Google+ Badge

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Sandal statue- Short story

It’s around one week. I’ve changed myself completely in the past one week. Neatly washed and pressed trousers; starch dipped shining cotton shirts perfectly tucked in; aligning the pressed lines of shirt and trouser…. It is altogether a new Ramu. Of course, whatever styling I do, it could be on the choice less uniform of khakhi trousers and white shirt. I think it was bought around two years back. My dad has promised me a new set if I score distinction in my coming 10th board exams. Otherwise, the only possibility of getting a new uniform is to grow your thighs so big that your trousers can’t enter. Even then every inch of the cloth will be explored for alteration and force-fit on your extra grown muscles. I think that’s applicable to almost all middle class and lower middle class families.

51 J, the bus I was travelling in, stopped with a jerk in ‘Nehru statue’ stop. I turned back; yes, she was there sitting like a sandal statue. How beautiful she is? Wavv. Her smile sparkled like diamonds. She was talking and enjoying with her school mates. Standing in the front foot-board, with roaring Leyland engine beside, to me, her conversation appeared like“deaf and dumb news” relayed every Sunday noon in doordarshan channel. I was expecting a glance, just a glance from her and all the devils surrounding her won’t allow that. When she took a 180 degree turn, she took a glimpse of me. She stretched both her eyebrows in unison, her already smiling lips spread further to acknowledge my presence. That’s all, that’s more than sufficient to take me heaven. She smiled, yes, a living sandal statue smiled at me.

I first saw her about a week back; a week after our school- reopening. I was travelling in the same 51J bus when a glass- like smooth voice asked “can you get me a ticket please?” I turned back in the direction of honey filled voice. There stood the same sandal statue with reddened cheeks. Sweat sprouted over her forehead like morning dew dressing the bushy leaves. I lost myself for a moment. After some time, I looked at her direction to check whether she was looking at me. I was disappointed; my conscience asked me “why should she look at you?” Yes, why should she? Rather why or how could any girl look at me?, a slender dark figure, with dirty uncombed hair, ugly face, wrinkled white and khaki uniform and bathroom slippers under the feet. Which girl could be interested in me? But my sense was working only part of the time; rest of the time my romantic emotions dominated and expected a glance from her.

One evening is sufficient for any 10th standard guy to collect information about any girl in his town. She was residing in “Chetti street”, her father a peon in sub-register office, the old building constructed during british period which was once the office of the then collector, Sir.Robert Franklin, whose dust-laden portrait still hangs on the first room of the office. Her father has been recently transferred and hence her admission was easy in Little flower convent, the town’s biggest girl’s school, next to S.M.V, the town’s biggest boy’s school, where I’m studying. The best part was, I even got her name in the same evening. But it was not a big task. There is a lane next to her house and I stood motionless for about two hours in the lane filled with excreta and urine of local street dogs and street boys. I overheard some conversation and understood her name as ‘Gayathri’. Ga.. ya .. thri.. three syllables- Gayathri, Gayathri, Gayathri… every time I recite her name, I’m thrilled, I feel some extra millimeters of blood gushing through my blood vessels. Never before I felt that Gayathri is such a beautiful name.

Next day, I took bath early, combed my hair, applied an extra layer of ‘cuticur talc’ lying on my sister vidya’s table, applied sacred ash as a small scratch just above my nose, pressed my uniform, tucked in my shirt and when I came out, I knew I was looking handsome despite my unchangeable original ugly face. Vidya murmured “something happened to this stupid” and hurried to kitchen to share her opinion with my mother. My mother came out and exclaimed, “what happened to you suddenly?”. I just smiled and avoided a reply. I faced similar queries from next house mangalam aunty, opposite house sundaram uncle and of course, all my pals. I had to smile hiding all my anxieties and say “nothing” repeatedly to everyone, like a new student introducing him with the same two lines with everyone he come across. I stretched my thick lips attempting to have an ever smiling face; somewhere someone told me that everyone looks handsome when they smile. I reached the bus stop 5 minutes earlier making myself doubly sure not to miss the bus. The acrid smell of the unburnt diesel filled the air and the bus turned towards the stadium. One day of familiarity was more than sufficient to recognize her much before the bus halted. Though the previous day, I had seen her only for few moments, she had filed my dreams throughout the night. Gayu ( I, now prefer her calling ‘Gayu’) boarded the bus allowing her worn out sandals kiss the bus floor. Gayu looked more beautiful than the previous day. I thought even sun felt a little proud when his orange rays were reflected by this angel’s black, oiled plaited hair. A black ribbon was choked to death mercilessly around her hair plaits. Sacred vermilion and a synthetic sticker decorated her crescent shaped forehead; the vermilion diluted and formed a small stream by her sweat spat by her soft skin. Her cheeks were soft like butter and bristles of milky hair grown hither thither shone brown in sunlight. Her wheatish skin hid her teenage pimples. Her white shirt showed patches of blue tint; like my mother, her mother also might be using cheap dye-powder. In our schools, white means blue. If anyone wears a neat white shirt, our physical education master, a man in clowny cap and old fashioned sunglass would come and question, “Cant your mom dip your shirt in blue dye at least once a week?”. I hope even Gayu’s school might be same case, wherein the physical education master could be some funny lady. Gayu’s green skirt had already turned pale. With my experience in wearing old uniforms, I could bet that the skirt was at least 2 years old. Probably, her mother too might be using the stinking, lather-free, yellow detergent cake costing two rupees in civil supply stores. Once again the same honey floated in air, “Excuse me, ticket please”. I turned to her and she too showed some sign of recognition. We smiled at each other. I felt like floating in the heaven, the fog filled place decorated fabulously with beautiful ladies dancing always. That’s what they show about heaven in ‘Ramayana’ serial on Sunday morning.

Next day, I had already bought the ticket for her. I saw the sandal statue boarding in stadium stop. Still, I pretended to take no notice of her, just to hear the honey filling the air “excuse me”. I turned and gave her the ticket. She looked surprised; she was indeed beautiful in all her emotions. Soon we ended in a giggle and again I was in heaven.

Two days went by and I became her conductor. Just for her, just for her smile, just for the angel, I never mind being a conductor throughout my life. The routine continued in the evening also. I gradually detached myself from my friends. Evening, I got down in her bus stop, walked with her till the corner of “Chetti Street”; those walks I was longing for… It is always s pride to walk with girls; that too beautiful girls. One set of friends would have a great regard for you, enquiring “how did you do that?” and I advice, “love is not just about looks, its all about conversation between hearts, which you dumb fellows can’t understand”, I prophesied sounding similar to some ultrasonic communication, that narrow eyed, broad mouthed physics sir said some time back. Another set of friends, quite opposite; envy you for your achievement and make fun of you proclaiming, “love is not for brave men” or “it is not love, but infatuation” and many other such theories. I ignored both the category of friends and showed no emotions, for I saved al my emotions for my dear Gayu.

Today is the seventh day and in the past one week we have talked enough about ourselves. I was longing for this for my whole life and now its happening. What next? I should declare my love. I’ve to start; obviously, she a poor Indian conservative girl cannot be expected to open up. In fact, when you propose, she should not accept my love immediately. She should resist, weep and curse my intentions. I should understand this signal, follow her, ask sorry, plead her and after two or three days, she will smile accepting my love. If otherwise, she accepts my love immediately, she will lose her value, it gives an impression that she is longing for someone’s proposal and hence will be considered as a bad cultured girl. I know all these social limitations. While getting down at my school stop, I said “Gayathri (I’m not yet brave enough to address her Gayu directly), evening, I shall wait for you in ‘Kumar book stores’, we shall go together. She nodded; how beautiful she nods !!!

Evening, I stopped at a road side flower shop and enquired how much does a rose cost. An old lady chewing betel leaves looked at me. It was unusual for a school boy to drop in at this hour and that too ask for a rose. Usually, only married men buy flowers for their women folk in late evenings. Ladies, either buy for themselves or for temples. Even if a school boy drops in, he only buys jasmine or marigold for temples and never a rose. Though rose is a symbol of love, no youth is brave enough to propose a girl in public and all the roses born in the town mercilessly went to vinayaga temple. I ignored the old lady’s surprise and asked again “that red rose”. The red rose looked beautiful with its half-opened petals bearing droplets of chlorinated municipal water sprinkled by the old lady. She said it costs one rupee and fifty paise. “Ah”, I could eat one samosa, I sighed. I thought for a while; at last my heart won and I kept the red rose safely in my bag. As agreed, we met in ‘Kumar book stores’ and proceeded towards bus stand. We approached “Gandhi Park”, the only park of the town. Welcoming us, the cashew tree and neem tree at the entrance smiled. Few ladies were selling cashew nuts; they might have roasted it from the fallen cahew fruits. We felt the cool breeze and Gayu’s hair danced on her fore head. I first envied, and later got upset at the breeze’s ability to embrace my Gayu without my permission. We crossed the ‘Park library’. Now the library has only four walls. Last year there was a fire accident and the library went into ashes. Some boks were eaten by the fire and the remaining decorated the ‘Old book stores’ opposite to library, after officially registering it as “burnt in fire accident”. I sensed my heart beating unusually faster. I wanted to declare my love with the red rose. I looked around. The whole park was littered and stinking. Gandhi Park is a free toilet. Instead of building parks, had the government started building public toilets, we could have implanted the discipline among Indians of not shitting on mother earth’s face. Suddenly my knowledge constrained to my town spread its political wings for a national toilet problem.

