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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.