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    The Price You Gotta Pay

    It was five in the morning. It was a balmy October day and the trees stood still. The town of Chittoor was pregnant with expectation. Chiranjeevi's Raakshasudu was releasing that day. The Chiru fans' association had arranged for a special show. Quite a few people I knew were going for the special show. I wished I knew someone that would get me inside MSR movie hall for that show but I wasn't lucky. But, that didn't dampen my spirit. Srinivas and I were ready with our star: a bamboo and cardboard affair with an assortment of Chiranjeevi's pictures stuck on it. That was the tradition then. If you were a real fan, you installed a star (no matter how small) in the movie hall. On day one of the release.

    I have to tell you about movie stars and their fans in Andhra Pradesh. Guys were fanatical about their heroes. In 1984, fans of Superstar Krishna created a record of sorts by erecting the biggest star for the release of Kanchu Kagada, outside Srinivasa movie hall. The imposing star made of bamboo and gray paper stood more than 25 ft tall. I don't think that record was ever broken. If that wasn't crazy enough, they showered rose petals, money, and what not when their beloved star appeared on screen. The movie hall would erupt and explode what with hundreds of fans screaming. I know of people that were injured when a one-rupee coin hit them. Fans would take over the balcony, the high price ticket area, days on end. It was easy to shower flowers and coins from the balcony. If you were one of those budget types that chose to sit in 'First Class,' well, a coin or a coconut just might hit you.
    Altercations broke out between fans of different stars quite often. Chiru vs Balayya was the most debated topic. All fans had the numbers on their fingertips. How many centers recorded 100 days? Fuck the 100 days, what were the collections? Oh! Balayya's fans forced the movie hall to run the movie for 100 days! He can't dance! Chiru is dark! Balayya wears high heels to hide his short stature. And so on. I know a guy that broke his nose because he forgot Balayya�s fans outnumbered us and yet, he commented on Balayya. Pow! Came the punch. We kids called it 'Mukku Pachhadi' (Nose Salad) in Chittoor.

    Srinivas and I biked it to MSR Movie Land, on his dad's ancient Hercules bicycle. He sat in the 'Carrier' behind the rider's seat, holding to our 'Star'. And I pedaled hard. By the time we reached the movie hall, it was already six. There were a million stars occupying every nook and corner of the movie hall's facade. We ran like our lives depended on it. The special show crowd was already there. The show was about to start.
    'We'll get tickets for the evening show. Don't worry.' Srini said. I was disappointed nevertheless. What kind of fans were we! But what can a couple of 12 year olds do? We had trouble finding a nice spot for our tiny star. It appeared tiny now. There were bigger, better stars. Some even had serial electric bulbs that blinked as if mocking us.

    Just as we were climbing a wall to reach the massive billboard that faced the road, a security guard screamed 'Get the fuck down you bastards!' And he pointed a stone at us. As I slid down the wall, I slipped, and hurt my leg. The skin on my knee peeled. It was white one moment and in the next, it filled up all crimson. I bit my lip and faced the security guy and said, " association. They asked us to put this star."
    "Of course, why don't you convince me you are Chiranjeevi himself? And, what star are you talking about!?" He said and laughed. I hadn't noticed, but Srini had dropped the star and it was crushed beyond recognition. The special show crowd had trampled it. I stared at Srini for a moment that lasted forever. He was devastated. He adjusted his spectacles a million times. And we both broke down. The tears broke free, washed my face. The special show started. It was just the two of us. We were about to leave when we heard the security guy screaming at us.
    "Park your cycle. Do you have money?" He said.
    We were perplexed.
    "Don't just stand there like idiots. Get in. Sit on the floor in front of the front row. All for two bucks! Now!"

    We paid the security chap and parked the cycle. We flew through the tiny opening in the Iron grill gate. I almost tripped and fell again. That's when I noticed that the cut on my knee was bleeding profusely. The security guy signaled to the usher guarding the Entry door. And, we walked in and squatted on the ground, right under the huge screen, next to a bunch of gypsies. They were smoking beedies. Some were chewing scented tobacco and spitting all over the place. One gypsy woman was trying to feed her wailing baby. We didn't care. My knee hurt a lot. But as the lights went off, and the screen came alive, I felt no pain. We didn't let our hero down. That's what mattered then.

    When we were riding back home, I asked Srini
    'Do you think all this trouble was worth it?' I was sitting at the back and he was riding.
    He mulled over it for a moment and said,
    'There's a price for every experience. And what you get is a priceless memory.'

    I honestly don't know what the heck he meant, I mean, not too many 12 year olds spoke like that. But that line stuck with me.

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    I caught my eleven year old nephew browsing the web and I asked him,
    "What are you up to?"
    He said, "I am researching on Tamil freedom fighters on 'why-kee-peedia'. For an essay?"

    I was impressed. When I was his age, I had to rely on the government library in Greamspet, Chittoor, for research. The wiry, old librarian was a hostile man. He walked about in those cramped corridors between bookshelves, his shoulders hunched over and his eyes roving: we stole half the books within a week of the opening of the library. The modus-operandi was simple. Pick a book of your fancy, check if anyone's watching, if no one was, tuck the book under your shirt. And, walk s..l..o..w..l..y. That rule is the same I guess: for shoplifting, bank robbery, and running away from eateries without paying the bill. You always walked out calm and composed.

    As time wore on I realised the importance of a library and how it could help me in my projects. So I stopped stealing books from libraries. Other than research, I chanced upon classics like Alex Hailey's Roots, Melville's Moby-Dick. The catch was that they were all Telugu translations. I didn't regret it though. I spent hours reading in the library. Now, I am not one of those 'well read' 'I-can-quote-Kafka' kind of a 'well read' guy. I read for fun. I read action, adventure, and stuff. And I read like a maniac.

    My mom used to send me to the market to buy provisions or coffee. Those days they never used plastic covers: You walked into Anji Shetty's store and asked for say, half a kilo of moong dal. He packed it in a paper from a magazine or sometimes when you're lucky, a sheet from a Telugu novel. The cone shaped parcel was bound by Twine. Remember those huge twine globes hanging in old stores? They tugged the loose end and deftly wrapped your parcel, and snapped the Twine in one clean move? I used take that parcel home and wait for mom to unpack the parcel ("Don't tear the paper! Just undo the Twine!!") and grabbed that paper, sat down in the hall read it as if my life depended on it. I put together a collection of Telugu short stories that way, thanks to Anji Shetty's store.

    I tore myself away from my reverie and noticed that my nephew was making notes. I didn't want to disturb him but I had a couple of questions.
    "So you are interested in reading and writing about stuff like this?"

    He said "Hmmmm? Interes.... I don't know?" and continued making notes. I could sense it. He wanted to say 'Why don't you buzz off?' I decided to push it. What the heck, as a kid, I had to bear with quite a few nosy morons. 'It is payback time buddy.' I thought. Also, I wanted to know what kind of reading my nephew did. Mark Twain? Crusoe? Nancy Friday?

    "You don't read books? I mean you could go to the library and read about the freedom fighters... they have a lot of books..."

    He stared at me and I could almost read his thoughts again. He said "But why!? I get that information on why-kee-pedia!" And, the first prize is only a 1000 Rupees! Who wants to walk to the library for 1000 Rupees!"


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    RIP Michael Jackson

    It was raining and we were scurrying for cover in VGP Golden Beach. It was 1989. I refused to budge. They were playing Thriller. That was the first time I heard MJ. I was transfixed. "What music is this?" I asked someone and they laughed at me. "That's Michael Jackson, stupid!" Now, I was a small town boy and we didn't get any 'western music' records. When I walked into the music store on Church street in Chittoor, the next week, and asked for Thriller the store guy clucked his tongue and said 'No. I have to order it from Madras. Double charge. Will take 10 days. Shall I?"

    I hadn't heard his music before. I heard of this guy MJ all right but for a 16 year old back in 1989, 200 bucks were a lot of money. To this day I don't know why I said "Yes!" to that store guy. I am glad I did.

    I played Thriller endlessly on our Dyanora-National '2-in-1' Cassette player. Before long I had Bad too in the collection. My neighbours, who thought I was this nice kid that knew his manners, were in for a shock. They enquired about those strange, loud noises that exploded from my room. It was me practicing the MJ hiccup. Or the squeal. My mom proudly proclaimed to her friends "Vaadu Ingleesh paatalu paaduthunnadandi!" (He is singing English songs). The next thing I did shocked the shit out of everyone. I put some FEM facial bleach on my side locks and hey presto! I had light brown side locks. I cut my hair and ensured that one strand of it fell on my forehead. The strand became brown but refused to curl up despite hours of trying it.

    I know that all kids go through this. But to do something like that in Chittoor back then was true rebellion. There was no real TV. There were no top 20 countdowns on the radio. There was no Internet. Heck, if you had a phone, you were considered a rich man!

    I am sure most of the people thought I was a clown. They were right. I wanted suspenders, I think because I saw an MJ's picture in which he wore suspenders. Now, forget suspenders, Chittoor was getting used to trousers only then. I was way ahead of time. So I decided to make my own suspenders. I bought two thick strips of elastic and had my tailor stitch it to my new chocolate brown baggy trousers. Believe me when I say this: I wore those custom made suspenders and tried hitting on girls. In retrospect, it explains why I never got any.

    I felt sad when I watched Chiranjeevi (I am a big fan!) dance for 'Kashmora kaugilisthey...' in Dhonga. It was a poor imitation of the legendary Thriller. When I whispered to my friend sitting next to me in the movie hall "That's a copy of..." He interjected "Impossible. Chiru doesn't tolerate copying." I mumbled "Right!" and realised that I was seeing, listening to, and understanding things that the average lower middle class Chittoor kid would never imagine existed. That's when I decided "I need to get out of this town." And I did. No no, not that I don't love that town... just that I knew that I had to get out and see other places. Bigger places.

    MJ has provided 'inspiration' to quite a few movie music composers in India. I know composers that made a career out of Dangerous alone. One of the reviews of Dangerous said "...bound to provide content for the Indian movie music for years to come." And, you know that is the truth. Before long MJ was a house hold name. I can't think of any 'western' musician that achieved the same distinction. Of course, when Prabhudeva was given the dubious title 'MJ of India' I laughed.

    I think MJ is the only western musician my grand ma tolerated. I think she actually liked his music though she doesn't understand a word of what he sings. I am quite sure my granny is sad today. So am I. I know I'll forget this day and move on to grapple with vicissitudes of life. But I want to pause and pay a little to tribute to dear MJ. Thank you for the music MJ. Rest in peace.

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    Aandal Part 2

    Read the first part
    It was a Sunday afternoon and Aandal was squatting outside our grand ma's. She was telling my granny about this mentally challenged kid in one of the homes on Alwarpet street. She was talking about how that kid was always screaming for food. "Maami andha payyan eppo paaru bun kaapi bun kaapi nu Katheenu irukkum" (that kid screams bun n coffee bun n coffee all the time). So Suren started imitating her and she lost her temper. "Ayyy chinnadhu, Koluppaa? Pichi puduven!" (something to the effect hey you small one watch it!).

