Women and children were sitting in the front row of the van while the men folk were busy talking and they were seated at the back. They were arguing rather debating over current politics. The little girl Rajani was holding a small nylon cover outside the window and was enjoying it when it got inflated looked like a balloon. As she was holding it on the opposite side of the moving van, the wind was blowing on it and helped it. Her sister Ramya, was guiding her to hold it strong or else it would fly off. In fact, she was the one who started it. Rajani, thrilled by the balloon effect on the empty nylon cover, wanted to play the game. Ramya gave up her turn and handed it over to Rajani. Otherwise, the little Rajani would resort to crying and that would be the end of their game and play. There were two more children… boys, Ravi and Rajendran. They were waiting to grab the nylon cover from Rajani. Ramya fixed some rules. “Let us all have our turns, each one giving it to the next person after five minutes. Okay? First Rajani, then me, then Ravi and then Rajendran. Is that okay?” Rajendran did not agree. “Why should I be the last?” Again, Ramya intervened. “It is by order of seniority. Till your turn comes, you both keep laying some other game, like word building, film songs, antakshari etc.” Unsettled and unable to score, he agreed. But he went to his bag and from there he picked up a long twine like string which he hid to himself.
Rajani half mindedly, gave it to Ramya and she then later passed on to Ravi. Ravi too had his turn. Next was Rajendran. He instead of holding the cover, tied it to the string he brought from his bag and held the edge of it tightly in his hands. When he let the cover out of the window, it went flying. Ramya shouted, “Hold it strong Hold it strong. Or else it will fly away.” Alas! That’s what had happened in a short while. It flew off. It hit a passenger on the road, riding a scooter. The ladies who otherwise were busy talking and chitchatting, suddenly noticed this. Sensing some danger and fear of being accosted, Rajendran’s mother caught hold of her son by his ears and gave him good. “What if the passenger struck by your silly kite, lost his balance and met with an accident? Who will be held responsible? You think your father will tolerate this silly nonsense?” The assistant driver too added fuel to this child-play now turned into a turmoil. “I was worried when these children were dropping their hands out and peeping through the window. Any obstacle – a branch of a tree or twig or something of that sort could chop off their hands. Luckily on this side of the road, no vehicle would ply from opposite direction. I wanted to caution you.”
Rajendran was angry, furious and upset. “No one appreciated me. I made the game more interesting. But on the contrary, all are blaming me. As though I deliberately brought this. Oh, This stupid girl Ramya! She made rules and made me the last one to play. Now I am standing like a fool in front of all. If only … If only… I could hit her hard! Once I get a chance, I will pay her back. Also, I will tell Appa never to go with this family on any picnic. Never, never.” Only after he came to that conclusion, he could calm down.
Luckily for all of them nothing untoward happened. After that no more games for kids and no more ladies’ talk too. Men also came back to their seats and joined their family members. The ‘Tempo Traveler’ carrying eleven members of four families – all male members from the same bank and enjoying their ‘Leave-Travel-Concession’ facility were on tour from Trivandrum to Mount Abu, covering about five states and a distance of about 2500 kilometers. The trip was well thought of and well planned after a long discussion and debate. As women and children were also involved in the long journey, they should be prepared for all consequences … children falling ill and or unable to put up with strenuous trips, women with their constraints … both physical and mental and men with their egoistic trends, et all. Above all their own financial budgetary restriction was also there. Considering all these factors, they almost came to a point of dropping the entire plan. But it was their sheer will power and consent from all family members to follow the rules and policies devised by them and strictly adhering to them. Such a strong discipline made them see the day.
Some of the rules framed were … throughout the journey, menfolk should desist from alcohol consumption, women should shudder heavy purchases, children should be advised to simply obey their parents and so on. One of the main rules was children should not quarrel with each other and in such an event, their parents would be made responsible. Worst come worst, the trip would be wound up from there itself.
Rajendran’s mother dragged him out mainly for the fear of their long journey being dropped out. Same was with Rajani and Ramya’s mother too. Children were taken away by their mothers. With fathers too joining the family, the journey continued smoothly. So far, they had crossed two states and just two days had gone by. They had a long road to travel. From Kerala they had crossed over to Karnataka and were now in Goa. Rajendran told his father, “Appa we will not go to any temple in Goa. In all these places we covered so far, we saw and went to temples, temples and temples only. Why did you plan our excursion in this manner?”
“No, my dear, it is not like that. I know. This is not our pilgrimage. But when we start a big event, we should always pray that our endeavor should be successful. Did you notice? The van driver cracked a coconut before starting the vehicle from our place. Don’t you know the saying, ‘well begun is half done’? When we stepped into the town of Guruvayoor, how can we ignore our lord Aiyappan? He is our family deity. Same way when we entered Udupi, we could not skip the famous Udupi Krishna temple and the nearby holy shrine of Goddess Kollur Mookambika. But in Goa, you have your free time. Goa is famous for beaches and seaside activities. Water sports are main attractions. You children are too small for Scuba diving snorkelling or water skiing. But we will take you for other adventurous water sports like parasailing, horse riding, kite flying and so on. So be prepared for a day full of fun and thrills. I am happy that you children are getting on well with each other.” On hearing these words, Rajendran fixed his eyes on Ramya and made grumpy faces. She unaware of his anger, just smiled at him. That irritated him all the more.
Rajendran was beyond words when he saw people running around and jumping in ecstasy when they had a ride on water. Some tried parasailing. Some went for water jetskiing, some came out with their masks and cylinders after underwater snorkelling, some were discussing about banana-ride, river rafting, etc. Mere watching and hearing those adventures filled him with thrills. But his father was hesitant to try out anything. He later learnt that his father and other uncles went and talked to the agents and kept bargaining. All sports activities were very costly and would certainly be beyond their budgets. Rajendran was sad that he could not get any thrill ride. Finally, they settled for a motor boat ride on sea searching for dolphins. Oh, yes! There one dolphin jumped out of water and very soon hid himself under the waves. The motor boatman said one more might appear if they were lucky. Rajani and Ramya put their heads down on the edge of the boat and looked under the water. Sea water splashed on their faces and eyes got irritated. At that very moment a dolphin came up and suddenly struck the boat very close by. Due to its sudden appearance at close quarters, people got jerky and rushed to the opposite side. Boatman screamed at the passengers to be seated properly and not to imbalance the boat by their jerks and lopsided movements. The waves were also not friendly. He insisted everyone to fasten their belts on their safety jackets. He said, “Adventures are welcome. But not accidents.” When other boats crossed them, all passengers greeted people in other boat and screamed in joy. Rajender kept watching with great awe, some elderly man having a parasailing ride. Similarly, a speedboat sped fast splashing huge amount of water on all of them. They came back to shore. Though the children did not partake themselves in adventure thrills, mere watching others having fun itself gave them half satisfaction. All four children were discussing the events as though they themselves undertook them. Rajani was still in amazement about the dolphin that came very near the boat. Ramya was much bothered about how everyone rushed helter-skelter in panic. Ravi and Rajendran were still in their own world of parasailing, skiing, banana riding.
Parents left the children to play on seashore for some more time. Mothers took small strolls around the beach while men went searching for proper hotels for lunching. While Rajani and Ramya were building castles in wet sand, Ravi and Rajendran stood in the water and were chasing the waves. A very big wave came gushing towards them. People around them screamed at them to run for safety. Ravi simply ran away, while Rajendran hesitated. At that very minute a strong hand pulled him back and held him tight. Ravi did not even turn back. He went in search of his mother. Rajani and Ramya were lost in their castle building activity. But the big tide that scarred Ravi and Rajendran got tamed and while retreating, it simply smashed the castles beautifully erected by the girls. As usual Rajani started crying and asked for ‘Amma’. Ramya stood there itself She was told that all four should be together till mothers came back. She called out… “Ravi… Rajendra…” Then she saw Rajendran with some strangers holding him by their tight grip. Ramya went to them and asked them to leave Rajendran so that they could go now to join their parents. Those strong men laughed aloud which made her feel scary. “Why are you holding him? Leave him. We will go now.”
