NEW DISCOVERIES: Ketaki Datta

Ketaki Datta
All night, Bublu could not sleep. How could an invisible virus cause the life in a metropolis come to a standstill? This evening, Granny told her that the microorganism was playing havoc with the whole world. Bublu thought and thought but could not make any head or tail of it. How would it spread, would affect all at the same time and why was this term’ lockdown’ doing rounds? She looked at the night-sky through the window and strove hard to get an answer. Momma was asking her to wash her hands again and again. She was not being allowed to go out. But whenever she was going up to the roof, she had to hide her mouth and nose behind a face-mask. She hated it like anything.
         She used to go to school, come back in the afternoon, play with her dolls for an hour and sit for doing her homework, at the advent of evening. She tried hard to finish her home-assignments by eight in the evening, have dinner and scoop a little time from her busy schedule for playing videogames for an hour. Life was running well, orchestrated by studies, little leisure and shuttling between her doll-family and her videogames. But the school closed down, quite abruptly. Not just her school, Momma’s college, where she taught, Papa’s workplace—all came to a halt, quite unexpectedly. All of them had some time to stay at home together. Granny was the happiest person on earth as she was getting to coddle her Bublu, her nine-year-old granddaughter, all the time. Papa was busy at home even as he sat before the laptop and went on prattling away. So many faces surfaced on his screen. And if by any chance, Bublu peered into it, Papa asked her to mind her own work, going to the other room.
  Momma too went talking to her students on the screen of her laptop. In the meantime, a phone-call came and she was asked to attend classes on Momma’s phone. Sylvia Ma’am, their class-teacher, began taking classes, online. Bublu did not like these mechanical sessions. Her friends could be seen on-screen but they were not allowed to talk to each other. But in the classroom, she could talk, on the sly, to Prerna, her best friend. She was missing regular interaction with Prerna and her other friends and the playground, where they used to play hopscotch, frog-leaps and high-jumps. All day long, she sat with Momma’s phone or listened to Granny’s stories or play with her dolls. Sometimes, she lost herself in the pages of Cinderella, Rapunzel or Pinocchio. But, she was getting bored with life. 
  She made a clean breast of everything she felt about to her Momma, “ I want to do something new. I am bored with all these over-played games, the dolls with whom I have talked umpteen times, the sky which has the same blob of clouds floating in it, the same story Granny is saying day after day, with a change of twist here and there to hoodwink me, but I can get it all!” Momma asked her to read the Hardy Boys series, Narnia series and some children’s detective stories she bought from Book Fair this year. Bublu used to listen to whatever her Momma said. She started reading Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew books, Enid Blyton books which she loved the most and also Katy series, ‘What Katy did this Summer’, ‘What Katy did Next’, so on, so forth. She was developing a nose for everything that seemed weird. She wondered how the Captain found out the murderer of the boatman, she read the lines with bated breath where the little girl discovered how her colour-pencils were retrieved from her friend’s lunchbox! Bublu was growing into a sleuth, a little nosy sleuth, a new ‘avatar’ she would love to see herself being transformed into.
  Keeping the book aside, that afternoon, Bublu peeped into Granny’s room. Granny was counting some cash. She was so absorbed that she did not watch Bublu peeking from behind, at all. Granny kept the box on her bed and went to the toilet, adjacent to her room. Bublu, from behind the door-curtain, kept watching. Granny returned and began counting her currency-notes again. She was really engrossed in it. She stashed away the box in the cupboard, where she kept her food, if she failed to consume in single helping and health-drink containers, jams, pickles, jellies, biscuits of various types like, cream, chocolate-cookies, plain cream-crackers, fibre-rich varieties, so on. Bublu was wondering why she kept the box containing cash in the cupboard, which was kept unlocked always. She could have kept it safe in the wardrobe, behind all the attires she had, or in the locked closets. Couldn’t she? She was in clover at her son’s place, yet why did she need her money to be kept so gingerly, in such places, where none would ever stash away anything of importance, let alone money? Bublu wondered. She felt like sharing with her Momma, but she restrained from such lure. She wanted to call Prerna and discuss with her. No, that would be too hasty of her. She would love to keep an eye on her Granny instead.
  Next morning, Papa was busy his office-team. Just then, Momma had gone there to serve his breakfast on the work-table. Papa looked vacant, motioned at her and she kept the salver down on the table and left. The milkman had come well-protected with mask and gloves for his money. Momma went to her bedroom, rummaged through the shelf but failed to get the exact amount which the milkman demanded. Peeping through the curtain, finding Papa lost in his work, Momma approached Granny for rupees two-hundred-fifty only, by which it fell short, for paying dudhwala. Granny pulled a long face , feigned sudden forgetfulness and replied, “ Bouma, I can’t remember where I have kept my box. Yes, come, I have it here.” Bublu followed her Momma to stand at the threshold of the room and observe her Granny. She led her Momma to the wardrobe and asked her to check. Her Momma said, “No Maa, here there is no box. But ahh, yes, I have found a small reticule.” She fished out a red-stringed small bag and handed it to Granny. Granny was happy to get it and checked the contents. She said,
“Bouma, I have just a hundred-rupee note. Will it serve your purpose?” Momma said, “Okay let me see.” She went to the milkman and asked him whether he could bear with a late payment, it might be the day after. The milkman said,   “Maa, give me at least half the amount. That will do. Give me the rest tomorrow.” Momma was relieved and returned the hundred-rupee note to Granny with a relief in her tone, “Thank you, Maa! No, there’s no need for this money. I am paying half the amount now. Your son will pay the rest tomorrow.” Granny seemed to be relieved too. Bublu went to her room surreptitiously and heard Granny muttering under her breath, “What a pretence! Last month too, Bouma took three hundred rupees from me for paying the gas-vendor with a promise to return it the following day. But till now, she is mum about it. Blissfullyforgotten, huh!” It became crystal-clear to Bublu why Granny stashed away the box to a new corner and why she too pretended to have just a small amount in her reticule! However, Bublu kept a note of it!
   A few days passed by in the meantime. Lockdown still continued as fresh surge of Covid-affected patients increased by leaps and bounds. Papa used to go to the market only once in a week, these days. Milkman had stopped coming, for some unknown reason. Momma switched to a breakfast comprising chapatti and vegetables in lieu of milk and cornflakes. Bublu was given a health drink as a substitute for milk. Papa was more and more engrossed with his work schedule. Momma’s online classes were now much less. She used to read books or write for hours together. They used to have rice, vegetables and fried fish mostly. Dinner was usually frugal with vegetable noodles or wheat-dalia in the menu, replacing chapatti and chicken-curry which they used to have prior to these trying times. Bublu preferred noodles more to wheat-dalia, which appeared bland to her, though Momma made it palatable with grams, beans and tomatoes.
   A strange thing happened that afternoon. Just after lunch, Granny could hear someone groaning in pain just behind their house. Bublu’s Momma could also hear the same noise from the dining space. Papa, while informed, said, “ If this is a beggar, you should not go near him. I am informing the local Police Station to do the needful.” Momma thought of giving some rice and lentil to the ailing man in question, who must have been crying for hunger. But Granny dissuaded her, saying, “ Bouma, please do not bring the Covid germ in. Better ask the cops to attend to the ailing man.” Granny and Momma sat by the dining table, all afternoon, taking pity on the man in pain.  Momma became sad as the groan still continued. Bublu thought of going behind their house and peep. She even thought of going to the rooftop to have a good look around their house. But Momma would come yelling if she knew of her intent, in the slightest.
     Evening wore on. Granny got to her feet and went to her room to have some respite. She asked Momma not to serve her tea in the room. She did not feel like having anything, that evening. She lay supine in her bed. Bublu, with a nose to find the source of the noise, tiptoed to Granny’s room. The groan intensified at the corner of the room, it seemed. Bublu leapt out of the room, peeped out of the window at the dining space but nothing was visible. She again hopped into Granny’s room, pressed her vigilant ears on the bathroom-door and thrust it wide open. And cried out in the joy of discovery, “Momma, Granny, come here! Come here! Look, the source of the groan is here. Look, the plastic bucket is empty and the big droplets of water are pouring into it, one at a time. The sound appears like a ‘groan’, as though a person is in excruciating pain.” Momma ran there and said, “ Oh God! Yes! Bublu is right! Maa, didn’t you mark it? Bublu is now a great detective!” Momma took her in the air and pirouetted. Granny answered in a feeble voice, while lying, “ I didn’t go to the loo, since the afternoon. Otherwise, I might have noticed”. Then she scrambled out of her bed and said,  “Yes, the credit goes to Bublu!”  She pecked at her cheeks even. 
    Bublu could not let this opportunity slip by, she said pat, “ This is number one, okay, I have solved the riddle. Another one, too, I have to unravel. Shall I?” Momma and Granny looked at her with surprise writ large on their faces. “ Yes, tell us! The other one?” Bublu said, “Momma, you must return the three hundred rupees which you borrowed from Granny a few months ago. Why didn’t you return it? That’s why, Granny has promised never to help you again. Return it to her, right now!” But how could Bublu know? Granny and Momma exchanged craven glances. Their faces were red with abrupt jolt of revelation! They looked at Bublu with knitted eyebrows and Bublu announced with a flick of pride in his voice, “I am a seasoned sleuth now. Come on!” Granny and Momma were trying to suppress a laughter that might have split their sides!
Lockdown surprises!
Thanks to Coronavirus to allow Bublu to amaze us with her new discoveries! 
__________________________

