Cheerful Spirits
Written by Gita Iyengar
Illustrations by Pulak Biswas
Published by National Book Trust, New Delhi

Summer vacations seemed never-ending when Priya first moved into her new home. Till she met Hari, the boy living next door. Suddenly excitement fills the air as they go about exploring the nooks and crannies of Hari’s cluttered home. But the real adventure comes along only when they find an old family album…

An excerpt from the book:

Priya bounded into Hari’s room with the album in her hands. “Look at this!” she exclaimed, all excited.

Hari glanced at it and remarked casually, “Oh that! It’s daddy’s old family album. All old pictures like this one. See what a long face she has!”

“No manners,’ said the lady severely.

Hari’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “She spoke!”, he gasped.

“Yes, she spoke to me too,” said Priya.

The lady sniffed with annoyance and put her nose up in the air.

It was weird seeing a face in a snapshot do that!

The Family Album []
The Family Album []

“Who’s she?” whispered Priya.

“My great-grandma or something,” whispered back Hari.

“What do you mean something?” rapped out the old lady. “I am your great-grandmother.”

Hari gulped and looked uneasy. “It’s all your fault that this is happening,” he told Priya. “Such queer things never happened before.”

“It’s your album,” retorted Priya, just as certain that she was not to blame. “I don’t know anything about it!”

“Silly children,” remarked great-grandma, “squabbling over nothing! They don’t know I made it happen.”

“You did?” said Hari.

“How?” demanded Priya.

The old lady looked pleased with herself. “On my birthday,” she said, “I can make this whole album come alive.”

“Oh, is it your birthday?” said Priya, “How nice! And how old are you today?”

“Just a hundred and five years, or maybe a year more or less. I can’t be sure,” said great-grandmother chattily.

“That old! Then why don’t you have white hair?” wondered Hari.

“Silly!” chided great-grandma, “This photograph was taken when I was just twenty-two.”

“But why didn’t you smile when they were taking your photograph?” asked Priya.

“As though I was a giddy little girl to be showing all my teeth! So even though I was excited I put on a very proper face in front of the camera.” The old lady smiled faintly and continued, “I felt like giggling when the photographer kept popping behind his black sheet and coming out again. But you see, your great-grandpa was right there and he would have given me a terrible scolding if I’d done that. So I just kept on sitting there, very prim and proper, wishing it would soon be over.”

“You mean you were already married then?” asked Priya.

“Why, child,” said the old lady impatiently, “I was a bride when I was just five years old. And when this picture was taken I was already the mother of three.” Her eyes narrowed as she looked at Priya. “And how old are you?” she asked.

“Almost eleven,” said Priya jauntily.

“Eleven! And still single!” said great-grandma pityingly. She turned to Hari and said, “It’s time your sister was married.”

“Yuck,” said Priya.

“She’s not my sister” said Hari. “And grandma, no one gets married that early nowadays.”

“Ah, times have changed,” sighed his great-grandmother. ..

They turned another leaf of the album.

A girl of sixteen-or-so beamed at them-her merry face drew smiles immediately from the two children.

“Hey, you must be granny!” exclaimed Hari, “But a young granny.” He was immensely happy to see his grandmother, for she’d died when he was about six and he remembered what a loving soul she’d been.

“Well, if it isn’t Hari! You young rascal!” she exclaimed affectionately.

“You look cute in this photo, granny,” enthused Hari,” And you know something, we saw grandpa and his brothers doing some crazy things just now.”

“Like what?”

“They were near a cattle-trough-and Grandpa let the others drink from it!”

“Oh, that! Yes, they told me about it. In fact, Appu would keep telling me these wild stories, and your grandfather got mad at him,” twinkled grandma.

“And did you get married to, when you were just five?” asked Priya. After all, Hari’s great-grandmother had done that.

“Oh, no! said grandma, shocked,” The law didn’t allow it. I was married when I turned fifteen.”

“Was it a grand wedding?” Priya wanted to know.

“Well… I don’t know about grand, but it went on for five days.

And you know what happened? On the morning of the wedding-the actual wedding – your grandfather just couldn’t be found!”

Giggled grandma.

“He ran away?”

“Oh, don’t be silly! It’s just that his brother Kuppu heard about a fire in a nearby hamlet that morning. He told his brothers and they all decided to put out the fire, marriage or no marriage. So they disappeared and you can imagine the fuss there was. People turned the place upside down looking for them. And then about noon these four trooped back looking utterly grimy. How I wished I’d gone with them,” granny finished with a laugh.

“What a jolly gang you must have been!” said Hari.

“I bet you had fun all day long” sighed Priya.

“Nothing of the sort!” said grandma. “ I was busy in the house.

Your grandpa went off to work and the others were by then studying seriously.”

“How could they all turn so serious?” moaned Hari.

