Editor’s Choice: Children’s Story – The Reward of the Wit: Series
The Reward of the Wit – The Treat
He was a lad of ten years. He was a smart lad (it’s my opinion in the beginning of this tale and will be your conclusion at the end of it). Smart not the way you see urban youngsters in big towns completely influenced by TV serials and cartoon shows; and not also in the way of having a decent accent. He was smart not even the way of his appearance or that he looked cute and innocent, in fact, he was undersized, and having rather a dark complexion though he used to rub fairness creams each night. His smartness was innate and genuine, and believe me seldom did he watch any other TV-show than Shaktiman and that too on a Merchant-Shop because shopkeeper’s child was a great fan of it.
He was on his way with invitation-cards of his sister’s marriage next month. The cards were in his jhola, which you often see postmen carrying. He had to travel to his relatives in another village, named Devaitha, to send the cards. It was surely a task not suited his age but well suited his personal actions and charisma. He didn’t belong to a family in which children are treated tenderly until they get grown. He was a man of responsibility even in his early childhood. He was a mature man and maturity has no age barriers.
He walked through the fields with a bansuriin his hand. At intervals, he would play melodies on them. The bansuri had become considerably old and at some places, it was rather scratched. Its entrance had also gone blunt which obviously affected the pitch and the sweetness of tunes. At sharp notes, the bansuri would scream, “Why don’t you just replace me with a newer one?”
He now played the tune of the song O, Sajaniya.Well, this song of classic genre had spread like a disease in the whole region, having released in Bhojpuri just some four months ago. It was sweet, melodious, but rather difficult to play especially on bansuri. It was a sweet blend of ragas bhairavi and bilaval. Still, Baali could play it perfectly even though he was not a trained bansuri-player.
He sat to have some rest. He took out an English political magazine and started watching its pictures. When he reached the end, he could see the pictures of actors and models in poses. He glared at them and turned the magazine off saying, “It is nonsense!”
He picked out a ten-rupee note from his pocket and put on his thigh. He took a sigh. He remembered his Chacha and cursed him. He disliked his Chacha.
This morning, when his Chacha assigned him this task, he felt it good. He always liked visiting his relatives. It gave him pleasure and more importantly money and new clothes. To earn more money and clothes he used to visit in torn and filthy dresses.
His Chacha picked a ten-rupee note, gave it to him, and said, “Take this, Baali. Your fare.”
He was startled and screamed, “But Chacha it is of only one side!”
“The relatives will give you some money as vidai, I’m sure. That’ll suffice for your returning,” the husky and grave sound said without a slight of anger.
“But, Chacha it won’t…” as he said, his Chacha shifted by an inch to his right and Baali could see a long stick hung on the wall side behind him. A sensation of dread rushed throughout his body and he changed his finishing word (which would have been ‘sufficient’) and completed, “be insufficient.”
Having sat there and picked that note out, he searched each and every section of all his pockets for any coin inside. He found none. He took the note and tried to split up it in a manner as if two notes had stuck together. He expected of a miracle but as the fact, it was only one note—a single ten-rupee note—his Chacha was no kind man.
He had to catch a bus. Still half a kilometer to walk. Where from he sat and stood to walk again, he had two ways to reach the bus-stand. One path had a mela running through it.
It is always painful visiting a mela being low at coins. However, for now and for him, mela was the opium—the sweet intoxication—for him.
You drug opium, get the pleasure: ultimately, it is going to harm you. The same way, you visit mela, you feel happy to see the stuffs: ultimately, you are going to be dejected, as you can’t buy them.
As he moved in, he could hear them—the two kids in old, filthy, and torn shorts and banyans—playing bansuri and trying to attract customers. Always unsuccessful though; as none approached them.
Baali gave a look to his bansuri and thought to replace it. He went there. He investigated the bansuri that were attached in a circular sequence on a thick, tall bamboo stick.
“This one is very colorful,” said one kid with his starved voice.
“As you say, so see my eyes,” said Baali smartly.
“The quality of sound is on perfection in our bansuri, Mate,” the other kid said in professional phrases. Would have learnt them somewhere. No wonder.
“Oh, really? Then let’s have a try,” said Baali.
He tried one after another and he had to acknowledge that those professional phrases meant something.
If it were his rule, he would have bought all and left none.
“What does it cost?” said Baali.
“Only five rupees, Mate.”
