SHE IS A STORM -  Santosh Bakaya

Santosh Bakaya
The trees in the huge, rambling garden  of my mother’s home in Karan Nagar, Srinagar, Kashmir, rustled a welcome to a four year old, as she rushed into the house, one summer day, eyes bright with mischief, mind abuzz with new ideas and hands yearning to play some practical joke.
The moment she breezed into the sitting room, her racing steps halted, eyes fixed on a formidable looking, pheran clad bespectacled man, engrossed in  a book, sitting on a rocking chair, his hookah [Hubble-bubble] and walking stick, by his side.

The moment he heard some footsteps, he peered over his spectacles, eyes falling on the four year old dynamo.

“You must be the much talked about Baby.” He remarked, half a smile playing on his lips, one eye raised in the girl’s direction, and the other looking at the door, where a couple had just made their appearance, another girl, elder to the dynamo, holding on to the saree clad, petite woman’s  hand, and a couple of suitcases in the man’s hands.

“Ah, there you are”, he said, heading towards the couple. How was the journey from Jaipur?” He patted the woman on the shoulders, the girl on the cheek and shook hands with the man.

 While this scene was unfolding, the four year old’s eyes were fixed on a size eleven pair of shoes lying next to the rocking chair.

 I don’t know whether everything was mammoth or whether in my age everything appeared huge to me, but yes, the room, the chair and the man in the chair did appear gigantic to me.

  Yes, the four year old was me, and the owner of the size eleven shoes lying next to the chair, was my septuagenarian grandfather [Nanaji.] Without wasting a single moment, I swooped down on the pair of shoes, picked them up, hid them under my floral frock and rushed out of the room.

“She is a storm.” Dad remarked, staring indulgently at my receding back. And mom, with a mother’s unfailing instinct, knew that I was again up to some new prank.

“Baby, where are you going?” Her panicky words hit my running back.

“Oh, she is really a storm.”  Dad’s words fell into my ears.

 The storm was now wreaking havoc in the bushes.

Between two bushes, I dug up a big hole and buried the shoes, and went back, with a poker face.

 To find nanaji [who was known for his vile temper] brandishing his cane, and shouting, “Where are my shoes? Has some Djinn gobbled them up?”

I came and tried merging with the wall, ignoring the piercing looks of mom.

Before mom’s looks could pierce through my very being, I felt dad’s whisper in my ear, “Did you hide it somewhere?”

 I had just opened my lips to refute such an idea, when nanaji bellowed.

“Come on, tell me, have you hidden it somewhere? Your notoriety has preceded you.”

 I was trying my best to show that his question was not addressed to me, but his walking stick was too insistent. Too insistently prodding and poking my frail shoulder.

“Why are you after the little girl?” I whirled back to come face to face with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. [One year later, when I got admitted in school,  I was meant to meet another beautiful face, an Irish nun, Sr. Clara, who saved me from the wrath of my Hindi teacher, after one more of my pranks. When she was not looking, I had filled her purse with pebbles. More on that later. Was it because of being saved by such Good Samaritans that my child’s mind thought the two women beautiful? Honestly speaking, everyone thought they were!]

The beautiful face that I had seen in nanaji’s room that day, was that of Kakni, my granny [nani ji], who, I was meeting for the first time. She hugged mom and me with effusive warmth, smiling bashfully at dad, and then with an arm around my shoulders led me out of the room.

Without any preliminary, she smilingly asked me, “Where did you hide it, dear?” Without much ado, I pointed towards the bushes.

Leaving me there, under a tree, she hastened towards the bushes, and dug out the shoes.

 She entered the room, gingerly holding the shoes in her hands, and showing them to nanaji.

“Oh, these dogs! You know, Prabha”, she said, addressing my mom, “these stray dogs have adopted our house and have been creating a mess, of late. Just the other day … oh wait, I will just wash these shoes and put them in the sun to dry … and …”

“I hope the dogs don’t create a mess again,” Nanaji’s eyes were boring holes in me, but even my four year old self could recognize the contours of a smile forming on his deceptively cruel looking lips.

 My canine rescuers were suddenly barking outside – were they waiting for me to thank them for their indirect magnanimity? May be they were, so I decided to do just that, and hopped out of the room, which was suddenly resounding with laughter and banter, in which I could just make out two words: “This girl!”

 I was incorrigible then, and they say, I still am.

Well, I reserve my comments on that debatable point.

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