Saturday, August 25, 2018

The boy in the bus

Koyambedu bus stand was humming with activity. My bus to Bangalore starts at 730 am. I virtually ran to get into the bus at the nick of the time. I found a young boy of 11 years sitting on the window seat that was earmarked for me. I did not mind though he made no request for switching the seat. I deposited my bag in the overhead cabin before sitting on the aisle seat. He was in shorts and a colourful T shirt. He was busy watching through the window the vast array of buses and passengers with bags rushing to them.
When he turned to look at me, I smiled and asked him, “Are you travelling to Bangalore alone?”
He nodded his head and said to my surprise, “Can I sit in the window seat. I like watching the small towns and villages.”
I was happy that he sought my permission and said, “You can sit. What is your name? Do you belong to Bangalore?”
“No, I live in Chennai. My name is Rishab.” he said and started looking out.
“Do you like cricket?” I asked and he vigorously nodded his head in affirmative.
Intrigued by the fact it was mid-week and there was no vacation, I asked him, “Do you have relatives there? Which part of Bangalore you are going to?”
When he kept silent, I prodded him telling that he had not answered my question.
He looked at my face and said calmly without any emotion,” I have no one there. I do not know where I will be going at Bangalore.”
Why would a boy go to a place where no one known to him was there unless he was running away from home, I thought?
“Are you running away from your home?” I asked bluntly. “It is dangerous to be alone at an unknown city. Where did you get the money for buying the ticket in this Volvo bus? Tell me the truth. I am worried about you.” I asked in disbelief.
He did not answer.” Alright we can continue the conversation after breakfast,” I said. The bus stopped at a way side restaurant. “Come along, we will have our breakfast,” I said and when he did not get up, I pulled him up and said, “Do not bother about money.”
The boy was relaxed after the breakfast and in a mood to talk. I did not pursue the conversation wantonly for some time. After one hour, I told him, “I want you to be truthful. Why did you run away from home? What is the problem? Your parents must be worried now about you. Did you fail in your class?”
“No, I ran away. I did not want to stay there any longer. I am not happy there. My father keeps touring for large part of the month and hardly talks to me when in station. My step mother though not cruel is disinterested and busy with her friends and social circle.,” he replied.
“You are foolish. The world outside is wicked and very soon without any protection of home, you will be thick in all vicious activities,” I warned him. “Where do you intend going to at Bangalore? I hope not live at the station as another rag-picker?”
“Malleswaram.One of my friends, Shammanna, lives there. We studied together till last year.”
“Do you know where he lives in Malleswaram or the name of his father?”
He kept mum as he had no answer.
“Do not worry. After we reach Bangalore, I will talk to your father. Do not be scared. I will ensure no harm comes to you. You can stay with me.
I felt sultry despite the cool bus and was restless by the thought a young child driven to such foolish step by uncaring parents.
“It is hot. Have this fruit juice,” I offered one of the two I took from my bag. Sleep for a while till the bus stops for lunch.”
It was almost 2pm when the bus entered the Central bus stand opposite Bangalore city station. As we alighted from the bus stop, I heard a voice hailing the boy by a loud “Rishab”.I saw an elderly gentleman in silk kurta and dhoti along with his wife in silk sari with a driver in white uniform. They looked affluent.
The boy turned in that direction and shouted aloud,” Thatha, Patti, one second, I will be with you with my bag.”
“How was your first bus trip alone? Your mom rang me up at least half a dozen times enquiring whether you had reached safely,” his grandpa said and turning to driver asked him to take the bag from the boy.
Pointing at me, the boy said “Thatha, this uncle who was seated by my side was very nice and concerned asking me lot of caring questions and bought for me my breakfast snacks and fruit juice. He gave me window seat,” and added as if to assuage me,“Amma had specifically asked me not to talk to strangers and give personal details.”
