Thursday, July 21, 2011

Names, Faces And Other Odds and Ends

Sixth standard. My sister and I had small chubby holes in the only cupboard at home. Hers was filled with bangles, earrings and necklaces, each in ordered sets that matched the various frocks she owned. Mine was a mess, Hotwheels cars, vying for space with springs, wires, bits of junk and broken down clocks. My favourite car and my fledgling collections of coins occupied pride of place in the farthest corner, away from prying hands that weren't mine.

Nearer to the opening of the hole were the odds and ends and the small box that held my proud collection of knick knacks. Coloured aquarium stones, pieces of glittering, coloured plastic that fell of my sister’s assortment of jewellery and a piece of glass crystal that had once adorned my mother’s necklace, now in my proud collection as the clasp had broken. I showed it off proudly to all who cared, claiming it was my diamond which I would sell once I became big and make lots of money. Lots and lots of money.

I saw her at church when I was in sixth. She was walking with her friends. laughing at something. I was with mine. I had a green grasshopper in my left and in my right I had the dried head of a a thistle that I was getting ready throw at my friend. There were already three sticking out of my t-shirt, stuck were they had landed after being launched by enemy hands. Only two of my thistle heads had managed to stick to Arun's t-shirt. I needed to land this if I had to draw the game. Still laughing she walked into the church. The grass hopper somehow wriggled free at that moment, i don't remember how I let go of it, and jumped onto the neck of one of the girls in front of me. In the ensuing confusion and the screaming (stupid girl), I lost sight of her and lost the game.

I got him the next Sunday, but I didn't see her again for some time until I saw her again at school, again hanging around with a few other girls. I knew the others. They were from the 7th standard. My cousin's friends. Seventh. A chechi. I dont know why it hurt, but it did. A dull ache somewhere in the region of my chest. It went away by the next PT period, when the first football rolled past me into the net I was protecting. I saw her two or three times after that. I never knew her name. But I think of her sometimes when I'm at that church or I see someone that resembles her. Not that I remember how she looked. I barely saw her for more than three minutes, in total. But I have a picture of her face somewhere in my mind. The face of my first crush. Well that’s what everybody says she was anyway.


High school was exciting in more ways than one. I wore trousers to school now. Not shorts. And I actually had to tie my tie. It was now a long piece of cloth and no longer the shorter version with clasps that you fastened around your neck. The residential address on my school hand book had changed, so I travelled by school bus. It was the time when I had just gotten over Pokemon tazoos that came free with Cheetos, but was still hooked to Pokemon, Digimon and Beyblade -the one where they battled with tops. Samurai Jack came and went, so did Dragon Ball Z. Batman became my favourite superhero. We get shuffled around after middle school. So I was in a whole new class with a lot of people I was barely acquainted with.

 She was there in class. I really liked the way she read out her 'My Summer Vacation' essay. She had a nice voice, clear and soft, and she read it with enough sing song in it to be cute without becoming irritating. And she was pretty, fair with a really nice smile. Long hair - not straight and sleek, not smooth and curly, but springy and thick. So much so that sometimes it looked like hay. But I liked it and she was pretty and I was not the only boy in class who thought so. There were others.

One of them was so obsessed that he once asked me if he could keep one of my Steadtler pencils as she used the same kind of pencils. Another of them had the audacity to 'propose' to her. In ninth standard. As one of my friends told me "Whaat da?. Loosu wonly. Does not know the difference between filums and real life" Apparently I did. I talked to her, every chance I got. I smiled with her, laughed with her but never in all the time I knew her did I ever give any inkling of how I felt. She is now my friend only on Facebook. Another name on my friends list under the heading School.


College was just like school. It was still school technically -  Pre-University College. The only saving grace being that there was no specific uniform. Just a strict dress code. A very strict dress code. And there were more people of my age in one place than I had ever seen before. My tastes for music changed. I started growing out of cartoons and growing into movies. I connected the ganja that I read about in the Crime section in newspapers with weed and pot. I went for tuitions and coaching classes like every other person I knew. I saw friends becoming ' we're together' and then becoming exes. I blew up test tubes in the lab and started checking out to-be juniors who queued up during admissions. I learnt how to headbang and sang Hey There Delilah at the top of my voice in class. I met a lot of people there.

I met her at a Rotary leadership camp. We became friends. She asked for my notepad during the second session. She wrote my name where it should have been, skipped the two pages where I had scribbled notes of the first and in neat, precise blocky handwriting took down notes. I don't remember what we did there at the camp. I remember her though, and the smile when she gave me back my notepad. She was from my college, studying two floors below mine. We hardly met again for the next two years. Every time we did though, she had a bright and bubbly 'Hi Jerin!' She is no longer in Bangalore, just like me.


I used to debate in school. And she was my partner for some of them. My opponent in others. My senior. She was pretty. Short frizzy hair and bright sparkling eyes. She always got into fights during debates and with teachers in class. Tough as nails. My senior again in college. She asked me if I wanted a partner for the debates there. I already had one.  By the end of the year though, we had hosted two programmes together. She came to me one day, a month before she passed out , with a thank you card and nice letter. She said I was one the best friends she had and she thanked me for being there.