    Now in all the years and all the maids that passed through our home no one has ever dared to mock us. It was us! Suren and I! Whatever hesitation we had about ragging Aandal was blown away and we stretched and cracked our knuckles, sighed, and said 'here we go!'

    The next day Suren proposed to Aandal. "Aandal I - I love you... will you scrub my back?" She laughed baring her remaining, tobacco stained teeth. She was illiterate but who doesn't understand 'I love you' ? She referred to 'Love' as 'Labzu' and she complained to my mom "Maami idha paaru maami Chinnadhu Labzu pannudhu!' (Maami, see your younger son is doing 'Labzu')

    Aandal worked in many homes in Alwarpet street and she was on a tight schedule every day. So she could ill afford any delays. We knew it and exploited it. When she came in the mornings to do the dishes and mop the house, Suren took his own time in the shower. Aandal started with gentle knocks on the bathroom door but she realised she was dealing with assholes, so the gentle knocks became explosive thumps, which were always echoed by Suren's devilish laughter.

    When we bumped into her on the street, we always blew kisses and she would spit on the ground and mutter some unprintable stuff. Within a few months Aandal was quite famous among the boys, the shopkeepers in the neighbourhood, and the jobless adults that hung about the street.

    I vividly remember Aandal giving one of those guys her piece of mind.
    As she was walking by to 'Bhai's' provision store, the gang of boys sitting outside the store went 'hoo hooo Aandal I love you!' Aandal stopped in her tracks, surveyed the gang and picked one guy and said 'Thevdyaa payya, Why don't you go do labzu to your mother? I will chop it off!' A roar of laughter erupted and Aandal's voice became shrill as she started abusing that guy, but now she included his aunts, grand mom, uncles, wife... she also asked him 'dey! do you know who fathered you? I bet your mom doesn't know too...go fuck a dog!'

    She never used such choicest abuses on us. She loved us I think and she knew we were harmless. She became quite a friend to my grand ma, probably because they were of the same age. When Suren made fun of my granny he attracted Aandal's attention too.

    The days chugged on and Aandal got used to the ass holes that we were. Actually when Suren or me went out of town and were missing, Aandal gave us a rousing welcome when we returned. 'Take off your Saagunu! And put if for wash... take bath and eat... you need rest!' (Saagunu meant socks in Aandalese).

    She hated the girl friends that visited home. Especially those that wore shorts. "Ayyyaaa! Ennaadhu idhu! Payyanaa ponnaa!? Ippidi thodaya kaattudhu!" ("Is this a guy or girl? And why is she exposing her thighs like this?")

    But she hated drunks. She got extra ballistic on any drunk that crossed her path, including Ginny, my uncle. [ be contd]

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    Partha Sarathi MBA

    "I am an MBA." He announced and laughed revealing his yellow teeth. He was standing in a corner, nursing a 90 of cheap whisky along with some beer. The veins were pronounced on his hands. He pulled the sleeves of his once off-white shirt yet again; it was an involuntary, nervous reaction I guess. I offered him a smoke. "I normally smoke Marlboro sir, but today I'll smoke my own Wills. Sorry eh?" He said. I shrugged and started talking to Sam. I ordered one more 60 of Old Monk rum.

    "My name is Partha Sarathy." He continued. "Is that Godfather? Mario Puzo?"
    I nodded in agreement and said "It is the latest in the series. This is not by Puzo though." He shook his head a hundred times and took the book from me. He pretended to seriously appraise the book and placed it on the wooden ledge that served as a place to set your drink down in Sapthagiri Wines. He finished his drink even before ours arrived. There was a bench along the wall and three guys occupied it. The leader of this group was already staring at Mr. Partha with adulation filled eyes.

    "I helped this contractors get business worth Crores. Crores! And see what they have done to me. I told them that I didn't want a penny and walked off. Do you see this mobile phone? This is mine. I didn't even have money for the bus... I walked seven KM saar! Seven KM!"
    He told his sad story. I was wary of him but Sam, as always, started his anthropo-neuro-psychological study, yet again. Sam introduced himself. Mr. Partha exclaimed, "So you are a doctor in Victoria? I know your chief... what's his name again?" Sam told him the Chief's name. "Ah yes! Same person. How is he? Don't tell him you met me here eh?" And he laughed that psychotic laugh again and said "I normally drink only in 3-star bars. But today..." He diverted his attention to me and said "...But today because of those bastards!" He tried to muffle his sobs. He wiped the tears with the sleeve of his dirty shirt.

    I remained impassive. However, the trio on the bench were nonplussed and moved. The leader of the bench trio asked us in Kannada, "Yen aayithhu Saar? Ishtu Chennaga Ingleesh Maathadthaa idhaaney!" (or something to that effect) Sam explained to the bench trio about Mr. Partha and how his Contracting firm conned him of Crores. The leader of the trio immediately asked one of his gang members to stand up and make place for Mr. Partha.

    Mr. Partha bummed a smoke from Leader as he sat down. He even spoke in broken Kannada. "I am an Iyengar sir. I can dictate 600 words a minute you know?" I nodded as I didn't know how the hell I should react to such a monumental statement. So I turned away and adjusted my position in that cubbyhole that was the bar behind Sapthagiri wines. I hardly had space to move my arm. With my back to Mr. Partha, I told Sam that we should be leaving. Sam nodded and he noticed that Mr. Partha was now putting a scheme on the trio. I lost interest, I mean I knew what his game was.

    Mr. Partha called me after a few minutes. I turned around with a lot of difficulty. And he dropped his pitch on me.
    "Don't mistake me..." He started, sipping on the whisky that he'd bummed from the trio who were sobbing now after listening to Mr. Partha's story.
    "...I have to go to Chennai to meet my business partners." He paused as the Leader offered him some spicy Chicken.
    "...I have to meet my partners in Chennai, and I left all my ATM cards in those bastards' office...can you give me 200 Rupees?" A brief silence ensued and it was broken by Manja, the waiter-boy, shouting out an order to the Counter: 'Half Khoday's rummu, ondhu packet Small illi!" I stared into Mr. Partha's eyes that were lodged in deep sockets. I smiled and said "If I had 200, why would I drink here?"

    He chewed on it for a little while and said "Yes yes. How about 50? At least 20?" I said no. He shrugged as if he forgave me, started to say something, and decided against it. He returned his focus on the trio and started his pitch.

    As I was leaving with Sam, he called out and said "Don't mistake me, ok?" I smiled and waved a bye to him. As I waited near the Counter to settle our bill, I could hear him swear at his Contracting firm and sob. I thought I also heard
    "If not 500, at least 200? Yes, yes. I will transfer it online."
    "Oh you don't have Internet okay! I'll give you a check, yes? Wonderful... Yeah just one more 60 for me sir... can't drink too much!"

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    You knew Aandal was in the vicinity when the atrocious stench of her chewing tobacco (called Panneer Pugailai in Tamil) assaulted your nose. It'd normally be early in the morning, around eight, when she would turn up to perform her duties as our maid. No one really knew how she ended up in the neighbourhood. When we moved to Chennai, mom was on the lookout for a maid and she hired the services of Aandal who was already working in our grand ma's. When I first saw Aandal I was petrified. She looked like the vampire version of Miss Grundy. A million wrinkles creased her face and that nose protruded at a right angle to her face. And, her teeth, whatever little that was left of them I mean, were a deep, dark brown. The most petrifying thing about though was not her looks. She served up whiplashes when she spoke.

    Now, Suren, my younger bro and I had a tacit agreement right from when we were in prep school. It was more of a mission statement than an agreement really: we would bully the shit out of the maid. Any maid. No, no, it was not a result of some traumatic experience or something. We just love bullying people. The maid was the perfect target. They wouldn't dare retaliate and even if they did, it'd be at best a complaint to mom.

    When Aandal came on the scene, Suren and I were suffering from withdrawal symptoms. There had a been a long hiatus, of almost ten years since we had bullied a maid. We were not kids any longer all right. I had started working as a salesman and Suren had started college at the New College in Chennai. We let Aandal be for a while. I mean she was as old as grand ma and we were not sure if we should really be bullying her. Our apprehensions were blasted to pieces one day. [To be contd...]

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    Grandmaster Muniyandi: The Sham-Sac (concluding part)

    [Continued from Part 1 and Part 2]

    Young people, especially those that are heartbroken, are a showy lot. Ravi was no different. His world knew that he was, to use the archaic term, �licked�. Or as boys in Chittoor called it, �she gave him haath�. Like all rejected lovers, Ravi went into a stage of sleeplessness, lack-interest-in-life-ness, and solitude. He tried talking to her but the city girl was brutal: she would not budge. She even cracked smart lines (which part of get lost you didn�t understand?). Some thought she was overboard, and some, enjoyed it.

    Then started a procession of speakers, veterans at the game of love, that argued, pontificated, and reiterated the rallying cry of all failed lovers: girls are vicious.

    Ramesh, poet-cum-failed lover-cum-classmate told Ravi, while smoking endlessly into the night, �They look for status. Money. Bike? Cars! And not your heart. Never! Your heart Ravi, my dear brother, is of no value to them. Look at the irony! You don�t even possess your heart now, for in the name of love, you gave it away.� Ramesh sucked hard on the dying cigarette and as the smell of burnt filter filled the calm night, he shrugged as if saying �No further questions your honour�.

    Ravi took to drinking. Once, when drunk, he carved her name on his arms with a switch blade. He listened to Telugu movie love songs and cried. His parents misunderstood his drinking as the usual juvenile enchantment with intoxication and admonished him as they saw fit. But Ravi walked through it all, like a zombie. He did start taking precautions to avoid confrontations with his folks. Himabindu on the other hand completely ignored him and stopped all contact. His efforts to gift her 200 roses were met with an icy �Get a life!� So he spread the roses outside the college and told curious onlookers �Moksham for the flowers when she walks on them! Narakam for me, for she did walk all over me.�

    Ravi stopped playing Chess too. The NGO Home panicked. They tried talking to him and cajoling him but Ravi just was not interested. �When love deserts, what can Chess do?� He told Ramanan, the retired Commercial Tax Officer, who was utterly bewildered by that poetic line.
    �Try ENO, it will help.� Ramanan said to Ravi.

    At the end of the academic year, Bindu left Chittoor. Her father was transferred to Vizag. And Ravi was inconsolable. He somehow found her address in Vizag and wrote letters. When the letters didn�t elicit a response, he started sending Telegrams. �My life is as meaningless as playing without a queen.� �Your en passant killed this poor pawn.�

    Bindu�s father made a phone call to his brother who was a top cop. The Circle Inspector of 2-Town station visited Ravi�s folks and explained in no uncertain terms that such acts can make life uncomfortable for Ravi. �I am sure he can get a loan and set up a pay-phone booth to make a living out of it, but think about it, your son will be a physically challenged person� right now he is only mentally challenged. Please fix your son unless you want us to do the honours.� The Inspector apparently told them. So Ravi, who had flunked his exams, was forcibly packed off to his uncle�s home in Mysore. His parents wanted him to realise his dream of becoming a Grandmaster. The Mysore uncle, who was the reason why Ravi started playing chess, wrote to them saying �I will ensure that this young Knight is back to the central squares. I will do all within my reach to move him from this dark, corner square.� Using chess metaphors, it seemed, was an age old custom in Ravi�s family.

