Ambu Mami was missing Pankaja.
The chatterbox of her neighbour had gone to her parents’ house for a visit and the preceding week had been boring for Ambujam sans the gossip and noise that Pankaja usually brought in her wake. Pankaja, also helpfully, did Ambujam’s weekly grocery shopping in the town market on Sundays. With her missing in action, this was the first weekend in the year when Ambujam went shopping. She was in a hurry to catch the 10:30 bus and barely nodded to Chettiyar and Panchu as she passed them in a rush. The bus was just slowly starting to move away when the driver noticed Ambu mami’s red face and idled the motor, waiting for her to board, which she did.
Sitting by a window seat, Ambujam’s panting slowly receded while she began to enjoy the light, cool breeze on her face. Sadagoppan, the conductor of the bus came up to deliver the ticket.
“What ho, Mami. Going to the market, huh? Don’t see you much these days.”
“Yes. Usually Pankaja does my shopping but she is out of town right now.”
‘Ah, yes, I wondered why didn’t make the bus last week as well. She is usually so regular. Well, enjoy your shopping.”
Ambujam flitted between shops in the market purchasing from her list until her shopping bag was full. She then made her way to the house of Lacchu, her childhood friend for a stopover and a chitchat until she could catch the next bus at 4:30 PM. She was just reliving some of their mutual school escapades as she was entering when she suddenly stopped in her tracks. Lacchu was sitting right in the middle of the koodam with her heads between her palms. Lacchu’s grown up son Pitchu was standing helplessly close by.
“What’s all this?”
Pitchu seemed relieved to see her.
“So good to see you Ambu mami, especially right now.”
“Why, what happened?”
“It’s our cow.”
“You see, Nadar, has recently built a new big house a few streets away. It supposedly has all the modern amenities, including, a toilet!”
“Ok, how does that concern you?”
“Today was his Grihapravesham function in the morning. The pujari marked off today as the last auspicious day for the house-warming consistent with the stars in Nadar and his wife’s horoscopes failing which he has to wait for 6 months to conduct the ceremony again. Everything was going according to the plan until the part where the cow and her calf enter the new house to finish the rituals. Our cow, Usha and her calf Meena were supposed to participate and Nadar paid us generously so that the function may be completed without a hitch.”
“Ok, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that Usha started bellowing from the moment we brought her to the entrance to the house and flat out refused to enter. She threw off the halter and ran away in panic along with her calf and we don’t know where she is right now. Worse yet, all the invitees to the event are now saying that the new house house is haunted or cursed as Usha refused to enter it. Nadar is furious at us for spoiling the ceremony and we have lost our cow and calf. Usha is usually an extremely placid and calm animal, as is her calf. We don’t know what came over her today.”
“Oh, that’s too bad but I am sure she will be wandering somewhere close by. I am sure either you or any of your neighbours will come across her soon.”
“No, that’s the problem.
Along with Nadar’s rage.
There have been 4 search parties so far to search for Usha and her calf. I led them myself along with my friends and neighbours. Usha is nowhere to be found. Nadar can be pacified if we find Usha before dusk today, as we can try another attempt at making her enter the house to complete the ceremony. Can you help us? We have of course, heard tales of your smartness in solving many of your village’s little mysteries.”
“Sure, I have some time to spare. Take me to Nadar’s house first.”
Lacchu looked up hopefully for the first time.
“Oh, thank you so much Ambu.”
Ambujam patted her tear streaked face and followed Pitchu.
Ambujam carefully inspected the steps leading to Nadar’s house before entering the house to the gasps of the onlookers.
“No, don’t go there. The house is haunted.”
Pitchu fearfully hung back at the entrance even as he crossed his fingers for Ambu mami to get at the mystery.
Ambujam slowly came out of the house shaking her head.
She beckoned to Pitchu.
“Come, I know where your cow is.”
Ambujam led Pitchu in a meandering, criss crossing trail, until they were standing near a huge Aala maram (banyan tree). The tree seemed a forest unto itself. Cuckoos, crows and parrots flitted busily among its branches while a red fox slunk away at their approach.
Pitchu looked expectantly at Ambu Mami.
“Go around the Banyan tree to the other side and check.”
Sure enough, when Pitchu went there, he found Usha and her calf relaxing in the shade of the huge tree. With a great heave at her halter, Pitchu managed to coax the reluctant cow and the calf into a slow trot.
A great wave of cheering erupted at the approach of Pitchu and Ambu mami along with the cow and the calf. Nadar eagerly came forward along with his wife, all animosity forgotten.
Pitchu finally made Usha and her calf enter the house and received a generous sum of money from a relieved Nadar at the successful completion of the ceremony.
A gratuitous Lacchu was awaiting the approach of Ambujam and Pitchu at the entrance of her house. She happily erupted as they drew near.
“Thank you, thank you so much Ambu. Our standing in the village would have taken a beating if you haven’t helped us.”
Ambujam patted Lacchu’s shoulder before responding.
“Can you give me a cup of kaapi? I have to leave soon to catch my bus.”
A relieved Lacchu and Pitchu were discussing the events of the day.
“How did Ambu do it, Pitchu? It seems supernatural, they way she found the cow.”
“Nadar whispered to us while Ambu mami was inside the house that he had heard a lot about her tracking skills as a detective. He even knew why Usha had run away. He said his idiot priests had been sprinkling tamarind powder around the house to fend off evil spirits when I was coming up to the entrance with Usha. He was sure Usha had got an eyeful of turmeric before she fled away in panic.
He was very annoyed with the supernatural rumours that were going around.
He said he was sure Ambu Mami would find enough clues in and around the house such as hoof prints and others that we mayn’t even know of, to find the cow. Sure enough, that’s exactly what she did.”
“Oh, I am so glad she chose today to visit.”
Sadagoppan, the bus conductor and the bus driver were eagerly awaiting her arrival.
The bus driver reluctantly went to his seat at 4:30 PM while Sadagoppan lingered by.
He spoke to Ambujam in a reverential whisper.
“How did you do it, Ambu Mami? The entire district knows of your miraculous feat now.”
Ambujam rolled her eyes before replying in a whisper.
“Ok, I’ll tell you but you mustn’t repeat this to anyone else. Otherwise, Nadar, the poor man will suffer.”
When Sadagoppan eagerly nodded, she continued.
“You see, I deduced that Nadar’s house was haunted by an angry ghost the minute I heard that Usha refused to enter the house. Further, I knew that a twenty year old girl had mysteriously died on the very land Nadar’s house is built on, twenty years ago, when she was grazing her cows. I had no doubt that she would have possessed the poor Usha cow to drag her to the banyan tree so that she could escape to her favourite hang out. Everyone knows that all ghosts like to hang out on banyan trees.”
“Wow, Ambu mami. That was amazing.”
“You mustn’t repeat this, you know. Otherwise no one would visit poor Nadar in his new house if word got out that his house was previously possessed by a vengeful spirit.”
“Of course, Ambu mami. Not a word.”
Read the earlier Ambu mami episodes in the below links: