Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Detective Shamu and the elusive lamp

Sheila Aunty was very upset. No one said a word to her that there was a small wood piece sticking to her hair nor that her hair was messed up or that her saree had ridden up or that her face had turned red. Everyone present , which was Vijay Uncle and I, their nephew, said nothing. We were well versed with Sheila Aunty’ s short temper. And so we waited quietly and patiently to find out what happened. I , for my part, took the cues from my Uncle who seemed an old hand at waiting out the storm. 
After having a cup of strong decoction coffee brewed by my uncle in the microwave for his wife, Sheila aunty calmed down enough to narrate what had happened.
She had been in the back yard. Cleaning her silver ware to get ready for the upcoming festival. She felt it was easy to clean everything back there and there was a water supply close at hand and she did not have to worry about the grime and dirt clogging the kitchen sink. After cleaning everything enough to sparkle, she had carried all the items upstairs. 
Only when she reached the puja room did she realize that she had forgotten one small lamp. This was a small silver lamp gifted to her by my mother. It had a small round curve to hold oil and a very small but straight back fixed to the curve. On this back was carved the picture of a Goddess. This being a favorite lamp, Sheila aunty had come running back down to pick it up, when she realized it had disappeared.
So she had spent an hour searching for it. And not finding it had added to her frustrations. Once we heard the whole story, my Uncle and I , set about detecting this elusive lamp. We had in our demeanor the look that my aunty had obviously overlooked a small object, she being large in stature.
So we spent a good part of another hour searching for this lamp and came back indoors tired and thirsty.
Sheila aunty served us cool lemonade with a smirk on her face. After a few minutes, my uncle slowly asked his wife if anyone else had visited our home that morning in an effort to find out who could have stolen the lamp.
The first person being Lakshmi, my aunt’s maid, then there was Srinivasan Uncle, my uncle’s friend.
“Lakshmi had been with us for many years and I trust her “ said my aunt before we could build our case.
Uncle kept quiet and let it slide by, for fear of war at the home front.
“I have known Srinivasan for so many years and he would never do a thing like that” added my uncle rather vehemently. My aunt rolled her eyes and said “I am not so sure”. This infuriated my uncle so much so that he left the room in a huff only to return in a few minutes.
Meanwhile I had to bear the brunt of my aunt’s fury. 
We then discovered that a few more people had come to the house and to the backyard too.
One was a boy from the neighbor’s house to collect money for donation. Then the newspaper man to collect money for the dues.
Then the Association secretary had come to give some papers to my uncle the Association president. By association we meant the Association of home owners of this small neighborhood where my uncle lived. Most houses in the neighborhood had their back turned to a huge lot of trees.
My uncle, still mad with my aunt for her having rolled her eyes about Srinivasan uncle, wanted to know if my aunt had really been cleaning the vessels and other puja items or had she been entertaining all these people.
Even I could tell that was a mistake question to ask my aunt.
Her face went redder. “Now you know how much work I have to do around here” she started off on a higher tone of voice.
My uncle immediately realizing his faux pas , did damage control.
“I already know how much work you have to do my honey” he started off on a sweet note. “That’s why I have made reservation at the Kajol beauty parlor for a massage for you” he ended. 
I immediately made note of this since I will now have to rush and make the reservations that my uncle had lied about.
At the name of Kajol beauty parlor, my aunt’s face transformed automatically.
Well, my uncle and I gave a collective sigh of relief and then proceeded with the interrogation when the door bell rang. I went to open the door to find my brother Shamu there.
Shamu also joined us and soon we acted like the novice sleuths from the mystery books. My aunt pretended to be Miss. Maple and my uncle the famous Poirot and myself was delegated to the role of Hastings.
My brother meanwhile slipped outside to the back or rather to the scene of the crime as they say in the big books.
After what seemed an eternity he stepped back in to inquire of my uncle and aunt, “How long has that nest been there?”
Everybody now looked at him, our faces blank and our eyes not comprehending. We were busy making a list of SUSPECTS and another list called MOTIVE. So this question coming in the midst of our list making, truly distracted us and annoyed my aunt, which was never a good thing to happen.
So we all got up and trooped after my brother who was for some vague reason focused on bird watching, of the feather kind.
Standing beneath the tall trees, we looked up risking whatever might fall from above, and spotted a small nest tucked into one of the trees.
The nest seemed to be firmly attached to a central fork in the upper branches of one of the trees. Even from this distance we could see earth and soil in the form of clay was used and there seemed to be quite a few leaves and small pine straws sticking out. Since the leaves of the tree had been falling with the change in weather we could see the nest even more clearly as we moved closer.
While we had been deeply absorbed looking at the nest, my brother had snuck out to fetch a ladder. Being the Association President, my uncle had to keep the maintenance ladder with him. 
Shamu then leaned the ladder on the tree with the nest and started to climb while I rushed to hold the ladder steady for him. When he reached the nest, he paused. Obviously the owners of the nest were absent. He could see there were eggs in the nest.
The eggs, small for the size of the bird, were 5 in all. They seemed to be colored bluish green with close specks and with spots of brown and grey.
Meanwhile we were getting very restless down below.
“So, do you see anything?” asked my aunt her voice raised to show her impatience and irritation.
“Yes” replied my brother Shamu. “I can see eggs”, he added.
By now, all 3 of us had lost our patience. “So come back down” yelled my Uncle.
Shamu started his climb down while I listened to my aunt rant how much time he had wasted in his witch hunt.
We only saw what he held in his hands when he was almost near the ground .
He held the elusive lamp. It still shone brightly from my aunt’s polishing.
As he handed it over to my aunt, she was speechless for once.
“How did this get up there”, wondered my uncle loudly.
“That is the nest of a Magpie” stated my brother Shamu calmly. If he had expected that his announcement would clarify the matter he was wrong. Neither my aunt nor uncle understood what that meant.
“Well, Magpies are always attracted to bright objects. It is really well known. Seeing this object glitter, must have attracted the attention of the Magpie. And at some point aunt might have moved away, and the Magpie just picked it up and flew away.”
We were all quite impressed with our Shamu’s detective capability. We quickly put away the ladder so as not to scare the bird away and we moved indoors.
My aunt was truly happy that her small lamp was retrieved to her and my uncle was overjoyed that he would finally get some peace and can at least catch the cricket match that afternoon. We brothers were happy too since we knew our Aunt was going to cook us good food and then later we could also watch television with our Uncle.

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