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Let me tell you a story. It begins with a little boy, let's call him Ilsaval, aged six years, playing ball with a few friends of his in a little alley of the town he lived, Savrimath in 1974 India. Savrimath was a not quite yet a city in 1974. It was sort of clusters of middle class dwellings really, spread across a 6 acre meadow and flanked by snow capped mountains. A "Main Road" cut the town neatly into halves and a small stream completed the job by running across, so you had four neat quarters of grassland with a pretty dull looking cement bridge carrying the Main Road across the stream at the town's center, with something cryptic like "PWD 12/234" stenciled onto the cement. The bridge had long started to wear out - as was the fashion of almost all such bridges built by contractors who had "won" the bid to construct their apology of a bridge by greasing some government palms and adjusting the cement mixture ratios to their advantage. Nevertheless the structure sill survived and was wont to sway and crack in places alarmingly whenever a heavily laded lorry - or bullock-cart for that matter trundled past.

Ilsaval's father was such a contractor. In fact, it was non other than he who had constructed the "bridge" and was a master of two 2 bigha plots of land and a television to boot as a result of his conniving ploys. Ilsaval had few friends, one was Survas, the son of the local electrician who usually messed up the wiring on each of Ilsaval's dad's undertakings, and the other was Mristi, a little girl with double ponied hair and a perpetual wide eyed look to go along with her sassy, curious disposition. She was the daughter of the local plumber - Maneklal. The three were generally inseparable and whenever they could contrive it to their liking - up to no good, but in a prankster, childish kind of way that grown ups would more often than not just sigh and shrug off while calling upon Time to hasten these three on to adulthood, boredom and maturity.

But not quite, yet. For today was May 1, 1974 and a special plan had been concocted to kidnap Lakshswa aunt's pet cat Sakeen and Humaayoon, a village laborer's pet dog and subsequently tie the two together in holy matrimony, only literally so with one of Ilsaval's mom's pet dupattas, accessorized with some rusty old knick-knacks from Mristi's dad's toolbox. Rituals were to begin after lunch, at 3:00, where the three now had gathered under a peepal tree south of the bridge to spur their plan on to glorious execution.

Survas took on the task of mustering up old Humaayoon, Ilsaval volunteered to kidnap Sakeen and contribute the dupatta, leaving Mristi to supply the accessories and plan the nuptials. Roles thus assigned, the threesome dispersed to attend to their relative responsibilities, having agreed beforehand to reconvene at the bridge right before the sun started to set. Sunset arrived and saw a rather strange group gathered beside the culvert, straining to control a situation that appeared to be in danger of degenerating into a chaos of sorts. Humaayoon, the old cur had placidly allowed Survas to tie him around the neck with a piece of rope and lead him to the bridge. However, his placidity evaporated on seeing Sakeen's scruffy form. Sakeen had not taken lightly to being thus abducted, and was snarling, clawing and wriggling for all she was worth, Survas desperately tried to hold on to her while not getting bitten while Mristi tried to loop and tie one end of the dupatta around Sakeen's neck.

Finally, some semblance of order resumed with the bride and groomed now anchored to each other with the dupatta around their necks. Mristi then picked up a small gunny sack and upturned it, spilling its contents on to the stream's rocky bank. These were some hooks, pieces of pipe, washers, some nuts and a few other indescribable objects. The party then proceeded to tie these with pieces of string all along the dupatta, contriving their positions in a manner designed to to make them jostle against each other when the appointed time came for the betrothed couple to circle around a mango tree that grew right beside the Main road as it prepared to cross the bridge. The tree circling, accompanied by the chanting of some words Mristi had once overheard the local pujari murmuring as he performed his morning prayers at the temple, was to be done a total of seven times by dog and cat. It had been decided that the culmination of the circling exercise would result in the declaration of the two as having entered the bond of holy matrimony.

Without further ado, Ilsaval began "leading" the two around the tree. This was easier said than done, for the two despised each others guts and were wont to run off in opposite directions, with the resultant net force being in favor of the dog, who would drag Sakeen a good few yards by the neck before Ilsaval and Survas could come to her rescue. Anyway these were no quitters and persevered until Humaayoon and Sakeen had completed two full crazily shaped "circles" around the tree. The third one was sort of half-complete when Mristi heard what sounded like a throaty "wroof" and something like a cat's snarl- only mightier, emanating from under the culvert.

Leaving the bride and groom ignominiously hitched to the tree by the simple expedient of wrapping the middle of the dupatta around a branch that jutted out, the three moved cautiously down the bank to see what was causing the noise. But they really need not have bothered, for a moment later, a leopard appeared standing just inside the culvert, complete with tawny skin and spots! And he looked really mad too! Apparently the beast had been comfortably napping inside the culvert, soothed by the cool water of the stream, when all the yapping and howling had rudely awakened him. He surveyed the scene with disdain, as if trying to make up his mind as to which to vent his wrath on first, boy or dog or girl or cat... Humaayoon smelled the great impending danger below and let out an awful howl, punctuated by a few timid barks every now and then. This seemed to egg on the leopard to make his final decision. He sank to his haunches and started tensing his muscles that would power his spring, on to his intended victim, from the group that stood less than 15 yards from him in transfixed, horrified shock.