    All this while, an interesting development took place. Muniyandi, who was doing odd jobs at the Jaggery Mandi, made a come back to the NGO Home. A few of the regulars did rejoice upon his arrival but the emotion segued to rude shock when Muniyandi stood at the head of that huge chess table and announced, �I want to play a �simultaneous�. With all of you. Now! Thoo nee amma!� Muniyandi wanted to play all twelve of them simultaneously. Ramanan had a knowing smile on his face. He knew that it was the pictorial Chess problems book that he�d gifted that propelled Muni to take such a stance. �Tactics� Bala, the guy with really curly hair and a pock marked face lit his cigarette at the wrong end and he coughed out like a bat flew into his throat.

    The gang did agree for the match. Probably because they didn�t want to dampen the enthusiasm which Muni amply demonstrated. Who doesn�t like an underdog? As it turned out, Muni beat ten of them, drew with one, and lost a match. The net result of this exercise was that Muni started playing tournaments. The one-eye chess hurricane from Chittoor impressed the fraternity not just with his chess but also with his showmanship in the evenings. Snippets of Muniyandi�s exploits started appearing in the papers. The NGO Home gang pooled in money and bought decent clothes for Muni after the fiasco in the highly rated Palani tournament. Muniyandi entered the tournament hall clad in a blue and white checkered Lungi, unkempt hair, and with an unlit beedi dangling at the side of his mouth. The tournament organisers had a collective cardiac arrest. Some of the country�s best players were playing and they didn�t want an incongruity that was Muni to be a part of the otherwise perfect picture.

    Muni left the hall and came back after a couple of hours. Drunk like a rapist in a Telugu movie and armed with a switch blade. He threatened to obliterate the reproductive systems of the organisers. The cops came in and all in all, it was seen as an insult to the fraternity in Chittoor. So the NGO Home gang took it upon themselves to make Muni presentable. They bought him nice clothes and got him to cut his hair. They even made him promise that he wouldn�t smoke or drink during tournaments. Of course, Muni also had to take an oath on his violence.

    Through it all, Muni kept asking Ramanan on Ravi�s whereabouts. Ramanan visited Ravi�s folks and found out about Ravi�s Mysore plan. He wrote to Ravi and asked him to play in the prestigious Rajiv Memorial in Tirupathi, one of the most prestigious tournament in the state. But, Ravi wrote back, saying that he was not interested. The NGO Home gang then did a signature campaign and sent a letter with some 50 signatures and a thumb impression (of Muni�s) and urged him to come back. That did the trick and of course Ravi�s uncle in Mysore apparently told him �You are declining the love of so many people just because one girl was mean to you? It is like saving the queen and losing all your other pieces!�

    Muni did bump into Ravi at the NGO Home but he was utterly shocked at the sight of his Lord. Ravi was a mere shadow of the man he was! Dark circles under eyes, a stubble, and a generally depressing disposition made Ravi look like a patient. Another man would have put a arm around, or even hug and say a few comforting words but Muni lacked that knack. He just flashed a bleak smile at Ravi and kept to himself. Ravi really didn�t care too much about Muni anyway, so the stalemate persisted.

    They went to Tirupathi in an APSRTC bus. One of those Red ones. Muni, knowing that he won�t be able to drink during the tournament, was drunk. He smoked much to the irritation of his fellow passengers. There were also a bunch of piligrims from Tamilnadu and Muni tortured them by screaming �Govinda Govinda� at every hill he spotted. The Lord�s seven-hills abode was another 40 km away but the Tamils didn�t want to take a chance and joined Muni in a chorus of �Govinda�. After a while Muni got bored of it and slept.
    The tournament organiser was also the State head of the Chess association. Mr. Naidu escorted the gang from Chittoor to a wedding hall, where accommodation was arranged for all players participating in the tournament. They had arranged for cooks that made food for the players in the kitchen of the wedding hall. That night Muni picked up a fight with the head cook. He called his Sambar �Cow piss, thoo nee amma!� Before they hit their beds, the players socialized and before long were playing rapid one-minute games with the aid of chess clocks.

    The tournament went on smoothly. Muni and Ravi were the only ones from Chittoor that registered wins in the knock-out tournament. The rest became spectators. Ravi sailed through seven rounds. Though he was not at his best, he still was a handful. Muni on the other hand was the surprise package. In the seventh round, his opponent was Rao from Nellore, number two of the state. In the morning while inspecting the pairings along with Ravi, Rao asked him �So is this Muniyandi a rated player?�
    Ravi said �No� but I hear he�s good. He has only one eye, I hope you know that.�
    �So that�s a free point for me right there huh?� Rao said.
    �You can say that��

    Muni was playing black, popularly considered a disadvantage as White gets to make the first move. Rao played the first move, by moving the King pawn two squares up. Muni thought for ten minutes. It is unusual for players at this level to spend any time in the opening. Most of the opening moves are well theorized and are dispensed with, with minimal thought. Muni�s clock was ticking away. When he made the first move, he had consumed ten minutes of his two hours. He played the French Defence. It was not a popular opening as it cramped the Black in the opening stage and most times did not allow Black to castle his King. Rao started a vicious attack on Muni�s King. Muni, it appeared, was clueless. Around the 26th move, Muni stunned Rao by capturing a white pawn and placing his Queen in a beautiful position to charge Rao on the Queen�s side. Rao�s attack slowly dissipated and before long he was frantically defending his game. Around the 37th move, Rao capitulated and resigned.

    It sent shockwaves through the tournament. �Was Rao too careless?� �I thought Muniyandi played a brilliant, unconventional line� and so on. Ravi was surprised but happy for Muni. The only thing that saddened him was that Muni would meet him in the final round.

    The final round started. Muni played white and opened with the King pawn. Ravi played his favourite Sicilian defence, a combative opening where Black played for advantage and not just equality. Around the 30th move Muni sacrificed one of his Bishops. A gasp echoed in the hall. Most thought it was a blunder. Ravi too didn�t quite get it. Four moves later Ravi realised the beauty of the combination that Muni was playing. It gave Muni a staggering advantage to attack the King. Muni who was poring through the board all this while looked up and saw the look of devastation in Ravi�s eyes. Ravi looked at Muni and managed a feeble smile. Something happened to Muniyandi at that moment. He stormed off after playing a move and lit a beedi.

    Muni was sad. He didn�t want to hurt his Lord. After thinking hard for about ten minutes Muni entered the hall. Three more moves later, Muni gave away another piece. Ravi was stunned. It looked like a good move, for it allowed white to make a lot of noise. But, after thinking through, Ravi knew that his opponent, who was playing like God until then, had miscalculated. This was surely a blunder! A few more moves later, Muni resigned. However, he was the number two now. At least in the district! Ravi slapped Muni�s back and said �You almost got me there!� Ravi never told anyone that he almost resigned after Muni�s first Bishop sacrifice. After the prize distribution was over, Muni headed to the nearest wine store and got drunk. Not because he was sad but because he was ecstatic.

    As he was drinking his third one, Rao and Ravi entered the store and Muni ducked for cover. Ravi told him that it was all right.
    �Saar why are you spoiling your health? Don�t drink saar please!� Muni said to Ravi.
    �I am drinking because I am celebrating Muni. For coming back to the right path after getting lost.�
    Muni nodded as if he understood. �You want pickle saar? Tastes nice with the rum.�

    �He almost beat me!� Ravi said.
    Rao nodded watching Muni, who was talking to the wine store clerk.
    �Almost. Yes. But he knew what was more important.� Rao said.
    �What?� Ravi was amused.
    �He played the second sacrifice to lose the match. And he didn�t want to offend you by making an obvious blunder. So he thought of a combination that looked lethal but lacked the venom. He is a genius! Now, don�t ask him and kill his happiness. Look at him! He is so happy!�

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    Grandmaster Muniyandi-2 - The Queen's Gambit

    [Contd from part 1]
    Ravi cleared his throat, took a deep breath, coughed and said "Pleased to meet you. It is a privilege to meet you." He found it difficult to not stare at the wonderful contours her t-shirt made. Just when he was about to thank god, Muniyandi appeared on the scene from nowhere and said "Hello madam, come tomorrow for autographs, sir is tired now."

    Ravi felt like a whore in the church. 'Thank you god, that was a nice touch' Ravi thought and turned to Muni and was about say something when she said "Who the hell are you now? His personal assistant or something?"

    Muniyandi nodded in agreement and said "Yes, yes. Sorry but you won't know how Chess can make you exhausted..."

    "Shut up Muni!" Ravi shouted. Muni was bewildered. Here he was protecting his lord from an unruly fan and lord doesn't even say thanks!

    "I am sorry, he is an idiot. He hangs around here all the time and acts like he is everyone's best friend." Ravi told her.

    Muniyandi's world blew up. The weight of his master's words took a little while to sink in. When it did, Muni felt like he was mowed down by a speeding truck.

    A crestfallen Muni left the hall and lit a beedi and sucked in a lungful. As tears broke free from his good eye, he sat down on the Cement bench in the lawn and mopped his face with a dirty towel that he always carried. His wife was right. She always warned him, 'Ravi saar is from a good family... I know the girl that works as a maid in their house. So don't you get him into any trouble!' He always dismissed her. 'Hey sarthaan podee, I know what I am doing. Thoo nee amma!'

    As darkness fell, Ravi emerged from the hall but stopped to talk to Ramanan, the retired Commercial Tax Officer who played lousy chess. That girl was not around; probably, she left? Muni got up from the bench and waited at the gate. In the adjacent, dark lane that bordered with the sub-jail, people were throwing stuff into the cells. The lane was always dark, for people broke the street lamps every time the Electricity department replaced them. So they stopped replacing lamps. The cops knew about people passing on stuff from across the wall, but didn't bother too much... after all it was the petty criminals that were remanded to custody here. Muni felt sad for them and so once in a while he would throw a pack of beedis or some snack like Murukku inside a cell. He would scream 'Muniyaandi gift raaa! Thoo nee amma!' And they always thanked him in chorus 'Namaste annaa!'

    He moved away from the glare of the tea shop's Hurricane lamp and waited in the shadows. The 'Pump' stove from the tea shop was going at full blast and a bunch of vadas sizzled in the pan. Muni longed for some tea and a couple of those hot vadas. But he suppressed his craving and got ready to apologize to Ravi.

    As Ravi approached the main gate of the NGO Home, Muni became nervous. He stood in Ravi's way and said,
    "Sorry saar!"
    "What sorry? Don't you have manners? It is all my fault. Who the hell are you to tell my friends what they are supposed to do?"

    Muni gulped. He didn't understand why Ravi was being so irate.

    "Saar, I know how Chess can drain you..."
    "What the fuck do you know about Chess? Just because you know how to move the pieces does not make you a player! You don't tell me how Chess works. Enough, I don't want to talk to you or see you again. If you disturb me again, I will call the Police."

