“ We’re moving to Hasimara.”
And in twenty days the house was boxed up. The carpets were rolled and wrapped in sack cloth and tied. Dad stencilled our name and destination over the large wooden crates, including the one that held our prized possession, the fridge.
I said bye to all my friends. And the trees in our backyard. Jamun, Guava, Ber, Imli, Mango, Lemon. Specially the guava tree with its white smooth limbs, and roomy perches between branches. I sat on it every day through my summer holidays, pretending it was a tree house.
I even went to the corner of the garden, the spot we always avoided. It contained a huge mound with a number of holes under the banyan tree. The cobra family lived there.
They were pretty peacefull, apart from having bitten and killed the poor tailor who had been cycling home at night. But then his cycle tyre ran over one of them. And after he got bitten, his relatives took him away to the village outside, where they made him lie in a mud pit and poured milk and ghee over him. Obviously not very effective in treating cobra bites.
Sometimes I would see a cobra slithering away towards the dense bougainvillea hedge we had around the house. Sometimes they would sun themselves on the steps behind our bathroom door. And since my mom insisted that after a bath, we must open the back door to dry out the bathroom, it was always a bit of an adventure. I usually unbolted the latch with a noise loud enough to wake up the dead, and then stamped around for a good five minutes, before flinging open the door and running in the opposite direction.
The cobras must have laughed their heads off.
My friends, three boys who lived in my lane, decided that they’ll give me a farewell gift. Four of us were the Mystery Solvers of Kalaikunda. Yeah, that’s what we called ourselves. And we wore raincoats as disguises, and constantly chewed on blades of grass while we discussed what new mystery we could solve. And we spent our time shadowing unsuspecting people on our cycles. Which was always a bit of a letdown because sooner or later they would realise four kids on cycles, wearing mismatched raincoats in peak summer, were trailing them. Also, the shadowing invariably ended on a rather sad note, at the puncture repair shop. I don’t know if it was the roads of Kalaikunda or our second hand cycles.
Anyway, so my goodbye gift was a grand old British bunker. Actually it was an abandoned old British bunker which had been discovered by one of the boys while cycling back from school. It was on one end of a huge parade ground. And covered with mud, stones and thorny bushes growing inside and outside it. And now that I think about it, probably many cobra families as well.
So on my last day, we cycled to the abandoned bunker and I was allowed to enter it first. We spent a happy hour fighting our way through the thorns and undergrowth to go into a dark, damp bunker that smelled strangely like the entrance to the kalaikunda sewage. After reassuring ourselves that nobody had stashed dead bodies in there, and there was no foul play, just a foul smell, we emerged, donned our raincoats and trailed a lady with a kid in the pram. We were sure it was a chopped body she was carrying in the pram.
When she turned around and waved to us, and asked if we’d like to see the baby, we fled in disgust. It was the best farewell I ever had.