After a busy morning, the day was tired and wanted a little rest. So, it turned into a mellow afternoon. This was just the right time for Taara to tell Kuhi a story. Together, the aunt and niece would nudge and fan their imagination with laughter and jokes, till a story raised its head and breathed respite into their afternoon, engulfing them in a gentle embrace.
But this afternoon, Kuhi had other plans. She turned five today. She had enjoyed the birthday cake, balloons and gifts in the morning but she wanted more.
“Taara, you said you’d take me to the mall on my birthday,” she pleaded.
“Kuhi, the malls are closed because of the lockdown,” Taara reminded her niece.
“Cancel this horrible Covid and the lockdown for today!” Kuhi demanded, with such earnest that Taara wished the pandemic would disappear like nightmares that disappeared at the crack of dawn.
Taara pulled Kuhi into a hug. “Do you know what will happen if we go to the mall now?”
Kuhi wriggled out of Taara’s embrace and began counting her birthday guests – “Ronit, Ayaansh, Priyanka, Sanaya, Anushka, Karan and Yukta. And, you and me. We will have a good time in the mall. You will have to buy us tickets for the game arcade. And then we will have pizzas and burgers!”
Taara could not take the birthday girl to the mall, but she could still gift her niece an adventure on her birthday, she thought. Some stories begin and end in our minds.
Her mind made up, Taara told Kuhi, “Imagine we have arrived at the mall!”
Taara and Kuhi had spent many afternoons playing such games. Kuhi knew how to join in. She asked, “Is the mall open?”
“Yes. Because today is your special day, I have cast a spell. The mall is now open. However, the security guard declines to let us in!”
“Oh!” exclaimed Kuhi, “What do we do now?”
“We insist on going inside but the guard calls the police!”
At the mention of police, Kuhi feigned trembling with fear.
Taara took Kuhi’s hands in hers, as if to comfort her. “Just before the police arrives, just when the security guard has turned his back towards us for a moment, I chant a magic spell and turn all of you into a flock of sheep,” Taara announced in a hushed tone, her voice swooping over the otherwise silent room like magic spreading over an afternoon.
“A flock of sheep?”
“Didn’t you sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ this morning? Perhaps because of that, my mind conjured up the image of a sheep when I cast my spell.”
“It’s my favourite rhyme,” Kuhi confirmed. But right then, she was too preoccupied with the threat of police to dwell on rhymes. “Has the police arrived?” she inquired.
“Yes. A police officer has arrived.”
“Is he scary?” Kuhi asked.
“No, he doesn’t appear scary. He wasn’t smiling but his face was such that one could easily imagine him smiling and laughing with his friends. But we are not his friends.”
“Will he arrest us?”
“He cannot. A gathering of sheep is not illegal during the lockdown. We are safe. However, the police officer looks enraged.
“”Why are there so many sheep here?’ the police officer asks with irritation.
“I remain silent.
“The security guard appears perplexed. But he tries to answer, ‘This lady was here with eight kids, and now somehow, there are eight sheep instead!!!’
“’Are you trying to fool me?’ bellows the officer.
“The guard starts apologising. The eight of you, turned into sheep with fleece as white as snow, stare silently at the police officer in unison.
“The officer turns to face me and asks, ‘Does this herd belong to you?’
“”Yes Sir,’ I answer.
“”Did you not know that gatherings are prohibited during lockdown?’
“’But, Sir, only human gatherings are forbidden. There is no law against the gathering of sheep,’ I reply, hoping the police officer would be impressed by my smart answer.”
“Is he impressed?” Kuhi cuts in.
Taara pursed her lips into a half-smile but didn’t answer her niece. She went on with her story.
“By now, there is a swarm of reporters and public in front of the mall. Anger begins to pervade the atmosphere. Half of the public supports us, the other half does not. A riot breaks out when the media starts needling with their questions.
“One reporter asks me, ‘Why did you pick only sheep? Aren’t cows a more appropriate representative of the animal community?’
“I keep my mouth shut.
“The police officer summons additional forces to quell the riot. When they arrive, he whisks us away to the police station in his large van. He needs us at the station to file a report.
“I do not object because I am glad to escape the riot.
Once the officer is done with the report, he pats one of you fondly and asks us to leave, but not before reprimanding me with a warning.
“‘Madam, your antics are extremely vexing. Next time we meet, I hope things will be more pleasant.’
“’Why should we meet again?’ I ask him, and without waiting for an answer, I proceed to leave, when I notice that one of you is missing!”
“Who is missing?” Kuhi worried.
“All of you look so much alike as sheep that I have no idea,” Taara said, which did nothing to lessen the little girl’s worry. Every adventure demands a bit of turmoil. Taara continued.
“I accuse the police officer, ‘You are to blame for my lost sheep. You must help me find it.’
“’Madam, finding lost sheep is not my job. But if you want, I will do my best to help you. Do keep in mind though, when we go searching, sometimes we find more than what we bargained for. Are you game?’
“I notice his lips quiver with the shadow of a smile as he looks straight at me, waiting for my answer.
“’I have to find my sheep,’ I tell him.
“’Let’s go to the mall and see if a sheep got left behind,’ the police officer suggests, now all business.