    Muni bit his lip as tears rolled down his face. He adjusted his glass eye, blew his nose, and mopped his face with the dirty towel again.

    "Saar don't say that please... you know how much I respect you and how much I love chess... please saar"

    "You love chess? What the- never mind! You claim you can't see half of the board... why don't you go get a job or something? Love chess! Now, leave me alone. Like I said, I will not hesitate to call the police if you disturb me again."

    And Ravi left a wounded Muniyandi.

    That night Muni visited the Arrack shop near Prathap cinema. He drank like there was no tomorrow and started abusing people around him.
    "Thoo theri maaki! Chess theriyumaadaa bosadikey! Chess? I am a chess player. Man of the match in the Penumur tournament. And you, ask me to shut up? Lavadey ka baal! Narikesthaa! I will cut you to pieces and make a side-dish out of you." He told the guy behind the counter. And before long a scuffle broke out. Three guys beat the crap out of Muniyandi and packed him off to the two-town police station. It would have been fine if Muni had shut his mouth with the cops. He called the constable's mother some unspeakable things and opined that the sub-inspector was a 'Kojja' (eunuch).

    Muni's wife pleaded with Ramanan, the retired commercial tax officer and lousy chess player to help. Ramanan was also a former office-bearer of the Chess association and he always thought Muniyandi had potential. He spoke to the cops, paid bribes, and got Muniyandi out. But by that time, the cops had had their share of fun. Muni could barely get on his feet. His glass eye was missing. They found it by the water pot in the corner of the cell. They had to carry him to an auto. It took ten days for Muniyandi to get discharged from the government hospital.

    It made news in the NGO Home. Some sympathized with Muni. Ravi was not one of them. Most people extracted entertainment out of Muni's misery. They made jokes and laughed out loud. Ramanan visited Muni who was still recovering and gifted him a wooden chess board and a Chess problem book that did not require one to know how to read. Muni cried yet again. After Ramanan left, Muni's wife asked him,
    "What the hell is wrong with you? Saithaan!"
    "Why don't you go to the Home in the evening ya? Play some Chess..."
    "No. I am not going there."
    "What happened?" She persisted.
    "Nothing dee Kaidhey! Summa iru, nee amma! Thoo!"

    That was that. No one saw Muni at the Home after that for more than six months. No one knew what happened. No one cared. Once in a while, someone spotted him in the Jaggery Mandi, unloading sacks.

    In the meantime, Ravi's hopes grew. He met Bindu every day. He even went to her house and her father was pleased to meet the Chess champ.

    One day after college hours, Ravi and Bindu were discussing a variation of the King's Indian Defense.
    "Your birthday is coming up... what plans?" He said.
    "It is just another day and I am an adult... nothing I guess?"

    Ravi nodded. He could not fathom it. Is she attracted to me? Does she know what I feel for her? He could never tell. She had a lot of guy friends that wrote to her. Ravi was angry but was careful enough to not display it.
    'You should meet Pawan, he is such a sweet heart you know?' 'Once Raju, Prince, and I went to the Golconda fort...'

    What the fuck was wrong with that city? How could a girl go on an excursion with two guys!? A girl that wore tight Jeans and tighter t-shirts! God! Was she 'experienced'?

    These questions swarmed and buzzed around in Ravi's head. His friends also told him how city girls were 'fast' and about how they don't care for 'love' but only for bikes, biceps, and money. Once or twice Ravi decided to not pursue her but the resolution lasted only till he met her next. All she had to do was laugh. Her lustrous, smooth, raven-black hair bounced around in utter glee when she laughed. She clapped when she laughed and looked to heavens. The gentle undulations of her t-shirt added a beautiful touch. And he fell in love again. And again. And again.

    The college grapevine speculated: Ravi got her. We saw them kissing in the forest department nursery. They got secretly married. And, people congratulated Ravi. Winked at him. Slapped his back. 'You think she does not know what you feel for her? Get out of here! Women! I tell you. They want you to make the move first.' Ravi was almost convinced that it was only a matter of articulating it and formalizing the relationship. He can ask her to stop wearing jeans and t-shirts after that.

    On her birthday he met her at the Durga temple in the morning and gave a bunch of roses and a greeting card. 'I have something to show you... after college?' Ravi said. She was thrilled with the roses he thought. It was all falling in place. They would be just like the Thipsays. The husband and wife chess champs!

    Ravi could not concentrate in the class. He waited for the final hour to end. As soon as it ended he ran to the park bench under the Neem tree and set up the Chess board. He arranged a chess formation. It was a Checkmate in five moves problem. But there was more.

    She came after a while.
    "What are you doing here?" She said, shaking his hands. He shrugged.
    "Mate in five. White wins. You think you can crack it?" He said.
    She smiled and hunched over the board. After a few minutes she got the solution. It was quite simple. The white queen moved right next to the Black king and it was mate.

    He was quiet. He collected his thoughts.
    "That's what happened to me too." He said.
    "I didn't understand...?"
    "Um... You came into my life. And mated... I mean, it was checkmate for my black... I mean I have nowhere to go... I l-love you?"

    The afternoon breeze picked up and whistled through the trees. From beyond the ZP quarters a goat bleated.

    "WHAT?!" She yelped.

    "You love me? God! Now you know why I never tried being friends around here? You guys... Ravi I thought you were different!"

    A sledgehammer crashed into his heart.
    "Wh-what? I thought you knew it all along... I mean... what's wrong with me?"

    "It is not about wrong or right... I don't feel that way... anyway, never mind, it was nice knowing you. Good bye."

    And she stormed off his life.

    (will surely be concluded in the next post)

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    Grandmaster Muniyandi - 1

    Vishy Anand won the World Junior Chess Championship and the small Chess community in Chittoor celebrated. They met at the NGO home, next to to the sub-jail, like every evening; the Chess association secretary distributed sweets. It was business as usual after that in the NGO Home. Some men played 'Ring' in the front lawn. The chess club members huddled over Chess boards, under ancient filament lamps with monstrous glass domes. Right beside the huge teakwood table that hosted Chess, people played Carrom board, which had a filament lamp hovering over it... it made the Carrom players look hideous, as the Carrom board reflected light and lit their faces partially. There was no other lighting in the Home's hall. It was always dark, damp, and smelt like an old book.

    Muniyandi lit his 240th beedi of the day, adjusted his glass eye, and tried to focus on the chessmen with his good eye. Muniyandi always complained that he could see only half of the Chess board, a ridiculous idea all right but people indulged Muni. Muni also claimed that there were thirty criminal cases on him (including attempt to murder) but the cops would not dare apprehend him. "Othha they know how I lost my eye now, don't they?" Muni would snarl. If any unsuspecting person did inquire about the lost eye, Muni would seize that opportunity to take the inquirer to the tea stall outside the NGO Home, sit him down, and start his unbelievable story. It was all fiction. We knew. But that's what Muni did to get sponsors for his tea, snacks, and smokes. The general concept of his 'how I lost my eye' story hovered around Muni's valor: how he fought 45 (or 150 sometimes) rowdies single handedly, before losing his eye in hand-to-hand combat. There were a few at the Home who believed that Muni's wife must have popped his eye off. It seemed quite plausible, for Muni was an incorrigible drunk and he stole money from his wife when he ran out of cash.

    So how did a big-mouth, 4-anna hustler develop a passion for Chess? No one knew. It was one of those flamboyant aberrations of life. Muniyandi, however, claimed he was always in love with the game. He was a good player. His tactics on the board were nothing short of brilliant. But he lacked the much needed strategic perspective to move up and become a rated player. Also, he could not afford Chess books, the best resource for learning the art. Not that it would have made a difference, for he couldn't read or write. There were a couple of 'rated' players in the club: Ravi, the second year B.Sc student from the Arts college, was one of them. Muniyandi revered him.

    Muni accompanied Ravi to all tournaments in and around Chittoor. The year before Muniyandi had even participated in a tournament in Penumur. Ravi got the first spot and Muni actually got the third place! For reasons best known to them, the organizers chose to call the third place winner as 'Man of the match'.

    Muniyandi collected the prize money, a princely sum of 75 Rupees, slipped out, got drunk, and came back to extract revenge on the organizers that had played a cruel joke by calling him 'Man of the match'. It was his maiden win in a tournament! According to Ravi, Muni pulled a switch knife and waved it at the terrified organizers and said "Nee amma! Man of the match! This is fucking chess, thoo nee amma!"

    Only Ravi knew that Muni was harmless. The people of Penumur actually fell for Muni's antics and believed that they were in the presence of a fearless outlaw. Ravi whisked away Muni before the shit hit the fan and jumped on the first bus back to Chittoor.

    From then on Muni became the self-proclaimed bodyguard of Ravi. It was irritating for young Ravi but his sense of humor prevailed and he generally did not mind Muni and his antics.
    NGO Home's only hope, its rising star was Ravi. He won the district championships, and went on to win the State championship. The modest chess club from Chittoor produced a champion! The Chess club presented Ravi with a cheque of four thousand Rupees. Ravi used up the cash to buy a good Chess clock and books on Chess openings. Muni found a lot of pride in being Ravi's assistant cum bodyguard. All the retired, older men did not quite like it but they didn't want to argue with Muni, understandably so.

    Himabindu, a stunningly pretty girl moved to Chittoor from Kurnool. She became Ravi's classmate too, in the Arts College. She was also the state number two in women's chess. Himabindu attracted a lot of attention. She was probably the first girl in Chittoor that wore Jeans to college. If that wasn't revolutionary enough, she wore a t-shirt, which said 'Little Bo Peep did it for insurance.' Not one guy in college understood what that meant but they did stare at the location of that text for prolonged periods, making guttural noises. Himabindu ignored the naughty boys in college that passed comments when she passed by. She refused to accept any love letter from anyone. She broke quite a few hearts. But no one tried to mess with her. Her dad was a high ranking official in the Zilla Parishad. Her uncle was a top cop in Tirupathi. So none of the boys tried getting cute with Bindu.

    Amid all this love blossomed. At least in Ravi's heart. To him Bindu was the dream girl. She played chess! Was a champ! Looked like a goddess... he dreamed of discussing chess with her, going on long walks behind the Z.P quarters right behind the college. He also dreamed of Bindu embracing 'Indian' clothes, just like those once-arrogant heroines in Telugu movies that saw the wisdom behind the villager hero's words and ended up wearing Kanchi silk saris even to bed. However there was a small problem. Bindu made no attempt to make friends in college. She was always spotted reading some book or the other, all by herself. When some girls did try to make conversation they were met with a luke-warm response. However, there was hope. He was the state champ and she had to come around. She did.

    That year the Chess club at the NGO Home hosted the university chess championships and Ravi swore to himself that he would produce a spectacular performance. Muniyandi never left the table where Ravi played. He was more nervous than Ravi himself. During a game in which Ravi played black, things got tricky. Ravi played the French defense and his opponent launched an all out king-side attack. It looked bleak but Ravi knew that it was only a matter of time before he wrested the initiative. But Muniyandi could not see as far. When Ravi stepped out after finishing his 40th move, Muni ran behind him and very seriously suggested "If it looks like we are losing, I can arrange for a win. I just need to have a word with your opponent." A horrified Ravi explained to Muni that it was not needed.

