Posts Tagged ‘memories’

The heavens thundered. And streaks of lightning slit the night skies into two, then three, then four, five and into six halves. Like an uninvited guest the skies then opened up, sending down a rapid drizzle. Before Vikku could realize its intensity, the sky’s bladder unimpededly transformed the drizzle into a blistering outpouring. Vikku stopped his motorcycle beside the deserted road and looked around. There was no shelter in sight. And it was cascading by the gallons.

“Thank God for these rains. Now Bangalore will not run short of water this summer”, he thought as he climbed back onto his motorcycle and rode out into the rains. The hostel where he stayed was experiencing a severe water crunch and these untimely thunder showers were more than welcome. He rode slowly, halting now and then to peer at a distant light that he thought could possibly be a home or a shop or some sort of shelter, where he could find a place to halt awhile. But the rains tore down Vikku’s thoughts. And he kept riding. He had no other choice. He had to find a place to rest his wet body. Just then a bus shelter loomed into view. He bent his back low over the fuel tank of the Yezdi 250cc and accelerated.

The bus shelter was like a mini general hospital. While scores of people stood jostling each other, some sat huddled puffing away on beedis and cigarettes and some even managed to find some precious real estate upon which they lay down trying to catch some sleep. They looked like snakes wriggling with each other
during the mating season. There were also a few chewing ‘pan’ and spitting its juice on a freshly sprung rain water stream running beside the road alongside the walls of the platform. And as the red beetle juice snaked its way down the stream it looked as if an injured water snake was trying to make good its escape
from some of its enemies. Vikku parked his bike close to the bus shelter and ‘flew’ inside. One youngster smoking a ‘beedi’ gave him a quarter of an inch’s place so that Vikku could survive the onslaught of the rain.

He surveyed the scene around him. It resembled the days during partition. Most looked like villagers carrying household goods wrapped in bed sheets, towels, lungies and what have you. With every rumble of thunder a child would scream and cry helplessly, while with every streak of lightning a mother would cover the face of her child with the ‘pallu’ of her ‘saree’, lest the child go blind seeing the lightning. The rains were incessant.

Vikku having stood there for over an hour was growing impatient. He was returning to his hostel from a get-together of friends and classmates. Why did he ever take this route, he asked himself petulantly? He could have taken the busier road that wormed through the city. That way at least he could have found a
better place to halt. But now it was a little too late for doing a post-mortem report. He felt like calling a friend… a relative… but where was the phone? Where was the nearest telephone booth? There were no street lights and he couldn’t see a thing. He felt angry and brutally assaulted by these thoughts.

Just then a car sped past the bus shelter. Then a screeching noise rang through the darkness and pouring rain. The car braked and reversed at breakneck speed and hurriedly stopped outside the bus shelter. It was a black car with the windows rolled up. Some of the people trotted a few steps back and froze. Were
they gangsters who had come to rob them in this pall of gloom and ruin? As Vikku watched patiently, the rear window closest to the bus shelter rolled down.

“Vikram!” a voice pierced through the unbearably cold air and cascading rain. Vikku hesitated. He could not see the ‘voice’ inside the car. Pangs of fear mounted on him. The city had seen a spate of murders the past week and he wanted to make sure that he was not going to be another innocent victim. So he stood
rooted to the concrete flooring of the bus shelter.

“Vikram!” the voice pierced through the unbearably cold air again.

This time Vikku stepped out and shouted, “Who is it?”

“It’s me… John! Going to the hostel right? Hop in. I am going there too.”

Vikku stepped out into the rain and peered closer at the rolled down window of the black car. He recognized the face and at once seemed relieved and smiled unabashedly.

“What about my bike?” quivered Vikku, a sudden gust of wind throwing him off his feet.

“It needs a good bath anyway”, laughed John. “Leave it behind the bus shelter. We’ll pick it up tomorrow”.

The black Toyota Corolla belonged to Prithvi, a friend of John’s. They were both returning from a fashion show and Prithvi was planning to drop John off at the hostel till Vikku’s wet appearance changed their plans. They sped to a pub in the pouring rain gulped down a few beers, got dropped at the hostel gates,
climbed stealthily over the wrought iron railings and disappeared into the warmth of the hundred year old Jesuit institution.

That was how Vikku and John became good friends. They were not only going to the same college but were also staying at the same college hostel together. And that night the cascading rains had altered their relationship. From mere college mates and acquaintances they were now on the threshold of becoming the best of buddies.

As days swept into weeks and months, John and Vikku’s friendship grew closer and closer. John was pursuing his final year B.Com while Vikku was doing his BA. They rode on the Yezdi 250 cc wherever they went. To the movies. To the nearby shopping mall started by a prominent MNC. And even to romantic ‘dates’ hastily arranged by John. So much so that even if John had to go to a cousins’ place or to attend a function somewhere or to a book shop and sometimes even to the barber’s saloon it was Vikku who made sure that he dropped him off. For John it was always a free ride. And the money he saved by way of Auto fare went into beers, beers and more beers.

One evening after dinner John told Vikku that he was deciding to pursue an MBA programme in the US and for that he needed to complete one year of Masters. And that Madras University was going to be the venue. Because John thought that if he did his Masters from Madras University, he was not only going to get the 3+1 years’ that was required by all American universities, but also procuring the American visa would be simple and easy. John was a master tactician. Everything he did was always according to a plan. His father owned a large Coir factory in his native Kerala and sending John to the US for higher studies was no big deal for him. John was anyway going to return one day and take over the reigns of his father’s Coir Company and run it with new business techniques that he would learn in the west.

