It was a hot afternoon in April and Preeta had just returned from work. She switched off the ignition of her scooty when a voice from above called out to her.
“Mummy, I am here!”
She looked up shielding her eyes from the scorching sun. Perched up on a slender branch of the neem tree with an old bedspread serving, as a hammock was her ten-year-old son Ravi.
“What are you doing up there Ravi?” she asked, “Get down at once.”
“Grandpa plans to break my legs the minute I get down,” Said Ravi “he really said so! You can ask him if you want to”
“And why would he do it? What did YOU do?” she demanded.
“Absolutely nothing mummy” Ravi tried to defend himself as best as he could. “He wanted to hit me with his walking stick. I managed to get hold of it before him, so I threw it over the rooftop to be on the safe side.”
Her daughters were summoned but they refused to take sides. Preeta wondered if she detected a subtle smile on their otherwise serious face. As if they were enjoying the war of words between their grandfather and brother. Preeta walked in and sat down on the sofa with a glass of cold water. This was an everyday affair. ‘Would these children ever grow up’ she wondered.
It was bad enough that her seventy-year-old father in law had to manage the house in her absence, her children for their part gave him a tough time. He settled their quarrels without sounding partial, read out stories when they felt bored, helped them with their homework and gave them mental sums and dictations. He had taught them the use of the dictionary, encouraged them to read books and newspaper.
“Preeta,” called out her father in law, “This boy is incorrigible. Send him to a boarding school at once.”
“I’ll do it appa.” She replied “I’ll send him off after his final exams”
“ I’ll be glad to get away,” said Ravi “ At least I will not have him hounding me all the time.”
“Get down Ravi” Preeta called out. “If you stay up there it won’t be your grandpa who’d break your leg”
“Ask him to give me the newspaper,” said Ravi as he climbed down from the tree, “ he has been reading it since morning as if he plans to answer a test on current affairs. I want to go through the sports column.”
Preeta sighed. So the usual quarrel for the day’s newspaper had been the reason behind appa’s urge to break Ravi’s bones. She had never been successful in resolving their dispute over the newspaper. It was coveted property and belonged to the person who managed to get hold of it first. Her father in law was worse than a child when it came to the newspaper. He always wished to be the first one to read it and usually managed to do it on schooldays. But it was different on Saturdays and holidays. The children waited like hawks and settled scores with their grandpa by not only getting hold of the newspaper first but also by reading it at leisure and annoying him with furtive glances to measure the degree of their success in testing his patience. The three of them together formed a formidable opposition whenever it suited them.
“Did you finish your homework?” Preeta was glad to find a reason to postpone her role as an arbitrator. “I’ll ask him to give it to you once you finish your assigned homework.”
Preeta wondered if sending Ravi to a boarding school would solve the problem. Her father in law was getting on in age. After the death of his wife his world seemed to revolve around the children. She had been able to work in a local college only because he willingly shared the responsibility of looking after the children. They would run to him for every little thing starting from the sharpening of their pencils to the preparation for an elocution contest. On the flip side was the constant bickering over trivial issues. He would never give them a new pencil unless he made sure that the old one could no longer be used and make them account for lost erasers and sharpeners. She wondered if the old man was being over worked and deserved some rest. She thought of seeking her husband’s opinion in the matter that evening.
She brought the subject up when her husband returned from work. They spoke at length about the benefit of sending the child to a boarding school.
“Appa deserves to rest,” she concluded. “And the children need to grow out of his shadow.”
“Moreover hostel life will make Ravi responsible and ensure all round development.” Added her husband. “With him away the girls will be more subdued and easy to discipline.”
“ Who is being sent away to the hostel may I know?” enquired a voice from behind. They turned around to see the children accompanied by their grandfather re – aligned to form a new opposition party. They conveniently resorted to floor crossing like seasoned politicians. Appa continued in a genuinely distressed tone.
“Did I express any desire to be allowed to rest? Who has given you the impression that I am tired of looking after them? Just get rid of the idea of sending Ravi to a boarding school. I will never allow it. What would I do if he went away?”
“But appa he keeps troubling you all the time” protested Preeta.
“Not more than what his father did at his age. Can he not take liberties with me? The matter is settled. No more discussions on the matter. Is that clear?” Turning to the children he added with a twinkle in his eye. “I’m done with the news paper for the day. I’ll give it to the person who completes his or her homework first!”
“But grandpa you promised to tell us the story of the forgotten mermaid.” The children had forgotten the tiff with their grandfather were once again as thick as thieves.
Preeta was left wondering if the concept of a generation gap existed only on paper!