Venkat and the Start of Summer

venkat and summer May 15, 2022

The illustration for this story is by Sai Aswin, Chennai. You can check out his art on Venkat and the Kittens too!
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Nine-year-old Venkat was bored. It was summer, and the heat in Hyderbad was scorching. Unlike the previous two years, there was no lockdown. While Venkat was happy, he still had no one to play with. Vijay and Vidya were visiting their maternal grandparents. Aakash was doing the same. John's relatives were visiting, and he was busy with them. Arhaan had gone to celebrate Eid with his uncle's family in another part of the city. Although his parents and younger sister were back, Arhaan had stayed on to spend time with his cousins. Vijay had been out in the sun for too long and fallen sick. He was now forbidden from playing outside for a few days. Venkat looked out of the window at the new building and sighed. He couldn't even see Subbiah Taatha's mango tree.

Amma was sitting on the living room floor drinking coffee. Her team had just delivered the design for a big office building. So she'd taken a week off from work to relax and spend time with the family. She was browsing the internet to see if there were any interesting events where she could take Venkat and Pragya. Pragya was sitting on the floor and drawing on a giant sheet of paper.

Suddenly, there was a crash from the children's room. Amma looked up from her phone.

"Never mind! I just dropped something!" came Venkat's voice.

Amma went back to her phone. She booked tickets for a new animation film Pragya wanted to watch.

There was another crash and a shout. Before Amma could get up, Venkat called, "Never mind, Amma! I'm all right. Don't come in!"

Amma was suspicious, but she decided to give Venkat a few more minutes.

"What happened, Amma?" Pragya asked.

"I'm not sure! Anna is not telling us", Amma said. She looked a little worried.

A few minutes later, Venkat emerged from his room. He was dressed in a strange mish-mash of clothes. He wore a mask (with eyeholes) over his eyes and a funny hat. He had also tied one of Amma's dupattas - her favourite silk one, Amma noted - as a cape. Venkat had a cardboard tube in one hand and a toy gun in the other.

"I'm a superhero! And I'm fighting criminals", he announced through the tube.

"What's a cwiminal?" Pragya asked. She'd lost a couple of teeth and couldn't pronounce some words correctly.

"A criminal does bad things like stealing from people", Amma explained. She looked at the gun warily. It didn't look as though things were going to get better.

"And where are these criminals, mister?" Amma asked Venkat.

"Why, all around us! We're surrounded by them!" exclaimed Venkat and shot a few sponge bullets from his gun. As Amma expected, one of them hit Pragya. While it was a sponge bullet, it stung a little when it hit her.

"Ow! Amma! Anna shot me!" Pragya complained.

Amma sighed. It looked like it was going to be such a good day. "Venkat, put that gun away before you cause more havoc. Didn't we all agree that you children could only play with your Kerf guns downstairs in the parking lot?" she said. The "Top Wars" of the last two years had been replaced with the "Bullet Battles" this year.

"Sorry but not sorry, Pragya", said Venkat mischievously.

Amma was not happy. She gave Venkat "the look". Venkat knew better than to test Amma's patience when she gave him "the look". Today, however, he was bored and bubbling with energy.

"It's just a little sponge bullet. How much can it hurt? Pragya is just being a baby", Venkat said and shot Pragya intentionally before Amma could say anything.

Pragya stood up and whined, "Amma! Anna is being mean. I'm not a baby! Tell him to stop shooting at me", she said. Without thinking much, Venkat just shot the last bullet in his gun at Pragya. It hit her on her tummy.

"Amma!" Pragya screamed and started to complain.

Amma lost her patience. "Venkat! Go into your room. Now! Pragya, stop whining. It's just a sponge bullet," she stood and shouted. As soon as she did, she saw the two children's faces and regretted raising her voice. She dropped onto the sofa.  

"Why do you test my patience so much, Venkat? All I wanted was to have a cup of coffee in peace and watch a movie with you both this afternoon", Amma asked wearily.

Venkat was defiant. He felt that Pragya was equally to blame. None of his friends ever complained when he shot them with his Kerf bullets. They just grabbed their own guns and shot him back. He'd been shot lots of times, but it never bothered him either.

"Why is it always my fault, Amma? You never scold Pragya", Venkat complained and went into his room in a huff.

"Amma! It's not my fault. Anna was being mean", whined Pragya.

"Anna shouldn't have shot you, Pragya. That's true. But he didn't mean to hurt you. He thought he was being funny", Amma said with a sigh. Pragya was not pleased with this answer. She stormed off to Taatha's room to complain about Amma and Venkat to Taatha.

Amma took her cup of coffee into the kitchen to warm it up. Then she went into the children's room. Venkat was sitting on the floor and staring at the wall. He'd peeled off his mask, but he was still playing with his gun mindlessly.

"I'm sorry I yelled, Venkat. I really shouldn't have", Amma said.

