I was ten years old. My grandmother sat on the string bed, under the mango tree. It was late summer and there were sunflowers in the garden and a warm wind in the trees. My grandmother was knitting a woollen scarf for the winter months. She was very old, dressed in a plain white sari; her eyes were not very strong now, but her fingers moved quickly with the needles, and the needles kept clicking all afternoon. Grandmother had white hair, but there were very few
wrinkles on her skin. I had come home after playing cricket on the maidan. I had taken my meal, and now I was rummaging in a box of old books and family heirlooms that had just been brought out of the attic by my mother. Nothing in the box interested me very much, except for a book with colourful pictures of birds and butterflies. I was going through the book, looking at the pictures, when I found a small photograph between the pages. It was a faded picture, a little yellow and foggy; it was a picture of a girl standing against a wall, and behind the wall there was nothing but sky; but from the other side a pair of hands reached up, as though someone was going to climb the wall. There were flowers growing near the girl, but I couldn’t tell
what they were; there was a creeper too, but it was just a creeper. I ran out into the garden ‘Granny!’ I shouted. ‘Look at this picture! I found it in the box of old things. Whose picture is it?’ I jumped on the bed beside my grandmother, and she walloped me on the bottom and said, “Now I’ve lost count of my stitches, and the next time you do that I’ll make
you finish the scarf yourself.” Granny was always threatening to teach me how to knit, which I thought was a disgraceful thing for a boy to do; it was a good deterrent for keeping me out of mischief. Once I had torn the drawing room curtains, and Granny had put a needle and thread in my hand and made me stitch the curtain together, even though I made long, two-inch stitches, which had to be taken out by my mother and done again..
She took the photograph from my hand, and we both stared at it for quite a long time. The girl had long, loose hair, and she wore a long dress that nearly covered her ankles, and sleeves that reached her wrists, and there were a lot of bangles on her hands; but, despite all this drapery, the girl appeared to be full of freedom and movement; she stood with her legs apart and her hands on her hips, and she had a wide, almost devilish smile on her face. ‘Whose picture is it?’ I asked.
A little girl’s, of course, said Grandmother. ‘Can’t you tell? “Yes, but did you know the
girl? “Yes, I knew her, said granny, but she was a very wicked girl and I shouldn’t tell you about her. But I’ll tell you about the photograph. It was taken in your grandfather’s house, about sixty years ago and that’s the garden wall, and on the other side of the wall there was a road going to town.”
Whose hands are they, I asked, ‘coming up from the other side?” Grandmother squinted and looked closely at the picture, and shook her head. ‘It’s the first time I’ve noticed,’ she said. “That must have been the sweeper boy’s. Or may be they were your grandfather’s.” “They don’t look like grandfather’s hands,’ I said. “His hands are all bony.”
Yes, but this was sixty years ago.
‘Didn’t he climb up the wall, after the photo?” “No, nobody climbed up. At least, I don’t remember.
And you remember well, Granny. Come on, Granny,’ I said, ‘tell me, tell me.”
But Grandmother shook her head and carried on with the knitting: I held the photograph in my hand looking from it to my grandmother and back again, trying to find points in common between the old lady and the little pig-tailed girl. A lemon coloured butterfly settled on the end of Grandmother’s knitting needle, and
stayed there while the needles clicked away. I made a grab at the butterfly, and it flew off in a dipping flight and settled on a sunflower. I wonder whose hands they were.” whispered Grandmother to herself, with her head bowed, and her needles clicking away in the soft warm silence of that summer afternoon.
Answer the following questions:
1. What was the boy doing after taking his meal?
2. How was the photograph?
3. Who was in the photograph?
4. How can you say that the photograph was colourful?
5. Did the boy know who was in the photograph?