Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Call across the Teesta...

Siliguri is a blink and you miss sort or town. A curve in the road, a couple of bridges over fast flowing rivers, shops on either side, mountains in the distance. Except for me it was my destination and I couldn’t afford to blink. It was around five in the evening when we got out of the bus and collected our baggage from the rack. After eighteen hours in the rickety bus from Kolkata Gaurav and me were really looking forward to resting on a flat bed, but the journey wasn’t yet over. Gangtok was another three hours from here and the last buses up the mountain left at three pm. It was as if everything that could go wrong was in fact going wrong. We had missed the train from Kolkata yesterday. Blame it on the mercurial traffic. Salt lake to Sealdah station in normal days took not more than half an hour. Yesterday it took us one and half painful hours. We then went to Ultadunga hoping that we could hitch a ride on one of those private buses to Gangtok or Siliguri or Darjeeling. We had four days off, and really didn’t mind where we were going. Having stood for an hour at Ultadunga it became obvious that we wouldn’t be going anywhere from there, and on someone’s suggestion decided to go to Esplanade and check our luck from there. Esplanade was from where all the long distance buses started. We managed to get two seats on an ‘additional’ (which actually meant ‘makeshift’) bus to Siliguri. The rickety bus broke down twice on the way and eighteen hours later dropped us off. Stepping out of the bus we were swarmed by beggars, hotel agents, taxi walas and various peddlars of goods ranging from children’s toys and Darjeeling tea to ganja and charas. We practically swam past that crowd to a nearby tea stall and sat down on a wooden bench.

Rain was like a curtain in the backdrop. It was always there and even in the summers of Bengal you wouldn’t be surprised if it turned dark all of a sudden in the evening and the clouds burst with mighty vengeance. Right from the time we started it was there flirting romantically and threatening furiously at the various times. Here in the valley it was floating in the air. Tiny droplets almost moved in the wind rather than come crashing down with fury. I sipped down my second tea, served in little round cups of clay, my mind trying to figure out the course of action. We didn’t have hotel reservations in Gangtok, and not sure if we’d be able to make it up the mountains and beat the falling darkness to our destination. Gaurav wasn’t the one who’d normally keep his mouth shut, but the mood of the day seemed to have got to him too. I saw him gazing intently at a snail making its way to a hole in a fungus infected piece of log. The tea done and seeing no point wasting any more time we set out to find someone who would take us up to Gangtok and managed to find a Sumo already filled to the brim calling out for more passengers. We got two seats in the back which faced sideways and were absolutely cramped for space as there already were two others there. Three hours through the winding roads in this wasn’t exactly going to be a pleasure trip.

My mind wandered, thinking of holocaust and concentration camps and lines of trucks and rail wagons with people cramped like sticks in a matchbox. The taxi started and we sped through a well paved road with an overhead canopy of thick trees making the driver switch on the headlights. But soon enough the road began to wind as we approached the base of the mountains. The lowest folds of the Himalayas were fairly nonthreatening. It was much like the demure fa├žade of a wicked witch almost enticing you to come closer before it revealed the jagged ridges and jutting rock faces.  I get an eerie feeling whenever I start on such mountain journeys; I guess remnants of several trips to Munnar gone bad long long back. The road started twisting and turning as our Sumo boldly took on the hills and the Teesta soon appeared to our right almost in reassurance to keep going. And almost as if inspired by it a Sikkimese girl who sat in the front with the driver and two other girls started singing a hindi song in a sing-song Sikkimese accent and a strangely soothing nasal voice. Apprehensions of a treacherous journey melted away and I was soon drifting off to sleep and didn’t notice the darkness envelope us and the rain getting heavier.

We were nearing Gangtok at around 8, when I was brought back to consciousness by a vicious turn in the road. To my amazement the Sumo had shed many of its passengers on the way. The group of girls an old couple and we were the only ones left now and Gaurav had moved into the middle row of seats and was chatting away excitedly to the singer girl, whose name I later found out to be Ganga.

