Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
Neither did I relish the idea of making a fool of someone nor did I appreciate people who tried to do the same with me. So, the very mention of April fool’s day made me anxious and angry. Even as a kid I have wondered why is there this day that entitles people to fool others without understanding if the person at the other end is really enjoying this foolery. Also, I noticed the intensity of practical jokes and hoaxes increased year after year, in all places. Not all enjoyed childish japes. Some kids laughed, some cried and many excelled in the art. Come March 31st, I was wary about not being pranked by particular persons and I felt great about the control I exercised over myself into not giving in. Yes, I couldn’t bring myself to laugh over a handful of silly boys calling me a fool, be it January, February, March or April. To me, the only girl kid in the household, each one of them who tried to pull my leg looked like a desperate fool whose attempts appeared to be water on a duck’s back. As I grew up, their strategies to fool me grew nastier. Thinking back I’m certain nobody succeeded in cheating me for three reasons
I was stubborn
I never trusted anybody readily
I mastered the subtle art of giving a damn
Knowing my love for my turtle Peek-a-Boo, they tried making me believe that one of them saw him being thrown into our well. I stayed calm watching their facial expressions because I knew Peek-a-Boo is after all a turtle. Once in six months our water well was cleaned of slit mud sediment by that ‘long man’ whose name I wasn’t capable of pronouncing. I called him so because he was lean and lanky with long limbs. Long man was the one would often take out Peek-a-Boo months after I throw him into our well just to hear the ‘SPLASHHHHH’. It was ridiculous to see one of the pranksters tailing me around to see if I ever went near our water well. To tolerate duffers was no fun for me. All that went through my mind was that they didn’t know the difference between a tortoise and a turtle. My love for animals, especially my pets is no secret. The manner in which they told me that my goat Zoe got entangled in the rope flustered me. My heart was in my mouth. They even made Zoe bleat. But I smirked. Zoe being my fondest pet for more than ten months, I could differentiate between snort-bleats, loud bleats and screams. My trained ears baffled the jokesters.
Fruit bearing trees were aplenty around our house. Jackfruits and mangoes were my favourite. Therefore, I kept a rough count of them. Sometimes I was patient enough to wait for them to ripen on the tree, other times I nagged our gardener Chinnamani annan to pick the matured yet not quite ripe ones. I felt sad to see fruits on the ground, pecked or smashed. Many knew it due to the fuss I made over a pecked fruit. Hence they told me, in a hushed tone, that the biggest Jackfruit had gone missing over night or another one had fallen down or few mangoes had been pecked or there were children armed with bags on my mud apple tree. Those who visited me only during holidays and on April 1st if it happened to be a holiday had the faintest idea of my relationship with kids in my neighbourhood. Most of them were poor, lived in huts along the channel that flowed behind my house. Mayaki Paati, our helper had complaints of those kids trespassing until I made friends with them, unintentionally, much to her disapproval. She would always tell me in a bitter tone ‘I’ll tell your parents, they are different people, they have contagious rashes’. Since she never gave me the keys to the gate, whenever possible I would manage to climb up on the compound wall and sit there for hours. That’s how I learnt that those kids were no different except for the clothes they wore and school they went to. Exchanging smiles and pleasantries led to sharing goodies and fruits too. Mostly, they were at the receiving end. Somewhere between giving and receiving, a bond was established between us on the foundation of trust. As you guess, I never rushed to check on my fruits. Under no circumstances I lifted a finger.
Older cousins would tell me that my chosen phonograph records which were also my dad’s collection would make cool Frisbees and tip toed towards them. I didn’t give a hoot as they knew my father better. When they saw my father, they got in line, stood aside and bowed to him, in their mind. My father was a warm host who also re-examined his way of ensuring authority over spoilt brats. Most of it, they deserved.
As much as I’m a talker I’m an attentive listener too. In actuality, I paid close attention to whatever that was said or discussed about my favourite things which also included trees, birds, animals, fruits, flowers, food, rain, rainbow and music. Accordingly, I was sure of five things.
Pranksters haven’t seen our bird feeder and bird bath
Jackfruits ripen only after 2 months
Birds don’t peck on raw mangoes
Apathetic people cannot observe bagged fruits
My friends don’t steal
The whole day, in the process of trying to fool me, the frustrated trickers were actually fooling and disappointing themselves. Understandably, I was having a whale of a time. Two of them assumed I did not understand Hindi. Language in cahoots failed them. I learnt a few best lessons on my own at an early age. That is to treat others and handle their things with care. I ought to treat kids smaller and weaker than me with more love. It is more important to be extra sensitive to less fortunate people. Any fun is considered fun only when all the people involved are enjoying it, even if it’s April fools day. If we wish to joke we should joke about ourselves and never about another person’s shortcomings or weakness. Every day business began and ended with these simple precepts.
Once when my cousins ran in and out of my house calling out to their parents and aunts telling them that they saw too many insects all over our marigolds, I lost my composure. It was another April 1st. Just when I stood up, one of them stopped to look at me. I’m still thankful to that dimwit for giving me the clue. Marigolds are my favourite because of the butterflies and birds in the bushes. Their stunts made me feel like a celebrity for they had done their homework. Repeatedly, they proved how dumb they were. They were too lazy to see and know those marigolds were planted in soil mixed with ash to keep away white ants and insects.
Even the precocious mind slips. Another time, these rascals took the help of a few uncles, got dressed and told me they were all going to one of our favourite haunts, a rocky shore named Muttom. Hesitantly I put on my shoes, walked to the front door behind them and a few seconds before they decided to call me an April fool, I sat on my bicycle and pedalled it as fast as I could. All my rage and disappointment had vanished when I stopped pedalling. I turned to look at them and faked a smile. Few looked surprised, few confused, few wondered if I really walked out to ride my bicycle and the most aggressive of all looked shocked as to how astute I was. Yet, within a few seconds, a wistful smile crawled across a few lips. Yes, I slipped but didn’t fall.
Well, over the years they learnt or decided to let me be. May be they admired my effort to dodge all pranks with a certain style, grace. Or they saw me as a strange, egoistic, inflexible, not so cool kid. Unlike many of the kids, I abhorred April fools day when all and sundry tend to tease, pull pranks not always for fun but also to taunt someone for the rest of the year about how foolish he/she was. Surprisingly, I also remained the favourite cousin to many. Today, decades later, my first, second and third cousins, are verbal about how brilliant, sensitive and magical I was, when they teased me and when I beat them hands down, subtly or bluntly.
Dr Elsa Lycias Joel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org