No Murder Tonight

Grandma had woken up earlier than usual and was bustling in the kitchen humming to herself the movie songs of her teenage period. She always did her bit of share in preparing the breakfast before she went to wake up her grandchildren Divya and Anand. When Kamala entered the kitchen grandma was surprised to find her daughter-in-law also had woken up earlier than usual.

Kamala had finished her special Friday oil bath and was draped in a Kanjeevaram silk sari instead of her usual three-fourths and tops. Taking a sip of the filter coffee her mother-in-law passed on to her she said,"Ma, I am going to Vadapalani Murugan temple for the special pooja there today. Prem will drop me there on the way to his office. I am afraid it will be very late for me to return. Do you think you can manage the kids? And cook something simple for lunch?"

"Don't worry, dear. I have other plans in mind. Since it is summer holidays for the kids I want them to have some fun with their cousins. I shall take them to Radha's house after having our favourite special meals in Saravana Bhavan. And also the kids and I are impatient to enjoy our first ride in the new Chennai Metro train! We will take that train to go to Koyambedu after our lunch in the hotel. We are looking forward to having a wonderful time at Radha's house during this weekend. We shall go there prepared for a two-day stay. You and Prem may join us on Sunday and we shall return home together."

Kamala stood speechless for a moment gazing with awe at her mother-in-law struggling to take in what she had just rattled off. She was quite familiar with the old lady's bubbling enthusiasm and her joy in youthful activities and her habit of being different from the women of her age. But why this sudden plan today? Something in her manner was odd, something fishy in her characteristic, adventurous plan of going out today with her grandchildren...something...may be it was just her imagination. Whatever, she had no time to mull over any oddity in the suddenness of her crazy mother-in-law's programme or her disguised impishness.

"Awesome, ma!" grinned Prem as he came and sat in front of the dining table for his morning coffee. He had heard his mother's plan when he was entering the room. He told his wife," That is a great idea, Kamala! Radha has been inviting us again and again and it is long since we visited her. Let the kids enjoy their holidays. Why don't you call your friends and meet somewhere for lunch?"

Kamala's face lit up with joy and she was all smiles when she said softly, "As you all wish."

Prem lived in Kodambakkam and his sister lived in Koyambedu. In their busy Chennai life the meetings of both families were becoming more distant much to the chagrin of grandma and her four grandchildren.

Prem was an easy-going person. His intelligence and hard work had helped him become a very successful and wealthy man. Unfortunately his affluence brought in a lifestyle which had attached to it a few unwanted habits hitherto unknown to his orthodox family.

Kamala was a soft-natured, god-fearing girl who was helpless in weeding her husband's weaknesses. She devoutly frequented Vadapalani temple and put her worries and pleas at the feet of Lord Murugan.

Grandma's efforts at putting sense into Prem's head also bore no fruit. All her techniques failed. She hoped one day her son would see for himself the ill effects and give up his bad habits. She tried her best to protect the kids by keeping them away from unsavoury scenes. She dreaded and detested the occassional weekend parties Prem held at home. An added reason it was for her to take the kids often to places of her liking like the beach, the bird sanctuary, the bookstores and amusement parks.

After Kamala and Prem left the house grandmother hurried into the children's bedroom and found them engaged in fierce pillow-fighting. "Stop! Stop! Stop, I say! kiddos, we have no time to waste. A busy, interesting day awaits us!"

When she listed their day's programme-lunch at Saravana Bhavan, ride in the new Metro train to their aunt's house to spend the weekend there-the kids shouted in joy and gave a high-five to each other at first and then to their darling grandma. The trio was agog with excitement and adventurous spirit.

Grandma continued:"Now I give you ten minutes to wash up and come to the dining table. After breakfast we shall pack up carefully for our fun-filled holiday at your aunt's house. Don't forget your swimsuits and goggles. And also your skates. Take whatever games you may want to play with your cousins." The children shouted in joy again as the grandma hurried out of the room. Her hands were full.

Divya said to her brother:"What a great woman our grandma is! I am surprised by the awesome ideas she gets!"

"Yes," agreed Anand, "I often wonder if she is really sixty six years old!"

Divya said with sparkling eyes:"You know what? When I grow old I want to have the same joie-de-vivre she has."

"That's good! I don't want a grumpy granny for my sister!" nodded Anand and ran into the bathroom to escape from a handy missile his sister threw at him.

After a quick bath the children went to the dining room and ate with relish the healthy fare their grandma had spread on the table for their breakfast. As they were slowly munching the food they heard their grandma being busy in their backyard garden.

