A June morning. Holiday morning. “Fun! fun!” Runu thought as she woke up. No school, lots of cartoons on TV, computer games, and surely, a trip to the ice cream parlour. Fun, fun indeed! Runu gulped down her chocolate milk.
Mom and Dad came in to pet her. Dad said, “Sorry baby, but we have to go see someone who is ill, can’t take you out today.” Seeing Runu pull a long face, Mom said, “I’ll leave the computer on for you, and your favourite CDs. Is there going to be Scooby Doo and Pop Eye on TV today? Smile please”. Runu decided to smile and bid them ‘bye.’
Runu slipped in her Stellaluna CD into the computer. Phut!!! the computer blanked out. Yet another power failure. Parvati Aunty, who looked after her, came in to switch off everything but one fan. That’s all Mummy allowed when the invertor was on.
Everything was going wrong. Runu started to stamp her foot, but stopped — there was none to watch. Her eye fell on the book by Dr Seuss, “The Cat in the Hat”. Mom had read it to her just last night. It was about this funny cat who comes to the house on a boring day and does lots of naughty things when the kids’ mom is out. But these things only happen in books or to children abroad, Runu thought. What a bore.
She glared at the front door and then she saw Him!!!
Step in on the mat.
Yes there he was A bedraggled brat.
He said “why do you get so awfully bored, there is always some fun that you can afford !!
Look at me, look at me, look at me please, How from so little, so much fun I can squeeze
Without moving one bit there are places you can go to Come make friends with me, my name is Chotu”
Runu stared. A thin bony boy, with brownish hair, grimy face, rough hands and eyes bright with fun. She smiled and held out her hand. She said, “Sorry Chotu, my most fun things, the TV and computer won’t work, its hot without the A.C. but we can play with my other toys.” Chotu replied. “Don’t bother. I work in a dhaba, I wash dishes and carry plates and things, come with me and we can play while I work”.
“Oops, I can’t go out like that” said Runu. “Of course not, I know that silly. I told you, you don’t always have to go out to be with someone or somewhere. From right here, I’m getting you to share my day and my fun. Ready?” Runu was ready.
And then she felt the hot sun in her eyes. She was on the roadside. Chotu asked her to sit on a flat stone next to a water pump, where he was squatting with a pile of plates and glasses. As he rubbed and scrubbed, he held them out to the sun. She saw rainbow colours on the plates and the water pool that formed on the ground.
“Chotu, make it snappy or I’ll pulp you” a harsh unpleasant voice called out. Runu looked up horrified, but Chotu winked. He pulled out his tongue in the direction of the voice. He gathered some lather from the soap on his palm and blew it into bubbles. Runu was delighted to see bubbles flying around, catching rainbow colours. “Isn’t this fun?” Chotu asked. Runu nodded. The harsh voice called out again. Runu started shaking with fear. Chotu said “Shsh, I’m showing you how to snatch fun between one shout and the next. This is the game.
“Whoever snatches the most fun wins. Your time starts now”.
Runu caught on. She splashed water, piled the glasses up into a Qutub Minar, watching the water dripping in funny patterns on the side, the drops catching colour from the sun….
The next shout came. “Coming Saab” she heard Chotu say. She saw him pile up the glasses on the dishes and every thing on a tray and balance the tray on his two fingers while dancing a jig. Chotu said, “look, I’ll dance ten steps without dropping anything. If I drop anything, you win and can make a face at me. Otherwise I win and will make a face at you”.
Chotu started moving towards the voice, dancing a jig. Runu was so busy counting his steps that she hardly noticed the harsh voice yelling for Chotu. Six, seven eight….. Crash!! Amidst a burst of abuse, Chotu had dropped his load, but thank goodness on a table!
Chotu came to Runu. “Quick make your face, I lost. I’ve to serve tea and mathies to some people but watch me while I do it.” Runu had thought of a good face. She held up the tip of her nose with one finger and pulled out her tongue. Chotu laughed and laughed, as he went off.
She saw him serve things to some people, and then stand at an angle so only she could see his face. He repeated the face she had pulled. Runu was both scared and tickled. God, what if someone saw and Chotu got into trouble!
Suddenly Chotu was by her side. He slipped something in her palm. He said, quick, let’s eat these Matthies.
Oh, what fun it was to eat like that and how tasty!
Chotu was off again, this time, to collect the used plates. He brought them to the water pump and said. “The Terror (this is our secret name for the shouting voice) will be here in a moment. But let’s snatch some sleep before that. You tell me your dream and I’ll tell you mine.” Runu had never slept without listening to a story or a song. She had never slept in the sun like this. But she smiled and watched Chotu go off, just like that, into sleep. He looked happy.
Then she heard the Terror. “Chotu, Chotu!” she called out, scared for him. Chotu opened his eyes, “Thanks, but I’m up. Watch the fun. The Terror is going to hit me. I’m going to manage to miss the beating three times out of five. He gets too tired to try after that”.
Runu was horrified, but by now she had faith in her friend. She saw the Terror come up but he didn’t seem to notice her at all.
“Ha, Goofing off, you useless boy. You need a good beating”. So saying the Terror pulled Chotu’s ear and aimed his palm at him. Chotu was nimble like a monkey. He ducked and he dodged, he jumped and he skipped — so he got only one whack — on his shoulder. “Hmmm!. Hurry up now” said the Terror and left.
Chotu smiled at Runu, and said “You look tired, sleep.” Runu was tired after the excitement but she remembered to ask, “Chotu, your dream?".
“Oh, I dreamt that I was going to school in a uniform with a bag”…
Runu woke up to hear her parents enter. “Baby did you doze off sitting, what did you do? Shall we go out this evening?”
She rubbed her eyes and thought,
“Did I dream of Chotu?
Is he out there somewhere?
Can we know and see things
If only we care?
Is fun in the heart, not just in that or this?
In being bored
Do we give so much a miss?
Games and toys and ice creams
Aren’t the only things to arrange
We live in a world
That has so much to change
I’d like to do things
In a way that is new
How do I tell Mom and Dad
Well, how would you…”