Baali picked out the note and had almost given it to them that his eyes felt an illusion! Each bansuri that he could see looked to him as the long stick of his Chacha. The thick, tall bamboo stick having stuck all bansuris blinked like summon bonum of all bamboo sticks. His hand, still with that note, trembled until he dragged his it back.
“What happened, Mate?” asked one kid.
“I don’t think they deserve to be bought and you deserve to be paid,” said he and moved away from there.
The two kids called him back desperately now with three rupee for a bansuri.
He walked for some minutes until he saw one sweetshop. He reached the shop and saw the sweets. His mouth watered in liters. He had to make his eyes elsewhere to get distracted. He gulped all the water produced inside and made his mouth dry again. However, he could not stop himself from watching them again. Again, his mouth watered in gallons.
The shopkeeper saw his urge and voracity. He was a kind person. He said, “Which one you like to have, kid?”
He was dragged out of his fantasy of drowning in ras-malais and said, “Huh?”
“You like any?”
“Yeah. I would love to have ras-malai but…” he didn’t want to show his penury and thought for an excuse, “…but my Mother used to say that,” he mimicked his mother, “don’t have sweets if you have sores in your body,” he made his left arm a bit up and showed a sore on his thumb.
He moved away from there too, without hearing the shopkeeper.
He could now see the bus stand. He could also see the panipuri-shop, one of the last shops in the row.
He neared and could see the jowls of the people having panipuris—how they suddenly swelled and when the panipuri was crushed inside their mouth, how they would suddenly return to the normal state like tidal waves: ups then downs. Then, they chew it like buffalos, having the taste of each particle of it—the hard puri, the chhola inside it to fill and most importantly the tasty and spicy jeera-jal—enough to make you sweat, and burn your mouth.
The Youngman having delivered panipuri to his earlier customers offered a plate to Baali. Baali rejected by saying, “I don’t think I should have your panipuris.”
“Why so, Kid?” the Youngman asked.
“Because I think they have lost their stiffness.”
“In no case! I put them under glass; you can see it.”
He was caught. Then, he said, “Well….” He thought for something else, “as I saw the expressions of the customers having it, they were neutral. Which means your jeera-jal is not spicy and hot.”
The Young man fetched out some jeera-jal with a small glass and offered him saying, “Taste it, Mate, before blame it.”
O, he knew it well that had he tasted it, even Brahmacouldn’t stop him from having it!
So, better reject the offer.
He didn’t taste it. He was shaken by the offer though and got infuriated, “I don’t like nasty tastes,” he shouted, “I know your quality. The level of purity. The way you prepare things from raw materials. I know everything. You don’t even wash your hands before delivering it to public.”
People saw and heard all this. The customers were discouraged by this slander.
Baali moved away from there. And obviously, for minutes the Youngman had no customers.
Baali had spoiled his day although whatsoever lesser in extent.
He walked a hundred meter or so. He reached the bus stand and waited for the bus.
When one gentleman on the scooter was to cross Baali, stopped and asked the direction for the village Devaitha. Baali was excited to hear and hiding his happiness said to him, “I’m also going to Devaitha, Sir. We both can go together.”
The gentleman agreed.
The Reward of the Wit – The Treat
He was going to accelerate his scooter that Baali said, “I think you missed a great thing if you came through the mela, Sir?”
“I missed something?” he turned back and said.
“Obviously you did. But still you can have if you like.”
“I would. I am in no hurry.”
He took the gentleman to the panipuri shop and said, “You missed to see it.”
“No, actually I saw it.”
“Then you missed to taste it.”
“It is not so favourite to me.”
“Because you don’t know much about the shop. Once you taste it, your tongue will always be in search of its taste, like any addiction.”
“I don’t think so. This place looks dirty.”
“Taste it, Sir, before blame it.”
Baali knew that he had the ride. He had saved the fare and even if he spent whole money he will get there easily and surely with the gentleman.
He now tried to have a gamble and show how royal he was.
“Sir, take it a treat from me. You can’t refuse it to have now.”
Oh, a treat from a boy of ten years to a man aged some 35 years! Looks weird!
“Alright. I accept but let the treat be from my side.”
Baali went so royal that he lost his wit (I personally criticize Baali for sometimes he acts more like a Bollywood hero who you often see carried way in useless emotions).
“From my side, Sir, please. We are equal if we’re humans; age is no barrier,” he tried to influence the gentleman.
