A Bad Omen 

Manali, 1967


“Dadi, you’ve got to stop dropping me everyday. I’m a big boy now, and school isn’t that far!” 

“You don’t tell me what to do Guddu, I’ll come dropping you all your life wherever you go”, saying which she gave him the wettest kiss on his cheek. 

“Dadi, Krishna and Rajan can see. And don’t call me Guddu! You’re embarrassing me!
Despite their little squabble, Dadi knew Guddu loved her. Loved her more than anything else in the world. And so did she. After her son’s demise owing to tuberculosis three years ago, they were all they had. Guddu’s mother had passed away after labour. Dadi was his ‘de-facto’ mother, but their relation had strengthened since his father’s death. Guddu was growing up, and Dadi could comprehend all the signals. But she didn’t mind. Barring his teen outbursts, he was growing up to be a mature and sensible young man. All of 13, Dadi saw glimpses of a gentleman in the apple of her eye. 
“Have a good day Beta”.

“Bye Dadi, I’ll come back by myself, let me!”

He walked a few steps. Turning around he saw his Dadi pondering over what to say. He hugged her.

 “I’ll be fine. Love you”. The peck he gave her on her wrinkled cheek, livened up the old lady. She smiled. Her grand-son knew exactly how to get what he wanted. 
She couldn’t be late, she had to get home. She couldn’t miss the special episode of ‘Bahu Ka Ghar‘. She paced on. A few metres after progression, she stopped. In her path lay a familiar Object. A feared object. It was a combination of a lemon and two red chillies attached to a thread. She prayed Guddu wouldn’t step on it, on his route back. She reached home, in a matter of minutes and settled into her mundane routine.
The door bell rang. Dadi looked at the clock. It had struck sharp 12.45. How had Guddu reached home earlier than they used to? Oh yes, he didn’t have to wait for her to catch her breath every 5 minutes. She made her way to the door. There he was! He’d reached home safely!
“Dadi, I have a surprise for you!”

Guddu stepped aside. There it was, the messiest cat Dadi had ever lay her eyes upon. It had bright green eyes, purring away to glory. The stench was off-putting. But that wasn’t the problem. It was black. It was a black cat

“Guddu, what is this doing here? Get it away! Away from my sight, I demand!”

“But look at her, she’s beautiful! Take a closer look at her eyes. I want to call her Crystal“. 

“Put it down now! Do you want to be cursed, get inside!” 

Dadi was hysterical. 

“No, we’re keeping her. I’m getting her in”. 

Guddu calmly turned around, lifted the stunning Himalayan cat in his arms and took her to his room. 

“She needs to be bathed”. 

“Are you not hearing me?”

“Dadi I know they’re supposed to be bad luck but this is so regressive. Besides, Biswa keeps bragging about his pet puppy, now I won’t have to nod in superficiality. I’ll make sure she doesn’t leave my room. She won’t even cross your path or whatever that ridiculous jargon is”. 

Dadi felt helpless
The remainder of the day was relatively uneventful. Guddu bathed his discovery and took some milk upstairs. Dadi’s usual visits to his room had abruptly and understandably terminated. Guddu tucked himself to sleep that night. He knew Dadi would come around eventually. Would she? 
Early next morning, Guddu woke up. He looked to his right. Yes she was still there. He petted her stomach before realising he was 10 minutes late. Dadi would be fuming! He showered, 

descended the flight of stairs and made his way to the drawing room. Ever since his father had left them, the two-fold family saw no reason in sitting around the table for meals. 

“What’s for breakfast, Dadi?”

“I haven’t slept too well, Guddu. Is a toasted slice of bread sufficient?”

Dadi entered the room. She seemed worried. And tired. It was as though she’d aged ten years, over night. 

“On your way to school, drop it off. You must have bathed it. I think that’s enough compassion for some time”. 

Guddu was stationary for a minute. He took a modest bite of his toast.

You know what, you’re psychotic! Crystal is going nowhere! And I don’t want any breakfast

He picked his satchel and slammed the door behind him. This time too, he’d left his Dadi speechless. But not helpless. She knew exactly what she had to do. She almost sprinted to the kitchen. 
Yes, there it was, in the topmost shelf. Marked LIQUID RAT POISON. In bold. Perfect. Dadi looked around for a platter. Where were things when you need them most? Never mind. She could just pour some milk in a glass, and take it up to Guddu’s room. Or she could bring the cat down. That would make it easier to kick it out of her house. She poured out a glass of milk, followed by an entire bottle of the feared poison. Dadi had a diabolical look in her eyes. She kept the glass on the mantelpiece, making her way to the room inhabited by the wretched. Over the years, it’d become extensively strenuous for her to climb stairs. But she had to do it, this time. 
“Where are you?”, she yelled.

She looked on the bed, under the sheets, inside the wardrobe, around the attached washroom. Guddu had left the tap running, but that wasn’t important. She heard a ‘purr’ Only if she knew where it came from. She closed her eyes. Was it under the bed? She would bend over, if she didn’t fear her spine would crack faster than a well baked biscuit. She had to get the glass of milk upstairs. She quietly left the room. As she reached the last stair, she was mortified.
She saw Guddu, on his knees, with a napkin, scrubbing the floor. She didn’t understand.

“There’s a washcloth in the kitchen Guddu, have you ever seen me scrub the floor with a hand napkin.

Dadi froze.

“What are you doing here? And what are you cleaning up?

“I was hungry, I thought I’d come back. I was about to drink the milk you’d kept for me, but Crystal was hungrier than I was!”

“What do you mean?”

“I was about to take the glass, when she pawed at it. Now don’t worry, I’ll clean it up. I can’t give you another reason to hate her”. 

Dadi could see Crystal licking the milk, spilt across the floor, milk that Guddu was yet to clean up.

“Stop her from drinking the milk. Take her upstairs”. 

“So we’re keeping her?”

“Yes, she’s lucky for us”. 
Superstition is the religion of feeble minds- Edmund Burke

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