Venkat just looked at his mother. He was in no mood to forgive her. "You're always yelling at me, Amma. You never let me have any fun at all", he said grumpily.

"That's not fair, Venkat. You know it isn't", Amma replied.

"Well, you yelled at me yesterday when I was just trying to build my Lego rocket", Venkat said.

"I didn't yell at you, Venkat! I yelled in pain because I stepped on a sharp Lego brick!" Amma exclaimed.

"But you also yelled at me for making a mess", Venkat replied angrily. He was not in a mood to budge.

"Venkat, you know there's a reason for rules. Keep your Legos in their containers so that people don't step on them and get hurt. You broke the rule. I stepped on a brick, and I yelled in pain. My exact words were - Ow! Venkat, why don't you keep your Legos in their boxes?" Amma said.

"But Pragya makes a mess with her toys too, Amma", Venkat argued.

"Venkat, she does, but no one gets hurt when they step on a stuffed toy, right? And she's only allowed to work on her art after spreading newspapers," Amma tried to reason.

Venkat, however, just didn't want to accept what Amma was saying. He blinked back angry tears. "No, Amma, you're never fair with me. You yell at me more than you do at Pragya", he said.

"Come on, Venkat. That's not a nice thing to say. You know I do my best. But sometimes, you just don't seem to respond to my soft voice. Didn't I warn you gently not to shoot at Pragya?" Amma said. She was upset too. He also knew that Amma was really a fair person. But right now, he just didn't like being told that he was wrong.

"No, Amma. There was nothing wrong with shooting at Pragya. Those bullets don't hurt. Pragya just likes to complain because she knows you'll always take her side", Venkat said angrily.

Amma was hurt. But she said calmly, "Venkat, it's not always a question of what you want to do. It's also a question of respecting everyone else's feelings. Pragya just didn't like it when you shot your Kerf gun at her. Besides, Pragya never plays with you and your friends because you're older. How would she understand that it's all a game?

"I understand why you think I support Pragya. But Venkat, she's younger, and she's still learning things you learned a long time ago. I'm sorry that I yelled. But it's tough when you don't respond to my soft voice, and then I lose my temper. I really am sorry, but I do try my best".

Taatha and Pragya were standing at the door. Amma smiled at Taatha and took her coffee back into the kitchen to heat it yet again.

Pragya went into the children's room and sat next to Venkat. Taatha followed. Both children looked at him with identical, grumpy expressions. It was clear that neither child was willing to budge. Taatha smiled and said, "You really are brother and sister".

"Now, it's clear that nothing your mother and I can say will change your minds. So I want you both to think about what just happened and come up with your own ideas on what to do next", Taatha said and left. He went into the living room, where Amma was staring glumly at her coffee.

"Why don't you finish drinking that before lunchtime?" Taatha joked. Amma smiled weakly.

"I do try hard, but here I am! I've already lost my temper, and it's not even nine in the morning! My brother and I were up to much worse mischief when we were kids, and I don't know how my mother dealt with us!" she said.

"Did your mother never yell at you?" asked Taatha. Amma smiled again.

"It's not easy for two young children to be cooped up at home with no friends their age to play with", Taatha went on.

"That's true. But we really didn't want to send the children to a Summer Camp. We just wanted them to have a totally free summer", Amma said.

"I completely agree with you there. But we need a strategy, or we will only end up moderating fights all summer. So just like the kids, why don't Amma and Nanna do some thinking too?" Taatha replied.

"I guess we should. Would you like to come with us to the mall this afternoon? The kids could watch the movie with you while I brainstorm some ideas with their dad," Amma asked.

"That sounds like a good idea. It will give you a break too. I know how hard you've had to work on that office building design", Taatha replied.

When the family gathered together at dinner that evening, everyone was cheerful again. Taatha said, "Well, my young people, I want each of you to share one idea on what you're going to do to make the summer vacation more enjoyable for the entire family".

Amma spoke first, "Now that my project is done, I promise to work only half-days for the next few weeks so that I can get some rest and enjoy time with the family too. I will also take my morning coffee up to the terrace garden and have it in peace".

Nanna was second. He had slept through the morning chaos because he'd been working so late! So Nanna said, "I promise to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. I also promise to take Venkat and Pragya skating in the park each morning before I go to work so that they can get some exercise."

Venkat was next, and he said, "I promise to give Amma the whistle I bought last week. If I don't respond to her soft voice, she can blow the whistle instead of yelling to get my attention. I also kind of promise to do my best and not annoy Pragya" Then he added in a hurry, "But she shouldn't get annoyed so easily!"

Finally, it was Pragya's turn. She said, "I promise to make more friends in our building because I'm not going to daycare. Anna said he will take me to Arhaan's house so I can play with Aisha every day. That way, Anna can't annoy me because I won't be at home!" She made a face at her brother.

The whole family now looked at Taatha. He laughed and said, "I promise to lock my room and not get pulled into patching up any more fights!"

To be continued...

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