“We are gonna leave you behind if you don’t hurry up Sukruth” Hithu shouted. The very next moment a shrill cry of a child pierced through the air, wailing & complaining to his mother about the injustice in the world where he was not only the only boy cousin but also the youngest one. Though I couldn’t understand the connection between the injustice in the world & him being late, I let it go, as Kruthiakka and me were busy in the kitchen making sure that Dodammi* was packing up enough food for our picnic atop the hill that was next to her house.
“Did you pack the delicious palya* that you prepared today Dodammi?” this was from Kruthiakka, who’s favourite food items generally comprised of all those vegetables that I either detest from the deepest parts of my heart or who’s names I would be hearing for the very 1st time. “Yes” Dodammi replied with a smile. “And what about that chocolate barfi* that you had prepared yesterday? Did you pack it too?” no prizes for guessing as to who asked this question, yup me. “You just finished your quota of barfi for today, no more until tomorrow” this would be from, of course, my mother! I firmly believe that (though I had already gobbled up 4 barfis by then) mothers should be kept away when the picnic lunches are being packed, it should be a covert operation between only a Granny & her grandkids.
As I stood there, arguing with my mother, Sambramakka rushed into the kitchen holding 5 sticks of various lengths & girths that we were to use in our hike up the hill. She had been searching for those sticks out in the garden for about 1/2 an hour, as selecting the right sticks (which we considered equivalent to an ammunition) was very important. “Nidhi mama* is saying that if we aren’t outside in 5 minutes, he’s gonna leave us all behind” she said. That immediately made us to hurry up Dodammi with the picnic lunch & out we ran. Thinking about that now makes me laugh, as Nidhi mama wouldn’t have left for the hike without us, as the sole reason for him agreeing to this whole thing was courtesy our mothers telling him to accompany us, as Kruthiakka alone was not enough to ensure that all 5 of us managed to return from the hike with all our limbs intact.
And so, with Kruthiakka sharing the picnic load with Nidhi mama, Sambramakka looking longingly at the neighbouring house which had recently welcomed Dalmatian puppies into their household, Sukruth grumbling about not finding his camera with which he had hoped to capture some pics during the hike (though I am not sure as to how he could have managed to do that with his toy camera) & with Hithu & me searching for the ‘Truth sticks’ (as we used to called them) that grew in the bushes near Dodammi’s house, we went down the pathway that led towards the marshes.
(Looks like Hithu is demonstrating her super power of holding the food in her mouth for an unbelievable amount of time & Sukruth looks not at all happy being forced to smile for the camera when he could see Sambramakka playing near the Lotus pond)
‘Truth sticks’, as told by Nidhi mama to gullible children, aka us, held within it some supernatural powers to answer every question with a YES or a NO. In this task, a person would be holding 1 stick in each hand, making sure that they are pointing straight & the other person would then ask the question in her/his mind standing in front of the sticks. If the sticks moved inwards, then the answer was YES & if they moved outwards then the answer was NO. Usually Nidhi mama was the one holding the sticks, though us cousins had also tried doing the same, we firmly believed that the credibility of the task would be more if Nidhi mama held the sticks. And each year, on April 9th, our mothers would find us hunting for these sticks in the prickly bushes as April 10th was always the result day, so we would feel an urgency to know about our results beforehand itself by using the ‘Truth sticks’!
As we reached the marshes, Nidhi mama instructed us to follow him in a single file till we reach the foot of the hill. He didn’t want any of us to step off the pathway & then have our feet get stuck in the mud as it was a very messy process. I remember one time when our cow Nandini, who had ventured into the marshes & had got stuck, required the help of some 8 to 10 men to finally free her from the clutches of the mud. But those marshes always added the thrill factor to our hike.
Once we reached the foot of the hill, it was break time for us. The picnic basket was opened, cold orange juice or apple juice was passed around the group & we drank in silence, some standing, some sitting on the ground & some perched on a low hanging branch staring out at the marshes that seemed to stretch till the horizon. It’s hard to imagine the children remaining still for a few minutes, but such would be the scenery before our eyes that it would leave us awestruck.
After the break, we started our hike up the hill. The hike usually took around 20 to 30 minutes. It wasn’t a steep hike, but nonetheless we found ourselves scratched, bruised & with a few punches to our ego (when we fell) by the time we reached the top. And then, boy oh boy, the view from the top of the hill can be given justice only by seeing it. On one side of us the marshes stretched, on the other side we saw Dodammi’s house, if the dense forest filled up our view on another side of the hill then the beautiful Golf course behind us rounded up the spectacular scenery visible from the hilltop.
After drinking in the view for some more time, we found a nice spot & opened our picnic basket. The fresh air, combined with our excitement & the exertion of the hike had made us even more hungry than usual at lunch time & the contents of the basket was devoured in a matter of few minutes by 5 hungry kids & their uncle.
After spending some more time there by either playing or by simply lying down on our backs to stare at the clouds & trying to see if they resembled a dog / a cat/ a horse or any other animal, we started our descent down the hill, as Nidhi mama didn’t want us tumbling down the hill when the darkness set in during evening. After finally reaching home, we were so tired from the hike that none of us had any energy left to quarrel with one another (a rare scene indeed). And after dinner, when our mothers announced that it’s bedtime, there was not even a single peep from us that day!
Dodammi- maternal grandmother
Barfi- an Indian dessert made from sweetened, condensed milk flavoured with fruits and spices
Nidhi mama- our uncle