It all started with a phone call.
Pankaja’s shiny new red rotary telephone was the envy of the star struck villagers within her community. The only other telephone was in the village post office with the postmaster lording over its access to the community at large. Ambu mami had, of course, been the first to receive the news, of the pride of Pankaja’s household, as it was being installed and had been granted unrestricted access by a glowing Pankaja.
The sound of the ringing phone brought a warm smile to Pankaja’s lips. Expecting to hear her husband on the other side of the call, Pankaja was horrified to hear a sinister donkey’s bray at the other end before the call disconnected. Worried, she waited awhile beside the instrument, wondering if there would be another call explaining the strange occurence.
When the call did occur after two hours, the same mystifying donkey’s bray sent a shiver of shock across Pankaja’s spine. The third call, an hour later silenced her radio. The eerie silence of the house broken only by the ticking of the grandfather clock further unsettled Pankaja. She broke out of her reverie when she saw Ambu mami crossing her koodam.
“Hi Ambu mami. I was thinking of coming over next door to meet you just now.”
Chatty to a fault and living up to her reputation as the biggest gossip girl of the village, Pankaja, often found solace and exhilaration in turns, during her frequent visits to Ambujam’s house next door. Pankaja’s little gossip tales had sometimes proven invaluable to Ambujam’s sleuthing and in cementing her village amateur detective image.
Ambujam noted the worry lines in her face before replying.
“I came over to use your phone but I can see that you are chewing on some issue. Tell me what it is.”
“You are welcome of course, to use the telephone, Ambu mami. But it is the telephone, that gave me a shock just now.”
“Is it? I thought the telephone didn’t run on electricity. One has to be careful with these electric devices. All these new fangled technology may not be always good for your health, you know.”
“Oh, of course, it doesn’t run on electricity. I just meant I got a puzzling phone call.’
“I see, who spoke?”
“That’s the thing. No one spoke. I could only hear a donkey braying on the other end. It was slightly eerie. How can such a thing happen? Most villagers don’t know how to use a phone, let alone a donkey.”
“Don’t be silly, Pankaja. Of course, donkeys can’t use telephones.”
“Then, how do you explain the call?”
“I can’t, right now. Give me some time to think about this.”
By the time of Ambujam’s evening stroll around the main street, the entire village was agog with activity.
“Did you hear about Pankaja’s………”
“Is it true that the telephone…..”
“Can it be ghostly in origin…”
“The curse of the forbears is what I think….”
Ambujam met a dejected Pankaja mid way through her stroll. An incurable gossip herself, Pankaja found the experience of being the subject of the latest village buzz, weary. She brightened up when she saw Ambujam. Pankaja’s earlier encounters with Ambujam had left her with a great respect for Ambujam’s skills as the chief problem solver of their village.
Ambujam answered the unasked question lingering in Pankaja’s glance.
“I know who did this, of course. Come with me.”
Ambujam determined entrance into the post office with Pankaja had the curious villagers thronging its entrance. The post master looked up.
“Yes, Ambu mami. How can I help you? Another call to your nephew, Vedantham? Please feel free to use the phone.”
Ambujam looked at him sternly before replying.
“I know everything. Don’t you owe an apology to Pankaja?”
A crimson faced post master stared at her in shock.
“How did you…..”
“Well, are you going to apologize or not? We can’t keep waiting the whole day.”
The post master shamefacedly mumbled an apology to a puzzled Pankaja before hurrying out.
Cheta’s tea shop did a roaring business that night.
“Of course, it was child’s play to Ambu mami. We all have been annoyed at some time or the other by Pankaja but frightening that poor girl by a donkey’s bray was not at all appropriate of the postmaster. We expected better behavioural standards from a government employee.”
“Are you sure it was the postmaster who did it?”
“Of course. Ambu mami is NEVER wrong. And the postmaster apologised.”
“Thank god for Ambu mami. She is a village treasure.”
The postmaster was dejectedly talking to the washerman.
“Smuggling your donkey in the post office during lunch hours, terrorising Pankaja as pay back for her quarrel with you over the little matter of her silk saree and for lessening my importance in this village with her shiny new telephone…… It was all futile. Ambu mami has found us out and shamed me into apologizing in front of the whole village. We forgot to consider her in our plans.”
Meanwhile at Pankaja’s house…………………….
Ambujam and Pankaja were contentedly enjoying each other’s company over a cup of their favourite kaapi.
“How did you find out it was the postmaster who made the call, Ambu mami?”
“It wasn’t him, Pankaja.”
“But, but…. You accused him. He apologized to me in front of the entire village. I thought he tried to terrify me because he was jealous of my new telephone and the status it had conferred on me in the village.”
“I made him apologise because he was careless in leaving the post office unattended.”
“Then who made the call?”
“The washerman, of course. He has been torturing his donkeys with over load for ages. I saw his male donkey bite him in the leg a few days ago. Now the poor man is afflicted with a donkey’s bray from time to time. I have no doubt that he was trying to call you for help as the only other person in the village with a telephone.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say so earlier? We should ask his wife to take him to the town hospital then.”
“I have already spoken to his wife. I didn’t want to accuse the poor man in front of the whole village, you know. It would hurt his profession. His wife has already taken him to the town hospital by the last bus without informing him why. He thinks he is accompanying her for treating her whooping cough.”
“Is there a treatment for this?”
“Who knows? But medical science is wonderful these days. I instructed her to not bring him back until his malady is cured. His son will be doing the washerman rounds from tomorrow.”
Read the earlier Ambu mami episodes in the below links: