‘Dhan, dhan, dhan…’ the ancient clock on the wall in the front passage of dodammi’s* house chimed 12 times very slowly, as if it was bored out of its mind and had given up on life. Sharing a similar sentiment were the 7 of us cousins, who lay sprawled in various positions on and around the couch near the front door. “This sucks” said Sukruth, who sat slumped on the floor and was inching towards the floor minute by minute. “I know. They have forbidden us from playing inside AND outside. How are we supposed to while away the time? I am so bored” I said, trying my best to roller skate in the narrow passage without falling flat on my face. Our mothers, along with dodammi, had gone to attend a wedding in the town, leaving behind strict instructions for us to not play any games till they were back and that they expected the house to be still standing when they returned. “There must be something that we could do” said Sambramakka. “Like what?” asked Hithu, brushing her hair. Noting that the remaining 3 who rounded up the grandchildren brood hadn’t contributed to the conversation, the 4 of us turned towards them.
My sister Drushya was busily tucking her dolls inside a blanket, wrapping them so tightly that there was a very good chance of the dolls coming to life and telling her that she was suffocating them. Hithu’s brother Sharu, was watching the whole process silently, which was his usual modus operandi. And, sitting on the couch with her feet tucked underneath her, and her back resting on the cushions was Kruthiakka. She was so immersed in the world of the ‘Famous Five’ book that she was oblivious to the rest of us. “KRUTHIAKKA!!!” “Whaaa… what happened?” “We are discussing an important issue here and you are busy reading. We are bored” “Well, there’s nothing we could do. Even if we planned on defying the rules, we can’t play outside since it’s raining. And we can’t play inside as well, as we can’t set up the video game system by ourselves” saying so she turned back to her book unaware that a light bulb had just been turned on in our minds.
“She’s right! What if we set up the system by ourselves? We may not have done so previously as our mothers always did that for us, but we have watched them do that plenty of times. I mean, how hard can it be to just connect the wires to the TV? I am sure that we can manage to do that by ourselves” “Yes, let’s do it. It’s already 12, we have until 1.30 to set up the game, play and dismantle it before they come back” “Thank you, Kruthiakka. You are the best” “Hmmm…what?” asked Kruthiakka, flipping the page of her novel. She got no answers as we had ran to our room to fetch the video game.
A few minutes later, the 6 of us had crowded around the TV on one corner of the hall, having moved the sofa — which was placed in front of the huge showcase next to the TV — to one side so that we could set up the system. “Where do these wires go?” “I can see the red, yellow and white colored slots here. Let’s connect the corresponding wires to these slots” said Sambramakka from behind the TV. “Switch off the TV first” “Ok, the wires are connected. What next?” “There are two more wires here, where do these go?”. As we were sorting through the wires, Drushya asked “Akka, what does this do?”, holding the ‘light gun’ that was a part of the ‘Duck hunt’ game. “That’s not for you, give it here” I said, trying to wrench the gun out of her hand. “No, I won’t. I want to play. You never let me play” “Let her have it. We are anyway playing the Mario game” said Hithu. “What? No, we are not playing Mario again. We played it just yesterday. It’s duck hunt game today” said Sukruth, joining me in trying to yank the gun out of Drushya’s hand. Within the next minute, Hithu and Sambramakka had also joined in the struggle, each shouting something unintelligible. It seemed like for a 2 year old, my sister had a surprisingly strong grip. That too when her other hand was clutching her doll, which — wrapped tightly in that blanket — looked like it was on its last breath. In the ensuing struggle, the gun went flying out of our hands and BAM, crashed into the showcase glass.
As silence followed that crash, Kruthiakka ran into the hall exclaiming “What was that sound? What did you guys do?”. Her mouth fell open when she saw the huge crack on the showcase glass that somehow had managed to not break into pieces. The glass had probably thought that we were not worth the effort. “Good lord. What is this?” silence “Who did this? You know how much thatha loves that showcase! He’s gonna kill us, that is if we aren’t already dead at the hands of our mothers first! What are we gonna do?”. As we burst into explanations, each trying to outshout the other and lay the blame on anyone but self, Kruthiakka said, “Enough. Stop talking, let me think”. As we stood soberly and watched Kruthiakka trying to decide the next course of action… “How about we ask Kaveri?” Sharu put in solemnly. Our heads turned in unison to look at him, surprised that he was talking and even more surprised that that thought hadn’t come to us first. We looked at each other and as if deciding by unspoken solidarity, ran out the hall towards the back of the house where Kaveri had her living quarters.
Kaveri was our housemaid/gardener/movie buff/budding hair stylist. Kaveri’s special talent was that she adjusted the speed of her work depending on the next chore. If dodammi wanted her to do gardening after sweeping, Kaveri would take 2 hours to complete the task. But, if it was to watch TV serials with the rest of the family, she would complete sweeping the same area in just 15 minutes. Kaveri and dodammi would frequently butt heads as dodammi believed that she had supreme knowledge about gardening (rightfully so, as her garden had won many awards!) and Kaveri did not give a damn about dodammi’s opinions. Kaveri would also frequently express her desire of joining the film industry one day. But, Kaveri’s interest in movies and fashion had further lowered her position in dodammi’s eyes.
