooner had they reached his house than he took off his disguise and appeared before her as a young man. Roopa was horrified. Oh, what a fool she had been to believe his story and come away with him! He was nothing but a trickster.

  In Bholu’s house there was no one else but his mother, who was old and deaf and blind. After eating his lunch, Bholu decided to walk about for a while, meeting his friends and telling them how he had kidnapped Roopa. She too ate her lunch, pretended she was very sleepy, yawned loudly and told his mother, ‘Aunty, I am very tired after that long journey. I am going to bed for a little while. If your son comes round tell him not to wake me up.’

  Bholu’s mother nodded, though she had not heard much. Roopa quickly went to the other room, borrowed some of Bholu’s clothes, wore them and ran off. She took with her a few coins and a thick stick to defend herself if need be. Before leaving, she arranged the pillows in such a way on the bed that in the evening darkness it looked like someone was sleeping on the bed. Then she covered the pillows with a dupatta and a sheet. If anyone only looked in from the door it would seem as if a woman was sleeping on the bed.

  Bholu returned home when it was well past evening. His mother told him Roopa was in her room. He peeped in, saw someone sleeping and went away. Many hours passed, Bholu kept checking whether Roopa was awake or not, but each time he saw her sleeping without moving a muscle. Finally, he realized something was wrong.

  He went up to the bed now and pulled back the dupatta and the sheet. Imagine his shock when he saw nothing but pillows on the bed! Roopa had disappeared! He ran out immediately and asked everyone around if they had seen a young, pretty girl walk out of his house. But no one had, because Roopa had cleverly disguised herself as a man!

  Meanwhile, Roopa too had walked many miles till she reached a different town. There she looked around for work, and was taken in by an innkeeper to look after the guests and to show them their rooms. Roopa, who now called herself Rupesh, was happy doing this work. She could not return to her village till she did something about Bholu, otherwise he would be sure to land up there and bring her back with him, pretending to be her uncle.

  After many days, Bholu turned up at the town. He walked from shop to inn to market, asking if anyone had seen someone like Roopa. Of course no one had. Roopa got to know and decided to teach him a lesson. When Bholu reached her inn, he did not recognize her in men’s clothes. She agreed to give him a room for the night. She told him, ‘Sir, I will give you a room in the attic. It is nice and warm and cosy there, and you will be away from this harsh winter cold.’

  Bholu happily agreed and followed her to the room. A ladder was kept in the middle of the room which went up to a little trapdoor. If you climbed through the door, you entered the attic. Bholu quickly went up the ladder, found his bed, wrapped his blanket around himself and went off to sleep.

  When it was the middle of the night, Roopa sneaked into the room and removed the ladder. Then she threw some marbles right under the trapdoor and stamped loudly around the room. Bholu woke with a start. Who was that walking around his room? He called down nervously, ‘W-who is there?’

  Roopa called out in her man’s voice, ‘Nothing to worry sir. The soldiers are looking for a thief they believe is hiding in this inn.’

  Bholu was really scared. How did the soldiers know he was a thief and a trickster? He was sure they were looking for him, and decided to make a run for it. He opened the trapdoor and stepped down. But there was no ladder! Bholu fell with a loud thud on to the floor! When he tried to get up, his feet slipped on the many marbles strewn about the room and he went crashing and sliding all over the place! Finally he hit his head against a wall and passed out, unconscious.

  Roopa had been watching this from the door with great delight. Her plan was working! As soon as Bholu fainted, she heaved him up and packed him up in a large box. She placed a nice silk cloth on top of him. Then she dragged the box outside the inn and stood there.

  Soon a bullock cart passed by with two travellers heading for the inn. When they saw Roopa, or Rupesh, standing outside the inn, they asked, ‘Are you the manager of this inn?’

  Roopa nodded yes.

  ‘Why are you standing here then?’

  Roopa replied in a worried voice, ‘I look after this inn. I was supposed to go to my own village earlier today to attend a wedding. But there was so much of work that I could not leave, and now here I am waiting for my cart with this heavy box.’ Then she lowered her voice and whispered, ‘This box is full of gifts I bought for the wedding, and if I don’t reach in time, everyone will be really disappointed.’

  The two travellers, who were up to no good themselves, looked at each other. The same thought had come to both! They said, ‘Don’t worry, brother. You can take a ride on our cart. Why don’t you put your box on the cart here? But before we start, would you mind getting us a drink of water?’

  Rupesh, or Roopa, smiled to herself, and dragged the box on to the cart. Then she went inside to fetch the water. She took her time. As soon as her back was turned, the two travellers opened the box to see what it contained. They saw some lovely silk cloth on top. Now assured that they had got their hands on some valuables, they quickly urged their bullocks forward and made a dash for it. Once they were well and truly out of sight, Roopa grinned to herself. Her plan had worked! She ran to the nearest police station, and told them all about the theft.

  The two men in the bullo
ck cart were just celebrating their theft of the box, when they were horrified to see soldiers waiting for them down the road. What could they do, they wondered. They were crossing a bridge over a river at that time, and quickly tipped the box into the water. Then they heaved a sigh of relief and went their way.

  So that was the end of Bholu, and Roopa too returned to her village, where she lived happily on her own. She was not going to trust any stranger any more!

  ‘And that’s what brave Suma did too! When she was in trouble she did not talk to any stranger, but went straight to the police for help. We must always remain cool like this when in trouble,’ signed off Vishnu Kaka. Suma was delighted at this praise, and ate her bhajias with great happiness all the way home!

  Five Spoons of Salt

  One morning, Ajji told Ajja, ‘Today is a Santhe (a village market day which happens once in a week). Why don’t you take the children and show them the Santhe and buy vegetables and other things for the house?’ Ajja, who normally would have said yes, was hesitant. ‘How will I manage all the children, that too at the Santhe? Remember what happened at the jatre—the fair? At least there they had a temporary police assistance booth. There will be nothing of the sort at the Santhe.’ Ajji agreed. This was a problem. Then she had an idea. ‘Why don’t we ask Vishnu if he can spare Damu for a few hours? Damu can accompany you and help see that the children are all right.’

  Damu was Vishnu Kaka’s right-hand man. Everyone called him ‘Mr Dependable’. He drove the car, cooked, looked after the fields, the accounts and made sure Vishnu Kaka was well cared for. Without him, Vishnu Kaka could not run the house or do anything in the fields. Vishnu Kaka’s son lived with his family in Delhi and came only for holidays, so Damu was his real companion.

  So it was that all seven children and Damu and Ajja were now ready to visit the Santhe. Damu had a plan. ‘The Santhe is only two kilometres away. Why don’t we walk, and let your Ajja go in the auto?’ The children were horrified. Walk for two kilometres in the heat! ‘It would be so boring too!’ added Raghu. But Damu had made up his mind. ‘Walk with me. I will tell you such wonderful stories that you will forget everything, even the heat!’

  The children agreed. Then Meenu had a condition. ‘It has to be a true story, Damu Anna!’

  Damu was unfazed. ‘I’ll tell you a story about my sister. Do you know how I came to be “Mr Dependable”? I saw what happened to her once because she was forgetful and decided never to let that happen to me.’

  So he started his story.

  ‘Gita, where are you? I need you to run down to the store and get these medicines for me!’ Gita’s grandfather called out for her. Where was Gita? She was lying in bed, reading a book! For a long time she pretended not to have heard what her grandfather was saying. The book was just too exciting, and it was so hot outside, she really did not feel like stirring out of bed.

  ‘Gita!’ This time her mother’s voice also called out to her. With a sigh, the girl got out of bed and went to see what needed to be done. Her grandfather handed her some money and said, ‘I have a really bad headache since morning. Will you get these medicines for me?’

  Gita took the money and set off for the store. On the way she passed by a sweet shop. Oh, what lovely gulab jamoons and laddoos and jalebis were displayed! She had to have some. Forgetting all about her errand she entered the shop and started tucking into sweets. Soon a friend came by and joined her. The two girls ate and chatted for a really long time. Gita had forgotten all about her poor grandfather with his headache! Afternoon turned to evening, the medicine store shut for the day, when Gita remembered why she had stepped out of her house. When she hurried back home, how upset her grandfather was. ‘When will you grow up, Gita, and become responsible?’ he sighed and asked.

  Gita felt really bad, but did she mend her ways? No, she remained the same forgetful person. When her mother told her to collect the clothes from the washing line outside, she remembered to do so only the next morning! By then, the clothes were soaked through all over again because of the overnight rains. Another day, she had to take her sister’s lunchbox to the school. On the way she saw a circus was in town. All morning Gita spent wandering around the circus tents, watching the animals eating and training for their acts. It was only when she felt hungry herself did she look down at the lunchbox in her hand and realized her sister must have gone home by then, after spending a day in school without her lunch.

  Another time her father, while rushing to get ready for work, asked if she could quickly iron his shirt. Gita picked up the shirt and placed it on the ironing table next to the window. Just then the fruit vendor passed by with big, fat, juicy mangoes in his basket! Of course Gita forgot all about the hot iron sitting on the shirt and got engrossed in choosing the best mangoes to buy. Only when smoke started billowing out and the shirt had burnt as crisp as a toast did she look around and see what had happened. Her father was very upset indeed that day.

