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Upside Down and Tumble Jumble
by Deepa Agarwal

“Ma! I’m starving! Where’s the carrot halwa?” Aman asked.

“In the kitchen, son,” his mother replied.

Aman rushed into the kitchen. But the bowl in which his mother kept halwa for him was empty, licked clean!

“Who could have eaten it?” Ma was confused. “Don’t worry, I’ll make more tomorrow.”

But the next day it vanished again! And the next too!

On the fourth day Aman decided to hide and catch the thief. He crouched behind the kitchen cupboard and waited. After a while he heard the door go cree-ak...

Then…cling-clang...the sound of a spoon against the steel bowl...

“Caught you!” Aman yelled, jumping out. Then stood still, frozen with astonishment.

A funny little man, orange from head to toe, stood there eating halwa. Aman blinked.

Was he imagining it?

Suddenly the dwarf turned and jumped out of the window. “Stop, thief!” Aman followed him.

The dwarf turned a double somersault and landed far ahead. Aman chased him, down the road, over fields till they reached a little hill. And then…the dwarf vanished.

Aman stood stock-still. Then he noticed a cave opening in the hillside and ran into it. It turned out to be a tunnel and he could see something orange whirling ahead of him.

“You won’t get away!” Aman shouted.

Just then the tunnel ended and Aman saw the dwarf, tumbling ahead of him on a path that led down to a village. But what a village!

Everything was upside down! Houses and people, animals and plants—everything!
Roofs on the ground, floors on top. Hands on the ground, feet in the air. People were wearing shoes on their hands instead of their feet!

But where was the dwarf?

“Did you see a carrot coloured dwarf?” Aman asked a friendly looking boy.

“! eh si erehw, oN” he said. Aman stared at him puzzled. What language was this? Tired, disappointed, he sat down to rest under a tree.

Then he noticed that the tree wasn’t upside down and—it was full of—mangoes!

“Mangoes in winter. This place is really upside down!” Aman reached out and grabbed a one. Yumm-mm...He reached out for another…and got a tremendous shock.

Instead of his hand his foot reached out!

“What’s--!” Aman cried out. He heard someone laughing. It was the boy.

“Did you eat the magic fruit, too?” he asked.

“Magic fruit?”

“Yes, it turns you upside down. Your speech too!”

“Ohh—that’ s why I couldn’t understand you earlier,” Aman cried.

The boy nodded. “My name’s Nitin,” he said. “You know, we used to be right side up.
One day we saw a funny little man—orange with a long beard—somersaulting down the road. My friends and I couldn’t help laughing at him. He got furious and said he’d get even. The next day we found this tree here. The mangoes were really tempting. But after eating them we turned upside down.”

“Oh my God!” Aman exclaimed. “I wish I hadn’t chased the carroty dwarf!”

“Where did you see him? If we could find him...and beg him to remove the spell.”

“Well...there is a way...He loves carrot halwa…”

“Great idea!”

They ran to Nitin’s house and asked his mother to make carrot halwa. Sure enough...the dwarf turned up!

But before he could swallow a spoonful, they pounced on him. He wriggled and wiggled and kicked and yelled but they didn’t let go.

“Let me go-o-o! I only wanted a teeny-weeny spoonful!”

“Have it all. But first you have to make us all right again.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that... Let me go, you kind little boys.”

“Then we can’t let you go!” Aman cried.

“But I can’t.” The dwarf hung his head. “It’s my sister, the bitter gourd witch who made the tree grow. You see, she has all the magic powers. When my father, the wizard, was handing out tricks, she agreed to eat bitter gourd all her life and got the magic bird. I wanted to eat carrots and got the fastest somersaults in the world.”

“Then make her undo the magic!”

“It’s quite easy. If you agree to eat nothing but bitter gourd for seven years and seven days she’ll remove the spell.”

“Wait a minute!” Aman said, “You stole my halwa. Why should I be forced to eat bitter gourd? I didn’t even tease you.”

“Hmm...you’re right...”said the dwarf. “O-kay. There’s another way. If you free the bird from its cage the spell will be broken. But—if she catches you, it could be worse.”

“No it won’t,” Aman said. “Because you’ll tell us how. Otherwise we’ll tie you up and never let you have halwa for the rest of your life.”

“OK, OK! Cross the river nearby and you’ll find a green palace in the woods. That’s where she lives with the bird. Chew these magic chickpeas. They’ll make you become invisible. But—only for an hour!” he said, handing them the chickpeas.

Swiftly, they rowed across the river. They could smell something bitter—bitter gourd! And then they saw a pointy pale green palace!
The place was swarming with guards. “The chick peas!” Aman cried. Quickly they munched some and got in easily.

It was a huge palace. Where could the bird be? They searched and searched but couldn’t find it.
“I’m tired,” Nitin sighed. They’d reached the very top floor. “If we don’t find the bird, what do we do?”

“Eat bitter gourd for the rest of our lives,” Aman said. Then-- “Listen!” he cried out. “A bird chirping!”

They ran towards the sound. Two guards were walking that way

“Did you see that?” one exclaimed. “ A toe! Waving in the air!”

Nitin and Aman scooted for their lives. The magic was wearing out! They dashed into the first room on the right. And what did they see? A tiny little black bird in a plain little iron cage!

“The magic bird!” Aman cried out.

“I-don’t think so,” Nitin frowned. “It looks so plain and ordinary.”

Just then the guards burst into the room, followed by a tall, stringy looking woman who was—green from head to toe!

“Hurry!” Aman cried. He quickly opened the cage and—the bird flew out! There was big, whooshy sound, like air being let out of a balloon. And - The guards the palace, the pale green woman, all vanished!

Aman and Nitin ran through the woods towards the river.

“Look, we’re right side up!” Nitin cried.

Then they heard someone call, “Wait a minute.”

A girl was running after them. “Who’re you?” they asked.

She made a face. “I-I used to be... the green witch,” she said. “Thanks for setting me free.”

“But-but—aren’t you angry with us?”

“Angry? Do you think I liked being a witch? It’s entirely my brother’s fault. He chose carrot halwa and fancy somersaults from my father’s bag of tricks and left me with bitter gourd. He knew I’d help him with the magic anyway!”

“I knew he was a trickster!” Nitin cried. “The chick peas lasted only fifty-six minutes.”

“Trust him. And if anyone wants a magic bird, it’s sitting on the tree behind you.”

“No thanks!” Both burst out together. They left the girl practicing somersaults on the riverside and ran home as fast as they could.

9-May-2010
 
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