Monday, August 18, 2008

Old man and me....

Kumar flung his school bag to its allocated place and ran to the tap to wash his feet. He had just returned from school. ‘Kumar, you have come?’, asked Mani. Mani was his grandfather (thaatha). ‘Yaaaaaaaa’, shouted Kumar. He then came and sat near his thaatha who was engrossed in reading the newspaper line by line through his bulging spectacles. Kumar was nibbling at his milk bikis biscuits and sipping the tea which thaatha had prepared for him. They had been living together for the last 3 years. Kumar’s parents had passed away in a rail accident.

T: So what was special in school today?

K: In our games period we played kabaddi thaatha. My team won. Look how well I played, do you see the bruise in my knees? (He wore a proud smile on his face)

T: Good, take care da. Don’t get too fond of bruising yourself. Anyone can get hurt, use their might and win. It is he who wins without much visible effort who is the champion.

They continued doing their regular work. While his thaatha was poring over the newspaper, Kumar was reading the Sportstar magazine. He was studying in his 8th standard. He had a good circle of friends with whom he used to play a lot. Everyone lived in the nearby streets only. And everyone’s mothers were very fond of Kumar. He was frank, polite and mature.

The phone rang. Thaatha picked it up, listened, grunted and then called out for Karthik. Karthik was wondering who it would be. They had just decided they wouldn’t be playing cricket today. Who could be it? He listened. He turned slightly pale. He said fine. And then put down the phone and came back to read his magazine. He was getting a bit restless. ‘What is the matter da? Who was it?’, asked his thaatha. ‘Balaji called up thaatha. It seems Priya’s father has died. Some heart attack I guess’. ‘Ohh that’s bad. What does her mother do?’. ‘She is a housewife thaatha. Dunno what she is going to do now.’ ‘ Does Priya have any siblings?’ ‘Ya, one elder brother. He is in his 12th standard.’ ‘Ok. So when are you going to go? Is it tomorrow?’ ‘Ya mostly it will be tomorrow. But I don’t think I will be going thaatha’ ‘Why?’ ‘Thaatha, she is my friend. But she is a girl. What will I tell her? And in times of grief, I can’t find anything to speak. It will be better for her if I don’t go rather than go there and get embarrassed.’ ‘Inge vaada. Come here.’ Karthik went and sat near his thaatha. Mani ruffled his grandson’s hair and rested his palm on his shoulders. ‘See child, you can even miss out on a person’s marriage on any of his happiest occasions. But never miss out on their grief. I agree you may have nothing to say. In fact the other person for all practical reason, that person may be a stranger to you. But be there. That is the respect you will be showing to the departed soul. Now go. Priya may not even notice you. But you don’t go there to get her attention. You go there to ensure that you help them with your presence’

And so the next day, Karthik took the train to Parisal. He gingerly stepped into Priya’s home. It was already a scene there. All the ladies were moaning. His eyes was searching for some known faces. There were none. In one corner of the room, he saw Priya. Her eyes had swollen with continuous crying. He didn’t go towards her. He knew he couldn’t talk sense to her now. He just waited. Stood there. Someone asked him ‘who are you thambi?’ He replied he was a classmate of Priya. Very soon, the rituals started. The kurukal was reciting something and one elderly guy was putting flowers and stuff on her dad. It was now that Karthik saw the ugly side of death. When the time came for people to lift Priya’s dad and place him on the stretcher, everyone became suddenly distracted. They seem to move outside of the house waiting for others to do the task of lifting the ‘body’. A day back he was Muthu. And now he was a ‘body’. ‘Shit’, thought Kumar. And he stepped forward to lift him up. Seeing him, few others came forward and helped put Muthu on the stretcher. He was one of the few who lifted the stretcher and walked till the graveyard and then placed him on the pyre. He didn’t go back to Priya’s place where all her relatives went. He directly went home, had a bath ate what his thaatha had cooked for him and slept.

It was two weeks before he saw Priya again. She had come to school. Students and teachers immediately came forward to offer their condolences. They then carried on with their work. Karthik didn’t tell anything. During the lunch hour, she came to him and just said, ‘Thank you Karthik. You don’t know how much your actions meant to me.’ He felt highly embarrassed he could only grunt a ‘Hmm’ in reply and then excused himself.

When he came back from school, his thaatha was just leaving for his evening walk. ‘Tea is in the kitchen. Care for a samosa?’. ‘Sure thaatha’ ‘Ok. Wait for 20min. eat it and then go to play’ ‘Irungo thaatha. I will change my dress, drink tea and come along with you. We will eat samosa in the shop and I will scoot from there’ ‘Ok fine. Hurry up.’

They went to the Saravana Samsa shop which was nearby his school. His thaatha ordered for two samosas each. This was one weakness of his thaatha. He loved snacks and food. As they were eating, Karthik told his thaatha about what happened in class with Priya today. His thaatha replied, ‘Good. But remember Karthik, you are not doing this for her thank you’ ‘Of course I am not thaatha. I just told you what transpired in class’ ‘Ok cool da. No problem. So going to play cricket is it?’ ‘Yes thaatha’ ‘Ok you carry on.’

