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Holidays spent at the grandparents meant chores as also fun and games. The evenings were set aside for playing various games like seven stones, chain, kabaddi, hopscotch and more. Mind you, if grandfather was around, he could still call you in the middle of a game and order you carry water to whichever place needed it. So we usually gave a sigh of relief when he left on his walk. It meant undisturbed play till it was time for evening prayers.

On some rare days grandfather took us along when he went for his evening walk, the destination being the family temple. He would walk at a slower pace so we could keep up with him. He being a man of few words didn’t talk much, but listened to our chatter, only interrupting to correct some misinformation and/or add to our knowledge.

Grandfather had presence. Whether it be inside the house or outside he was not someone whom anyone took lightly. On our outings, we couldn’t help but notice how people respectfully hailed him. It was hard to ignore either his regal bearing or how obsequious others were in his presence. Walking with him, we basked in reflected glory and felt ourselves to be special too, puny gnats that we were at the time.

One day, though I don’t remember exactly how it came about, talk veered to being fearless. Probably it had to do with some character from the epics. Not to be outdone, we told him we were fearless too, yes all of us. There was my cousin and I, both eleven and my sister and another cousin both nine. The other two were really small at 6 and 7 and I don’t remember them accompanying us on the walk to the temple. Of course, the oldest cousin at 13 felt he was above us, the small fry, so was never found with us on such excursions.

So the four of us small fry, we took on grandfather on the matter. We were NOT afraid of anything. Anything. At. All. Really, grandfather asked, not of the dark? No, of course not. We were united in our stand. Would you go out in the dark without adults to take care of you? Of course, we would, replied in one voice. He was teasing us and we bought into it. What about robbers, what if one, or two, came along? Robbers don’t scare us, we replied loftily. We’ll carry ‘weapons’ with us to fend them off.

Grandfather wanted to know what those weapons were we intended carrying with us for protection. Knives from the kitchen, the big ones especially. We knew of those used to de-husk coconuts, the ones used to cut branches. Then came spades, axes, the paara, nifty thing in iron, heavy and with a sharp edge. We named the things we had seen around the house and outside (and you bet I was the leader of the fearless and their main spokesperson).

Grandfather was amused, but he was one who wouldn’t concede even to his grandchildren. We’ll see, he said, let night come. All this is nothing but bravado, when it is dark you’ll be too scared to go out. We were indignant. No, we said in unison, the dark was not going to scare us. Let night fall, and then we’d prove it to him conclusively.

The elders back home were surprised when a bunch of excited children burst into the house in place of the droopy ones they expected after a long walk. We told our mothers and grandmothers about grandfather’s challenge and how we intended taking it up after dinner. They laughed, yawned and went back to whatever they were doing. ‘Children!‘ was written on their faces. Nothing could dampen our spirits though.

After dinner, instead of meekly going to bed as everyone expected we would, we collected our ‘weapons’ and assembled in the front yard. We called out to grandfather who watched us with a smile. You are still inside the gate, he said. We are on our way, we told him. Chattering and laughing we walked to the gate and opened it with every intention of walking out into the dark road (no streetlights in the village those days) and proving our point: that we were fearless.

STOP! grandfather’s stern voice stopped us in our tracks. Get back inside, he said, no longer smiling. We fell silent. All the joy and excitement drained out of us at his tone. We did not even think of appealing against it, such was the power of it. Deflated, like balloons pricked by a pin, we turned and walked back into the house. The ‘weapons’ were put back in their place. Wordlessly, without looking at each other, we made our beds and lay down for the night.

At the time all I knew was what happened was somehow not right. But it is only in later years that I understood what was at play. It didn’t matter that we were only children, grandfather didn’t like anyone standing up to him, even in jest. I wonder how difficult it would have been for someone in his place to have simply said he had been wrong after all, that we were indeed brave and fearless children but that we had to now stop and get back to bed. We would perhaps have been jubilant at our minor (and silly) victory. In spite, wouldn’t he have grown still more in stature in our eyes? Instead that day he shrank just a little bit in mine (though I don’t know about the others).

©Shail Mohan 2016

Day 11 NaBloPoMo 2016