“Come September” was the favourite number of Gopalan. He was not a connoisseur of music but the month of September was significant to him. He played host to the students of Centre for Excellence in Ameerpet, Hyderabad, which prepared students for NEET examinations long term coaching. The students preferred Gopalan’s residence as it was close to the study centre.
Gopalan always welcomed fresh batches as it meant the jingling of coins in his pocket, but the last September was hard for him, as he had to play host to four naughty boys, Nag, Vineeth, Sandeep and Rakesh.
On the very first day itself, the boys had a taste of his attitude when Lakshmi, Gopalan’s wife, asked the boys to have a second helping of cream meringue.
Gopalan said, “Oh, no, dear boys, don’t get me wrong. Cream meringue is just fine but I think of fatty acids.”
Rakesh looked at Sandeep and winked.
For the next several days, the main dish on the menu was spinach grown in the kitchen garden of the house.
“We had enough of it. Gopalan always forgets something or the other but strangely, he never forgets to ask his wife to include spinach on the menu. Let’s move to some other place,” Nag said.
“No, this is very close to our study centre. We will not lose that advantage,” Sandeep said.
“Yes, we should stay put and teach him a lesson,” Rakesh said.
Vineeth said, “Friends, we can’t hurt Lakshmi. She is innocent and she is trying to help us.”
Cutting into the conversation, Nag said, “Did you get a snack or two from her during our absence? How about their daughter, Varsha? Do you think we can hurt her?”
“Last night I had a dream,” Nag said. “I saw a middle-aged man, a middle- aged woman and a beautiful ….”
“Beautiful what?” Rakesh questioned.
“It was the living room of a house. The man sitting there was of medium height, dark-complexioned and his head were bald. He was counting money repeatedly and was looking into the distance. Probably he was trying to recollect something. The woman who stood beside him with wide-opened eyes was a bit impatient and worried. A beautiful young woman, holding a recipe book, was sitting opposite them. Four schoolboys were standing at the entrance of the house anxiously looking at the man,” Nag said.
“Oh, Nag, I’ll tell the remaining part of the dream. The boy… Nag was nervous and was biting his nails. Rakesh was wiping his eyeglasses. Vineeth was trying to solve some equations on the tab held in his hand. Sandeep was scratching his head,” Rakesh said.
“Friends, be serious and think of a plan,” Sandeep said.
The next day while all the members of the family were still asleep, the boys emptied salt packets near the base of the spinach plant, watered it and eagerly waited for its death.
One afternoon while having lunch, the boys found out that for the first time after several weeks, spinach soup was not on the menu. After lunch, the boys saw Gopalan with a grave face standing near the spinach plant, which had withered away. The boys went there and bent their heads with mournful looks on their faces.
“What are you doing?”
“We want to observe silence for two minutes. This plant served us faithfully for several days,” the boys said in chorus.
Gopalan looked at them scornfully and left the place.
One evening Varsha prepared Danish pastries. She wanted to send the recipe to a contest. As Gopalan and Lakshmi were tired of her experiments, they parried her questions about the taste of the pastries. Hoping that the boys would come to her rescue, she turned towards their room. Her dog Robin too followed her.
When she knocked at the door, saying “May I come in?” Nag sensed danger and jumped into the bathroom. Sandeep and Rakesh too followed him. Vineeth who was busy solving some equations didn’t get the clue. He became her victim. He had to accept the pastry.
“You are a good pastry cook,” he said and tried to break a small piece out of it. As he handled it reluctantly, a large portion of it fell down on the floor. The dog Robin smelt and moved away without eating it. Nag, Sandeep and Rakesh who were hiding in the bathroom slightly opened the door and burst into laughter.
As the examinations were approaching, the boys became busy with their studies. A few weeks before the examinations, Vineeth complained of double vision. The eye specialist said, “In medical terms, we call it diplopia. It is due to convergence insufficiency. You have to visit this clinic for vision therapy five days a week and you have to do some exercises at home. Don’t strain your eyes too much; you may hurt them more.”
The next morning while having breakfast Gopalan said, “Vineeth, I discussed your problem with Varsha. I think that she can be of some help to you.”
Varsha said, “Yes, Vineeth, your eyes need rest but you can listen to your lessons. I’ll read them aloud. I have a science background and I can certainly help you with your studies.”
Vineeth said, “It is a good idea but we spend several hours everyday reading, and you know…”
“I understand, Vineeth. I can spare my time. This is my gap year,” Varsha said.
For the first time, Vineeth thanked his host Gopalan and Varsha profusely.
Later, in the study, Nag said,” This is unexpected from our miserly host and his daughter.”
Sandeep said, “I was under the impression that he has no concern for our welfare or studies.”
“I wonder whether we have understood our host properly all these days,” Rakesh said.
“Today I discovered another facet in our host and his daughter. He is mean in money matters but somewhere in his heart lays humanity.”