That night when they gathered for dinner, his thaatha had cooked a kichdi with onion raita. They were watching the news while eating. ‘Thaatha, have you ever taken liquor?’ ‘What maeks you ask this question?’, thaatha replied with a mischievous wink ‘You intend to is it?’ ‘Cha cha nothing like that thaatha. Just curious’ ‘Well I had tasted it once. Probably before your father was born. I used to work along with your uncle’s father. We both were teachers in the village school. While returning we used to play cards and sometimes indulge in such cranky activities’ ‘Oho…’, trailed Karthik. ‘But my suggestion will be, you must definitely try out liquor, smoking and stuff. Without trying them out, you will never appreciate how bad it is for you. Just ensure you do this after you pass out from school. I don’t want to be apologizing to your principal for you tomfoolery’ ‘Thaatha!!! I don’t intend to do any of these!!!’ ‘Then all is well with the world J’ , his thaatha smiled.

As they finished eating, Mani saw that Karthik has left some of his food on his plate. ‘What is the matter? Not feeling hungry? Or not liking my cooking?’ ‘Thaatha stomach is full. I cant take more’ ‘OK, clean up the table’ Karthik then proceeded to clean the table, wash the utensils and then proceeded to sit with his thaata. He had finished his homework. There wasn’t much to do other than watch tv and then go to sleep. As they were watching the repeat telecast of the 1983 WC finals, Mani started. ‘Karthik, tell me what is the thing which differentiates the best from the rest?’ ‘Courage?’ ‘Something else’ ‘Ambition?’ ‘Well everyone has ambitions. Of varying degree’ ‘Solungo thaatha’ ‘They can easily differentiate what they know from what they don’t know. What they can do from what they cant do. And act likewise’ ‘OK?’ ‘And you didn’t show good leadership skill today da. You must have known how much you can eat. I didn’t want to yell at you then. Hence kept quiet. See if the food is wasted in your plate. It is wasted for ever. At least if you had taken only what you wanted, we could have either used it later or given it to the needy. I expect something better form my grandson da’ ‘I don’t know what to say. I will improve myself thaatha’ ‘That’s my boy’

As they went to sleep, Mani started thinking. He was 82 yrs old. His grandson was 15. He didn’t have much years left in him. There was a time when he could do work equal to 5 men. Now it was not like that. He had grown up the hard way. When he was a kid, he didn’t know from where the next meal came, he didn’t know if he would continue in the school beyond the next term because he didn’t have money to pay to the school. And yet, he scraped and came up in life. Enough to feed his children and make them take care of themselves. But what is the legacy I want to leave to Karthik? He thought. Thought hard. And then he slept a fitful sleep.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kurai Ondrum Illai.....Concluded

With a steely determination Anu set forth in her task to run the business. Raju was now a year and a half old. Her mother was taking care of the kid. It wasn’t that Anu didn’t love her son. Just that she felt that it will be a greater service to her son, if she was both a father and a mother to him. And for that she has to be earning too. Day in and day out, she slogged. During this process, she realized why Karthik couldn’t slow down. Such was the passion for running the business. Their company consolidated. She ventured into the export markets. It was a hard task no doubt. From being the wife of the owner to being the sole owner. It required a paradigm shift in the attitude of the employees and the customers. Coupled to the fact that generally the industry doesn’t view women as credible source of information when it comes to anything mechanical related, it took all the patience that Anu could muster to establish herself.

Meanwhile Ashok reconnected with Lisa. He didn’t have to explain anything. She understood his predicament. He was trying his best to be more than an uncle to his nephew. He didn’t want him to feel neglected. Lisa came to Ashok’s home more often nowadays. And his mother didn’t mind too. In fact she welcomed it. Their life slowly moved forward. He still maintained his vigour when it came to teaching. Nothing would ruffle him from his passion to teach. One day while Lisa and Ashok were returning home, she asked him if he ever thought of their life together. Ashok replied that yes he had thought, but then had dropped the idea. She asked him to stop the bike. ‘May I know why?’, she asked. ‘Hmm…see Lisa, I am not ready to marry. Not just you. Anyone. In fact I may not marry anyone at all. I can’t make myself to come to that.’ ‘Insecurity eh?’ jeered Lisa in both sarcastic and hurt filled voice. ‘I don’t have an answer. Let us not speak on this further. Please’. She took a bus for the remaining distance. And he rode back in silence. That night he couldn’t sleep. ‘Have I let go of the chance of my life? She was the perfect match for me.’, he thought. But he knew deep in his heart that his malaise was something different. Despite his inherent goodness, he didn’t believe much in marriage as an institution. He felt it took too much of an effort to compromise on one’s true self to accept and enjoy the other person’s presence in one’s life. He knew people were happily married all around him. But he knew, he couldn’t let go of his individuality. No matter how much he loved the girl. At least after knowing himself so well, it became his duty to ensure that he doesn’t bring a girl into his life and ruin her life. And that’s what he did.

Raju grew up to be quite a lad. However, he was strangely distant to his mother. He held a grudge against her. All his friends came school with their parents. And he was accompanied by his grandmother. Yes, his uncle spent a lot of time with him. he loved his uncle more than anyone else. But something was missing. And he was not able to place his finger on that pulse. Anu did make lots of effort to connect to her son. But she couldn’t. She had lost a part of herself after Karthik’s death. She loved her son a lot. And hoped he would understand in due course of time. After all she was doing all this for him.

