The Big Red Book

Bahikhata

My grandmother’s house was in the hills and like most of the families living there, she used to keep cows. She also had a dog, an apso called Bhuri, a bull named Kalu, Mithu, the parrot, an assortment of fish, rabbits, ducks and hens.

Every summer vacations her house was filled with relatives and grandchildren as we would go to visit her.  A bunch of children in different age groups would always be running up and down the house, climbing up the mango trees or playing with the animals.

My Grandmother’s neighbour was a  retired tehsildar who had two children aged  10 and 12 years and a cow. When all the kids would land up in grandmother’s house and would play together, these two children would merely spectate. Despite several invitations to join in to make mud patties or run down to the river and swim  or collect tadpoles in jam bottles, they would merely stand and stare but not participate. Wearing neat, scrubbed and ironed clothes and shining shoes, they looked spotless, no matter what time of the day.

In contrast, I would look like an urchin most of my summer holidays. Uncombed hair, crinkled clothes and brown nails, I must have looked a mess.

The town had a rule, dating from the British days, any stray cow if found would be tied at the thana in the market place. After paying a certain amount as fine, the owner could later take the cow back. The names of the offenders were written in the Lal Kitaab (red book).

Every summer, my grandmother’s name had the maximum amount against it in the big red book. We children would sometimes take the cows out for grazing and forget about them, having gotten distracted by the juicy mangoes or colourful flowers or pretty bird feathers.

My Grandmother would never scold us. She would tell the adults that this is how kids behave and a little bit of fee was a good income for the panchayat to invest in the town.

Needless to say, the tehsildar’s name never got featured in the big red book!

 

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Memories of Mulberry

 

Mulberry. Most commonly found tree in the subcontinent and usually associated with a variety of silk. But for most people who have known the tree since childhood cannot forget its fruit which is borne in the month of April. The fruit which reminds me of a caterpillar can be found in various colours – white/green, red/ maroon. The sweetness varies depending on the rain, sunlight and of course the variety.

My earliest memory of the mulberry dates to the time when I was about 7 or 8 years old. A mulberry tree with its wide canopy shaded the backyard. Come April and the fruits would start falling on the veranda. Every morning and evening the veranda would be washed so that the mulberries would be clean. The tree would now be a host to variety of birds, bees, ants during daytime and bats at night. I would race back home from school to change and then scoot barefeet to the veranda to have my pick of the reddest mulberries. Yummmm…..

One weekend, it was particularly hot and everyone at home was sleeping in the afternoon. A friend and I, both restless and bored, decided to shake a few low lying branches to have some mulberries. But alas we could reach none of the branches. It was decided that all possible means should be brought together to be able to reach the branches. So first we put a layer of broken bricks, lying all around the compound. Then the old stool in the kitchen was placed under the tree, but that didn’t help either. We brought a smaller stool from the bathroom and placed it on the old stool. It seemed tall enough.

Being the older one, I volunteered to climb up. I think I just wanted to have the mulberries first. I managed to get on the stools somehow and grabbed hold of a low lying branch. What a treasure!! There were hundreds of juicy maroon/ blood red mulberries waiting to be plucked. I started plucking them but couldn’t resist and popped a few in my mouth. Soon my face and hands were stained purple. By this time my friend was impatient. I collected a few in my hand to pass them down and placed my hand on a neighbouring branch for support. Alas, my hand landed on a chameleon – Yuck! My frightened scream would have woken up the entire neighbourhood. I lost my balance and fell down. My left arm landed on the broken bricks and my arm was broken too and had to be put in a plaster. We were banned from going again to the backyard in the afternoons unsupervised. But even now when I see a mulberry tree, I can’t resist but stop and pick a few of the fallen ones.