Summer vacation was not that exciting for Anu at the age of fifteen, as it was at ten. But she felt a little desire to meet her cousins in the village when her mom informed her that they were going to her paternal home in the coming June of 1999. Since she was just ten when she last visited that little village of North-East India. A flashback of many thrilling pics came into her mind. Although the lifestyle was very uncomfortable there, she decided to go to make some more memories packed with versatile activities with her cousins. Anu’s father had four brothers and two sisters apart from cousins. Some brothers emerged as bright students and searched for their careers in big cities while some remained in the village and accepted farming for their living. The previous generation had been created a big family, so Anu and her cousins never needed to make friends from outside the family. Some children were already in the village and some were on their way from different cities. When they all were gathered, they were called Vanar Sena like Indira Gandhi's Sena although less sincere but had a mission to entertain themselves. She was the middle child having some self-esteemed elders and some pampered youngers. Anu remembered how most of them called out children’s names by adding the suffix ‘aa’ or ‘wa’’ etc. She was ‘Anuaa’, while her cousin Sandeep was ‘Sandeepwa’. Anu often wondered, who would be the inventors of these unique traditions. She read many civilizations in history but never encountered these types of strange habits which are being followed eternally. Anu always felt insulted on being addressed with this suffix whereas the rural kids were habitual. Anu reminded her mother how her uncle’s whole family was glad and women showed their affection by washing her mother’s feet on a large plate. She asked her mother if this ritual still going on. She admired her daughter’s good memory and informed her that the tradition no longer existed. They reached into the yard and got stunned to hear the loud mourning sounds. Her father rushed to the house Anu and her mother followed him. Few female members were crying by covering their faces with their 'pallu'. Someone told them that they just received the news that Anu’s one of the aunts was dead. Anu observed that all the Male members were looking calm without any wrinkle of sadness on their faces. Some sensitive kids were gathered around their mothers’ group while some oblivious of all, were busy in eating and playing. Anu’s mother joined the ladies in mourning and she sat near them. Little Rohan came and asked Anu, “ Didi, why the aunts are singing.” Anu controlled her giggle and pulled him in her lap and told him that they were crying. Anu realised that her cousin’s confusion was genuine, as their cry was on a certain rhythmic pattern and high pitched. Anu’s eldest uncle came from the men’s group to women’s and announced that the news was fake. He had to shout to make them listened to him, “Look in the yard, she is coming.” Within minutes they were laughing and chatting, God knows who with whom. Anu came to know that all the drama was based on her aunt’s superstition. Earlier in the morning a crow tapped on her head and she believed that very soon she will be dying. The only solution was to make some people mourn over her death. So she sent a messenger before reaching the village, and now she was safe from that bad omen.
The Purva wind was soothing in the night, she was to sleep under the Peepal tree. She became nostalgic about how she used to play under this huge tree in her childhood. All the religious tasks were performed under this holy tree. Every now and then there was a ‘Satya Narayan Bhagwan ki Katha’ was performed. The same Pandit Ji with potbelly used to come, uttered the same story of two women ‘Kalawati, Leelawati' and go with a large ‘potli’ of 'Dakshina'. Whenever the Potter came to sell his pots, sat under this tree. He was taller than six feet, and his muscular body at the age of fifty was definitely a cause of envy for the gym going boys. Anu wanted to advise these boys to do some hard work and have a body like Potter. Two children would sit on his shoulders while two hanging out on his arms and he would make many rounds of the Banyan tree merrily. He loved children and was happy in making them happy. Unlike the Pandit Ji, he was not greedy and would take happily whatever he is given in return. Maybe it was extremely beautiful nature's lullaby or the new environment for she was relaxed but not sleepy. She hummed the song suitable for this situation "jyada pyaar ho jata toh mai sah nhi pata". Finally, her chain of thoughts dissolved into sleep at mid-night. In the morning, Anu woke up with the hullabaloo of children. Some elders were doing their daily work of feeding the cattle while some were just sitting, brushing teeth and talking. Some little ones playing and the toddlers were filling their tummy, gathering like bees in the giant kitchen. For Anu, the morning routine was the toughest task in the village, regarding the facilities. An hour later she also felt hungry and moved towards the kitchen. Her mother gave her steamed fara, which she relished slowly. She urged her mother to make it very often and further argued that it was good for her health also as it was not fried. Her mother, encircled with aunts, nodded with a smile. Suddenly Anu’s bua screamed her daughter’s name, “Kanchan! Don’t touch that.” Poor Kanchan, just a few inches away from a glass container, was shaking with fear. Anu guessed there must be a current flowing in that jar or some poisonous insect would have been sighted behind it but soon she had to put her hand on her head when she was informed the real reason. Kanchan’s menstrual cycle was going on and if she would have been touched the container of pickles, it would have been spoiled at once. On top of that, she was also being scolded for entering into the kitchen during these days. Anu tried to save her by arguing that she had touched the pickles many times in her house during her periods, and it never gets spoiled. But on the contrary, all children were shooed from the kitchen so only ladies were left for their group discussion. Kanchan told her that last week their youngest aunt’s only son, two-year-old Munnu, suffered from vomiting, due to some overeating. But their grandmother took him to the Ojha, who treats sick people through prayer or supernatural power, instead of the doctor. She believed that he caught an evil eye because he was the cutest child in the neighborhood. Anu observed that the boy was chubby with a fair complexion. These two merits were the only parameters for being beautiful and also necessary to catch a Nazar. She saw an amulet around his neck, she wanted to ask someone how he caught the evil eye despite this Suraksha Kawach. Kanchan interrupted her, “Don’t look in that manner or you will be responsible for casting an evil eye.” Anu immediately turned her gaze away and they both laughed.
