It was one of those quiet , summer afternoons, during our summer holidays when granny walked in unannounced. “I thought I will surprise you!” ,she said plonking her luggage on the sofa.
Mother was very happy to see her because granny always got with her a lot of cheer and entertainment. “It’s good you came. I have just prepared nimbu pani!” ,she said offering granny a glass of chilled nimbu pani.
“Granny, I missed your bed time stories!” ,I said, squeezing her tightly and pressing my cheek against hers.
“Grandma!” ,screamed Radha as she ran down the stairs and landed right in granny’s lap.
” Memsaab! Somebody stole our guavas again!” ,Shanti came running to the kitchen to inform mother of the guava robbery.
“What!” ,shot back Radha instantly.
” But we trimmed the branches that fell outside the compound!” ,continued Radha.
“Granny someone steals all our ripe guavas before we even get a chance to taste them.” complained Radha, looking at granny.
“I can’t believe it! Tired of this frequent robbery, I got the branches cut !” ,said mother, sadly.
“Someone’s stealing our guavas! ” ,exclaimed granny.
“We sure have to find out and punish the robbers” ,said granny animatedly and we all broke into instant laughter.
But Granny meant business.
Next day, granny caught hold of me and took me to the guava tree for site inspection. We looked around for clues and upon careful examination found a small blue handkerchief, stuck on a nearby bush.
” That’s our first clue!” Granny told me.
“The branches that fell out from the compound have been cut. The compound wall is ten feet high. Its impossible for someone to climb in” ,thought granny aloud as she inspected the area carefully. Then she turned towards the adjacent wall.
She studied the wall very carefully.”This is the wall we share with the Verma’s” she said looking at me. “I see who is stealing our guavas! “said Granny , folding her arms and raising one eyebrow.
“Oh no granny, they wouldn’t steal! “,I said quickly.
“Mother always sends them a basket full of these delicious guavas! ”
Granny looked at me again. As we exchanged looks, granny saw Raji, as usual loitering around the neighbourhood.
“Raji!” shouted granny.
Raji, on hearing granny came running.
“I heard of your bravery with the cobra!” ,said granny as she bend towards Raji. “You are a brave boy!” ,she continued praising Raji, as she pat him on his back.
Raji, who always craved for limelight, was very pleased. He would have done anything for granny now.
“Raji, It’s time to put end to this guava robbery and we need your help!” ,she continued trying to take Raji in confidence.
“What do you want me to do Grandma? “,replied Raji, all spruced up.
“I want you to fetch that wooden staircase from there! ” ,she said pointing towards a staircase, that lay carelessly outside the kitchen window.
“Sanju! Go help Raji!” ,she said, as she put us boys to work. Meanwhile she scrutinized the wall.
“Where do we put it Grandma? ” ,I asked as we pulled the staircase.
“Here! Against this wall!” ,said Granny guiding us to the common wall.
Raji, instantly climbed the staircase after we placed it against the wall.
“Now what?” ,he called from the top.
“Give me an assessment of that side!” ,granny said pointing towards the Verma’s.
Raji climbed on to the wall and peeped into the Verma’s compound.
I was feeling a little ashamed. Peeping, I was taught was bad manners. However, unable to convey this to granny I remained silent.
“Their grounds are higher than ours!” ,screamed Raji astonished.
“Sshhhh!” ,Granny gestured Raji.
Raji climbed down and faithfully reported all he had seen to granny.
“The ground is much higher than ours. From their side this ten foot wall is not more than five or six feet. They have ample loose bricks scattered on the ground and a broken concrete bench by the wall too!” ,revealed Raji.
“That means the thief comes from that side”, she said murmuring to herself. “And he is a small guy!” ,she said looking at the handkerchief.
“The task for today is done!” ,she announced as she walked back into the house. I too followed granny after I bid farewell to Raji, who sensed some adventure and promised to be back next day.
That afternoon, when we were about to retire into our rooms, for our little afternoon nap, granny sat in the kitchen with a pair of binoculars. “I need to keep a watch!” ,she said.
” Shanti will stay up with me!” ,she declared, not bothered of whether Shanti wanted to or not.