‘And while you were entering your 10th std, your mom had her first cardiac arrest. The work was taking its toll on her. But she carried on relentlessly. She always used to tell me, that even if Raju hates me he will atleast see in me how to carry on despite difficulties. I seriously have no regret on the path my life has taken. Maybe I should have connected with Raju more. But he is my son. He will understand and come up in life too. My parents passed away one after the other. Fortunately in their sleep. They lived a happy life. They took care of all our needs. Your grandma held you in high regards. She had a regret though! That your uncle wouldn’t get married J But it was one of those things no one could do anything about. Last year Lisa got married to a guy from her native place. He was a violinist in the church. She was happy with him. We used to share the occasional professional chat. But that thing was lost between us. She is now gonna have a baby. Why am I telling you all this? You might think. Fact is I want you to know all that transpired in our lives. The various factors which shaped our decisions. So that you wont hold grudge against anybody. Not even your mother.

She used to tell me that I was holding myself back. Maybe I was. But I couldn’t have been any different. If I turn back the clock now, I would have acted precisely in the same way in which I have acted so far. Such is life. One’s gotto live the way one’s gotto live.

I should have probably taken more interest in you. I knew for sure, you were slightly straying off the path. I had seen some cig stubs in your shirt. I didn’t mention it directly to you till today. I thought you will grow out of it. After all, we all are entitled to our adolescent follies. And I thank God, you came out of it. Your father was a great guy. We never spoke much. But we shared a good rapport. He loved your mother a lot. He instilled in her the passion to follow one’s dreams and carry it forward. You have seen him only in photos. But I tell you, he was the greatest man I have seen in my life. Anyone who knew him will vouch for it.

My sister’s health took a very bad turn. She had to be hospitalized for a week. She was advised complete bed rest. But she is of the type who would feed herself to the starving lions rather than stay at home. And thus, she signed her own death warrant. We could have stopped her. But there was no point in doing it. One must never violate the innermost self of a person, even if they run against all threads of rationality. It is their self. And they are entitled to their own self esteem.

So well here we are. You having finished your studies and hopefully ready to take care of your parents business. My teaching career is going on just fine. It was my duty to tell you all this, since I had promised my sister that I will tell you this. None of us live or lived a life of regret. Remember that. Always follow your heart. And when it comes to your family and your loved ones.. it doesn’t require them to be wearing their emotions on their sleeves. They love you through out your life..and even after their death.’

Together Raju and his uncle sat in their terrace. Watching the horizon, sniffing the Brittania smell and sipping their cup of tea. Just last week Anu had died from exhaustion and internal haemorrhage. Raju was at home. He cried for the first time in his life. And he didn’t know why. Ashok steadied him, took him through the rituals. And today they spoke. Two men, one just about to enter the cauldron of life and the other; ready to be there by his side. Ashok ruffled Raju’s hair and gave his shoulders a tight squeeze. Raju got up, smiled and said ‘Now is the melodrama over?’. They laughed together and went down to their house.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kurai Ondrum Illai....Part 8

‘You know what Ashok? Maybe you are not ready to let go of yourself.’

‘You seem to echo what my sis always tells me. Congratulations.’, said Ashok to Shantha.

‘Oh yes, you are afraid of being rejected Ashok. And hence you want to play it safe. But why don’t you for a moment think are you right in your premise? If LOVE as you always say is not supposed to be reciprocative, then why fear rejection? You anyway will continue loving the person concerned. But if however, that person accepts your love and is turn loves you back? You are not giving yourself a chance to experience true love, my son’

Ashok kept silent. He just smiled and replied, ‘I agree with the reciprocity and rejection part. Let me see if I can do anything about it. Now can we talk of something else please?’ Both of them laughed. They knew he wasn’t trying to abruptly cut her off. He seriously meant he would think on the matter.

‘What am I to do now? Go with a poster that “I am available and somebody love me” on my head?’ Ashok was talking to Anu about what transpired between him and Shantha. Anu smiled,’Idiot, no one expects that. You know better than put such idiotic questions. See, I may not be the all knowing sage. But I can tell you this. You needn’t be going around with any posters. Just listen to your heart and speak what’s in your mind. Don’t ever and I mean EVER worry about what the other person might think, everything will be alright’.

‘Oh yeah?? Well then, you suck when you are talking like this!!’ said Ashok. She laughed. Even as Ashok was talking with Anu, he was playing with Raju his nephew. He was all of 5 months old and resembled Karthik a lot. For the last 8 months, Karthik was taking care of the business. Anu stayed at home and did whatever she could over phone and net. Ashok was wary of Raju. Only last week, he had pee’d on his uncle. And Ashok didn’t want a repeat telecast. He kept Raju at more than an arm’s distance. ‘I do hope Raju doesn’t grow up like me’, said the loving uncle. She just smiled. She could relate to the agony her brother was facing. And he couldn’t even talk about it. He was actually a very sensitive guy. Just that he pretended to be the indifferent and detached type.

From Jambu Nagar, Ashok used to go to his college in his Max100. He was never good at maintaining vehicles. Even in school days, his cycle used to be like a scrap. It was no different now. He didn’t care. All that mattered was he could commute from house to college and back. All in one piece. Recently a lady joined his college as a lecturer in the English department. Her name was Lisa. She was from Goa and had done her graduation in Stella Maris. Her house was in Anna Nagar. So it was not unusual for Ashok and Lisa to be going and coming together. He took an instant liking to her. And vice versa. Partly because they were the only young ones among the staff. And partly because…well..the chemistry clicked. While in college they didn’t speak much. Ashok was much too engrossed in gleaning the wisdom from Shantha. But it was during their commuting that they had a ball. They used to speak of some of their students, their family, their likes and dislikes. Lisa stayed with her mother. Her father died when she was young. Her mother earned her bread by running a boutique. She was very sprightly old lady. With lot of life. She liked Ashok a lot. She could see in Ashok some amount of decency she had not seen in people of late.

