By: Prawin Adhikari. First Published on Kurakani.com in October 2002
There was once a little garden, full of caterpillars. It was also full of plants, small and big. They did not have any flowers or any fruits. Plants without flowers and fruits are not very significant, so the caterpillars were allowed to eat them.
There was a little house by the little garden. In the little house lived three little boys. They lived with their old aunt, but old aunts rarely do anything interesting. This is the story of three little boys and a lot of caterpillars, so we will let old aunts be. It is more fun that way. Well, it is also the story of a rooster in their backyard, an old shoe and a fish in a bowl, but it is more fun if we leave out the old aunts all the same.
The three little boys were three very different boys. Although they lived with the same old aunt in the same little house and slept in the same little room with a blue ceiling, they were very different from each other. One of them was the tallest while another was the shortest. The third one would have been the shortest too, but he was taller by a whole thumb. That made him the second tallest [or the second shortest, as the occasion arose]. The three were not the same complexion either. One was the fairest while another was the darkest. Each had a toothbrush a different colour than the other two, ditto their pyjamas, their shorts and their little chappals.
So the three lived, with a bent old aunt in a little house by a little garden full of caterpillars.
The three little boys had a peaceful life. There were no butterflies to chase, and the rooster was not as adventurous as the chicks had been before the jackal took them away. So the boys lived, wandering around their little house, beating the caterpillars of the branches of the plants that showed promises of a garden in bloom. They called back to the birds, slept on the grass and made garlands of cloverleaves. Little did the little boys know of the turmoil that awaited their life.
Let me tell you their names before I tell you their story. Three little kids who aren’t like each other at all can be very confusing, even to someone as smart as you. The tallest one, who was also the darkest and had the not so wavy hair [or not so straight, as you wish] was called Ram. The second tallest one, who also had the straightest hair and was the second darkest, was called Shyam. The shortest one, who had curly hair, and was the fairest [which made him rather good looking, except that he was too short for the liking of most girls in his class, or so the girls said] was not called Hari. He was called Moosa, although his real name was Hari.
It is really the story of one fateful morning in the little house by the little garden. The little room in the little house, where the three little boys lay asleep one morning and where the ceiling was painted blue, was quite cold. Ram, who woke up the earliest every day felt the cold in the room and whistled through his teeth. Suddenly, he jumped up with fright. He whistled again and was petrified even more. ‘It is true!’ he said in horror. When he saw the other two sleeping peacefully, Ram thought he must have been a nightmare and tried to go to sleep again.
Alas! Sleep would not return.
You see, Ram was bothered by a very frightening situation. He had lost a tooth, the front right incisor to be precise, and he hadn’t the slightest clue where it had gone. Or who had taken it. His old aunt was the first suspect. She didn’t have any and that must have been very trying on her. The rooster was the second suspect, as it always pecked on the ground on whatever it could gobble. But it was too early for Ram to decide where he should start his search. Ram tried to go back to sleep. Alas! Sleep would not return.
The rooster roosted on the top of the house, and his duty done, went back to sleep. That rooster’s call roused the old aunt and she tossed and turned and creaked on her bed. The creak woke up Shyam and he turned in his bed, and that creaked his bed too. That creak woke up Moosa in turn. Ram finally found someone to talk to. So he whistled through the gap he had woke up with.
Shyam got out of his bed and stretched himself. Moosa got out of his bed and stretched himself. But they did not turn to Ram and grimace at the gap. Ram whistled harder, yet the two took no notice. Finally, Ram found a voice and screamed at them.
‘Oooh!’ said Moosa, ‘oooh!’ His face showed astonishment.
‘Aaah!’ said Shyam, ‘Aaah!’ His face showed pain.
‘Ram!’ said Shyam and Moosa, ‘you don’t have a tooth!’
‘I know! I know!’ said Ram. ‘I wonder who took it!’
‘You could have dropped it somewhere,’ said Shyam. ‘You must have swallowed it in your dream,’ said Moosa. ‘Ek Naaran swallowed him, remember, and his brother said he could eat through more places than just his mouth. Because he had teeth in more places than just his mouth. His brother told me that.’ ‘No! No! I can’t have swallowed it!” said Ram, ‘somebody must have taken it.’
‘Did you have a fight?’ asked Moosa, ‘did you have a fight in your dream?’ ‘Did you eat a walnut?’ asked Shyam, ‘did you eat a walnut in your dream?’ ‘No! No! No!’ screamed Ram, quite mad.
‘And what is the noise about, little spoilt ones?’ The old Aunt’s old nose pushed in through the window. ‘What is this horrible racket about?’ The old Aunt talked through her toothless gums. Ram, Shyam and Moosa looked at her in suspicion but there was no new tooth in her mouth. ‘Well,’ said Shyam to Ram when she had left, ‘you cannot be sure until you check her cupboard. That is where she keeps everything.’
So the sun came up on the little house, and the caterpillars rushed across the little branches in the backyard. The bent old Aunt, so old that the little boys wanted to get a new one, gave the little boys milk in little cups three different colours and made them make their three different beds with different-coloured sheets in the room with the blue ceiling. The bent old Aunt then took a bent old walking stick, shook it three different times at the three mischievous boys, and said, ‘you spoilt little ones! Don’t you go stealing cucumber from the neighbours’ kitchen garden! Don’t you go picking flowers from your uncle’s yard! Don’t you go stealing eggs from Motilal’s ducks!’ Saying this, and shaking the bent old stick at each of them again, the bent old Aunt went off to the market.
‘Let’s go steal cucumber from the neighbours’ kitchen garden!’ said Moosa, and started to dance in excitement. ‘Let’s go steal eggs from Motilal’s ducks!’ said Shyam and started to dance in excitement. ‘No,’ said Ram, ‘let’s go search for my tooth in the cupboard.’
Did they find the tooth? Or had the rooster stolen it? Did Ram’s tooth come in a hardboiled egg after a week?
Well, that is a different story altogether. The three little boys tired of searching for the tooth and fell asleep in the garden, where the caterpillars hurried on in an even greater hurry, and the sun walked slowly, checking how the shadows looked from this angle, and how long they’d be from that angle.
And the ceiling of their little room was still painted blue.