Anyway, I decided not to declare my love then and walked silently with Gayu. When we crossed the park’s other gate, Gayu smiled and said, “Ramu, can you buy two tickets for tomorrow’s evening show in ‘Swami theatre’?”. I was overwhelmed. I think Gayu might have understood my impatience, my shyness to propose and now she’s attempting an ambience to facilitate that. I’m indeed lucky to have a Gayu as my life partner. I nodded like our temple elephant. I knew the ticket selling Satish of ‘Swami Theatre’. He is our cricket team player. I just had to say that his stokes are like Sachin’s and immediately got two tickets.

Next day, I reached ‘Swami Theatre’ on time. Evening mood was creeping in the town. After a hot tiring day, sun was retiring behind the hills dipping the town in grey light. Buffaloes, soaked in nose-deep water were driven out of the pond. Hurricane lamps and kerosene lamps were lit on the road-side shops whereas halogen lamps and fluorescent lamps in show-rooms. Some mischievous boy threw stone at a pig and it ran out of gutter splashing dirty water. I leaned over the parapet wall without acknowledging the happenings around, for my mind was fully occupied by Gayu. The excitement of sitting beside Gayu for two whole hours spread all over the billion cells of my body. I planned, rehearsed how to start, how to talk and how to behave with Gayu.

There at last, my sandal statue is coming. Wavv!! the flesh coloured velvet full skirt and a three fourth sleeved black tops embroidered with some shining objects made Gayu look like an angel. Her hair was floating in the evening breeze. This time I didn’t envy the breeze, coz now Gayu is mine. Only when you are uncertain, you will have the entire world’s possessiveness. She came near me with a smiling face. Somehow, today’s smile looked better than her previous smiles. She too might be using ‘Cuticura talc’, the fragrance from her seemed familiar. Before I got relieved from her beauty shock, she started talking “Ramu, I know that you will get the tickets. Stupid Vimal told that all the tickets are sold out”. Vimal must be her brother. I smiled; which brother in the world has done favours for his sister? I still remember Vidya’s last school day. Vidya wanted me to buy a sachet of shampoo. School day is the only day of the year we are allowed to use shampoo. My mother claims that shampoo makes you bald and never allows us to touch it. We generally use a powder made of hibiscus leaves mixed with something else, a non-patented special composition my mother inherited from her previous generations. Vidya was excitement of using shampoo to float her hair in the air and she had already oiled her longhair. Despite her requests, I went to cricket match without buying her shampoo leaving her gloomy for a week.

I think Vidya’s comment about me will not vary much as Gayu’s comment about Vimal. I politely said, “Its ok Gayathri” and tried my best possible smile, which I have now perfected after whole night secret practice in front of the mirror. One guy in red T-shirt and blue jeans approached us. “Oh yeah, I forgot”, Gayu paused till he came near us and then continued, “Vimal, this is Ramu, I told you na?”. She turned to me, “Ramu, this is Vimal, my boy friend”. I stood still and watched my Gayu, oops sorry, Miss Gayathri getting into ‘Swami Theatre’ with Vimal.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yellow butterfly- Short story


Appa was shaving, a ritual, he never misses thrice a week. I thought of waiting till he completes the entire ritual, which includes dismantling his age-old razor, washing it in a mug of water cleansed by 10ml diluted ‘dettol’ solution followed by his packing the razor in plastic box. There is now no trace of “Adyar Ananda Bhavan”, once inscribed on the plastic box. It happens; whenever any container, polythene wrapper or for that matter anything, before discarding, will receive a comment “will be of some use” and it escapes its entry to waste box. That’s the history of shaving set container of appa; someone bought some sweets sometime back and the container later got promoted to the status of shaving set box of Dr.Ganesan, Professor, Govt. Engg College, Madras. Dr.Ganesan (my appa) emerged into drawing room; his moustache was not properly shaved. When I commented, he replied “At this old age, who else other than your mother will be willing to have romance with me. Ah! And your mother, she doesn’t mind this”, winking his eyes, he smiled with a satisfaction of cracking a great joke. Since I was about to ask something serious, I didn’t encourage my lips to respond to his joke. I asked him “appa, what have you decided?” In the past one week, I don’t know how many times I’ve asked him the same question. Appa’s nice smile sheltered behind his unshaved moustache. “America is not fit for me. Madras is a wonderful place and am enjoying…” I knew very well what he is going to tell now. I wanted appa and amma to come and live with me, vidya (my wife) and surya (my kid) in America. I was irritated by his denial of my proposal about his shifting. Owing my respect to him, I killed the emergence of my irritation in my words, but my face showed; my eye brows contracted, front teeth contacted each other, flesh beneath my cheeks expanded and I said, “appa, its around a decade I’m there in America. I’m worried that you and amma are alone here. Surya is now three years old. Do you know how much she misses her grand parents?”

I suddenly recollected my childhood days with my grand parents. Grand parent have a great impact on a child’s character. Appa knows all these things and hence I decided not to explain him how important he is for my surya. I continued, “You have everything there; a big house, a car, temple, Indian neighbours and what not?” I paused for a second, “Appa, why don’t you understand?” I think he was waiting for me to finish. He lighted incense sticks in pooja room, applied sacred ash and vermilion on his broad fore head and chanted few slogas in front of goddess ‘Saraswathi”. The pooja room is a very small one, hardly one person can stand comfortably. Before my every exam, appa used to chant in the same pooja room and applies sacred ash on my fore head, saying, “The questions will be simple and you will do well. All the best my son”

I was firm in my decision. I want my parents to live with me I America. Whats wrong in it? I think it’s my right as well as duty to take them with me. How many parents in the world are longing to live with their children and are mercilessly trapped into old age homes. Amma has no problem in coming to America. Only appa is adamant in staying in Madras. He was getting ready to his college. I told him that am accompanying him to college, as I don’t have anything serious to do around. Appa looked with an initial surprise, and smiled, an indication which I understood that he is pleased to have me at college. My intention was to convince him somehow by today evening so that I can arrange for his visa and other formalities soon.

Appa is a great person. I have always admired him for his values and love. He is in the teaching profession for more than 30 years, yet enthusiastic about his profession. He is known as a student friendly professor and his courses are considered to be easy-grade course (to some extent it’s true). His philosophy is that no one can learn anything within a semester in college. His aim is never to make the student master of all the formulae in the textbook, but to induce a curiosity in the minds of students who can have a constant search for excellence. I remember, once he took ‘metallurgy’ course for mechanical engineers. It is one course which is unanimously hated by all mechanical students. But, at the end of their final year, more than 50% of students went for specialization in metallurgy. I always admire his principles, discipline and definitely his teaching.

But he is testing my patience. We walked across the huge old iron gates, the “Govt. Engg College” inscription on the iron gates is already half eaten by the oxygen in the atmosphere. It was drizzling then. Appa looked at the sky “Varuna, narayana, thanks for your blessings to madras people.” The fragrance emanated out of the first kiss of rain on earth, enriched the atmosphere. The pollen grains of some unknown flowers suspended themselves in the surrounding air and we felt fresh. The huge trees on both sides of the road hugged each other at the horizon. The tender leaves competing with others for sunlight decorated the outer surface of the trees. We walked, crossing the monkeys and spotted deers. “How nice the campus is!!”, I exclaimed. Appa added, “You will forget everything once you are here”. Some yellow butterflies danced in the air forming high degree polynomial curves. Appa continued, “See those yellow butterflies, I always envy them. They are free and they do what they wish to do. Can we?”. Appa had to break the conversation as the first bell rang.

I found a nice old cement bench under a tamarind tree for me. I looked around. Nature is beautiful indeed. Nature never changes its style. The tamarind leaves always look the same, the sky, the water, nothing changes; yet its beautiful. How is man, who is bored within few months to see the same style of shirt, is never bored to see the same nature throughout his life? Is it because nature doesn’t care what others think and just remain as it wishes? The yellow butterflies came again, now forming different set of curves. Appa just said something; he said that the butterflies are free to decide what they wish to do. Do we have the freedom to do what we want to do? In my case, yes, I think I have the freedom. I can change my job, I can become the head of another company, I can read anything, I can…. , No, all those are the things I can. But what do I want to do? I started thinking.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by my neighbour, Manickam. He was a bus conductor and my ambition then was to become a bus conductor. A bus conductor decides when and where to stop a bus. He has the whole control of more than 60 people at a time, and so much money under his leather bag; I was fascinated. But I didn’t become a bus conductor, why?. Because,….. because my parents wanted me to study well and take a good job in a reputed firm. So, I mean, I lost my freedom because of my parents? Well, not only that, all my friends went to engineering and how can I become a conductor then?. Does it mean that my friends indirectly decide what I should do? Oh. What about the society. I, son of Dr.Ganesan should not become a bus conductor. God ! The entire society has confiscated my freedom. Leave all that, will my wife vidya accept me if I’m a conductor?. So I’m a slave or a shapeless mass whose freedom is barted with my parents, friends, society, wife and the list goes on... I just couldn’t digest, but its unfortunately true. I’m not free to decide what I should do. The world suddenly appeared different to me.

Leave alone the past. I closed my eyes and thought whether I’m doing what I want to do at least in my present. The instant answer is yes again. I’m researching in a company in my field of interest. I’m happy in what I’m doing. Wait a minute, I ask the next question/ will I jump to another company if it is willing to pay me ten times more. The immediate response is ‘yes’ again. I’m confused; is my primary interest just money? No, I can’t believe it; but yes, I have to accept it. The inference is paining…. But money is important; I have to support my family. I love them. Ah ! This time, my love to my family has cut down the wings of my freedom. I was startled for the first time in my life to learn the bitter truth that I don’t have the freedom to do what I want to. It was too much for me to think. I don’t know how long did I spent there.