Lisa had an accented way of speaking Tamil. This made him laugh always. And Lisa used to love the way Ashok used to speak non stop, once he got cranked that is. It was a Friday. They were returning from their college. ‘What is your plan for the weekend?’ asked Lisa. ‘Nothing much…will be spending some time with my sis and her kid.’ ‘Can I come to see your nephew?’ ‘Well sure. Why not?’ And so they decided that Saturday evening she would come home to see his nephew.

‘Ha ha ha….You dud. She HAD to make the first move? I pity her’ was what Anu was telling Ashok. ‘As if I care. Look Anu, nothing between us. We just enjoy each other’s company.’ ‘Well, that’s the way it was with me and Karthik too. Remember?’ ‘Don’t unnecessarily draw parallels’ ‘Ok da, don’t blushJ

Karthik was getting busy these days. The business was booming and he was taking a lot of pressure. Anu felt for him, but then she had to take care of their kid. She suggested to Karthik that they can wilfully limit their growth for a more comfortable and stress free life. But he was adamant. Strange it is, the way in which success tends to make people want more. There is no limit to this. So when Lisa came the next day, Karthik wasn’t at home. He had gone to Delhi on business. Anu and Lisa hit on pretty well. Probably the way in which two people gel when they know they are going to be related pretty soon. She played with Raju. Even Ashok’s mother was impressed with Lisa, even though she didn’t harbour any marital thoughts for her son with that girl. Ashok went through all this with an amused look in his face. He didn’t like the way people were assuming that they are gonna live a life together. He didn’t intend to. And that was because he didn’t feel confident enough to bring somebody else into his life. He didn’t want to lose his freedom.

Just then they received a phone call. It was from their appa. He asked them to switch on the TV and watch the news. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice. All the news channels were showing that the Indian Airlines flight from Delhi had crashed. And they knew that Karthik was in it. Anu burst out crying. She felt guilty. If only she wasn’t with the kid, she would have been on that flight too. Ashok was shell shocked. His mother was numbed. Lisa didn’t know how to react. Ashok then got to his senses, he politely asked Lisa to leave and not worry about it. ‘I will take care’ was all that he said.

Events happened very fast. The whole Jambu Nagar felt for Anu at Karthik’s funeral. They were the darling of the locality. Fortunately Anu had gathered her wits. She was in total command of the situation. She ensured that the funeral went on without any fuss. Two weeks later after all the add-on ceremonies were over, both Anu and Ashok were spending some time in their terrace. ‘Well…shit happens…and you have to cope with it right?’, mused Anu. He kept quiet. For once he didn’t know what to say. ‘There is still this business to be run; there are customers to be satisfied. What he started, I have to continue. That will be my way of ensuring his efforts don’t go waste. I am just worried about Raju. But I think mom will take care of him’. ‘Hmm’ was all that Ashok could reply.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kurai Ondrum Illai...Part 7

During all this, Anu finished her course and became a pilot with the Ryan Air. ‘Wow, my sis is an international’, thought Ashok. Her visits to home became less frequent. However, she said she will be back in India in another 1 year. Her main idea was to get an international brand against her name and then leverage it in India. ‘My sis can also think!!!!’ Karthik finished his Mech in IIT and then proceeded to do his MS from MIT. As was usually with Karthik, he excelled wherever he went. His parents were glowing with pride and no one grudged it. Everyone knew they deserved all the adulations that came their son’s way. Just as Anu reached India and joined Kingfisher, Karthik also returned from US. Surprisingly he didn’t join any majors. He joined a small sized robot and automation based company. He was always fascinated by controlling motions in machines. And what was the icing in the cake was that the company was in Chennai. So he was back in Jambu. Back in his house.

Anu was based out of Chennai, but as so often happens with people in her profession she was always on the move. She was home for probably 2-5 days a month. She still loved spending time with Karthik. None of what they did in their professional life had a bearing on how they behaved with each other. They were still the same wide eyed, fun loving, knowledge sharing and gossiping kids. Their parents were also happy for them. Ashok could sense that their parents were seeing some future plans in this relationship. And for once, Ashok was happy about it too. Only the two protagonists were oblivious to this. Even Ashok liked Karthik. He was the ideal material, he felt. And then it happened. Out of the blue, Anu asked Karthik if he would marry her. He started laughing. ‘I am serious you stupid, will you marry me?’ reiterated Anu. He turned serious and kept quiet. ‘Have I pushed too fast? Oh shit!!’, thought Anu. Then he replied. What he said made Anu cry. With happiness. ‘Dubuku…why asking..will you marry me?. Plain ‘Marry me’ would just do fine’, was all he said. She hugged him tight and cried. When Karthik’s mom came there to give the usual refreshments, she saw them together and crying. She knew instantly. She was after all his mother. She too hugged them and cried. Hearing their soft sobs, Uncle came to the room. Looking at them he laughed. A loud, sonorous and happy laugh and let out, ‘Bloody happy news and you guys are crying? I am going to buy some samosas. Who wants?’ Everyone smiled. Certain people just don’t change. And the world is better off for it.