“’I have to take the rest of the flock to their farm first. I will meet you in the mall,’ I tell him and almost run to the nearest empty plot where I reverse my magic and turn all of you back into humans. Then I discover who is missing.”
Taara looked straight at Kuhi, “You are the missing sheep.”
Kuhi sat up straighter, attempting to look brave. Taara continued.
“I take your friends to their homes. Then I make my way to the mall.”
“Why the mall?” Kuhi asked.
“Because that is where my magic began and that is where it must end too so that I can find you. Can you guess what I see in the mall?”
“You see me!” exclaimedKuhi, hopeful.
But Taara wanted to tease her niece a bit more.
“I wish!” said Taara. “But the mall entranceis empty. The angry mob has disappeared. There is neither the guard nor thepolice officer. But I must find you. I do not hesitate and step inside.
“Just as I enter the mall, a yellow butterfly appears in front of me.”
“A yellow butterfly?”
“Yes, a stunning, yellow butterfly. A faint whiff of fragrance drifts into the air as it flaps its wings. I could almost smell flowers in the air, as though I were in a meadow full of flowers. I take a deep breath.”
Taara took a deep breath. Kuhi mimicked her.
“Can you smell the sweet scent in the air?” Taara asked Kuhi.
Kuhi nodded.“I can smell yellow flowers and pink flowers,” she said.
Taara went on. “I take another deep breath. I find myself growing lighter, as if I am melting into thin air.”
“Don’t melt away, or you will get lost too,” Kuhi pleaded, now completely immersed in the story.
“But I cannot help myself. I grow lighter and lighter. Then suddenly, I am not in the mall anymore. I am now in a meadow of tiny flowers and green grass. Do you know what I see there?”
“What?” Kuhi asked. Drenched with curiosity, her voice came out thicker.
“I see a flock of sheep grazing in the meadow. Amongst the flock, I notice you. You are playing with a baby sheep.”
“How do you recognise me?”
“I can easily recognise you, you are the prettiest sheep in that flock.”
Kuhi clapped with joy.
“The baby lamb and you come running towards me. I immediately turn you back into my Kuhi. For a while, the three of us play in the meadow. Then it’s time for us to return home.”
“The baby sheep’s name is Sabrina. She will come back with us,” Kuhi informed Taara. Now that she was safe, Kuhi’s imagination was on fire.
“Sabrina cannot come with us, Kuhi. The meadow is her home where she lives with her family. Separating Sabrina from her family and her natural home will be cruel.”
“Teacher says cruelty towards animals is a crime. But I want to play with Sabrina in our garden,” mused Kuhi, trying to balance her natural instinct of kindness with her desire for a new playmate in Sabrina.
On a whim, Taara made a promise to Kuhi.
“We will leave Sabrina with her family now, but once the lockdown is over, we will visit a meadow in Kashmir where you can play with Sabrina every day of the vacation,” Taara offered.
“Is this a promise?” Kuhi asked.
“It’s a promise. We will bid goodbye to Sabrina now. A gentle breeze blows through the meadow. Drifting in the wind, comes the yellow butterfly from the mall, flapping its wings in the air. A mist of perfume envelopes us; we start melting into air. I blink, and the butterfly disappears. Instead, I see a shepherd approaching us.
“He appears familiar. He reminds me of the police officer.
“He reaches us and tells me, ‘Madam, I looked after your niece along with my herd, but next time you must not vex me with your antics.’
“’Have we met before?’ I ask him. ‘You look familiar.’
“‘We will meet again,’ he says with a smile.
“Just then, the meadow disappears. We find ourselves standing outside the mall. We hurry home, and here we are, safe and sound, after an adventure in the mall on your birthday.”
Kuhi kissed her aunt and said, “I enjoyed the trip to the mall. Thank you Taara. When I meet my friends, I will tell them about this adventure.”
“Yes, you must, but now it is time for us to take an afternoon nap.
Soon Kuhi fell asleep. Taara began browsing news on her phone. She clicked on a headline: “Mall Authority Upset Over Riot Caused by Sheep Protest In Their Premise, Seeks Police Assistance.”
The news read, “Riot breaks out in front of a closed mall when famous animal rights activist, Nayantaara Sharma, stages a protest in front of Orion Mall to draw the government’s attention towards the negligence animals are suffering during the lockdown. Since public gathering of people is prohibited during the lockdown, Nayantaara Sharma gathered 26 sheep in the mall premise to draw attention to her peaceful protest. When a large contingent of media and general public arrived at the scene, a riot broke out. To disperse the enraged mob, police had to use force. After the incident, police officerPrajapatiAnuraag has told PTI, “Necessary actions have been taken as per law to maintain peace and decorum.”
Taara kept her phone aside and curled up next to her niece. A faint smile played on her lips. If you took a deep breath then, you could smell a meadow in the afternoon air. In that meadow, lovers meet. The flowers know, sometimes love come fluttering as a butterfly. A yellow butterfly.
Taara wasn’t ready to admit it yet, but she knew it too.
- Name: A Police Officer
- Place: A Mall
- Animal: Sheep
- Thing:A Riot