Shocked and in disbelief, I saw the boy walking along with his grandparents towards the big Toyota till he shouted with a mischievous wink from a distance,” Thank you uncle for all the help. I am going to Malleswaram.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Vishu makes a debut

Vishu was just twelve when he lost his father. His father was a mrudangam player eking out a difficult livelihood. He was not in the top rung of percussionists that renowned musicians sought for. He had to be content playing for musicians at a lower level with lower remuneration. His dad had no doubt accompanied some of the stalwarts but such occasions were more by default than by choice when the regular player was unable to attend due to emergencies
Vishu usually went along with his father to the music concerts held mostly in temples on festive occasions or in marriage halls. As a young boy, he had a fascination for violin and used to watch keenly the violinist wielding the bow and producing sweet music. But his father taught him at home, the only skill he knew though he knew of Vishu’s fancy for the stringed instrument. Vishu had an elder sister who was learning vocal music. Both of them were studying in a government school. It was then a tragedy struck when one evening Vishu’s father suffered a massive heart attack while playing in a concert and passed away even before medical aid could reach him.
Vishu’s maternal uncle decided to take his sister and her daughter with him to his village. Learning about the boy’s interest in violin, he along with some musicians who were friendly with Vishu’s father, approached a leading violinist. The kind vidwan who knew Vishu’s father and the tragic circumstances of the family agreed to keep the boy with him and teach him. Those were days of guru kul when musicians kept disciples in their home and taught them the skill.
Years rolled by. Vishu served his master and his wife during the tutelage sincerely with devotion. He was the errand boy helping them in ever so many ways. They were impressed with his impeccable behaviour. The guru’s wife taught him initially the rudiments of the music on the violin and the boy later learnt directly from guru himself. By hard work and inherent skill, he had become an accomplished player. Though he was not allowed to play in public platforms as yet, he continued to go with his master carrying the violin box and take care of his other needs. The guru was a hard task master and did not allow any intimacy. He was stern while teaching him and on other occasions talked very less. In fact, it was guru’s wife who was very kind showering her affection on the boy and fed him well.
One day the master and his wife had gone to adjacent town to attend a marriage. They were supposed to return by night but returned early in the evening itself. As they entered the house, hearing Vishu playing the violin., the couple sat quietly on the bench in the verandah. He was essaying beautifully and leisurely kalyani raga with some nice phrases and continued with Thyagaraja kriti nithichala sugama. They were both pleased at the neat presentation of the song and impressed with his kalpana swaram. When the playing stopped the guru hugged him and mami kept running her hand over his head.
It had been more than five years since he had gone to his village to meet his mother and sister. It was then one day his uncle had written that his sister’s marriage has been fixed and asked him to be present at the village a week in advance. His uncle had also written to the boy’s guru seeking his blessings for the girl and his presence on the occasion. Vishu’s joy knew no bounds and pleaded with the master that he and mami attend his sister’s wedding. Even as the lady was agreeing to the Vishu’ssuggestion, he told Vishu that he had a concert that day at another town. He said he felt bad that he was not able to participate in the joyous function. He gave him some money to be given as his gift and permitted him to leave for the village.
It was the day of wedding. There was only one main street in the village with tiled houses on both sides leading to the temple at the end. The road was covered by a pandal. The tying of the mangalyam was to commence soon. There were many who were jostling in the hall of the house. Vishu came out and looked across the street. Some kids were running hither and thither and the Nadaswaram vidwan was playing the pipe. He was a little sullen that his guru could not make it. Someone called him inside. It was then an old Morris car drew up opposite the house. As cars rarely visit the village, a crowd gathered around it. Three elderly gentle men came out. Hearing the commotion, Vishu rushed out and was greatly surprised to see his guru along with a top musician and equally famous percussionist.
Vishu was speechless and fell at his feet till his master pulled him up to pat him. Meanwhile uncle had also joined.
“This is entirely an unscheduled visit. We missed the train and took a car to reach the town where we have the concert this evening. I remembered your sister’s wedding and made a slight detour. I expressed my desire to these great vidwans who readily agreed to grace the function.”