“Of course,” said grandma, winking, “we found time for an odd prank or two.”

“Tell us, granny,” begged Hari.

“Well, I remember one memorable night about the time this snap was shot,” began grandma. “It was the middle of the night, and I felt terribly hungry. I felt sure I couldn’t stand it till the morning.

So I thought I’d slip down to the kitchen and drink some buttermilk.

Up I got, and just as I crept out of the room, something touched my arm. God, how I jumped!”

“What was it?” asked Priya, wide-eyed.

“It was only Thambu. He wanted to know, what I was doing, creeping about at that time of the night. Then he said he was hungry as well. And a moment later, we found Appu and Kuppu at our side, They were hungry too.”

Priya giggled.

“So then, there were four of us. We tiptoed to the kitchen, closed the door and lit a lamp. I brought out the buttermilk and was about to pour out a glass. Then Appu said he wanted some food not just buttermilk. Wasn’t there some rice, he wanted to know.”

“And there wasn’t any?” suggested Hari.

“Oh, there was plenty.” explained grandma.” You see we always kept some leftover for the morning. We’d mix that with buttermilk and have it for breakfast. So that night it took us just a minute to get at the rice. It was kept as usual in a big vessel, covered with a heavy stone on top of it so that the rats wouldn’t get it. I had to be very careful, not to make any noise taking out the rice, and then the buttermilk, and then some pickle. And ah, what a feast we had.

Food never tasted so good in all my life!”

“Nobody heard you?”

“Not a soul. Then we quietly washed up, put everything back turned off the lamp, and went back to our beds feeling well-fed and happy.”
“And did they find out in the morning?”

“Not at once. I was in the kitchen when I saw your great-grandma turn towards the vessel we’d emptied the night before. I thought I’d die of fright. I silently watched out of the corner of my eye as she removed the heavy stone. Then she lifted off the lid and put her hand in for the rice. A look of horror came over her face and she let our a scream.” And grandma began to giggle. “Oh, wasn’t it funny!”

“Don’t laugh now, grandma, please, “begged Hari, “Tell us what happened then.”

“With all the noise your great-grandma was making, everyone came running, of course. They all piled up asking what had happened. And then…..” Grandma gave way to laughter once again.

“Oh, grandma,” said Hari, “You’ll never finish the story at this rate.”

“All right, I won’t laugh, though it was crazy!” continued grandma, “You know what your great-granny told them? She said that a rat had been at the rice and eaten all of it, every bit!”

“You mean, no one thought it was mischief?” asked Priya.

“Well, I was standing there choking and trying not to laugh,” went on grandma, and I saw your grandpa beginning to look as though he smelt a rat. That made me want to giggle all the more. Then all of a sudden there was Appu saying that he’d seen the rats who did it! And counted them, too. Four rats, he said. That was too much for me, and I sat down and started to laugh. All the elders turned and looked at me, as though I’d gone mad.”

“Poor granny, it got you into trouble?” asked Hari, full of sympathy.

“Not really, for that wasn’t all. After Appu said that he’d seen the rats, he turned and walked off coolly. Everyone there began to think about what Appu had said. Then a silly old aunt rolling her eyes in wonder, exclaimed, “They must be such clever rats! They’d taken off the heavy stone and the lid, and even put them back!

Would you believe it”. Priya giggled suddenly. “Imagine a bunch of rats carefully putting back the lid!” She chortled. And Hari’s grandma looked ready to go off in another gale of laughter.

“Granny, don’t, don’t, don’t, laugh!” pleaded Hari.

Granny checked herself and continued, “And then it was Kuppu’s turn. He said in a very serious tone, that he’d seen the rats too. And he’d noticed, those rats looked as though they were upto no good. Like crooks, said Kuppu. So he looked at them carefully. He could swear to it-there were three gentlemen rats and a lady rat!”

“Oh-oh” exclaimed Priya, “then they caught on, didn,t they?”

“Yes,” chuckled granny,” but you see, there were four of us in it, so it wasn’t too bad. And in anycase, after the initial shock they all saw the fun of it. So they just grumbled a bit and let us off.”

“Uncle Kuppu was crazy,” said Hari. “Gentlemen rats and lady rats, what a silly thing to say! Couldn’t he keep his mouth shut?” “Oh, he couldn’t do that! exclaimed granny. “It wouldn’t have been natural. Kuppu always had the loudest mouth in the family. That’s why he’s went on to make such a marvellous lawyer. Ah, the stories he tells, you never could believe half of them!”

“I wish, I could hear them, “said Priya wistfully.

“Why don’t you just ask him, my dear,” suggested grandma..

“You’ll find him a few pages on a smart young fellow in a three-piece suit.” …..

1839 words | 30 minutes
Readability: Grade 4 (9-10 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: book reviews
Tags: #grandmother, #kitchen, #wedding