“Kaveri, Kaveri”, as we halted to a stop in front of her, she looked up from the floor where she sat cutting out the pictures of heroines from the magazine. “What happened? Did the sky fall down?” “No, even worse. We broke the glass of the hall’s showcase” “Oh, did you? Then what are you doing here? You should be packing your bags to leave the town” she said, getting back to cutting out the pictures. “We are serious Kaveri. Thatha will kill us if he gets to know about this. Amma is always telling us how possessive he’s about the showcase. Can you please fix it?” “Fix it? Do I look like a sorcerer to you? You can’t fix a broken glass. And Sukruth, Hithyshi, you better stop going through my stuff or I’ll whack you both on the heads”. Both of them stopped and looked up guiltily. “You are the only one who can help us now Kaveri. We…we’ll do your share of afternoon’s gardening for the next 3 days” “10” “10 days!! It’s too much Kaveri. How about 5?” “One week and that’s the final deal” “Fine! Tell us what to do now” “Cover it” “Cover it? With what?” “With cow dung! Idiots, I meant, place yourselves in front of the glass so that the crack wouldn’t be seen” “Ok… Then what?” “Then nothing. Make sure that your mothers and thatha don’t notice the broken glass today and then tomorrow, when it would be discovered, you can feign ignorance about the whole thing” “I still don’t know how we could escape our mothers’ wrath tomorrow though. I mean, when it would be eventually discovered, wouldn’t their first suspicion be on us?” I asked. “You have a better idea? And besides, we’ll think of something before tomorrow. For now, your goal should be to escape the swinging sword over your heads”.
Though all of us had grave doubts about the whole idea, seeing no other option, we ran back to the scene of crime. We moved the sofa back in front of the showcase but we noticed that the crack was still visible. The only way the crack could be truly hidden was if one of us half sat and half stood on the sofa. So, we decided upon a schedule where one of us would always be there on the sofa covering up the evidence of the crime. Drushya and Sharu were strictly told to keep their mouths shut or face the consequences of not being included in the games anymore. Keeping the video game system — that we never got to play — back in its box, we waited anxiously for the return of our mothers and dodammi.
As soon as we heard our mothers coming through the front door, we looked at each other’s faces and braced for the battle. Leaving Hithu behind, as she was on the first shift, the rest of us ran out to greet them. If they were surprised to see such enthusiastic greeting from their children, they didn’t show it on their faces. Then, as it was time for lunch, all of us gathered at the dining table. As we sat down, dodammi noticed that Hithu was not there with us. Upon being questioned, we told her that she was not hungry and that she would have her lunch later. Now, if it was anyone other than Hithu, our mothers would have marched down to the hall and dragged us back to the dining table. But since Hithu was the only one of us who could get away with having her own lunch and dinner timings, we were saved from having our crime discovered. I have to admit, we were pretty clever in giving Hithu the first shift.
The day passed excruciatingly slow for us. Throughout that day, our mothers would come across at least one of us perched awkwardly on the sofa. We didn’t even go outside to play in the evening, and instead of doing artwork at the dining table as was our usual norm, we brought our art projects to the hall. Our mothers were quite baffled by this behavior. Towards the end of the day we were so exhausted with the whole shenanigan, that silently everyone was praying that our crime would be discovered just so that this whole thing could end.
At 7.30, we heard thatha’s jeep shuddering to a stop in front of the door. As he came into the hall bearing us packets of peanuts, our guilt increased exponentially just by looking at him. And guilt, more than fear, made us to continue on with the plan. After dinner, when all of us had gathered in the hall, it was my shift at the sofa. We were finally able to relax thinking that we just have to go through another half an hour before we called it a day when Drushya approached me saying, “Akka, I want to sit on the sofa now. Only you guys sat there the whole day, now it’s my turn”. It was as if she had suffered an amnesia, forgetting the events that happened earlier that day.
Looking at her, standing there with a doll in her arms, thoughts like “This is not a seesaw to ask for your turn. And even if you stood on the sofa, you wouldn’t be able to cover up the crack. Yeh marwayegi humain (she’s gonna have us killed)” ran through my mind, but outwardly I said, “You’ll get your turn tomorrow. Now, go and put your doll to sleep” “No akka, she’s already in deep sleep”. Her doll, hanging upside down, looked less like sleeping and more like screaming for help. “Let me come up” “NO!!!”. And that, ladies and gentlemen, that moment of stupidity at the very end — when we got involved in fist fights, with the rest of the grandchildren brood also joining us — was how our crime came to light.
“What’s this? You broke the glass of the hall’s showcase? Who did this? When did this happen? No wonder you were loitering here the whole day. You were trying to cover up the evidence, weren’t you?” shouted Ammas’ in the room in different versions. But we weren’t paying them the attention for our eyes were turned towards thatha sitting in his usual spot opposite the TV. At any second, we were either expecting to see his volcanic temper — something that we had never come across before but about which our mothers had always warned us whenever we did naughty things — or to see him get disappointed by our antics. He looked at each one of us gravely, then smiled indulgently and simply turned back to the TV and got engrossed in the serial, where the female lead was challenging the God to prove his very existence by saving her husband who lay comatose in the hospital.
As we were dragged by our respective mothers to the rooms — with temple bells ringing ominously in the background courtesy serial’s heroine — the relief we felt was profound. Confused? Remember, how you are always afraid of disappointing that one person who has been nothing but supportive towards you? Thatha was that person for us. More than the fear of facing his bad side as hyped up by our mothers (which we found out to be false that day!), we were afraid of disappointing him. Seeing that he had taken our mischiefs in his stride had lifted the huge burden of guilt from our tiny shoulders. And, as to our ‘behind the closed door’ treatment by our mothers that night, well, that was routine for us. We weren’t bothered by it that much, for after 2 days (once the video game ban was lifted), as the ancient clock was chiming ‘Dhan, dhan, dhan’ 12 times, we were once again found in front of the TV arguing over which game to play.
* Dodammi- maternal grandmother
OTHER STORIES IN THE ‘SUMMERS IN THE 90S’
- Summers in Madikeri
- Battle for the Lotus pond
- How we spent time during power cuts
- Just a day in our summer holidays
- Sarees, Chapatis and Nandini the cow
- Gunda, Gooli and Ice candy