    On the girl's side, Bindu was cruising to the first spot. It was the penultimate round that swung Ravi's fortunes. Ravi sacrificed his queen, the most powerful piece. It may seem spectacular but Ravi knew exactly what he was doing. But the spectators gasped as he played that move and before long, there was a small crowd huddled over Ravi's board. Bindu was there too. As Ravi wrapped up the match in style, the crowd applauded. Bindu shook his hand. As the crowd dispersed that evening and Ravi packed his bags to go home, he spotted her walking towards him. His heart rammed against his ribs and his knees started shaking.
    "You were brilliant... It is a privilege, meeting you." She said. She had large, expressive eyes, which were accentuated by Kajal. Ravi wanted to reach out and touch her face but he thought the better of it.
    "Oona ulkah hrooo?" he said. He wanted to say "You are a champ too"
    She shifted on her feet and raised her eyebrow as if asking 'What the fuck did you say sir?'
    Ravi cleared his throat, took a deep breath, coughed and said "Pleased to meet you. It is a privilege to meet you." He found it difficult to not stare at the wonderful contours her t-shirt made. Just when he was about to thank god, Muniyandi appeared on the scene from no where and said "Hello madam, come tomorrow for autographs, sir is tired now." (concluding part in the next installment)

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    The Tailors of Chittoor Part 3

    With a week to go for Diwali, my mom broke the news: 'Go to dad's office and pick up the cash. We are shopping for your trousers today!' She said. It was a second Saturday and a holiday for me. She was happy for me. She had convinced dad that she didn't want anything for Diwali, as she had a new Saree; a gift from her sister.
    'Where are we going shopping? Shoba Paradise?' I asked her.
    'They are expensive da kanna. We'll go to Setty's shop in Greamspet?' She said, cajoling me. It meant we were going to buy a pant 'piece' and have a trouser stitched out of it by none other than Balaji, the master stylist and self-proclaimed fashion aficionado. I could live that I thought.
    Dad's office was some two kilometers from home. I had to walk to the Colony gate to catch a bus. I normally got down at the MSR cinema stop and walked up to my dad's office next to the RTO's office on Darga road. I was giddy with excitement. A million thoughts raged in my head. A trouser meant that Vachi will no longer look at me as a 'boy'. That reminded me about that Rose. It would bloom in another couple of days. I realised that some girl on a gleaming BSA SLR bicycle was screaming my name. Vachi! She was riding a brand new girl's bicycle. The vermilion and sandalwood paste dots on the cycle were probably still wet.
    'Got it today! Appa's gift!' She gushed and rang the bell 'trrngggg'. I looked around if people were watching us. I didn't want to give more ammunition to Tailor Balaji. That's how small town romances worked. All hush-hush. Only, there was no romance here. Just a boy and a girl meeting up on the road and we still were not old enough to worry about prying eyes. She was wearing a purple dress that contrasted her lemony complexion. There was that sparkle in her eyes. And of course, the Gokul Santol fragrance filled my lungs. I was happy that I met her but something was tugging at my heart, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I wanted my dad to buy me a cycle. But I knew it was not going to happen. I mean I almost had to hire a lawyer to fight my case for a pair of trousers.
    'Where are you going da Kutty?' She asked. She was the only one, other than my parents, that called me by my nickname.
    'I am going to my dad's office. To pick up cash. We are going shopping today for clothes.'
    'Hey! That's wonderful. So you are getting your trousers? Your mother was telling mine how you were adamant about it.'

    I cursed my mom for letting out my personal information to, of all the people, Vachi's mom.

    'I want to be the first person outside of your family to see you clad in trousers da Kutty. I will never talk to you if show your trousers to someone else first.' She said.

    That was the first time, in the two years I had been friends with her, she had said something like that. Something personal and intimate. I liked the idea of her having a 'right' on me. I smiled.

    She rang that god awful, shrill bell again and said 'Bye da. I have to show off my cycle to my girl friends.'

    I said 'bye' and started walking when she called out again.

    'Hey, do you want to borrow my cycle?' She said.

    The sun was behind her. She was the world's best silhouette. I wanted to say no. One, I didn't want to be spotted riding a girl's cycle. Two, it was her brand new cycle, which she got probably a few hours back.
    'No Vachi. I'll take the bus...' I said.
    'Why are you treating me like a third person?' She yelled.
    I looked around to see if anyone caught that intensely personal remark. I didn't know what happened to my girl that day. She was being all mush. It was new to me. She was never like that. Personal and demanding. She was always the girl with pigtails, who liked to play silly games. But that day she was being, um, one of them, you know... Women!

    'Ok! Ok! Stop screaming. I will take your cycle. Are you sure? Your folks won't be mad at you?'

    'Don't worry about that. I will wait for you in Sreelakshmi's house.' Sreelakshmi, her classmate lived in the lane right behind her house.

    Somewhere at the back of my head I felt it was a bad idea. But I could not say no to her. So I took her cycle and was on my way to dad's office. I stopped at Balaji's tailor shop. He raised his eyebrows and said 'Whose cycle is that da Madraas!' I ignored his question and told him that I will be giving him the trouser cloth and that I wanted the trousers a day before Diwali.
    'Don't worry da. I will deliver it two days before Diwali.'
    I stood there staring at him cut cloth. The Scissors made a lovely, smooth sound as it cut through the cloth 'Katchikk'.

    'This is my first pair of trousers nnaa. Please make it memorable for me.' I pleaded. He stopped cutting, dropped his scissors, and patted my face. He was moved I guess, with my melodrama.
    'Don't worry da Madras. I promise, you'll remember me all your life.' [ be contd]

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    The Tailors of Chittoor Part 2

    Continued from Part 1:
    Diwali was on November 2nd. They were dismantling the huge shelter, at the entrance of our colony, they'd built for the Dasarra festivities. Strangely, the weather was cold. It was seven in the morning. I was walking down to the entrance where I had to catch a town-bus to school. The cold air caressed my legs. Balaji Tailors were open early that day. On an impulse, I walked into the shop and found Balaji and his assistant laboring away. Balaji was probably 27 or 28. A tall, lanky chap with soft hair and naughty eyes. I did not like his mooch though. That was probably because I was not able to grow one. There was a huge teak-wood table at the entrance and under its glasstop, Balaji's collection of all those newspaper cuttings and ads from magazines stared at me. I stared at those models wearing those trousers cut by angels. Oh those pleats and the baggy cut! I was not sure if Balaji could make a trouser like those in the ads. I have heard of guys complaining about crotch-smothering trousers and about how Balaji always defended "That's what you asked for! I followed your instructions." I thought of hiring the services of Hi-fashion Tailors or MegaStar Tailors in the town. But, they were expensive and they won't take my order in the first place: they were too busy during Diwali time. I sighed and looked at Raju, the assistant stitching buttons on a flouroscent orange shirt. Whoever the owner of that shirt was, he was definitely brave. Raju bit the loose ends of the thread and spat out.

    "Ennadaa Madras, when are you giving your clothes for stitching? I am busy already. If you want yours by Diwali, hurry up. Tell your dad." Balaji said. The 'Takai' Tape Recorder was playing some shitty song. Any song on that thing would sound awful, that's another thing.

    "Get yourself some Spun material. I will make a nice baggy trouser for you." He said and pointed to a model under the glass on the table. "That's the one I am talking about." 'Yeah. Yeah. Sure!' I thought.

    He was a smooth operator all right. Rumor had it that he had moved to our colony because he was thrown out from the center of town: he was getting naughty with the girls . He was a good looker and definitely had the charm. I had seen so many girls spend hours standing outside, behind the glass-top table and laugh even when Balaji sneezed.

    "How is your girl friend da?" Balaji asked. A big grin creased his otherwise flawless face. This was his favorite theme to tease me.

    "Get lost!" I said. How the hell do these guys figure out these secrets I wondered. I had feelings for her but I hadn't told anyone. Not even to my close friends!

    "She is not my girl friend okay anna? Don't say such things again." I said.

    "Okay! But she asked about you. You are not in the same section I see? She is in 8th A? Yeah, she was asking me if you gave your clothes..."
    I jumped on it. "When? When? When? What did she ask? Was she alone..." and he started laughing. The retard Raju was also laughing unmindful of the spittle spraying on that orange shirt.
    "Get lost nnaa!" I said and ran from there.
    "Give your clothes fast da!" He yelled out.

    I reached the arch at the entrance of the colony and No. 4 'Vedam' arrived with it musical horn. 'Paapa-peen-peen-pa. PaBaaaan!' I jumped into the bus from the driver's end and waved at Qadir behind the wheel. He had a permanent smile creasing his awkward face and the pronounced, firm jaw added a steely aura to his demeanor. He nodded and winked. I settled down in one of the front seats and rummaged through my pockets for change to buy the ticket. I was wondering why Qadir had winked.
    "Ah, rey-rey" the conductor gave his signal and banged that bell. I took the money out. The bus had not moved. Probably someone was coming. I turned towards the colony and found her running.
    The sun caressed her golden face. She looked stunning even in that stupid Green and white uniform. I looked at Qadir and was surprised that he was looking at me with a knowing smile. Why was the world being so nice to me, I wondered.

    She jumped in, saw me, and sat next to me. She was gasping for breath. The bus moved.
    "Thank you da!" She said. She thought I'd stopped the bus. I did not tell her the truth. When the world was being nice to you, you enjoy the ride. Her arm was grazing against mine. Her hair was neatly combed back. Two really cute clips stood proud at the front. A dash of ash (Vibuthi) right beneath the black bindi, in some weird way made her look hot. The fragrance of Gokul Santol Talcum powder filled my lungs. Vasanthi a.k.a Vachi was a beautiful girl.

    I knew her from sixth standard. We were family friends apparently. The moms met often. When my mom made a special dish, my mom would send a portion of it to them. Her mom too reciprocated but not as often. I hated the way her mom looted our Curry leaves tree. The tree was bald now, thanks to Vachi's mom. I was planning to give the first bloom from our new Rose plant to Vachi. I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do.
    [ be contd]

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    The Angry Young Teacher

    Everyone was scared of Suresh sir. The new science graduate from PVKN College, Chittoor. His explosive temper was almost legendary. Even Mallik, the Correspondent of Anita Tutorials avoided confrontations with Suresh. The lady teachers though had little to worry about. Suresh was nice to them, especially to pretty lady teachers. I kept a very low profile in the Tutorials. Especially in Physics and Math classes which Suresh taught. We were five of us in the 9th standard classes (English Medium). One pretty girl and four boys. And I was the shorty of the class. As you may have already read elsewhere, I wore 'Knickers' or Shorts to school as well as the Tutorials. The other guys wore trousers. Shaved daily. And looked like men. Probably were having sex too on a regular basis. I, on the other hand, hanged with the 7th standard boys, played marbles, read Disney, and sat in the front bench. I looked the part I must admit but the three guys didn't give a shit about me as I posed no threat: I was not in the race to win that girl's heart. I was her kid brother's friend. Sigh!

