A secret discovered by a sneeze!

A secret discovered by a sneeze!

A secret discovered by a sneeze!

"Those last words did not need to be uttered. Each one of the cousins had faced the wrath of a woken-up-too-early grandma. Suraj once had to do without his share of cake at tea-time for having a) dropped the clock and broken it. But by Ajji's odd rule book, this was something that would have gone unpunished if, b) the noise of the falling clock hadn't woken her up.

Anandi once had to learn and recite the preamble of the Constitution while the others watched Cartoon Network. She'd slipped slammed the bedroom door loudly enough to wake up the dead, during a fight with her brother.

This afternoon, since Ajji had made kheer for tea, nobody wanted to risk getting her into a bad mood and being deprived of their favourite sweet. They decided to play 'Cops and Crooks' upstairs. And when that got boring, the cousins moved a floor above, to a sort of open attic-cum-storage space which was a whole lot messier (and hence infinitely more interesting).

From 'Cops and Crooks' they switched to pretending they were a procession of Maharajas attending the Delhi Durbar --with old bed sheets wrapped around their heads forming enormous turbans, and old curtains trailing behind them in a royal manner.

While the lot of them scampered about in the dust, pulling things out of boxes and opening up old cupboards, Ravi, the eldest cousin, got quiet. He was the only one who knew that this was their last summer in Ajji's house. She was to soon move into a flat close by.

When the neighbours visited and urged her to stay on in this place that she'd entered 50 years back as a bride, Ravi had overheard her laugh and say that she was too old to manage the big bungalow and over-grown garden.

But Ravi knew the truth. Moving from here would break Ajji's heart, but she had no choice. Her dead husband's brother had suddenly claimed that the house belonged to him. And poor Ajji, had no documents to prove that this house that she'd lived in with her husband, now belonged to her. Her brother-in-law had gone to court, much to the shock of the family, and now had a court order to evict his elder brother's widow from her house.

Somebody threw an old pillow at Ravi and it exploded in a cloud of feathers. That led to throwing more cushions about. Sheets were rolled up and knotted, turning into pretty painful missiles if they hit you on the head. When the cousins ran out of sheets and pillows, they began throwing old dusty books at each other…the pages flying all over the place and some books literally crumbling into powder, so ancient were the pages.

Someone threw an old file at Ravi. It missed him but when it hit the wall beside him, the cloud of dust that rose was unimaginable. So the competition shifted to who could raise the biggest cloud of dust. More files were flung on the walls and the cousins analysed each resulting dust cloud with as much care as astronomers probably took over galaxies and solar systems. One dust cloud was so potent that it set all the cousins off on a sneezing fit. Little Renu sneezed so much that  she collapsed on the pile of just-flung files and papers on the floor.

Suddenly she spotted something that stopped her sneezes. One file had loads and loads of family pictures… taken over the years, in this very house. The cousins scrambled around to look. Soon they were squealing with laughter a pictures of their parents wearing 'fashionable' clothes of their youth. It was only Ravi who noticed a fat envelop on the floor. It had 'To My Dear Wife' written on it.

Ravi slipped out the papers from inside. They were a few more photographs, but also Ajja's 'Last Will and Testament"!. His heart racing, Ravi scanned the pages, his 13 year old mind stumbling over the big words that lawyers use.

But he was smart enough to gather that in his will, Ajja had left his house to his wife. And attached to the will were all the papers proving that Ajji was the sole owner of the property -there was no mention of Ajja's brother!

Ravi almost ran down the stairs to wake up Ajji, but he stopped. While reading the documents, Ravi had realised with a shock, that everywhere Ajji's signature was supposed to appear, there was only a thumbprint. His super-smart grandma was actually illiterate! So she'd never believe him now if he told her these papers would allow her prove her brother-in-law wrong.

Instead she'd rave and rant at being woken up, put away his share of kheer and probably make him learn 10 pages from the Gita! No, Ravi decided that he'd leave it to his parents to handle the whole thing. Hiding the fat envelop in Ajji's puja room, he went back to a nice game of 'Dust Storm'.  

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