Soon John completed his Bachelors Degree in Commerce and was off to Chennai. After landing in Chennai he wrote to Vikku and gave him his contact address there. For a few days Vikku seemed a little lonely, but the kind of person Vikku was, friends and friendship was something he could forge easily. Soon Vikku
found a job and was lost in a glamorous world of advertising and films. His job took him to the most breathtaking locations in the country and then six months later to Chennai on a transfer.

And almost on the very same day Vikku contacted John and told him of his presence in Chennai. John was elated. They met that very evening and celebrated their ‘reunion’ with a few beers. After that Vikku would invariably sleep over at John’s place almost twice or thrice a week and then head home bleary eyed in
the mornings. John had a nice flat in Chennai’s business district. His father had made a few wise investments and this flat was one of them. That was how John rolled in bundles of green, while Vikku endlessly ran short. But John was always there, spending for him and not depriving Vikku of anything that would even remotely affect their friendship.

Vikku wasn’t a rich man. He came from a middle class family that had seen a lot of gloss and sheen in the past. But then as fate would have it, Vikku’s parents had plunged into hard times and it was Vikku who – along with his brothers – was trying to resuscitate a sinking ship. In these circumstances Vikku found himself devoid of even small ‘change’ by the middle of the month and it was always John who would perform the rescue act.

Once John went home to Kerala for a short break. Before departing he invited Vikku ‘home’ for a holiday. Vikku was a travel buff. Wake him up in the middle of the night and offer him a trip to some remote hill station or an island, Vikku would grab the offer and be off in a jiffy, only if he had the money. Now when Vikku hesitated, John said “Try and make it Vikku, Kerala is a swell place! And don’t worry about the money. Just come.”

A week later Vikku had packed his bags and together with John traveled the length and breath of Kerala. Though it was a long seven days, it was the first ‘big’ holiday in his life where he had embarked on a trip, away from his family and ‘on his own’.

For weeks and months after that, the twosome would still be talking and laughing about their tryst with beautiful white-sand beaches, gorgeous ‘white’ women sunbathing, mystic masseurs, drug peddlers, pimps and about restaurants that offered nothing but fish curry and stinking red rice, one that John enjoyed, but
Vikku slunk away from.

One day John called Vikku at his office and asked him if he could come that evening and help him out with some applications and letters that needed to be written to various universities in the US. “You are so good at that. We can also top up the evening with a few beers!” whispered John.

And Vikku would unfailingly go magnetically drawn to John by some quirk of fate. Soon the number of applications would mount and at the end of it John had applied to nearly 25 universities. By this time John’s TOEFL scores had also come and he had done reasonably well. And John was confident that even if he wasn’t getting a scholarship, his father would foot the bill.

A month later John decided that he was going to the University of Texas, Houston. And a few weeks later John came to Vikku’s apartment to tell him that everything was progressing well and that his application for the American Visa was the only thing that remained.

A few days later, John called Vikku at the office and told him that he had an interview with the Visa Officer at the US Consulate the next morning and asked him if he could come by and stay the night with him and drop him off at the Consulate premises at six in the morning. So that he could take advantage of the
time and get into the gates of the Consulate early.

Vikku went to John’s flat that evening, spent the night with him and learned that one of John’s younger brothers who was studying in a prominent college in Chennai had already left for the US Consulate to ‘book space’ and ‘stand-in’ for John in the serpentine queue, till he arrived at the Consulate the next morning. As planned Vikku woke up at five the next day, dropped John off at the US Consulate at six, and biked home. Before parting ways Vikku shook hands with John, wished him all the best and told him to call him and tell him whatever the result was.

John never called. Days flew into weeks and weeks galloped into months and still there was no news from John. Vikku was stumped. Did he get the Visa or did he not? If he did not, had he gone back to Kerala a heart broken man? But that wasn’t like John. Something must have happened, thought Vikku. That very evening Vikku’s father asked him whether John wrote or called him. And Vikku replied in the negative.

“That fellow is a time server!” Vikku’s father blurted out in disdain. “I knew it all along. But I did not want to hurt you and spoil your relationship with him. He made use of you, your time, your helpful attitude and your bike and now see what he has done. He hasn’t even bothered to keep in touch with you. How many months has it been since he’s been gone? One… two…”

Vikku sat sullen on the cane chair cupping his palm on his cheeks. He was pulverized at what his father told him. At the same time his father did make a lot of sense. But was John a time server, he asked himself? Did John make use of him to meet his ends and then dump him? There was a stoic silence, bordering on
the impassive. He then went about writing a letter to John’s parents in Kerala asking them for John’s US address. A week later John’s father sent him the address saying that John had come home to Kerala, packed his belongings and had flown to the US three days after he got the Visa.

Covered in angst, Vikku sat down and wrote to John.

“Dear John” he began,

“Oh how I hate to write these few lines. But I had to. You don’t know what your silence is doing to me. It worries me day in and day out. I wonder what has gone wrong between the two of us. Why didn’t you call me before you left? Why didn’t you write to me after you reached the US? Why…Why…Why…”

Four weeks sped by and there was no reply. So he wrote another letter.