It was a happy wedding. In fact more than a wedding, it was like a get together. Everyone knew everyone. The major crowd was from Jambu. And they had seen these kids right from the time they were babies. Everyone was happy for them. Anu left her pilot career and along with Karthik started a company. This company was into customized low cost automation for small and medium enterprises. Both of them had enough knowledge of this field to succeed. And succeed they did. Within five years, they became the leader in automation solutions. They didn’t produce anything. They didn’t assemble anything. Their job was to look at the processes and offer a solution to the client along with what all would be the parts required to build the model themselves. In this way the clients were also happy. They didn’t feel fleeced as so often happens. And their business thrived.

Meanwhile, Ashok finished his Phd in Physics. He joined Presidency College as a lecturer. He was probably the youngest there. He still remained a bachelor. Post his experience with Shruti he had built an internal wall. He spoke with people, he humoured them but that was the end of it. No personal and intimate talks hinting at romance. He preferred being the good ‘friend’ material rather than a ‘lover’ material.

He enjoyed teaching. And he was one of the most favoured lecturers in the college. Half the time he would be speaking of sports and movies. And even when he taught lessons, he always related them to some instances in movies and sports. This made it all the more easy and fascinating for the students. He exposed them to the latest technologies that were making the rounds. He made them think big and not settle for just a degree. He played with them in the evenings. He enjoyed and made the college life a memorable experience for his students. There was this lady, Shantha with whom Ashok was very close. She was teaching Sanskrit in the college and was as old as Ashok’s mom. He found her to be highly well read and perceptive in her thought process. In fact he was amazed when she recited some sloka from the Upanishads and related it to the Big Bang theory. He implicitly took her as his mentor and learnt a lot about life from her. She was a mother of two boys, both of whom died in a car accident about 5 years back. They would have been of Ashok’s age. She was hit hard. But she coped well. This was what she always told Ashok.

Vaasaamsi jeernaani yathaa vihaaya
Navaani grihnaati naro'paraani;
Tathaa shareeraani vihaaya jeernaa
Nyanyaani samyaati navaani dehee.

(Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others that are new)

One day when both Shantha and Ashok had a common recess break and they were all alone in the staff room, she asked him when is he gonna marry? Ashok said he intends to be a bachelor. She asked, ‘Am I seeing a Bhishma here? Or a confused child?’ Ashok smiled wrily and replied neither.

Kurai Ondrum Illai...Part 6

Shruti was his classmate. They had studied together for the last 6 years. She lived in the street next to Ashok’s house. She was beautiful, a wonderful dancer, and matter of fact in her speech. It was this that attracted Ashok the most. Her matter of factliness. Never has a word been out of place if it came from her. They used to go to school and come back together. Swinging their lunch bags and gossiping merrily. He often used to go to her home too. Her mother and father were very jovial and treated him as their own son. One more reason why Ashok didn’t want to break the equilibrium. (He often got reminded of Sivaji’s dialogue with Nagesh in Vietnam veedu – ‘Ava yaaru da?’. ‘Yaen friend oda thangai’. ‘Unnoda friend un akka kita epdi nadanthikaraan?’ ‘Avan rumba nalla paiyyan pa, en akka va avan akka aatome treat panraan’ ‘Apa nee mattum yaen da avan thangai ya thangai aatum treat panaame kaadhali aatum treat panre?’) Shruti knew that Ashok had a soft corner for her. But she thought it was more due to their familiarity rather than anything ulterior and hence didn’t think too much into it.

One day the earth shook for Ashok. Shruti called him aside in school and confided in him that she thought she was in love with Ravi. In Love? With Ravi? ‘Great! Congratulations’ was all that Ashok could reply. Why is it that all these girls and guys fall in love and then think that they have fallen in love? He didn’t know whether to feel happy for her or sad. Because he knew Ravi inside out and knew that Ravi and Shruti wouldn’t be compatible. He could have told it at Shruti’s face. But then he felt she would attribute a ‘frank’ opinion from him as an attempt to ‘break’ a ‘made in heaven’ relationship. Ashok knew that Shruti for all he candidness was still the typical girl when it came to feelings and emotions. From then on, Ashok despite his best efforts started feeling distanced from her. It was quite natural. 12th was such a time when children think they are entering into adulthood. It is also the time when the dream factory in the brain tilts the balance away from common sense for most of the people. He didn’t feel bad that he couldn’t spend as much time with her as before. However he pitied her because he could foresee what future direction her relation with Ravi would take.

True to his instinct, two months after their Board exams, as Shruti was about to leave for BITS she came home to meet Ashok. She was the pride of his family. They treated her as their own daughter (What was it with parents? Treating their children’s friends as their own children? Don’t they ever understand that this brings in a feeling of brotherliness and sisterliness into the relationship?) They went to the terrace and stood for a long time just viewing the horizon. The Shruti told Ashok, ‘I hate Ravi’. He kept silent. She then cried. He still kept silent. Then the deluge came, ‘He is such a loser. Can’t allow me to be myself. He is so insecure. He keeps asking me to make a promise that I will still love him after going to BITS. Can someone be so juvenile? Not only that, he keeps talking only of our marriage. Doesn’t he realize there are still ages to go before we can eve n think of it? I thought a lot about it. I like Ravi. I still like him. But I feel I can’t stand him day in and day out the way he is. So today I called him on phone. And asked him to ‘Get lost’. I know I sounded very mean and cruel. But unless I did that he wouldn’t hate me. And he wouldn’t leave him. Ashok…did I do the right thing?’

