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January 10, 2003 17:04 IST
He didn't follow the pie man all the way into the chaos of the fête.
He went fishing instead.
Which is precisely what I should have done when my cousins and uncle came to me with cookies, asking about the latest fair. I should have gone fishing, and ignored their bait.
But I didn't. I ate all their cookies.
And before I could down the last crumb, I was whizzing off in a taxi to the colourful madness on the other side of town.
In front, with the taxi driver, was my uncle, and at the back, towards my left was my cousin (affectionately called 'Holy Terror') and to my right was her little brother (he's not affectionately called anything. I show no affection for him). So there I was, a sardine between Holy Terror and kid brother, all four finally bailing out at the fair.
"Lets go," shrieked Holy Terror, as she lunged for my hand. The multi-coloured stalls fell away in a blur.
Looming up in front of me was a great big Giant Wheel sparkling in a thousand million tiny bulbs. Kid brother jumped up and down till a seat was emptied.
I strapped them in nice and firm. I didn't want them falling out of the sky in a billow of polka dots and stripes. Heavens, what would their mother say. I looked around for something that might serve as a safety net in case that happened. Except for a fat man, his dog, some balloons that were being shot at and some balloon-shooters, I couldn't see anything appropriate. Telling them to hold on firmly, I stepped back.
They started off. And just when they were a few inches above my head, kid brother started bawling. Huge tears rolled down onto his red shorts. I began unstrapping him. His nails dug into the back of my neck and his pretty head shook vigorously. I tried loosening his legs from the cage.
"I don't want to get off!" he bellowed through his rain.
Eh? So what was he making all the fuss for then?
"I want you to come too!"
The words hit me like a surfboard, splat in the middle of my teeth.
"Come too? What do you mean? You couldn't mean you want me to climb into one of these red-and-yellow-and-green swaying cages just to keep you company?"
"There are a hundred million bulbs on this crazy thing. There could be a short circuit. I could become the next blazing star in the galaxy. Do you know what that means?"
It wasn't his nods that were frightening. It was the tone in my voice. I could hear myself. I was flat, colourless, and very dead.
"I'm not going if you don't come too."
"Don't go," floated out the pair of limp words.
In a half-coma, I looked up at the huge Wheel. It's not Acrophobia that I have. I can stand on the highest peak of Mahableshwar and look down into the lowest Sahyadri valley, pretend I'm a bird, and not have my claws turn into spaghetti and jelly.
No, my fear is a plain, rather uncomplicated fear. It's called: Ghastly Phobia of Giant Wheels. And I've had it ever since I was two feet high.
The man at the Giant motor was getting a little irate. "Jaldi karo [Make it fast]," came the edict.
"I'm not going if you don't come too!!"
Oh, how I hated that taxi driver. He could have easily refused to bring us here. To decline is the norm in the taxi business, but he had to be a deviant guy.
I crawled into a yellow-and-green half-cage, got myself strapped, and was off.
Hmm, this wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Pretty smooth I would call it. Nice and slow, just how I like life to be.
The ground grew smaller as I reached the sky. Yeah, my stomach felt a little funny as we came down from the other side, but no funny feeling is permanent.
I was in the clouds when I felt the wheel leap forward a little bit. I was down in a matter of seconds. The motorman was on my cage, shoving it. We moved faster and faster. I kept my eyes on the calm blue.
I felt my neck getting a little stiff. I looked down. I saw the fat man, his dog, the balloons, the balloon-shooters, the multi-coloured stalls and the earth, all rushing up towards my face.
Under regular circumstances, when faced with grave danger, the human being reacts spontaneously with any one of three types of reflexes.
One: He shuts his eyes.
Two: He tells himself that this is all a dream and the morning alarm will buzz in seconds.
Three: He screams.
There was, however, one technical glitch in my human system. My eyes were open, this was no Dreamland, and my voice had run away.
That was real hard earth, that was a real fat man, and that was his real dog. And they had all formed the Golden Triangle and were en route to my visage.
I looked down at my hands on the bar protecting me. Bursting out through the thin skin, were 10 very white knuckles.
When earth was just a few millimetres away, my stunned body miraculously snapped into gear, and the appropriate reflexes fired up through my brain.
I shut my eyes. And I screamed.
"ROKOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!" I yelled at the motorman who looked blankly at my face before disappearing into a dot.
Oh please stop this mad Wheel. "ROKO!" I shot to the motorman on my next dive down before sailing off like a kite again.
"STOOOOOOOOOPPPPP!!" I attempted. Maybe he doesn't understand Hindi.
He disappeared into a dot once more. On my next visit down, he looked past my eyes, deep into my soul, and patiently announced, "Ab nahin rukega [Now it won't stop]."
I flew off into the sky like a petrified baby monkey on a wild trapeze.
My intelligent brain translated that Hindi statement into English, and played it back to my ears. I heard, "Cool, Bhavna. You're on a lunatic Giant Wheel that's on a runaway mission. There is no sense trying to talk the Wheel into not short-circuiting itself into the galaxy, because it's not really the Wheel that's the lunatic. It's the motorman who's the lunatic and your paintbrushes are going to miss you."
With that deep revelation, I settled back into the half-cage, ordered my brain into looping the automatic reflexes, and continued screaming.
When there were enough screams generated to run Monsters Inc into at least 20 sequels, without having to change the end of the story, I was finally let off.
I tried to analyse the damage done. My jaws were rigid, with cheeks sucked in up to my gums, and my fingers had gone into serious cramps. My throat was dry and my stomach had a huge cave inside it.
Holy Terror and kid brother were giggling. Uncle, in between guffaws, was cruelly saying, "Do the thing you fear and fear will disappear."
After what seemed like 2,300 years, the ground beneath my boots stabilised and the fat man and his dog didn't look like an animated series of wobbly curves anymore.
Kid brother danced in circles around me, definite that he hadn't had enough fun yet. "Look!!" he pointed to another lunatic ride. A boat suspended upside down in midair was swinging furiously between 0 and 180 degrees.
Subconsciously, I heard the words, "Come too" and the insides of my stomach spun into a spasm.
"I'm going home," I stated, without leaving room for arguments.
"But, we only just got here!" came young, loud protests.
"I'm not asking you to come too."
And I walked through the exit gate, my cheeks still stuck to the outside of my gums.
Someday, I will find that taxi driver.
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