“Dear John” he began,

“I thought you were my friend and I was yours. I thought our friendship was as thick as the shrubs that grow in the backyard of my apartment. Have you forgotten me or have you misplaced my address………”

Four more weeks went by and a reply from John continued to elude Vikku. Two weeks later Vikku’s younger brother arrived from California on 15 day vacation. At dinner time he recounted all his American experiences. And then suddenly out of the blue, he told Vikku.

“Hey! I met John in California.”

Vikku looked up paralysed.

“I thought he was in Texas” Vikku replied doubtfully.

“No, he had come to meet an acquaintance of mine who’s doing his Masters at the University of Berkeley.”

“Did you speak to him?”

“Yes! Only for a few seconds.”

“Then what happened?”

“Somehow it looked as if John wasn’t eager to talk to me.”

“Did he acknowledge the fact that he had received my letters?”

“I asked him that and he nodded his head. But then he immediately jumped the subject and got talking to Leslie, this acquaintance of mine.”

Vikku stopped eating. There was a lump in his throat. He slowly got up, washed his hands, stealthily walked out of the apartment, started his bike and rode out into the city. He stopped at a wayside self-service Cafeteria, ordered for a strong cup of coffee and as he waited for the coffee to arrive, strong bouts of thunder and lightning threatened the sky. He quickly gulped the coffee as soon as it came and rode out once again. For a few minutes he rode blindly, as if he was in caught in a maze. The monsoon winds blew gustily and brought with it the smell of rain. In a few seconds, pellets of water slammed Vikku’s hands and face and before he could realise the enormity of the weather, he was drenched by the north east monsoon. He glanced around as he rode. He had almost reached the outskirts of the city. The rain was coming down in torrents. So he turned and rode back, finally realising where he was. By now it was getting quite difficult for him to even ride in these painfully soggy conditions. A bus shelter loomed
into view and he bent his back low over the fuel tank of the Yezdi 250cc and accelerated.

He parked outside the bus shelter and dashed in, shivering bitterly. The bus shelter held a number of night revelers, some waiting for the last bus and some like Vikku waiting for the rain to hold off. Just then a black car sped past the bus shelter. Then a screeching noise rang through the darkness and pouring rain.
The car braked and reversed at breakneck speed and hurriedly stopped outside the bus shelter. It was a black car with the windows rolled up. Some of the people trotted a few steps back and froze. Were they gangsters who had come to rob them in this pall of gloom and ruin? As Vikku watched patiently, the rear window closest to the bus shelter rolled down.

“Vikram!” a voice pierced through the speedy wind and cascading rain.

Vikku hesitated. He could not see the ‘voice’ inside the car. Pangs of fear mounted on him. The city had seen a spate of kidnappings the past week and he wanted to make sure that he was not going to be another innocent victim. So he stood rooted to the concrete flooring of the bus shelter.

“Vikram!” the voice pierced through the cascading rain again.

This time Vikku stepped out and shouted, “Who is it?”

“It’s me… Paul! Going home right? Hop in. I’ll drop you.”

Vikku stepped out into the rain and peered closer at the rolled down window of the black car. He recognised the face and at once seemed relieved and smiled unabashedly. But then his thoughts darted back five years to that almost similar night in Bangalore.

“Vikram! Are you coming?” cried out Paul, yet again.

“Oh! Thanks Paul. Carry on.” Vikku stammered. “My home is just a few minutes away. And I have my bike too. I’ll manage.”

As the black Opel Astra ploughed into the river – that the road had seemingly become – and disappeared into the night, Vikku clenched his fist and shook his head. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.


Read Full Post »

Having seen most of the south, my wife and I were keen on going to a place we hadn’t been before. As our brain cells started working overtime, the phone rang incessantly one day. I was in the bathroom, while my wife was in the kitchen. I thought she would pick up the phone and she thought I would pick up the phone (not knowing that I was in the bathroom). As the ringing of the phone kept slamming my eardrums, I wrapped a towel around me and dashed to pick it up. A pleasant but heavily accented American voice answered (I really hate it when Indians who have grown up in India all along, start putting on an American accent)

“Can I speak to Mr. Narayanan Vincent?”
“Speaking”, I said.
“Congratulations Sir! You have won a holiday for two to Munnar, Kerala from Club Mahindra Holidays.”

I couldn’t believe it. I reeled. It was the happiest knockout blow I had ever received. Still reeling from the blow, I asked the heavily accented American voice (I forget her name now), how I hit the jackpot? She told me that I was chosen from a `lucky draw’ held at a shopping festival we had participated in, recently.

My wife’s face lit up, when I told her of the delightful news. And soon we started making arrangements. The best part was, Munnar had `eluded’ us for a long time, for strange and illogical reasons. One of them being that Munnar was `tea’ country and therefore there wouldn’t be much to see around.

Eventually when we got there, it was perhaps the most beautiful place on earth. Perched 6000 feet above sea level, on the Western Ghats, in Gods Own Country, Kerala Munnar enveloped me in her bosom like no other hill station had done before. (The exceptions being Darjeeling and Sikkim). If the colour `Green’ had another name, it would be Munnar. Yes! That was the most amazing quality of Munnar. Unspoilt. Sylvan. Idyllic. And definitely not the victim of a `gang rape’ that Ooty, Kodaikanal, Mussorie and Nainital were being subjected to, time and time again.