    I was happy with my uneventful life until the day Suresh started Magnetism classes. I had read up and researched on it earlier and I couldn't keep my mouth shut. While he was explaining the basics of Magnetism, I just put my hand up and finished the class for him. Now, I am no geek. It was just a coincidence that I knew Magnetism better than my entire class. It was an aberration. My family celebrated everytime I scored more than 35% in math. But Suresh thought I had potential. Our Tam-Bram connection too probably made him pay attention to me, I don't know!

    "Dey Soplangi, when did you study about Electron spin and all?" Suresh said.

    I looked around. My heart was racing. My nails dug into my clenched, perspiring fists. I unclenched my fists and rested my hands on the coarse floor. I wanted to take a leak. I was resting so much on my hands that my crossed-legs slightly lifted. Iyengar yoga I guess.
    I wanted to say something cool. Something that told the arrogant bastards in my class who I was. And, of course, I wanted this moment to change the way Mini (the solitary girl in the class) looked at me: I wanted to graduate to 'my friend' from 'my thumb-sucking kid bro's friend'. But all that came out was


    The sniggering echoed against the unpolished, jagged walls of the room. Mini looked uninterested. She was busy poring through the text book.

    "Enna daa? Muttaal! Say something coherent" Suresh said.

    I took a deep breath and said,

    "I read up on it. Sir..."

    "Very good." Suresh said and turned to the losers and Mini and said, "I'd appreciate that kind of proactive learning. Don't study only to crack exams. Study to know. Your Physics book can be as exciting as Desmond Bagley's The Golden Keel."

    An uncomfortable vacuum developed. All of them wore blank stares as if saying 'What the fuck was that? Golden Keel?"

    Suresh turned to me and raised his eyebrows and said
    "Dey Asamanjam, do you know who Desmond Bagley is?"

    That was familiar territory, all right. I was one of the two guys, in our class at schoool, that read English novels back then. And, my family physician had a small library. It had James Hadley Chase (with newspaper covers to hide those lovely, revealing women on the covers), Alistair Mclean, and of course The Golden Keel.

    "That's a novel about Mussolini's hidden treasure and how a group of adventurers smuggle it out of Italy, using the keel of a ship..." I said. My chest expanded by some 40 meters.

    Suresh stared at me. A crooked smile was creasing his bespectacled face. I noticed the green veins on his muscular forehand. He punched walls to strengthen his punches. Some of his thick, unruly hair stuck to his forehead. A trickle of sweat drifted down his side-locks. He was still staring with that 'Unfuckingbelievable!' smile stuck on his face. I glanced around. The boys were already packing their bags. And, Mini was smiling at me!

    "Not bad at all!" He ended the staring and said.

    I wanted to tell him that I was not exactly one of those studious and/or brilliant wankers that aced all their exams and went on to become engineers or doctors. I was in school because my dad wanted me in it. I hated school. I was not a complete dufus all right but I wasn't Krishna (our class topper, another shorty) or Ramesh (topper from 9th C). He slapped my back with his Pop-eye arms and said,
    "Class dismissed." The other boys slithered out of the class. Their worried faces told me that they knew, they now had new, tougher competition. Mini stayed back to edit her essay with Suresh's help. I was about to take off when Suresh said, "Dey wait, I need to talk to you." I slammed my brakes and I stood there like E.T. in a bowling alley. Mini had expressive eyes. She had a way of animating with her arms. Like when she asked a question, her outstretched palm too asked it... almost like a classical dancer. I was salivating at her and before long she finished her essay discussion and left. I thought she flashed a smile at me but it was probably my imagination.

    Suresh was busy stacking up some papers on the shelf behind his desk. We were in the office room now. He switched the table fan on and settled down on his chair.
    "Sit da!" He yelled.
    I sat at the edge of the chair.

    "What else do you read?" Suresh asked.
    I stopped playing with the paperweight and told him about Chase, Mclean, Tintin, Asterix, and of course Disney. I also told him about how I read anything and everything. About my disagreements with Yendamuri. About how Yerramsetty Sai copied Wodehouse. He did not utter a word through it all. When I ended my chatter he said.
    "You don't want to be an engineer, no?"
    I gulped. It was like swallowing a Cricket ball. If I said 'no' and he went and told that to my dad, that would be a catastrophe. I blinked and made some incoherent noises.

    "It is okay if you don't want to be one. At least you know what you don't want da. Look at me, my dad wants me to study engineering after my BSc and I have no choice. I have to do it. You don't know my dad. Hitler never died. He came to Chittoor and married my mom."

    I nodded. Hmmm. Even teachers suffer from dads. He continued.

    "Your dad seems a man of reason da. So tell him what you want to do. Set his expectations. You still have time."

    I nodded in agreement.

    "You got talent da Soplaangi. Make use of it when you have time. Have a dream and pursue it." We spoke for some more time. He treated me like an equal. He wanted me to read Ayn Rand (I will never forgive him for doing that to me. That was death by prose!)

    That was that. As he pedaled away on his Bicycle down the slope, I felt a strange pain. I wrote my first novella in a 200 page notebook that night. I wrote till 2 A.M. When I finished scribbling 'The End' and closed the notebook, I knew that Suresh sir was indirectly responsible for unleashing another wannabe writer.

    I never did any of what he asked me to do. I did miserably in school and college. I never bothered. But his words from that day made a lasting impact. He was the first person who told me I was good. That I was talented. I don't know if I am, but I believed in him. I believe in myself. He probably forgot all about me. He probably forgot our conversation in the next hour. But, to me, it was a start. I don't know how you tell a good teacher from the ordinary, but I know now. A good teacher makes you believe. That, and only that counts.

    Happy Teachers' day.

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    The Tailors of Chittoor Part 1

    Winter was just around the corner and my folks finally agreed to get me full pants (or trousers as they are known now). My dad found it inconceivable that an 8th standard kid should be wearing trousers.

    'I wore half pants in PUC!' He exclaimed every time I raised the topic. I am sure your dad wore loin-cloth in college I used to think. Almost all the boys (but for Koya I think) had graduated to trousers. The peer pressure was tremendous. Stonewash Jeans. Classic Denim. Baggy trousers. And I was the odd boy out. The sore thumb. The front bencher.

    A trouser those days (new clothes in general) was a costly affair and it was indeed a luxury for us. Readymade branded wear had yet to make a splash in Chittoor. Shobha Paradise had just started advertising their ready-wear in Gurunadha Talkies I think. Before Diwali though, Shobha Paradise intensified their marketing promos. They hired auto-rickshaws fitted with those loudspeakers (those cone-shaped monsters, yeah) and sent the auto around. The ad man sat in the back, next to the PA equipment and between stanzas of Chiranjeevi songs, shouted out the script: "Shoba Paradise! Visit today! Shoba Paradise, sirrrr!" I suspected that it was the same guy that hawked Ginger confectionery at the bus stand (Inji maraabbbbbbbbbaa!, sirrr!). Every time the promo auto passed our street, I used to stare at the display hoardings stuck to the auto on the sides; at those kids clad in with a million pleats and imagined myself walking into my class, clad in those trousers and a baggy t-shirt.

    I gave up on my dad and started pestering mom. It took me a week to convince her to try convincing dad. A few days later, my dad summoned me after dinner. He was sitting in the Verandah, drowned in the old wooden chair that creaked everytime you moved. Mohd Rafi was singing a soul stirring melody (Ab kya Misaal dhoon...) in the Philips radio. Despite the static, Rafi sounded like God. A couple of moths were flying around in the Verandah. A dirty 60W filament lamp was struggling to keep the dark at bay. And I could hear the strains of Ghantasala's Bhagavadgita from afar; the Durga temple at the entrance of our colony was playing it. Some over enthusiastic kids were already bursting crackers. Diwali was still a week away.
    'This Diwali we'll get you trousers along with half-pants da.' Dad said.

    I was confused.
    'Daddy, I don't want to wear half-pants anymore. I am only growing older if you didn't notice? Even Koya has decided to quit half-pants... It will be very embarrassing for me, no?'

    My father grunted and sighed and mumbled something under his breath. He looked up at the noisy fan and told my mom 'We need to clean the blades, borrow the ladder from the landlord.'

    I bit my lip and started slapping my sides. Dad finally cleared his throat and said,
    'What I meant was, we'll buy you new half-pants and I wanted you to alter one of my old trousers and start using it...'
    I shot a glance to my mom and she shrugged hinting her helplessness. I wanted to scream.
    'So I guess that is fine then?' dad asked.
    'No dad, I don't want the half-pants. I want a new trouser.'

    His head rose from the newspaper and through his thick-glass spectacles his eyes started drilling holes on me.
    'It will cost you only a little more... come on, please.' I pleaded.

    There was a long pause. An irritating pause. He knew I was restless and anxious, yet he chose to mind-hump me by pausing for an eternity and talking about cleaning the ceiling fan. I was staring at the alarm clock in the hall . It tick-tocked away, while mom was cutting Spinach. My dad snapped the newspaper straight for the 34000th time and did his grunting routine again. Every penny counted for him. Every extra penny meant compromise. The festival advance that the government gave its non-gazetted officers wouldn't buy all the boys (we were three) loin cloth. I was feeling guilty but I chose to ignore it, for exposing your hairy legs brought with it something even worse: ridicule. And I was ready to go on the guilt trip. I wanted my trousers, for my knickers were in a twist.

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    The hunt for the Bison - 1

    "My uncle saw the Bison. Mother promise!" Prabhu said. I stared at him for a good minute and said, "Let's go camp then. Tonight?" The late winter morning had a deceiving chill to it. Prabhu pulled his hands into his sweater sleeves and shook his head and said "Not today. Probably next Sunday?"
    He was two years junior to me and was still considered a kid: he was in 7th class after all. So were Suri and Viju. But they all showed a maturity that defied their age: they lied like their lives depended on it. We stood outside the door of Anita Tutorials, the education hub of Durga colony. It drew teachers from all across Chittoor and was absolutely hopeless when it came to punctuality, for all the teachers were final year college students from the PVKN Arts college and none of them ever came on time.
    We were waiting for Suresh (Suresh sir to be precise), our psychotic science tutor. I was sure that this piece of news about the Bison would excite him. I was sure he'd go camping with us to the hills around Iruvaram, Prabhu's village. Iruvaram was on the Bangalore by-pass, a quiet, insignificant settlement away from the buzz of the Chittoor town. Facing Iruvaram, on the other side of the by-pass were the hills and the arid home of the Bison. A part of me wanted to buy the Bison story. I mean it was so romantic and exciting but the other side of me refused to buy it: what will the Bison survive on? There was absolutely no vegetation other than the Cactus with the plum red fruit or those long thorny shrubs with thick trunks; we used to cut the trunk, dry it, and use it for flotation while learning how to swim in the irrigation wells. I was quite certain that the Bison can't reach the leaves or fruit of the occasional Palm that dotted the area. If the Bison did exist, why was it alone? How did it get here in the first place and why? I had read about the man eating tigers: I knew these were old tigers that were looking for easy prey and that was why they moved closer to human settlements. But why the Bison? It is a herbivore? Right? The story just didn't stick. But I did not share my apprehensions with Suri and Viju. I wanted to go camp, Bison or not. ( be contd)

