Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 11

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The next day aunt took us - Sundar, Venky, Sruthi and me- to the Golconda Fort. It is a magnificent monument. It was a huge place. The fort was built on a hill and its walls enveloped it. It is believed that if you shout from the base of the fort where the steps start up the hill, it can be heard in a particular room, a sentry room obviously, inside the fort. There was a lot of vegetation around the fort. I enjoyed the trip. It was not only because of the sites, but also because of the constant hostilities that cropped up between Sruthi and me. She made it a point to turn her head away whenever I glanced at her. Silly girl, she probably thought I was looking at her. Sundar and Venky as usual, were rambling away about this and that. Aunt told us the entire history behind the fort and I was the only listener. The Nawabs had done a good job.

The next day we went to the zoo. Whatever it is, a zoo can never replace a jungle. The tigers were restless in their enclosures. The majestic lion was not in its royal elements. The elephants appeared to have resigned to their fate. We also went to the Salarjung Museum, one of the famous museums in India. The museum displayed the extravagance of the Nawabs of Hyderabad. I was not interested in checking out the personal collection of a Nawab, which included guns, knives, jewels, clothing, paintings and so on. We also went for a couple of movies that week. Uncle could not make it to any of the trips, as he was busy with his work. But I enjoyed going around in the auto-rickshaws. Enjoyed the ice creams, and also the feel of being rich.

Something told me that Sruthi was itching to take revenge after that early morning altercation about my touching the cats. It was only a question of time. I did not know when the girl would strike. After a week I forgot about it as I thought I was being paranoid. I miscalculated. After all the outings that week, aunt decided that we needed to rest for the weekend. On Sunday morning we watched some cartoons on the video. After lunch I was reading Tintin, sitting by the dining table. The phone rang. I picked it up; it was some friend of Sruthi. She yanked the phone away from me and gave me a hard stare. She hung up after some time and walked up to me. I didn't bother to lift my head up from Tintin.

"Don't pick up the phone again," she said.

"Why?" I was puzzled.

"I don't want any of my friends to know that I have such an ugly cousin who wears trousers stitched from curtain cloth." That hurt me deeply. I kept quiet.

"And don't touch my comics. I'm very possessive about them!" she continued.

I lost my patience. She was treating me like dirt. I hated myself for wearing such shabby clothes. I hated my middle class tag. I threw the book across the table.

"It is all yours and I promise I won't touch your things again, ever!"

"How dare you throw my book!" she screamed.

I stood up, reached for the book, held it in my hands and gave her a big smile.

"Sorry," I said and dropped the book onto the floor.

She was incensed. She took a tablespoon and threw it at me, with all her strength. I ducked. The spoon was heavy and it crashed against the showcase, breaking the sliding glass door. It made a lot of noise. I was shocked and so was Sruthi. She covered her mouth with her palms in utter shock. I was about to say something when aunt came running from the bedroom.

"Who? I want to know who did this?" aunt shouted.

Sruthi had tears in her eyes and I thought she was about to faint. She pointed a finger at me and wanted to say something. At that moment I didn't know what happened to me. I felt sorry for Sruthi. I guessed how important the showcase was to aunt. I felt strange. I wanted to scream, "She did it!" and score a resounding victory in this personal war, but I could not. Sruthi was struggling to find words and she seemed to be sure that I'm going to tell aunt what exactly happened.

"Who?" shouted aunt.

The silence that followed hung over the three of us like a huge storm cloud. Sruthi was staring at me, her tears ready to roll. Her mask of arrogance was blown to smithereens. She looked like a weak pup, crying for mummy. I realised that I had scored the personal victory at that precise moment. There she was, standing like a princess who had lost her kingdom, like the fox, which had lost its colours.

"It was me." I blurted out.

"You are a very irresponsible young man!" shouted aunt. "You ought to know how to behave when you are a guest." That hurt me. "I am going to write to your mom about this," she continued. I knew that if mom learned about this, she would be mad as hell. I had a strange feeling in my gut. Sruthi had a confused look on her face. She was shocked by my confession I guess. I was in no mood to appreciate her feelings.

"You have brought shame on to the family." Sundar started yelling. He went on about how I had blown his reputation and also about how I broke mom's trust in us. I thought he was exaggerating a bit, blowing the issue out of proportion. He was acting like a big guy and he fared miserably. I just listened to the music. But what hurt me the most was the fact that aunt did not speak to me during dinner. Uncle as usual was oblivious to the happenings around him. None of them spoke to me. They ignored my attempt to start a conversation. This entire rebuke was being handed down to me despite my giving a soul-stirring apology to aunt that afternoon. I was wounded. I went to the terrace, after finishing dinner fast and excusing myself.  I sat there on the terrace wall, watching the stars that were thrown about in the sky. Watching the solitary cloud that was desperately trying to wrestle with the moon. One of the cats purred at me. I ignored him. I had tears in my eyes. I felt lonely for the first time since I stepped into Hyderabad. I felt alienated by my own brother. I thought that this punishment was too much for such a small crime. I had no business to admit to a crime that I never committed. I could not figure out why I wanted to save Sruthi. The expression on her face? Or maybe I had a thing for her or maybe it was the stupid movies, I buried my face in my hands. I didn't want to cry, but I just could not help it. I sobbed silently. I could hear them downstairs, laughing at some TV show. That only aggravated my feeling of loneliness. I was alone, yes, damn it I was alone.

"I am sorry."

The words startled me. I turned around, surprised. She was standing there. Her feet were drawing lines on the floor.

I just smiled and said, "It's ok, I was rude to you."

"No, you were not ... you are the sweetest and the nicest guy I've ever seen." Whoa! I was zapped.

"Will you be my friend and allow me to repay your kindness?" she continued. I felt like the king of the world, a confused king of the world at that.

"We can't be just friends," I said.

"But why?" she almost screamed with a huge look of disappointment in her eyes, those beautiful eyes that mirrored the moon.

"Because we can only be special friends! We are special, remember?" I managed to say that stupid line somehow.

She broke into a huge smile. "Why not?" she said, sitting next to me.

She told me about her school, her friends and tennis. We talked about anything and everything. And nothing. Next morning, she went and confessed to aunt that she was the one who was responsible for the broken glass door. Aunt was so sorry.

She held my face. "Sunnu, you are a sweet boy. Very few people manage to stay that way, keep it up", she told me. Sruthi got away as she was honest enough to admit her crime. Aunt made custard for us, and broke the good news.

We were going to Bombay in another ten days. Sruthi told me about Bombay that evening. She had been there twice. I was told that it was a big city. Sruthi promised not to leave me alone for even a minute. She knew I was almost alone. Sundar, as usual, was loafing around with Venky and I had enough of playing with Bruno and the cats. She said that the train journey to Bombay was real fun. She was turning out to be a real special friend. She reminded me of Tom Sawyer's best friend, Becky. I wrote to mom about the Bombay trip. She wrote back breaking more good news. Dad was coming down in the middle of June, which was roughly a month away. Mom also wrote that I would be getting admission into sixth standard at St.John's.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.