The Mango Thieves
by Indrani Talukdar
(Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India)
Summer holidays had begun. Which meant it was also time for mango pickles. And did Dadi know how to make them! Suman’s neighbour Biju chacha - the children called him halwai chacha - owned a sweet shop. Biju chacha, who’d always lived alone, now had his nephew Romu living with him. Romu went to a different school in another locality but had recently become great friends with Suman. Romu’s school holidays had started as well. He would work with his uncle in the morning and play with Suman during the evening. Ever since the tickling episode, Veeru and his mates had stopped bothering Suman. They would simply pull faces at the two friends and run away as fast as possible.
Every afternoon Suman and Romu would go picking raw mangoes from the jungle nearby. The jungle was full of monkeys. On seeing the two friends, the monkeys would make faces at the boys. “Look Romu, doesn’t that one resemble Veeru and his gang?” He said one afternoon pointing to a large-tailed monkey. The friends laughed themselves hoarse.
The raw mangoes would be picked from the trees in the jungle and given to Dadi who would put them out to dry in the sun. She would then go to sleep. While she slept, Suman and Romu would play in the field nearby.
On their return they would find all the mangoes gone. Dadi who always slept like a log during the afternoons would be just as shocked as them.
It was the first Sunday of the summer holidays. Suman decided to play in the gilli-danda with his friend in the little patch outside his hut.
The mangoes had already been picked and were being dried out in the sun on a mat.
It was quite hot. The two friends were bathing in sweat while playing.
“Dadi! I am thirsty!” Suman, who was busy playing shouted at the top of his voice.
“Don’t disturb Dadi, she’s sleeping! “ Romu scolded. “Lets go in and pour ourselves some water from the jug.”
Water stored in dadi’s jug – actually an ancient earthen pot – was cool and delightful. The two friends entered the hut to slake their thirst. When they emerged from the hut they were horrified. The mangoes had disappeared. Where had they gone? What would Dadi say? After all, they had promised to look after the mangoes for her.
They were still racking their brains when they heard Dadi get up from her bed. Rubbing sleep from her eyes she asked the two scared boys, “Why, what’s up?” Crestfallen, Suman informed her that her mangoes had been stolen.
“What! Right under your noses? And within such a short space of time?”
The following afternoon Suman and Romu pulled out Dadi’s cot in the open. They spread an old bedcover over the cot and hid underneath. The mangoes had been picked and put out to dry for pickling. Minutes passed. No activity. The boys were beginning to get impatient. Their arms and legs were becoming sore. A full half hour had gone by.
The mango thief wasn’t coming, Suman decided. Maybe he’d seen them slip underneath the cot. Suman was thinking of calling off his plan to nab the thief when a strange sound reached his ears. As though thousands of dried leaves were being rubbed against each other. Then the sound grew louder... and... louder. A sudden thump! As though an entire army had jumped the wall around Dadi’s hut.
Peeping from underneath, Romu and Suman saw a band of monkeys merrily making off with the mangoes.
“Hey!” Romu yelled at the monkeys who stopped as if hit. Then they turned their attention to where the two scared boys were hiding underneath the cot. Shivering with fear the two friends slid out and faced the rogue band. Romu, more afraid of the two, picked up a pebble and hurled it towards one of the monkeys.
There was bedlam. The monkeys began hurling pebbles and mangoes at the boys. One caught Romu on the shin and another narrowly escaped Suman’s eye.
“Quick Romu, get inside the hut!” he commanded.
It began raining stones and mangoes. Romu shivered even more. Being unable to help himself he stared out the window. Where were the monkeys? Then he stared! The naughty monkeys were rolling on the ground clutching their sides. But it was only Suman who could hear their laughter. “Stop! stop! Please... hee... hee.. hee...” He could follow their language! Maybe that was the second gift of the ring.
The monkeys had fled leaving the mangoes behind. Dadi, who’d just woken up, asked, “So have all the mangoes gone?”
Romu glanced at Suman who winked.
“No Dadi,” he said, “the thieves have gone.”-----------