On their last day, everyone went around taking pictures with everyone else. Towards the end of the lunch break, she came up to my class. She looked resplendent in a creamy white saree. She asked me for a picture with the two of us. My friend had the camera. We stood next to each other. Smiling. I brought my arm up to put it around her. She did the same. We hesitated, looked at each other, laughed and went ahead with it. That evening on the bus back home, I thought about a debate in school when we sat together in the audience, laughing at the different teams that came up on stage. Until it was our turn.


College was very different from junior college. Getting used to washing my own clothes and watching three hundred episodes of One Piece. Playing Age of Empires for five hours straight. Getting wet in the rain at one in the morning and watching the sunrise at five, savouring the warmth of the first rays while standing knee deep in frigid, sandy waters.

She was there at college, she smiled, every time. I smiled every time I saw her too until one day I saw her with another guy.

She was from out of town. We went to get a burger. She asked me if I wanted some ketchup. Before I finished saying 'Yes please', she dumped half a bottle of chilli sauce onto mine and ran away smiling mischievously. She went home that night. It was one thousand eight hundred kilometres away from the place where I stood and said goodbye.


We were surprised to see each other during summer. It was at an event at junior college, a year after we had passed out. We had worked together, had known each other for three years. She was tall, willowy, bright and cheerful. We exchanged numbers. She called me the next day. Told me she was angry with her dad and didn't know who to talk to. We talked. She laughed. I laughed along. We texted regularly for three weeks. I told her that I was coming to a book shop near her place. Would she be free the next day? She said she had an exam. Okay. I’ll see you some other time then. Good night. I'll talk to you later. Two hours later, she sends me a message telling me she has to buy a birthday gift for her boyfriend.


During my summer vacations I went for yoga classes with my dad. We woke up at quarter to six, reached the place at six thirty and in a room full of middle aged women trying to lose weight, my dad and I learnt yoga. The class would get over by eight and we would stop for breakfast at one of two places. Our usual stop was the Udupi Sagar near the Tanishq at Jayanagar. There I would gorge on idly vada soaked in hot spicy sambar while listening to distinguished old men in shorts and t-shirts debating politics and sipping hot filter coffee after their morning walk. If Udupi was too crowded or we felt like we needed a change, we would go to the Davangere Benne Dose down the same road. It is a small eatery where I would treat myself to the benne dose or the benne masala dose, dripping with butter, with very spicy coconut chutney on the side.

She stood at the bus stop in front of Sanjay Gandhi Hospital. She was thin, with shoulder length hair. Dressed in a salwar kameez, with a bag hanging off her shoulder and earphones plugged into her ears, she would stand there with her arms folded, waiting for the bus. She looked frail, but pretty in an anaemic sort of way. I would slow down and take a little longer to finish my coffee if we were a little early, and renounce coffee altogether if we were late, just to catch a glimpse of her. I would enter the car after draining the coffee, switch on the radio and tune it to Radio Indigo, and wait for the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital to appear on my right.  Sometimes, she would not be there and I would curse the guy who took the last idly, making me wait for the fresh batch. Other times we would reach there as the bus pulled away and I would watch the end of an orange duppatta disappear into the bus before the doors gave a banal hiss and hid her from me.

I wondered one day what it would have been like if we were studying together. Would it have led to something?

Yeah right.

*chechi - elder sister, Malayalam
*those of you who don't know what the rest of the words in italics are - Shame on you. Go Google/Wiki them.

This post is inspired by true events. Any similarity to people dead or alive is probably intended. If anything in this post has offended someone, please let me know. This series of unfortunate events has also spawned another post, Rocket Science. Do read and comment. One last disclaimer. I do not stop and stare. But I do appreciate beauty. And not in any way that offends anyone.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you're just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

 Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There's the little empty pain of leaving something behind—graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There's the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There's the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn't give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There's the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

 And if you're very, very lucky, there are a very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last—and yet will remain with you for life.

 Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don't feel it.

 Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it's a big part, and sometimes it isn't, but either way, it's part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you're alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.

                                                           - Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden,
                                                             Jim Butcher, White Night 
                                                             Book 9 of the Dresden Files


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Grandpa Tree

Winter mornings in Bangalore are quite cold. Not cold as in ice-cream freezer cold. But cold enough to make you wish for an extra layer of clothing inspite of wearing a halfsleeve woollen sweater over the white and blue school uniform. At least makes you hope you had a full sleeve sweater instead. But knowing fully well that I looked better in the one I was wearing currently, I would scrunch up my face and brave the chill with a big wide smile. Better to suffer a few hours of feeling a little colder if it avoids having to wear a drab blue monstrosity of a sack with two sleeves.

