It was a hot summer afternoon in the village. Nine-year-old Ishika was daydreaming about adventure. While she loved living with her grandmother in the village, she was also getting a little bored. Her dog Bruno came running and woofed excitedly. Ishika patted him and asked, “Are you ready to go and play with Pintu, Bruno?” She laughed when Bruno wagged his tail. “Let’s go then!”, Ishika said. Bruno ran out of the house with Ishika trailing behind him, trying to hold on to his leash. Bruno knew the way to the Pipal tree quite well.
Chutki was waiting for them under the tree as usual. “I’m in trouble at home”, Chutki said to Ishika as soon as the girls met.
“It’s because of Pintu and Bruno’s mischief the other day, isn’t it? I’m in trouble too. Daadi said I’m not allowed to take Bruno off his leash”, Ishika replied gloomily.
“Baba said Ramesh knows how to train monkeys, and we need to take his help”, Chutki added.
“Isn’t Ramesh the boy whose buffalo was scared by Bruno?” asked Ishika.
“Yes. Ramesh came home and told my parents everything Pintu and Bruno did. Baba was so angry. But I don’t want to train Pintu. I like him the way he is!”, Chutki whined.
“I don’t know why Ramesh had to spoil our fun. He came home and complained to Daadi too!” grumbled Ishika.
“Shh! He’s going to be here any minute! Don’t let him hear you complaining about him”, Chutki warned.
“Too late! I already heard everything”, a voice said, making the girls jump. Ramesh had arrived. And he’d brought his buffalo calf with him. Ramesh continued, “I like animals, and I don’t want your pets to be hurt. What if Nandu’s mother had hurt Bruno for scaring her little baby?”
Ramesh patted the buffalo calf, who was standing and chewing cud peacefully. Chutki and Ishika looked at each other and burst into giggles. The “little baby” was heavier than the two girls, and their pets all put together. Chutki thought Nandu was cute enough, especially since he didn’t have horns yet, but he didn’t seem like a baby at all.
“We can take care of our pets, thank you. Pintu and Bruno just got a little excited the other day, that’s all”, Ishika said.
Ramesh replied, “Suit yourself! Anyway, why don’t you come along to the forest with Nandu and me? He’s is tired of eating hay, so we’re going to try and find some fresh grass. Pintu can play with us, and Bruno can run around a bit”. Chutki and Ishika looked at each other again. Ishika shrugged, and the girls agreed.
The funny little group set off towards the forest. Pintu chattered and hitched a ride on Nandu’s back. He seemed to be making another friend. After a short walk, they reached the forest. Ishika looked around in amazement. She had never been to a forest before.
“It’s so cool and dark in here. I can’t believe we’re just a short distance from our village”, Ishika said.
Ramesh smiled and replied. “Yes, this is an old forest. My grandmother knows many stories and legends about it. I don’t believe any of the stories, but I love coming here because it’s so peaceful. Why don’t you let Bruno off his leash? Don’t worry. He will soon learn to stay close to you”.
Bruno was very excited to be let loose. As a city dog, he had never run around outside freely. So he’d been making the most of the freedom he’d found in the village until his little adventure had brought back the leash. But Bruno was also a clever dog. So he stayed close to the group and kept coming to Ishika’s side every few minutes. She praised him and kept the leash in her pocket.
Pintu soon got bored as Nandu didn’t seem to be interested in anything but grass. So Pintu played with Chutki for a while. Suddenly, his sharp ears heard an unusual bird call. Chutki and Ramesh heard it, too, the second time. Curious Pintu went running in search of the bird. He soon disappeared into the forest.
“Don’t go chasing after Pintu. We don’t know the forest as well as he does”, warned Ramesh and held Chutki back.
Chutki waited for Pintu for a few minutes but soon got worried. “We have to find him. What if he’s hurt?” she said. Ramesh was not convinced. “Bruno will find him for us! I’m sure he can lead us. Bruno will never let us get lost”, Ishika said.
Ramesh still hesitated, but he agreed to go a short distance. “Remember, Chutki”, Ramesh said, “You must follow my directions the way you follow your brother’s. You’re still not old enough to navigate the forest on your own”. Ishika kneeled on the ground and said to Bruno, “Find Pintu, take us to Pintu. Go slow”. Clever Bruno understood his friend’s name immediately. He picked up a trail and set off. Ramesh borrowed Bruno’s leash and loosely tethered Nandu to a tree.
The children followed Bruno into the forest. It had grown darker and cooler as the trees grew closer together. “Where are we, Ramesh?” whispered Chutki.
“Is it dangerous to come in this far?” asked Ishika, worried. She’d been looking for adventure.
“I’ve never been to this part of the forest before. It feels different from what I’m used to. Stay close together”, Ramesh whispered. Somehow, no one wanted to speak loudly and break the silence. Indeed, there were many unfamiliar trees in this part of the forest.
Bruno was waiting for them a short distance ahead and wagging his tail. Pintu was sitting on his back. “Good boy, Bruno”, Ishika said as she ran up to him and patted him. She stroked him and said, “Take us back home, Bruno”. But Bruno did not budge.
Pintu jumped up to Chutki and gestured that she should follow him. “We don’t need any fruit today, Pintu. We need to get out of the forest before it gets too dark”, Chutki said. Pintu would not listen.
“Can we go and see what Pintu has found?”, Chutki asked Ramesh.
Ramesh was torn. He was a sensible, responsible boy. But he was feeling curious too. “You girls stay here with Bruno. Let me go and see what Pintu has found”, he said. Pintu knew Ramesh well enough. Ramesh had often come with Chutki and her brother to gather fruit from trees Pintu showed them. The pair disappeared into the thicket. A few minutes later, Ramesh came running and said to the girls, “You have to come and see what he has found”. His eyes were shining with excitement.
The girls ran after Ramesh. He led them to a small, circular clearing where the sun was shining bright. At the centre, on a large pedestal, was a beautiful murti of Lord Vishnu. Many birds were flitting around it. Some had flowers in their beaks, and others had berries. They placed these at the feet of the murti. The children immediately joined their hands and bowed to Lord Vishnu. Chutki and Ishika took some of the flowers dropped by the birds and made a lovely rangoli at the base of the murti. Meanwhile, Ramesh cleared the dried flowers and leaves around the pedestal. About ten minutes later, the children decided to hurry back before their families got worried.
Bruno let them back out of the forest to the spot where Nandu was still grazing peacefully. Ramesh untied the calf, and the group hurried out of the forest. As soon as they came outside, Ishika looked at Chutki in amazement and said, “Where did you get that pretty locket from? You weren’t wearing it earlier”. Chutki indeed had a chain around her neck with a pretty lotus-shaped locket on it. “You have one too, Ishika!”, Chutki exclaimed. The girls looked at Ramesh. He had one too! The three children stared at each other for a while.
“Tell me a little about your grandmother’s stories, Ramesh”, Ishika said at last.
“My grandmother says that parts of the forest are magical”, Ramesh replied. “I never believed her. But…”, he trailed off, holding the locket. Ishika and Chutki squealed in excitement. “We’re going to have an adventure after all!”, Ishika exclaimed.
To be continued….
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