“I swing out and in to let you through’, read the small sign in the fairy tale font with its Uppercase glyphs and dingbats.
Bemused, Tara did what she was told and the old creaking gate swung out and in trooped the seven cousins calling out their distracted “byes” to the apprehensive adults who had come to drop them off.
It was said that the new amusement park simply named ‘ Boondocks’ was touted as ‘one of its kind’ and straight from ‘fairy tales’ though the conspicuous lack of detailed information and photographs about the park added to the natural concern that most parents have regarding safety aspects. That was one of the reasons that the park was not filled to its seams as most other amusement parks were. The management of Boondocks seems to rely more on word of mouth advertisement and children who experienced the world within were too enraptured and enthralled to find suitable words to describe their experience.
The man behind the idea and execution was one of those rare individuals who appeared to shy away from the limelight and the fact that he was never interviewed nor life – size billboards were erected to proclaim his fame. In the world of social media, this was indeed something none understood and when something is less understood, there is more suspicion. He was an enigma and it was said that he created this to honour his grandson. It was also said that he had a team of educationists, child psychologist and avid readers and movie enthusiasts in his team and they were kept busy ensuring that this theme park remained relevant.
Parents worried because the world we live in thrive on bad, ugly news and there is a dearth of positive news but the board out there simply announced, don’t let the world that you live in rob children out of their childhood and trust …If you believe in adventure, let your children in through the green gate sans their mobile phones.
It was heard that the owner of this great outdoor experience was the kind of person whose philanthropic side was far larger than that of profit making side and he is supposed to have proclaimed, “The smaller the merrier. Let the lucky children in.”
The last made many children want to be lucky and the lucky seven comprising of sixteen years old, Tara and her sister Riya younger by two years. Rushil who was also sixteen and he along with ‘the more sensible Tara’ were asked to keep an eye on all including the siblings Priyanka and Pritam and a set of twins Atulya and Nitin.
The trees created a canopy of sorts straight out of fairy land. Squirrels abounded, the birds flew from one branch to another creating a ruckus and the whole place resembled a Shire straight out of the Tolkien’s Hobbit land.
Another sign greeted them: I’m like a small house, but no one lives in me. Find me and you can take what you need!
Excited they spoke, discussed, and argued till the youngest and the smallest among them all, squealed loudest, “I know, I know” having espied a tiny shed hidden among bushes.
Making a beeline to the same, they found that the simple door couldn’t be budged despite the combined strength of all… It was a simple enough door and none around them to ask. It was like a world where only these seven lived. Atulya noticed the writing on the sand which read:
Some openings just need finger tips, li’l ones.
Using her fingertips, she ran her hands around the top, bottom and sides and lo, the doors swung open and they were thrown into the world of adventure created by the Enid Blyton’s, and the Rowling’s of the world.
The collected compass, maps, blunt screw drives and a hoe that looked tame. Nitin the boy who loved his food filled his rucksacks with energy bars, juice, chocolates responding to all his laughing cousins, “these are for all of us!”
In the parallel world they found themselves in that afternoon they used tools, read maps, climbed trees, ran, swung and managed to reach to the overhanging ripe mangoes. They were given a choice to wear costumes or sport some outlandish accessories. They had tried Harry potter glasses or superman’s cape. Why they had a parrot sit on Rushil’s shoulder like Jack’s Kiki. They also had Boots follow Priyanka!
Excited and eager for more and chattering nineteen to dozen, it took them many minutes to realize that they were caught in a maze.
They were on a look out for opening that the message stuck at strategic points eluded them until Riya drew their attention to them:
tHe location of the next clue is hidden in this messAge. caN you work out where to look? is there anythinG strange about thIs message? does aNythinG stand out? You must Be Able to Solve the puzzle and looK wherE this clue poinTs!
It was quite some time before they realized that the puzzle could be solved when they took only the capitalized letters and they found the way to the exit from the map that was hidden in the hanging basket!