    But then huddled together with fellow travellers on the road to Christ School, in a bus filled to the brim in white shirts, navy blue ties, navy blue trousers, navy blue sweaters and black shoes with matching navy blue socks is quite warm. Not black socks mind you. Black or white or any other colour (Pink!! God forbid) earns you a telling off from the PT master. So in a bus filled with all assortments of blue and white clothes and people wearing them, I would sit bundled into a seat for two seating five. Around me, as the puttani* girls played some game where they sang some song and flapped their arms about a lot and the peekiri* guys played hand cricket and rolled around in the seat when one of them lost, the older kids learnt poems byheart, filled out handwriting books, read for a class test, or like me, lazy bum that I am, stared out the window.

    I was not ogling at girls. Let me make that clear. Like I said its too cold for anyone to be about unless they are all bundled up. And anyway, I was just a kid of 13 years. Poor innocent me. I was just drinking in the sight of Bangalore waking up. One of the things that I would wait for though, was the sight of the Silk Board flyover bathed in mist. Bangalore does not have fog. It has mist, thick and heavy in winter. Its like the whole world has been painted white with shadows appearing out of nowhere right next to you. The sight of the flyover bathed in mist on a morning like that is quite beautiful.

    To the left is the Central Silk Board with several silver oaks peeping through the mist. To the right though is a tree that has fascinated me since I saw it for the first time. The grandpa tree. There are a lot of trees in the vicinity of the flyover, especially in that big plot in the corner where Sarjapur Road meets Hosur Road. No it’s not on the side which has the huge open drain. Its on the other side. In the days when we used to go to school, that plot had a pond in it and in an outcropping into the pond was this big old dying tree. On eerie winter mornings, it looked like a thin emaciated hand clutching at the veils shrouding it, a dark spectral shadow we saw through the mist. It presented a different story though when we came back home all sweaty and tired after a day at school. A tree with bare, dark and gnarled branches spread out and a bit of foliage at the top. Looking like a comical old umbrella that has seen too many storms; tattered and torn with bits of cloth hanging to the stained frame.

    On clear sunny mornings, the sky over the flyover would be dotted with large numbers of birds, Black kites and eagles gliding along high in the sky or diving down on each other while crows wheeled about cawing their displeasure about the presence of these predators so close to their nests. It was not an uncommon sight to see these majestic birds being chased away by a couple of very agitated crows. The grandpa tree on the pond was one sight I looked forward to seeing on such days because Brahminy Kites usually roost on these trees and It was such a beautiful sight to see them. Brown with a white head and breast, they sat serenely upon the dark boughs of the tree; some preening themselves slowly or others just sitting. I always thought they were enjoying the fresh morning air while it lasted before going out to begin the day’s laborious flight.

Seeing these ‘White Headed Eagles’ as I called them at the time usually made my mornings all the more brighter. I had this theory that if I didn’t get to see them in the morning, then something bad would happen in school. And it inevitably would. I also thought that the more of them I saw, the better the day would be. So when the bus began the slow climb up the flyover, I would football tackle anyone who stood between me and a clear look out the window and when I saw atleast five of them, I knew that the day would be perfect. Of course, it never worked out that way, but seeing them in the morning made me feel so good, that I was ready to take on anything and even if I did forget the Kannada homework that day, it didn’t make me feel all that bad.

    I resolved then that once I became a big man and had lots of money, I would buy that plot from whomsoever it belonged to and ensure that that pond and the tree remained like that without being marred by the next multi-storeyed corporate monstrosity. During my years in Christ Junior College, I could not take the liberty of football tackling random people on the BMTC bus, so I became content with the brief glimpses I got when I managed to get a window seat. Moreover, I was in college now, studying science and going to become a doctor or an engineer, I knew kites could never influence how my day went. But still it was with growing sadness I saw the pond getting choked by weeds. After a year came the lorries with their loads of mud. The pond was covered up with soil and fearing the worst I started forcing myself to stop turning around to look at the tree. By then the only sign of life on the tree were the kites roosting on it. So gradually, like the rest of my school days it got stacked into a shelf in my mind, dusted off and taken out once in a while when I felt like going back to school again.

    Last week, sitting on a near empty Volvo bus on my way to watch Transformers 3, I was as usual staring out the window. I noticed the plot again. It was almost the same. No corporate monstrosity had come up and the red mud that had buried the pond now sprouted a couple of year’s worth of undergrowth. The trees were still there and were all green and fresh after two days of rain. The grandpa tree though was no longer there. I don’t know what happened to it. It was just not there. There was a space there, a patch of blue sky speckled with rainy grey. When I came that way again the next morning, I looked again, just to make sure. The new patch of sky was still there. The eagles and kites were still gliding around the open drainand there was a lot more cawing than I remembered. The Brahminy were also still there roosting on the silver oaks at CSB. My tree wasn't.

*peekiri - tiny in malayalam
*puttani - tiny in kannada
And yes, I love the word monstrosity

(It turns out it was not just me who told fortunes basing on the Brahminy Kite. Google tells me that this kite is the Bird-God of War for the Iban of Malaysia. The Brahminy Kite's presence is an omen to guide them in major decisions such as warfare and house building. For those who want to know more.