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    Monkey Business

    Oh no, it is not what you think. No Mr.Symonds, I am not getting cute here. This is a true story:
    This happened when I was in seventh class. We had just moved back to Chittoor from Chennai. It was a pleasant evening and our neighbor was calling his pigs home. That haunting 'aaaa aaaa och!' We had rented a portion of a house. The landlady lived in the other portion. The house had a small iron gate which led you to the front garden and this huge, ancient Tamarind tree. We kids uses to make up stories that the tree was home to some ghosts and spirits. Along the compound wall, the landlady had planted Crotons of all colors. It was a pretty house all right.
    That evening I lugged the chair that dad brought from Delhi, and settled down under the Tamarind tree with a book. My mom was in the kitchen. Half hour passed and my mom called out, "Suman get inside the monkeys are coming." Chittoor had a lot of monkeys then. A few years later, as they were creating havoc in the electrical sub-station, they caught all the monkeys and left them in the forests of Tirumala. Now, I turned to look at the monkeys. It was a big family. The juveniles were in the front. There was a mother and her baby, which clung to her belly. A few boys. And the alpha male. The alpha male was this huge guy with menacing looks. His strong shoulders moved smooth as he walked on the wall behind pack. He had steely eyes that captured the goings on around him. None of the monkeys bothered about me. I told mom "See, if you don't disturb animals, they won't too! Relax, I will be fine." The landlady who just appeared from inside her house said, "don't try to be brave son." I just clucked my tongue and pretended to be lost in my book. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the alpha male was just about to descend the wall and he caught my eye. He paused and got back on the wall and leveled his eyes with mine. Now, I had no idea why he did that but I was stupid enough to eye ball him right back. His eyes were devoid of any emotion. After a few seconds he jumped to the ground and started walking towards me in that assured, confident gait. I realised he was a huge monkey as he drew closer. He crossed my chair, reached behind me, jumped on the chair and sat. My mouth went dry and I started shivering. My mom and the landlady started screaming but our alpha paid little attention. He just knew it then I guess that we couldn't do shit about it even if he ate me for an evening snack.
    The landlady said 'sit still don't make any abrupt moves.' I followed her advice. After a few seconds alpha slapped the back of my head, caught my hair, and started shaking my head viciously. I was rocking like a humping spider monkey and I was absolutely convinced that this guy was going to kill me. But, he stopped all of a sudden, climbed down my chair and walked away. As I stared at my wet pants I realised that alpha was merely making a point. He probably couldn't take it that I had no fear or probably thought I was a threat to his position... I mean I look more like a monkey than him. Whatever it was, I swore to myself that I will not get cute with monkeys ever again. But monkeys never stand by their words. Do they now? That story, in which a monkey bit my ass, has to wait. :-)
    [I hereby declare that the story, its characters, and narration were not aimed at hurting any Australian sentiments.]


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    On my way to work this morning, I spotted a bunch of kids training for Karate in a neighborhood park. The middle aged, lanky master was shouting those Karate shouts and the kids responded in a thunderous chorus, moving their limbs as if they were slicing some invisible butter. And, a thought struck me: what if one of these kids, when they grow up and become software professionals, is confronted by a Bangalore auto driver or a mugger? Will Karate be enough?

    After much thought, I arrived at the conclusion that even if you are an expert in Karate, Marathe, Kung-Fu, Kung Pao, Jin Tao, and every other martial art there is, a seasoned street fighter will kick you donkey to Uranus under 30 seconds.

    On what basis am I concluding on this? You'll never ask me that if are from Chittoor.

    I think I was in my first PU then; my friends and I'd just finished drinking our 'crush' (grated ice mixed with sewage water, sweeteners, and colour additives.) As we entered school, I noticed Anif (name changed), the body builder, walk towards Bhaskar (name changed). Anif's eyes were glowing; he swung his arms ferociously and his fists were clenched and white. There was a ghostly chill in the air, the boys and girls automatically moved away and made way for Anif. Even the boys playing cricket had stopped the game and were staring expectantly at Anif and Bhaskar. Bhaskar had no clue (or he pretended so) until Anif stood face to face. My curiosity got the better of my fear and I edged closer.

    'Why are you talking to my girl?' Anif hissed.
    'She's my cousin, what the fu....' Bhaskar did not even get to finish what he was saying. I saw it in slow motion. Anif's head arched back only to swing back and bang! I never saw Anif's forehead hit Bhaskar's nose. In a blink of an eye, Bhaskar was lying on the ground, his face all bloody. Anif waited for him to get up but Bhaskar looked like he was settling down there so much so that I wanted to say 'Good night Bhaskar!'
    Anif eyes darted around to spot any of Bhaskar's supporters and he spotted me. A mighty shiver ran down my spine and my left knee started shaking like a Congress government.
    'H-h-hey! Sir, h-how a-are you?' I bleated.
    He did not even bother reciprocating. I was disgusted that I was calling a guy that never will pass 9th standard in his life 'sir!'

    Anyway, what Anif did is called, referred to with a lot of respect, in Chittoor as 'Dichhaa' (pronounced 'ditch-aa.' No, not like 'coming aa?' 'Kings aa?' 'Yesssaaa?')

    Do not try Dichaa at home. You need professional assistance to learn Dichaa. I have seen young men train hours on end, hitting their foreheads against punching bags. I know guys that break bricks with their foreheads: Dichaa!

    But, nothing is as disastrous as a Dichaa gone wrong. For example, Suri, two years my junior and colony mate, tried a Dichaa on Raju. Now, Suri was all of four feet some inches. In all probability, he is still that. He picked an argument with Raju over the number of balls Raju had bowled. Suri claimed he already had bowled two overs and that it was time to retire from the game. Raju, who detests sarcasm in any form, held Suri's collar. Now, if you are wondering why does none of the onlookers ever separate those that fight, well, peace sells, but who's buying?
    Anyway, the moment Raju held Suri's collar, all of us stopped whatever we were doing and we moved closer and formed a circle around the fighters. No, we don't cheer or boo like those American high school boys; come on! don't you know about our Indian culture?
    We waited for some action but Suri and Raju were locked in a ferocious argument. After what seemed like ages, Raju said something about Suri's mother. Suri lost it. He should have kicked or punched but he went for jackpot: Dichaa. It was damn funny watching a midget jumping up to hit someone with his head. Raju further opened his perennially open mouth and Suri's head promptly hit the teeth. Suri fainted after he saw all the blood dripping down his head. Never attempt a Dichaa if you are a shorty. Never. Dicha is never bottoms-up. It is always lateral. It is always forehead that hammers the opponent.

    People became world famous in Chittoor because of their Dichaas. Dichi (short for Dichaa) is automatically added to your name once you become an exponent of this art form. Dichi Kumar, Dichi Rajesh, Dichi Dilli... you get the drift? If you want to become a 'dada' mastering Dichi is a significant milestone in your career.
    So how does one defend the Dichi? Simple. Move back and thank the sweet lord if you escaped unhurt.

    Along with Dichi, Guduga, another street fight skill forms what I call the supreme, street fight repertoire. I have seen a couple of guys beating the shit out of a gang of eight using Dichi and Guduga. A dichi and a Guduga will make your opponent call lord Muruga is the old saying (I think.)
    What is Guduga? Guduga is normally the second blow (the first strike is always with a Dichi). You hit the guy on his face and as he is crumbling down, finish him off by ramming your knee between his legs. Ramming your knee, my dear reader, is called Guduga.

    Now, tell me, if you are a Karate champ and I can do 12 Dichas before you can say 'I am coming,' who do you think will win the fight, if we were to fight, god forbid? Think about it.

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    The Fridge

    (this story was posted on 21 April 2004)

    I got myself a 235ltr Electrolux-Kelvinator Fridge last night! Here's a related story.
    When I was a kid I was bowled over by Fridges; I come from South-India which suffers from an intense tropical climate. I know only hot, hotter and hottest. So, I was a natural sucker for anything that had anything to do with cold: snow, Air-conditioners, Fridges, winters, fog... You name it.
    Until I was ten I had never seen a Fridge from close quarters. I know this concept is indigestible for readers from USA or Europe. But, yes, that's how it was. In 1983 my aunt invited my brother and me over to Hyderabad for the summer holiday. Of all the things that their opulent home had to offer (opulence is relative my friend), I was smitten by the -you guessed it right- the fridge. I used to make ice and wonder at the magic that was: pour water, come back after half hour, and take your ice-cubes and slip a few in your shirt. Perverse as it may sound, I loved to dump a few ice-cubes in my shirt and roll on the floor. But the Fridge became a dream when I screwed up big time with my Grand pa's teeth. I took a Mango fruit and kept it in the freezer for like an hour. I took it out after an hour only to find it frozen rock-hard. So, I left it in the vegetables tray and went off to take a shower. I came back from my shower and opened the Fridge only to find my frozen Mango missing. I made an abrupt U-turn, fuming under the assumption that my brother had stolen the Mango, and I screeched on my brakes near the dining table: my grand pa had the fruit in his both hands and he was about to sink his dilapidated teeth into the rock-hard, frozen Mango. [Read on!]


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    Circus Monkeys

    The other day, at this get together, we bumped into this family of three: mama, papa, and this noisy, little she-devil. Her folks, as soon as they were introduced to new people, unleashed that little devil on unsuspecting people that were busy making faces and making strange noises as they tried to befriend that little devil.
    'Go on, sing a song for uncle, come on now.' The mother would prod the kid. The dad would join her, 'Come on now, let's see what our darling can do, come on come on!'
    I was stuck. The little girl kept staring at her folks and finally shifted her attention to me. I am positive I saw her eyes change color and the twinkle of her devil teeth. She knotted her eye brows and with the determination that reminded me of Hyenas attacking an Antelope, she launched into a song. I am positive that If Judas Priest were around, they would have hired this little devil. After noticing that her hoarse, high-octave vocals didn't have an effect on me, she upped the ante: she started screaming another song, this time at a higher scale. I wanted to take a rock and smash her mouth but all I did was shift on my feet and flash this really stupid smile. Just when I was thinking of doing a U-turn and run like a bat out of hell, my phone rang. I had never been so thrilled to receive a call, but of course the call was from some stupid agency that was pimping personal loans. It didn't matter that it was a fucking Sunday; the agency girl started rapping about the latest scheme. But this time I didn't shout at her or hang up. As tears of joy rolled down my face I just stood there, only happy to talk to her, and I kept repeating 'Thanks so much!' The agency moron hung up after a while. I frantically searched for the devil and her parents; thankfully they were not in the vicinity. But I could hear her voice from some distant corner.
    You know, it was almost as if the little monster decided one day "My folks make me look like a circus monkey so I am going to embarrass the shit out of them." Unfortunately for the kid, her folks think that she has a great singing talent. God bless!
    Do you have a kid? STOP! Listen up: Do not do this to kids. Don't make them sing nursery rhymes or ask them to spell 'Xylophone.' That's so fucking unfair! Just because you were a dumbfuck in school doesn't mean you make a circus monkey out of your kid. Spelling is a basic skill. It is another story that most of us bloggers suck at it. Get it bro? People do not enjoy the nonsense; they are being nice that's all. So spare us. I don't want to watch your kid dance like Govinda. I don't want to listen to your kid sing 'Manmadha raasa.' Fuck! No!

