Dadima’s Stick: The first thing Govind and I noticed as Dadima (paternal grand-mother) came out through the glass doors of the Bombay airport in a wheelchair was the stick in her hand.
Dadima had gone to Dubai for a short stay with Gopal Chacha (father’s younger brother). A week later, she had had a fall, and her artificial left hip joint had loosened, causing her great pain and discomfort.
Dadima’s Stick: Narmada Krishnamurthi
As advised by the orthopaedist there, Chacha got her a walking stick and some pain-killers and put her on the first flight available, to consult her own doctor who had done the hip surgery three years back.
All through the drive home, our eyes never left the stick. We were sitting on either side of Dadima with the stick on our laps. We felt its smooth, shiny surface and admired the three gleaming golden bands adorning it.
“Is this real gold?” asked Govind.
“No, it is brass, and the stick is in three pieces, screwed together, and imagine, Chacha got it for a song, 20 dirhams!”
“Fantastic!” we exclaimed.
“We will play ‘chor-police’ tomorrow, Adi,” said Govind, eyes twinkling.
Papa, at the wheel, snapped, “Aditya, if I catch you boys any-where near Dadima’s stick, you will get hell from me. Is that clear?”
Dadima’s corrective surgery was done two days later. Mother stayed with her in the nursing home. She had given the stick to Didi (elder sister). “Hide it where the two devils won’t find it and study well. Your Board exams are not far away,” she warned.
A week later, Govind and I burst into Dadima’s room in the nursing home and cried excitedly, “Dadima, do you know there is gold in your stick?”
“What?” Dadima muttered feebly.
“There is gold in your stick, Dadima,” I whispered in her ear. “Gold chains.”
But Dadima, still on sedatives, had fallen asleep.
“Leave Dadima alone,” said Ma dragging us away. “How can there be gold in a solid stick? You both must be dreaming.”
“But there are, Ma,” Govind looked serious.
“How did you get the stick?”
“You know, Ma, we were quietly, studying in our room, when we saw cows entering the compound. Some fool had left the gate open,” I told her.
“Didi quickly gave us Dadima’s stick,” continued Govind. “If we had not chased them out/they would have gobbled up all your new plants and you would have given us merry hell.”
Ma pinched his cheek, highly amused, and he gave her a grin.
“Didi told us to put the stick back on top of the cupboard and pushed off to Arati’s house to study,” I resumed.
“But just then Madan came along, and pestered us to show him the stick. We said ‘No’, but he went on and on, and in the end, we unscrewed the parts and showed it to him.”
“‘Let us play ‘chor-police‘ for a while, yaar,’ he begged. ‘Please yaar,'” Govind imitated him.
“Madan had the top part with the handle, and we the other two. He and Govind were the police, and I the ‘chor’,” I explained.
“How we let him have it! Whish! and in the fight Madan’s stick flew out of his hand and ‘thud’ it fell on the cement drive,” Govind described the scene, wildly gesticulating.
“When I picked it up, I found the top loose. I cursed Madan. I was sure it was broken and that we were in for trouble. I swore I would never play with him again.”
“Nobody knew the handle was a separate piece, and then I unscrewed it, there was the tube.”
“Yes, Ma, a fibreglass test tube attached to the handle, and it was inside the hollow of the top piece of the stick,” I paused. “And inside the tube were a dozen gold chains!” I finished dramatically.
“Where are they now?”
“Didi locked them up as soon as she returned and heard our story.”
“This must be a smuggler’s work,” Govind said knowingly.
“But why should there be gold in Dadima’s stick”
“Oh, Ma, can’t you think? Obviously two sticks of the same kind are involved. They must have got exchanged somehow,” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Arre yes. Dadima was telling me about a kind old sardar sitting next to her with a stick exactly like hers.”
“There, I told you.”
When we returned home Didi told us that Papa would be a little late coming home. Later that evening, as we boys sat with Madan on the lawn discussing the mystery surrounding Dadima’s stick, we heard the gate click open and turned to see an old man walking slowly towards us.
