‘What is in your hand’? I asked my son.
‘A chicken.’ He said.
‘Eeekkkk!’ Shrieked my wife, her eyes popping out in terror.
They were a group of three, also known as ‘Three Musketeers’ in that Air Force station in Punjab. Dharmendra, Satnam and my son. They were a terror for the rest of the residents. Not a single guava or papaya could grow to its full size or allowed to ripen. The cauliflowers, onions and every other vegetable grown so painstakingly by families went missing regularly. While they were a nuisance in a general sense, they were also the first to reach, when someone needed help.
It was a respite for everyone when they were closed behind doors, preparing for their Class X exams. It was a short respite of three months though. They were back with vengeance once the exams were over. Morning was spent playing ‘gilli-danda’ or marbles, afternoons were for foraging different trees for the fruits, evenings went playing football. They were left on their own after darkness.
One evening Dharmendra and Satnam shouted for my son. ‘We have caught a chicken for you’. It was almost dark. He ran to his friends in a hurry. In five minutes, he was back holding something upside down in his hand.
And I asked, ‘What is in your hand?’
‘Chicken!’ he replied.
My wife’s eyes were rolling.
And then my son realized that something was very wrong. He looked down at his hands and released it in absolute horror.
Dharmendra and Satnam were howling with laughter. The owl lay on the floor with its legs tied.
I immediately released the owl into the darkness. My son kept on shivering.
*Story by 84 year old Aditya Ranjan, as told to Coena Mukherjee.