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Summer of 1992

by Simra Sadaf
(Chennai, India)

Every summer, my parents would drop my sister and me at our naani’s mansion, where we spent our days running in their beautiful backyard. We would pluck mangoes and custard apple with the help of Raja, the cook’s son and Anita, the maid’s daughter. We quickly devoured it and then played hide and seek.

One evening, the four of us along with Naani, my grandmother, were eating snacks under the shade of a banyan tree. We were having cucumber sandwiches, potato chips and rose milk. I don’t know what it was about rose milk that fascinated me more, its sweet aroma or the pinkness of the drink or its refreshing sweetness. One sip and you are in floral heaven.

Amidst laughter, glee and my naani reciting my favourite story after I begged her for ten minutes, we heard a voice echoing in the background, “Baba, I have to show you something. Come here.” It was my naana’s croaky voice. He was standing with the servants, two of them holding guns. “Look”, said my naana pointing at a flock of roosters, at least twenty of them shot dead. “What is this?”, I mumbled, my voice brittle.

“For your birthday party tomorrow. A feast for the villagers”, he said. My grandfather was a big zamindar. I used to think everyone respected him, but I found out later that they were scared of him because he was rich and corrupt, and he could seize their lands in the blink of an eye. He did that once to a man he had
a row with. My naana took away the poor man’s land and a few days later, he took his own life.

“And there is the main dish”, he said pointing his finger at a blood stained cloth which Raja’s father began to unwrap. Rabbits. So many of them. Bloodied and lifeless. Many were shot in the face. Some at their stomachs. Some were missing their flappy ears. Their eyes wide open. Their necks coiled with one another. “This is the most delicious meat, baba. You will love it”, he said.

My eyes began to water. I think my crying made him uncomfortable, like I somehow disappointed him by caring about the rabbits. As if I let him down by showing emotions. “Are those happy tears I see?”, he knelt down and whispered in my ear. “Naanu, don’t you care about the rabbits or were they too ugly for your liking?”, I said and ran inside the house.

My grandmother followed me to my room where I sat on the bed crying. “Baba, are you upset because The Velveteen Rabbit is your favourite story?”, she asked.

He sold the fur and feathers to make coats and hats. The next day, the chickens and the rabbits he killed in the name of my love, filled the stomachs of an entire village. They forgot he drove a man to death. They forgot they hated him. But I could never forget the rabbits. The bunnies I once loved now tormented me. And I never troubled naani to recite my favourite story again.


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