The cliché is old. It has been in use in rural and urban slang alike for long, making a powerful punch in an argument among children. Sometime back, actor Rishi Kapoor used it with regard to the naming of public monuments after the Gandhis. He blurted it out, mistaking real life for reel. It did not behove his public image. The only other phrase that can compete with this is the dialogue from the film Sholay, ‘Tera kya hoga, Kaliya?’
I recall an incident from the sixties. We, a group of five students, used to trudge 5 km from our village to a high school at Sundernagar. During summer, the school opened at 8 am and closed at 2.30 pm. We carried no lunch. The walk back home and hunger fatigued us. So, we used to freshen ourselves by drinking cool water from a roadside baoli and sprinkling water on our head. A cucumber field that lay ahead of the baoli was a great allurement to us. A fearsome, moustachioed watchman wielding a lathi used to guard it tenaciously, but we were clever enough to steal cucumbers whenever we found him taking a nap under a willow tree. The task of stealing the cucumbers was usually assigned to Lochi because he was taller, had an athletic body, could jump over the thorny fence with ease and also run faster. On a day of one such ‘operation’, Lochi handed his bag to me, jumped over the fence, landing himself noiselessly in the middle of the fields, and started plucking the tender cucumbers. He threw them one by one towards us. We sat crouched behind the shrubbery fence, unseen from the other side. Lochi’s ‘throws’ and our ‘catches’ were so perfect that the act could shame the best of cricket fielders. But luck was not on his side that day. He was caught by the watchman by his collar. Lochi was stronger and gutsy. He jerked himself away from the watchman’s clutches and stood askance without a trace of fear. Twirling his moustache, the watchman thundered: ‘What are you doing here? Baap ka maal samajh rakha hai?’
‘Don’t drag my father’s name in here. I am looking for a rubber ball that sprang into this side by mistake,’ the excuse was astonishingly spontaneous. ‘Were you not plucking cucumbers?’ ‘Why should I? I have plenty of such vegetables in my own farm. Search me if you want,’ Lochi dared. The credulous watchman made a body-search and found nothing. The booty was with us. We were hearing with rapt attention. Finally, we heard Lochi say, ‘Chacha, may I ask you one thing? Kya ye khet aapke baap ka maal hai?’ stretching every word aloud for our benefit. After this verbal punch, he jumped over the fence and ran fast. We burst into peals of laughter and could hide ourselves no more. We took to our heels. From a distance, we saw the watchman looking at us, cheated. We laughed our way home, enjoying the booty that cooled us on that hot summer day.
Later in life, Lochi became a fine Army officer. Alas, he is no more with us to read this story.
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