The Toyota Innova came to a halt at an Agricultural Farm in Trichur. The sky was evincing the hues of an impending shower. Everyone got down except for Santhi. She was having her afternoon nap in the rear seat after the hectic wardrobe shopping for her uncle’s wedding. Santhi along with her parents, her uncle and her little sister were returning from Kochi to Ottapalam when they stopped at the farm. The party returned to the vehicle carrying plant pots, tools, seeds and saplings. Her uncle had wanted to shop for his mini kitchen farm. Santhi woke up and saw her family carrying all these strange stuff walking towards the Toyota.
The engine woke in a smooth manner complementing the greenery in its trunk. Santhi started probing about the plants. Her papa was busy in the phone and her mother was busy changing the diapers of her sister. Anyone who would lent an ear to this nagging child in the car was her uncle.
“So, Santhi molé, we got some groundbreaking stuff today”, her uncle began.
As she found someone to answer her questions, her curiosity only grew just like the dark clouds. Her little sister had started munching on the feeding bottle. And her papa finished his phone call only to start another one. The vehicles were whizzing past, and the motorcycles became even more aggressive as to reach home before the showers began. Her uncle was the one driving, driving in his nonchalant manner at a decent speed. The drive usually takes about an hour once they get past Trichur downtown.
“Roots dear, roots, they pierce the earth and go deep. Deep.” Her uncle giving an extra emphasis on the word deep.
“Well, depends on the plant.”
“What plants did you get?”
“Hmm, I got 6 jasmine saplings for the roof, Neem saplings for the south east side. Then, packets of seeds for spinach- both red and green, tomato, melon. And.. ” He paused for excitement.
“And, a special breed of plant. It is one amongst 12 in the whole world.”
“So, Mom is not going to ask me to eat the veggie from it? or is she?”
“Girl! watch out, This is no normal plant. It is 800 years old”
The wipers were turned to interval stage, as the droplets smashed the pane. The wind was getting stronger, and people outside were scrambling. The umbrellas were getting tested for its resilience. The waiting sheds for buses were crowded. Dust, paper and leaves were reaching higher ground. The saris and shawls of women were flying like low altitude kites.
“Liar!” “Mom, chittapa is lying right?”
“Ask your uncle itself.” her mom advised.
“Hey Santhi molé, why would I lie? Turn around and climb to the rear seat and see for yourself. It has got a thick stem near the base. It is called a caudex… did you see? Are you even looking?”
She got up from her semi-sleeping position and took the pain of turning the lights on and saw the plant her uncle was talking about. The plant was in a small pot laid intact in the far corner towards the trunk-door.
“I can see the roots, they look like greyed hair-locks” Santhi opined. Her eyes were wide open with wonder.
“See, I told you.”
Santhi came back to her seat with vivid surprise on her face and her sleep gone far ‘deep’ just like the roots are supposed to.
“Santhi, turn the lights off”, her mom commanded.
Santhi languidly got up again and turned the lights off, catching another glimpse of the plant.
“Does it have a name?” she enquired.
“Oh yea, scientists call it by some name, Some Adenium or so. But the thing is that, this Adenium is no ordinary kind, this one has a spirit of an old witch.”
Santhi was fascinated enough by the plant that she would listen anything now from her uncle.
“Eda, the road is going to be slippery, drive carefully…” Her father advised her uncle. “Ah.. ‘Hello’, I spoke with the caterers, no.. no..'”
Santhi was oblivious to her father’s conversation over the cell phone. She stared outside the window, at lightning that struck far away which didn’t even carry the sound of thunder to her. She ran her fingers through the window along the raindrops which came and slid on the other side.
“How did the witch get in there?” She probed and gave her uncle a chance to narrate his story.
“So the legend is that, she was a troublesome witch, an old one as I said, She can’t be killed or anything like that, she eats cattle and steals valuables and used to trouble the villagers. One day, a saint from North India came, he is supposed to be from Himalayas, He came and split the spirit of the witch into twelve pieces and placed deep in the base of twelve seeds.”
“You should seriously shut up and let the little girl be, she is going to have trouble sleeping” Her mother worried.
