Tag Archives: Humor
Babies haven’t any hair:
Old men’s heads are just as bare;
From the cradle to the grave
Lies a haircut and a shave.
– Samuel Goodman Hoffenstein
Nakul and I are not too different.
We have been friends forever. And we’ve been forever obsessed with our hair.
It all started in Primary school, when the blue eyed Aarthi told both of us how much she liked our hair and how nice it smelled. Our families did not realize that there was something wrong, until Dad’s aftershave, Mom’s skin lotion, the expensive perfume that was gifted for their wedding, started disappearing mysteriously. Nakul’s mom once even complained of losing the Phenol bottle from their bathroom. It was only when my mother broke 3 combs while combing my hair, and Nakul’s mother found his head smelling like the toilet, that they realized that something was wrong. Of course some violence at home ensured that we were back to our normal self, and Aarthi went on to like the tonsured Prabhu. But then, that was the start of a lifelong obsession.
I hated taking a shower as I was scared, I would wash off my hair. My mother, a very qualified 5th Grade Science teacher, educated me that it was common for us to lose hair every day. I knew how dumb the Class 5 guys of my school were and hence did not trust her at all. Nakul told me that he would collect all the hair he lost and then ‘re-insert’ them back. I tried it too, but it was too difficult to keep the head still or risk the inserted hair falling off. I ditched the idea and decided to stop combing my hair completely.
There were two things that I absolutely hated as a kid. One was the vacation trips to Tirupathi, and monthly haircuts. I had nothing against God, trust me. Considering the daily prayers I chanted to keep my mane strong, dense and healthy, I had the utmost respect for the almighty. But I cringed at the thought of offering hair to God. I considered it as evil as sacrificing animals in the name of God. I tried fighting off the trip, but then parents are parents. Every year, for 2 months after the vacation, I would wear a new, super cool cap that an Uncle had bought me from ‘Foreign’. Nakul would vouch for me every time and make the kids feel as if I was cool, even though he knew that the most distant relative I ever had was working in a bank in Bangalore. But then, what are friends for? As if this wasn’t enough punishment once a year, every month I was duly forced into the Barber shop down the street. Sasi Anna was only just learning the ropes from his father there, and Nakul and I were his favorite ‘lab rats’. But then with the years, the three of us grew very close to each other, and in our early teens, we became very very choosy with the way we wanted our hair cut. In fact, we became sort of the in house experts as far as hair style was concerned, and Sasi Anna’s customers began seeking our suggestions. We learnt a bit of the trade too, and once, I even tried cutting my Dad’s hair. That it had serious repercussions, is another story altogether.
Also, I hated my Dad… Seriously. He was definitely the most greatest father any boy could have growing up and my most trusted friend after Nakul. But then his receding hairline kept rubbing it in, that hair loss was hereditary in my family. Every time, he would comb over those few strands of mane to cover the barren patch over his forehead, tears would roll down my eyes watching my future laugh at me. The Autumn of my crown, wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to. I also realized later that Appa was as angry with his Dad because of the very same thing. The bald portraits of grand old men hanging in the hall was a testament that the men in my family were blessed with hair loss. And that’s when I decided to become a genetic scientist and find a permanent cure for hair loss, and save the men of this world from insanity.
Sadly the world then taught me, that having an ambition alone doesn’t really help unless you have the brains for it. Nakul was no Einstein either. Thus sitting in the last bench of our class in the Computer Science building, we pursued the 3 year Bachelor of Science course for 5 years. We were the cool dudes of our college. Our silky black, shoulder length flowing mane was the talk of the campus. Our HOD loved our hair so much that he would run his fingers through them, grab them and drag us out of the class, every day, for no reason at all. We hated him for it, but then that’s what a college kid is supposed to do. We wore tight, black t-shirts, cool shades, and were practically Rockstars.
Everything was cool until that day in the theater when, a friendly neighborhood Romeo, sitting behind Nakul tried to run his fingers through his hair, mistaking ‘him’ to be a ‘her’, only for Nakul to turn back and give him a heart attack. Not just the Romeo, the girls in the college loved us too. It kind of got a little strange, when we realized that we were beginning to be surrounded by them much more than we really liked. It reached a new low when this first year girl walked up to me and asked in full public view of the entire male population of the college for any tips to keep hair strong and shiny. As flattering as that short conversation was, it also bordered on ‘total damage’ to our Guy ego. Nakul who stood a few steps away from this incident, apparently, bunked the next 2 hours to run off to the Barber Shop. Sasi Anna told me later, that he cried as much as I did when I went there in the evening for the same reason.
