Children

Back to the past?

Illustrations: Sreejith R. Kumar  

“There’s nothing to beat a hike in the hills — a total escape into the past!” Shreya heard Dad say to Mom, as he hopped out of the bubble and leaned it against the garage wall.

“You can drive out of the city and hike in the hills,” Mom murmured. “You don’t have to use that contraption…”

“You call it a contraption?” exclaimed Dad. “It’s my greatest invention so far…”

They moved towards the foyer and Shreya skipped backwards — and almost fell over her younger brother. “What are you doing here?” she hissed.

“The same as you,” Kabir hissed back. “Trying to figure out what Dad’s up to…”

They backed half-way up the stairs. When they heard their parents enter their bedroom, they went down again and tried to hear what was being said. All they could catch, however, were disconnected bits: “Within the next month or so”, “With the kids, of course!”, “Perfectly safe! I’m in one piece, aren’t I?”

“What’s that thing?” Kabir asked, when they were back in their room. “You were there longer than I was.”

This was not the first time Shreya had watched what Dad was doing. “I think he’s made some kind of time machine…”

“What?” cried Kabir. “You mean we can go back to pre-Covid times and live a normal life?”

“You heard him,” said Shreya. “He’ll take us in a month or so…”

Kabir threw up his hands. “How can we wait that long?”

It was obvious that Shreya was just waiting for him to say what she had already thought of because she stood up and said, “Then let’s go now!”

Kabir jumped up. In minutes, the two of them were in front of the bubble in the open garage. “Do you know how it works?” asked Kabir.

“Well, Dad straps himself in and presses something and he’s gone…”

Kabir was indignant. “You’ve been watching and you never told me…?”

Shreya got into the bubble. “Are you coming or not?” she asked. Kabir jumped in. There were straps for their arms and covered grooves for their feet. Soon, they were secured in place and the bubble shut on its own.

Shreya pressed a switch that blinked at her and suddenly they began to spin violently. They grabbed at each other and let out a scream of surprise. At last they stopped moving. Sheepishly, they let go of each other and unstrapped themselves as the bubble opened.

Where are we?

Back to the past?

It was night and they were on a low hill.

“I don’t know what year it is, but the air feels clean!” Shreya exclaimed.

Kabir climbed onto a rock and looked around. “There are lights in the distance. Should we go that way?”

“Let’s stay away from people — maybe we’re in the distant past and we’ll be treated like aliens. Let’s just hike like Dad did.”

They walked downhill through the trees in the moonlight, enjoying their freedom. Suddenly they heard voices.

“I’m telling you; I saw something weird,” someone said gruffly. “It could be someone after our food stock.”

“Here? In this remote village?” said another.

“Where else?” said the gruff voice. “The cities are crazy — the rate of infection is high and there are lockdowns and what not…”

The children looked at each other. What was this? Had they gone into the lockdowns of the past or were they in a future where the COVID situation was even worse? How had Dad enjoyed a fun hike and why were they in trouble?

“Run!” hissed Shreya, and she and Kabir raced back uphill. They tripped over stones, blundered against branches, and made enough noise to tell their pursuers exactly where they were — but the bubble was nowhere in sight!

“It was near those rocks!” said Kabir, pointing upwards to the right.

Shreya looked back. There were three figures in the open that were gaining on them.

Desperation made the children practically fly. At last they saw the bubble half-leaning against a rock. They darted in, grabbed the straps and pressed the switch, as their pursuers burst into the small clearing. The bubble closed and they took off.

This time, they didn’t scream — they were just relieved to be off. Soon, they were safely back in the garage; confused, frightened, but, most of all, relieved to be home safe!

A little later

Back to the past?

A fortnight later, Dad put down his toast at breakfast time and said, “You kids have been having a tough time indoors — how about we use this machine I’ve invented that travels long distances in minutes, and go to the hills? You’ll love the open air…”

“You mean it’s not a time machine?” asked Shreya. Dad shook his head, puzzled.

“Whatever gave you that idea?” he asked. “No, we can just go some 100 to 200 kilometres away and hike in the nearby hills…”

She and Kabir exchanged a look — and then both of them said together, ‘No! NO! No hikes!’


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:42:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/back-to-the-past/article34552382.ece

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