There were so many things to see in and around Munnar. From `Eravikulam National Park’ to hordes of lakes and dozens and dozens of waterfalls. But it was our stay at Club Mahindra that added a lot of color to our holiday in Munnar. There would be fun and games every day for all the holidayers staying at the Resort. And these fun and games would begin at 6 p.m. every day. These games were designed primarily to keep the guests entertained as it was not advisable venturing out of the Resort in the dark. In short, there were tones of fun for everyone.

And on one such day we had the `Best Couple’ contest. Infact the announcement of the contest was a complete surprise to every one of us. After we were all seated, the Master of Ceremonies said that he would be conducting a few `games’, at the end of which the `Best Couple’ would be chosen.

He then called for four volunteers to be the Judges. After two ladies and two men came forward, he asked for four couples – one from each zone, North, South, East, West – to volunteer and be the participants in this `fabulous evening of fun, games and revelry’. Hardly had he mentioned `South’, that I shot out of my chair, dragging my shocked, surprised and bewildered wife with me. And as the MC went about choosing the other volunteers from the other three zones, my wife kept tugging at my shirt sleeves.”You must be crazy participating in this contest. And even crazier, dragging me along”.

I `excitedly’ told her to calm down and go with the tide. But quite frankly I didn’t have the faintest of idea as to why I volunteered to participate and drag my poor and helpless wife along. But then I kind of convinced her saying, “This isn’t a figure skating contest or something where a cluster of medals are at stake. This is going to be the good old `Spoon and Lemon Race’ and `Musical Chairs’ kind of competition. So take it easy lady, we’ll win” I said.

“We hardly have the `figures’ to take part in a `figure skating contest’, leave alone run around with a Lemon that won’t stop bouncing around, and you are already dreaming of winning the damn event”, she butted in.

The MC interrupted us and started explaining to us the rules of the competition. The first round was going to be a “Husband Singing, Wife Dancing” round. Hardly had he mentioned this that Mrs. Agarwal looked at Mr. Agarwal, the couple from North Zone and blushed. I refused to look at my wife. But all those who noticed the Agarwal’s laughed. The second round was going to be both “Husband and Wife” dancing to a popular but old Hindi song. And the third round was going to be the “Balloon Bursting” round.

And so the competition began. We were the first to start off. I tried hard to think of something good to sing. But my mind went blank. Then my wife suggested “Surangani…Surangani”, the Sri Lankan `Bailo’, an extremely popular song at schools and colleges all over India.

Soon I was singing. And as I sang I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My wife was moving around the dancing floor like a ballet dancer. Bet `Vyjanthimala’ and `Padmini’ would have been jealous. I had never known she could dance so well. She had never told me that. Because whenever we had gone party hopping, I would be the `wild’ kind of guy, while she would squat in a corner, hibernating and waiting for me to make a re-entry into her life. So this came as a big surprise to me. Her dancing gave me that extra pep in my singing. The audience was smiling. Some were laughing. While some were in rapt attention. In a few seconds as my `singing’ and her `dancing’ came to an end, the applause was deafening. We had scored 17 points with three of the Judges giving us 4 points out of 5 and one giving us a 5.

The other couples soon followed. While the Northern couple secured 15 points, the Eastern couple secured 13 and the Western couple scored 12 points. We were in the lead. And my wife couldn’t believe it. Neither could I. For the first time in our married lives `winning’ was beginning to mean a lot to us. And we were not going to let it go.

The second event followed. We were to dance to an Old Hindi song that was going to be played. We looked at each other. I discovered a `gleam’ in my wife’s eye. That was exactly what I was looking for. Now the party had started.

This time it was the Eastern Couple that kicked off the second round, followed by West, North and finally us. I must say, the Eastern Couple took the evening out of us with their skilful and synchronized dancing. It was amazing to watch them shake their bodies to the rhythm of the old Hindi song (I forget the song now. But it was one of those golden hits of the 60’s). When they finished, the applause was mind blowing. And perhaps mine was the loudest. They had really danced well. The couple form the North came in next and they danced well too. Then came the Western twosome and then us. We tried to our best. Guess we were dancing together for the first time and so the harmony was kind of `missing’. Still we received a decent applause. With some in the 60 to 70 odd audience even saying, “Hey! You guys really dance well. You make a fine couple”.

But the Judges were the decision makers. So we waited. The Eastern couple came first with 18 points. The Northern couple got 17, we got 16 and the Bombay couple got 13. But after two rounds, we were still in the lead with 33 points, followed by the Agarwals from the North with 32 points, the Bihari couple from the East with 31 points and the Bombay couple with 25 points. This was a neck and neck battle. I guess it wasn’t getting better than this. I could see that the Mumbai couple had almost given up. But there was a steely determination painted on the faces of the other couples. Well… if they had steely determination, my wife and I had an iron determination. We were going to try real hard to stretch the lead and succeed.

In a few minutes the third and final round commenced. This was the “Balloon Bursting” round. The wife was supposed to sit on a chair twenty feet away, while the husband was to take a balloon each from the MC, run to the where the wife was sitting and burst it on her lap. Then run back and take another balloon, run to the wife and burst it on her lap, with his backs towards his wife. Then run back, grab another balloon, run again and burst it on the wife’s chest. The fastest to burst all three balloons and reach the finish line would get 5 points. The second fastest would get 3 points. The third would get 2 and the last would get 1 point.

