Prashant Rajkhowa manages a creative writing company, and writes for a humour e-zine in his spare time.

he best part about going to Aita's was the animals. Bombay can teach you a lot, but unless you're bitten trying to feed a horse, you haven't built character. And do not believe the cartoons because real pigs are vicious. Aita's pigs would snarl and growl if you came within five feet of them. I didn't even know pigs could growl! Porky Pig's violent nature was definitely based on some fact. But they never ever growled at her. It was like they knew that while every other human saw them as walking ham and sausages, she didn't.

Her lunch time stories would have sold millions of copies if ever they were compiled into a book. At least that's what Ma used to tell us. I was too lost in the food to hear much of what she said. Her stories about Koka were the only ones I remember in detail till today. In fact, those I should put down in a book and sell a million copies. Koka was an Air Force pilot, and he was as much a daredevil as he was brave. At least, that's what Aita had us be!lieve. Because she had countless stories about his missions and adventures, but she never had one about how he died. Which battle? What were the circumstances? Who was with him? Nothing. "It was time for him to leave, and he did:' Since Ma was too - - - -.......-----.,........-,.-..........,..,.,'-".--......---~----young when it happened, this was all she knew, too. I was fascinated how such a great man could have just vanished. Every summer from the time I could

To Grow

Me july 1, 2007

remember, to the last time I went there, we would ask her about him. And it was always the same answer. I was fascinated! The last time I saw Aita was the summer before my 10th Boards. Ma and Papa couldn't make it, so it was just Ronny and me there. One night, there was a huge commotion outside. The animals were going bananas at the back. In all fairness, it didn't take much for them to do that but still. Aita's animals were ali loons was what we used to say. So there was this huge commotion, people yelling and calling Aita outside. Ronny and Iwere up and outside in a flash. I ran into the bright glare of somebody's torch a~d was blind. By the time Aita made it out, my eyes had adjusted to the glare. With one hand over my eyes, I could just about make out Rohu dada from next door. He was holding Lokesh by the scruff of the neck. Lokesh was Aita's all-purpose house boy. Cooking, cleaning, scrubbing cages, he did everything. And by the looks of things, he had just added something to his skill set. "Aita, Icaught him snooping around behind my house. When I called out, he tried to run but I caught him and I found this." Rohu dada was holding a gunny bag in his hand. And it was stuffed with money. My eyes widened. There were big, fat wads of notes. Hundreds of them! "Is all of it yours, Aita?" That was all Lokesh could take and he broke down. A flurry of words about dying parents and expensive medicines followed, interspersed with hard slaps courtesy Rohu dada. After about five minutes of bawling, Aita spoke for the first time since the episode began: "Rohu, thank you very much for your help. Iwill make sure Lokesh's parents get the money. And Iwill also make sure Lokesh works off the money before I send him away:' Aita took the bag of money, walked back inside, and that was that. None of us spoke to Lokesh for three days. He went about his chores, but he took
Me July 1, 2007

it badly. He probably would have preferred the punishment to Aita's simple touch of kindness. I even saw him crying once, quickly wiping his tears away when I entered the room.

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Aita spoke to Lokesh for the first time three weeks later. We had finished dinner and were sitting with cups of tea when she called him into the room. Turns out he had worked off the money he had "borrowed" and was free to go. If he didn't leave, Aita would call the police. Lokesh nodded and left without a word. A part of me felt bad for him. His simple heart had suffered enough. I heard movement from Lokesh's room that night. His room was just by the animal pens and I could see his silhouette moving around from my bedroom window. I couldn't help watch him pack and clean out the room he had been living in since Idon't even know how long. Right then I wished 'I was far away from that place. My throat went dry. Aita opened the hut door and stepped out into the moonlight. A breeze picked up and I could hear her humming a rune. I watched her sling a gunny bag over her shoulder. Iwatched her walk over to the pig pen. Iwatched her dump the contents of the bag in front of the pigs. Iwatched her throw the empty bag in as well. Iwatched her watch the pigs begin eating. 1 watched her walk back to the hut. I watched her repeat the steps wi,th another bag. Iwatched her do it one more time with another bag. And then one more time after that. I could taste bile in my mouth. Ronny broke the ice at breakfast the next morning: "Did Lokesh actually leave?" My eyes fl,icked , down to my breakfast plate. • "It was time for him to leave, and he did:'