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"Mother, brother Chanchal is not allowing me to sleep."

"Sleep, day and night! Sleep, only sleep! If you complain once more, I shall pull you by the ear, Tandra."

"Just try!"

"What will you do if I do it?" Chanchal asked.

"I shall make Mother punish you."

"If you tell Mother, your life is in danger."

"Yes, you make me feel that it will be as easy for you to strike me as it is for you to steal sweetmeats."

"Shut up! When did you see me stealing?"

"I have seen it with my own eyes. I shall tell Mother. Just the other day I saw you eating sweetmeats from Uncle Narayan's room without his knowledge."

Is it called stealing if one takes sweetmeats from one's own uncle? I do it quite often. Besides, he himself has told me to take them at my sweet will."

"Another lie! When did he tell you?"

"I am a thief! I am a liar! You are a baby, but you have insulted me deeply."

Saying this, Chanchal delivered a smart slap to his younger sister. Tandra immediately started screaming as if someone had attempted to stab her. Their mother, Bharati Devi, and their elder brothers and sisters rushed into the room. Their father, Brahmamoy, was meditating, but his trance came to an abrupt end.

Seeing danger, Chanchal took to his heels. Tandra's screaming and crying would not come to an end, however. In many ways Bharati Devi tried to console her youngest child. She promised to punish Chanchal severely. But even then Tandra did not stop crying. Finally the mother lifted Tandra into her lap and put some sweetmeats into her mouth.

The eldest daughter, Sarala, was deeply concerned. She said, "Tandra, have you heard the latest news? Have you heard that Neta-ji (Subash Chandra Bose) is still alive? He is coming to Calcutta today by plane. Listen, I hear the sound of the airplane. It seems Neta-ji has arrived. We are leaving for the airport. Are you coming?"

Hearing Neta-ji's name, Tandra immediately stopped crying. Had it been any other day she would have run to the airport herself, but today she just stretched out her arms towards her eldest sister. She knew perfectly well that her mother's lap was more comfortable than her sister's, but if she stayed with her mother she would not be able to go to see Neta-ji. Even a child of six has that much intelligence.

Tandra was about to leave for the airport with Sarala when, quite unexpectedly, her brother Bharat said, "Look, Mother. Tandra's cheek is all red. Her face is swollen. Chanchal is so cruel. Day and night he strikes me, too."

Hearing that her face was red and swollen, Tandra started crying and screaming again.

Sister Sarala became furious. "Bharat, you fool! You idiot!" she cried. "We found it so difficult to console her! God alone knows when you will be blessed with some intelligence!"

"Shut up! I am not a fool."

"How dare you tell me to shut up? I am your eldest sister!" Saying this, Sarala boxed Bharat's nose and said, "Do you think only boys can box?"

Bharat did not cry. Instead, he angrily pulled his sister's hair so hard that some of it came out in his hand. Bharat realised his mistake and was about to run away, but his sister would not let him go. Holding him with one hand, she slapped him many times with the other.

Seeing that the situation was becoming grave, Tandra once more began screaming. Their mother was beside herself. Meanwhile, Sarala left for the airport. Brahmamoy took Tandra in his lap, something which he had never done before. Immediately she became silent, proud and happy that she was sitting in her father's lap.

"Unbearable, unbearable!" Bharati Devi said to her husband. "All our children have gone to the dogs. Day and night they are quarrelling and fighting, screaming and shouting. How long can it go on? And you are determined not to pay any attention to their needs!"

"Don't worry. These things are quite natural and normal. Everything will be all right in the course of time. In our childhood I am sure we behaved the same."

"Never! In our time no one ever saw such unruly boys and girls."

"Anyway, what is to be done now?"

"They must be sent to a good school."

"I shall see about it."

"Before you make any decision, I tell you, our children will kill one another."

"No, no. Soon they will become calm, quiet, polite and obedient. We will have a most harmonious family."

"I don't think so."

"Well, in that case I must say that whatever you teach them is what they learn."

"Yes, I am teaching them how to strike and kill one another, how to live like hooligans!"

"I didn't mean all that, but …"

"I understand you perfectly well in everything else, but I never understand your 'but … '"

"My only cause of sorrow is that you women have never learned how to think."

"Enough! For God's sake, you don't have to worry about us. The Supreme Goddess always thinks about us. We don't need your concern."