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    Turtle Neck

    Turtle Neck, Chittoor
    Durga Nagar Colony, Chittoor. The place where I grew up. The hill is called the Turtle Neck (look carefully you'll know why it is called that). When in high school, we used to trek to the top of the 'neck' at least thrice a week. We did find some wildlife there; Monitor Lizards, Rabbits and a variety of snakes. No, not on the top but in and around the hill.

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    Adventures of Surendar: Dasara Dossier

    You�d know that Dasara is around the corner when Suren, my brother, started collecting empty cigarette packets. I�ll come to that later but for now let�s talk about Dasara celebrations in Chittoor back in the wonder years. A week before the puja celebrations started, they�d start erecting a huge palm leaf structure that�d house the goddess for ten days. Even before the structure came up, they�d fix those loud speakers and play devotional numbers by L.R. Easwari. My favorite was �Aaatha Karumaari kan pattaa podhum.� Freak, I still hum it when I am pissed off with the traffic.

    The Durgamma temple near the colony entrance organized the celebrations. The temple was quite famous in and around Chittoor. Every bus or truck that went towards Chennai stopped at her door step and smashed a Pumpkin filled with Vermilion and One rupee coins. Suren and I used to hover around the temple when we were short of money, waiting for that huge truck with a huge shipment: when the stakes were high, the number of coins in the Pumpkin increased like mad. Obviously we had to compete with other losers, street urchins, and punks that gambled�. It was a always a tough fight. The driver or the cleaner of the truck would cut a slice out of the Pumpkin and fill that hole with Vermilion and money. He�d then light some camphor on the Pumpkin, swing it in a circle thrice before he smashed it on the road. That probably saved the truck from accidents and robbers but it caused accidents right outside the temple. Quite a few unsuspecting cyclists and motorists would slip and crash because of the squishy Pumpkin all over the road.

    Anyway, when he smashed the Pumpkin, Suren would dive for it while I waited in the periphery: most times the coins ricocheted off the road and landed far away. While the poor bastards were fighting over the smashed Pumpkin, their hands crimson with the vermilion, I�d sneak out with the money and share it with Suren. On one such occasion, one of my dad�s colleagues broke the story to our folks. My dad almost skinned us alive but we promised to him that we�d never go after that money or go picking Coconut too (oh yeah, they smashed Coconuts too). And by then, we were a little grown up too. We started thinking about decency and all. I was after girls too and tell me, how would it look if I were spotted picking money off the streets? Which girl would have fallen for me?

    I warned Suren that he can�t do such shit anymore as his actions could adversely impact my reputation. He said yes and started something totally different. This time, he switched religions. He convinced Hari, one of his friends, to sit alongside the beggars that thronged the Muslim prayer grounds in Greamspet. They even made up a begging song, which Hari rehearsed under the able supervison of Suren. The faithful Muslims gave lots of money to the beggars, I guess it is a religous practice. Suren would hover around, in the shadows, ensuring that his friend was not pulling a fast one on him. They used to make two hundred rupees per head in a single day. For an 8th standard boy, in Chittoor, that was a lot of money. That arrangement crashed after Feroz, Suren's another friend, met him after the prayer and when they were crossing Hari, who was begging in his high-pitched voice, tugged at Feroz's trousers and Feroz went 'These beggars have become a major problem.' Suren then shouted at Hari and told him to 'study or work to make money.' That ended the begging adventure for the morons.

    But when Dasara arrived, it was boom time for my enterprising brother. He and Hari (the beggar kid, yeah) collected empty Cigarette packs, made numbered tokens out of them. From the first day until the tenth, they would slog away every evening at the Dasara Palm Leaf temple, where thousands of people came by to visit the goddess. Suren and Hari would spread a plastic mat right outside the temple and offer people �shoe protection.� You can�t walk into the temple with your shoes on and you can�t leave it on the road. So, people paid 50 paise per pair to Suren and Hari, to look after the shoes. Genius! But my dad didn�t think so.

    One day, a rather inspired Suren failed to notice that it was in fact his dad�s shoes he was pulling: Suren was fighting with a competitor that had sprung up from out of nowhere. As my dad reached, the competitor and Suren were locked in a fierce battle for my dad�s shoes. My perplexed dad, in that dim light, suddenly realized that it was in fact his youngest son that had won the shoes. Suren was grounded for 200 years and was spanked with my dad�s 1500-year-old leather belt.
    [This is not a series but I will be compiling all Suren's adventures very shortly. Watch this space. Baby.]

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    Storython: Running Blind 2

    [To know what this is all about check Ravages's blog.]

    Continued from Part 1:
    That is unusual. Who is knocking on my door at this hour? I struggled to my feet and made my way to the door, tapping the floor with my stick. I don�t have to do it but habits die hard you see.
    I stood near the door and said �Who is this?�
    After a few seconds, I heard shuffling of feet. Silence. And an adolescent voice boomed from behind the door.
    �You blind dog!� The voice swore in Tamil (Kuruttu Naaye!) �The next time you act high and mighty, I will take your walking stick and shove it up your miserable butt and you can�t even scream because the stick would have emerged out of your mouth. Otha Thevidiyaa payya! �
    I laughed out loud and said �You have a fertile imagination.� It must be the college kid living in the ground floor.
    He must have kicked the door hard, for it screamed out and hummed for a few seconds and the gratuitous, stainless steel vessels in my kitchen let out a shrill, harmonic echo.
    I heard another muffled voice. Someone was pleading with the hothead. Silence reigned.
    I tapped my way back to the chair by the window. I settled down and lit another cigarette. You might not have encountered too many blind smokers I guess. If not for my musician acquaintances, I�d have never discovered the joy of smoking in my life. I played guitar and made some sort of reputation playing in a popular light music band. I played occasionally in the studios, for movies, commercials, and TV shows. The money was good and allowed me to repay the home loan and still maintain a comfortable life, if I call it one that is. I even employed Thangavel, my errand boy who lived a couple of streets away. He is a self-taught percussionist and for some inexplicable reason, he thought that I was his ticket to stardom. I paid him five hundred rupees a month: to buy my cigarettes, food, and stuff. He is my only friend, whose sympathy did not give me ulcers.

    There was distinct chill in the wind that had rain written all over it. I wouldn�t mind some rain. I loved the fragrance of it all; when the first raindrops made love to earth and the orgasms screamed through a feral fragrance of moist earth and invaded my senses.
    I started my wait for the rain.

    Back in the blind school where I spent my childhood, Mr. Easter had spotted my talent for the guitar. I instinctively took to it, don�t ask why or how. Mr. Easter, our music teacher, took special interest in me. Before long I was playing in concerts by blind people, for blind people. And, soon enough, some light music band whose name I don�t recall, offered me a chance to play in one of their shows. I was more of a novelty than a musician for them but the crowd loved it. Some magazine wrote about it. And here I am.

    Somehow, through it all, I never made any real friends. I did not want to hang out in blind people associations nor did I want to marry a blind girl in a mass marriage ceremony in front of a politician who did not give a damn.

    As for the normal people, well, they are funny. People expected me to advertise and acknowledge my infirmity, every time they helped me. They wanted me to accept that I was a burden on their civilized shoulders, when I was not one. And, each time I refused someone�s offer to help me, I knew that I had accumulated yet another pint of hate. They wanted to help me not because they cared. It was an opportunity for them to reassert their superiority. And, I always denied them of the opportunity. Not because I disliked them, but because I believe, it is the equivalent of beating up your wife when your boss took you to task. I don�t want to be your wife sir. No, thanks.

    Far away, the Electric train barked grudgingly as it gathered speed. The wind picked up and I could hear it whistle through the Coconut trees on street. And an unsettling quiet settled in. The radio died on me. The kids on the street screamed with joy. Power cut. I don�t know why kids loved it when the power took a vacation. The rain made an abrupt yet overwhelming start. It poured down without an ornate preamble as if someone tilted a giant bucket in the heavens. I knew that it was going to rain all night, for I couldn�t hear the wind anymore. Before I realized it, my face was wet. I wiped my face with the back of my hand. I realized then that my matchbox was on the windowsill. It was completely wet.
    I staggered to my feet and tapped my way to the kitchen. I kicked something on my way, must have been a cardboard box. I checked the shelf first and then the space below the gas stove. Forget a matchbox, I couldn�t even find the gas lighter. I didn�t know if I had one, for I never use the kitchen. Thangavel sometimes made tea for me and that�s about it. I realized that I had to spend the night without smoking. I was distraught by the fact that such a silly thing could upset one�s life so much. I walked back to my chair and shut the windows. I drowned in the chair. The power-cut seemed like it�d last the whole night. This was the third time in as many months that this was happening to me. I�d lose the matchbox or I�d run out of sticks and I had to spend the night without smoking.

    After an hour that seemed like ages, I pulled out a soggy cigarette and stuck it in my mouth. The wall clock was enjoying its share of the floor and limelight and tick-tocked away gleefully. With no competition to counter the noise, it sounded eerie. Somewhere someone dragged furniture and it made that awful noise like a giant chalk piece scratching on a giant blackboard. I don�t know why I was so desperate. Probably it was that college kid that abused me. Probably I had it with people thinking that they could get away with murder just because I was blind. I don�t know. I wanted to smoke. So I decided to step out. I�d probably walk to that small shop or ask one of my neighbors for a matchbox. I actually relished the idea of this little misadventure. I knew that my neighbors hated me. I wasn�t too sure if that shop would be open now, with the rain and the power-cut. Yet, I wanted to do it.

    I managed to step out of my apartment and lock the door. The floor was wet. The landing was devoid of any human activity, obviously. I couldn�t feel any light too. I walked towards the staircase. The lift rarely worked and during a powercut it was out of the question. I wanted to hold something and I moved towards the ledge. I held its edge and walked towards the staircase. The ledge wasn�t too tall. It was slightly above my waist. I had to be careful. The ledge separated me from the small gap between our block and the next. Before I reached the staircase, I stepped into something furry and soft. I should have worn my shoes! And it jumped up and let out an ugly shriek. Must be a Bandicoot. But it freaked me out so much that I started jumping around, frantically trying to get it off my leg and slipped over the ledge.
    I fell in one smooth motion. My stick went first. My glasses next. I was all curled up and I was struggling through the small gap. The walls scratched my back, legs, arms, and my face as I fell through the floors. I heard my stick hit the ground. And I fell on my back.

    When I came around, I realized that I must have broken my back. I couldn�t move my lower torso. I fainted again. When I came around, I realized that something was crawling up my leg. It must be a Bandicoot. Probably the same one that assaulted me in the landing.
    [Anand, all yours. [To know what this is all about check Ravages's blog.]

    Tags: Story-thon, Fiction, Story-thon Ravages, Story-thon Suman


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