Vishu’s master said “We intend to sing for an hour in the pandal after the muhurtham. Can you send word to all those who would be interested to listen?”
The villagers had never heard such a soulful music from the great titans. In the middle of the concert the master made way for Vishu and told him to accompany the great musician on the violin. He said “This is memorable occasion for three reasons. This is your first Kutcheri and is being performed before the presiding deity of your village temple, secondly you are accompanying even in your first concert a very senior vidwan and equally senior mrudangam artiste and thirdly you are playing on violin at your sister’s wedding. How fortunate you are.Carry on confidently. May God bless you”
With tears filling his eyes, Vishu prostrated before all the three thinking of his master’s large heart and affection for him, before climbing the dais. He did not forget to look at his mother standing afar in a corner and bow  his head slightly.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Paid back in the same coin

It was early morning and the sun had just arisen. Deepak could not sleep due to jet lag and came out to the balcony. He saw on the road some elders on their morning walk, paper boys cycling speedily with bundles of dailies on the carrier and women pushing the carts with milk packets to deliver. An old woman with basketful of spinach of different varieties was heard shouting” keerai, keerai.” He could smell the aroma of coffee from the electric filter in the kitchen and hear his mom lighting lamp in the puja room. As he turned to go inside, he saw a young woman in her mid-twenties staring at him from the opposite balcony. What a chiseled beauty he thought even as he stopped going in to look at her. To his surprise she did not lower her face but continued to gaze at him. She was very appealing in her yellow top and jeans with a cup of coffee in her hand. Surprised at her nonchalance, he continued to stare at her with interest.
Hearing shuffle of feet behind, he turned to see his mom smiling with a cup of coffee in her hands. “Poor thing,” she mumbled as she saw the young woman and said “Come in, my cup is on the dining table. We can sit there.” He turned once again to see the young woman but she had gone inside.
As they settled down sipping coffee, he asked, “You said poor thing. What was that? Whom were you referring to?”
“I was thinking about Sharanya the young lady you saw in the opposite apartment. Do you know she is totally blind? They have come recently here. Very nice family and very talented one she is. If only she were not blind, I would have….,” she trailed off without completing the sentence.
“Was she born blind”
“Her mom told me that her vision was going down of late. Can you examine her? I have told her mom that you are a big eye surgeon in US and that you would be coming here.”
“No problem, amma. I can examine her in my friend Akshay’s eye clinic. You can tell them. You said she is talented. In what areas? asked Deepak.
“She is an expert in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music and has given public recitals. She has such a sweet voice that you can listen to her endlessly. She is a post graduate in economics. I can ask them to come. You can even talk to her.”
He was greatly surprised when around 3 pm his mom came to his room to tell,” Freshen up and come to the living room. Sharanya and her mom have come.”
“HI, I am Deepak. Nice to meet you. Amma was mentioning about you both,” he said with a smile. She looked really beautiful in close quarters in her pink top and black legging.
“Mami told me that you have come and suggested that I bring Sharanya. First time we are meeting a renowned eye surgeon informally like this,” Sharanya’s mother said.
“Ha ha, nothing renowned and all that. I obtained my doctorate and am now working in Sanfransisco. I will examine her tomorrow at 9am in my friend’s clinic. Do you know Akshay’s eye hospital in Alwarpet?” he said.
“Thank you for readily agreeing to examine,” he heard Sharanya speak in a soft voice.
“Welcome. We will talk about eye tomorrow. Amma was all praise for your talent in music. I have a great liking for Carnatic music and listen to it almost daily in the evenings. Amma was telling me you give public recitals. I hope they must be there in YouTube. Glad my Indian patient is a renowned vocalist,” he said with a loud guffaw followed by laughter from all the three before him.
Deepak’s mom got up telling that she will get coffee with Sharanya’s mom also getting up.
