Free Tikkipala by Sara Banerji

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Authors: Sara Banerji
disappeared so utterly. The local people were forever talking of the evil magic that lurked in these jungles. ‘And high up is the place where the great white Tikki, stealer and eater of children, lives,’ the old woman who came up with the milk, had said. The memory of her croaking words made the hairs on the back of Hari’s neck tingle and after that, instead of tiger noises, he thought he heard the Tikki. Pressing his heels into the pony’s side, he urged it on, trying to make it go even faster.
    Everyone was gathered, waiting expectant and hopeful, as Hari arrived at the palace gates on his lathered panting pony, but they let out cries and groans of horror when they saw he was alone. Although the sun was about to set, the Raja ordered everyone to go out and start looking for Anwar at once.
    Sangita started crying when she saw the syce. She had felt so sure, when she heard the sounds of Whitey’s cantering hooves on the road, that this was Anwar returning.
    All that evening and late into the night the people searched and kept on calling. The lower jungle bobbed and sparkled with the light from hurricane lamps. People ran andcalled and shouted and implored, but even by midnight there was no sign of the little prince.
    Then Sangita, half blinded with tears and shaking with despair, went into the palace. Throwing herself before her statue of Ganesh, she lit five whole packets of agarbathi, all at once. Placing them in their golden holder she threw herself onto the ground at the deity’s feet and began to pray. Outside, she could still hear the shouts and calls of the searching people and see the bobbing of their lamps flickering through the trees.
    â€˜I beg you, Lord Ganesh, to send Anwar back and cancel out my early prayer because I did not mean it when I asked for him to be lost so that his father would suffer.’ The statue was almost invisible behind its veil of perfumed smoke. ‘Can you hear me? Are you going to give me my child back?’ After all it was this statue that had caused the child to be taken from her, so it must be able to give Anwar back again. But though she sat there for hours, nothing happened.
    When dawn came and the agarbathis were reduced to little piles of silver ash, Sangita was still begging the statue, ‘Say something. Do something. Give me a sign. Tell me you are going to give me my baby back.’
    Then very slowly the elephant mouth, that made of ivory and gold, opened slightly then closed again as though making a silent request.
    Sangita let out a little scream that was half shock and half hope. ‘Is that a sign?’ she cried. ‘Have you undone my prayer? Is that what it means?’
    The statue became quite still.
    â€˜You are going to send Anwar back, is that what you meant?’ Nothing more happened.
    Sangita had an idea. Calling a servant, she ordered a cup of milk.
    When the man was gone, she held the cup up to the statue’s mouth saying, ‘If you drink it I will know for sure that you are going to give me back my son.’
    Her hands were shaking so much that the milk went slopping all down the gods fat stomach. For a long time she stood, holding the cup against the place where she thought an elephant’s mouth must be, while her heart leapt and hammered in her breast and outside people kept calling, ‘Baby sahib Anwar, baby sahib Anwar.’ She kept on waiting, her eyes on the god’s face, but there came no expression or movement on it. Nothing happened. She began to weep aloud, letting out noisy howls, tears pouring down her face, her nose running as though she was a child. Her arm started to ache from holding the cup for so long at such an awkward angle. Misery and longing had driven her stupid. The ivory face remained perfectly still. The image was, after all, only a carved ivory statue. Then, just as Sangita was about to toss away the milk and run out to join the people looking for her son, gently the

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