“I was just thinking how odd it was that our parents never seem to take us home for the vacations,” Deepali mused. The dog Timmiah who sat curled up under their seats thumped his tail and made a low growling sound that they knew meant he was a little puzzled too.
“Yes,” said Annapoorna, squinting her eyes hard in concentration, “I’m trying but I can’t for the life of me remember how me mum looks. I wonder what the Athavale’s are going to be like.”
Mrs. Athavale stood at the gate of the honeysuckle cottage, beaming with a merry twinkle in her eye. She was large and a bit untidy but looked very jolly and the children knew there were many treats of puran poli and perhaps a midnight feast or two with shreekhand that they could look forward to.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she glowed at them merrily.
“Really,” said Junoon. “Being pregnant is one thing, but expecting four children and a dog – honestly. That’s a bit much even for this country.”
No one laughed. “I think I’m getting a bit old for this lot," Junoon thought to himself.
Junoon, Digambar and Annapoorna were brothers and sister. They were at the same boarding school as their cousin Deepali.
“Hello, Deepali,” said Mrs. Athavale trying to give the girl a motherly hug.
“I’m Deepak,” she responded fiercely but Junoon intervened before Mrs. Athavale could take offence, handing her a box of Cooper’s fudge that they had bought near the station before they trudged up the hill to Kailashdham, the Athavale’s summer cottage where children could have adventures. It had stables and everything. “She wants to be a boy,” Julian explained. “She’s saving all her pocket money and expects to have enough for an operation in 2009 at Dr. Polly Umranikar’s pollyclinic. You can call us Julian, Anne and Dick. This is our dog Timmiah, but of course we all call him Timmy. You can too,” he added kindly.
“Come on in,” Mrs. Athavale ushered them in cheerily. “Kashinath Uncle is in the study, and you can meet him later. He keeps himself to himself and children, don’t mind him when he gets cross, he has a heart of gold. We want you to enjoy your holidays here and you can walk around and do whatever you want but just keep away from that area over there where you can see all the trees have been uprooted.”
A little thrill ran through the children. “Why can’t we go near that area over there where all the trees have been uprooted?” asked Annapoorna?
“Yes, why can’t we go near that area over there where all the trees have been uprooted?” asked Deepali fiercely.
“Now don’t ask too many questions children,” Mrs. Athavale admonished, waving a cheery finger at them with a little twinkle in her eye.
That night the children, tired out with excitement, fell asleep at once. Nothing disturbed them till early morning when a cock from one of the nearby poultry farms got in through a window into the room where the boys were sleeping, sat on a rafter just above them, and crowed loudly enough to wake them both with a jump.
“What’s that!” said Digambar. “That awful screeching in my ear! Was it you, Ju?”
The cock crowed again and the boys laughed. “Blow him!” said Junoon, settling down again. “I could do with another couple of hours sleep!”
Just then, Deepali came running in, panting. “There’s lights flashing in that area over there where all the trees have been uprooted!” she called out excitedly. “Come ON, you lazy lot!”
Deep, who was going into the 10th that year, had been sitting at her table all night fiercely mugging up the 10 years solved SSC papers when she saw the lights flashing in that area over there where all the trees had been uprooted. A little later she heard the back door close, and heard someone creeping up the stairs. She got up to investigate, and could have sworn she saw Uncle Kashinath’s bright red dressing gown disappearing round the corner into his bedroom. What on earth could he have been doing flashing lights in that area over there where all the trees had been uprooted? She ran to get the others so they could go and investigate together. “Smugglers!” Digambar had said excitedly. “Silly clot,” said Junoon, “We’re nowhere near the coast! It’s probably just the nasty builders and their nefarious deforestation, setting up a swimming pool villa complex while the civic authorities doze.” And Annapoorna had put her foot down. “I don’t think Mother and Daddy would approve,” she said firmly. “We’ve only been given the ONE instruction. I’m not going anywhere near that area over there where all the trees have been uprooted that the Athavale told us to stay away from, are you Timmy old boy?” Timmy thumped his tail and made a low growling sound that they knew meant that HE certainly wasn’t going anywhere near it.
So the children kept away from the area over there where all the trees had been uprooted, and the holidays went by in a haze of sunshine, walks to Bushy Dam, chicken biriyani made with chicken from the nearby poultry farms, nimbu pani made by Annapoorna, and Digambar had to visit the dentist and have a tooth extracted from eating too much chikki.
But one day as they were walking home, tired but happy after a game of snap on the grassy downs by the old highway near the Fariyas Hotel, Timmy ran after a stick thrown by Junoon and vanished out of sight. The children ran in the direction Timmy had disappeared. “TIMMMMY!” they shouted, over and over, but there was no response. Annapoorna began to cry. Deepali looked sulky, and Digambar kicked a large stone off the edge of the road. Even Junoon’s manly chin quivered a little. Suddenly, an orange ball of fur bounded out from behind a boulder and jumped on Annapoorna, knocking her over.
“It’s you, Timmy!” she shouted in glee, hugging the dog and sobbing in relief. The boys crowded round. “Timmy, old chum,” began Junoon, but Digambar held his nose and made a face. “Peeyoo, you stink, Timmy,” he said.
Deepali had wandered over to the side. “Do you lot know where we are!” she exclaimed fierecely. “We’re in that area over there where all the trees have been uprooted!”
“So we are!” exclaimed Junoon. “Now I understand! The orange mess and horrible stink that Timmy’s covered in … the flashing lights early morning … Uncle Kashinath’s unexplained absences … don’t you see, it those mangoes we’ve been eating! Don’t know if you’ve noticed but none of the little cottages we’ve spent our vacations in ever had a toilet. Good old Timmy, he always solves our mysteries for us, doesn’t he!”
“Good old Timmy,” agreed the others, but Anne was the only one who would let him come anywhere near them as they bounded up the road towards the sabudana vadas Athavale Aunty had promised them.