But then again, not quite. For as the very moment the leopard was to launch himself approached, the ground started to quiver and shake. Mristi, with her heart in her mouth already from the sight of the leopard, could not handle this additional calamity and promptly swooned and fainted. Survas and Ilsaval were terrified and started to run. But that was apparently a pretty unwise move because it was just the thing to trigger the leopard's launch. And trigger it did - the leopard launched his body forward and upwards, aiming to clear the end of the culvert from where he stood for the nearest boy, Ilsaval. And then...

THUD, the leopard's head struck the top of the culvert right where it opened out - knocking the beast a good foot back into the pipe. The quake had been the final straw for the bridge which was now collapsing, and fast. The culvert's roof had dropped a good foot below where it was when the leopard started his spring and that was why he collided with hard cement instead of gaining flight into the open. Stones and rubble, pieces of road tar and bricks descended on the leopard in a flurry as he hastily tried to make his way to higher ground. But that was not to be as a final rattle from the quake completely leveled the bridge, causing its pieces to come to rest squarely on the buried leopard, who looked rather foolish, immobilized thus with just his snout sticking out.

The quake had caused everyone to run outdoors, and there they all stood for a good ten minutes until after the ground had stopped shaking. Maneklal swiveled his head to survey the damage, when he suddenly caught sight of the collapsed bridge and what appeared to be a bunch of ragamuffins near it. Calling out to his friends, he ran to the bridge and by the time they arrived there Ilsaval's father and Survas's mom had joined the fray. Maneklal ran to his daughter, still lying prone and started to sprinkle some drops of water from the stream on to her face. This had the desired result and within a minute Mristi had opened her eyes- even wider than had previously been thought possible - when she espied the gathering of grown-ups milling around. Survas's mom unhitched Humaayoon and Sakeen from the tree and proceeded to release both of them from the dupatta. A barrage of questions descended upon Ilsaval and Survas: What were you three doing here? Why did you bring a Humaayoon and Sakeen? Why were they tied together? What if you had been standing on the bridge when it collapsed?

It must be said that credit is due to Ilsaval for not completely losing what was left of his mind in these goings-on and trying to blurt out some answers. However his words were lost in the general chatter and dismay being expressed by the villagers of allowing their children to engage in such shenanigans right under their noses. One person's ear was sharper than most and he picked out a single word that Ilsaval seemed to be repeating over and over again: "leopard!". "Wait!", screamed this person at the crowd. They took notice and stopped the hubbub and blabbering long enough for the man to yell again "listen to the kid, he is talking about a leopard here!". That pretty much shut everybody up because if there was one thing that they were most afraid of next to , it was a encountering a leopard when cutting wood in the hillside forests surrounding the meadow. Seeing his moment had finally come, Ilsaval blurted "Leopard was attacking us, quake came and buried him!" . "Where?" screeched Lakshswa aunty who was mortally petrified at the word "leopard". "Under You!" squealed Survas, making Lakshswa almost put the Russian Gymnastics Team to shame by doing what could best be described as the closest thing to a back-flip one could ever hope to do in a saree. The place where she was standing thus cleared, the leopard's snout and one beady eye were exposed, the latter staring at the villagers with some alarm and trepidation.

The hubbub started to pick up again, now centering on the question of what to do with the buried feline. However thankfully it was cut short by the arrival of the District Collector in his Jeep, who dispatched a man to the nearest city some thirty miles away to go and telegraph the authorities to send animal handlers and zoo authorities. These arrived the very next day, extracted a very overwrought leopard from under all the stones and dirt, and whisked him away in a cage to either a zoo or another forest - no one knows what finally became of him.

The intrepid trio were all given a stern dressing down and sound scolding by their parents for their misadventure. The punishment would probably have been sterner still, had not each child's parent's been secretly thankful and relieved to find their progeny safe and unharmed in the wake of such events. Ilawal, Survas, and Mristi continued to be inseparable and engage in wily plans every now and then until Time finally did run its course and brought them adulthood, boredom and maturity - putting an end to the pleasant pursuits of their childhood. Survas and Mristi married each other. They continued to meet up regularly with Ilsaval. Ilsaval took up his father's construction business, imbued it with modern methods and ethics, rising to great heights of fame and fortune.

Vikas Agarwal
Great story for kids
Neelam Vohra
Superb, my son simply loved it! Thanks, SchoolJunction!
Sandeep Acharya
Who wrote this? He/she deserves applause!
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