Memoir: The Hullabaloo under the Mulberry tree

Santosh Bakaya
Santosh Bakaya

The trees in the huge, rambling garden of my mother’s home (Matamaal) 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 an extremely  handsome man holding on to a couple of suitcases.
“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.
 The owner of the size eleven shoes lying next to the chair, was my septuagenarian grandfather [Nanaji.] The imp of mischief gripped me and 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 tried merging with the wall, ignoring the piercing looks of mom.

 But, alas, my notoriety seemed to have preceded me, and the wall stood its ground, refusing the merger.
“Here is your culprit, babuji.” Mom pulled me away from the wall and made me stand in front of nanaji. I felt no guilt, as the four year old me, really thought that I had been sent into this world to play these pranks, thrusting them on unsuspecting people.  Instead of downcast eyes, I stood there looking straight into nanaji’s eyes, which strangely enough, were devoid of spectacles. Ironically, he had removed his glasses to peer more closely at me – the four year old prankster. This optical yo- yo-ing continued for some time, then my nanaji broke into a hearty guffaw.  A series of guffaws, actually.
“Yeh chi poor marchwangun”.  [She is a real red chilli]
Then he scooped me in his arms, headed towards the door and into the garden asking me where I had hidden the shoes. I still remember looking down at his feet to see what he was wearing. I slithered down his lap running towards the mulberry tree, under which the giant footwear lay quiescent, unaware of the hullaballoo around the mulberry tree. 
Nanaji started scraping the mud under the tree with his ornamental walking stick, when another pheran clad man appeared on the scene, with a bemused twinkle in his eyes.
“Mai diu mahara”, He said, in Kashmiri, [Please give it to me] smiling at me and taking the stick from his hands.  Soon he had pulled out the dirt- laden shoes from under the mulberry tree.
After a couple of minutes, we headed back towards nanaji’s room.  A four year old prankster, flanked by one septuagenarian Gash Kaul [my nanaji] and one young, robust man, Sula, the domestic help [short for Suleiman, I think,  who was great friends with Nanaji] 
 I have a faint recollection of being made to sit on a huge bed and plied with almonds and walnuts by the two of them, while my fond parents looked on sheepishly as their four year old brat gobbled up some of the dry fruits and pocketed some, with the frenetic vigor of a squirrel saving for a rainy day. 

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