After college, I began to work in a small company that didn’t pay too handsomely as some of the other ones did. The work was equally less too, so I didn’t really mind. “Less tension, less hairloss” was what I cited as a reason when somebody questioned my choice of job. That I couldn’t clear any of the interviews in the other big companies was strictly between Nakul, Dad, the old bald interviewers and Me. 🙂 Nakul fared well in this aspect though and landed a job in an MNC with a handsome pay. I was happy for him. Happy that there was someone now who could sponsor those costly hair lotions for me. Working around serious 30 somethings at work, who were just getting started with the fall season of their heads, can be a terrifying experience, you see.
And then slowly, what we had dreaded began happening. It was in no way instant, but hit us slowly like age. In fact it was exactly that – age.
Don’t get me wrong, but both of us were not exactly, what you’d call old. Creeping up on the wrong side of 20’s this was when our families tossed the dreaded ‘M’-word around. Photos were requested, and I went deep into research to find out the angle of the photo that showed the most amount of hair on my head. I honestly felt it odd that my parents screamed, when I gave them a photo of me in a helmet on my bike.
Ah Helmet… Us and that wretched thing go back a long way too. As with any normal guys, we also had the best bikes that we could emotionally blackmail our parents into buying for us, as soon as we entered college. Little did we realize, that with great power, came a stupid responsibility. Helmets… My parents wouldn’t let me touch the bike without a helmet. But there was this sinister, urban legend about the helmets that scared us out of our skins. Apparently there was this powerful curse that anyone wearing a helmet would lose hair faster than you could say ‘aiyayoo’. Just to please Mom and Dad, I would wear one till I left the gates of the apartment, after which it would proudly sit on the fuel tank. I knew it wasn’t safe to drive without a helmet, but I never crossed 45kmph in the city traffic. I was scared, the wind and pollution would blow off my hair. 🙂
But then, one fine day, it became a law to wear a helmet. Nakul and I had this thing for challenging the rules, and we were promptly stopped by this ‘abdominally unchallenged’ traffic cop near the Mount Road signal. It would have been easy if we had just nodded to the sermon administered on road safety and importance of helmets, and paid the 500 Rupees fees for it, but no… As soon as the cop took off his cap and advised us that life was more important than hair, Nakul winced his eyes, put on his shades, looked at the shining second Sun before us and said as sarcastically as humanly possible – “Oh yeah, you would know, won’t you…”. 2 hours and 2000 Rupees later, we were still not convinced that we were wrong. At least we did not land in the jail. 🙂
And as time passed, life moved on, barren patches of experience began dotting the lush thicket of youth, and we began to accept the changes. I married Lakshmi and settled down in Chennai. Nakul on the other hand moved to London with Suja. We kept in touch with each other on Facebook, and rejoiced in watching photos of each other seeing who had more hair. Gradually, a good ‘hair day’ became as simple as having enough strands on the head that day.
And after a good three years he landed in Chennai. We decided we will meet at the beach, our regular hang out. I drove in to the parking lot, helmet and all, checked the hair and marched to meet someone who had seen through the thick and thin with me. Nakul stepped out of the car looking dapper and with much more hair than I expected. We shook hands, grabbed a coffee from the nearby stall and walked towards the beach. 3 years was a long time, and there was way too much to talk. It was a delight to again be hanging out like a bunch of teenagers. Friendship was in the air.
And then, without warning, a strong gust of ‘unfriendly’ wind blew.
Few minutes later, after we fetched our ‘stuff’ from the sand that the cruel wind had knocked down, we looked sheepishly at each other. We were silent for a while and then laughed our hearts out. No, Nakul and I weren’t too different at all.
I don’t consider myself bald, I’m just taller than my hair.
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani
Mohan sat there watching the coy Jaya listen to him. She was beautiful, smart and very intelligent. He… was no match for her. Their parents had tried to fix this alliance. He liked her. Marrying him wouldn’t have killed her either. So it was almost finalized. Everything was fine… Until…
Jaya shook her head… Mohan clutched his… His world collapsed… Yet again…
A lot of muted conversations, faked smiles, and ‘head-shakes’ later, Lakshmiammal broke the silence and uttered a very ‘HR interviewer’-ish line.
“We will get back to you later…”
That was the third time this had happened with Mohan and Lakshmi Aunty was clearly worried about her only, 30-and-showing-no-signs-of-getting-married, son…
And all Mohan had asked Jaya was “Do you know cooking?”
