My brothers and I were children living in the NDA Khadakvasla, where our father, an army officer, was posted as an instructor. The sprawling NDA complex that stretches for miles is located in a lush, picturesque valley of breathtaking beauty. We lived in a large bungalow within a vast compound that contained a lawn and a number of gardens. Our house was one of a group of officers’ bungalows collectively called E – 3.
One evening, Capt and Mrs Kapoor, who lived nearby, called on our parents. They looked worried when they came but quite relaxed when they left.
Our parents explained the purpose of their visit. Capt and Mrs Kapoor had to leave immediately for Jalandhar, to care for the latter’s mother, who had been diagnosed with a heart problem. They planned to be away for a fortnight. Since the school session was on and the term exams were approaching, they couldn’t take their children along and were in a quandary as to what to do. My parents quickly reassured them; Sheila and Anil would stay with us. Sheila, a veritable tomboy, was my elder brother, Caesar’s classmate and Anil was mine.
It was decided that although we would be together the whole day, Anil and Caesar would spend the night in the Kapoors’ house, then be back for breakfast next morning. They couldn’t believe their luck, as this opened up an exciting and endless vista of fun and games, far from parental supervision. I was crestfallen when my wish to join them was vetoed.
On our first day together we went to school, came back, larked about as usual at home in the evening, then sat down to dinner. The meal over, I watched enviously as Caesar and Anil gleefully left the house. In Caesar’s absence, I now had the double bed in our room to myself. Sheila asked if she could sleep with me.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ said Mummy. ‘The two of you will stay awake talking and fighting.’
‘OK then, can I play with him for some time?’
‘Alright, but not for long. You’ve got school tomorrow.’
Sheila’s idea of “playing” was to challenge me to a pillow fight. I could hardly refuse a girl’s dare.
We stood up on my bed and were soon laying about us with vigour.
Then the inevitable happened. Sheila landed a haymaker under my chin that lifted me clean off the bed and deposited me on the carpeted floor. Before I could get up, Sheila was straddling my stomach and asking me to surrender.
‘Never!’ I cried, struggling to throw her off.
In a bid to encourage the surrender process, she grabbed my ears and began to bang my head on the floor.
‘That will do, children! Time for bed,’ said Mummy, appearing in the doorway.
‘But we haven’t finished, Aunty,’ said Sheila.
‘It’s quite enough for today,’ said Mummy, taking her by the hand and leading her away to her bedroom.
Dad, who was now by himself in another bedroom, came to my room.
‘Let’s go and see what those two are up to,’ he said.
We walked the two hundred yards to the Kapoors’ house and knocked on the door.
‘Who goes there?’ said Caesar in a ghostly voice from inside. ‘Give us the password.’
‘Shut up and open the door,’ said Dad.
‘Oh!’ said Caesar in his normal voice.
As the door opened, Caesar sketched an elaborate yawn.
‘We were sleeping,’ he informed us kindly.
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said Dad.
We went into their bedroom to see Anil hastily pushing some toys under the bed, which had obviously not been slept in.
‘I suggest you go to sleep at once,’ said Dad.
They promised to do so.
The next day after school, Sheila astounded me by saying that she had asked Mummy if she could marry me.
‘Crumbs!’ I gasped in disbelief and horror. ‘You don’t mean that! What did she say?’
‘She said it was nice of me to ask, but I was too young to think of these things and besides, I’m older than you.’
‘Good ole Mummy,’ I mumbled in relief, but my joy was soon dashed by Sheila.
‘However, that’s not a problem’ she said, with a steely glint in her eyes. ‘I’ve decided that we’ll have a short marriage during the summer hols. Just for practice, you know. And we’ll have a few babies, too.’
‘Are you off your rocker? Do you even know how to make babies?’
‘Course I do. It’s easy. The senior girls in school told me. Look, first the girl tickles the boy and makes him laugh. Then the boy does likewise. Then they kiss and go to sleep. The next morning a baby girl crawls out from under the bed and asks for a bottle of milk.’
‘How do you know it’ll be a girl?’
‘Don’t you ever listen to me, Gora? I said the girl tickles the boy first. If it’s the other way round, you get a baby boy.’
‘I say, Sheila,’ I asked anxiously, ‘isn’t tickling enough? Do we have to er…’
‘Yes, we’ve gotter kiss. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.’
I felt the colour drain from my cheeks. What’s wrong, Gora? You’re looking pale. Don’t worry, I’ll divorce you before the school re-opens.’
‘Oh, thanks!’ I said, as relief surged through me, ‘but what happens to the babies?’
‘They go under the bed and disappear.’
I marvelled at Sheila’s meticulous planning. Trust her to have everything cut and dried! I thought the discussion was now over, but to my annoyance, she wasn’t quite ready to change the subject.
‘You’d better learn what to do, as girls might want you to kiss them,’ she warned.
‘Of course they won’t. Don’t be silly,’ I protested.
‘A girl might,’ she persisted.
‘How will I know?’
‘She will twist her handkerchief in her hands, look sideways at you and smile shyly.’
‘Oh, Gora, because she’s a girl, that’s why! Anyway, when she does that, you go up to her and kiss her. That’ll make her happy.’
‘And if it doesn’t?’
‘She goes home crying.’
‘Golly! What happens after that?’
‘Her dad comes looking for you.’
‘Oh my gosh, what will I do then?’ I asked in panic.
‘You simply nip into my house, where I’ll hide you under my bed until the man goes away.’
Something about this scenario didn’t sound right.
‘Wait a minute, Sheila. Do you mean to say this kissing stuff has to happen near your house?’
‘Course it does, otherwise how will I save you when required?’ she asked smugly.
‘But we won’t be together always. Our dads will get posted out to different places in a couple of years.’
‘Well, some other girl will have to take care of you then, won’t she!’ she said irritably.
Why only a girl, I wondered. I resented her patronising attitude but decided to be grateful for her solicitude.
‘Thanks a lot, Sheila,’ I said, while I made a silent vow to stay clear of any girl with a handkerchief in her hand, who looked as if she might give me a sideways glance!
And I certainly wouldn’t let her tickle me!