“I will show mami the new plants at the rear balcony. You be talking meanwhile to Sharanya,” said his mother.
He turned to Sharanya who was gawking at him with a smile in her face. Somewhat bewildered, Deepak showed two fingers and asked her how many fingers she saw. She looked at his direction for long and said “It is hazy, may be two or three.”
“Okay, we will see tomorrow. When your vision is restored to normal, what are your plans? Do you work anywhere?” he asked
She kept quiet for a while and then answered,” No, to be honest with you, I would also like to work in US after taking a doctorate in Stanford or Berkeley. Music is my hobby and not a profession.”
He was happy for no reason and said,” Good, a wise decision. We will be in the same city.”
They talked animatedly for about 30 minutes on variety of common interests when their moms entered with coffee cups in hand.
After sometime when they got up to leave and the two moms were talking, Deepak gently whispered, “I am looking forward to meeting you tomorrow,” and she replied softly “Me too,” with a giggle.
Unable to sleep he got up in the early hours of night and thoughts of Sharanya with her pleasing looks, innocent giggles and intelligent conversation lingered in his mind for long till he dozed off.
“I see nothing wrong with your eyes. I have performed several different tests and procedures to check your vision as well as the overall health of your eyes. The examination was comprehensive. Tell me Sharanya honestly what exactly is the reason for this farce,” asked Deepak in a baffling manner.
She kept quiet for long looking at him with some trepidation. When prodded, she blurted,” Don’t take me amiss. This was a set up by your mom. She wanted us to meet and know each other. Since it appears you were adamant against marriage, she employed this subterfuge. She thought you would relent after meeting me. Are you upset with me?”
“No, I do not like such sly methods even if it is by my mom. Did you agree to this drama without any protest?”
“Initially I protested but after seeing you in the balcony, I changed my mind. I am sorry,” she lowered her head and spoke somewhat shyly.
“No need to be sorry. I have also changed my mind. Allow me to scare our moms for a moment before breaking the good news. Play along with me,” he said with a chuckle.
Putting on her face a thick brown frame with glasses as thick as the bottom of soda bottle, he took her outside to the waiting moms and said solemnly, “I did not expect her condition to be so serious. There is a speedy degeneration. Lucky you brought her today. Let her wear this glass till a surgery is performed. I will arrange for surgery this week itself.”
“What are you saying? Her eyes are perfect,” both the moms screamed shattered by the unexpected development.
Sharanya’s mother started sobbing but Sharanya could not control her laughter.
“Auntie, do not worry. It is manageable if both of you agree to one thing,” said Deepak
“What is that? We will agree surely,” cried both of them in chorus.
“It is simple. Send Sharanya with me permanently. She is willing,” he said with a wink and added turning to Sharanya,” What do you say.” Turning to his mom he said ” Amma,I hope I have your approval.”
There were loud peals of laughter even as Sharanya snuggled close to Deepak.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ammanji and his mysterious box

(Written in 2009,most of my readers would not have read this story)
I was a young boy then studying in school. I came home daily for my lunch as the school was very close by. One afternoon when I came home, I saw my mother in tears. She asked me to accompany her to my grandfather’s house a few miles away. When I asked her why she was crying, she said “You know ammanji (maternal uncle’s son) at my father’s place. He died last night and the cremation will take place in a few hours. I am going there now and you must accompany me.” 
