" I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam " -Popeye the Sailor
In continuation of – inescapable pigeon droppings – chapter 6
In recognition of my exemplary performance at the exams , I was bought a ‘Batman colouring book’ and the elder one , whom we shall call the March Hare henceforth ( for reasons to be explained later) , wasn’t given shit in recognition of his ever so regressing mental state.
While I spent my days colouring all sorts of ‘Batmen’ posing all sorts of poses , Our parents began the process of amassing all that is required for a happy little family , from TV sets to kitchen equipment to furniture to clothes to toys to everything.
We were fond of playing cricket and the elder one was given a proper wooden cricket bat . When I demanded one , I was handed a kitchen implement and was told that that too , was a bat . Before beginning to rave and rant and whine , I tried to play a little cricket with that cooking paraphernalia which looked like a badminton racket with the handle of a Table tennis racket , with the wires all cut out. To paint a more precise picture , it’s shadow just showed a short handle and a rim .
Just when I had begun to believe that we were fated to live out our lives in the devil’s spittoon – the city of Patna , the father announced a visit to our home in Nainital .
I bid goodbye to the television set which now had a cable connection , and set out to spend the summer holidays in our home.
chapter – 7 : Retreat
After a brief army gypsy journey and a long travel by train , we reached home. On the way home there were posters and murals on the walls advertising a certain doctor of private maladies stretching to the length of kilometres.
As we entered our home , the aunt , much to her glee gave out a shriek of laughter so loud, a flock of pigeons took off from the roof and perched on the neighbouring terrace.
The home had the same green and white stripes as when we had left if , just that a new thing had been installed into it – an electric bell.
By this time , new children began to come up and uncles were getting married so at this point , it becomes inevitable to demarcate times and eras. What scholars had done millenniums ago with the aid of Christ , I do now , with the aid of Popeye the sailor. Let us now call the ages before the year 2002 as ‘Pre-Popeyeian’ era and the rest as ‘Post-Popeyeian’ era , much the same as ‘ Before Christ and After Christ’. For the record , 2002 was the year around which Popeye was famous in India.
Back at home we found our sister – the ape ( whom we’ll be calling ‘the mad hatter’ henceforth) and also found our beloved Dabbu – the hen eater among vegetarians (in the hope he’d turn into a muscled monster one day and ward off all thieves and dogs) . A new wasp-hive had grown in the toilet outdoors which obliged me to keep an eye on the wasps while I emptied my bladder.
The lizards still lurked behind the painting of the sewing lady and came out in the evenings for dinner , keeping us at our toes so as not to come too close to the wall.
Now life seemed to have come back to me . We savoured Bhutta (grilled corn topped with lemon and rock salt) plucked from our own field and spent our afternoons at the back of the house, all three of us, rummaging through straw and dried crisp ridged-gourds (turai) with seeds inside that , on shaking made sounds like a rattle-drum.
The heap of straw , near the stairs was the place where bitches laid their little ones and cats purred when we tampered with their kittens. It was overlooked by three mango trees in a row that produced green and juicy Dussehri mangoes most of which were eaten ripe and the broken off were pickled away and savoured with dinner.
The house gave an air of the house in the middle of ‘Nowhere’ where Courage the cowardly dog lived with Eustace and Muriel.
Dabbu , despite being a devourer of hens remained lean as the other members of the family. We played in the evenings and it was fun until one morning when my family kicked him out into the large patio and I was barred from seeing him on the pretext that he was out of his senses after having eaten a lizard .
Unfortunate . The youngest uncle , Eld, was grief-stricken at the loss when he reminisced over all the hens he had bought every single day of the week in the hope of raising a hulk. The stupid greedy dog could resist the temptation of a lizard even after having gulped down a hen.
Peacock feather plumes were pushed into all the holes and crevices every which way they could fit , for peacock feathers are known to ward off lizards . Our lizards , though didn’t seem to care a hoot about such voodoo , they were lizards of twenty-first century , not some superstitious reptiles from the vedic ages.
We got over the loss of Dabbu within a week ( or perhaps a day I doubt) and resumed our frolics. One of those days I saw a curious little thing in the mirror cabinet of my eldest Aunt and came to know that it was called a ‘lipstick’ . The lipstick , unlike other sticks gave out stains of dark carmine colours . I asked my aunt and though dissuaded , was curious enough to colour my lips with it and for some reason , was looked down upon for the rest of the day.
In our leisure time we made sure to tamper with every tangible thing in the house ranging from remote buttons to switches to sofa sponges.
On Sunday mornings , however the day went like a ritual . Shaktimaan , the TV show everyone was talking about , was aired and it took half a hour for us to get the antenna at the perfect angle and orientation with respect to the signals. Just when the show ended , an ice-cream vendor arrived and we cajoled our uncles till they bought us one each.
Once a month , the scrap dealer came for his visit , as did the snake charmers , dancing bears , dancing monkeys and people of all arts. The scrap dealer took metal scrap and newspapers and you could even siphon off a few ‘moti-choor ke laddoo’ , round sweetmeats made in India. The ape once took away an ice-cream in return of a dance performance , renowned dancer that she was.
One evening , I saw two long crawling insects perched one on top of the other like a double-deck bus . They came to be known as a centipedes carrying each other and years later came to be known as centipedes making love. In the Indian parlance , we call them Ram ji ka ghoda , the stallion of lord Rama. Just then the father came and had begun another hour-long didactic discourse on propriety when suddenly a housefly flew into his mouth and the lecture ceased , for good . The staunch vegetarian father , though , made it come out the way it had gone in.
Our summer was almost over and we had made the customary visit to maternal grandparents where Dabba too , had died.
Before returning back into the devil’s spittoon , there remained one more thing I was to be acquainted to .
One evening , while playing in the yard , I heard yells and shrieks coming from the small yard at the back , near the cowshed. Upon reaching the place , I saw my aunt wailing like a storm and the others ran helter-skelter to have her taken to a shaman who’d cure her of the venom by waving his broom made up of peacock feather plumes. She had been stung by an insect called a scorpion.
Her shrieks sent a shudder down my spine. She was cured of the venom with the aid of divine breath cast onto her by the shaman and the cure-all nostrums. By the time she was back , the youngest uncle had managed to hold the scorpion captive in a bottle of Kissan jam.
We left after a few days . The aunt was fine again , fit as a fiddle , and garrulous as a fortune teller. The hell bound scorpion was , of course, condemned to a death worse than a dog’s – a death so miserable and horrible , he’d wake up in hell with the good sense of not poking his nose into unknown households , let alone tampering with the feet of our beloved aunt.
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