Lakshmi Aunty almost cried on the way back in the Car. Mohan was miffed with her. Despite having told his mother a zillion times she had looked up a girl who didn’t satisfy his preliminary requisites. She looked beautiful, was from a rich, well to do family, worked in a bank, and earned a decent salary. But it just didn’t matter anymore. Boiling water in an induction stove was perhaps the only thing that Jaya had done related to cooking. If she didn’t know cooking, how on earth, or heaven or hell, could she make him what made his world go round – Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani. “Loosa ma nee?” was the best way he could sum it up to his mother at that instance.
Mohan and Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani go back a long way. He and that seraphic plate of dry, oily rice with a heavy helping of spicy chicken pieces, shared such a deep bond that nobody could explain. He had grown up hating veggies like all other kids. But as he grew, the ‘veggie-hater’ kid in him refused to. While kids his age would crave for chocolates and ice creams, Mohan would crave for a ‘leg-piece’ in his Biriyani. Chicken became his favorite animal, and he showed his love by doing what he did best to them, devouring them every weekend. As Ravi Shastri once said about Sachin’s batting, Mohan was sent into this world for only one thing. To savour and devour the best tasting Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani. He loved Chicken Biriyani so much, that his friends swore that he had onion Raitha running in his veins instead of blood.
His mother wanted to see him married off. After Mohan’s father passed away, he was the only thing that meant the world to her. She wanted to see her only child settled in life. Also making Chicken Biriyani this regularly, wasn’t too easy you see. 🙂 She had tried her best to find a suitable girl to ‘outsource’ this off. The best alliances were looked up, photos exchanged, horoscopes matched, and sifted through proposals until she discovered Meera, a very traditional South Indian girl. She had double checked if she knew how to make Biriyani and only then had called on them at their home. Mohan was excited, but 5 minutes later, he walked out disgruntled. It turned out, that she could only make vegetable Biriyani, as Meera was a vegetarian. Mohan dropped the idea of marrying her, faster than KKR dropped Ganguly in IPL4.
Aarthi was a bit different. She knew cooking and made good Chicken Biriyani. It seemed a match made in heaven. But Mohan rejected her after she wanted an undertaking from him, that she would want an equal helping of all Biriyani that she cooked, and any ‘leg-piece’ was to be equally shared between them. “The Government gives 30% only and you want 50?” he had frowned at her before walking out.
Jaya, was someone Mohan had known in school. She used to be his neighbor and they had studied together till 8th grade, where she used to bring him delicious Biriyani for lunch from home on Wednesdays. So when Lakshmi Aunty told him about her, he was assuming that she would have picked up some skills from her mother. But then, she apparently had spent a good deal of time in the US, and had no exposure to cooking at all. “How people change?” he wondered to himself as he drove back in his car that day. His mother tried to convince him that she could teach her how to cook Chicken Biriyani over the phone, as she had done to many other people. Mohan was just too distraught to listen.
This ordeal with Women had plagued Mohan’s life forever. College wasn’t too kind to him either. Oh yeah, he had his sweetheart in College. But the relationship broke down before it took off after the girl became a Vegetarian. And he had a thing for Vegetarians you see.
“No meat? What do you mean no meat?” He had argued with a friend in college. He had this theory that the world was coming to an end, thanks to Vegetarians.
“You guys are disturbing nature’s food cycle man.” he had claimed. “If the top of the food chain ignores what’s under it, there would be no more a pyramid.” He made it sound so convincing that he had Parthu, his college roomie, ‘convert’ from a ‘yuck omelette!’ guy to a ‘what no omelette?’ guy. Left to him, he would have published a paper on how vegetarianism leads to Global Warming, and have Dr.Manmohan Singh appoint an Anti-Vegetarianism Task Force in the country. He was, what his college mates called, ‘Menaka Gandhi’s Worst Nightmare’.
The Biriyani mania continued to office, and his love for the food became folklore. He became the ‘Customer of the Week/Month/Year’ at his Office Cafeteria’s Biriyani stall. On successful completion of the project, his team lead, Prabhu had promised him a double plate of Chicken Biriyani at his house and Mohan’s Uncle just had to keep his son’s wedding on that date. Mohan had to decide between a plate of Biriyani and his Cousin, and he immediately had decided on Biriyani, before his mother threatened to sever all ties with him if he didn’t make it to the wedding. And so while all his project mates were at Prabhu’s house, gorging on a delicious mountain of Biriyani, Mohan had to sit at the wedding eating Sambar rice and potato fry.