Gangtok was a typical hill town with one arterial road, a mall road and a market. Gaurav had talked with the driver of the Sumo who agreed to take us till Lachung in North Sikkim the next day from where we could hike to Yumthang to the origins of the Teesta.

The next day we started very early in the day and I was surprised to find Ganga and the other girls also were traveling with us. This time Gaurav and I took the seats up ahead with the driver and the girls were sitting in the middle row. The distance to Lachung was just about 125 kilometers but it would be a whole day’s journey through treacherous terrain made accessible through the snaky roads of the Border Roads Organization.

Half an hour into the journey, bending a curve we saw the first glimpse of Kanchenjunga in the distance. The majestic snow capped peak glimmering in the golden morning light was magnificent. Throughout the journey our driver, Lapang Sherpa, a young man of 21 was chatting away as if we were long lost friends. Ganga and Lapang were both from Lachung and they knew each other. Along the way Lapang picked up people and it seemed that practically all those people knew him from such travels earlier. He has been ferrying people and goods that route for years. Lapang and Ganga were both prolific talkers and by lunch time we had made good progress and were in schedule to reach Lachung before nightfall. We stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch which was nothing more than a small hut and the lady served us rice and chicken, which for me tasted much like that I was used to at my home.  

By around two in the afternoon we reached another small village from where I bought a pair of woolen gloves and a cap because I was having apprehensions that the flimsy jacket I had with me was going to be no match for the harsh mountain cold and Lapang advised that I should get reinforcements. But then when we were about to resume our journey we were told that traffic up ahead was stopped because of a minor landslide and it would take at least an hour or two for it to be cleared. Lapang suggested we spent more time in the village rather than get stuck in the middle of nowhere. We went back to the shop from where I had bought the woolens which also acted as a grocery store, a vegetable store and a tea stall. Gaurav bought two woolen scarves and gifted them to Lapang and Ganga, which they accepted extremely reluctantly but with much gratitude. We sat sipping warm tea flavored with herbs and spices and watched the sun slowly starting to go behind the mountains above the village.

It was almost dark by the time we started from the village and we had another couple of hour’s journey left to Lachung. Ganga started talking about her dreams of coming to Kolkata to study to become an airhostess and making it big. Lapang teased her that her life was in the village and there’s no point weaving up impossible dreams. The other girls who had started out with Ganga had got out on the way. The last leg of the journey to Lachung all of us shared our stories. Gaurav of his rather farfetched adventures of being attacked by a jaguar in Hrishikesh, me about life in Kerala which to them might as well have been in another continent and so on. By around eight in the night when we reached Lachung the small town was almost entirely dark. Lapang found us a place to stay. For dinner we had rice and a stew of all different meats thrown together, which to my surprise was extremely delicious. After dinner we bade good bye to Ganga and Gaurav made sure that she got his mobile number and asked her to give him a call when she came to Kolkata for her air hostess training. We found a place where they sold liquor and we got a half bottle of whiskey.

The next morning we were awaken by the sounds of Lapang banging on our doors. Our plan was to travel to Yumthang on our own and then travel back to Gangtok that day evening to Gangtok. Lapang had come to say that he was free for the day and that he can take us up the mountain to a place called Katao which is actually an outpost of the Indian army near the Chinese border and was forbidden for tourists. Villagers were talking of it having snowed up in Katao throughout the night and Lapang made us feel that it would be almost scandalous to come till Lachung and not visit Katao. We decided to go with our excited Sherpa friend and take a chance. The sight out of our balcony overlooking the village of Lachung was absolutely amazing. It looked like a lost village that I imagined up reading Enid Blyton’s and others’ novels as a child. The village was at the confluence of two of Teesta’s tributaries and a steel bridge over it was reminiscent of some war movie.

