Once upon time there lived a king. A very handsome king indeed but unfortunately had donkey ears , long curled like a leaf . Always he covered his head and ears with a big turban. No one knew the secret except the royal barber. The barber was sufficiently warned never to open his mouth or stand to lose his head.
The Poor barber was restless day and night. One day he told Mrs.barber that he had a secret but was not suppose to share with any one. Mrs.barber gave an indifferent glance and advised him to share with a tree since trees don’t speak human language. Though Mr. barber hated her, he loved her advice. Immediately he rushed to a tamarind tree, hugging it tight whispered “ Hello, the king has donkey ears. Please it’s a secret. Never share it”. That night Mr barber slept peacefully after all those restless years.
Next morning a few drummers walked into the barber’s neighbourhood , found the the right kind of wood to make a pair of new drums to play on the occasion of the king’s birthday. Within no time a tree trunk was cut and two beautiful drums were carved out. After few days, all the people, young old, rich poor, beautiful ugly, dumb and smart gathered near the palace to wish the king .
The drummers brought the new drums and started beating and God! What a resonance the drums made that even a deaf man could understand the sound which reverberated “ The king has donkey ears..” all the public laughed only the poor barber didn’t laugh ,worried about his poor head and rushed to his home to see the tamarind stump which appeared smiling with a warning “ Never follow your wife’s advice...”
“ Come on! Time to sleep !”Saying uncle Rajesh shooed all of us. I enjoyed every bit of the story and wondered how the poor king must have felt especially on his birthday. It was really mean of the tamarind tree to give away the secret”, thought little Acchi.
Acchi had come to spend summer vacations with uncle Ramesh and other family members. It was the best time to meet all her cousins. Eat delicious mangoes, cool ice apples, juicy red green watermelons and move anywhere in the village with no fear of traffic , strangers or those phantom kidnappers which her mother often told her and warned her to come home early without wandering like a stray cow.
Acchi enjoyed all the delicacies prepared by the ladies of the family. Evenings were spent gathering in the courtyard and singing songs in most un -melodious voices. Dinner would be followed by story time. Wooden cots with soft hand picked silk cotton mattress were spread in the courtyard itself. A big pedestal fan would swirl left to right to ward-of the mosquitoes. Acchi always felt as if sleeping on soft white clouds with stars dangling like wind chimes and moon appearing sometimes full , sometime half or quarter piece as if cut from a big watermelon. Acchi always preferred to sleep next to her cousin Vrinda, another eight year old like her but more confident and quarrelsome.
After listening to the story of ‘the betrayal of the tamarind tree‘ Acchi slept fitfully. “ Poor king ! how he must have felt when everyone laughed at him. Who can understand him better than I? I remember when my head was tonsured in the local temple, how desperately I used to cover my head with a hat so that no one would make fun of me. I remember that was the first summer I wanted to go back to my place to escape the glee of the villagers. Anyway let me try sleeping now”, murmuring Acchi turned on her side carefully avoiding vrinda’s twisted legs like pincers about grab anything that came their way.
It was barely ten minutes, Acchi heard the sound of anklets. She slightly opened her one eye. She saw a pair of feet and green border sari above them walking inside the house with tinkering anklets. She kept waiting for the pair of feet to come back but sleep caught her up and when she opened her eyes , it was already day light and most of the family members were talking like birds perched on a power cables . Only Vrinda was curled up like a foetus fast asleep. Acchi again recollected the feet and green border sari and brushed away the thought that may be she saw them in her dream. But suddenly there was a commotion in the house. She could distinctly hear her mother wailing loudly.
“Is someone dead or something is lost? Why is mother so hysterical “, though Acchi. Without losing a minute she jumped from her cot like a cat and ran inside the house. From the shouting and loud voices she understood that mother had lost her gold necklace.
Nothing else was touched. So some thief entering the house, was ruled out. Everyone guessed it was definitely the handiwork of an insider but nobody wanted to say it aloud. The whole house was turned upside down to find the lost necklace. Even the most odd unlikely places were searched like the cow barn, the Well, even big jars of pickles in the kitchen were not spared.
Acchi remembered the anklet feet and green border sari. Before informing others, she wanted to investigate on her own. She started going through the rooms and in Ramesh uncle ‘s room she found Vali aunty’s sari with green border hung on the clothesline. At very moment, Acchi heard the sound of the anklets. She quickly hid behind the antique bed and all she could see the same feet but now with a different sari. Acchi was absolutely confident that the thief was none other than Vali aunty herself.
Acchi was-in dilemma to disclose the truth. How could she hurt such good people like Ramesh uncle and Vali aunty. How well they took care of all the relatives. She felt her condition was like that of the ‘ barber’. She decided to unburden herself by speaking to some other tree instead of a tamarind tree. She quickly walked to Ramesh uncle ‘s rice field and there was this lone coconut tree. She quickly hugged the tree and confessed “ I know that Vali aunty is the necklace thief. Dear tree keep the secret. I don’t want to hurt Vali aunty’
Like the ‘ barber’ she felt lighter too and meanwhile the stolen necklace fiasco almost came to an end. Mother no more cried since she didn’t want to weaken her eyes crying and spoil her beautiful face. Vali aunty continued to move in the house without slightest remorse. Acchi though was unhappy with her but was glad that she buried the secret
Only few days were left for the vacations to end. Uncle organised a prayer in the nearby temple. All the family gathered in the temple courtyard. Bunches of ripe bananas , flowers and a sack full of coconuts were brought to offer to the god. Acchi along with her cousin Vrinda stood in one corner to pray. Vali aunty proudly told everyone that the sack of coconuts were from their field.
Acchi lost her head and wondered what would happen now. Suppose the coconuts would blurt out the truth ! A pandemonium would break. She desperately prayed with her eyes shut. Uncle Ramesh picked up the first coconut. “ one , two ,three... the coconut hit the hard rock floor and broke into two “ Vali aunty is the thief...!” Acchi heard the words clearly. She shut her eyes and ears waiting for the reaction from the family. Nothing! More coconuts were broken. Every time Acchi heard the voice but the family didn’t. Acchi asked Vrinda “ did you hear the coconut saying something?” Vrinda raised her eyebrows and looked at Acchi as if saying “ You moron, do coconuts speak?”
All left the temple. Children were given pieces of coconut to eat. Acchi could hear the same words while each one of her cousins munched the coconut piece” Vali aunty is the thief”.
“ Thank god! No one understood what the coconut was trying to say” , thought Acchi.
Next day Acchi left along with her mother with a tearful farewell and promise of coming next summers. But next Summer Acchi could not visit since her father was posted abroad.
Acchi, a beautiful young woman now of eighteen came to visit uncle Ramesh and aunt Vali and of course the other cousins too joined. The occasion was to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of uncle Ramesh.
Acchi couldn’t still forget the necklace thief. The celebration started and uncle Ramesh put his hand in the pocket and brought out mother’s necklace and everyone gave loud cry of joy except Acchi . She wondered what would he say. “ This necklace was found in Acchi ‘s toy box after they had left. We wanted to surprise everyone. So we waited so long”.
With a flash Acchi remembered of taking mother’s necklace to put it around her doll. She had put her doll in the box in a hurry to listen to uncle Ramesh ‘s story that night and later forgot all about it. Some one in joy broke a coconut . Acchi heard the coconut saying “ you dumb girl - who is the thief?”