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The Petroleum Fire

By Annapurna Sharma


The school bell rang; it was time to go home. Children of Sacred Heart School ran out of their classrooms carrying school bags. There was much noise than every day.  Teachers smiled as some students said, “Happy Winter Vacation!”

“Pinky, come fast. Auto uncle is waiting,” yelled Saranya.

They were classmates studying in 4th standard. Pinky bought a packet of potato chips from the little shop outside the school gate, and ran to the auto.

“From tomorrow no school for one whole month,” she said excitedly.

“Where is your brother? He and Praful are always late, all the children have come. I must tell your mother,” complained the auto wallah.

“There he comes,” said Pinky.

Prateek (Pinkys’ brother) and Praful walked slowly towards the auto with the heavy bags bending their backs.

“Why are you so late?” demanded Shankar.

The boys said that the teacher gave them a list of projects to do in the holidays. All the 6th class students were delayed as they were copying the list from the board.

Shankar muttered that they gave such excuses every day. The children were used to his grumblings; they dumped their bags and sat inside. Pinky shared her chips with them and they talked jubilantly about the holidays. Soon Shankar too joined in their conversation. After all he was fond of them.

For the next week, Pinky and Prateek were busy with their homework and projects. Pinkys’ mother told them Tarun mama would come to take them to their grandparents’ house in Pune. They were told not to carry any school work to Pune. They wanted to meet mamas’ children Aryan and Arnav. They eagerly waited for the day when Mama came and took them on train to Pune.

Grandmother was happy to see them and prepared their favorite besan ladoos and aloo chips. Grandfather said he was ready to play ludo, caroms and chess. They laughed when he said he would climb the guava tree with them. Just like their mother, Mami too made sure that their cousins Aryan and Arnav finished their projects.

Their cousins were the most happiest to see them. After lunch they ran into the garden, where Prateek climbed the guava tree. He plucked ripe guavas and threw into the towel that Arnav and Pinky held between them. Aryan brought a mug of water from the garden tap and washed the guavas. Grandfather who was sitting in a reclining chair in the portico helped them cut the guavas.

“Pinky, get salt and chili powder from the kitchen,” said grandpa.

Mami mixed the two and gave the mixture in a small bowl. They rubbed it on the guava pieces and ate them.

“Grandpa, why are you sitting outside? You usually sleep inside your room in the afternoons,” demanded Aryan.

“It is chilly inside. The warm afternoon sun will relieve my leg cramps.”

“And my knee pain will be gone,” added grandma as she sat beside him.

Mami too came along with a mat on which she sat and started cutting some greens and beans. But they wanted to play cricket there. Tarun mama saw that the children were dejected.

To cheer them up, he asked, “Who want to ride the bike?”

They took turns to ride. Mama allowed them to sit in the front holding the handle, while he sat at the back and guided the bike. They rode in the colony.

“They cannot balance the bike. Why do you allow them to ride the bike?” grandma scolded Mama.

“Mother, it is ‘Pleasure’, the smaller bike which is not very heavy. Anyway I am there sitting behind balancing. You worry unnecessarily,” laughed Mama.

The children sat on the mat and pestered grandfather to tell them some stories from his childhood.

He told them, how he and his friends went for swimming in the river to cool off during summer.

“What did you do in winters?” questioned Arnav.

“We collected dry twigs and made a bonfire. We sat around it and warmed our hands,” chuckled grandpa.

“If you tell them such stories, they will also do the same,” chided grandma.

“If you don’t allow them to do anything, they will never grow. They will be always scared of everything, just like you,” retorted grandpa.

“What did you say?” roared grandma angrily.

The children smiled as the two elders argued with each other. Mami asked them to go and play elsewhere, while she too went inside.

The bike was parked under the guava tree. They climbed on the seat and chatted till the sun went down.

After dinner, they slipped out into the garden. They piled dry twigs. They had torn paper from their notebooks. Pinky stealthily brought a matchbox from the kitchen. They lighted the paper first and let the sticks catch fire. They sat around the cracking fire, warming their hands. Varun and Priya, children from the neighboring house saw them from their window and joined them.

The small fire burnt gradually, the children added more dry sticks. They chatted happily, praising their fire-making skills. The fire burnt rapidly and they felt it was due to the breeze. Suddenly the fire spread, Prateek pulled them to one side. They shouted, ‘Fire! Fire!’

Mama, Mami and their grandparents came out hurriedly. The fire spread, the dry grass catching fire instantly. Grandmother panicked and shouted at grandfather who stood with his mouth open. The bike was a few feet away from the guava tree. Neighbors had come out and some of them shouted, ‘Pour water and douse the flames.’

Prateek ran to a corner of the garden, gathered sand in a bucket and threw over the fire. He did this again, the fire reduced to a few flames. By the third bucket the fire was extinguished. The guava tree, the bike and the lovely garden was saved from burning into ashes.

Story continued here....../-