It was called Dodda Mane, the Big House. It was easily more than a hundred years old, surrounded by trees. The local folk called it ‘Fountain House’ because there was a circular pond in front of it, with a fountain in the middle of the pond.
There was a time when the house was full of people, children running around, women celebrating festivals, and men looking important as they read newspapers. Not anymore. Now, only old man Arasu and his wife Ammu, lived there; their children had gone to the big cities.
One morning, the house came alive. The Dodda Mane was fully lit up. Laughter and the murmur of talk could be heard from the large front verandah. Arasu’s children, with their families, had come to Mysuru. The children were having holidays.
Arasu was happy, rocking in his favourite chair. Ammu sat in the cane chair knitting a sweater, and watching her grandchildren swinging on the large wooden swing held by four sturdy chains. Their parents were chatting non-stop about old times.
The children were getting a taste of life in Mysuru with their grandparents: bathing in the boat-shaped tub with the bathroom filled with smoke and steam, and mouth-watering Mysore masala dosa for breakfast. More than anything else, they loved to listen to the stories Arasu and Ammu told them.
Grandpa’s and grandma’s stories were no doubt interesting, but they could not tell stories all day long. They had other work to do.
Bunty yawned and said, “What can we do in a place like this?”
“I think this is an excellent place to go treasure hunting,” said Uma, who had read many stories about treasure hunts. “This is one huge, old house. Our great grandfather served in the Mysore Army. I’m sure he must have collected many treasures when he went on campaigns.” She looked up at the huge portrait of their great grandfather standing tall, one hand resting on the sword sheath hanging from his belt, and the fingers of the other on his well-twirled, thick gray moustache.
“He must have hidden the treasure in some secret place,” said Bunty, looking excited.
‘And there are plenty of such places here in this huge, huge house,” said Uma.
“Such as the big well and the fountain,” Shaku added, skeptically. Shaku was older, the eldest of the cousins, and prided herself on having brains. She didn’t believe one bit in tales of hidden treasure.
But Uma was not discouraged. “You can look for treasure in the well, if you like,” she teased her cousin, knowing that Shaku was scared of water. “But we are going to look for the treasure …..”
“Where?” Bunty asked, eagerly.
“Under your bed?” asked Shaku, scornfully.
Ignoring her jibe, Uma said, “Let’s start with the lofts.”
Bunty was all set to begin the expedition right away. Uma stopped him. “Not now. After lunch, when they are taking their afternoon nap.”
Soon, it was lunch time. The children ate without fuss; they wanted the elders to finish eating and go for the afternoon nap.
After lunch, they stood around restlessly, tapping their feet, drumming fingers on the table, impatient for the grown-ups to sail into Dreamland. Grandpa Arasu was still awake, solving a Suduko puzzle. Finally, much to their relief, his eyes drooped. He took off his spectacles, reclined in the armchair, and stretched his legs.
Soon, the treasure hunt began!
They ransacked the loft, the kitchen storeroom and the shed in the back garden. They found lots of old vessels, some half-rusty swords, some old silver ornaments, a few black and white photographs which had turned yellow, some broken spectacles and moth-eaten hats and caps, but no sign of the treasure they were looking for.
Shaku, who preferred to watch from a distance, grunted with satisfaction and gave them an ‘I-told-you-so’ look.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups were sound asleep. Suddenly, there was a loud crashing sound which shook them up. They were up in no time and running towards the inner room from where the sound had come.