Appa appeared with a smile, “hey, were you bored”. He didn’t wait for my reply. He continued, “Do you know what happened today. I was teaching equilibrium. Suddenly Srinivas asked me whether any equilibrium exists in reality. I was surprised at his question. He said that he went through a book about universe and had learnt that universe is constantly expanding and cannot be considered to be in equilibrium. When the whole universe is not is equilibrium, how can anything within the universe be in equilibrium?. Forget the physics behind his question. But see his ability to think and link the universe to his mechanics class”. Appa continued, soon changing to Ramu, then Felix, Priya and he went on.. I could sense no tiredness in the seasoned professor’s body. Instead I sensed an inexplicable joy and energy in him. I think.. I think he is doing what he really wants to do. Yes, that’s the crux, he is not enjoying Srinivas or Ramu’s question, but he is enjoying absolute freedom.

I went home, had a coffee, amma’s filter coffee hadn’t lost its flavour yet. I sat on my laptop and composed an email to Vidya

“Dear Vidya,

We, slaves of relation, job, society, emotions, etc.. have no rights to pluck the freedom of others”.

I’m sure she will make nothing out of it. But I’m clear. I looked around. Appa was reading newspaper. Only his hair-free head was visible. I took the phone, “Hello, M.K.Travels, .. Yes,.. I need one ticket to Losangels”. I could sense appa’s surprise by the compression of aged skin in his fore head. I repeated strongly “Only one ticket to Losangels”.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Mango tree- Short story

Natarajan entered his house when the 8:30 serial in T.V was over and the advertisement for a garment company was going. The colourful products and design were enjoyable even in that old black and white T.V, by lakshmi, ramu, vidya and kamalam amma. The four members were sufficient to fill 75% of the drawing room. Not that the members are too huge, but the drawing room is that small. Ramu rushed to Natarajan, tried to hug him, rested his head against him and shouted “daddy, have you bought me the train toy which I asked you in the market”. There is nothing unusual in the behaviour of ramu as it is quite normal with a six years old kid in any normal family. Lakshmi shouted, “Ramu, wont you keep quiet. Can’t you see your father looking tired? Let him first relax and eat. You disturb him later.” If lakshmi admonishes her only son for his unaberrated behaviour, there can’t be a better reason other than “love for her husband” to fit the situation. Vidya is usually quiet. She is made to speak by Natarajan with his regular question, “vidya, how was the day? What did you do today?” Natarajan is keen that his sister vidya should not be unhappy especially now as she is getting married soon. Mother is the only being who knows only to love you with least or no expectation. Kamalam amma, mother of vidya and natarajan not only loves those two, but loves her daughter-in-law lakshmi also equally. Such small happy family missed one of their senior persons, Mr.Vinayagam, father of natarajan two years back as his heart lost its pumping efficiency. Ultimately his death certificate carried a sentence “death due to ageing”, and doctors after burdening natarajan with five digits in his bill told without expressions, “heart attack”. For natarajan, his wife’s loss of her ten sovereign gold chains mattered nothing in front of his father’s death.

Natarajan is the only earning member of the family. He is brilliant and sincere fellow. One of the mistakes he did in his life was that he scored very good marks in tenth standard. He wanted to become an engineer and as an initial step he joined poly-technique College. He had applied in post-office with his tenth certificate. His high marks won him a clerical post in post-office. Nothing in the world seemed better than a central government job that too at an age of 16. Without any space for second thought everyone was in favour of natarajan joining post-office. Natarajan sometimes thinks that he could have pursued higher studies. The thought was little late by sixteen years after his joining and hence there was no future for his thoughts.

Natarajan is a very lovely man. He usually comes home as soon as his office gets over. By six in the evening he goes for a walk with his son, ramu to the market. The three streets market is the only tourist place in that small village. They usually enter the Khadim Street. The street will be pleasant as most of the families involve themselves in perfume making and incense stick business. Refreshing their nostrils with the fragrance, they cut left and enter Chetty Street, which is dominated, by utensils shop. Copper vessels will be laid in the roads and there will always be an old man polishing some copper vessels. Ramu looks the man with fancy. He thinks that the old man’s method of cleaning those vessels differs from his mother’s method where she uses tamarind and sand to clean vessels of similar kind. The visit to the street formally ends by their gracious presence in ‘murugan tea stall’. It is one of the famous tea stalls over there as it has three benches for its customers. There stands a topless, white bearded old man making samosas, bondas and dhal vadas. Some times he makes banana appam, which is special over there. Ramu enjoys this part of the walk and then parcel some eatables for his mother, granny and aunty too. Mother had told him that this murugan tea stall is very famous that many people come in car just to eat the samosas of the tea stall. Ramu wanted to see someone in car eating it. He has seen some cars occasionally over there but no one eating the samosas of tea stall. He pacified himself that those people might be hiding themselves when they eat. Even granny asks him to hide his eatables when next house anand comes to meet him. The third street of the market is for vegetables and other house hold items. The third street is big and ramu doesn’t visit that often unless his mother takes him deliberately.

Ramu’s evening starts with his playing with his friends in the mango tree in his house’s back-yard. He is never bored with the mango tree. Only natarajan’s arrival from office interrupts ramu and makes him go for a walk with his dad. The mango tree is a magnificent tree with wide spread branches and densely packed green leaves. Even ramu’s grand father didn’t know who planted the tree. In fact no one with ramu in the evening bothered who planted it. Ramu and his friends, satya, rohit, leela, hari and vijay assemble sharply at 4:30 in the evening after their coffee at home even without changing their dress. Each one of them brings some snacks from their home and they climb the lowest branches of the tree. That branch which grew more eastwards was thick and had a comfortable seat for a kid to be seated. And that happened to be the highest point the kids climb. Since ramu is owner of the tree, that high point is reserved for him. There will be high competition for the next positions which is considered better by the kids. Hari was in the next house and he could come soon and occupy the better places of the tree. Hari is very much fond of sweets and others used it as their competitive advantage. Others bribed hari with sweets for getting good positions of the tree. Once settled, each of them exchanges their snacks and starts playing. They climb the tree to some height, pluck some mangoes and eat it with the salt they had brought with. Occasionally when lakshmi comes there, she admonishes them for eating mangoes. Each of them starts talking about their school events later. Since leela was in a girl’s school while others were in the same school she had lot to talk. The topic of the boys varies from who got beatings from head master’s cane to the fun they had in physical education period. Hari showed his palm claiming that he got four beatings from head master for going out of the school campus during class time. The head master is an old man with big mouth, but talks very little. His hands looked short compared to the cane he had which is usually carried by thankaswamy, the great peon of the school.

That day leela was little upset. When asked for the reason, she told that she failed in maths and is afraid of her dad. The boys pitied and discussed in detail the possibilities of her escaping from her dad. Though they found nothing useful, they some how skipped the subject and started playing as usual. This is a good lesson they have learnt without knowing its importance. Yes! The lesson is “the best solution of a problem is to ignore it”. This lesson may be useful for them if anyone of them become a software engineer or a HR manager in the future. Now a days, ramu spent lot of time in the mango tree. At dusk, lakshmi calls him to wash his hands and feet to pray in their tiny pooja room. Natarajan doesn’t come home early like before and so killed the market visit from the schedule of ramu. Ramu hence became more attached to the mango tree. The reason for natarajan’s coming late is because he is a brother of a bride called “vidya”. Two months back, a team of members came in a taxi to see vidya and they confirmed the proposal through Indian post card bearing 25 paise and a tiger symbol in its front side. Everybody was happy with the proposal. The groom is working in a bank as a clerk. He is a graduate. The family was in complete agreement when kamalam amma told that vidya is really lucky for this proposal. Natarajan smiled with pride. It was he who found the guy. Natarajan saw his future brother-in-law reading an English news paper. He used this fact to prove his friends that the groom is in the list of intelligent people of world. Poor natarajan! Had he known the statistics of the circulation of English dailies of the world, he either would have withdrew his statement or would have accepted that the world is dominated by intelligent people. Though natarajan was happy, his face becomes dark when he thinks about the promised gold and dowry for his sister. To make the ends meet he took another part time job as an accountant in the rice-mill nearby. Due to this reason, he comes home late and missed his evening walk with ramu. Both natarajan and ramu missed their evening walk. Since they were left with no option they became accustomed to it very soon.

After supper, natarajan and family came out of the little house and talked for a while under the cool breeze of September outside. The moon looked bright that day and showed natarjan gloomy more clearly. He was tired of two jobs. Ramu was narrating the incidents of the school. He took four mangoes that day and his friends enjoyed it. Ramu was proud to narrate it to his father. Ramu talked later about their games around mango tree. Only then natarajan told that he had decided to sell the tree for vidya’s marriage dowry and next day people will come to cut the tree. Ramu abruptly stopped his tales about mango tree and looked his dad with wonder. For ramu, life without mango tree was not imaginable. He asked his father why they need the tree and started crying. Natarajan couldn’t control ramu and at last succeeded by telling that government had ordered not to have any trees in houses. Trees can only be in the roads and forests. Ramu calmed down as he knew nothing about big words like government. But he was really sad and thought why this government envies their happiness. Ramu thought of several options like hiding the mango tree with all the bed spreads they had and similar other things. He couldn’t convince his dad with his intelligent suggestions. Tired of too much brain work, he fell asleep.