"It is not enough if the Supreme Goddess alone thinks of you people. What can she do all by herself? You must also use your brains."

"You always ridicule me. I can't stand it anymore."

At this point Tandra intervened. "Father, how is it that you have such a long beard?"

"Tandra, it is quite natural for a grown-up to have a long beard," Brahmamoy replied.

"You mean Mother is not grown up?"

"True, your mother is grown up, but women don't have beards."

"Why?"

"God has not blessed them with beards."

"Why? That is not fair. Everyone should get the same thing."

"But what can poor God do? Women would not be pleased to have beards."

"I tell you, Father, I clearly see that God is partial to men. Even my own mother is partial to my brothers. She loves them much more than she loves me and my sisters."

"But I love my daughters more than I love my sons," Brahmamoy said.

"That is true. Tell me another thing, Father. Why are your hair and beard all red? Other men do not have hair that colour."

"That is a long story."

"Never mind. I am falling asleep. I don't want to hear the whole story. But tell me, Father, what was your father's name?"

"My father's name was Ananta."

"What was your mother's name?"

"My mother's name was Sima."

"I like your father's name, but not your mother's name. Now Father, what is your name?"

"Brahmamoy."

"Father, please shorten your name. I find it too hard to say."

"Why? Just say Brahma."

"Baimo."

"Don't worry. My grandmother also used to pronounce my name that way."

"Father, to tell you the truth, I am not interested in your father and mother and grandmother. But tell me one thing. Why does brother Chanchal tell me that it is a great sin to sleep during the day? He also says that if one sleeps during the day, then he will definitely be bitten by a snake!"

"That is nonsense! But you must know that it is not good to sleep much during the day."

"Mother always says, 'Go and sleep,' whenever she sees me during the day. However, Brother says I must not sleep during the day at all. It seems that you are taking Brother's side. Now I do not know whom to listen to."

"You should always listen to your mother."

After a while, Tandra fell asleep beside her father. Bharat had also fallen asleep, weeping, after having been beaten by his sister and struck by his mother for causing more problems. Nobody there had showed him any affection. Sarala had gone out after her argument with Bharat, and Chanchal had not yet returned home. It was getting dark.

Bharati Devi, who had not eaten anything all day, kept looking around to see if Chanchal had come back. She felt miserable about the whole situation. Her anger had now shifted to Tandra. Why had she called Chanchal a thief? Tandra deserved the punishment she had got from her brother, she thought.

"What is Tandra doing? It seems that she has decided to sleep the whole day. Unbearable! Unbearable! Is there anybody else on earth who is as unhappy as I am?"

Brahmamoy gave her a smile. "What is wrong with you?" he asked.

"You stay with your family. I cannot bear it any longer. The children are not at home. The whole day they have eaten nothing. Calamity after calamity has taken place. I am fed up with this kind of life."

"Why are you cowed so easily? Don't you know that in this world nobody is as happy as you are?"

"Certainly not! My younger sister is really happy. She has no children."

"Go and ask her. She will tell you that you are really lucky because you are blessed not only with one, but with six children."

Tandra awoke then and Brahmamoy said to her, "Chanchal has not eaten anything today. Will you go and look for him?"

"Certainly, Father. Mother, please give me some sweetmeats. I shall eat some, and the rest I shall give to brother Chanchal. I know where he is. He is at his student club. If he does not want to come back I shall tempt him with the sweets. You know that he is a greedy boy."

"Again you are insulting your brother. This time he will literally kill you."

"Mother, I am sure that by this time he has become calm and quiet. All his anger has gone away. He will carry me back on his shoulders. I shall not call him greedy, but I will tell him that he is far better than our eldest brother. Every time I tell him this, he places me right on his head and starts dancing."

"Look at the intelligence of this little girl!" said Brahmamoy.

All of a sudden Vidyut ran in screaming, "Our eldest brother has broken his arm. Chanchal-da and a few other boys have taken him to the hospital!"

At this Bharati Devi became completely hysterical. "My Prashanta has brokeh his arm! When am I going to die?" she moaned.

When he had calmed his wife a little, Brahmamoy immediately left for the hospital, taking her and Tandra with him. Bharati did not forget to bring some food for Chanchal.

Meanwhile, Vidyut went out to play again.