"Stop that, you animal!" The voice, though clearly aged, was commanding, loud, and threatening. "Put up your hands, all three of you, or you are all dead men."
There stood Dadi Jan, all four feet ten of her, rigid with military authority as she pointed a fat automatic revolver at the dazed men. The one nearest the leaning rifle made a furtive movement towards it, but she was too quick for him. "Try to touch it," she barked, "And your head will be blown off.. – put down all the jewellery in your hands. And get out, before your carcasses litter the ground."
The three bumped into each other as they scurried out of the door, and raced stumbling down the stairs. Each one emptied his hands and pockets as he fled. The leader in one quick movement picked up his rifle, but Dadi Jan's steadily aimed weapon stopped him from making any attempt to use it.
"Lock the door!" everyone shouted, and Swaleha, who was nearest, shot the upper bolt home and secured the latch. She then turned the key.
"Oh, Dadi Jan, you were so great!" exclaimed Malika.
Salim was rolling over and over with laughter. "Oh, their faces, when you pointed the gun at them!"
"That was a masterpiece!" Swaleha exulted. "How did you think of it?"
Dadi Jan accepted the plaudits with a faint flush on her withered cheeks.
"Now," said the old lady, "Let us continue from where we left off."
No one could get back to normal for some time, but after they had retrieved all their scattered valuables and put them on again, they tried to laugh at the adventure, and especially as they remembered, the frightened looks of the robbers at Dadi Jan's pointed gun.
"I think it would be wise," suggested Salma Khala, "If we should put away all the valuables just now until we deposit them somewhere secure."
"I know the best place," cried Salim, "Put them in a plastic bag in the fridge; no-one will ever dream of looking for them there."
It seemed like a good advice. They all started taking off their jewels.
"And you want us to be guests at a party, bare of all ornaments?"
"I'll tell you what," offered Swaleha, giggling, "I and my friend Najma bought a whole collection of artificial jewellery from the Meena Bazar last week. It looks so genuine, that is why we bought it to wear at our school functions. No one can tell it is artificial and not actual gold. I'll go and bring it. We'll all put that on instead of the real jewels."
Everyone laughed and approved of the idea. Soon every neck and wrist and many fingers were adorned with the make-believe ornaments.
"It is quite late," said Malika's mother. "Let us eat first. Give out your jelly, Hina."
"It's lucky I put it in the fridge, otherwise by now it would have been sweetened coloured water."
"Call your brother, Swaleha, he would want to be here with everyone. And he said he was going to take some pictures."
Nasim came in, saying regards to all the company. He checked his camera.
"Yes, don't do what you did last time, finding out after everything was over that you had forgotten to put in the film." Nasim laughed, then his gaze falling on the gleaming two-colour jelly, he said, "Who made that? That looks good."
"Oh, so many compliments on what is just boiling water added to some powder. I seemed to have created a sensation. Actually, a three-year old could have made it."
"Okay, we are going to start on that, and you start your photography."
"Provided, that you leave me my share – No, I think I had better have it first, before it melts."
But the jelly was destined to melt after all.
There was a loud knocking on the door. "Open up!"
The women turned pale with terror. "Don't open!" they whispered to the sole male adult member of the company.
The knocking was repeated, louder and more commanding. "Open the door instantly!"
"Who is it?" shouted Nasim trying to keep the fear out of his voice.
"This is the police. Open up immediately, before we break down the door."
Nasim slipped into the inner room from where he beckoned to their chowkidar, who came running upstairs. The two men faced the door.
"Yes, I am opening it," said Nasim, and unlocked the door. Four policemen stood outside, revolvers in their belts. The Sub-Inspector in charge strode into the room, the others following closely.
"We have received a report," said the Sub Inspector in his most intimidating official manner, "That there is an unregistered weapon in this house. Bring it out and hand it over, before we have to search the house for it. We have a warrant with us."
Nasim was as taken aback as he was afraid. "Weapon?" he asked stupidly.
"Yes, an unregistered revolver. You do not – and don't try to deny it – you do not possess a license for it. We have checked."
Everybody turned towards Dadi Jan, though their faces registered no real fear. "Show it, Dadi Jan," they said.
Dadi Jan rose with dignity, then came back from the inner room, the said weapon in her hand. Nasim burst out laughing, and all the girls joined in with him.
The Sub Inspector's threatening scowl made his face positively black. "This is no laughing matter, as you will soon find out. Hand it over here, and no tricks."
He took the proffered weapon – and then he slammed the toy gun in rage on the floor, and almost ran out of the house, his men, looking blankly at each other, following him.
"Oh no! Oh no!" cried Nasim, tears of laughter streaming down his face, "Dadi Jan, you actually frightened away the professional criminals by showing them Salim's toy gun!"
"I'll never forget the officer's disgusted face when he saw how the criminals had been duped!"
"I am not going to wait for more adventures," declared Fakhr Apa, "If you want to hear my poem, pay attention. It is of course a tribute to our Malika's grand success."
"Silence, everyone! Pay attention!"
'Why are we gathered here?
What outstanding honour Brings together the whole of the family?"
What happy sounds of celebration ---'"
It was not a happy sound at all. The latest knocking was more furious than the policemen's had been.
"And we all, everyone, forgot to lock the door!"
The robbers, for it was they who had come back, kicked open the door with a fury that sent pieces of painted plaster from the side wall flying into the room.
"You try to play tricks on us? You think you are smart? Just attempt anything now, and see what we will do to you."
The leader suddenly caught hold of Salim, and forced him down to the floor, putting his chappal'd foot harshly on his back. "One more joke out of you, and we will throttle him. Off with your jewellery, all of you!"
All the girls and women dutifully divested themselves of their necklaces, bracelets, and rings.
"Drop them all in this!" ordered the leader, who had now brought a cloth bag.
When he saw that they had taken off all the ornaments, he let go of the half-crushed Salim, and with a meaningless flourish of his rifle he and his accomplices walked out, with the worthless trinkets.
Malika and her family have since moved to another house on the other side of the city.