Next morning ramu was not found anywhere in the house. He, usually after brushing comes to his mother and holds her for a cup of coffee. Today he didn’t come. Everyone called ramu’s name and got no answer. At last it was vidya who suggested that he may be near mango tree. When lakshmi hurried there, she not only saw ramu, but his whole mango tree gang in their respective positions. Seeing lakshmi, the kids stopped their discussion as the meeting was convened for a secret discussion. Lakshmi could see all the kids worried. She enquired what happened. They didn’t tell anything. Only hari had the courage to ask “aunty, are you really going to cut our mango tree?” Lakshmi with no expression answered “yes”. Leela started weeping “aunty, we want this tree. If you want to cut some tree I shall show you some tree near our house. They are not as good as this one. And if you are very very particular in cutting this tree for government rule, ask them to cut the upper half. We won’t use that. Spare up to this.” Leela hurried to ramu’s seat in the tree. Lakshmi was called by natarajan for something. Lakshmi while hurrying, dropped a few words, “hey kids, don’t waste your time. Today evening you won’t see this tree”. Her casual words hit the kids to the core. Hari who could bear even a dozen beatings from his headmaster’s cane embraced the tree and started crying. Following leela and hari other friends also started crying.

Now ramu took the senior position, “friends there is no point in crying. If it is a government rule, we can’t do anything. See why we have exams before going to next class. It is a government rule. Can anyone avoid that by crying? So, don’t cry. Let us adjust ourselves. Initially it would be very difficult. We will get used to it soon.” Though ramu preached like his class teacher prema, he couldn’t control his tears when he saw the tree again. The kids kissed the tree ten times. They then brought some eatables and other things like toys, pencil, fruits etc and placed it in front of the mango tree. According to them, it is their thanks giving ceremony towards the retirement of mango tree from their lives. Suddenly satya commented, “Hey don’t you see a face like structure in the centre of the trunk weeping. It is mango tree’s face only.” Everyone agreed that they too see. No one thought how suddenly they could see such face which they didn’t see ever before.

Time waits for none and they had to rush to their schools before first bell. Otherwise they have to kiss their head –master’s cane with their soft palms. Evening came. Ramu hastily came to mango tree. He thought no one will come. But to his surprise all his friends were there around the remains of the tree. It was chopped completely except the roots. There is no huge trunk or branches. The trunk is now shorter than rohit’s study table. The brown bark of the tree is no longer visible. The centre portion of the trunk remained scattered. There is no scent of fresh mangoes; the scent of raw wood was prevalent. The remains were in light cream in colour. The environment was very silent without the rattling of leaves. For the first time ramu and his friends noticed that the back yard is so big and bright. Everyone was silent when leela broke the ice. She told, “When my dad brings mangoes, I shall bury the seed in the same spot and after some years it will become a big tree”. The suggestion was welcomed and hari enthusiastically agreed to water the sapling. The team dispersed soon for other games. Ramu didn’t go out. He just couldn’t digest the loss of mango tree. He thought mango tree would have cried while being chopped. He thought mango tree might have expected some help from ramu. Ramu also felt abashed. He, being the one who utilized the tree to maximum really should have done something to avoid the tragedy happened. Deep in thoughts he felt asleep. As usual after the 8:30 serial, natarajan entered the house. He was happy that day with lot of currencies from the timber shop owner. He asked lakshmi to keep the money in the pooja room for a while. Then he locked the door and counted the money. He was in a cheerful mood because his part-time job rice-mill owner agreed to give the rice for marriage for just 50% of its price along with the gift of 25 kgs raw rice. In this good mood, in fact every one forgot the presence of ramu. Natarajan looked for ramu. He had bought banana appam for ramu. Ramu was tired of feeling for the tree. Natarajan had to spend one complete hour to bring ramu to an agreement. The agreement was that natarajan would buy a mango sapling which will grow big like the original one in just one year so that mango tree will be ready by ramu’s next summer vacation. This made ramu bit comfortable and he became active with new energy. He now felt hungry and started eating banana appam.

Vidya’s marriage took place in a grand manner in a temple nearby. Ramu was given lot of importance by his relatives and he enjoyed the marriage. Ramu became the pet of his new uncle. After the marriage the newly wed couple was sitting in the small drawing room and was preparing to leave. Ramu came to them and shyly gifted them six big ripe mangoes to his uncle and said “this is from my mango tree”. Poor ramu! He didn’t know that after the exchange of white cover which contained ten thousand rupees in the name of dowry; his uncle is the new owner of the mango tree now.

As long as dowry is an unavoidable ceremony in the Indian marriages, lot of ramus have to loose their mango trees!

Gingelly oil- Short story

“After getting down at Anandapur railway station, Gopalaswamy Street is at a distance of Rs.25 by an auto rickshaw”, Mr. Mohan was talking to someone through phone even without basic consideration how could rupees be unit of distance. The aspect ratio of Gopalaswamy Street is around unity. Yes, the width of the street is too much that we will have a lavish foot path even if eight trucks are parked parallel. On a lighter side, Mr. Mohan some times comments “once, there lived a king whose son was interested in cricket. King didn’t want to send his son to ground for practicing cricket and hence made a big street equivalent to cricket ground” and laughs loudly showing his yellow teeth to the listeners thinking that he had uttered a great joke. The listeners didn’t mind laughing for such poor joke because Mohan is the wealthiest person of the street and he is also the trustee of the Shiva temple. The street is predominantly called “Brahmin’s street” as thirty eight out of forty houses are occupied by Brahmins (considered to be upper caste in India). Out of the other two, one is occupied by an ex-service man and the other man is a textile shop owner. These two are almost made aloof by rest of the people except during the collection of funds for temple’s annual ceremony. The street had houses on both of its sides facing north and south. Towards the east end is the big Shiva temple. Until Mr.Padmanabhan, senior archaeologist of the district told that the temple is five centuries old, no one neither knew nor tried to know about that. The east side temple door faces a small river thereby making the ambience poetically beautiful. The beauty is somewhat spoiled by the railway track built a decade back. The perennial condition of the river is ensured by the gutter joining the river within hundred metres southward which is the final destiny of town’s drainage. The difference between the area of the street and the area occupied by the temple is approximately equal to the area of the shade given by a neem tree and banyan tree in the centre of the street. The houses of the street are also old and have faced very little modification in the past years. Such a set up may seem to be an anachronism, but it is. The only reason for not allowing the concrete civilization to dominate the Gopalswamy Street is the financial condition of the people and nothing more. The ex-service man, when built the first concrete terrace in the street, remaining thirty nine houses wanted to follow the same until they heard the budget. Even five years since then, no change had crept into the houses of the street.

More than fifty percent of the houses had retired people. The number of old aged people, though were sufficient to form an association, nothing so far have been formed. The Shiva temple is the office of this informal association of retired people. After the evening coffee the retired people association will be eagerly waiting for Mr.Ganesan, the priest of the Shiva temple to pass the street. They will soon gather in the temple and discuss various issues centering the lives of their neighbours. The thesaurus meaning of their talk is gossip. Mostly the topic circles the activities of the priest, Ganesan and his stealing the gingelly oil of the temple. There is a big copper vessel in front of the sanctum and the devotees pour their gingelly oil contribution in that vessel. Mr.Vasudevan started, “I’m sure Ganesan has taken oil yesterday. When I passed his house, I could sense the frying of some pudding”. Mr.Swaminathan continued, “Yes, when he left yesterday, I saw that his bag was big. It looked as if a two litre bottle was inside”. “Ganesan usually buys his provision from the “M.K. stores” in the next street. He have never bought even a milli litre of gingelly oil”, added Mr.Krishnamoorthy. Ganesan really has a habit of taking gingelly oil from temple.

Six foot tall, fair skinned with bent back and big black spectacles, anyone can recognize Ganesan. Some of the houses adjust their time-piece to 5:30 when they see Ganesan passing the temple. He is instructed to perform abhishekam every evening also. Lazy Ganesan just removes the old flowers and decorates the idol of god with fresh flowers. No body questions him. In fact everyone is tired of questioning him in the past years. For granted, everyone knows Ganesan’s answer, “Did anyone see that I didn’t perform abhishekam? Who is the priest here? And who are you to question my work? Have I ever asked you what are you doing in you office?”

One day Vijaya mami sent one basket of fruits (which uncle got as a gift for his first load trip in his new Ashok Leyland truck) to temple and asked Ganesan to distribute the same. He saw the fruits and demanded Rs.10 for the rituals to be performed before distributing the fruits. Vijaya aunty was little upset and demanded the fruits back. Alas! Only half basket of fruits was there. Remaining were then inside sanctum and that night in Ganesan’s house. Ganesan is paid extra for maintaining temple utensils and the beautiful historical stone carvings in the temple. Every month, account shows purchase of extra tamarind and gingelly oil for the above purpose. Unfortunately all these temple resources piled up in Ganesan’s store room and hence the temple utensils remained dirty and dark for a long time and the stone carvings lost their shining with no periodic oil massage. He also collected extra money from devotees giving infinite reasons and explanations. Soon, a golden chain embraced his neck. Complaints about Ganesan cannot be briefed. It can run for more volumes than the latest encyclopaedia on General Knowledge. Irritated Kumar uncle complained about Ganesan to the temple authorities. They came for a sudden visit and then recommended a punishment transfer to Ganesan. There were three members in the committee. Ganesan, later met each of them individually, wept and won the sympathy of one person, bribed the other two and solved the issue amicably. It was an embarrassment for Kumar mama and no one later tried to complain about Ganesan officially. Everyone got adjusted with the known devil. However, Ganesan’s taking the gingelly oil home has always been the topic of any crowd of Gopalaswamy Street any time.

