Ambu mami has a birthday present!

Pankaja paced the kollai (backyard) restlessly. Ambujam’s nephew, Vendantham peered over the hedge separating his house with Pankaja’s house and ventured a nervous question.

“Errr, Pankaja mami, why are you walking up and down? Everything alright?”

“Yes, yes. I am just thinking about your aunt.”

“What about her?”

“Her birthday is coming soon. I want to get a great birthday present for her.”

“But, but…. she stopped celebrating her birthdays ever since mama passed away. That is why I spend my vacation with her especially close to her birthday.”

“Let’s see about that.”

********************************************************************************

Ambujam was sprinkling water in the entrance to her house when Cheta came running towards her. She was surprised as it was the early mornings and early evenings that were the busiest times in Cheta’s tea shop.

She stopped what she was doing and looked up expectantly as Cheta clutched his side panting.

“What ho, Cheta? Why did you leave the shop at this time?”

“Something has happened, Ambu mami. You need to come right away.”

Puzzled but used to strange summons from her village folk in solving mysteries big and small, she followed Cheta but not before a shout to Vedantham to milk the cow.

Cheta parted a small crowd in front of his shop as he led Ambujam forward. He went inside the shop and retrieved a small gift wrapped box from his assistant.

“Open it, Ambu mami.”

Ambujam opened the box to the breathless anticipation of the gathering around her.

The box revealed a pair of reading glasses, a gentleman’s handkerchief stained in red liquid, a lock of long black hair and a sparkly necklace that shimmered even in the early morning light.

Cheta couldn’t help whispering in hushed tones.

“Is that blood, Ambu mami? This box was left in the entrance to my shop before I opened it today. Why leave the necklace though? Is it all diamond?”

“Did you inform the village P.C, Cheta?”

“I am right here, Ambu mami. No harm in, errr, you taking a look.” muttered a sheepish P.C

“You take the box with you, Ambu mami. Do you think the necklace is cursed? Who would leave it here and why? That hair and blood reminds me of that witch we chased out of our village long ago.”

The P.C nodded eagerly as Ambu mami lifted the box again and started to walk away.

***********************************************************************************************

Ambujam was in a ponderous mood as she walked towards her house. Placing the box in her backyard alcove, she sank into deep thought. The smell of filter kaapi and a smiling Vedantham shook her reverie.

“Here you go, mami. I made your kaapi just the way you like it.”

Ambujam frowned at him.

She turned and hollered at the kollai cleaning Pankaja.

“Come in here, Pankaja.”

Nonplussed, Pankaja came and stood shooting dubious glances at Vedantham.

“What have you two been upto? Do you think you can fool me this way?”

Pankaja and Vedantham shot shellshocked looks at each other before confessing.

“How did you know it was us?”

“It wasn’t meant to offend, just for fun. It was meant to be a birthday present.”

“Enough” bellowed an irate Ambujam.

“Pankaja, you will go to the temple today and do the purification ritual. Take Vedantham also with you.”

“But, but…. “

“No buts, do as I say.”

Pankaja and Vedantham shied away to their tasks after nodding furiously.

Later……..

“Truly Pankaja mami, Ambu mami is a genius. How did she know it was us? Not even the P.C knew.”

“Because she is Ambu mami. I thought this would be a nice birthday present for her. Solving a mystery. But she is so smart she found out within minutes.”

“But why the purification ritual?”

“Because we cut the lock of hair and used sheep blood. We are unclean in the agraharam.”

Ah

***********************************************************************************************

Cheta stopped Ambu mami on her way to the temple.

“How did you find it, Ambu mami? I heard you made Pankaja mami and Vedantham do a purification ritual too. By the way, why did they do it?”

“I will tell you, Cheta. But you mustn’t repeat this to anyone else. My poor boy. Poor, poor Pankaja.”

“Of course, mami. I give you my word.”

“I had my suspicions when I saw Pankaja pacing furiously a few days back. All the more so, when Vedantham leaped over the hedge with a frown. He was always such a gentle boy.”

“What happened?”

“That old witch Jara, of course. I saw her creeping away in the middle of the night just the day before Pankaja started her pacing.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Don’t you? Even after seeing the blood stained kerchief and the hair?”

“No.”

“The hair was clipped from Pankaja’s head of course. I would recognise the kerchief anywhere. It was a part of the set I bought for Vedantham.”

“What about the glasses and the necklace?”

“The glasses were an old pair of Pankaja’s husband. Pankaja got this fake jewellery when she went to the town a few months ago. She never showed it to me but I saw her showing it to Chombu paati then.”

“But…. but…. what does Jara has to do with this?”

“She did voodoo on them, of course, using these items. It was payback for chasing her out of the village. Do you remember? Pankaja’s husband and I rallied the rest of the village to chase her away.

To revenge herself against Pankaja’s husband and me, she let loose possessive demons against my poor boy and Pankaja. If it wasn’t obvious earlier, both the possessed Vedantham and Pankaja confirmed it. They muttered that it was a birthday gift for me.

It was, of course, the malicious Jara speaking through them.”

But…. but…. why did she leave those articles in front of Cheta’s shop and alert us to her deed?

“To tweak our nose, of course. She must have thought we aren’t smart enough to find her nefarious plans. I already sent the town inspector behind her this afternoon. Too bad, she had already escaped before then. “

***********************************************************************************************

Jara was on the run. How she wished she hadn’t locked horns with that Ambu mami all those months ago. Now, she had the police chasing her.

Too bad. That Ambu mami had seen her plucking marijuana in the dead of the night, no doubt.

It had been such a lucrative business for Jara. Shame it had to come to an end.

THE END

*****

Read the earlier Ambu mami episodes in the below links:

Story 4

Story 3

Story 2

Story 1

Credits: Illustration by Deepa Krishnamurthy

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