– Sushila Deuja, – English translation: Mahesh Paudyal
“It’s wonderful; really wonderful. It’s going to be great fun, my dear friends,” said Charumati, who was busy talking on the phone.
“What’s wrong with Charu today? Who is it she is talking to, making such a big noise even on Saturday? She has spoilt my sleep,” said her mother, complaining with her father.
“Leave her. Maybe it’s one of her friends. She is a sixth grader now. While at home, she gets my mobile phone to play with. Why grumble, if she is talking to her friends?” said her father, wiping his face.
“Why such commotion since so early in the morning? Others’ children slumber till 10 o’clock on Saturdays. But ours starts hollering even before sunrise, and disturbs.”
Grumbling, the mother came out on the balcony. The father also sat nearby, pulling a chair.
“Listen to me. We must do it secretly, without letting anyone know,” said Charumati secretly on the phone kept underneath their ladder, and placed the receiver back.
Her father and mother gazed at each other in a state of doubt and fear.
“I don’t think Charumati is up to anything good. She looks like an upstart. Shall I slap her once and ask what it is?” said her mother with red eyes, fuming with anger.
“Oh no! Do not show the manners of a head-teacher at home. Instead, let’s feign that we heard nothing she said. I shall spy on her,” said the father, requesting his wife to stay quiet.
“Fine; start spying on your own daughter. What a disturbance has come about even on a Saturday!” said the mother, muttering.
“Daddy, please give me five-hundred rupees as loan. I will return when I have enough saving in my piggy bag,” said Charumati, imploring.
“Why do you need money early in the morning?” her father asked.
“Daddy, I urgently need it today. Please lend me that as loan without asking why,” said Charumati, holding her father’s hands tightly, and making a request.
Her father was at a loss. Finding himself in dilemma, he turned towards his wife.
“It’s needless. Why should you give her money so early in the morning? It’s the time of Corona pandemic. It’s terrifying to enter restaurants and eat anything there,” said the mother, annoyed.
Charumati was unhappy hearing her mother speak. She almost seemed crying, her eyes red with annoyance. The father realized that he had been trapped between the affairs of his wife and daughter. Deciding that he would spy on his daughter this time, he took out a five-hundred rupee note from his purse and gave it over to his daughter.
Charu was delighted. She hurriedly wore a new dress and walked out of home.
“Daughter, shall I take you on my scooter?” her father asked.
“You don’t need to, Daddy. I shall be back in twenty minutes. I shall walk,” Charumati said.
“Fine. Go and return well,” said her father.
Charu’s mother, on her part, continued to glare at her husband with red eyes.
“What a mess!” said the father to himself in a low tone.
Following this, he secretly wore a pair of black glasses and a fancy hat, and went after Charu.
Charu was busy walking on her own. Perhaps she was confused, unable to decide what she should buy for the five-hundred rupees she had in her hand.
On the way, people who, could recognize Charu and Krishna Guru smiled and took their ways. Guru, on his part, moved on, signaling the passersby to stay quiet.
“Oh, what’s wrong with Krishna Guru today?” was what people said, after having seen him walk in such a get-up.
Charu stopped outside a liquor shop.
“Oh God, it’s a mess! Is my daughter really going to have alcohol?” Krishan Guru thought.
In a short while, Charu’s friend Radha came out into the street, waving at Charu.
“Oh, shit! This the house of Charu’s friend Radha. What a fool I am,” thought Krishan Guru and slapped himself on his forehead for thinking nonsense.
From there, Charu and Radhika moved ahead, their hands locked in each other’s.
When Krishna Guru was at the market in the middle of the village, the number of people laughing at his get-up increased. Charu’s friends, who were studying in the same school as hers, could not control their laughter. They moved homewards, laughing out loud.
But Krishna Guru was highly elated. He cared for no one. After all, his daughter was not aware of his surveillance. He was contented at that.
When he was at the marketplace, Krishna Guru met Safal Guru—another teacher.
“Where are you going so early in the morning?” he said and almost spelled out Krishna Guru’s name. Before he had done that, Krishna Guru went rushing to him and shut his mouth. Then he whispered into his ears and told that he was spying on his daughter. Safal Guru could not help laughing, though he tried to keep his giggles as low as he could.
The two girls, Charu and Radha, were moving on their own accord. They went straight into the marketplace. The market had no customers; one could see only shopkeepers.
“Sir, come with me. Let’s go to the hotel up there on the first floor and spy on the girls from there, sipping tea. There is no crowd, after all. Because of Corona fear, only a handful of people are coming out of home these days. We can see the girls clearly, no matter wherever they go.”
Krishna Guru nodded.
“Sister, would you give us a glass of luke-warm water each? I forgot to drink even a glass of water this morning, as my mind was completely on spying,” said Krishna Guru, looking at Safal Guru and the lady who owned the hotel, turn by turn. On seeing Krishna Guru’s get-up, the hotel owner broke into a giggle, and placed a jug of water on their table.
“Guru, let’s quickly eat whatever we want. I must soon walk after my daughter, spying,” Krishna Guru said, taking snacks in haste.
Taking a sip from his teacup, Safal Guru said, “It seems I must also come with you.”
“No, you don’t need to. If the girls see, there will be a mess,” said Krishna Guru, stammering.
On hearing them talk, the hotel-owner stared at them with doubt. She raised her ears with care.
“Sir, let’s go. The girls are returning. They have reached fairly far. One of them carries a red bag as well,” said Safal Guru, hurrying up.
“Is that so? I was lost in the tea,” said Krishan Guru and paid the bill. Then they came out into the street downstairs.
When they were gone, the hotel-owner said to herself, “Unruly old men!” and laughed out loud.
Safal and Krishna Guru started keeping fast paces. Radha and Charu were much ahead of them.
“Sir, your daughter is just twelve. Do you need to doubt her so much and spy on her? I didn’t really like it, Sir,” Safal Guru said.
“It’s not doubt, Sir. It’s love to some extent, and some fear too. We cannot rely on children these days. It’s a father’s heart, you know. I love her. I must be alert,” said Krishna Guru, laughing.
“That’s right. Sir, you are busy spying. But we have come outside my home. Let’ part for now.”
Safal Guru took leave of him.
“That’s fine. Goodbye,” said Krishna Guru.
At the moment of parting, Safar Guru giggled once again at Krishna Guru’s looks, and entered his gate. When he was inside his home, he recalled whatever Krishna Guru had said and laughed out to his satisfaction.
On the other hand, Charu and Radha were outside Radha’s house. They were talking. Krishna Guru was watching them, standing at a distance.
After some time, Radha went into her house. Charu also went her way. Krishna Guru followed her, taking quick steps.
“Oh God, the red bag in daughter Charu’s hand is missing!” said Krishna Guru to himself, after they had walked through a distance. He wondered what the red bag contained. He was impatient to know what was there inside it, but there was nothing he could do. He could not walk into Radha’s home. He feared that it would upset Charu and she might cry.
Helpless, he started following his daughter. On reaching home, Charu walked straight into her room on the first floor. Krishna Guru went into the washroom and cleaned his face and limbs.
Having cleaned himself in the tap on the ground flood, Krishna Guru entered the kitchen. Seeing her husband’s get-up, his wife giggled.
“I had gone out to spy on our daughter,” he said, softly whispering into his wife’s ears.
“So what did you discover? How did your daughter spend those that hundred rupees?” asked Charu’s mother, apparently quite unhappy.
“I don’t really know, but she bought something. He put in a red back and gave it to her friend Radha to keep. I haven’t been able to discover what lies inside the bag,” said Krishna Guru with a sigh.
“Maybe your loving daughter spent the money on a trivial thing. If it was a thing of use, she could certainly bring it home. Oh, how good she is in spending! A few days ago, she quarreled with me and broke her piggy bag. It has somewhere around five thousand rupees in it. She has finished it off, moving around with Radha and her brother form the maternal home. She doesn’t allow me to ask. If I do, she just says, ‘It’s a secret—Charu’s, and her mother’s,’ and laughs. I am quite worked up, Sir. Youd daughter doesn’t seem to be in good manners. What are we to do now? It has been a week she started going astray like this,” said Charu’s mother with a grim face.
“Really? Why didn’t you tell it all to me when she was asking for five-hundred rupees? I won’t have given her any,” Krishna Guru said.