One fine morning, a big tempo full of house hold articles was parked in front of Ambhujam mami’s house. Sita mami, Kamalam mami, Venkatesan mama and many others were silent spectators witnessing the show. Only after an hour or so, Lakshmi mami came to know from Ambhujam mami that new occupants are coming for rent in Ambhujam mami’s first floor of the house. That evening an old Ambassador taxi painted black and yellow with its punctured meter and non punctured tyres came slowly and halted in front of Ambhujam mami’s house. It was late evening and hence no one could identify the bulk of smoke vomited by the taxi in the dark. However, the unburnt carbon particles spread to Gurumoorthy mama’s and other neighbours houses and brought them out. Opening the rear door, stepped down an elderly figure, could easily be more than 65 years followed by an equally old person of opposite gender. Ambhujam mami was smiling wide showing her full set of yellowed teeth as if she was posing for a tooth paste advertisement. The elderly couple wished Ambhjam mami and entered their house. Yes, as everyone else in the crowd inferred, they were the new occupants. Some of the people started commenting about them that the faces were very familiar. However, the informal association postponed the topic about the new entrants for their next evening’s meeting at shiva temple.

All the retired persons tried their best to collect maximum information about the new occupants to dominate the next evening’s meeting. Subramoniam mama started, “Hey, the new comer’s name is Mr.Venkatachalam, retired General Manager from IOCL (Indian Oil Corporation Limited). The very word, ‘General Manager’ opened the mouths of the fellow members. Upto everyone’s knowledge, the maximum hierarchy anyone have achieved even at the time of retirement is an U.D (upper division) clerk. For that matter, even Mr.Mohan, the temple trustee is an U.D. clerk in the district treasury office. That doesn’t mean that Brahmins of the town do not hold higher posts, but they considered staying in such closely arranged houses of Goplaswamy Street as a prestige issue and hence stay in M.V.S. colony, few kilometres away from the town. Hence everyone started wondering whether Mr.Venkatachalam have come to the wrong place. Even Gurumoorthy mama commented “Don’t worry; he will soon shift to M.V.S. colony. Such posh people cannot stay here”. Venkatesan mama continued, “Yes, yes, my wife noticed that Mrs.Venkachalam wore half a dozen of bangles and three chains which put together a minimum of thirty sovereigns. I didn’t give so much even for my daughter’s marriage. And they have three married daughters and are in U.S.A now”. Subramoniam mama exclaimed, “Is it !!!!! are they in U.S? I have a long wish of owning an imported transistor radio. I want to hear G.N.B katcheri in an imported transistor radio before my death. I shall be in touch with Mr.Venkatachalam”. Soon, there were lot of predictions about Mr.Venkatachalam’s salary, his possible bank balance, his life time achievements in the company etc. The topic dragged most of the evening time till the evening deeparadhana in the temple, an unframed rule to end the evening discussion. Only Shastri mama realized later that they didn’t discuss about Ganesan’s gingelly oil that evening. Following that evening discussion, there were lot of discussion about the new comer of Goplaswamy street.

Whatever they discussed is true. Mr.Venkatachalam is a retired General Manager from IOCL (Indian Oil Corporation Ltd) whose three daughters are settled in U.S.A. They wanted to have a peaceful retired life and hence came here where Mr.Venkatachalam’s forefathers once lived. However, there’s a little contradiction in Mrs.Venkatesan’s judgement of Mrs.Venkatachalam’s gold sovereigns. Other than the five sovereign thick old fashioned gold chains, remaining necklaces were gold covering only. Mr.Venkatachalam adhered to strict routine. His morning walk at 5:00 a.m to reduce the load on his little leftover insulin followed by south Indian classic filter coffee with Hindu paper in his light cloth lined easy chair is strictly adhered in his daily schedule. Light Carnatic music spreads the air from the imported tape-recorder. Mrs.Shanta Venkatachalam will be busy in her routine kitchen work and ready with breakfast which coincides with Mr.Venkatachalam’s arrival at the dining table after his daily pooja at home. The couple talked less, but mingled freely with everyone. Mr.Venkatachalam liked children very much and soon became the favourite of the kids with his interesting stories. More than the stories what attracted the kids were the dried grapes he offered at the end of his story-telling session. Besides, Mr.Venkatachalam’s knowledge in the official procedures and other general things made him an unpaid consultant of everyone there for government procedures, better savings options etc. His regular reading of ‘The Hindu’ paper also made him as an information tower for anyone who is willing to talk about current affairs, politics etc. Of course, Mr.Venkatachalam is also happy and takes little pride to have such listeners. He also wanted to talk about business, macro economy, sensex rate, stock market behaviour etc. Unfortunately he had no audience for such high end topics. The discussion about economy by his audience centred on the interest rate of recurring deposit in post-office or at a maximum went upto fixed deposit in State bank of India. Mr.Venkatachalam soon became the wisest person in Gopalaswamy Street. In the annual general body meeting, the trustees were embarrassed by Mr.Venkatachalam’s questions in the accounts. Mr.Venkatachalam pointed out the account mismanagement and demanded explanation. No one till now dared to question Mr.Mohan, the trustee of Gopalaswamy Street. In fact, some of the senior persons were till then thinking that AGM (annual general body meeting) is a kind of get-together where hot ‘vadai’ and ‘jalebis’ are served. Mr.Venkatachalam soon replaced Mr.Mohan and became the new trustee.

Soon Mr.Venakatachalam came to know about Ganesan’s gingelly oil issue. One day, as usual everyday rituals were going on when Mr.Venkatachalam suddenly asked Ganesan to bring back the gingelly oil which he took previous day. Ganesan was startled for a moment, but immediately replied “no, I didn’t take any oil from temple”. Mr.Venkatachalam looked at Ganesan sharply and said, “If you are not going to bring back, I may have to go to your house and fetch the oil can”. Ganesan was shocked and wondered how Mr.Venkatachalam knew this. Ganesan went home and brought back one litre bottle full of gingelly oil. The whole Gopalaswamy street couldn’t hide their anxiety how Mr.Venatachalam caught Ganesan red-handed. Mr.Venkatachalam was the topic of several evening meetings of the retired people. The only conclusion the people could come up is “Since Mr.Venkatachalam is retired from IOCL, he knows oil better and he may have some secret device to detect oil which he perhaps might have used in his office”. Of course, though most of them agreed, some of them felt that this conclusion about Mr.Venkatachalam is stupid. But, soon there were a series of incidents of Mr.Venkatachalam catching Ganesan red-handed and the non-believers quit their original idea.

In the mean while, in Ganesan’s house, Ganesan was saying to his wife, “I really don’t understand how this old man is able to spot me accurately. Today is the seventh consecutive time he is catching me. Whenever I bring oil, next day morning Mr.Venkatachalam’s first words are ‘Bring back the oil’. It’s really embarrassing to get caught often. So, we better shall buy from M.K.Stores. I shall not bring oil for some time”.

The effect was quite visible. After a very long time the sculpture of Shiva temple got prepared for an oil bath. That evening Mr.Subramoniam commented, “I never knew that our Shiva temple’s statues are so beautiful. Besides, nowadays, evening lamps are regularly lit in temple and Ganesan’s provision bill has gingelly oil also. Thanks to Mr.Venkatachalam and his secret oil detecting device.” The whole crowd was in agreement to Mr.Subramoniam’s statement. Some weeks later the retired people were talking to Mr.Venkatachalam and they asked about his secret oil device. Disappointing them, Mr.Venkatachalam laughed continuously for five minutes and followed, “Hey, I don’t have any such secret device. I get hold of Ganesan by mere observation. The first day I took over as trustee, I was overseeing the temple activities and that day I was present till the temple closure. That day I found that Ganesan has poor vision and hence he takes some time to lock the main door. During this time, he keeps his bag near the door. I think because of his vision problem, he can’t transfer the stolen gingelly oil properly into the bottle he has. This oil oozing out of the bottle spreads in the floor as Ganesan locks the main door. So every day morning I check the floor near the door. If there is fresh oil from previous night, I assume that Ganesan have taken it. That’s all”. Though the retired people were upset at this simple solution they were delighted that Mr.Venkatesan applied his mind to tackle this problem easily.

One week later, Ganesan’s wife, Sita was making fresh dosas and Ganesan was munching those delicious dosas. Sita asked, “So how did you fool Mr.Venkatachalam. For the past one week he didn’t find you at all”. Ganesan looked at Sita and signed her to shut up and continued, “I was really worried how the old man traced me and in fact was little bit frightened too. But, last week when I was in the temple’s gopuram to light a lamp, I overheard the conversation of those old men. I have taken necessary care. Not only Venkatachalam, even his father can’t find me stealing gingelly oil. Don’t worry”, Mr.Ganesan grinned munching the remaining dosas.