He had now rejected 3 girls, and that wasn’t a good sign. His time was running fast and his hair-line receeding faster. Now rejections do also take a toll on the groom’s prospect as well. No girl’s father wanted to have his girl be rejected by a ‘Biriyani junkie’. The proposals almost trickled down to absolute zero. Lakshmi Aunty used every wedding, reception and Social gathering to do some bride hunting for her son. When she found a girl who could cook, her horoscope did not match. Whenever the horoscope matched, the girl’s height didn’t. When the height did, the weight didn’t. It had reached a point when Lakshmi Aunty had almost resigned to the fate that she would have to cook her Bachelor-for-life son Biriyani for life, when Mala happened…
Mala was her close friend’s daughter, who had moved in to Chennai from Hyderabad recently, and that was the first thing that grabbed Lakshmi Aunty’s attention. She was very beautiful, had studied Engineering in Hyderabad and with her father’s retirement, had decided to come back and settle down in Chennai. Aunty just hoped that she had bought with her some of the spicy, culinary skills from their Telugu speaking neighbors. She made a few calls, made some checks, and one fine Sunday morning, dragged a very reluctant Mohan to Mala’s place at Porur. After the customary greetings and snacks, Mala and Mohan were left alone to strike a conversation and ‘know each other’. Lakshmi Aunty uttered a zillion silent prayers.
Now this wasn’t new to Mohan and he usually knew how the events would fan out. Like a seasoned recruiter of an IT company, he had now the expertise to size up the person in front of him. He had made it a habit of showing no remorse in the questions that he asked her. But just a fleeting look at Mala changed all that.
She was beautiful, smart and very intelligent. He… was no match for her.
He was tempted to forget this interview and say ‘Yes’ at that very instance. But then, his ‘Biriyani-eating’ counter-ego, kicked in. His previous three outings had taught him good. He decided to tone it down just a bit.
“So Mala, do you cook?” he asked gently. His fingers crossed, almost on the verge of getting dislocated.
“Cooking… you know…” Mohan motioned his hands as if mixing a big pot of steaming Biriyani…
Mala took her time, and then moved her head in all directions…
Mohan sat there fixed in anticipation, and asked “Nodding is good… But is that a yes or a no?”
“Yes!” she smiled almost immediately.
“Stage 1 cleared.” he told himself and continued “And are you a vegetarian?” he popped his next question.
“Only on Thursdays” Mala replied.
“I can live with that” a desperate Mohan consoled himself, before Mala added “But I have no problem cooking it whenever you want” she smiled.
“Oh my dear Angel” Mohan was ecstatic, this might just work. But he had one more question.
“So… What do you…” Mala interrupted Mohan before he could complete his question.
“Appa Amma say I make the best Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani they have ever tasted. We were in Hyderabad you know. I learnt it there. Do you like Chicken Biriyani?” she asked…
And so, like Dosa and coconut Chutney, Biriyani and Raitha, Rotis and Dal, Mohan knew instantly that they were just made for each other…
“There is a God…” Mohan looked at the heavens, tears in his eyes and uttered, “Thank You.”
As Mohan walked back to that crowd that sat in the living room to express his whole-hearted approval of the match, and perhaps even check if they would serve Biriyani for lunch, Mala took out her mobile, went to Contacts Manager, renamed the contact ‘Lakshhmi Aunty’ to ‘MIL’, smiled and muttered “Thank You Aunty”. Her laptop on the table displayed 34,200 Search Results in Google for “Beginners guide to make Hyderabadi Chicken Biriyani”. 🙂
After all, all was fair in Love, War and The Great Indian Arranged Marriage.
You know what? The toughest part of a Love marriage is not convincing your parents. Oh no, that can still be managed at a later point, by emotional blackmailing, silence treatment, hunger strike or perhaps any other method that Indian Cinema has unleashed upon us. The toughest part is breaking the truth about your love story to them. Telling them on their face and watching their reaction. Guessing if its going to be an Alaipayuthey type of “Veliya po di” (Get out of here) sort of a reaction or a Sooraj Barjatya type of smiling, “ask him to come and see us tomorrow” kind of a reaction. It is harrowing. Especially if you are a girl, from a strict, middle class family in Chennai. Especially like the one I was from. And I was going through the tremors as I stood there before a very nervous Amma and Appa, who thought I was going to tell them that I did not get promoted.
My name is Aarthi… Aarthi Chandrasekar. Or AC as my friends call me. A regular 26 year old, free thinking, salary hike and promotion seeking, deeply in love, software engineer, who’S like anyone you would have seen on the busy OMR working in one of the many IT companies in Chennai. I earn a decent buck, fight with my brother, love my parents and most importantly to this story, had fallen in love with a guy of my dreams. Well… sort of.
Ok. The hero’s name is Atul Kumar Rajendran. Smart, geeky looking, B.Tech Chemical guy who found his calling in dotNet programming in another IT company a few minutes drive from mine. Curly hair, thin rimmed glasses on an oval face, almost 6 feet in height on Fridays when he is wearing his thick Woodland shoes :), shy, not really a social butterfly, but a voracious reader and a wonderful human being. It was surprising that I had grown so fond of him, considering that we had met each other, through a common friend, less than 2 years ago. There was no official ‘proposal’ from the either of us, but we grew so deeply in ‘love’ with each other, that we decided that it was time to tie the knot. Apparently his family were ok with his decision, which left me with a scary thought of breaking the news to my parents. And it was on a cold, January morning, that I belted out my well researched, well practiced, but poorly executed, “I am in love” dialog to my parents.
“Hmmm… What did you say his name was again? Amul Ramarajan?” Appa shouted after a long spell of silence, after I told them about Atul. Silence that was punctuated by hushed up giggles from my younger brother in his nearby room who was now contemplating about taking over my room after I was kicked out of the house.
“Atul pa…” I corrected him. “Atul Kumar Rajendran. From Alwarpet. Software Engineer pa… Good Family… Monthly Salary is…”
Appa raised his hand and asked me to stop. I faithfully agreed. My throat went dry. Amma stared at me as if I had just tasted her delicious Sambar and said it was horrible. Paati in the nearby room came in, wanting to know what was happening. Appa and Amma spoke to each other in hushed voices, while I began to make a mental plan of action on what to do if I was thrown out of the house. I was trying to remember a few hostels in the area, and if I would be allowed to pack my bags before leaving, when Appa cleared his throat…
“Aarti ma. Tomorrow evening 5pm sharp. Ask him to come here. I want to meet him. I am not saying anything at all until I meet him. Tell him not to bring anything with him, just ask him to be here at 5 on the dot. I’ve got something else to take care after that. Clear? Go to your room.” Appa said.
I smiled and in true filmy style wanted to hug him tight, yelling “Appa!” with the veena playing a happy tune in the background… But better sense prevailed, and I marched up to my room, content that the worse was over without major damage. It was all in Atul’s hands now.
And true to his word, Atul’s bike growled to a stop before our gate at 4.45pm. I sneaked a look through the window, only to find him, wiping his face with a tissue paper, combing his hair, and praying like a 12th student about to enter his exam hall, before opening the gate and stepping in. I told Amma that he was here, and she went with Appa to answer the door. I tried to peek at the proceedings from the adjacent room. Amma and Appa welcomed Atul in with a smile. Amma dropped the tumbler in her hand which made a funny noise as it rolled over on the floor, providing some situational background music to enliven the proceeding. Appa invited Atul to the sofa, while Amma walked back towards me, tumbler in hand, sweating profusely, and with a very very serious look on her face.
“Come inside di…” Amma signaled to me as she walked past me towards the kitchen. I saw Appa examining Atul as if he was an alien species that had just knocked at a scientist’s door. Atul was clearly uncomfortable and sat there twitching in his seat.
“So what do you do pa…?” I could here Appa asking Atul, before Amma yelled at me to come in.
I rushed in to Amma in the kitchen as she was preparing tea there, and stood there silently.
“SO…?” I asked quietly.
“GO get the new saucer set from the cupboard.” Amma replied, almost expressionlessly.
I obeyed quietly, hoping she hadn’t heard my question. I brought out two beautiful cups from the cupboard, washed it, dried it clean and placed it on the table.
“So… How do you like him?” I asked again.
Mom did not utter a single word, as she removed the milk from the stove and banged it on the table. I kept watching her lips expecting her to utter at least a “hmm” of acceptance… Nothing came. I waited for a few minutes till she poured the hot tea to the tea cups.
“Amma!” I screamed, clearly frustrated.
“What?” She shouted back, equally frustrated, only to make me realize that after all ‘screaming’ was in our gene pool.
“Atul ma…? How is he?” I almost pleaded for a reply.
Amma looked at me straight in the eye for a few minutes, before she continued with her work, and muttered – “I don’t like him.”
I was confused, and hoped that I did not listen to her properly, before Amma gave me that tray with two cups of piping hot tea, to be served to Appa and Atul.
“But why?” I asked her, almost crying, like a little girl who was told that she can’t have that doll that she had wanted at a toy store.
“Now go, give this and come back” she ordered.
I walked slowly towards the living room, the tray in hand, slowly thinking that Atul was going out of my life for good, when I heard Appa laughing out loud in the living room. And that too, with a stranger he had just met. Suddenly the future did not seem that dark at all. My pace quickened as I almost spilled the tea before I reached them. Clearly Appa was impressed with Atul.
“I trust my daughter pa. I always have. I trust her enough to make the right decisions. So when will your parents….” Appa stopped as I approached them. There were smiles all around. A stark contrast from the situation in the kitchen. 🙂
“Aarthi ma, I’m just stepping out with Atul thambi. He has offered to drop me till the 3rd street. Tell Amma that we are leaving.”
This was huge. Atul ‘thambi’? Atul had seriously impressed Appa. I couldn’t stop giggling. Things were looking up and how. I went in and called Amma, and she put on her ‘difficult smile’ to come outside and see off Atul and Appa. I was happy that Appa looked happy, as he sat behind Atul’s Pulsar and sped off down the road.
But when I turned back to Amma, that ‘difficult’ smile had disappeared completely, only to be replaced, with an expression of angst, a mild touch of dejection, and a good measure of disappointment thrown in.
“What the hell is wrong with you ma?” I pleaded.
She turned to go in quietly, unmoved, untouched.
“Aiyo. Amma!!!” I screamed, standing in front of her now.
“Stop it now… I told you right. I don’t like him… Now move.” She pushed me aside coming inside the house..
“But whyyy?” I said in the tone that I had forgotten to use after my class 10th exams.
“See, I can’t give you explanations for everything. I don’t like him, and I won’t let you marry him.”
This was now officially, War. I mean I could have argued with her, if there was a reason for her to not like him. But clearly, she had none. And I wasn’t going to give up this easy.
“What? Don’t you see Appa likes him totally. I’m sure he’ll agree.” I argued.
“I can see that… Your father looks unusually happy. Not sure if age has damaged his brain or something. But whatever he says, this marriage is not happening. I will never agree to this.” My mom declared. I began crying.
Filmy dialogs ensued, suicide threats were followed up by ‘I’ll run away from home’ threats, tears flowed in abundance, but my mom was unmoved. My dear old Paati, with her ears that were now being used only to support her glasses, sat patiently in the pooja room, unmindful of the commotion created in the living room. After I had cried my eyes red, I crawled to my mother’s lap, hug her tightly and pleaded.
“Please ma. He’s a good guy. He loves me a lot. He’ll take care of me well.”
My mom began crying now. But moments later, she regain her composure and looked at me.
“I know di. But… But there is something that you should know.” She peeked to see if her mother was still in the pooja room. Satisfied, she took me by my arm and dragged me to the store room.
“Come with me. I have a secret to tell you…”
We reached the store room and moved a few broken chairs, old photo frames, and cleared the cobwebs, to reveal a small loft in the end of the room. A loft that had a few brown coloured, iron trunks, neatly arranged on top of the other.
“That one…” Amma pointed to a green coloured trunk in that loft. “Help me get that one down.”
We slowly managed to drag the big old trunk from the loft, to the floor. It was surprisingly light for its size. Amma sat there, feeling her initials on it, and tried to clear years of dust that had formed its surface now.
“Now listen to me carefully. Not many people know this, but I trust you di.” She started. I was confused like an insect in a glass box. “Back in the late 1970s, when I was studying BA in Rajaji College… I… Well… I really used to like a guy. He was my senior. He helped me a lot with my English in college and I used to do his accounts assignment. We met very often and slowly it developed into friendship. We used to like each other a lot and were in absolute awe of each other.” I saw a trace of smile on her lips as she narrated this to me. I was now giggling like silly.
“Ammma… :D” I teased her, surprised out of my senses, that this was my mother I was talking to. I had nothing else to say. “So what was his name?” I asked.
Amma’s smile slowly faded away, she opened the trunk, went through a a few books that had pages almost disintegrating when they were touched. She looked deep, searched hard and finally found what she was searching for. She took a little, old, black & white photo, saw it for a couple of minutes, and then passed it on to me. “We wanted to marry each other. His name was Anand..” She began, around the same time I turned the photo passed on to me. I was not prepared to see what I saw.
Out of the photo, peeked a geeky looking, young man, Wearing a floral printed shirt, straight out of the seventy’s, with a curly mop of unkempt hair on his oval face. A big framed spectacle adorned his face. He looked like any young man from the seventies, except… Well… Except that it was the face that I had come to love the last couple of years.
“…Anand Kumar Rajendran.” Amma completed. “Now you see what I meant?” Amma added sobbing “I bet that’s Atul’s father’s name.”