Our trip up the mountain to Katao started with the crossing of this bridge and it was straight up hill from there. We could see snowcapped peaks quite near and the chill in the wind was getting unbearable. I put a hand on Lapang’s shoulder and thanked him for having asked me to get those woolens yesterday. But in stark contrast to the Lapang that we had got used to, he was quite silent. I tried gently prodding him to see if he would open up. He kept his silence for some more time focusing his attention on the road and the herd of Yaks that were walking around freely by the road, and then almost when I was about to give up he started talking about what was bothering him. He told us that Ganga and he had grown up together in Lachung and that they were in love with each other. Nobody in their families knew about it.

Lapang was a darling of the village and even Ganga’s parents liked him. He was much like the run-to man in the village. But the problem was that Lapang was a Nepalese and Ganga was Sikkimese. Their parents would never agree to the marriage no matter what. Moreover he was an uneducated taxi driver, a sherpa and she was a graduate with big dreams. He said he’d do anything to see her achieve those, but this village wouldn’t be the place for it. They had to get out and that too soon. Kolkata was the most logical port of call, but they didn’t know anyone there. Gaurav and I were keen to help. We gave our phone numbers to Lapang and assured him that we’d do all we can to help. Lapang’s eyes were almost filled with tears when we said this and the look of relief, hope and anticipation combined, conveyed his gratitude more than words ever could.

Three days later we were back in Kolkata. Three years since that trip, and I haven’t heard from either Lapang or Ganga, neither has Gaurav. Our phone numbers have changed now. For a long time I kept my old Kolkata number active even after moving to Mumbai thinking that he might someday give a call. It never came.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dosti ki Kasam!!!

When C announced that she’s gonna transform herself to an expert chef from the ‘sadistic-home-laxative-maker’ that she was currently by the time she’s to be married, I never knew the price of laughing like a jackass at the idea would be so heavy. She added a post scriptum to her announcement by making it amply clear in front of all friends/colleagues at the table that I am to be her official ‘taster’ and I couldn’t have an option of opting out. She swore on our two year old friendship that if I so much as even dared to smirk at her culinary concoctions I can forget about getting an invitation to her wedding. Apparently the phrase “dosti ki kasam” means something up there in Punjab from where she is. Down in mallu-land we would have cared two hoots if the ‘kasam’ meant chewing at half baked beans which would make jersey cows opt for root canal treatments and pushing down half inch thick rotis down your throat with a foot long ruler. Well so much for dosti and I became the designated guinea pig for C’s experiments in the kitchen.

It started with chapattis which felt more like sheets of rubber hanging in my grandpas smoke house. I said it wasn’t bad and perhaps she should consider using the same technique next time she makes pappads. She didn’t find my suggestion amusing. I ended up mixing the dough despite there being a food processer in her kitchen for the whole of next week.

Next on the menu was Chana Masala. She cooked up a delight for the horses that pulled Maniandi’s cart. I didn’t say anything to her this time, but she found out that I hadn’t eaten it myself when Maniandi approached her for claiming compensation for his horses getting violent diarrhea.

Similarly the aloo jeera that I threw in the vacant plot behind my house gave a fine crop the next year. The spuds I was told had jeera embedded inside and was a huge hit in the madiwala market. The aloo mattar helped fill the leak in the roof. Her aloo gobi gave Gopi our cook a strange case of perennial hiccups. But these were for only those creations I managed to convince her that I’d have at the comfort of my own house (Because that’s where I could enjoy in peace each bite of the delicious ambrosia). Most of her cooking had to be consumed for lunch in front of her at the office food court. Many fields of aloo had been laid bare and much water had flown down the Sutlej River, in the course of the time that C learned cooking.

It was with these memories in mind that I visited C for dinner in Delhi after almost two years last January. But getting up after dinner I was pleasantly surprised to see that C had managed to pull it off. She had actually made that transformation to a wonderful chef indeed. Perhaps it was partly because of the fact that five years out of Kerala (especially those two spent in Kolkata) had finally given my body the capability to produce those special enzymes that digest ‘aloo’, but mostly it was, I’d like to believe the result of all that (guinea) pigging around I did. Dosti ki kasam.