Even though Ashok felt for Shruti, he couldn’t resist asking, ‘If I tell you did the wrong thing, is it gonna change anything?’ He was quick to add, ‘You have your priorities, he has his own priorities. It is good that you realized this and called it quits rather than continuing this torture’. Shruti didn’t tell anything. They stood in silence. Finally she just hugged him, gave him a peck in his cheeks and said ‘Thank you’. Little did she realize what an emotional turmoil Ashok was going through at that moment. It took a monumental effort from him to resist his instincts. True to his usual self he just laconically said, ‘So is the melodrama over?’ She laughed and punched him. He said ‘Lets go down now’ and climbed down the staircase….wiping the speck of tear that came down his cheeks.

Later that week, Shruti went to BITS, Pilani. Ravi became a vagabond. And Ashok went to Loyola College. He didn’t want to get into engineering. He instead chose to study Physics. The first 6 months, both Ashok and Shruti used to exchange lots of letters. Later the frequency dwindled to one every month. Finally it came to a halt. Not that he thought too much into it. He knew each of them had their own life to live. He also realized that the point has been reached where in he should learn to enjoy if and when a story from the past (in this case Shruti) came by rather than pondering and worrying about ‘what could have been’.

Fortunately, Shruti’s parents too shifted from Jambu Nagar to Mumbai. This almost effectively cut off any further natural communication channel that they had. But Shruti never left Ashok’s sight. That was because she was fast becoming the most sought after model in the ad industry. She went to BITS, alright. But quite fortuitously, she was sighted by one famous cameraman when he had come with his crew to shoot a scene in the campus. From then on, the media industry beckoned. And she took to it like a duck to water. For the initial few months, Ashok’s ears used to twitch and eyes used to bulge whenever he heard her name or came across her face. But slowly, it became so commonplace and he became so..hmm….detached that nothing mattered to him. She too became an ‘object from the past’ (Just like Dhaya, thought Ashok)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Kurai Ondrum Illai....Part 5

Amit has been rechristened to Ashok in keeping with the 'Jambu' ness of the storyline

How does it feel to know that you have been manipulated? By someone whom you trust? It leaves a very bad taste. But then you realize that they are your soul after all. You forgive them. In fact looking back, you fid yourself to have acted in a very trivial manner. After all who doesn’t manipulate? It differs only in matters of degrees. Still, when the person does it for a reason, you can commiserate with them. But when they do it for fun, you are left with a gut wrenching knot in your stomach. It is then that a part of you dies a silent and agony filled death. You are never the same again. Where you would have given, you hold yourself back. The bitter taste of the past experience comes forth. It really takes a monumental effort to accept that you cant ground breakingly alter other’s behaviour. But at least don’t lose yourself dammit. This would mean being prepared to be ‘used’, ‘manipulated’, ‘scorned’ and ‘ridiculed’. But at least you are YOURSELF. That inviolate part of you stays firm. You know it is easy to be good when others are good and bad when others are bad. But to be good when you feel others are bad to you; that takes immense courage. While one of them had made the leap of faith (and had started staying firm or gullible), the other was still undergoing the turmoil. This is what both Anu and Ashok were discussing sitting in the terrace. Whenever there was a power cut, the siblings used to run up the staircase and sit atop the painted ladder. From there they could see the rooftop of their school, the trees in the horizon and the wonderful, delicious smell of the biscuits coming from the nearby Brittania factory.

It had been 5 years since Dhaya was found dead in the park. His neck was slit. His wallet was empty. Some petty thief, high on cocaine had murdered him. All for a few hundred bucks. There was a smile writ across Dhaya’s face. In his last moment, all he could think of was ‘No Regrets’. He was satisfied. His turned out to be as freaky and inconspicuous a death as anyone could have imagined. This pleased him at the time of his last breath. Not much tear was shed though, barring his family. In fact after the initial days of trauma, Dhaya’s family was happy that he was liberated from his self inflicted penance. If anyone missed him, it was the children in the locality. But God has blessed children with such impatience, inquisitiveness and a taste for life that very soon Dhaya turned into a ‘news from the past’ even for the children.

Ashok was now in his 12th and Anu had just joined the Rogers Flying School in Brisbane. She loved to fly. And she wanted to become a commercial pilot. Now. Now Ashok realized how much he missed her company. Those daily fights, laughter….everything. Now she had come home for her vacation. Everyone were fussing over her. And for once, Ashok didn’t mind it. in fact he found himself fussing over her too. He smiled thinking of this.

And now in the terrace, while they were yakking – Ashok could sense Anu was disturbed. ‘Okay spill it’ was all that he said. Both knew instantly what he meant. They never needed to beat around the bush. ‘Can I make the cut?’, asked Anu. ‘Well if you don’t think so, you can always come back here to do your BSc, Engg or anything else’, retorted Ashok. She fumed, ‘I am asking you for a boost in my confidence and you tell this?’. He calmly replied, ‘Everything is within you Anu. Getting confidence and all those bull shit are just a way of massaging your ego.’ ‘Thank you dear brother, THANK YOU’, she said and laughed. He laughed too and together they sang ‘Hum hain rahi pyaar ke’ title song at the top of their voice. They hadn’t skirted the issue. Both realized that they were born to be the best and that it was upto them to realize it.

