“Baba, are we there yet?”
“Any time now Riya, wait”
Driving down the long dusty road, Suraj was as impatient as his daughter to get a glimpse of his village. Many long years had passed since he had run down the winding path that led to his ancestral house. Back in the days almost all of his summers were spent here. He and his cousins had had an awesome time chasing butterflies, shepherding livestock and playing in the rivers.
In the hot afternoons when his cousins would be sleeping indoors or playing cards, he would go in the nearby mango grooves with his catapult. More than the mangoes, he was interested in getting caught by the owner of the groove. He would make as much as noise to alert Joshi kaka – the owner.
As a Principal of the school nearby, Joshi kaka was accustomed in handling such mischievous young boys. He would come running out of his house chasing Suraj away from his precious mango trees and the sweet fruits. But the boy would be calmly seated on a branch smiling down at him.
This was an everyday affair. Suraj would come in the afternoon, steal some mangoes by catapulting a few stones and wait for Joshi Kaka to come and catch him stealing. Joshi kaka too would eagerly wait to hear some noises in his backyard. He found Suraj to be an engaging child who asked him curious and deep questions about everything.
Each afternoon Joshi kaka would come out brandishing a stick – intending to punish – but would end up reading and telling stories to Suraj. The boy had an intense imagination and would quickly join in altering the stories and making up new plots. The stolen mangoes would lay forgotten until Joshi kaka would ask Suraj to cut them up and eat.
One such hot summer afternoon evading the usual routine of stealing the mangoes, Suraj directly entered Joshi kaka’s house, sat in his usual corner and buried his face in a book. The boy tried very hard to hide his tears but not even the stories could take his mind off the news he wanted to share with Joshi kaka. Suraj was going off with his parents to live in another state and this was to be his last trip to the village in the foreseeable future.
Suraj sat there staring at pages. Understanding the boy’s struggles, Joshi kaka took the book and read out their most favourite story. Suraj curled around Joshi kaka’s armchair and looked up to see the old man’s eyes brimming with tears as he read out from the book.
After that Suraj spent rest of the days of his last trip with Joshi Kaka, reading new stories, discussing on his career prospects, describing the new house they had bought, talking about his friends and about the trees in the large garden of his new house. As a parting gift, Suraj left behind a new storybook and got a sapling of a mango tree in return which he planted in his new house.
That sapling had grown into a big tree by now whose boughs were laden with sweet mangoes. Each year as the mangoes ripened Suraj missed Joshi kaka and the hours he spent with him.
Today after so many years he was going back. He slowly walked down the dirt road afraid that he might have been too late in returning. The groove was just as silent as it was the first time he had sneaked in to steal mangoes. Hesitantly he knocked on the door.
A little girl with ponytails peered up at him curiously through the gap. He tried to coax out her name, but she capered off into the house, giggling. He uncertainly followed her in and stood in the courtyard unsure of his welcome in the house. But the girl soon came out running; this time followed by the person Suraj was literally dying to see.
The years had grown on him and he staggered into the courtyard clutching a walking stick. Wrinkled yes, but Joshi kaka’s face had the same kindness etched on it. Bursting into a shaky laugh Suraj hugged his old friend.
The afternoon crept by around them as they sat in their favourite corner deeply engrossed in conversations. The little girl who was curled up in Joshi kaka’s lap had long fallen asleep. As they were served a simple supper by Joshi kaka’s daughter-in-law, Suraj brought out his gift.
“I have got something for you kaka”, Suraj said.
“Oh, that makes two of us then”, Joshi kaka chimed, “I have something for you too.” He got up from his armchair and made his way unsteadily towards an old wooden cabinet. After a long while, Joshi kaka finally found what he was searching for. Suraj got up from his place and walked over to help the old man back in his chair.
“Ok then”, he said, “just like the good old days let’s show each other what we have on the count of three, ok?”
“Haha”, Joshi kaka laughed at Suraj’s childish excitement, “Yes my dear boy. On the count of three then”
Both of them stared at their gifts for a while, too overwhelmed to speak or react. Clearing his throat Joshi kaka said, “You have become quite a writer Suraj, I have heard. Is this a new book of yours?”
“Yes and look inside kaka…” quipped Suraj.
“Me?….oh why?”, Joshi kaka said his voice betraying his emotions, “You have a beautiful wife and a daughter now. Why did you dedicate it to me? And why on earth did you want to put a picture of an old man on it!” Joshi kaka looked at his young friend, pride and love brimming up in his eyes.
“For the same reason, you have kept this catapult for all these years kaka…”
(PS: This was a very tricky prompt to write about. I have tried my hand at writing a short story. Hope you guys like it. Do give your feedback.)
© Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
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