They entered the elder cousins group and spontaneously slipped into the discussion on pocket money should be given to the kids or not. The eldest brother, known as Kallu Bhaiya, due to his dark complexion, was against it. He said, “It only makes children extravagant. They do not value money even when they are grown-ups. Perhaps in that way, he was taking his frustration out. All knew that in a rural area there was no such concept of pocket money. The kids were given fifty to a hundred rupees on the occasion of Dashahara Mela. That day they are free to purchase their favorite toys, or can eat whatever they liked. If they are out of money, their parents were liberal enough to pay for their cartwheel rides. Apart from these special occasions, whenever a distant relative is visiting the house, the kids would surely be given some amount while departure. Some parents were keeping an eye on the amount, as they had to do vice versa. Another cousin retaliated, “On the contrary pocket money makes us a more responsible person. For example, if we have to purchase something worth our three months pocket money, we have to save it. In that way, it teaches us to be patient and cultivates saving habits in us.” Anu supported this notion and tried to make the ambiance delightful. She announced, “I am going to purchase candies for us all with my pocket money.” Beena also chipped in with her pocket money and they bought some candies and chips packets. Anu found herself in a state of ecstasy, surrounded by children, distributing them happiness. Beena, Anu’s peer, offered to go to the tube well, which was approximately one and a half kilometers far from the madding crowd of the house. The tube well was situated at the edge of our fields. Anu’s father got made a double-story building alongside the tube well, to keep the grains and also for the laborers to get some rest while working in the fields. They reached and started walking through the small fields of veggies. Both were as happy as a clam to see the tomatoes, cute cucumbers, shiny brinjals, etc. As the tomatoes were ripening, their colors started to change from green to yellow and then eventually to red. They recalled how they used to eat tomatoes and cucumbers direct from the fields. At some expanses, there were papaya trees, beautiful pomegranate, and fragrant lemon trees. On the opposite side of the tube well, a big mango orchard was situated. Anu and Beena found it adventurous to go and taste some hand-picked mangoes. In their childhood, they were scared of the ghosts and never dared to enter the orchard. But now they knew that there were no such things as ghosts exist. So this was an opportunity for them to boast among other children also.
The so-called prohibited Aam-ka-Baag had belonged to the richest man of the village. It was stretched out in a large area. The more they stepped inside, the orchard became dense and darker. Sunlight scarcely coming through the leaves. Beena said, “If Kallu Bhaiya would have been living here, he must not have used the fairness cream, which he applies secretly.” They laughed and their voices echoed. In search of a ripened mango, they reached near a hut in that desolate jungle. The sound of the wind rustling through the trees haunted them. They were not able to recognize the direction from where they entered. Anu peeped into the hut. A girl around twelve was lying on the ground, either dead or unconscious. The adventure turned into sheer horror. Suddenly a heavy voice emerged from behind, “How dared you both to come here.” They turned about and screamed. Anu asked in a trembling voice for the right direction to go out. He pointed and they ran without delaying a millisecond. The man’s dreadful face picked up their pace. They finally reached the outskirts of the orchard running and panting but didn’t stop till they were near the house. At the entrance, they stopped to catch their breath and decided not to talk about the incident to anyone, as they were already denied to go there. Anu was feeling feverish. She fell on the bed and heard her mother saying someone, to call the doctor. Anu was thinking about which situation was more haunting, the ghost story or this man-hut-girl fact. She was pondering over the real reason for circulating ghost stories about the mango orchard. She presumed that some dark secret was being hidden by some powerful people. Perhaps elders would be knowing this fact. Anu wanted to save the girl. She felt her eyelids were burdened and about to close.