The first to take the floor was the Mumbai couple. And how the audience laughed. It was like one tortoise running to the other tortoise. At the end, the Mumbai couple took all of 23 seconds to burst all three balloons. The next was the Eastern Couple. And they were quite quick, running and bursting all three balloons in 18 seconds. The Northern couple came next and clocked a time of 17 seconds.

The `day’ of reckoning stared at my wife and me. This was big time. The audience was in a fizz. And there was a buzz going around. Could we do it? Or could we not? I took hold of the first balloon in my hand and saw my wife sitting a good twenty feet away from me. I imagined Carl Lewis’ Gold medal run in the 100 metres at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The MC blew the whistle. I took off.

Not since school and college had I sprinted like this. My wife `froze’ seeing me charge. I could see her eyes closed. That’s when the first balloon went off. Then I `flew’ like the hare, grabbed the second balloon from the outstretched arms of the MC, ran wild, then turned and smashed the balloon on my wife’s lap like Michael Jordan jumping, turning and dunking in a basket. Then I `flew’ yet again. Grabbed the third balloon. Zipped back and banged it on my wife’s chest and tore away to the finish line. The MC looked at the stop watch. Then he looked at me. Then he looked at the audience. I could see the `unbelievable’ look on his face.

“11 seconds” he announced.

I screamed and jumped and flew to where my wife was sitting. We hugged each other. We couldn’t believe we had won. We had scored 38 points from the three rounds. Second was the Northern couple with 35 points. Third was the couple form the East with 33 points and the last was the Mumbai couple with 26 points.

And as we were `crowned’ the Best Couple, our joy and happiness knew no bounds. This wasn’t just a holiday, but the BEST holiday we had ever had. This was certainly a new chapter in our lives. The chapter of winning together. It was a wonderful and blissful feeling. A feeling that was second-to-none.

Copyright © 2009 by Narayanan G. Vincent -All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

I used to be a big Kite Flier in those good old days of innocence. Imagine wearing shorts that were far too short for a tall eight year old like me. Imagine crushing and grinding ‘tube-lights’ and ‘bulbs’ into fine powder and mixing them with colour and maida and concocting a ‘maanja’. Imagine applying them religiously on a large thread roll as if your life depended on it. Imagine tying this ‘maanja’ thread to a really noisy ‘Kite’ and letting the big bird soar through the skies. Imagine cutting another ‘Kite’ and jumping with joy and almost falling off the terrace. And even when you are not flying Kites, imagine chasing and running and chasing and running after other Kites that seemingly took light years to fall into your hands after getting cut five hundred feet above you. And all this when I was wearing shorts that were far too short for a tall eight year old like me.

This quite frankly went on till I was thirteen-fourteen I guess. After which there were numerous other interests. Including the two legged ‘Kites’ with pink ribbons tied to two black tails popping out from the back of their heads. Ah! Those were the days.

But a few months ago, when I took my four year old daughter to the Marina beach in Chennai, she wanted to fly a Kite. So I bought her a colourful one with a tail ten times longer than her pony tail. Oh, you must have seen the joy on her face. It was worth over a million words. But then, just as she was flying the Kite, I heard her scream, “Dadaaaaaaa… Kite goneeee….” I looked up from tying my shoe laces. She had let go the thread that I had carefully tied around her soft and baby fingers. I saw the tears swelling in her eyes and before they turned into a torrent, I leapt and chased and ran and chased and ran, just like the eight year old many many summers ago. In no time I had the Kite with me.

Copyright © 2009 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Santhome is a quiet residential neighbourhood in Chennai. Named after St. Thomas, I had spent almost half my formative years here. The very mention of `Santhome’ brings back fond memories; of a life that was beautiful; of a life buried in innocence; and of a life that was beginning to blossom. `Santhome’ had three churches, two mosques, a trillion temples – each jostling for space, half a dozen posh schools, half a dozen corporation schools, two slums and the second longest beach in the world, the Marina Beach. The streets were narrow, the roads were wide and life in those days of innocence was even wider.

The School I went to, sat on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and was a just a kilometer away from home. There wasn’t a day that went by where a visit to the beach was a must on my daily itinerary. I would most often head for the beach, once school closed in the evenings and sometimes during lunch break, if I wasn’t playing games or squabbling with my classmates.

Those were the days, when puberty made my telescopic eyes wander into doors and windows of homes in the neighborhood, hoping to catch sight of beautiful girls. After years of avoiding their presence, `age’ had finally caught up with me. The youthful members of the opposite sex were finally beginning to turn me on. I had now discovered that there indeed was life outside of school, outside of sport, outside of home. Oh, how beautiful they were. While some wore plaits, some let their hair fall short on their shoulders and for some it cascaded further down. And when they saw us boys walking on the other side of the road, they would immediately cross to our side, giggle with glee or give us a stare, sometimes a wink, shake their heads, let their hair do the talking and leave us with mounds of escalating heartbeats. Boy! Whoever said, only men made passes?

Back in school we would almost always talk about them. And each one of us had a story to tell. Everyday brought with it new vignettes of how somebody sighted a new girl in the neighborhood. What she wore, how she looked, how she talked, her gait, her weight… Sometimes it would leave me in a swirl. And with books to study, tests to be taken, cricket matches to be played, table tennis opponents to be hammered, this new distraction drove my mind into a nerve pounding traffic jam. My concentration withered. My heart quivered. My knees shuddered. It was getting a wee bit crazy.

One morning I was woken up at six and was asked to rush to the grocery store nearby, to pick up a few things for the kitchen. As I neared the store, I saw this teen walking opposite me, carrying text books in one hand and a bowl full of flowers in the other. She was wearing a pink blouse and a maroon kancheevaram skirt. Her forehead was splattered with kumkum, a bindi and a dash of turmeric and it was obvious that she was returning from an early morning tuition coupled with a visit to a temple nearby. Her eyes were like `lollipops’ and when she danced past me; her smile took my breath away. She was the most beautiful young woman who ever walked this planet. She was probably fourteen, going on fifteen. I had seen her before, a year or so ago, with her parents in tow. She was younger and much smaller then. But what baffled me was how come I hadn’t noticed her more often? Maybe I was still enveloped in an age of innocence then. And maybe that age of innocence had just died in me, after seeing her now.

I had half a mind to follow her and find out where she stayed, but then I had a chore to do. Still, my heart got the better of my head and I turned around to see if she continued to linger. She had disappeared. A few hours later I told my classmates, of my tryst with Lollipop Eyes. And friendly advice poured in. I never knew my classmates had become masters in advising fellow high schoolers in the art of making friends with a girl. It was unsolicited. I never asked. And that night I never slept.

After that I made it a habit of waking up at six in the mornings just to catch a glimpse of her. She never walked. She almost always danced. At least that was how it looked to me. But the problem with her was that she gradually became irregular in her morning appearances. Sometimes she came. And when she didn’t, she stoked yards and yards of disappointment in me, that could be felt and seen at the gates of my school, by my classmates playing basketball a good mile away.

As time flew, my attention also flew around. It did not sit on one subject. There were many. The girl in the blue pinafore. The girl with the bushy brows. The Smita Patil look-alike. The girl with the mustard top. The big bird. Snow White. Cinderella. M Square – short for Marilyn Monroe and scores more. And I always used to wonder, what names the girls would keep for us. I was sure they had deciphered nicknames for us too. Because whenever we crossed each other’s path, they would bend their heads, whisper amongst themselves, cup their mouths and giggle, while we would swagger, stagger and stammer. What puzzled us was that we hardly ever spoke a word to them. We had no guts to talk to them. Each day we would expect them to break the ice. And we were sure that they expected us to break the ice too. What we ended up breaking, were a few bones in our toes. Because we would walk looking up at them without glancing at what lay on the earth below.

I would spend the nights dreaming about them and then carry to school huge black bags around my eyes, the next day. When the class teacher asked: “Looks like you’ve had a long night. What have you been up to?” I would unabashedly say: “Oh, I was studying for the History test, Miss.”

Once a few of my friends had come home. I think it was during the Board Exams. And we had just then returned after writing a paper. From the first floor bedroom of my flat, we could see the girl in the blue pinafore walking towards us. She seemed to be going to her school to take the afternoon exam. One of my friends had a smart idea. He asked me to get ready Madonna’s “Who’s that girl”

number, on my stereo. It was a very popular song those days. And as the girl in the blue pinafore passed below us, we would switch on the `play’ button. As Madonna sang “Who’s that Girl”, the girl in the blue pinafore would turn pink and when she looked at us, it seemed as if her eyes were ready to dig a bore well in our eyes. And instead of facing the precarious situation boldly, we would dart behind the window and laugh nervously. We were cowards. I guess that was an age and time. But as weeks sped by, the girl in the blue pinafore would make sure that she walked by my bedroom window everyday, made sure that we played the “Who’s that girl” song, and when the song came on air, she would turn, look up at us and smile. A few days later she would wave. Later on as we mustered up the courage to talk, life turned out to be sweeter than wine.

After my exams, I left Chennai, settled in another City, did my higher secondary, graduated and started working. A few years ago, I went back to Chennai on work. I caught up with a few of my old friends and had a whale of a time. Needless to say the topic meandered onto the girls. One of my friends was up-to-date with their Resumes.

The blue pinafore went on to do home science and was settled in New York married to who else, but a software engineer. The girl with the bushy brows had married an industrialist’s son, was settled in a remote industrial town and when last heard was touring the African bush land with her husband, scouting for new businesses. The Smita Patil look-alike had entered the flashy world of modeling, and was apparently trying to make it big in Bollywood. The girl with the mustard `top’ had eloped with somebody with a mustard sized `brain’, only because his wallet was as big as a melon. The big bird had become an Air Hostess and grapevine had it that she was quite `close’ to some petrol-rich Sheikh in the gulf and was last seen dancing with him on a specially erected dance floor in the middle of an `oil’ field. Snow White married, had four kids and when last heard, her hair had prematurely turned white. Cinderella got into fashion designing, married a struggling advertising photographer and then dumped him for a French fashion designer. M Square – short for Marilyn Monroe had become a teacher and was the only one unmarried but had adopted nine children – three German Shepherds, two Dobermans, one Pomeranian, one Boxer and two country dogs. And my favorite of all, Lollipop Eyes had become a famous Bharatanatyam dancer performing all over the world, was married to her `guru’ and was bringing up two children both blessed with Lollipop Eyes.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Many summers ago, I had a maths teacher. Somebody I loved to hate. If my love for the subject was as narrow as the zip that held the fly of a jean together, it was because of my maths teacher. He was a crazy man. He had a huge belly that resembled a rock, standing precariously on a hill and about to fall. There was no way we could see his belt. And he was a meagre 35 years of age. He carried a grumpy face most of the time. And when he laughed, which was as rare as the dodo, he could be heard on the noisy beach on whose shores our school rested.