Glossary

Dudhwala: Milkman
Bouma: Daughter-in-law
Chapatti: handmade wheat-breads
Avatar: An icon or a new bodily manifestation of a soul
Wheat-dalia: Husking of wheat

Bio: Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English at Bidhannagar Government College, Kolkata, India. She did her Ph.D. on Tennessee Williams’s late plays and later it was published, titled, “ Black and Non-Black Shades of Tennessee Williams”. She has quite a few academic publications along with two novels, two books of poems and quite a few translations. She had been interviewed by Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Rome, archived by Flinders University, Australia. She won grants for working at American Studies Research Centre[1993,1995], Hyderabad, India. She presented academic papers at IFTR Conference[Lisbon], University of Oxford and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her debut collection of poems, Across the Blue Horizon, had been published from U.K. with the aid of Arts Council, England. Her latest poetry-book, Urban Reflections: A Dialogue Between Photography and Poetry has been published by KIPU, University of Bielefeld, Germany, with Professor/Photographer Wilfried Raussert [photographs of Street Art of Americas]. She is a regular reviewer of poetry volumes with Compulsive Reader, USA. She is the Regional Editor, India, of thetheatertimes.com, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Emerson College, Boston, U.S.A. Her short stories have been published in different anthologies as well as online journals like New Asian Writing, Muse India, International Journal of Multicultural Literature and The Statesman.

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