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But, when the Kabuliwallah, hearing Mini's call, turned back smilingly and approached our house, Mini ran away from there and could not be seen anywhere. She believed that if the bundle that the man carried was searched, a few children like her would be found in it.

The Kabuliwallah, meanwhile, came up and saluted me. I thought that although Pratapsingh and Kanchanmala were in a precarious situation, it would be improper if I did not buy something from the man after having summoned him.

So, I made some purchases and then we conversed about this and that - about the Russians, about the British, and about the frontier policy. Finally the Kabuliwallah made to go but before departing, he asked, "Babu, where has your daughter gone?"

I called her from inside so that she could get over her idle fears; but she stood clinging to me while eyeing the Kabuliwallah's bundle suspiciously. The man withdrew some raisins from the bundle and held them out to her. But Mini did not take them. She clung to me more firmly and her suspicion heightened. The first meeting ended in this manner.

A few days later when I stepped out of my house in the morning, I saw Mini sitting on a bench near the house and chattering away incessantly. Kabuliwallah sat on the ground and listened to her intently with a smile on his face; sometimes he put in a word or two, as the occasion demanded, in his broken Bengali. In the five years of her life till then, Mini might not have found such a better audience other than her father. I noticed that the corner of her little sari was stuffed with nuts and raisins. "Why have you given her all these. Do not give them to her for free," I told Kabuliwallah, and drawing out a coin from my pocket handed it over to him. He took the coin without any protest.

When I returned home, I found that a war of words had erupted between mother and daughter over the coin. The Kabuliwallah had returned the coin to Mini. Mini's mother, upon discovering the coin on her person, wanted to know from where it had come. "Kabuliwallah gave it to me," Mini told her.

"Why did you take it?" mother demanded to know.

"I did not ask for it. He gave it to me on his own," Mini, who was on the point of bursting into tears, said.

I came to Mini's rescue and took her out.

I learnt that this was not just the second meeting between Mini and Kabuliwallah. He had come often and, after bribing her with nuts and raisins, had won her little heart. The two friends would begin their conversation with few specific teasing statements. For instance, upon seeing Rahamat, my daughter would burst into laughter and ask, "Kabuliwallah, oh Kabuliwallah, what do you have in that bundle of yours?"

Rahamat would guffaw and reply with a nasal intonation, "Helenphant."

That the small sack carried a huge elephant was the essence of the witticism. It could hardly be described as subtle witticism; nevertheless, both of them derived much amusement from it. I liked to watch the innocent merriment between an elderly man and a small child on an autumnal morning.

There was yet another favourite subject between the two. Rahamat would tell Mini, "Khoki (little girl) don't ever go to live with in-laws."

Bengali girls are familiar with the word "in-laws" since childhood. But we considered ourselves somewhat progressive and, so, had refrained from acquainting our little girl about these things. Mini, therefore, could not fully understand the meaning of the entreaty. But it was against her nature to remain quiet without offering a reply. So, she would counter, "Will you go to your in-laws home?"

At this, Rahamat would raise his fists against an imaginary father-in-law and say, "I will beat my father-in-law." Hearing this, Mini would try to picture the plight of the poor stranger by the name of "Father-in-law" and break into peals of laughter.

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