He was a task master. He would walk in everyday and the first thing that he would do was make the student he hated the most, stand up and tell him what A+B the whole square was. And if he did not know, the teacher’s hand would fly off the handle and smash the daylights of the poor fellow. This kept happening day after day after day. If the answer to the stupid problem in question wasn’t recited or blabbered or blurted out correctly, somebody was getting hit all the time. If it was A+B the whole square today, it would be A+B the whole cube tomorrow, or A+B the whole rectangle the day after, or A+B the whole circle the following day. It was getting really crazy.

And I was going berserk sitting quietly on one of those run down last benches watching the swollen faces and blood swelling cheeks and eyes. I knew my turn would come someday. And I wasn’t going to keep my mouth, hands or legs shut in the face of any attack. He was going to have it, if he just came near me. My blood boiled at more than a 100 degrees centigrade, every time I saw somebody getting slapped. Or should I say smashed?

But the shocking part was, he would somehow avoid asking these A+B problems to the front benchers or the so-called ‘Mug Pots’ as we used to call them those days. And you should have seen those “Mug Pots” at the interval. They used to hang around him, pestering him, ‘oiling’ him, ‘soaping’ him, ‘pattaoing’ him, ‘muskafying’ him, making sure they got on the right side of him.

“Sir! I have done this problem exactly the way you wanted. Take a look sir”, said one.
“Sir! I loved the way you explained the sum in class. Only you can do it, this way Sir” said another bright spark with soda bottle eyes. “Sir! My mother made some Jamoons this morning. I thought I should share some with you, because you like it so much” said a third who had a long way to go, to grow out his shorts.

Boy, how I used to hate those front benchers, those book worms, those “Mug Pots”, who were by now making it a habit of forming a coterie around him, doubly ensuring that they escaped the most treacherous of blows that emanated from the arms of this “calculating” rascal.

One day it was my turn to answer yet another of his A+B problems.
“What is A minus B the whole square?” he bellowed.
I stood up apprehensively. I was already six feet on my shoes by then. So when the Maths teacher stood next to me hoping that I wouldn’t answer, I wondered how on earth he was going to reach me with that iron like palm of his, for he was a good one foot below me. And the temperature was soaring down there.

As I struggled with the answer, out whizzed his right hand from his right trouser pocket at 80 km/hour. But suddenly something happened that left a loud HUSH in the class. My left hand dashed out from behind my trousers at 100 km/hour to stop the teacher’s speeding right hand. We stood there for a few seconds, hands locked in Karate style and feet rooted firmly to the concrete floor. His cheeks went red and he started sweating profusely. And then as I loosened my hold, he lowered his gears, dropped his hand and strode back to the front of the class. He would never look me in the eye again. He would never ask me questions. But he would fail me in all the tests and all the exams.

After that incident, I became the darling of the class. And what puzzled everybody, but none dared to ask me was, how could a beanpole like me stop a scarecrow like him?

I think that’s what it was. My maths teacher was a tough nut. He had a massive ego and was a complete MCP. His English was bad, but he would make sure that he cursed us in carefully chosen words, whether we made a mistake or not. And most of the ‘curses’ used to be in chaste Tamil, spoken only by fishermen and slum folk who lined the big city in hordes.

Among his choicest vocabulary was, “Erumamadu” (Buffalo in English) or “Pisasu” (Satan). If anybody failed to answer a problem, he would release a train of curses. “YOU BLOODY ERUMAMADU” or “YOU STUPID SATAN”. Not realising the fact that he very crudely epitomised “Erumamadu” and “Satan” in more ways than one. Some times when his cheeks turned cherry red with fire blazing out of his ears and smoke chimneying out of his nostrils, he would scream at the guy who stumbled for an answer, calling him BLOODY BASKET, instead of Bloody Bas****. And we would hold onto our stomachs till the period was over and till the Maths teacher disappeared from the vicinity of our class and then burst out laughing, uncontrollably. Such was his grip on the English language or Tinglish (Tamilised English) as we all used to call it.

Somebody nicknamed him Stupid Ed (his first name was Edward), but I called him StupED. The seeds of writing and the seeds of creativity were thus germinated in me for the first time that very year. And I went onto brand all my other teachers similarly. In no time, I started growing popular in school on account of that. Any letter to be written, I would be sought out. Any complaint to be made to the school authorities, with carefully chosen words, I would be the chosen one. But what refused to grow in me was my love for Maths and my Maths teacher. He was simply StupED.