PS: C doesn’t know this blog exists. Neither does she know about the aloo-jeera bio variant. In case she questions me about either of those, I know whose murky hands to test my new kitchen chopper on.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday Spill-a-thon!!!

Sunday saw a spill-a-thon at our home. It started with me spilling half a bottle of water on the floor while I was getting up to attend a call. (Sundays around my place are spent on a horizontal position mostly and getting up itself deserves special mentioning. You bet it was an important call. Vigneshwara liquor boutique just down the street just reported dangerously low stocks of Carlsberg beer.) Then Bhatia spilled an entire regular size glass of coke from the McDonald’s McChicken meal. He was balancing a coke, two burgers and two fries and managing just about fine when a divine revelation forewarned him that he better get a plate to keep the stuff before attempting to climb the four flights of stairs to his upstairs room. He did heed to it and got a big steel plate and neatly arranged everything, burgers, fries and coke into it and was climbing up the stairs when a never seen before floor mat decided to play the slippery truant under his feet and send him crashing down. The coke flavored chicken burger was a delight said Bhatia, later. The coke stains on the marble floor made the maid go crazy in the morning today and I tried explaining to her in my broken Mumbaiyya (that’s hindi with lots of ‘Re’s and ‘Le’s at the end of every sentence. But you got to know where to put the ‘Re’s and where the ‘Le’s, coz if you get it wrong they’ll think that you are a Bihari and there’s nothing worse than that in these parts) that if she doesn’t clean the bathroom even today she’s gonna see coke spills a lot more around the house from now on. But the worst of all the ghastly mishaps came towards the end of the day when we were sitting down to watch Kolkata Knight riders play the Deccan Chargers. A VVS Laxman sixer and a jumping Krishna sent a full bottle of “Black Dog” Scotch crashing to the floor. Five synchronized hearts skipped several beats together. Time stood still but the bottle came down as if in slow motion and smashed into a hundred pieces. I hadn’t seen a grown man cry in such a long time. Bhatia swore this was the worst day of his life.

We were praying that this was just a glitch in the Matrix. O puppet masters up above, just reverse the clock a little bit and we’d take better care of all our bottles henceforth. None of us in the house were really religious. We had more faith in the logic of the Wachowski Brothers than that of the Bible, Gita or Quran. If you need any proof – haven’t you seen the second hand of the clock go backwards a tick or two but then when you keep looking at it, it pretends as if nothing’s wrong and just keeps ticking forward. We could see a pattern here. The masters were just in the mood for some spill-a-thon fun on Sunday. Because never in the history of Vigneshwara liquor boutique has it ever ran out of the official drink of BhootBunglaw, their biggest single customer (that’s what they call house no. 74, Navi Mumbai) in all the time that we have lived there. Bhatia had never before needed a plate to carry his burger meals and worst of all when was the last time that Laxman ever hit a six?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lion Pala

At five in the morning, the summer sun was already peeking its way through the tall rubber trees in the hills behind our house. The morning fog was perpetual in these parts. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window and listened for sounds. Sounds like perhaps a trapped elephant or a wounded lion. The only movement I could see was white shrouded people, like ghosts in movies, moving in the distance, somber and quiet. Squinting my eyes further I could make out they were nuns on the way to the morning mass rather than ghosts. All of a sudden there was a noise and I saw a murder. A murder of crows took to the skies as if startled by something. I kicked at the pile lying next to me. My cousin Sunil, he was wrapped as if in a shroud under a thick blanket. Thankfully he stirred. Another kick and an irritated face appeared from under the pile. The good morning greeting was the choicest expletives of the mallu language. “what’s wrong with you? It’s not even light outside”. Then a sign of recognition appeared on his face. “Do you think something’s there?” he asked. I just gave a knowledgeable smile and bolted out of the bed and started running towards the hills in the backyard. Sunil knew the look and started after me.