O, goodness, how often do you see a child exploring philosophy in just ten years? And if ever, you are just swayed away by hearing the sweet and cute voice with a pitch more feminine than masculine.
So, was swayed away the gentleman!
Well, too—this is the age of insisting for panipuri from elders and not offering it to them. He persuaded him and asked the Youngman to deliver panipuris.
The Youngman recognized the naughty boy but said nothing. As he offered, as they started having it, Baali continued his boastful tale:
“It is the genuine of what panipuris really taste like. No adulteration. See the stiffness of puri—as hard as rock, still as soft as butter when you crush them inside your mouth.”
He ate another one and continued:
“Sir, taste the jeera-jal. So hot and burning, enough to perspire your whole body. Sensational. Burning. ”
Baali gulped another panipuri.
People started gathering and found it interesting to hear. His describing style was fascinating and effortless.
He had noticed it. He went more boastful and said:
“This shopkeeper uses only hand-milled flour to make puris, an ‘A’ class pea for chhola and well filtered water for making jeera-jal. I also know that he imports special spices from Assam to add in the jeera-jal. Everything is done with so perfection and purity.”
He saw more people coming then he went louder and repeated his earlier statement with improved emphasis, “He imports special spices from Assam to add in the jeera-jal.Everything is done with so perfection and purity. Only hand-milled flour to make puris, an ‘A’ class pea for chhola and well filtered water for making jeera-jal,” he thought for something new, “look at the rhythm of his hands when he delivers like he were playing on drums. Look at the speed, look at the timing: when you’ve gulped one panipuri, only and just then you’re delivered another one.”
The gentlemen heard all this without any intervention. He enjoyed the taste and felt it increased when heard the praises from Baali.
More people gathered. They heard and surprised. Seldom did anyone go to check the verity of his statements.
They were man of innocence and of not too much letters.
People started turning into customer. And, his boasts went extreme. He picked out the English magazine out of his jhola and opened the page where a very old man’s photo was printed.
People peeped in it. He showed it to all and said, “Have you ever seen his (the young shopkeeper) grandfather?”
Most said yes and some said no. One among the public said, “But his grandfather didn’t look like the man in the photo.”
“When did I say it is his grandfather? Well, it’s his great grandfather who discovered panipuri first and made its formula. And now, only this man…,” he pointed his hand to the Youngman, “…only this man knows the correct formula of making panipuri.”
The Youngman couldn’t believe his great grandfather looked like that photo!
“How do you know that?” said one from the crowd.
“It’s written in this book itself,” answered Baali.
“But it is in English.”
“So what? I can read English.”
He said a couple of poems in English in pretension of reading the magazine. The gentle man caught his trick and laughed hiding his mouth with hand.
That he could read English made his claims even more authentic! The rumor about the shop spread. Persons came in bulk to his shop.
It was his last panipuri that Baali was having.
In between, the gentleman had a phone call. He informed Baali, “It was very nice to see you, Kid. But, now you don’t need to guide me to Devaitha. My assignment has changed and now I have to go some other place Usiyan in north. But, I would have liked your company.”
When he heard this, he was shocked and made an impulsive hitch. His mouth pumped all of the last panipuri out.
He with the gentleman had eaten of all his ten rupees. It was a treat from Baali, he himself had insisted upon. Halfheartedly, he took out the ten-rupee note. Again, tried to slice it in expectation of any miracle. When he offered the note to the Youngman, his hands again trembled. He felt vomiting all stuffs he had just eaten due to fear. Neither could he take the words back nor could ask the gentleman to pay.
Word is a word.
Baali was no coward, he thought.
Having paid both wished each other a goodbye and moved away in opposite directions. Baali felt again a strong urge to vomit. He sat on ground to feel easy. His mind was unable to think anything—what is going to happen now, what he should do now. He looked miserable.
After some while, he heard the sound of a scooter from his behind and saw the gentleman again.
The gentleman took out his purse from his pocket. He picked out two ten-rupee notes and a one-rupee coin and offered it to him, “Take this, Kido.”
He hesitated and his emotions burst out, “No, I can’t. It was a treat from me. I’m not a coward that you think I’ll back out. I’m afraid neither of my Chacha nor his long stick.”
“And I know neither of the two,” said the gentle man, “that was a treat from your side and my best treat I ever had. This is not the consideration for the treat,” he paused, “this is the reward for your wit, for your gift of the gab, for your conquering hearts. If you don’t take it, you will hurt and disrespect your talent. You are a smart kid, I know this, and you should know this.”
He took the money with his eyes a bit of damp and said, “Oh, really?”
The gentleman accelerated his scooter and said, “Yeahbsolutely!”
‘O, Sajaniya’ : name of a song literally meaning, “O, My Darling.”
Bansuri : a flute like instrument which you blow air in at its entrance to play it.
Bhojpuri : a regional language spoken in many states of middle India.
Brahma : a god of Hindu religion recognized as the Creator of the world.
Chacha : an equivalent term in Hindi for one’s uncle.
chhola : a spicy dish made of pea or beans and often served with puri or rice.
jeera-jal : a spicy acidic water with having mixed various spices.
Jhola : a bag with a long strip that is placed on shoulder and often made in home with rough clothes.
mela : a fair in which people in bulk come to entertain themselves.
panipuri : panipuri is a junk food comprised of puri, chhola andjeera-jal.
puri : puri is a bread fried in oil.
ras-malai : a sweet dessert made with cheese and poured in cream.
Shaktiman : Shaktiman was the serial depicting the heroic deeds of Shaktiman, the first superhero of India. This serial was telecasted on India’s public channel Doordarshan National for more than 10 years.
vidai : vidai a farewell often done in sentimental manner with giving some gifts to the person departing.
THE REWARD OF THE WIT—THE RETREAT
The tale is not done yet.
Baali had earned money as reward. He instead catching a bus went again in the mela. He could see the Youngman packing his stuffs off as he had sold all his items much earlier than usual. The Youngman shouted his thanks to Baali.
He reached the sweetshop; he could see some people giving the shopkeeper a card for coming in the terahiceremony. Some lady had died some six days ago, they informed.
Baali heard all of this. Baali heard also the shopper getting shocked and saying, “O, she was my usual customer. Such a good lady she was! Sweet and soft-spoken. It is a huge loss.”
“A huge loss for her son and two daughters—so young,” one informed.
“I’ve seen the son never the daughters. How old are they?” asked the shopkeeper.
“One daughter six and the other one is four.”
“Oh, my goodness!” sighed the shopkeeper.
Baali heard all this.
When everybody dispersed, he neared the shop and said to the shopkeeper, “I need two pieces of ras-malais.”
The shopkeeper identified the lad who had been so desperate to have ras-malais.
“So, your mother used to say that..what did you say?”
“That don’t have sweets if you have sores in your body.”
“And you have a sore.”
“I do, Sir. But, she ‘used to say,’ I said. She is no more in this world, Sir.”
“She died some six days ago, Sir. I’m hungry and tired and she won’t mind it if I take some pieces, Sir.”
“Oh, Kid! She was your mother?”
“And you are visiting with terahi ceremony-cards in your jhola, aren’t you?”
He in no moment offered him two pieces of ras-malais and said, “She used to be my regular customer, you know?”
Baali made a bite in the sweet and said in distorted voice, “Yes, Sir.”
“But, when I saw you last time you were a bit fairer and slimmer.”
“Mother always forbade,” he gulped; his voice became clearer, “me to play gilli-danda in hot sun but I never obeyed her. And I consume to my throat that increased my weight, Sir.”
“So, honest of you, Kid!”
Baali was lying to have fun and with no motive yet.
He ate both of the ras-malais. The shopkeeper asked him for more. He rejected as he thought that it would cost him total 20 rupees and he had to catch the bus also. So, he remained satisfied with only two.
When he offered the money to the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper felt sinning and said, “Oh, kid! I can’t take this money. I knew your mother for such long years. I have seen you developing before my own eyes. So please…”
Baali was surprised and rebuked himself for not accepting the offer of more ras-malais. But, soon the happiness took a U-turn when the shopkeeper picked two more ras-malais and said, “I know you’ll travel long so keep this for your journey, Kid. I’ll be meeting you on the terahi-ceremony and I pray to God to rest your mother in Peace.”
“So kind of you, Sir.”
He took the sweets and went deeper inside the mela.
He reached to buy the beautiful bansuri. He again met the two kids. Extremely lean: almost on the verge of starvation. Wearing just shorts and a banyan that too with innumerable holes. They were talking to each other.
“How long had it been that we tasted machhli-bhaat last time?” said one kid.
“You went too far; how long had it been that we tasted any sweet item last time?” said another one.
“How long had it been that we sold five bansuris in a day?” said the first.
“You went too far, how long had it been since we sold our last bansuri?” said another.
“I think two days,” replied the first.
Baali heard their pathetic conversation. His heart melted. But, he showed no gentle or pitiful gesture in response.
“I need that colorful one,” ordered Baali.
They recognized him and said, “Welcome again, Mate.”
As he was engaged in inspection, he saw that a huge family had just reached the kids. They were fifteen members, and ten of them were children insisting to buy bansuri.
“How much you take for one?” said the half-bald person, the Head of the family, having come closer.
“Five rupees, Sir,” said one kid.
He gave them to inspect. Everyone inspected one bansuri.
“How many do you need, Sir?”
“None,” said he, “Until you show us your bansuris make good sound.”
The kids played a couple of melodies but the Head of the family didn’t look satisfied. The family now gave him its favorite songs. It asked to play Oh, mere dil ke chain then Zindagi ek safar hai suhana then Mera naam chin chin chu.
The two kids played all of them perfectly.
Baali saw all this without any interruption.
The Head looked satisfied but not wholly. He had to test the kids for the last tone and he said, “Can you play O,Sajaniya?”
It was the same song that had spread like disease. So popular, still so classical. So melodies, still so tough to play.
The two kids didn’t want to lose the customers. It could have been their jackpot had the family bought their bansuris.
Well, they did try but couldn’t pass.
“I wanted to see how your bansuris sound,” the Head of the family said, “when it plays a great melody. But, you disappointed me.”
He started moving away, saying to his family, “Always test the quality before you take a decision.”
Children of the family though disappointed moved away.
Baali was stirred at this because both the kids have played other tunes perfectly. He shouted, “Wait, Family! Wait!”
They turned back.
“Are you judging bansuris or the personal ability of the kids? They are not taught bansuris players.”
“I go to buy a tape and I demand the seller to play my favorite song to know how the song sounds in that tape,” the Head of the family said, “if the seller didn’t have that song, I would prefer to go to other shop which can display that song.”
The family again started moving away.
“Wait, Family. What if can play O, Sajaniya for you?” he almost shouted.
Knew how to play as he, it was not a tough task for him to play the melody though it could be hard indeed to play.
O, when he picked one random bansuri and played O,Sajaniya!
The whole ambiance felt inertia and fascination! The hissing of mela captured the sound of silence!
People started amassing there in a circular discipline.
The show lasted for two and half minutes and ended with a huge applause. The family approached the two kids, and Baali. The Head of the family said, “Like nectar it flew, like breeze it blew,” he paused and said, “how much for one?”
Before the kids could say something Baali said, “Fifteen for each.”
The Head as well as the family were so overwhelmed with emotion that they couldn’t even remember the earlier price of the bansuris and in no moment, the Head of the family offered 150 Rupees.
Children in the crowd said, “I also want to play O,Sajaniya! I also want to play O,Sajaniya!”
Every one became the customer of the two kids and Baali became the Manager. Soon the crowd multiplied, so were the prices.
Last ten bansuris were sold at the rate of 50 rupees! Left was only one—stuck in the bamboo stick. The sale was declared over. The crowd dispersed.
Baali counted the money and it amounted more than just a jackpot. He gave all money to the kids.
“Your share, Mate?” said one kid.
Baali picked one fifty-rupee note from the whole amount.
“You deserve more,” said the other kid.
Baali picked the last bansuri from the bamboo-stick. He gave the picked fifty-rupee note to them and said, “As the sale ended with 50 Rupees per bansuri; if you haven’t raised the prices further.”
The two kids were bewildered. Their eyes urged to come out.
He gave them the ras-malais and said, “I don’t know how long it had been that you tasted any sweet last time.”
Their eyes gleamed and dewed.
Baali continued, “And, if the real concern is my share, keep my share when you cook machhli-bhaat any day. I don’t know how long it had been that I ate machhli-bhaat last time.”
“Oh, sure, Mate. We live under the bridge in the next village. You are coming tonight?” said one kid.
“Yeahbsolutely,” said he and moved to catch the bus.
machhli-bhaat : A dish with fish and rice.
terahi : terahi is an after death ceremony held on the thirteenth day after the death.