Divya asked her brother,"Did you hear that 'cluck' 'cluck'? Is that Silkie?"

"Yes, I think so," was Anand's reply,"Grandma's favourite hen!"

Divya:"Yours and mine too!"

Anand:"Do you remember the day grandma made us watch it hatching out of the eggshell?"

Divya:"Yes. what a fluffy, cute, little white ball she was!"

Anand:"Which made grandma name her Silkie which is a high-priced variety hen in her virtual farm. Am I right?"

Divya:"Yes, you are! How diligently grandma nurtures her many farms in that facebook game!"

Anand:"Have you ever wondered how she never tires of playing farmville?"

Divya:"I only wonder how you guys keep playing Minecraft without getting bored!"

After having breakfast they returned to their room and both of them carefully packed their things for their weekend stay at their aunt's house and waited for their grandma to finish her chores.

Among the things grandma had collected to take to her daughter's house was their lidded wicker picnic basket. Anand asked curiously,"What is there in that basket, grandma?"

Grandma put her hand on the boy's head and rumpled his hair playfully. There was a naughty smile on her lips when she replied,"Some goodies, my boy! Your aunt and her kids are fond of Manna sweets, don't you know?"

Thus chatting they sauntered off to Saravana Bhavan. They took a corner table at the far end of the hall and ordered for their favourite special meals. The waiter cast frequent glances at the picnic basket grandma kept close to her knees. And oddly grandma lavished compliments on him with a sheepish grin and tipped him generously.

Without wasting much time they proceeded straight to the railway station for their much-awaited first ride in the Metro train. It was Chennai's latest sensation. They were enthralled by the new experience of travelling in the luxury train. It was a news item of grave importance to be eagerly shared with friends and relatives for many more days to come.

Excited as they were during the train journey the kids, however, did not fail to notice the extra care their grandma took in handling the picnic basket she carried with her. Fortunately they had got place to sit and put their luggage. Grandma broadly smiled at any copassenger who looked at her basket.

Radha who was already informed about their visit was eagerly waiting at the gate and received them with great pleasure. Her kids who were also on summer holidays came rushing to welcome their grandma and cousins.

As they entered the house with much laughter and words of affection Radha asked,"What is in that basket, ma?"

"Goodies," giggled Divya.

"Manna sweets," added Anand.

"No." said grandma grinning like a Cheshire cat. "None of you can guess what I have brought in it," declared the gleeful grandma.

Even Radha who was used to her mother's unimaginably strange acts was puzzled over what could be inside the picnic basket.

Grandma pulled open the lid of the basket and out flew Silkie shaking out the small wet towel with which it was wrapped. Everybody squealed with delight seeing Silkie flopping its wings and hopping with joy at being released at last.

Radha with unbelieving eyes asked."Why, ma? Why have you brought Silkie with you?"

"No murder tonight," was grandma's terse reply.

When everybody stared at her in utter bewilderment, quite unable to comprehend what the cryptic utterance meant grandma explained,"Tonight Prem is holding one of his infamous parties at home. His roguish friends have an eye on Silkie for long and Prem is sure to yield to the pressure they shall give. I had no option other than kidnapping the little girl." So saying grandma settled in the couch filled with satisfaction at the success of her strategic operation.

After a few seconds of awful relief enjoyed with closed eyes grandma became aware of the ominous silence in the hall. When she opened her eyes she was struck by the look on the faces of her little audience.

"Oh, my God! Why are you all staring at me with accusing eyes? What have I done to deserve it?" asked grandma in utter shock and disbelief.

Divya blurted out:"Grandma, isn't kidnapping a crime?"

Grandma asked in an agonised voice:"Are you not happy for Silkie, my child?"

Anand tried to put in his view:"But, grandma...yes, happy for Silkie...but...still..." and groping for words ended up in silence leaving his sentence unfinished.

Radha being old and mature tried to calm the children's trepidation,"Well, kids, what grandma has done may not be a crime actually. Should we not look at her action in a different light? Under the circumstances we must consider the act with more understanding. Will you call saving the life of your pet a crime?"

The children exchanged glances and looked less tense. But they were not fully convinced yet.

Divya thought aloud rewinding the day's events in flashback:"So, grandma had meticulously drawn a masterplan to save her-nay-our pet, Silkie from being murdered by a few gluttons tonight for their drunken party at our home. She camouflaged a picnic basket and warded off all suspicious looks with clever manoevres and tactful measures. She has accomplished her mission 'No Murder Tonight' bravely passing through so many hazards. She carried it to the hotel, she kept it in the train and after miles and hours of travel finally reached the destination safely."


More by :  Pavalamani Pragasam

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