I was running as fast as my eight year old naked feet could. Haha, I’m gonna get there before Sunil and if it’s a lion I’m gonna claim it mine and take him to Trivandrum. And anyways the lion wouldn’t like the Kochi climate. It’s too humid. What good will the sea do to a lion. In Trivandrum you have hills, forests are just a small distance away. And best of all there’s the zoo just in case he gets bored and feels like seeing his other friends from the forest. Running and thinking simultaneously could be extremely injurious to your health. I found this out quite early in my childhood then and there, as I was flying head first into the ground, brought down by a thick root hidden beneath the undergrowth of touch-me-nots, wild grass and fallen rubber tree leaves. By the time I got to my feet ignoring the red liquid oozing out of two cuts on either knee, Sunil had caught up and was threatening to overtake. I started running, my lead cut down drastically.

Every summer my parents used to drop me at with my grandparents in Pala, a small hill town in mid Kerala. Me from Trivandrum and Sunil from Kochi would be there during summer vacation for two months of un’adult’erated bliss. And by unadulterated I mean free from all the irritating intrusions of adults. Other cousins would visit sometime during the two months but for brief periods of a week or two. It was just us and the grandparents, who were themselves past adulthood and in their second childhood.

Sunil was fast but in normal case he wouldn’t overtake me but I guess the pain in the knees was slowing me down. What remained now was the climb up the hills. The undergrowth was thicker and the morning dew had made the ground slippery. ‘Caution’ was still underdeveloped in the brains of eight year olds. We kept running and I soon realized that Sunil had taken a slightly different path and was ahead of me. Crap.

By the time I reached the top Sunil was there looking down at the hole that we had dug the day before to catch lions that might be roaming in the adjacent forests. A three feet deep round hole covered with newspapers on a frame of twigs, and sprinkled on top were green grass and dried leaves, it was the result of a whole days work. It was another thing that the forests adjacent were the rubber plantations of our neighbor Kuriachan and the nearest lion would be in the Trichur zoo, two hundred kilometers away. But logic defied the minds of eight year olds. Rather minds of eight year olds defied logic.

From the look in Sunil’s face I knew something exciting had happened. But it was more shock than excitement. Oh goody, perhaps there were two lions. Now I’ve got to convince him to let me keep them both. But what I saw in the pit made me realize that both of us would be lucky to see the next morning. There was no lion in the pit. Instead the one year old kid of Chippi our goat lay their looking up at us. It wasn’t on its legs and from the look of it we both knew it had broken its leg. Chippi and its kid were tied to a jackfruit tree the previous day for grazing and in the evening it was our responsibility to bring them down to the shed near the house. I guess in the night the kid must have freed itself somehow and walked into our Lion pit. Did it not know that it was meant for lion’s alone? Stupid goat. Now the terrifying Lion that threatened to eat us up was none other than our Grandfather. We would have to explain a lot of things starting with the broken leg. The little goat while wandering around had nibbled at the trunk of several rubber trees. Sure as hell we knew we would be dead when Ichachan (that’s what we called our Grandfather) found out. We carefully pulled the kid out of the hole and checked her leg. There was no way it could walk down the hill. Carrying the little goat between us, our minds were working overtime thinking of ways to explain the condition to Ichachan. A hundred excuses, explanations shifted across the mind. Considered, discussed but discarded. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill we had our story ready. Practiced and perfected by the time we entered the house. At the end of it let’s just say that eight year old minds never let you down and we lived to see the next morning.

NB: Apologies to Sunil. I know you were the one who always used to wake up before me and sadistically kick me in the ass till I woke up. This is my revenge J

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Vishu in mind...

I remember a time in school, looking out the window I could see the lone kanikonna* in our school grounds. The blooming of that tree signified a lot of things. To every true blood mallu it heralded the imminent festival of Vishu. But for most school going children it was like a lighthouse calling out the arrival of the summer holidays. Unlike the rest of the country, schools in Kerala broke for the two month vacation earlier in the year, by March end.