The next day, Anu went to meet her childhood buddy Karthik. Both of them went ot the same school. He was the nerdy type and the jolly type put together. He went on to join IIT-M. he took up Mechanical Engineering. His father worked for a glass company as a line supervisor. His mother was a housewife. He was their only child and their pride. They chatted from morning through night interrupted only by the regular refreshments given by Karthik’s mother. Just like in the school days, even now they had a lot to discuss. He was interest to know how the aircraft functioned. She wanted updates on the hunks in IIT. They spoke of their teachers, their friends, and the latest development in tennis. They also had the time to develop a physical working model of the aircraft’s wheel mechanism. It had a ball joint and a retractable lever.

Any stranger watching them would have thought them to be sharing a romantic relation. Truth was, they never had time to think of any such things. They simply had too much to do, too much to speak. Karthik’s father dropper Anu home. The happiness Anu felt that day was indescribable. There was that wonderful void in her heart, which is common to those who have shared their everything – joy, sorrow, dreams, fear..everything. While Anu was having a ball with Karthik, Ashok was busy spending time with Ravi (his childhood pal). They went cycling along the red hills road. Ravi was sharing his problems with him. Ashok was the ‘Andrew Elliot’ of his friends. You could say he was their agony aunt. He was always ready to listen. He empathised with people. He could never come with any solutions. However the very fact that he listened to them made his friends feel relieved. His personal life (or you could call his romantic life) was a non starter. Girls found him to be too soft. Not that he cared. He is a good ‘friend’ material, not a ‘boyfriend’ material was the common refrain. Anu felt that Ashok was holding back. Not letting himself go. Ashok felt it would be demeaning to be making an effort to woo girls. Not only that, he felt probably his 12th was not the right to be getting into all these ‘stuff’. And yet Ashok fell for her. It wasn’t love. He had never spoken to her. Neither did he think of indulging her. He wanted it to be an one sided affair, because he knew the painful truth that even she would understand. What attracted him the most to her was her spontaneous jovialness. There was something of the unbridled spirit in her, oblivious to any worry in the world. And he didn’t want to be the cause of breaking that wonderful equilibrium in Shruti.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Hmmm having come home at 6.45pm, have been watching Zabardast Hits and SAvsEng alternatively. I am in a half euphoric and half moody state. Such moodiness reminds me of those long forgotten school days when I used to spend my times as if in a solitary confinement. I am in a mood to yak and unfortunately have no willing ears that would listen. I am now feeling hungry. Maybe will go an cook in a short while. Could be something simple such as noodles. Don’t have the enthu to cook anything better. In case any of you haven’t read it yet, please do try out ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky. These are plain masterpieces. I really wonder what all Fyodor must have experienced in his life to come up with such a fantastic stuff. You know, he also wrote a book called ‘The Idiot’. It was supposed to be inspired by a scene in his own life – having knelt down to face the firing squad with a blindfold around his eyes, he was the next to face the bullet. All before him had been shot dead. Just when the call was to be given to shoot, someone came running. The tsar had supposedly pardoned off Fyodor. Speak of escaping death by a hair’s breadth. But what intrigues me is, what would had Fyodor looked forward to in his life post that pardon? I mean he had literally come to terms that in the next second he would be one with the Dead comrades. And the next moment he is granted pardon. Its almost like a binary transition. Straight from zero to one. Just that in real life, when we are dealing with emotions; how much ever hard we try it is difficult to deal with only extremities and no transition in between. But if that’s the way people are….well..that’s the way people are. Cant do anything about it.

You know….back in school and karaikudi, whenever I used to feel like this, I used to go on a loooong cycling trip. Focussing only on my thighs and the pressure that gets created there. Guess focusing on something different than what is actually eating you, eases you a little bit.

There were these times I spent with Srik and Pakki. I dunno what I will be if not for them. There are lots of things which different people do. And which seems very enticing to you. You might go on to think why not go and do that? Maybe you will be as good too. Nothing wrong in thinking that. But there should be somewhere that you draw the line. You have gotto realize that having given your best efforts, people are best in what THEY do. And not in what OTHERS do. So while we enjoy seeing others excel in their field, let us try channelizing that inspiration in excelling in our own field. While my Benz diaries was running its course, I had enjoyed a lot. And as so often happened in my case, I have hurt a lot of people too. I was too brazen those days. A heart felt apologies to all those people.

There was this presentation I attended yesterday. It was given by Dr.Aravind from Arvind Eye Hospital. He too spoke of management, subsidy and all the techno commercial terms that you would associate with the businessmen. And yet his presentation made me choke with tears. The work this organization is doing is damn good. Guess what? These bloody consultants are a much maligned lot. And they contribute a lot in fomenting such a thought too. Almost most of them (when not in their cliques) act snooty. There are a lot more of the professional snobbery which one can associate with them. Just that this breed seem to revel in that. That’s the saddest part.

Such is life. There are certain things you like to do. And certain things that you have to do.


I am sure most of us would have come across some tomboy character in our life. Sometimes in our own family, sometimes amongst our friends. And sometimes in books and movies. What attracts us towards them? Or more specifically what attracts boys towards them? It is the fact that we don’t have to deal with crying, fussing ‘girlie’ sissies. We can be what we are without having to ensure that ‘feminine sensibilities’ aren’t hurt. What more! You have the double merriment of being with a girl and enjoying her company quite unlike with any ‘normal’ girl.