  Some days after this incident, Gita came home from school and announced that the whole class was being taken for a picnic the next day. The teacher had asked each student to bring one food item from home which would be shared by all the children. Gita had chosen to bring sambar. She was very proud of her mother’s tasty, tangy sambar and was eager to share it with her friends so they could taste it too. Gita’s mother agreed to make a big pot of sambar for her to take to the picnic the next day, and that night Gita went to bed feeling very happy, dreaming about the exciting day ahead.

  The next morning, her mother woke up early and started making the sambar. She boiled the dal, added the vegetables, coconut and all the spices, and set the pot boiling on the stove. Soon a delicious aroma wafted out from the pot and tickled Gita’s nose as she lay sleeping in bed. Seeing her stir, her mother told her, ‘Gita wake up now, dear. See the sambar is nearly done. I am going to the temple, so after some time just add five teaspoons of salt to it. Don’t forget now, and wake up and get ready quickly!’

  So saying she bustled off. Gita’s grandmother, who was in the kitchen, heard all this and muttered to herself, ‘When will my daughter-in-law learn that Gita can never remember anything. I’m sure the girl will forget to add the salt. Then she will be teased by all her friends. Better be careful.’ So saying she went and added the salt in the pot.

  Gita’s grandfather was sitting on the veranda reading his newspaper. He remembered only too well the day he had spent with a headache waiting for Gita to return with the medicines which never came. ‘Gita and remember something? That’ll be the day!’ he muttered, and went into the kitchen and added the salt in the sambar himself.

  Gita’s sister was combing her hair, ready to go off to school. She too recalled the day she had spent feeling hungry in school waiting for Gita to turn up with her lunchbox. Sure that Gita would forget about the salt and be laughed at by her friends, she quickly went into the kitchen and added five spoons of salt.

  Gita’s brother was brushing his teeth and hearing his mother’s words to his sister, guessed she would forget about the salt. He dropped in a few spoons of salt into the pot and went off.

  Gita’s father was carefully ironing his own shirt. Like the others he too slipped into the kitchen and added salt to the pot of sambar.

  By now Gita had woken up and wonder of wonders, remembered she needed to add the salt! So she too went and added five teaspoons as her mother had told her to do. By now her mother had returned and quickly poured the sambar into a big container and sent her daughter off for her picnic.

  At the picnic spot the children had a wonderful time, roaming around and playing. Soon they were too hungry to do anything else. Out came the plates and spoons and all the containers filled to the brim with food. Plates were piled up with rice, chutneys, vegetables, pooris and all kinds of goodies. Everyone took large helpings of the sambar as Gita served it out. But no sooner than they put the first spoonful in their mouths, ‘Blaagh! Horrible! Water!’ everybody started shouting. Astonished, Gita wondered what was wron
g, then gingerly tasted the rice and sambar on her own plate. It was disgusting! It was as if her mother had dredged out all the salt in the sea and added it to the sambar! Then Gita remembered, her mother had not added the salt, she had! So what had gone wrong?

  That day everyone in Gita’s house waited eagerly for her to get back from school and tell them about her wonderful outing. But what was this? She came trudging back, her face sad and tear-stained. What had happened? Gita burst out at them, ‘Did anyone else add salt in the sambar?’

  ‘I did!’ said her grandmother.

  ‘I did too!’ said Grandfather.

  ‘So did I!’ said Father.

  ‘Me too!’ said her brother.

  ‘And I!’ said her sister.

  They all looked at each other in dismay. No wonder Gita looked so sad. Her friends would have made her feel miserable about the salty sambar!

  ‘Why did you all do it? Amma had told only me to do so!’ Gita wept.

  ‘Oh dear, you forget everything you are told to do, so we thought . . . perhaps . . . you wouldn’t remember this time too,’ all of them said sadly.

  Now her mother pulled her close, wiped away her tears and said, ‘See, all this happened because no one could believe you could do anything without being reminded many times about it. Promise you will be a careful, responsible girl from now on, and we will all trust you to do your work.’

  Gita sniffed and nodded her head. She did become much more careful with her chores after that. And it took a lot of convincing, but her friends did come to her house for lunch one day to taste her mother’s delicious cooking, especially her tasty, tangy sambar, and everyone agreed it was the best sambar they had ever eaten!

  When the story was over, the children realized they were already at the Santhe. There were heaps of vegetables, sweets, flowers all around. There were goats, cows, buffaloes, fish, chicken and eggs for sale. The smell of nuts, cardamom and other spices hung in the air. It was unlike the fair where people had come to have a good time. Here a lot of business was taking place and everyone was buying and selling busily. The fruits and vegetables were very fresh. The flowers looked as if they had just been plucked. Everyone was friendly.

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