The kanikonna is attributed several qualities besides of course the obvious aesthetic one. In Ayurveda it’s used as a laxative which reminds me of the time when a certain friend extracted the white sap from it and tried to convince his sister that it was milk. Good thing the bond of trust between the siblings was so strong that she didn’t buy the idea despite his heavy persuasions. I bet had he tried a dose of reverse psychology and had asked her not to drink it she would have downed the whole thing in a gulp. The dynamics of a brother sister relationship I know can barely be fit in anything less than a PhD thesis. The parental protective shield means that that brothers the world over needs to seek such subtle subterfuge to extract their small victories in the lifelong battle of the sibling. But one thing the konna isn’t known for is the strength of its branches.

This lone konna of the school grounds hadn’t bloomed so far that year. Exams were pretty much over, Vishu was just a few weeks away, but the tree stood ‘unblossomed’. We had biology exams that day, which for me always seemed the easiest paper (This was high school. Cut to 11th standard and Biology had turned into an unconquerable monster for me). Having got over with the 2 hour paper in a little more than an hour I was dozing off over the answer sheet killing time till the bell rang. I nudged Vinay who was sitting just ahead of me to finish it off so we can get out together. Vinay, who was the perpetual last ranker in the class for some reason was almost always the last to get out of the exam hall. You have to give it to him for trying. He would try to peep into the papers of those sitting next to him, turn around periodically trying to make out my cryptic handwriting and fail miserably. All he had to show for the effort at the end of the exam was a cringed neck. Seeing no signs of him getting up I rested my head on the desk and stared out the window. Just one exam to go, that too Moral Science (I had catechism instead, and nobody studied anything for those.) and the konna didn’t have a single flower. Crap, doesn’t it realize that without that tree in bloom I just wouldn’t feel like it’s the summer holidays.

Handing over the paper to the invigilator, Vinay was as in the high hopes. He always was. Not once had I ever heard him say that he had an exam tough.

Vinay: “Dude how about catching the noon show of the latest Mohanlal flick?”

Me: “You crazy? How do you even suppose we get past Pattalam (the security guard)”

V: It’s all planned my ‘little’ friend. He snickered.

Vinay was 6ft 3 and a 110 kgs. For him he was the right size and the rest of us little. We were quite the Laurel and Hardy pair of the class.

With utmost stealth we walked the corridors of the school, breathing suspended, heartbeats paused. The tensest moment was crossing the doors of the principal’s room and then it was a dash down the stairs taken four at a time and the final jump over eight stairs to the bottom landing. Teachers still claim that the nursery wing of the school was rebuilt because Vinay’s jump caused a crack in the foundation. Once we were outside the building the dusty open school ground lay before, offering no cover from any of the teachers who might be glancing out the window in the staff room. Or worse, what if the Princy himself was out in the corridor to spit out his paan. Vinay was always two steps ahead in his thinking. As I looked bewildered, Vinay laid himself flat on the dusty ground and started rolling. The white shirt and white trouser turned a reddish brown. That’s when I remembered that Predator was his favourite movie till date. He got up spitting dust from his mouth and smiled at me with a sense of accomplishment. I said, “no ways dude, I’m not doing that”. He didn’t wait for my approval but scooped up a pile of fine sand and threw it over me. Those big hands were like bulldozer buckets. In three or four handfuls I was brown head to toe. The camouflage done, we started running across the ground towards the konna. Vinay was always the leader and by the time I caught up to the tree he had started pulling on to the lowest branch. The plan was to scale the school wall by climbing the tree and then on to the other side. I couldn’t believe him, the tree would never…..

CRAAACKKKK…… the next thing I knew I was lying under piles of leaves and branches and my best bud some distance away calling for his mummy and clutching his left arm. I couldn’t lift myself under the weight of the branches over me. I could hear voices coming from the direction of the school. Obviously Vinay’s call for his mummy, although didn’t get as far as his mum, but definitely had reached several people in the school. I decided to wait until somebody came to assist and rested my head on the ground. Up above on a branch thus far hidden due to the branch that had come down, I could see a bunch of yellow flowers, swaying in the wind. The konna had indeed blossomed.


*konna OR kanikonna – golden shower tree or Bendra lathi in hindi.

I hope you too get to rejoice on the memories of your childhood this Vishu.



Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Special!!!

I’ve been inside this moving contraption that they called a special deluxe for Bangalore for around 18 hours now and the feeling of frustrated relief, frustration at the long journey, the bed bugs in the seat, the hot weather, relief at having finally moved into the city borders of Bangalore, had left me in one of my sarcastic moods again. In an unadulterated frustrated mood there generally is in my mind an absence of all thought. Here there was relief too. Thoughts were unleashed.

The bus was moving at a snail’s pace, rather at a cow’s pace. Or that of the particular cow that decided to go on a leisurely mid-noon stroll through National Highway 7. The hot mid summer sun injected through its rays a dose of lethargy in every being I spied on the road. The fruit seller with his dust covered face was silent unlike the norm of his vocation, yelling out the price of guavas to a kilo. The street dogs on both sides of the road chose to lie under the shade with eyes half closed instead of venturing into the opposite gang’s territories and trying their luck. The only thing that seemed fast paced was the mind, capturing the scenes and making mental notes. It gave words to the expressions on people’s faces, sounds to the crows in the distance, life to inanimate things.

I saw a line in front of an ATM. The board above it said “ABN Amro Bank ATM –24 hours”. In all these years I’ve so far failed miserably to find an ATM that’s not “24 hours”. You know one that opens from 10 till 5. One in which god forbid if you are trying to withdraw money at say 4:59pm and during the transaction the clock ticks over to 5, instead of giving the cash it will just show a smiley on the display with its tongue sticking out and asking you to buzz off and come back at 10 tomorrow.

I had a friend in college. He was the one who came to college in a car (that was a big deal in that part of the world in those times. Believe me), drove all the “cool dudes” of the batch to the bar in the city and almost always ended up footing the booze bills, even though he could barely gulp down more than half a pint of beer. He really was an ATM for many in those times. The best thing about being in a government college for me was that it gave me a perspective of life. A much more realistic one of society than what I was exposed to in the sacred corridors of a catholic school. I believe the most persecuted ones in a catholic school are the poor catholic students themselves. The little lambs were forced to fight demons of sleep while the reverent father vice principal tried to instill catholic values during catechism classes that were mandatory for catholic students in the school. Talk about discrimination. The poor ‘minority’ had to go through this while the rest of the folks had moral science and rumor goes even ‘sex education’ in those hours. I never could find out till 6th standard when I lied to the teachers that I wasn’t a catholic and attended moral science classes for full two weeks till some god fearing mate of mine decided to reveal my self-emancipation from the faith to the vice principal. Let’s just say that the ‘vice principal’ truly decided to live up to his name. Pure Vice.

For all his divine demeanor the father vice principal was one of the most hated being in the school. Everything about him was slow. The way he talked, the way he walked, even the way he thought. We would cross the father in the hallways and instead of wishing him something like “good day father”, they would say “good dog father” or even meaner things. His hair burdened brain processed just the first two words and would walk away nodding none the wiser to the children’s antics.

What brought me back the present was the fatso, I mean the extraordinarily well built gentleman, in the next seat stirring in his sleep. This person sitting in the bus next to me had taken up all the space in the arm rest and then was spilling on to my seat too. I mean his arms would extend over to this side and his elbows would start poking my sides. Along the journey I had devised a clever strategy to make him shift his arms while avoiding a confrontation (Me, normally not one to avoid one, but this guy was nothing less than a hundred and twenty kgs). I would periodically lift the arm-rest up all the way and then bring it down after sometime, all the time pretending that it’s a perfectly natural thing to be doing during a bus journey. I looked outside and we were not far from where the cow was blocking the highway. It was 19 hours since I started. The Special bus that the travels so kindly decided to bring out during the peak Vishu-Easter season was turning out to be a special journey indeed. Madiwala at this pace would be another thought unleashment away. Atleast.

Happy Easter :)