I said “Yes, I don’t know much of him except that he munched raw arecanut often and had stacked in his almirah carpenter’s kit, cobbler’s equipment besides an old wooden box. I shall come.” I was happy to play truant from school
I have seen him many times whenever I visited my grandpa’s place. A frail and short man with thick glasses, he wore a button less white upper garment that was neither a vest nor a shirt. He was no real cousin of my grandpa, presumably a distant relative. He had lost his wife several years ago and had no children. He had none to look after him in his old days. My grandpa who was well off with a sprawling big house with many servants persuaded his relative to stay with him. He was treated like any other family member with dignity and lot of respect. None knew how he was related to grandpa and yet everyone called him ammanji. He had worked as a teacher in a local school and was known for his high proficiency in English language. A voracious reader of English fiction with books usually from a local library, he was generally very reticent and yet when he spoke he made everyone laugh with his witticisms. An addict to arecanuts, I suspected he had not much income, except for his few daily needs. I must confide in you that I was never drawn to him and even feared him possibly his features reminding me of a bull dog. In fairness, I must admit he smiled at me whenever I was face to face with him. He used to give me round mint peppermints in white colour that tasted sweeter if you drank water after you had consumed them.
I remembered very well that he had a small almirah on the wall for his use. There was an old small wooden box in his almirah that he rarely took out in the presence of others. But we, the young boys who lived in that house, knew he opened it daily twice, once in the morning and again in the evening peering into it for a few minutes. Whenever I was in my grandpa’s place, it used to be a pastime for me to try to discover what he was shielding from the prying eyes of others. Try as we did, we never succeeded. It was always kept locked with the key tied to his thread across his shoulder and body. We boys used to surmise that it contained some valuable stuff like gold jewellery of his wife or currency. One roguish boy in his adolescence felt it could contain love letters. I mentioned about this strange habit of ammanji once to my uncle hoping that he would help us in resolving the mystery. Instead he rebuked me for my inquisitiveness in other’s personal matters and sternly asked me to cultivate good behaviour.
Memories flashed through my mind of the arecanut, the mint peppermints and the mysterious wooden box as I went along with my mother to grandpa’s house. Everyone at grandpa’s house was sad as if their close relative had passed away. My grandpa, whom I have always known as a strong personality, was in uncontrollable tears. Many elders and ammanji’s former students had assembled and were heard praising him for his pedagogic skill and his other virtuous qualities.
It was after about ten days when I had accompanied my mom again for some concluding day function, the topic of his mysterious box came up for discussion. My grandpa had the box brought by one of my uncles and he opened it with the key he had retrieved from his relative’s body. Everyone including uncles, aunts, my mom, cousins rushed to grand pa’s side to have a look at its contents. To their great disappointment, it was empty except for a few coins, a book of Bhagwat Gita and an old post card size black and white faded photo that had gone pale and brown by passage of time. My grandpa rubbed his eyes that had gone misty when he saw it and mumbled,” Ammanji and his wife.”

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Promise kept

“Will you marry me, Renu” asked Kamesh
“What will you give me, if I say yes?” giggled Renu
“I will give you even my life for your hand.”
“Let us make the day memorable. Can we row in a boat for some distance?”
“The sky is overcast but I don’t want to disappoint you. Let us make it quick, Renu”
Facing each other with their legs intertwined, the lovers rowed laughing and singing romantic songs.
Suddenly she screamed in fear when she saw a cobra crawling towards them.
Kamesh turned to see the reptile and shouted, “Jump immediately with lifebelt and swim to shore.”
“What about you? There is only one lifebelt,” she asked as she jumped.
“Be quick. I will swim and join you.”
She paddled with her hands to reach the shore just when it started raining and turned dark.
Narrowing her eyes, she was peering into the lake even after an hour for any sign of Kamesh.
It struck her suddenly his telling her long back about his wish to learn swimming.(175)

FFFAW Challenge-177th'
This post is written for the 177th picture prompt in Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. The challenge is to write a piece of fiction within 100-175 words based on a photo prompt. Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting this challenge.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

I love you dear grandpa

For no specific reason,fond memories of my grandpa came rushing into my mind today.As a mark of respect, I post a very old story about him that many of my readers would not have read.
