Children

Close to the heart

Nani and Nana were arguing, as usual. Dhruv, Tara and Shaina giggled.

“They can’t go on a picnic without a picnic meal!” said Nana.

“Of course, they can!” retorted Nani. “We never bothered about food when we were kids! What are all those trees and bushes for if not to provide something to eat?”

Nana snorted. The children knew that he would pack them a full meal. Soon, the three were running along the path behind the house, carrying a basket of goodies. Sandy, the old spaniel, followed them, flopping down now and then to rest.

The children loved being with their grandparents. Nana, a retired army man, had amazing stories to tell. Nani belonged to the hills and had followed Nana everywhere on the condition that they would return here on retirement. Now she looked after their small farm and took the dogs for long walks and Nana followed his passion in the kitchen!

There was no television. Every evening, the ‘entertainment’ was arguing. The grandchildren loved it! Ma and Pa always locked their door if they had anything to ‘discuss’ but Nana and Nani invited the children’s opinions on whatever they were arguing about – and conducted polls. Everyone had so much fun!

Disaster strikes

Now, as they set out to explore the hills, they headed towards the sound of water and found a crude plank spanning a fast-moving rivulet. Dhruv ran along the bridge while Tara held five-year-old Shaina’s hand and followed. As Dhruv jumped off, the plank rocked and Tara lost her balance and the picnic basket slipped out of her grasp and fell into the stream.

“I’m hungry!” wailed Shaina, as the three of them watched the basket disappear under the water.

“You can’t be hungry after all those parathas for breakfast!” snapped Tara.

“It’s okay!” consoled Dhruv. “Didn’t you hear Nani say there’s plenty to eat on the trees and bushes? Now we can search for food while we explore the hills!”

As if his words had conjured them up, they entered a grove of jamun trees dripping fruit! “Let’s collect some!” cried Tara. Sandy caught up with them, as they ran around excitedly eating jamuns and filling Tara’s scarf with fruit to take home. While the older two were busy, Shaina spied a small gate within a neat hedge. She opened it and walked through.

The orchard

When Dhruv and Tara realised she was missing, they called out, but received no reply. Then Sandy barked from where she sat before the open gate. The children ran to it and walked into a garden of fruit trees. They spotted Shaina plucking a ripe mango from a low branch. She was about to bite into the mango when Dhruv grabbed it out of her hand!

“There’s something weird about this orchard!” he exclaimed. “How can there be ripe apples, pears, mangoes, guavas, litchis and cherries all at the same time and in the same place?” Tara agreed and added, “ Also, how can we help ourselves without asking the owner?”

“It’s magic!” said Shaina and took back her mango from Dhruv. She bit into it. “It’s yummy!’” she said, and held it out. ‘Taste it!’

Dhruv and Tara were tempted, especially when they saw that she had no ill effects! Shaina went to another tree with low-hanging branches and plucked a guava and proceeded to demolish that too!

“You’re such a greedy little thing!” said Tara, still reluctant to try her luck with the tempting fruit around. Like Dhruv, however, she plucked a couple of apples and pears, a mango and some cherries and tied them up in her T-shirt and turned to leave. Shaina copied her siblings and tied several of her favourite fruits in her T-shirt and waddled behind the other two.

Magic?

They found the gate through which they had come in. Sandy was still waiting outside. She jumped a bit when they emerged, as if she hadn’t seen, heard or smelt them! The children knelt and hugged her. When they stood up and turned around, the hedge and the gate had disappeared. And the orchard as well.

“I told you it was magic!” said Shaina happily. “We have magic fruit!”

“That’s magically disappeared!” said Dhruv, feeling the emptiness in his pouch.

“It’s not fair!” said Tara, when they reached home empty-handed and very hungry. They told their grandparents about their experience. “Shaina’s the only one who enjoyed the orchard fruit!”

Nani smiled. “Then Shaina’s the only one who’ll always come home to the hills, like me!” she said.

“You found the garden too?” asked Dhruv, incredulously.

“I want to go back!” cried Tara.

“You only get to see the magic garden once. If you eat from it, the hills will always hold you!” said Nani.

Was Nani right? Who knows? Dhruv and Tara searched fruitlessly for the garden for the rest of their holiday. But they don’t plant to give up. They’ll search next year and the next. For this home in the hills is close to their hearts too.


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Printable version | May 10, 2022 12:46:04 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/children/close-to-the-heart/article65374887.ece