“So, where are the other eleven plants” Santhi didn’t let her curiosity get dampened.
“Santhi is going to have tough time sleeping tonight, because she slept the entire afternoon.” Her uncle answered her mom.
“So, tell me. What about the other eleven?” Santhi became impatient.
“Nobody knows, I know few of the locations, but I am not really sure. It is scattered across India. So that the witch won’t come back to haunt.” Her uncle continued.
“Is Himalayas beyond Bangalore?” Santhi wondered aloud. “So, why did you buy the witch? does she have a name by any chance?”
“Well, She might have had a name. Anyways, I am going to call her Dakini. That is all the name she needs.”
“Dakini.” Santhi whispered under her breath.
It was well past the sunset and the clouds were now pouring. Her father had left the phone and was busy having grown-up talk with her uncle. Some kind of ambient music was playing from the stereo. It became even more milder under the sound of rain and occasional blaring horns.
They reached home without anymore questions from Santhi. She helped her mom by holding her little sister and giving the baby to her granny. She, then took couple of jasmine saplings and placed outside in a platform adjoining the garage. Meanwhile, her uncle had personally taken “The Dakini plant” inside.
“Mom, where is he taking it inside?”
“It is a house-plant, like an indoor one, just like an indoor dog.” Her mom replied.
Santhi, her mother and her grandmother were soon sorting the clothes they had bought and Santhi was at her displaying best with her frocks for the wedding. She went past her uncle’s room and glanced at him watering the “Dakini”.
“What is it with the vase underneath.” Santhi enquired about the huge vase the “Dakini” plant was kept on.
“Hey Santhi, I will let you in a secret, I am going to liberate Dakini.”
Her eyebrows reached exponential level and even her mouth dried up.
Her uncle resumed, “When the roots outgrow the pot and reach the empty space inside the vase, a flower will bloom. And through the flower, the witch is going to get liberated.”
“Don’t do that, I am scared chitthapa.”
“Come closer and take a look, the roots are closing in to get out.”
“I am fine here.”
“Hey my little fool, why would I do something to scare you, once the witch gets liberated, I will be her master, And Dakini will be your slave too.”
“Just get rid of her.”
Her uncle sulked at not having convinced her of his grandiose plans. He normally gets her confidence in doing petty offences like having ice-creams and doing little naughty stuff to her grandmother. This time she was not convinced at her uncle. She went back to her mom and packed her third-grade school-bag. She was in real hurry to hit the bed unlike other nights. She took only half the quota of her milk that night and off she went to her room.
The lights went off, and she was lying alone in her bed on the floor and her mom and dad were watching T.V. Her little sister was snoring inside the cradle. It was indeed tough for Santhi to sleep. She started counting backwards 99, 98, 97… A trick to attain sleep taught by her uncle himself. That reminded her of her uncle and made her wonder what he was doing with the ‘Dakini’.
It wasn’t raining anymore, but the sound of water trickling down was everywhere. The T.V was turned off, and the whole home went into darkness with only the ceiling fans displaying some kind of motion.
It was a Monday, when the uncle woke up, somebody was standing beside his door. It was Santhi in her night gown. Her eyes were moist, and there was some dried saliva next to her lips. She hadn’t brushed her teeth. Her uncle got up concerned not knowing the impact his story had on his niece. She sobbed.
Her uncle, pulled her towards him and wiped the tears of her face and said, “Chee chee, shame shame, that is not how a lady behaves, huh!”
She was still sobbing looking at the “Dakini” every now and then, Her uncle let out a deep sigh and continued, ” You know what, I was lying the whole time yesterday, it is just a house plant.” He took her close to the plant and spoke, “See, the sap of the plant is a bit toxic and your mom wouldn’t let me buy it, because of you kids being around in the house, and so I had convinced her that you wouldn’t come close to the plant. That is why I made up the whole story. Now smile.. “
They both looked each other in the eye and smiled. A light hearted giggle.
“See, there is this thing..” Her uncle exclaimed, “There is really a little witch in this house. A Brujita, a cute little Brujita, my cute little Brujita” and he tickled his little niece and they both burst into laughter.
*Brujita in spanish means “cute little witch” used in affectionate manner.