By far the best tomboy I have come across is Laura Castellano – the fictitious latino in the book ‘Doctors’. She looks too good to be true. Very good in basketball, good in studies, no ‘choo chweet’ and all those nonsense. It’s a bonus that in the book she develops into a bombshell. But our focus is on her childhood and the times she spent with Barney.

Then I would say comes Kajol in KKHH. Almost the same story as that of Laura. But our own Desi version.

Okay. So these are the ficititious ones. But any real ones in my life? Well lets see.

There was Meks. In our childhood we did almost everything with the same fervour. She scrapped as hard as me, played gutsy far better than me, could beat me to death if she wanted and was THE ring leader of our local band of goondas. We used to speak of cricket, tennis, books, songs..everything. And then, she too went through the metamorphosis.

The latest in the list is Babli aka Tequila who just cant grow up. She is probably the oldest living tomboy I have seen so far. But am happy she is that way. Else it would be such a bore :D She has been successfully escaping the metamorphosis. Let’s see when that will happen.

Well, there was someone else who could beat me like hell. And she was pretty younger than me. My kid she is.

The funniest and the most embarrassing thing to endure for a guy is when these really good people turn into girls. It is almost like losing out a part of your being. No longer can you relate to them with the same effect as before. Not because you don’t want to. More often because their tastes gets too refined for your good.

So that’s the story of my tryst with TBs.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Kurai Ondrum Illai....Part 4

With this thought in mind, Dhaya left his home. He didn’t immediately start anything in the neighbourhood. He went to Koyambedu and did all and sundry manual work. This was just enough for him to have one meal a day which he had in a nearby aaya’s kadai. He stayed with a colleague named Balu. Balu was a happy go lucky man, ever cheery, very generous and a man of simple living. He took a liking to Dhaya right from the day they met each other. Balu was a moota thooki in the nearby shop. He could see that Dhaya preferred keeping to himself. Any small talks would be met with monosyllable reply. It wasn’t as if he meant to be rude. Just that he was to the point. Both of them stayed in a small koorai house just off the highway towards Maangadu. Everyday they woke up early at 3 and went to the market to unload their shop’s worth of materials. One day while they were returning home, Balu told Dhaya – ‘I don’t know what you are upto. You don’t seem made for this type of job. But still let me tell you this. You want to achieve something? Then speak up and be heard. Not in the way of making a noise about you. But just speak. Make friends. Make people feel comfortable. Make them want you. That is the key’. This probably was the longest conversation (one way or two ways) they have had in the last 3 months. And Dhaya true to his style just nodded and grunted a ‘Hmm’.

But he registered this. Immediately there was a change in the approach of Dhaya. He used to sing gaily while lifting loads. When not with any loads, he used to engage the shop keepers and the vendors in conversation. He tried to pick their brain. As to what made them successful. How they intended to grow. Where they purchased. What they did when they went back home. Any thing and everything under the sun he spoke with others. After 1 year, with Rs.5000 for a savings he came back to Jambu Nagar and found an acco for himself. It was with that famous non entity of the area – Kumar. He was a geriatric with flowing hair always rambling about the doomsday and how things are turning for the bad. No one wanted to be with him or near him. But it didn’t matter much for Dhaya. One, he was getting a literally free acco. And two, all he had to do to win Kumar’s confidence was to time a string of ‘Hmm’s. One every minute to let Kumar know that he was listening. Otherwise he was free to do whatever he wanted, uninterrupted. He first linked up with all the vegetable vendors in his area and agreed to bring cheap input vegetables for a small commission using his contacts in Koyambedu. People trusted him because they had seen him grow in this locality. And his was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Try whatever they did, they just couldn’t procure the vegetables cheaper than what Dhaya provided them. This was fetching him roughly 100 bucks a day. He used to buy food for 30 bucks, give a half to Kumar and eat the rest. Then he would go to the nearby park and indulge himself in star gazing there. One day at the park, he met his old English teacher. She was the only one amongst his acquaintances who was the same to him now, as she was before. She was asking him how things are going on and all the usual trivial stuffs. Just then a whiff of fresh air blew, bringing to Dhaya the smell of vaer kadalai from the other street. Then it struck him. And he was raring to try this out.

So very soon, he retrofitted all the scrap in his locality to make a thallu vandi – a push cart. With the help of his friends in Koyambedu, he got a cheap source of groundnuts. He got himself a stove and started roasting peanuts. Most of the peanuts, he consumed. That is, till the business picked up. And the key to his business picking up was his own school. The location of his school was a business man’s dream. It was smack in the middle of a busy street, a stone throw away from the bus stop. He stationed himself midway between the bus stop and the school playground and waited. 3 hours a day was the maximum he gave himself for this pass time. If it yielded money, he treated it as a bonus. Along similar lines, his dosa shop started. Primarily for personal consumption. After all, with a stove in hand he couldn’t resist it. Since he knew this place (Jambu Nagar) like the back of his hand, he was well aware that lots of bachelors stayed there. All that he had to do was to locate himself suitably and wait for the kill. His night time shop was also from his thallu vandi only. He didn’t have enough money to rent out a room or building. But then his USP was that by virtue of his education, he could fairly indulge anybody in any sort of conversation – trivial, political, philosophical..anything. And in many languages too. Slowly crowd started gathering. If not to eat, at least to speak.

Was this a sign that redemption was somewhere close by?