“Take some rest maa!” ,said mother, trying to persuade granny.
“Oh no Sheila! It’s our house! We need to safeguard it!” ,she replied, determined to stay up.
Unable to persuade granny, mother went to her room whilst Granny , sat with the half dead Shanti in the kitchen. I joined them since I wasn’t sleepy and Radha wasn’t home to chit chat.
“You lazy bundle of bones!” ,granny would poke her whenever she fell asleep.
That afternoon ,was uneventful, as the thief did not make an appearance. Perhaps, he was waiting for the new lot of guavas to ripen.
The next couple of days passed quietly too. Raji came around a couple of times inquiring about the matter but returned disappointed.
One afternoon, when I idled my way into the kitchen, I heard a rustle of leaves outside. There was some activity near the guava tree. I ran and informed granny.
She instantly picked up her binoculars and we rushed to the kitchen. I climbed onto the shelf near the window and granny leaned right next to me.
Two young boys had climbed up the common wall. “None of them looks like Manu, our neighbours son!” ,I said.
“You know them?”, asked Granny poking her elbow into me.
“No !” ,I replied.
The taller boy, helped the smaller one climb onto a nearby branch. The smaller one, swung across like a monkey and began plucking our guavas.
“A robbery in front of my eyes!” ,said granny as she threw the pair of binoculars on the nearby table and steadily walked outdoors.
“Hey! You two, good for nothing hooligans! How dare you steal from my house!” ,she shouted, as she steadily walked towards the guava tree.
The smaller boy dropped all the guavas he had collected in his shirt and swung across the tree on to the wall.
“Sanju catch hold of these mischievous little thugs!”
,shouted granny, picking up a fallen branch and aiming it towards the boys standing on the wall.
I ran towards the staircase, inclined by the wall and quickly started climbing it. Just then I heard Raji shout from the gate ” Sanju baba! I’ll help you!”
I was glad that Raji came.
By the time I reached on the top of the wall, those two boys ran along the wall, jumped on the bench on the other side and slipped out of the Verma’s compound, through a big drain hole which lay hidden under a lot of dry leaves.
Raji swiftly ran outside and nabbed the robber duo at the opening of the drain.
Amongst all this commotion, mother got up and came out running. Radha followed too.
Meanwhile, I got down from the staircase and ran outside to help Raji. Together, we managed to get hold of the boys and presented them before granny.
“We are very sorry! Please don’t call the police !” ,the boys kept on repeating.
“Why did you steal fruit from this tree?” ,questioned
“We initially stole one or two guavas from the branches that drooped outside the compound! ” ,began the taller one.
“We relished the fruit and it was very sweet! “, he continued.
” Then it occurred to us, that if we sell it, we can make some money! So we started stealing more fruit by climbing on to the tree. On discovering that the drooping branches have been chopped we had to find another way!” ,and he narrated the entire story of them discovering the drain and sneaking in quietly during the afternoons when the Verma’s slept.
Granny was furious, so was mother.
“These boys ought to be punished! We need to report them! ” ,granny declared aloud, raising her hands in the air.
“Oh no madam, please forgive us!” ,squeaked the smaller one.
“These boys seem to come from a good family! ” ,observed mother.
“And they retort to such things!” ,said granny, pulling them both ,by their ears.
” We are sorry!” ,said both the boys together, wiggling in pain.
“Forgive them granny!” ,appealed Radha.
” They seem to be really sorry!” ,she said.
” On one condition! “, began Granny.
“You boys promise me never to steal again! ” ,she said.
“We promise! ” ,they said, feeling very ashamed.
” Now pick up this scattered fruit from the ground and go away!” ,said granny, gesturing them to leave.
The boys picked up the dropped guavas and left.
A couple of days passed. The doorbell rang one afternoon. It was an odd time for someone to come. Granny, who was sat reading newspaper, got up and opened the door.
The small boy, from the other day, stood at the door. He wished granny and handed her a small glass jar.
” What is it?” ,asked granny, bending towards him.
“Guava Jam!” ,he said as he kissed granny’s hand and left.