Arun and Sambit were playing cricket in Arun's garden when Paresh opened the gate and walked in. The three of them were class six students of Model School. They stayed in the Osmania University Campus and were neighbours. Their school was closed for the summer holidays.
"Hey guys, see what I got?" he shouted brandishing a sling. It was a Y shaped wooden piece. The prongs of the Y were connected by a black rubber strip. In the middle of the strip was a brown leather patch. "I have practised the whole of yesterday and become an expert shot," he added.
"Really? Then show us," Sambit challenged.
"Okay, here goes." He put his hand in his pocket and removed a pebble. He placed the pebble on the brown patch and held it in position with his right hand while holding the sling with his left. He pulled the rubber ribbon till it was taut and then asked, "What should I aim at?"
Arun looked around and then pointed at the stumps.
Paresh turned towards the target, took careful aim and released the pebble. It shot forward and crashed into the middle stump, sending the bails flying.
"Wow! Great shot, yaar," Sambit and Arun yelled together clapping their hands.
"Hey, Paresh, teach us too," Sambit said.
"Okay, come on.... its quite simple......"
They practised the whole day and by evening Sambit and Arun had almost become as good as their guru.
"Today we have become experts at striking still targets, tomorrow we'll go hunting and hit moving targets."
"What do you mean?" asked Arun.
"We'll 'shoot' chameleons and birds," Paresh replied. "I'll get two more slings made this evening itself by our maid servant's husband who is a carpenter".
"Yes, that will be fun," Sambit said while Arun kept quiet.
Next morning at eight, armed with a sling each, they started. Half a kilometre from their house was a mini forest - a cluster of trees surrounding a fairly large pond. It was a lonely but picturesque locale and their favourite for picnic spot. The three friends gathered near the
pond and looked for their quarry. Sambit was the first to notice the chameleon. It was perched on the bark of the neem tree. Its swollen head darted from left to right in sharp, jerky movements.
Paresh being the expert was the first to have a go. He tip toed towards the tree took careful aim and released the pebble. Moments later the chameleon dropped to the ground.
"Wow! Terrific Paresh," yelled Sambit. They ran forward. The chameleon's head was now a red mass. Its tail was still twitching. Arun turned away.
It was Sambit's turn next. After a half dozen futile attempts he managed to hit a sparrow. It fell to the ground, hobbled for a few moments and then with an effort flew away.
"Not bad. Now it's your chance, Arun," Paresh said.
Whether he was doing it on purpose or he was a poor shot, Arun could hit neither a bird nor a chameleon even after more than a dozen attempts. Before parting they decided they would have a picnic at the same spot the next morning and again go hunting. That evening Arun went to bed early.
They were sitting near the pond having their brunch. Suddenly Arun saw a shadow looming and looked up. A huge chameleon was moving towards them. Its head was the size of a massive boulder and its two bulging eyes were like saucers.
"L....look," Arun pointed.
Paresh and Sambit turned.
"Run," Paresh shouted and getting to his feet ran with Arun and Sambit close on his heels.
"Come on climb a tree fast," Paresh yelled.
Arun ran straight to a neem tree. Its branches were quite low. Arun was an expert and within moments he had reached one of the top branches. He clung to it and looked around. Paresh and Sambit had ended up clinging to the same branch of a peepal tree. The branch was rather weak and gave away. The two landed straight into the gaping mouth of the creature waiting below the tree
and were gobbled up.
As Arun watched in horror it slithered towards his neem tree. It stood under it with its huge head tilted upwards and its enormous eyes staring at him. Arun started shivering with fear. He closed his eyes and prayed. Suddenly there was a flapping of wings. He looked up in panic. A huge
sparrow was circling above his head, its sharp beak snapping like the blades of a pair of giant scissors. Arun opened his mouth to scream but no words came out. The big bird swooped down and picked him up with its claws. Holding Arun like a rat it circled above and then released him. The chameleon was now directly below him. It opened its cavernous mouth and he was headed straight for it. Arun closed his eyes and screamed......
He could hear his mother's voice. What was she doing inside a chameleon's stomach, he wondered and opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor beside his bed. His mother was shaking him.
"What happened Arun? Were you having a nightmare?"
"No, Ma it was a lesson" Arun said getting up. He picked up the sling which was on his study table and opening the window threw it into the dust bin.