I was blown away. I was hoping that this was some Photoshop trick that my totally computer ignorant Amma was playing with me. It was undoubtedly Atul’s face on the photo, only with a very seventies, funny, hairdo and printed shirts. But it was Atul no doubt. I had seen Atul’s father earlier, but the resemblance never struck me at all. But now that Amma mentioned, they did infact look similar. Oh come on, that can’t be. These things happen only in movies. For God’s sake – ‘double role’?? Father and Son?? You’ve got to be kidding me. And Amma? In love during her college days. Man, that was even bigger. That innocuous little trunk stood there, apparently as a testament to a beautiful little love story. It was as if I was being bombarded by a hundred questions from every side. I stood there for a long time, trying to breath everything in. A few minutes later I asked Amma.
“So Appa knows?”
She nodded in agreement saying – “I told him before the wedding itself. Your Appa was a gentleman, he said he didn’t care about my past at all. And true to his word, he has never spoken a word about this, these 28 years.”
My Appa was the dude. I soon began seeing the funny part of it. I had enough material to pull Amma’s leg to eternity. A smile returned and I felt light. But then I suddenly realized that I had skipped to ask the most fundamental of the questions.
“Amma! But why didn’t you marry this guy?” I asked inquisitively.
Tears trickled down her eyes. She waited for a while to gain composure.
“Your Thatha and Paati didn’t agree di..” she explained.
Well that figures. Parents are parents after all.
“But why!!!” I asked her again.
Amma wiped her tears, looked to the floor, and slowly raised her hands, pointing her fingers at something in the distance.
I followed her finger, and realized that she was pointing at another innocent looking, slightly bigger, even dustier trunk in the loft, nestled between a few boxes and some old utensils. I walked to it, and used my fingers to wipe the dust off the initials carved on it, and shrieked.
Amma looked up to me with her red eyes, said nothing and smiled. Everything went silent. I could only hear my Paati doing pooja in the nearby room. I smiled back.
P.S. – Story idea based on a tamil short film seen on TV. Was so impressed, that I thought it deserved a short story.
I studied (well, so they say) for my engineering degree in Pondichery. Four glorious years of my life were spent in this beautiful Union Territory, of pristine beaches, French architecture, tranquil places, and sweet people. And that’s not all what Pondicherry is famous for. Well, if you are even remotely aware of Pondichery, you would be pretty sure what I am coming on to. Liquor. ( Booze / Thanni / Madhira )
Call me a wasted, tasteless bloke, who doesn’t know to enjoy life. But I have to admit that I have never tasted that amber liquid yet (nor have any plans for it in the future), inspite of being surrounded by bottles of thanni. Proud to be a teetotaller. “Yeah right” if that’s what you are saying now, don’t worry, because I get that line (and different tamil equivalents of it) all the time. But then that’s the truth, no cigarettes as well. Perhaps the biggest achievement during my college days ( Next to getting my B.E degree of course 🙂 ) was to resist these very temptations even on being away from home and staying in perhaps the holy ground of drinkers. Well frankly, wasn’t much of a temptation either. Never did like booze and its manifestations on mortals (blame it on Pankaj Udhas if you want) or the smoke and things it does to the people around.
Alright. Before I chase away the perennial drinkers viewing my blog (and they are quite a substantial lot), let me clarify. This is not a lecture on the harmful effects of booze. Well.. not exactly atleast. You see, being a non-drinker among a heap of drinkers, does have some perks attached to it. This is just a harmless recollection of a few.
