Rejection Slip - Part I
Dear Mr Kamath,
Thank you for sending me the stories 'The Abandoned House' and 'Hide and Seek' for publication in Tinkle. The stories have been written well, but they do not suit our editorial requirements. I would like you to send me stories that can be scripted in the comics' format and which children would enjoy.
With best wishes,
Hide and Seek
Clarification: This story was written and submitted in Oct 2004, more than a year and a half ago.
It was 10 O' Clock on a Summer Day. The breakfasts had been eaten. The milk had been drunk. There was nothing else to do but to set out to Harish's house to play Hide and Seek.
When Anil and Gayu got to 'the adda' (the filmi nick name of Harish's house), the rest of their 'Hide and Seek' gang was already there. There were Smita and Rohan and Shashi and Amit and Ramya. There was Harish, whose house it was, his sister Jayu and his very little brother Santhosh.
Anil and Gayu made some space and sat down. Anil had to shift yesterday's paper from the chair onto the teapoy and Gayu had to readjust some laundry on the sofa.
Harish's house was a mess. Clothes, newspapers, toys, plastic covers lay haphazardly about. Everything smelled unclean. The dining table which lay on the far side of the drawing room was covered with the remnants of that morning's breakfast. The whirring overhead fan, set at '5', made matters worse by scattering the lighter things about.
Harish's parents both worked and this shabby state was the result of a frenzied 'getting ready' in the morning. The shabby state would remain till the maid came after noon to fix it.
The kids, of course, could not mind the mess less. They were thankful for a adult-free house, however shabby,to noisily play their hide-and-seek in.
An active discussion was now going on. Rohan calimed he was bored with hide-and-seek and wanted to play cricket instead. Ramya wanted to bring her new carom-board and play carom. All the rest, however, wanted to continue playing hide-and-seek. They were, in a way, getting addicted to it. They had been playing the game, daily, for over a fortnight now. Most of them usually came prepared, with a well-thought out game-plan and a mental list of the best hiding places.
The deadlock continued for a long time.
Gayu sought to strike a compromise. "Why don't we do this?" she said, "Let us play Hide and Seek today since the majority wants it and since that was the orignial plan, but the minority should not be made to suffer just because they are the minority so tomorrow we can play cricket, and carrom the day after." This made sense. All Ramya and Rohan wanted was a break in the Hide and Seek tradition. They didn't mind waiting another day or two.
So the game began. The toss followed the usual method. Palms of right hands came together, left in Rohan's case, rested on top of each other for a half second, then were quickly thrown into the air, then came back down again in the middle with each palm facing up or down according to the owner's random choice. Whichever side, up or down, was in majority, was considered 'vicotrious' and the minority contested in the next round. If only two people remained in the end, a dummy palm was borrowed from someone who had already won.
Amit became 'It'. Anyone else would have been sad to start out as 'It' but Amit did not mind. He knew he could find everyone out easily. His strategy was to count softy and listen as he counted. Creating hiding places was sometimes a noisy business and these noises gave peple away. Like when Anil had climbed on to the kitchen loft, and used the kitchen tap for a foothold, he had turned the tap on slightly so it dripped. Amit had found Anil out in no time at all. Amit usually even calculated and anticipated his way out of being 'It' during the toss. But today somehow his calculations seemed to have gone wrong, even backfired perhaps.
"96..97..98..99..100! I am coming" shouted Amit striking terror amongst the hiding hearts. His booming voice made them squirm in their hiding places and give themselves away. "Ah the laundry pile seems to move a bit. Let me see who's inside. Shashi out. Anil under the sofa. Out. Santhosh are you playing or not? Out. Someone is behind the door there (He pressed the door gently eliciting a reluctant, recognizable, 'ouch') Rohan Out. Harish under the bed out. Jayu behind suicase. Out. Ramya out. I saw your yellow dupatta. Too late to change hiding places. Smita clever comouflage among the quilts. Out. Steel drum. Gayu out. Who's left? No one. Good."
Amit had systematically moved from the hall to the bathroom, clearing the places closest to the hall first. For he wanted to eliminate all danger closer to the 'It-place' which was in the hall, under the switchboard, where he had counted till hundred earler. If someone made it to the 'It-place' before he was found out, then the 'It' continued to be 'It' for one more round.
Not only did he catch everyone he also caught them in their hiding places and shouted these out for everyone's benefit making their reuse difficult. Smita was chafing. She had especially chosen the blue churidar for use as camouflage. It was risky choosing your best hiding places against Amit, but if anyone was worth using the best hiding place against, it was he.
Shashi, who had been found out first, had to be 'It' now. He walked sadly to the switchboard. He was a terrible 'It'. The game continued. Shashi was 'It' three times. In the third he decided that enough was enough. He refused to venture too far from the switchboard. Everyone was frustrated into taking risks and hence getting themselves out. Ramya, Rohan, Harish, Smita, Gayu all became 'It' eventually. Anil never was caught first, because he always lay low before at least one other person had been found out. Then he made bold, often successful attacks on the 'It-place'. In the end when Shashi became It one more time, he became rather sad. His eyes welled up and he was on the verge of breaking down. They decided to stop.
There was another reason for stopping. Harish's neighbour, Mrs D'Souza's, all-white, furry cat, Casper had appeared at the door. Everyone took turns at petting her.
"Why not hide Casper and include her in our hide-and-seek" said Smita with sudden, evil, inspiration. "Mrs D'Souza feeds him at noon everyday and she'll wonder where he is gone"
Mrs D'Souza was not very sociable. She did not speak much to any children in the colony, nor did any children speak much to her. She wore spectacles and always seemed to look at the children with a contemptuos smirk which seemed to dare one and all to cross paths with her.
Amit took up Smita's suggestion immediately. "What a great idea" he said, "A new kind of hide and seek. Mrs D'Souza can be 'It for life' - atleast for as long as the game lasts. I am sure Shashi will like that, won't you Shashi?"
Sashi did not say anything. Though he was not so sad now.
"But where will you hide her?" asked Ramya who liked this new Hide-and-Seek too. "She hardly sits still for a while. And she keeps mewing all the time."
Rohan had an inspiration. "Let's go on a quick picnic and take Casper along. Near the old jail, in the Nilgiri grove"
"What a great idea" Amit said again. He decided quickly, "Harish check if there is any stuff in your fridge?"
There was. A lot of leftover pudeena chutney - which makes for great sandwiches. The problem was solved. There were tomatoes and cucumber and ketchup but no bread.
"I will go and get some from Ganeshpur" said Harish who had a cycle, "You guys start walking, I will join you."
The tomatoes, and cucumbers and chutney packed, spoons, knives, water bottles ready, they set out. Casper was being a trouble and wouldn't let anyone pick her up, she kept squirming and mewing and she was quite heavy too. They had to entice her to walk along using a bit of leftover fish from the fridge (Anil's brilliant idea). They didn't give it to her but carried it along in a plastic cover. She followed easily.
It was unbearably hot outside and they were all sweating in five minutes. But it would be cooler once they got amongst the Nilgiri trees. Harish did not join them until they had almost reached the old jail. He was sweating copiously and drank up half a water bottle.
The Nilgiri farm had been densly planted and it was quite cool there. A light breeze had started. The smell of Niligiri was soothing too. They all sat down on a big bedsheet that had been brought from Harish's house. Harish's mom would be mad, but chances were that she would never find out. They were all enjoying their cucumber-pudeena sandwiches and Casper was chewing contentedly on her hard-earned fish when Santhosh's absence was suddenly noticed.
Harish immediately panicked since Santhosh was his responsibility. Someone suggested that Santhosh might have atlast got the drift of hide-and-seek and must be hiding around somewhere. A frantic search was undertaken, but no Santhosh. Harish got mad at Jayu who had to, naturally, take care of Santhosh when Harish himself was not around. Jayu's calm made him even angrier.
Ramya suggested that perhaps Santhosh had never come on the picnic. He might still be in the colony. This seemed plausible - no one seemed to remember Santhosh walking with them.
The picnic was wound up quickly and everyone started for home. Harish zipped back ahead on his cycle.
AS he neared his house at full speed, he was relieved to see Santhosh with Mrs D'Souza in her Veranda. He hurriedly parked his back, forgot his inhibitions and walked straight through the gate. "We were looking for him" he said to Mrs D'Souza "We had gone on a picnic". He was panting.
"He must have forgotten to go with you" said Mrs D'Souza with a rare smile, a chuckle almost. "He was hungry so I gave him some milk. Have you seen Casper anywhere, my Cat?"
Harish went red in the face. "In fact I did Aunty" he said "She came with us on the picnic." He wondered if there was anyway Mrs D'Souza would find out that Casper had had illicit fish. He was relieved that when Casper came back with the other children, she did not have a bone or two in her mouth.
Mrs D'Souza invited them all inside. Harish drank another half-bottle of water. Then Mrs D'Souza made chocolate milk shake for them all. After that they decided that she was quite nice.