One of them said, “Leave him? Okay. Then we will take you instead.” Ramya still under grip of fear said, “Please leave him. His father will be very sad without him.” The burly man among them said, “Okay. Ask his father to give us ten thousand rupees and then take the boy. Just go and tell his father.” But Ramya did not go. She instead said, “Alright you take me. My parents have one more child for them, where as his parents don’t have anyone else. Rajendran is the only son for them.” Those four tough guys laughed at her exchange and barter trade. The minute grip on Rajendran got loose, he fled head over heels. Those men immediately held Ramya as captive. They even thought getting a girl was in anyway a better deal, even if their attempt of kidnap failed. They tried to move away with Ramya.
Ravi who had left and ran a while ago, as soon as the big tide struck, was getting his mother and other ladies to the spot. All women sensing danger came running and gasping. Rajani’s mother saw the little girl in terrible fear for being left alone. Her tears running incessantly. First thing her mother did was to lift the baby and soothe her. After comforting the child, she asked about Ramya. She could not say where Ramya was. She simply spread her hand and fingers towards sea. Ravi’s mother who came rushing to the spot, found Ramya in the hands of some tough guys. She immediately telephoned her husband along with others to come to the shore. She texted a message “Ramya in danger.” Then she lost no time in shouting “Help-help.”
Ravi’s father along with others came running and rushing towards the seashore. Seeing them, other people and folks on the beach also came rushing. They thought somebody must have drowned. Very soon they spotted those tough men with Ramya. If Ramya was a toddler, they would have lifted her and ran away. But Ramya was not. Neither she could walk fast keeping pace with them. They simply dragged and when she resisted, she was thrashed. She cried and that too loud. That incident unnecessarily drew the attention of some public. They had to mellow down and ensure not to arouse suspicion. In the meantime, Ramya’s father along with his colleagues caught site of the gang carrying Ramya. The gang seeing themselves in a very bad equation abandoned Ramya and fled the scene. Otherwise, they would have been beaten to death. Ramya fled into her father’s hands. Rajendran too was there. He simply cuddled himself into his father’s hands. Ramya’s mother also joined them with Rajani on her shoulders.
The whole unit of eleven were now together. At last. What a drama! Four children and three parents and a lone bachelor in their group, Lakshmanan. All safe and sound. But the shock and fear were still shaking them. Lakshmanan said, “I Have changed my opinion. I shall not marry. Nor get children. Nor put with this kind of misadventures. I am quite shaken. I am happy as I am. Single and fine. “
Rajendran’s father wanted to know how Ramya was caught by the gang, particularly when she was supposed to be taking care of Rajani. Ravi took the opportunity and he explained the whole episode dramatically. The ladies going for stroll and their endless talking… the two girls with their childish sand castles… the young adults “Me and Rajendran” bravely standing on sea waters… Then he stopped. Rajendran continued. “Ravi became coward. He did not have the guts to stand the big tidal wave, whereas I stood there firmly. There were people asking me to retreat. I did not. I was scared. But I was brave.” Ramya also got into their conversation. She added. “When I saw some people catching our Rajendran I was not happy. I told them to leave him as he was the only child to his parents. So, they took me instead. They wanted ten thousand rupees.”
There was a chorus sound. All in one voice! “What! Ten thousand rupees.?”
“Oh God. You spared us.”
Rajendran said. “I will never forget this trip.” His father comforted him “You wanted adventures. But you got misadventure.”
Rajani’s mother said, “This child is still under grip of fear. The shock is too much for her. I am afraid, she may fall sick. Catch fever. Let us wind up our trip and go home. Enough is enough.”
Ravi’s father said, “Yes. Let us return home. We shall come again some other time. By then children would have gr0own bigger. Our savings too.”
“Did you say something Raja?” Asked Rajendran’s father. He replied. “No nothing.” But his mother filled those missing words. “He wanted to say don’t forget to include Ramaya. She is needed for shielding him.” Then she turned to Ramya’s parents and praised them for imbibing good qualities in her. “How boldly she told those gangsters… ‘Leave him He is the lone child to his parents. Instead take me.’ In this world of selfish and crazy people, she is a rare gem. I wholeheartedly wish her and bless her. May my lord Guruvayoorappan bless her forever.”
Rajendran went to Ramya and shook her hands. Then they posed for a photo. But before then other two children also joined them. A group photo of four.
All eleven of them took a selfie before they bade goodbye to Goa.