I was then a young boy of eleven years. My maternal grandpa lived in another part of the town with my uncle. He was an old man in seventies. He was a widower having lost his wife at a young age and led a life of strict discipline and austerity. He wore only Khadi made out of the yarn spun by him in the charka (wheel). He rose early, finished his ablutions and the prayer by 6am to be before the wheel spinning yarn for two hours. He was a disciplinarian, spoke only when necessary and was given to reading habits. He was spotlessly clean except for the snuff that fell on his dress when he inhaled it frequently. This was one ‘bad and nasty habit’ he admitted he could not get rid of. He ate less but was a gourmet relishing good food.
Whenever I had holidays after each term, he took me away from my house forcibly to his place. It was a big house and he had rented several small portions to many poor families. There were many young boys and girls of my age to play with. While I looked forward to the fun with them, what I detested was his strict regimen of study for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.
He would teach me in the mornings daily along with a few other boys living in the house algebra and geometry for an hour and English grammar from Wren and Martin for another hour. Learning Mathematics was fun but grammar I found a bore. His temper was short and he had a ferrule at hand and believed strongly in the dictum of sparing the rod and spoiling the child. I remember clearly that he used it only on me and not on other boys. My uncle often came in support of me when I got beating, only to be chided away by my grandpa. My tears never moved my grandpa though I should confess he never beat me hard. It was his angry eyes and inhaling the snuff before taking the ferrule in his hand that scared me. He gave daily enough home work to be completed and shown in the afternoon session. Besides this he chose one story poem daily and asked us to write it in prose form.
It was this story poem that I felt the hardest for it was difficult for me to comprehend and to write in prose form. I made many grammatical mistakes. One boy who was with me always got his praise for paraphrasing the poem in impeccable and flawless English though he fared poorly in all other subjects. My grandpa’s anger grew more when he read mine after reading his and it invariably ended with the ferrule coming into operation. This went on for quite some days till I accidentally stumbled on a book on the boy’s table. It was a key to the story poems with answers neatly provided. That boy simply copied from it and presented it to my grandpa winning his appreciation.
So the next day when he started praising him and hitting me, I spilled the truth. That incident witnessed the boy being dismissed permanently from his classes. He told me” Yes I was wrong in praising him and should have suspected it. But that does not in any way condone your poor work”
I remonstrated ’Thatha, you are always partial. You always beat me. Never once you have hit any of them. You revel in spoiling my holidays bringing me here always. I hate you. I don’t want your tuitions. I don’t want to be here with you. Please allow me to go home.”
He sent away the boys and hugged me tight.” Partha, you are my favourite grandson. They are nobody to me. I want you to be bright and do well in studies. Do not mistake me. You have opened my eyes. I will throw the ferrule away now and promise not to touch you. Please do not go away. I am sorry” he pleaded.
I felt bad when I saw a tear trickle from his eye. I fell at his feet and said “Thatha, please forgive me. I know you are doing for my benefit. Please do not tell my mom.”
He said “It is okay. I will not tell anyone. You can go home today and come after three days if you wish to. We can then finish the few chapters of Wren and Martin and a few theorems before the school reopens.” When I said that I didn’t wish to go, he still sent me back.
Two days later when I was playing cricket in the garden behind my house, my sister came running to tell me “Partha, thatha died an hour back due to heart attack. Amma is going. You also join her.”
A hammer blow it was. There was a big crowd as my grandpa’s body lay in the hall there. I could not suppress my cry and wailed inconsolably. I felt an arm on my shoulder and turned to see who it was. It was my uncle with eyes red and swollen in tears. He whispered in my ears “What happened Partha.He was depressed ever since you left that day and mentioned to me something about having been harsh to you. What was that?”
I remembered my insensitive words about my hating him and his pleading with me not to go away. He was not demonstrative and had never said even once that he liked me. But that was his way of keeping his feelings inside his heart. I felt that I was instrumental in hastening his end by my thoughtless and childish remark. I broke out weeping loudly to the surprise of the many people gathered, “Thatha, forgive me, I never meant what I said that day. You were a pillar of strength and knowledge to me. I was an idiot in not realizing your unstated immense affection for me.”
I was gently taken away from the place by my uncle.