They say – When in Rome, be a Roman. Well I tried to. A Pondicherian that is. But, remembering the brands and suggesting the side dish was the maximum I could go to. Well, you can’t be less educated than that if all your roomies are part of the tippler gang. The inhabitant of my room, were a bunch of wonderful guys, with hearts of gold. Alas, hearts that can be melted by a bottle of beer. (Ya ya I know, beer is a cool drink. I’ve been told that a zillion times too. Hey wasn’t whiskey recently added to that list. Ow come on, give me a break…) They say that a few sips (or gulps) of the fluid harms no one. But then, a college goers mind understands “moderation”, only as much it understands the “Theory of Computation” lecture. So a college goer party’s liquor requirements at that time were either ‘Fulls’ or ‘Crates’ (Well.. it depended on the financial constraints as well). And it was those times, when I got reduced to the role of a bar-tender inside my own house. The reason for me being conferred the honorable role of a vending machine was apparently because I was impartial in the allotment of resources. Yeah right. It was one of those days, when I had loads of Pepsi to drink, and a huge variety of side dish to feast on, as I sat back watching the wonderful sight of a pack of perfectly normal men being turned into clowns and monsters in succession by an innocent looking smelly liquid. Hmm, I was in heaven. 🙂
There is something to this spirit that brings transformation to men. Once inside those craving stomachs of mortals, it just frees the mind and elevates it to a different plane altogether. And trust me, it is quite a funny ‘plane’. You may never see the amount of emotional outpouring anywhere else than you can when a man is drunk. For some reason, one loses the inability to lie with a sufficient amount of booze inside. I wonder how long, before a polygraph is replaced by a mini-bar. And confessions of friendship, unrequited love for a friend, and life pledges for a fellow drinker are as customary in that situation as Mango Pickles are to a glass of MC. Romeo may have never professed love to Juliet as much as a drunk Raghu would do on a Saturday night to a sloshed Rajesh. “Machaan, nee enoda friend da.” (Dude, you are my friend) I cannot remember how many times I have been told this by the dude sitting next to me, just for passing him that half empty bottle of soda. If only everyone was as courteous when sober, wouldn’t we be the politest race to walk on this planet. And if you are the ‘un-drunk’ among these tipsy crowd, you’ll have a hard time remembering the love stories and crushes that everybody utters. Some with pain, some with utmost happiness. In simpler words, they provide you with the blackmail material when you desperately need a bike to go downtown, or you need somebody to buy you lunch from cafeteria. 🙂 Like I said, it has its perks.
But out of my own experience of losing my pocket FM radio, I can say for sure that booze and technology don’t mix at all. If you are unfortunate enough to have a stereo, tv, radio, computer, a mobile, a whistle or even remotely anything that can play a tune – Beware. These guys can create a raucous, loud enough to wake up Pakistan. Ask my neighbors at Pondicherry. I guess they must have been the happiest souls to see us leave. Maybe their neighbors too. And if you are unfortunate enough to be at the helm of operating these gadgets at these times, get ready for some harrowing times. A DJ wouldn’t have change music that many time in an hour, as many you would in five minutes. I had a beautiful pocket size FM radio sacrificed to the fury of a ‘high’ roomie of mine, just because it did not play ‘Althota Boopathi’ when he wanted it to. Thank God, I did not have an iPod then. Occasionally you may be asked to turn to ‘Raj Sports’, ‘Channel Free’ (I later realized in the final year, that they had meant Channel[V]. However Raj Sports – I am still not sure) on the TV. What was I to do, launch a new channel? Their dance can put the nimblest of bollywood hips to shame. Shakira, move over. It’s the perfect comedy material for a dull Monday, if you can record it and save it. Although your computer / mobile can then become the target of many an evil eye, if word of your possession of their Saturday night jig, comes out. Or worse, your life may be at risk, if you even remotely mention about this to a girl.
Atleast these aforementioned atrocities were confined to the four walls of a room. But it becomes a serious pain in the neck when you are the only sober guy with a bunch of intoxicated maharajas on the streets of Pondy, each one, thinking of himself as the king of the world. I am always inducted in this gang, some times threatened into it, as I am by default assigned the task of bringing the sheep home. Atleast for that night, I become their Guardian Angel, herding them in an auto, explaining to the bemused onlookers, shutting up these chatterboxes shouting at the hero in the cinema theater, consoling the auto driver as somebody won’t stop giving directions to him from behind, I’ve done them all. In other words protecting the general public from these bunch of inebriated men who had beer flowing in their veins that night. Well, actually, vice-versa.
And then on having these guided these rudderless ships safely into the harbor, with the efficiency of a skilled seaman, I am sometimes more tired than them. After having laid down these spirit-filled bodies, in the nearest unoccupied ground space, I can only lay down next to them. And unmindful of the smell of whisky, beer, rum, cigarette smoke surrounding me, and the odd limbs of my neighbor resting on my aching chest, I can only sleep like a log, hoping fervently, that tomorrow will be a better day.
Usually, I am the last one to get up the following day, last one to wake up and see the sober bunch clinging to their heads with a bad hangover. Someone would give me a sly smile, and ask me – “what’s with you dude? Were you drunk yesterday as well.” I would have buried him alive at the very place, but then somebody else would interrupt. “Hey come on guys, he was the one who brought us safely home. We should thank him. Machi, lets have a thanni party tonight at t…”
Usually, at this point, I am either knocking the lights off my fellow room-mate who was bright enough to give that idea, or out at the bus stop trying to catch a bus to Chennai for the weekend. But I believe it is usually the latter. May God save the ‘non-drinker’. May God save this ounce of sanity in this insane world. Hic.…