Probably why my interest in sport burgeoned to gargantuan proportions. If I wasn’t in class, then I would be on the cricket field or across a TT Table or on the Badminton Court, or playing “7 stones” and “Back Puncture” with other back benchers like me. Studies simply took a back seat. And if I wasn’t playing, I would be burying my nose in a Charles Dickens, or a PG Wodehouse or a Robin Cook. And if I wasn’t doing that then you could almost always catch me writing something, from a letter or a poem to a short story or a song. I was very busy man you know.

When exams loomed ahead, I showed no nerves. But when the dreaded Maths paper appeared, I would either ask the guy before me to cooperate and allow me to copy from his paper by asking him to position himself to the right of me, so that I could copy letter to letter, word to word, numeral to numeral or scribble some nonsense and be the first one to exit out of the exam hall. Needless to say I would fail time and again, but appear in the top three in English, History and Geography, time and again. A success that would make my principal and other teachers scratch their heads in agony. Except my Maths teacher, who would go laughing all the way to the staff room, every time that happened.

But I knew where and when I would score over him. So I waited for the 10 standard public exams, to appear, knowing fully well that StupED would have no say in correcting my paper. And on the day the 10th standard public exam results broke out all over the state, I came to see whether my name was on the list put up by the school on the notice board. That’s when I saw him standing in a corner, near the Principal’s room, watching me. I recognised my hall ticket number and let out a little yelp, in delight. I had scraped through by a hair’s length. I glanced to my left to see whether StupED was still looking at me. He wasn’t there. As I slowly walked to mingle with my fellow classmates, I could see him watching me from one of the windows of the staff room. I turned my back on him and walked away. In two weeks I would leave school, do my 11th and 12th in another City, graduate from yet another City, journey into a world of the unknown and become a moderately successful advertising writer. But I would never forget my Maths teacher.

The last I heard of him was that his wife had filed for divorce, for wife battering. I felt a little pain, a little vacuum in my heart. He had not only destroyed many a student’s interest in mathematics, but had inadvertently destroyed his own life.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Much before our marriage, my wife and I decided to go in for adoption. It was something that touched our hearts and made us look forward to that glorious day, when we would bring home a `baby’. In fact `adopting a baby’ was among many interests, common between us. And that was something that bound us together like never before.

But we didn’t straight away go in for a baby. We waited for the right time. We wanted to be financially comfortable and have a large enough home for the baby to grow up in. The other reason why we delayed going in for adoption immediately after marriage was the restlessness of my job. I wasn’t in one place. And the fact that my wife and I were still getting to know each other, also gave us some time to defer the decision to another day. But then after four years of marriage, I guess our patience dissipated. And cute
little baby pictures started making their appearances on the walls of our home. The preparation or the welcoming ceremony had begun. And my wife made sure that the baby was not just going to be received well, but was also going to be brought up in good family tradition. And as far as that was concerned, she was the boss.

After making tones of enquiries, and walking in and out of many adoption homes, we finally zeroed in on a beautiful baby, being brought up in a `home’ on the outskirts of Bangalore. The day we saw him, we fell in love. He was not just a bundle of joy but a bundle of high-octane energy as well. Kicking about, flaying his arms around and giving us those smart `looks’ any parent would be proud of. This baby was God’s joyous answer to our quest for adopting a baby. And so on the anointed day, we brought him home. And promptly within a few seconds he announced his arrival by `watering’ the `Divan’, that sat by the window next to a coffee tree. In one second our lives had changed forever. My wife looked at me and I looked at my wife. When I tried to clean the mess, he
charged at me refusing to let me carry out the cleaning. So I carried him and my wife did the honours. This was just the beginning.

Soon he began to crawl… run around… and turn our lives and our home upside down. He became very mischievous. He was not the kind who would wait for opportunities to spring into oodles of prankishness, for it came naturally to him. Not a second would pass, without an act of roguery. We had no other choice but to put up with him in the best possible way. For with every act of impishness, he would bring on the smiles in our lives. And these smiles usually measured not in millimeters or centimeters but miles.

But the most intrinsic thing that attracted us to him was his parentage. His father was a German and his mother, a Canadian. And so were their parents and their parents’ parents. Their parents’ parents had descended onto Indian shores many summers ago. And thus all his immediate ancestors were born in India. By some quirk of fate, his parents gave him up for adoption, as they found it
difficult to bring him up. That’s when we saw him and grabbed the opportunity as if our very lives depended on him.

He looked like his father, especially his face and the expressions he created. Those cold and steely eyes, they were all so very German. But in colour and mannerisms he had taken after his mother. Fair and unmistakably Canadian. At least that’s what the adoption home told us. But whether he was a German or Canadian, he was our little baby. Our little bundle of joy. Our very own.

Is there a rule that stops Indians from adopting foreign babies? When they – foreigners – can adopt Indian children, why can’t we? That was the how we argued when friends and relatives questioned us on our choice of a baby.

In fact as I punch in the keys of my computer to write this little story, my cute little son is gnawing away at my Jean… And as I write these last few lines he is… jumping onto me, sniffing at the Keyboard… wanting to know what I am doing sitting before the computer… and eager to know where the punching noise is coming from.

Poor little Goofy! That’s what we named him. For one so intelligent, street smart and handsome, I wish he was a human being. But God had other plans. So he gave him a tail and made him a Dog. And I must say this German Shepherd and Labrador cross is one helluva faithful Dog. He is our little cutie-pie. Our little bundle of joy. Our little mischievous son. We are indeed proud to be his parents.

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent – All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »