The winter vacations were in full swing, just like the warm winter sun; which played peek-a-boo with us. The comfortable quilts, the variety of vegetables, different warm stews…winter vacations were the most awaited holiday for me. I belong to a small town, and the wave of industrialization was yet to have its full-fledged impact over us. Evenings were spent playing actual football, and running home thereafter to ask mom diligently for something to eat.
Monkeys were like, the second residents of our neighborhood. They come in packs, eat leaves, fruits and what not, and before the sun sets down completely, they would be gone. Some of our evenings would be spent in their company, trying to shoo them away. We would be taking our afternoon nap, when the humdrums of the monkey would wake us. And then I would rush with my dad or mom to protect our plants and flowers. Monkeys might not be afraid of us, but they are so very afraid of the catapult. Just aim the catapult at them, and they will find spring in their feet, and quickly get moving. So, we always had a catapult at our home.
My grandfather had made me a catapult a few days ago, and I was delighted at having this new toy. I mean, this one was the perfect one for me, in a perfect Y shape. The hand grip was made according to the size of my small palm, for I was around 9 years old. I fancied that toy.
But any catapult is empty without its shots. So one day, after finishing my homework for the morning, I decided to make some shots. It was around 11 in the morning. I gathered soil from the flower pots, taking small amounts from one by one, to avoid scolding if my parents found out. My grandfather lived on the first floor, and most of my spare time was spent with him, listening to mythological stories, or stories of his childhood, or any story. And he saved me most of the times if I were to get scolded by my mom and dad. And there was a terrace, outside his room. I convinced him to make me some catapult shots so that I can shoot the monkeys with them. And then we together sat down legs crossed on the open terrace, watching as my grandfather meticulously mixed proportionate amount of water to the soil, and then rolled it in shape of small balls. After watching him for a few minutes, I too started doing the same, and he smiled back at me. One by one, we kept rolling the balls, and placing them under the sun to dry. When we were finished, our hands were dirty, and the soil that had dried in our palms, would crack.
Excitement was at its height that day. After every hour or so, I would go back to check on the shots, to see if they had dried completely, for I was eager to use them. By the evening, when the sun was about to set, they still hadn’t dried completely, for the sun had lost its strength in the winters. I would have to dry them next day. And the next day too, the first thing in the morning when the sun was out, I kept the shots out to dry.
Just to practice my targets, I would go to the terrace, which overlooked the street, step up on my toes against the small wall, for my height was small, and aim at some stray dogs. And when I felt any passerby would be eying me for my notorious activity, I would duck behind the balcony wall. This was exciting. It made me feel like a cop on secret mission, trying to avoid being caught. Everything else now seemed secondary. And my first batch of shots were over almost in two days. So, again I gathered some soil from here and there, and asked grandpa for his help. And the same previous routine restored, to watch the balls every now and then for them to dry completely.
This is an incident of a particular warm winter morning.
I remember that day, it was Sunday. As usual, I had done my studies, took bath, and had my breakfast. Grandpa had this routine of praying daily, and Sunday would take him maximum time. So, I kept myself busy waiting for the prayer to be over. When it was over, and grandpa had his breakfast, we went to the terrace near his room, and basked in the wonderful sun. It was a wonderful day. The sun seemed strong somehow that day, and it was fun listening to the stories of Hanuman and Rama. This continued for about an hour, then grandpa said he had some stuff to read, and then he left to his room. I didn’t know what to do; then suddenly mischievous ideas crept in my mind. I wanted to play the role of that secret agent once again, and this time I would try to aim at people!
I had enough shots by now, and I was getting better at my targets. I went down to check on my parents, and found them busy; mom was busy with some assignments for school, dad with the newspaper; and grandpa had already retired to his room. So, no one would be interfering in my mission! It had been around 12 noon, and the roads were almost kind of empty, perfect scenario for me. I craned my neck forward against the terrace boundary and looked left and right scanning for my potential target. I saw an old woman, a vendor, carrying her basket full of vegetables, walking down the road, towards my direction. She would be my first target. I hid myself behind the boundary wall, looking out occasionally, waiting patiently for her to come into my kill zone. I loaded a shot into my catapult, stretched the rubber and stood on my toes against the wall, and hit her in the basket sideways and instantly hid myself. She may have been surprised, I don’t know; maybe would have looked here and there. I was elated, yet in senses to not disclose myself. After a few moments when I thought she would have moved on, I craned my neck again to watch her moving forward, yet she would randomly check here and there, still surprised. Yay! My first target…what a day it was turning out. Turned on by my first victory, extra confidence grew on me. I found it addictive.
Again I craned my neck to look for another viable target. I saw a man on cycle far away, and a young girl walking with her kid brother in my direction not too far away; and she would have been almost around my age, if not another two three years older. I thought she would make a good target and hid myself behind the wall, to wait patiently for her. As soon as she was in my kill zone, I loaded the catapult; aimed and shot towards her. It hit her toe, and seeing this victory of mine, I hid myself again. I had hoped she would be stupefied, look here and there, and then move on, not knowing from where she was hit. After waiting for a minute, I slowly got up on my feet, slowly looked over the boundary wall, and my eyes met hers. She was still standing there on the road, still looking; and when our eyes met, we both knew who the culprit was. Suddenly my heart beat shot up. On that winter day, beads of sweat started to appear on my forehead, and I hid myself behind the wall, thinking what to do next. While I ducked down and raced my grey cells, I suddenly heard the doorbell of my house ring.
Worst fear of mine were slowly becoming a reality. I knew that it was her, and she was hell bent on seeking her revenge. If my dad came to know about this incident; well I would get a nice thrashing and all the play time for me would be suspended. I thought before anyone opens up the door, I should rush down and ask her for apology personally and promise her it would never ever happen again. I ran as fast as I could, and meanwhile the bell rang once again. It was a race against time. But before I could reach towards the stairs, I saw my dad walking in direction of the door, holding the newspaper in one hand. Every step of his was a sign of looming danger towards me. I stood there at the middle of the staircase, for according to my calculations, I couldn’t reach the door before him. All hope was lost. I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” And with every count, I would climb one step backwards. And before I could reach two, the door was opened.
Suddenly, miraculously, the girl had been replaced by our postman. Maybe she never rang the doorbell and carried on after finding me the culprit. It was then that I realized that the man on the cycle was our postman. For that one moment when dad had opened up the door, my heart had skipped a beat. Had the girl been there, the scene would have been entirely different at my home. I raced back to the spot from where I had shot that girl, took all my remaining shots and threw them away.