Ears a-twitch, she invites us in to her burrow. The scent of fuming benzoin wafts over the strains of a harmonium placed reverently in a corner beside a camphor lamp. Fumes and strains tangle into each other and land pell-mell over our clothes.
Paws all a-flutter, her fur glistens in joy as pure as clarified butter seeping into thumb-dug wells in slices of warm rice cake. Tears do not make an appearance. It has been seven years since we met, yes, but a hare has her sensitivity quotient to protect.
We pad into the burrow, softly, stepping over hurried ‘When did you arrive’s and ‘Would you like some buttermilk?’s.
The tortoise, limbs askew over the red velvet couch, shifts his gaze slowly away from the television screen where the Mumbai Indians are furiously chasing down a target of 155 runs to beat the Royal Challengers of Bangalore. A frantic flurry of beige Willow and crimson cork.
Sinking into reed mats piled one over the other like the Tower of Hanoi, we settle down with mugs of buttermilk (spiced, tempered, salted, cooled) cradled in our hands and the hall comes alive with the chatter of old friends taking turns in petting the past that romps in – domesticated canine like – and sits squarely on everyone’s feet. Turn by turn.
We throw treats at it. Point out how it’s teeth aren’t sharp anymore. How the coat has lost its shine but look how the eyes still sparkle like a pool of mango-shower mud! Occasionally, the rabit steps on it’s tail and a whelp! emerges from the mutt followed by a lot of cooing and ruffling of fur and ‘Oh well, it was nobody’s fault’
Meanwhile, the tortoise has managed to crane his neck towards us by a colossal 2 inches. He still cannot see our faces. 150 runs to go
The hare begins to fill us in and we learn that,
Aunt Ratna still has a tumor the size of a tropical bitter lemon lodged within her bladder but at least the recurring dreams of clowns on bicycles delivering soiled laundry have stopped so, thank the Lord Almighty, that’s a relief.
(4 inches, 133 runs to go)
The magazine seller who wore a table around his shirt collar, fanning out the glossies three hundred and sixty degrees around his head, gyrating wildly like a cotton-clad spinning top to show us his collection, now has a store of his own. He has no use for his neck accessory anymore. His son wears it now. 360 degrees of cheap alcohol, bless his soul.
(7 inches, 100 runs to go)
And did we know that old Subramaniam now has three children of his own? Twenty years of breaking pots against kitchen walls, barren womb, and the smell of burning chillies. Three little tykes dot his garden now. People have pointed out that their beaks possess the same slope as magazine seller’s son, but really, such talk only makes the tongue curl in ways it shouldn’t.
(10 inches, the television has been muted)
And of course there’s the story of…
(12 inches, a tooth struggles over the upper lip)
But we never even heard of…
(14 inches, the eyes have seen us, the lips separate)
And who would have thought..
(16 inches, a gleam of recognition lights up the irises)
Leaving already? Well, okay.. this was wonderful! Such a short visit, really. The next time..
The tortoise is now wide awake.
He raises an arm,
Scaly lips break into a grin at the speed of molasses oozing down a perfectly horizontal plane,
‘Welcome back home!’
And that was the happiest farwell we’d had all day.