Through the afternoon, they lived in the world of Harry Porter and ‘Lord of The Rings’ and played a game on the giant sized snakes and ladder in order to go to the other side. They found themselves in the sets straight out of Frozen and had to traverse snow and were asked to collect twigs to make a fire in a designated place. It was fun collecting the same and bundling them. Tired and hungry for they were too excited to eat breakfast when Hobbits left them food on terribly tiny table; Rushil solved an anagram Rete rnukt and found some sandwiches, fruit in a tree trunk. Making a picnic out of the same, they ate on the grass with the enchanting life buzzing around them.
They had the most entertaining day of their life. They climbed boulders; they swung on tyres which created some makeshift swings. They climbed ladders made of ropes and they went in search of treasure dressed as pirate only to come across a clue:
Oh..my pirates , Here is the clue. To find some treasure, you must travel down a stream
Half a mile down the stream they came across another clue etched on a rock:
Measure out the distances carefully. Using steps instead of metres/feet makes it very easy for the hunters, but remember to judge it on the size of the hunters stride length rather than you own!
Treasure hunters are given directions such as three steps to the North, four to the east, ten steps south, which lead to the next clue.
They dug out the place where there was a cross to get themselves some bagful of books!
There were plenty of other sayings too which didn’t need to be solved but gave some insight into the world that was so far away from the life in a city.
I’m full of water, but don’t take a sip. I’m for feathered friends who want a dip.
Alongside that there was a small note on how to create our own bird bath. They filled it with a jug provided and vowed that they too would have one on their balcony.
Subtly through the day things were taught, things were learnt all in the guise of having fun.
And then was a board I’m a comfy spot without a doubt, although it can be tricky to get in and out
And they had the most wonderful nap of all lying on the hammocks under the copse of trees.
The seven of them realized that they were all alone with none to guide them, correct them and advise them or to tell them what to do but they weren’t worried for they were guided by unseen hands, made to observe for signs and made to keep to the paths without being told. That freedom made them even more sensible for they cleared up the wrappers and put them in dustbins. They neatly placed the used costumes in laundry bag and replaced the accessories in assigned places after they finished playing that particular role.
They realized that they were at the exit only when Rushil exclaimed after seeing the clock on top of the sign. It was five in the evening and suddenly he didn’t want to leave the place after all but then his parents would be waiting to pick them up at 5.30. The door led to a room that had the sweet smell of incense and a large picture of the most attractive boy who would be his age stared down at him from the framed picture and just below that was a quote:
Transfixed, the three older kids read while the younger ones were enamored by a giant sized fish tank that occupied the better part of the room and the floor.
A million words would not bring you back, I know because I tried, neither would a million tears, I know because I cried.
A small news report, “a young boy dies after being run over by some inebriated youths.”
A small message was left beside and like everywhere; it left a subtle life message. “Don’t drink and drive. You don’t know how many tears will be shed because of you.”
Rushil blinked back tears while Tara wept openly as they continued reading: This place is a labour of love. In the words of George Eliot, It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.
To the old man sitting at the exit, the expression on the children’s face was enough to know that he succeeded today too. When he looked at the strapping boy, he could feel the smarting of tears coming unbidden to his eyes.
He watched as Helen, his very capable right hand, interacted with them asking them about their experience. He heard her tell, “Tell your friends about this place but not what you saw. Let it be a surprise. “
She told them to come again. The quieter of the twin Atul spoke up asking, “won’t we be bored the second times as we already know the clues.”
“Come and see for yourself!” Geeta laughed.
The old man neither spoke nor was spoken to except for a ‘thank you’ as he shuffled to open the door with exaggerated slowness. He was convinced once again that most children who experienced goodness had it rubbing into them and all of them were polite to the man who they considered much below their status.
They had a team of the best and enthusiastic brains to ensure that no two days were similar and the landscaping too was moved around from sunrise to the time the gates were thrown open. It was just that there was a constant illusion of privacy and adventure. Most children brought up in today’s world forgot what it was to be young and hence this place…in memory of Rahul who found such great joy when he discovered the word: Boondocks in one of his books that he was so fond of reading. His unbridled laughter was heard once again from the children who regaled their parents with their tales.
Thank you Swapna
Such a lovely read!