“Do not show-off. You always give in, whenever your daughter says. And now you boast off when she is away,” said his wife, fuming.
“Mom! Dad!” I am going said Charu, shouting from the courtyard.
“O God, where on earth are you going again?” said her mother, coming out on the porch.
“Did you forget out decision to visit maternal home today?” Charu said.
“Daughter, hadn’t we decided to go together?” the father said in a loving voice.
“I am bound to reach rather earlier. I and Radha are going together. Daddy, you please reach at 1 o’clock at all cost. I will take my lunch at Radha’s and go. My lunch is ready there,” said Charu, joining her hands in request.
After this, father and daughter laughed.
Krishna Guru gawked, seeing his daughter move away.
“Why are you gawking at the road? Would you drink tea too, or it suffices you to spy on your daughter?” said his wife in a harsh voice.
“Hurry up. We should leave early so that we can reach there in time,” Krishna Guru said.
“That’s fine. Why hurry? Even if we go slow, it is not more than an hour’s drive. If I drive, I think, I will be there in 40 minutes,” said his wife, laughing.
“Are you taking our vehicle? I feel it boring to take it out of the garage and keep it back,” Krishna Guru said.
“Leave it. You don’t need to take it out. You don’t need to drive and keep it back, either. I shall do everything. We must take our own car in such a time of Corona pandemic. Why should we hire a taxi used by dozens of people?” said his wife, announcing her decision.
“OK. Your words are sensible,” said Krishna Guru, smiling.
“You have tea and put new dress. Rice will be ready in the rice-cooker in thirty minutes. Within forty-five minutes, I will take out the car and get it cleaned. We shall have our lunch thereafter and leave. Do not can glued to a comedy movie, forgetting your tea. I am worked up with your comedy,” she said and moved towards the garage, laughing.
Krishna Guru went into his room and wore a new pair of pants, a shirt and a pair of socks. Then he got hold of his binoculars and walked onto the roof of the house. Adjusting the binoculars—the best pair of his days—he smiled and said, “Look! Daughter Charu and Radha have just come out on the road; they are walking. This means, they spent a whole hour to have their lunch. Let me see where they will be going next,” he said, adjusting the binoculars on the stand. He started looking out carefully with his binoculars.
Charu and Radha moved on, taking quick steps. On the way, they also came across Safal Guru. He laughed on seeing them. He ran his eyes all round, perhaps to find if Krishna Guru was spying on Radha today as well.
“It seems everything will go wrong. Safar Guru cannot maintain any secret. What if he leaks this morning’s details to Charu?” though Krishna Guru and shuddered.
Even as doubts filled his mind, he observed more keenly from his binoculars. Thank God, Safal Guru didn’t go close to the girls. He kept his way, without caring to stop.
After that, Charu and Radha went to the bus park further away from their home and boarded a bus. He zoomed in the binoculars and observed keenly. They had boarded the route 21 bus that would take them to their maternal home.
After having observed this, Krishna Guru closed his binoculars, taking a breath of comfort. He packed it back into a carton and thrust it underneath the bed where it was before. Then he hurried back to the kitchen.
“Where were you lost? Your tea has become cold. Leave it; take lunch instead. Else, we will be late,” said his wife, apparently unhappy.
“Is the car in order?” Krishna Guru asked, taking his lunch.
“It is. Why? Was anything wrong?” his wife asked.
“No. But it has been three months since we stopped using. I was concerned if it refused to start,” he said.
“No.All is find. It got started easily.”
“That’s great. Do you know: Charu and Radha also a route bus?” he said.
“Oh God. I was wondering where you had gone. Means, you were on the roof with your binoculars, spying on your daughter!” said the wife, laughing.
“Dress up and come downstairs quickly. I will be starting the car at the courtyard,” Krishna Guru said.
“That’s fine, my hubby! Get into the car I have cleaned,” she said, giving her husband the key of their car.
Downstairs, Krishna Guru started the car and waited for a while, letting the engine purr.
His wife showed up in a while, beautifully clad in a sari and a cholo.
“You move to the other seat. I will myself drive the car I cleaned,” said the wife, laughing.
Krishna moved a little, making room for his wife to seat on the driver’s seat. The wife started driving. The road was quite empty. Perhaps it was because of pandemic, people in the city streets were scantier than those in the villages.
The town appears fully shut. Our village is far better. It’s quite near to the city, and the shops are all open,” the wife said.
“It’s unwise to open shops or do a lot of moving,” the husband said.
To her husband’s words, the wife nodded.
At quarter to one, Krishna Guru and his wife reached their ancestral home. Having parked the vehicle on the courtyard, they went straight inside to see their ninety-year-old mother. He was pleased to see Charu Radha and Saurav—his brother’s son—who were busy talking with their grandmother. He bowed down to his mother with respect. His wife also did the same, showing her reverence to her mother-in-law.
“Did you bow to your grandmother, kids?” Krishna Guru asked.
“We did, Daddy,” Charu said.
“Brother, please give us some water. We are hungry.”
No sooner had Krishna Guru said this, his brother and his wife came into her room. The sister-in-law brought a glass of water from the filter.
“Brother, did the kids eat anything,” Krishna’s wife asked.
“I don’t really know, Bhauju. Since early in the morning, they have been going to the roof. They only said it’s secret, and kept working, shutting the door. It’s only now they have come downstairs. They had also locked the door leading to the roof,” the brother said.
“Oh. Means, the kids bothered you a lot during lock-down,” she said. In the meantime, she remembered that Charu had mentioned about keeping things secret in the morning. Only now could she understand that Charu had phoned her brother and asked him to keep everything secret. She was now impatient to know what the kids’ secret was.
“It’s time we go to the rooftop. Uncle and my dad, you slowly lift Grandma and bring her on the rooftop. Others, you can come upstairs only in neat, fresh clothes today,” Saurva said.
“We are in neat dresses,” everyone said in a single voice.
Following this, Krishna Guru and his brother lifted their mother and took her to the rooftop. Others followed joyfully.
The rooftop had been beautifully decorated with color-papers. A small tent had also been erected. At one corner of the tent, pictures of the kids’ grandparents—father and mother of Krishna Guru—had been pasted. There also was something wrapped in a red cloth.
“Oh God, the red bag Charu had packed her purchase in the market is here. What does it contain?” said Krishna Guru to himself. His spying eyes took no time in spotting the bag there.
“What’s there inside the bag?” he wondered.
“Grandma, Grandpa, Daddy, Mummy, Uncle and Aunt! You please sit on the chairs near those photographs,” said Charu, requesting everyone.
The kids clapped.
After that, Saurav said with joy, “I know request Sister Charu to lift that red cloth and reveal the secrecy of this event, the Mystery of Charumati.”
Quite curious, everyone got up from the chairs to see the thing underneath the red cloth.
The red cloth was gone in the blink of the eyes.
Oh, there was a wonderful cake underneath the red cloth. The first word written on the cake was “90”. The second line read: “Happy Birthday, Grandma.”
On seeing this, the eyes of all the elders had tears in them. The kids helped their grandmother slice the cake. They also put a paper-cap on her head. Then all of them sang together, “Happy birthday to you, Granny!”
Then they added oil to the wick-lamp, lighted it and placed it near to their grandmother’s photograph. All of them put their hands together. The turn of the red bag came only after that. Radha brought the bag and handed it over to Charu. Krishna Guru observed keenly to see what lay inside the bag.
Inside the bag was a red shall, on which, the inscriptions read: “Hare Krishna!” There also was another thing wrapped in paper. Charumati tore the paper off and took out the thing. Oh, it was a framed photograph that showed Grandpa, Grandpa, Krishna Guru and his wife, his brother, his sister-in-law, Charu, Saurav and Radha.
Oh, how beautiful Charumati’s mystery was!
All of them gave their gifts to the grandmother, and sought her blessings. They bowed down to her feet.
After this, the kids pulled out the containers they had kept hidden on one corner. They contained curd, sweets, pulaw and other food items. All of them ate their lunch, enjoying.
Seeing their daughter, Krishna Guru and her wife had tears in their eyes. Their hearts leaped up with joy. They heads rose high. Standing together, Krishna Guru and his wife invited their daughter Charu to come into their loving arms. Charu and Radha came running into their arms. Saurav too ran into his parents’ arms. Then, they all placed Grandma in the middle and took group photos.