A letter- Short story


Dhanasekar entered his cubicle sharply at 9:00 a.m. He usually takes five minutes to settle down and allow his sweat to evaporate and contribute his part for the increase in atmospheric humidity which is already high. It is not so sure whether hot sun is merciless in Chennai alone. Even in morning, sun bakes humans like anything. But, even if sun is merciful and cool in the morning, Dhanasekar any way would have sweat the same. Driving his Yamaha from mambalam to ambattur is indeed long for a forty years old young man. Dhanasekar washed his face and dirtied the tidy white towel in the hanger. He saw his face in the mirror and smiled himself. It seems as if Dhanasekar is quite relaxed and happy that day. Yes, even chandrasekar, his colleague asked, “What dhana seems quite happy today. Have you won any bulk orders for our company”? Dhanasekar smiled for the question and followed, “no, chandru, today I feel relaxed, and now onwards, I will be quite relaxed always. I have admitted my old mother in ‘mathura old age home’. I find it very difficult to manage her as my wife sheela too is employed. My children couldn’t cope with their granny. Sheela also feel very uncomfortable. Mother is very good, but she couldn’t adjust with the current society. She creates lot of problem everyday in apartments, neighbours and with all of us. I don’t want to develop hatred further. I think she will be happy there. To my surprise, my mother looked happy to go there. I believe it is be the best option.”

If someone says, dhanasekar and sheela are made for each other; I will be the first person to second that. It is real wonder whether they have any telepathy communication; yes! Sheela also shares same conversation with her friend in A.G.’s office, Nungampakkam. Sheela was telling, “Oh! God, my husband at least now has acted intelligently which is an aberration from his awkwardness. My mother in law spoils all my children’s mind. And at last, we found the solution for her.”

The personality who dominates the discussion in two offices simultaneously was relaxing in hall no. 102 which is allotted to her in “mathura old age home”. A service lady came to her with a register, “who is newly joined Paarvathi amma?” The old lady, arranging her clothes in the shelf, trying to accommodate herself to the new place, turned back and replied, “ya here”. The service lady collected the details of Paarvathi amma like her food, health records, dress, interests, and requirements. The service lady was with a blue saree and white blouse which is supposed to be the uniform of the old age home. Paarvathi amma replied very politely to the lady and then enquired about the service lady’s family and other details. When Mary, the service lady told that her son is in fifth standard, Paarvathi amma exclaimed and expressed her joy like a kid saying that her grandson is also in fifth standard. Both of them started their conversation which went on till lunch. By the time, Paarvathi amma gathered enough information about Mary that no one will wonder if Paarvathi amma writes Mary’s biography. Paarvathi amma is actually aged, but her activities and enthusiasm makes others feel that it is actually a youth soul in an old body. Whatever others say or feel, Paarvathi amma is the same throughout.

Paarvathi amma’s absence gave a great ambience in door no. 5 of ‘sankara apartments’, mambalam. Everyone can understand that it can be nothing other than Dhanasekar’s address. Dhanasekar, sheela and their children, ramya and Ramu went to dine outside. They entered home at 8:00 p.m and Dhanasekar entered the study room to check mail in his laptop. Beneath his laptop was an envelope whose ends are dirty and is improperly pasted. He took the envelope. Whoever has pasted it, had applied glue in excess. The envelope stuck to the cardboard box and required little pull of Dhanasekar to make it available in his hand. Puzzled Dhanasekar opened and found a letter inside it. The letter was written in an unbleached paper which he had bought for rough work. The stinking blue ink and the poor handwriting which hosted all possible vibrations in its trajectory revealed Dhanasekar that it is Paarvathi amma’s letter. Little amused as well as irritated, Dhanasekar took it. The letter follows.

My dear Dhannu,

It’s long since I have talked to you. You have become so busy that you rarely get time. I understand your responsibility and am little bit proud of it thinking that my dhannu have become a great man.

When you read this, I may be comfortably placed and enjoying my new home, “mathura old age home”, as you had wished. I’m sure that you wanted me to be very comfortable and hence have decided like this. I appreciate your love for me dear dhannu, but in this occasion I wish to tell you that nothing can be so soothing for me than seeing your face daily. I’m not bored for the past forty years in seeing you and will never be bored ever.

I love you so much dear son, and at any point of time my little heart cannot accept your defeat. My dream always is “one day dhannu will become a great man and half of the world will be his fans.”

I don’t know whether it is true, but sheela told me that you are very unhappy with me and you want to get rid of me. Oh dhannu, I can spare anything for you; but dear, I never can and want to see you upset. I want you to smile always. You look smarter when you smile.

Do you remember dhannu, when you were eight years old; next street geetha came with her son to complain that you have hit him. I saw you. Your eyes were watery and lips thick. Your rosy cheeks turned red; I understood the incident and didn’t want to upset you. I asked sorry to geetha and settled down the issue. Then I took you to park and made you clear that I’m always there to love you. Later I made you join basketball coaching in the nearby club to avoid your playing in the streets. I never wanted my dhannu to feel bad and I also wanted no one to talk bad about you. Dhannu, you are so special to me.

Dhannu, you did a lot of mistakes in the school. You stole one geometry box in sixth standard; you copied in your seventh standard; you were playing basket ball wonderfully, but after many games, you spent your energy in bullying the opponent team mates rather than playing. You stole dad’s money for your daily expenses and when you were caught, you had whippings from bamboo. And every time, I was behind you to ask apology to the affected end. People may think what a bad mom was I for not admonishing and beating you. But, Dhannu, I don’t believe in beating children (even with ramya and Ramu I follow and want you to follow the same). I thought that my apologizing in front of others for you might prick your values which I believe I have inculcated and hence you would renounce your bad qualities towards better reformation. But to be frank with you, I’m still waiting for your reformation. Do you know why I don’t mind in waiting for your change? Because, dhannu! You are my special son.

Dhannu, when you entered college, you loved a pretty girl. You knew that we didn’t like. But, tell me dhannu, did either me or dad have ever been acrimonious towards you. We stepped further. We arranged for your marriage after your settling in the job. I don’t expect any thanks from you. I don’t want you people to make me important. But, do you think its bad in my part to expect some love or closeness from my grandchildren. Why you never allow them to talk with me. You may perhaps think that I don’t know to bring up children. When I brought you up, everyone around me told me the same. I didn’t believe then. And even now, if you say so, I won’t acquiesce that. Because, I strongly believe that I have brought one of the gems my dear.

When your father was hospitalized, it was difficult for me to manage alone. I thought sheela would be there to take care of the house at least. She dexterously took a transfer. And I then had to take care of you too. Till now, I have never told you about this. I told myself that it may be unfair to force such duties to a newly married lady. But, dhannu, had I been in the same situation, my taught ethics wouldn’t have allowed me to do so.

When your father expired, I wanted his room in the upstairs to be preserved. You know, what all dreams he had in building this house. Every night he thought about the house. He even admired the foundation of the house. Till now, I don’t know what was there to appreciate. He wanted the arch in his hall. He wanted an angular entrance; he had specific specifications even for the slab position. After building the house, he worked 100% of his aesthetic senses for the construction of his single room in the first floor. When I enter the room I still feel his air. His easy chair was the only comfort for me after his death. I felt as if I lie in his lap. His library, spectacles, cot, night lamp, cloth hanger; I wanted everything in the same position just to remember the beautiful moments he had left behind. You know, your dad is one of the finest personalities in the world. His gentleness and decency can never be compared to anyone in the world. I’m proud to say that I’m his wife. You too should be proud to be his son. I learnt a lot from him without he teaching me, but just by his association. Both of us are blessed to have him. Aren’t such a great person’s memories important? I wanted that sweet memories. But despite my request, the room was cleaned and given for rent to some office. You know that I didn’t like that. But you could not have understood my burning feelings. It was acrid, abysmal. And even then, I didn’t complain. My saying so might have tempted either you or sheela to talk bad about your father. Nothing in the world can be worse than that. For god’s sake, I beg you dhannu, never ever think anything bad about your father, because I don’t want you to commit the greatest sin in the world.

I wanted to talk, laugh and enjoy ramya’s and ramu’s company. I believe, it is a very normal expectation of any grandmother. It was a hard blow in my four chambered weak heart when sheela said that I should not talk to them. After all, I just taught Ramayana, Mahabharata and arithmetic. Sheela says that I’m spoiling their time of piano classes and school’s homework. Dhannu, a research by “G.V. trust”, a social body, says with evidence that children’s intelligence and analytical skills emanates mainly from such stories and arithmetic of grand parents. I’m not claiming that I was doing a great job. I just wish to say you that I don’t spoil them. And, I don’t complain you dhannu. You know a lot more than me. You will always think your children’s betterment. But, when you and sheela told me that I should not disturb your family and you have plans to send me to “mathura old age home”, dhannu I virtually cried. Don’t think of my emotions dhannu, I’m just an old cot amidst the polished furniture here. I look odd at any respect. I had to apply little common sense to understand that what you did is not a great mistake. Dhannu dear, I promise, there won’t be any disturbance from me. You all will come in my dreams always and that will never be a disturbance for me, but elixir in my memories.

One important thing dhannu, though our society is running fast with its heels aiming western culture, it is not that easy for all to accept the justification of sending parents to old age home. So, when you talk to your friends, please say that I have gone for a pilgrimage tour and want to spend some days with some of my relatives. Don’t tell that you have sent me to old age home. They may think ill of you.

Dhannu! My dear, one day you will become a great man and half of the world will be your fans. And hence I don’t want even one person to think that you are bad.

Before ending this letter, I wanted to ask for apology for wasting your time to read this letter. But even before that I wanted to tell you one thing son. Dhannu I love you dear, I love you always till I live.”

Any normal person with human senses cannot control his feelings after reading this letter. And what about Dhanasekar, after reading this, he cannot avoid his eyes vomiting tears; he cannot avoid crying in front of his father’s portrait. He cannot stop from hurrying to ‘mathura old age home’.

But, as soon as Dhanasekar opened the letter, he had a call from his boss and he just left the letter in the dustbin beneath which decorated the corporation waste collecting Ashok Leyland trucks next morning. Alas ! Poor paarvathi amma’s feelings went unnoticed again.

Kamatchi paati- A Short story

“God has created some people with some purpose and message. If you happen to meet any, please try to read the message god has sent”.

I’m coming to my town around ten years after my higher secondary education. Returning to the places where you have spent your youth days is always splendid. The same old streets, same old ‘Krishnan stores’ where amma usually buy her provisions, the same ration shop with long queue for kerosene (most part of which is sold black), the same wine shop where next house suresh uncle goes secretly fearing ambika aunty, the old tea stall whose origin is actually a traffic signal post where we had our first puff secretly, the same cycle shop where we hire cycles and wander for hours together even without considering hot sun, the same CEO office ground where we play cricket in weekends, the same fancy stores which once was a greatest place in the world where we get sports stickers, the same ‘surya hospital’ which supplies same tablets for constipation as well as diarrhoea or any other medical diseases, the same computer centre whose ‘windows 3.1 version’ attracted us and made us once boast that we too have learnt ‘computer’, the same photo studio which hardly produced good photos at first shot, making us to visit it many times for a passport size photograph ultimately delaying our process of getting bus concession due to delayed submission of forms, the same ‘state bank of india’ where my father was and still is working (the only difference is he is promoted twice since then), the same ‘S.K.S. talkies’ which releases all “rajini kanth” films first and therefore our favourite theatre, the same church which is the only place where I have seen my science teacher Mr.Ebenezar without a cane, and hell a lot of same things………. It seemed as if except me, there is almost no change anywhere.

Looking out through the window while waiting for breakfast, I happened to see that very old yellow painted small house. That is actually the house of old lady called “kamatchi” whom we usually call as “kamatchi paati”. Kamatchi paati since my childhood memory is an old lady with bent back, long face, dark wrinkled skin, big eyes covered by even bigger spectacles, a yellow rope to ensure that spectacles doesn’t fall even when she bents, grey short hair, khaki cloth bag in hand and old torn "lunars" slippers, embracing her feet. She can be seen in green and yellow sarees on alternate days for I believe she has only two sarees to select or wear.

Kamatchi paati led her simple life by cooking for some bachelors. The customers of kamaatchi paati were very loyal to her. The secret of customer’s loyalty can be traced from the incomparable taste of hot idlis which owes a special profile of kaamatchi paati’s idli making plates (those plates possess a complex shape due to aging and infinite handling occurrences)

Kaamatchi paati had always made me and everyone nearby to think about hard work. I have hardly found her taking rest. She did everything, however difficult may be, with love and enthusiasm. She used to call me as “laddu” as I was too fat then (even now). Her affectionate calling me as “laddu” helped her to harvest some little favours from me like going to shop for her, fetching water for her etc.

She has one son and two daughters. I have never seen anyone though I have heard that they are all nearby. She sometimes can be seen very depressed. That day she might have met her grand children and her daughter in law must not have allowed them to mingle with her. During such times my mother had been her only source to outpour her sorrows.

I think I had been thinking about kamaatchi paati for a long time; my little rippling thoughts were constrained by amma’s calling me for breakfast. She had made dosas and sambar for me. I don’t know whether it is because of her excellent preparation, I like it very much; whatever may be the reason, uncaringly I started my breakfast. Amma is special for her sambar. It is famous among our relatives too. The excellent aroma emanating from the cooked mixture of vegetables with dhal and sambar powder, a collaboration of various ingredients in definite ratio can’t be compared with anything. I think with sambar, I never wish to break my breakfast. By then, with the breakfast, my thought about kammatchi paati had almost vapourized and gone. At that time, our neighbour, sheela aunty knocked the door asking my mom whether she can spare a L.P.G cylinder for her. Sheela aunty is working in A.G.’s office and her tension in getting late was explicit in her face despite her trial in hiding it under her pretty smile. Sheela aunty’s asking for gas cylinder brought me back the memories about kamaatchi paati. Kamaatchi paati had a wonderful network of people around her with whom she exchanges gas cylinders regularly. She had enough orders and she is the most inefficient lady in using L.P.G. So her cylinders empty very quickly and she was forced to depend on others. And she faced troubles even there. One of her links in the network once cheated her by exchanging a duplicate gas cylinder. She had to pay the fine for which she had to work two more hours for one week thereby making her that week’s total working hours as one hundred and nineteen.

I had always wondered about kamaatchi paati. She hardly has something to eat everyday; yet her kindness and care is incredible. She never can see anyone starving. I have many times witnessed her giving her food to beggars and later suffer due to acidity. She got a marriage order once for sweets. When she came to know that the bride’s family is too poor to conduct the marriage, she did the order without any making charges for her..

Such incredible instances have occurred to me lot many times. I, unable to avoid my curiosity once asked her neighbour how and why she is so magnanimous. I didn’t expect that my question will give me a great flashback about kamaatchi paati. I never could otherwise have known that kammatchi paati actually was a rich lady who can’t see anyone suffering and donates whatever is available. It is god’s nature to place a good amidst bad, said my intuition. Otherwise, though Mr.kammatchi paati is as nice as her, how could her son and brothers be so rude? How could they leave her alone with no physical or financial support after her becoming a widow? But difficulties she encountered made her even kind and she helped others as far as she could. That may be the reason why raju, auto driver in our street never accepts money from her whenever she goes to market.

By this time I had finished my breakfast some how. Amma went to take a pain balm, for her hands must have started aching then due to my non-stop eating. I couldn’t avoid asking amma then about kamaatchi paati. Amma, after a brief pause told without enthusiasm and with a little grief that kamaatchi paati had been asked to vacate the little house by her owner. She is too weak by now and even her business is now weak like her. She had to shift to a much more uncomfortable little house in much more remote area to make her ends meet.

I felt sorry for her because that was the only possible thing for me to do then. I later went to meet my friends. The cheer in meeting them is always wonderful. We had elaborate chat. I ate with them and amma didn’t forget to admonish me for my lousy behaviour. My short holidays were faster than any time and I was leaving for bus-station after checking my packing under my dad’s supervision. I walked through the third cross street and entered the lane which leads to main road.

Suddenly I heard an old, much familiar voice. “laddu, can you please fetch me some water”. Yes, it is kammatchi paati’s voice only and I turned back swiftly. One small boy, busy in riding his bicycle told paati, “ what paati? You always make me fetch water.” I was intelligent enough to understand that this young gentle man is the new owner of paatis “laddu” name. An elderly person scolded the boy. That must be his father. The elderly man seeing me staring them smiled and told me “this old lady is one of the greatest human in the world. She saw an orphan and has adopted the child inspite of her difficult living. I respect her more than anyone in the world”. Kammatchi paati is still busy and working for her and for many others. I wonder how it is possible for anyone to be so ideal throughout. I won’t be surprised if someone say that she is one of the so called “messiah” or messenger of god to teach the world how to live even if you are subjected to infinite tests.

She is still the same though her laddus change often. I went wordless with tears trying to explore my shaved cheeks.

“God has created some people with some purpose and message. If you happen to meet any, please try to read the message god has sent”.

A short story

Till my joining the company, everyday was new, interesting and different for me. From the day of joining, the further days are repetition of the first day like an infinite loop of ‘C’ program. Starting the day with kissing my five year old daughter, ‘roopa’, adjusting my nameplate in my cabin reading “Rahul.N, production manager”, hearing the previous shift’s problem, meeting with GM to talk sophisticated terms and targets which will never be transformed or translated to the lower levels, everything were the same everyday. I’m even used to the everyday admonishing of my wife, ‘sheela’ for coming late. In fact she is used to it.

My life has become more oriented to factory atmosphere. One day when roopa sat on my lap, resting her small cute head on my hairy chest, I told her,” your intellect must be as sharp like carbide coated inserts; character must be as good as the finish of fine boring; while in a company you should be flexible with others like a CNC machine and at any cost in character, you should be brittle like cast iron”. That was indeed too much for a five year old female, who then stood up and went to sheela. Holding the end of sheela’s green sari, roopa saw me with confusion. I felt sorry for troubling roopa. Many such incidents hinder me everyday. I just went into my room and shouted “let me go and relax”. I, not only shouted, but did too.

I took my bike to M.G Park on that Sunday evening. That is a peaceful park with no great attractive features except broken bench, swing stand without swing and a very old building called ‘library’ amidst trees and grasses. The park is as old as those trees. The plants around the library are maintained improperly and a gentleman called gardener is paid for that. Due to these features, it is almost empty. Thinking ‘park’ as a preserver of nature, passersby answer nature’s call also there. In a solitary mood like mine, that is a wonderful place and I found a place under a neem tree. Smooth breeze embraced me and I slept with the available comfort. I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up, I heard a grunt old voice talking behind the tree to someone.

I realized that the conversation had begun sometime back. The owner of the voice continued,” our troop was marching towards the enemy camp. It was winter and the land was marshy. We had to walk through a forest. The forest was dense with lot of danger. We still walked. I was leading the team. We had to pass through a small rope bridge built by someone sometime ago. When the bridge was full, it couldn’t bear the weight and it broke. We fell down into a marshy land. We, with greater difficulty got out of the land and were proceeding. In that dark night, we heard a helicopter approaching with a flashlight. I ordered to lie down. The light caught my last man and dropped a bomb. We lost around five men in it. We shot the helicopter down. We marched further. We walked continuously for a day. My men were tired. We saw a pond, camped there that night unaware that the enemy camp fetches water from the same pond. When our enemies came there that night, they started firing at us. We were startled initially by the assault. Our commandos were precautious and made tents hiding under bushes. Sentry posts were spotted and fired. The sentry jawans became alert and alarmed others. Within jiffies, everyone was ready with weapons at their points. We placed ourselves in such a way that we are away from the tents thereby the enemies will be firing in and around the tents only. We fired them back. After few moments, we took over the situation with three non-serious casualties. We took rest for few hours and proceeded.

The journey continued next day too. I got message to conquer a particular enemy post by that night. We reached two miles before the point. We were able to see the camp. As it was four or five hours after dusk, the enemies couldn’t see us easily. There were lots of people with them then. I sent five persons and asked them to fire continuously from one direction. Leading the front, I took the others through the other direction. We reached the camp slowly. The enemies were alert and were concentrating much on the five men only. In the mean time, we surrounded them from the back. We started firing. They were confused; but were strong. They had three times men than ours. But, my men were brave. One jawan’s bullets were over. He used his bullet less rifle and just a dagger to defend and defeat the enemy side. The heroes of our side took them aback and smashed their confidence and motivation levels. We were defeating them. But, suddenly one bomb exploded and killed most of my men. Remaining men fought for a long time. At the end of the three hours battle, I and five more men alone were there and we took control. We took the enemy point and sent a wireless message to the headquarters about the victory”.

Hearing this, my patriotic emotions went high and I arose to see the hero. I looked towards the direction of the voice. Under the magnificent banyan tree, over the grass bed, amidst ants and running squirrels there sat two old men. Everyone around were busy at their work not listening to the old brave marvel. I wonder why these people don’t care the importance of him. I think, I too must be one among them had I not come over there to take rest.

The old man was in an old but neat coat. The dark, wrinkle skinned, tall gentleman with grey tint in his moustache was talking to his friend. With an old pipe, he was still talking, ”the next stage of the war was more interesting…………..”. I went and stood before him. I told, “I was hearing your brave story. How brave and intelligent you are. I’m happy that I have met a warrior in my life. I’m really happy to hear from you. I wish to hear more of your war deeds in war.”

The old man looked at me and smiled, “I’m pleased by your patriotism. And unfortunately, I’m a retied teacher. What I was talking is about a computer game my grandson brought home yesterday”.

Birthday- Short story

My birthday

That was December 2nd. Even Sun was lazy to get up on that winter morning. My getting out of the cozy, soft bed was witnessed by amma (my great mother) with a cadbury’s chocolate in her hand. It is only once in a year I get a chance to chew that wonderful chocolate with my unbrushed teeth coated with nocturnal saliva. Perhaps, my mom’s confidence in my toothpaste and my regular brushing before bed would have given her enough courage to feed me so. After all, it is once in a year and that too on my birthday. Years down, the same day, I entered the world screaming which was heard by few medical professionals and my tired mom within a closed clean room.

While chewing my chocolate, amma kissed me wishing me a happy birthday. Uncared of the kiss I was concentrating on my chocolate with the fear of probable share to my sister. God bless her, she was there right in front of me wishing me again, followed by my dad. That was a nice morning. After coffee, amma came with mixture of certain powders in two three jars and asked me to take bath with those. It is supposed to have some medicinal values and when applied during an oil bath, it gives a smooth finish to my spring like hair. I went with my dad to temple; the customary ritual we follow religiously.

When I came from temple, amma had already taken bath and was preparing my favourite gulab jamuns. Wav, those small spheres were wonderfully taking bath in sunflower oil. It is fun to watch those white balls turning golden colour when entering the pan with oil. Amma held my right hand with her left when I attempted to pick one from the heap she had made. She admonished me to wait till jaggery process those edible jamuns into appreciable sweets. It is pain to sit infront of sweets without eating them. It is not an uncommon scene in our house. Whenever amma make sweets, she will prevent us the first piece by saying that it should be offered to god first. Childish queries of how god will eat those were gone by now. Gone are the days when elders can threaten me superstitiously about my becoming blind if I eat before those are served to god. Being a student in class sixth, I was matured enough and cannot be fooled so easily. It took twenty seven seconds from then to eat the first gulab jamun. Amma was fast; really I was amazed to see the tiffin readily served in dining table. How she managed to take bath, make coffee, prepare tiffin, pack lunch for all of us, get medicines for granny, prepare special sweet-free pudding for grandpa, clean utensils and make gulab jamuns all simultaneously? She also had to find dad’s missing file, answer our maid for her unnecessary questions. Oops! I was able to manage just a coffee and bath. Amma’s activeness makes me think more. I was lazy to think further and hence proceeded to dining table forgetting everything at the sight of gulabjamun.

Amma takes arithmetic tuitions at home, mostly for higher secondary classes and also for some C.A students. That was a Friday and higher secondary second year class was scheduled on that day. Amma declared a leave for her class. I saw Ranju, Kavitha, Preethi, Keshav, Vijay, Shahul and Rajesh leaving our home with a subtle joy of cancelled tuition class. When they saw me, they smiled at me. Perhaps to thank me for my birthday which won them a stress free morning. But, to be frank, amma’s class never ever have been stressful. It is always cheerful with jokes and fun and some maths in between. All of them loved amma and amma loves everyone in the world except my class teacher as she treats my soft palm very badly with a bamboo cane, a property of sixth standard class of S.M.A. higher secondary school.

Even that day’s school hours were great. Yes!! our class teacher was absent and the period was converted to P.E.T. (Physical education and training), the one period for which we long for Wednesdays and occurs only 50 minutes in a week. Getting a P.E.T on that Friday was a real surprise. In fact, I took it as a birthday gift from god. P.E.T periods are always fun. One group of guys will play football with a tennis ball, hurting each other toes. Another group will sit and chat under the age-old banyan tree. There will still be one group who got to library in P.E.T periods, who were called as elite group by a bunch of teachers who really didn’t know that they were sick stupid who don’t know what to do in P.E.T periods. I was in the football team; not because I’m a Ronaldino but because of my mass grown by mom’s food, I can get enough uncontrollable momentum and foul opponent team. The diameter of my tummy was big enough to stop at least two strikers of opponent team. Still, I was a true sportsman. Please don’t ask, “Who said so?” To be frank, except me, no one. To make others at home say so, I had a witness. Yes, my spotlessly clean white shirt was then red with mud. Before reaching home for the second course of remaining gulab jamuns, I had to sit through two more periods in that cage like classroom. Ramu told that one day he will become the headmaster of this school and will announce complete second half of Friday as P.E.T periods. That statement was worth only a giggle and we were very much used to it. Such type of statements was quite common among us. One-day Vijay told that he would become education minister and abolish exams; one day Siva told that he would become prime minister and would at least remove “thirukkural” (famous set of ancient two line poems compulsory in any curriculum which involves Tamil as a language).

Completely exhausted, I returned from school where amma was waiting eagerly in front of my home for second half of birthday celebrations. Amma must be little sad with the colour of the shirt. She didn’t express, but I was smart enough to understand it in that weary look. She was already upset by my previous day’s dirty shirt. She took extra care to wash and iron it for my birthday and that too is gone now. Common, nothing was possible for previous day’s shirt. Even after washing with the best washing machine of the world, the maximum possible tidiness was the one that was achieved. Hey, now I know everyone would be eager to know about that world’s best washing machine. Its nothing but, me. Ha, ha! I know that it is a bad joke and only Sandip will laugh for it as he is also famous for such bad jokes, which are usually poorer than the one stated above. Ah! Nice to mention about Sandip here. Sandip wanted to give me a treat for my birthday. He took me secretly when everyone at home was sunk in the serial at 8:30 p.m. The monochrome ‘Weston’ TV was centre of attraction for lot of people in our neighbours list and literally there would be struggle for the back row. Many a times, our family members wont get a seat in the hall for that particular serial.

Well, about Sandip’s treat; we walked to the corner M.K. stores at the end of street, which was as bright as a 100 watts Philips bulb. The “M.K.stores “ board was enough illuminated by the streetlight. Entering M.K. stores, Sandip proudly took out an one rupee coin out of his khakhi trousers. He bought a packet of groundnut for 50 paise and the rest of the money was completely spent for two candys (each worth 25 p). Sandip was proud when he offered his treat. Finishing the great treat from my friend, I returned home for dinner. Routine followed then. Dinner, Panchatantra stories from granny, multiplication tables from grandpa and a cup of milk from amma… Followed by our brushing with pepsodent and then to bed to welcome the new day.

Suddenly I was startled. Yes, my cell phone was ringing. After snoozing the alarm, which rang at 7:30 a.m, the past one-hour was spent in the sweet memories of my sixth standard birthday. The cell phone displayed “P.L calling”. I picked up the phone with haste. “ Hey Hari, Selvam here”, grinned that cacophonous voice on the other end. Yes, Selvam is my project leader. His dark gigantic figure came in front of me even in those sleepy eyes. Selvam told that we have a meeting with an important client and he asked me to come to his home so that both of us can go together. I said ‘OK’ before which the phone was already cut. I got up and refreshed myself. Entering my bulk body into a set of formals and partly hanging myself with a ‘Zodiac’ tie, I started. Casually, I tore of the daily calendar to see December 02.

Afterall, It is my birthday.