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Little Devil

November 2007
Little Devil

I looked at my friend's son playing with a stuffed green monkey, sitting in a quiet corner of the room, and I told myself, ‘I must have been possessed by the devil.' The boy's calmness made me recoil at the fiendish days of my own childhood.

Whenever I visit India it is not by chance that I confront this beast of a lady who stays in the first floor of my apartment complex. She continues to claim that her parrot died because of the firecracker that I planted twenty years ago in front of her door. I don't believe she ever had a parrot although I accept the accusation that I rang her doorbell just before lighting the cracker.

It is with remorse and incredulity that I recall those vicious—childhood—acts of mine. Coming back to firecrackers, we used to buy those rockets that went straight up in the air and exploded, lighting up the night sky in their trails. They had this long wooden tail that was used to anchor the rockets in an upright position in a container of some sort—a bottle in our case. My demonic mind found this too boring, a waste of time and rockets. The maximum ecstasy and value for money could be extracted only when the rocket flew unhindered into someone's balcony or towards a speeding car. We had found ingenious ways of directing the rocket and converting it into a tailed monster. I inserted it into one end of a hollow bamboo stick and, as another guy aimed the stick at an unsuspecting target, I lit the deadly rocket that sputtered and staggered before bolting from the bamboo. Thanks to our lack of aiming skills, our dads didn't have to face the furious judge in court.

During the Holi festival, we used to fill water in balloons and fling them, ceremoniously, at each other. I don't know how this ritual was initiated but I'm sure it started off in an innocent harmless manner. They didn't realize that several decades later this festival would present us, little devils, the rare opportunity, to hound and drench all those folks who dared to control us: that funny-nosed lady who refused to let us play cricket in front of her flat although we replaced her broken windows—well, most of the time; that pot-bellied gentleman who denied us middle school donations even though we had apologized for flattening his car tire; that old ogre who climbed three floors to whine and wail to my mother, ignoring the truth that it was only for the first time that I had pelted his dog with smelly tomatoes.

I know my parents, and have spent enough time in some of my friends' households to feel clueless about how this streak of unhinged sadism crept into us. We laughed at cringing faces, giggled at limping feet, chuckled at people who slipped on banana skins, and guffawed at stories of unsuspecting folks falling into open gutters. As the list of shenanigans grows in my recounting mind, I feel more sympathetic of my tormented neighbor's charge that I wasn't my parents' son at all.

I walked towards the little boy playing with the stuffed monkey and patted the kid on his back. He was a little surprised to see me, and I quickly saw why. He had afflicted a gaping hole in the belly of the monkey and stuffed it with macaroni and cheese. The shocked owner of the monkey, who noticed the terrible crater in her property, burst out crying while the boy giggled uncontrollably. Mild commotion ensued followed by coaxing, cajoling, and reprimand.

In the midst of all this hurly-burly and my own jarring memories about childhood, I heard someone say something delightfully sweet and welcome. "That's okay. It's just the age."

Hurriedly, I agreed with the remark, pushed away my thoughts and lifted the crippled monkey. The censuring father of the boy probably didn't relate to my nodding smile as I stuck my hand in the hole and extracted the macaroni. And a nipple. And a half-eaten gummy bear.���

[Ajay Vishwanathan is a microbiologist at Emory University. He is passionate about writing, for which he has won several awards.]

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