He had a turban on his head and a white flowing beard and moustache—and in his hand was a stick.
“Adi, look, it is exactly like Dadima’s,” Govind hissed.
“Quiet! you fool,” I said nudging him. “I think we are on the right track. I will handle this. You chaps keep your traps shut.”
“Good evening, boys. Does a Mrs. Deshpande live here?” the man asked, approaching us.
“Yes, Sir, but she is not here now. May I know what you want, Sir?” I asked politely.
“Nothing, really. I met her on the aircraft and thought I would call on her. I will come some other day. Bye-bye!”
He turned to leave. “Oh, no! Sir, please come in and have a cold drink. It is so hot,” I said winking at the other two.
“All right. Are you her grandchildren?”
We nodded, and he followed us into the drawing-room. I signalled to the boys to keep guard over the man, and went in and got him a glass of orange juice. After drinking it he thanked us and got up to leave.
“Not so fast, smuggler,” sneered Madan pushing him back on to the sofa.
“Smuggler?” the man asked, ruffled.
“You have come for Dadima’s stick, haven’t you?” needled Govind, imitating one of his screen heroes.
“Stick? Why yes! She must have taken mine by mistake. I have…”
“Oh! Or may be it has got your stuff in it?” I taunted.
“Stuff? What stuff?” the man stood up, losing his temper.
“Oh! You don’t know, do you, you cunning rascal?” Govind gave him a dirty look, and then all three of us pinned him down to his seat while he struggled to free himself.
“Hold on, boys,” I said pulling the turban from his head.
The distraught man covered his head with both hands and begged us not to pull his hair. We jerked his hands free and started tying him up with the turban.
“Believe me, I only came to call on your grandmother,” he said.
“Oh! Is that so? How would you like the police to call on you, eh?” I asked menacingly.
“What is going on here?” a voice boomed. It was Papa.
We gave him a detailed account of the day’s happenings.
“He is our man, Papa,” I said triumphantly. “We can now call the police.”
“Where is Anuradha?”
“Didi has gone to the market with Bai. They should be back any moment now.”
“Sir, it is all a mistake. Your brother and I bought the sticks from the same shop in Dubai. Later I met him at the airport. He asked me to look after his mother. I came to return her stick which I had taken by mistake and take mine back. My initial ‘0’ is written on the side of the handle. You can see for yourself. Now please let me go,” the prisoner pleaded.
Papa examined the handle. “Yes, it is there. But where did the gold chains come from?” he asked mystified, untying the turban and releasing him.
“I don’t know.”
“But I do.”
Everyone turned and stared at Didi who had entered unnoticed and was walking towards us.
Silence reigned as she continued, “I put the chains in the tube. And by the way, they are only gold-plated brass ones. You get them by the dozen in the market. I gave you boys the stick knowing that you would play with it and unscrew the handle when you found it loose. I too didn’t know the handle was a separate piece till it fell from my hand while I was putting it away. I found it loose and unscrewed it. It was then that I got the idea. It is April Fool’s Day, you fools!” she finished and burst out laughing.
“Stop it!” Papa bellowed. “So this is your idea of a joke! Do you realize what torture this innocent man has gone through? And you boys wanted to call the police, while it is this gentleman who has the right to hand you over to the police and…”
The old man intervened, “Please forget it, Sir. Frankly, I have enjoyed it all. Besides, of late, smuggling has been rampant on this route, and they were quite justified in suspecting me. Well done, boys! Better luck next time!”
“Sir, please forgive me,” said Didi wiping her tears. “I didn’t expect it to end this way.” We also begged to be forgiven and father too apologized profusely and volunteered to take the gentleman in the car to see Dadima and drop him home.
As he was about to get into the car, the old man held out his card. “Detective Om Prakash at your service,” he said, bowing with a broad grin.
And then to everyone’s surprise, he peeled off his wig, moustache and beard and got into the car, waving merrily.