At the center of the sprawling lawns in front of his bungalow fortified by pine and casuarinas trees, the General stood leaning slightly backward against a table, facing the solemn audience of his lieutenants. He spoke with the somberness of an Arabian Nights genii and seemed to conduct the emotions of his audience by the orchestral movement of his baton. If in the tender sunlight the dew-dust on his moustache dazzled like a sprinkle of crushed diamond, his little grand-daughter dazzled behind him like a diamond doll. She wore a frock of silver georgette and had tied her hair with a strip of orange velvet. Unknown to the General she had climbed the table.
And that was with a purpose. She embarked on a mute caricature of her grandfather. The General did not see it, but his lieutenants had no choice. Soon they looked almost weird, thanks to the incredible demand of the situation: their obligation to listen to the boss with concentration and submission, and an awful urge to burst their spleen at the child’s gimmicks. Rarely had a situation in the battlefield proved so exacting.
But the fairy of good luck smiled on them. The General cracked a joke. They burst into the longest ever laughter of the season. The General’s moustache seemed to spring to life as he smiled in bright flashes. He was waking up to the great humorist in himself.
But the grand-daughter’s sonorous mimicry outlasted the chorus of laughter.
“Guddy!” The General turned back as jumpily as an ordinary soldier would react at his captain’s unexpected holler.
“Guddy!” the child babbled out, copying the giant’s gesticulation.
Just then a messenger handed over a note to the General.
The boss grew grave. He wiped the dew off his moustache and, with an impressive snort, told the officers, “I would like you to wait. Maybe I’d be able to bring some important message for you.”
He tucked his baton under his left armpit and made an about-turn.
“Grandpa, take me!” Guddy raised and waved her tiny arms.
“How could I?” asked the General dismissing her demand.
“How could you?” Guddy showed his readiness to jump into his arms as a practical answer to his question. But as he moved away, she began stomping the table.
The General came closer to her and kissed her. “Crazy! If both of us leave, who would attend upon these gentlemen? Aren’t they our guests? Shouldn’t you, on my behalf, keep them engaged and in good humor? I’ll bring you toffees. Bye!”
The General made an about turn and left.
Guddy’s face, as loving as a rose, swelled with surging sobs. The General’s car was heard starting. As soon as its sound died down, Guddy resumed stomping and, her eyes shut, cried, “I’ll go to grandpa!”
“Look here, my sweet child, won’t you rather see an elephant?” asked Maj. Gen. Joseph, modulating his tone to sound like a doting auntie’s.
Struggling with her sobs though, Guddy nodded her willingness to see the wonder promised.
“Here it is,” announced Joseph, dragging Aurora, his portly colleague, out of the throng.
Guddy wiped her eyes and surveyed Aurora skeptically.
“But I’ll like to see a tiger,” she murmured.
“Very well, child, this is how the tiger roars.” It was Habibulla. He hobbled forward and emulated a roar that was pathetic.
“Does the tiger stand oh two legs and smoke too?” demanded Guddy and in the same breath, remembered her grandfather again.
Habibulla’s predicament was great fun for the officers. But the veteran at once threw away his cheroot and admitted that the tiger, in fact, had four legs and that it was a confirmed non-smoker. Then, known as he was for his strategies, he crouched on the grass.
“Look here, child, this is how a tiger, if it turns a man-eater, is shot down,” said Rahim and he knelt down and aimed his baton at Habibulla and gurgled out a sound meant to approximate a gun-shot. Habibulla sprawled as if finished.
The officers applauded the performance.
Guddy displayed a lightning smile but, before many had noticed it, reverted to her gloom.
“What if a bear comes?” she wondered aloud.
“Then the bear and the hunter will be locked in a wrestle, like this,” replied Yashvir Singh as he pounced upon Rahim. Their wrestle, growl and subdued scream drew lusty cheers.
Even then Guddy did not look quite amused. The officers, unanimous on their duty to keep her happy till the General’s return, played the camel, the wolf, and the gorilla. Guddy would look pleased for a moment, only to resume whimpering at the earliest.
The General was back.
“Grandpa, you’re hopeless! How could you be so late?” Guddy demanded looking as bright as ever, though a little serious. Then her head pressed against the General’s chest, she murmured, “You entrusted those boys of yours to my care, didn’t you? You won’t believe how much I had to act to keep them in good humor. Come out with my toffees!”