Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kannan breaks a record ....

Days in Bangalore are always fun. The walk through the brigade street or a visit to the cafe's on the sidewalks, the cool breeze, the smell of roast corn on the cob, the street vendors selling cheap jewelry, fashion accessories, belts, jackets and purses and a lot more. Kannan loved Bangalore as there is a part of his infanthood associated to the city, which was much more greener then. Since the time he remembered Bangalore winds had a special smell. The aroma of fun and frolic. Laid back attitude of people who would live enjoying their lives with a smile on their face irrespective of the strata of the society they belonged to. The streets would satisfy the low, the sidewalks for the middle and the cafes, pubs and restaurants for the high class. There was something for everyone.

 Though he does not remember much, the Kannada he heard from his mother, a few vacations and his personal visits had made the city close to his heart. The banners and hoardings on both sides of the road, the shops, the cars, and the people who loved living their life enjoying it were all sights worth a look more for Kannan. Bangalore was more of the Rio of India if Mumbai (I would prefer to say Bombay) was the New York and Delhi was the London. Every evening most of the streets would have the fervor of a carnival. 

Kannan's eyes were stuck on the first look on the sidewalk where he saw a man dressed in the usual vendor style with his Khaki pants, blue sweater and a strange brown monkey cap. The evening breeze was cool and he was trying to bear the cold and hang a few LP discs, the name popularized by the Long Play Vinyl discs, on the wall on to the hooks he had arranged on ropes. Old LP records for gramophone and record players. The age of the LP discs and the juke boxes are gone and the prospective clients the man was looking for were the ones who vouch the quality and the grains of the vinyl discs or those who would like to have a part of the history on their walls as antiques. Kannan walked towards the guy

"Namaskara Sir... enu bekku" He asked to ask what Kannan wanted
By instinct the reply came out "idera LP disc bele Eshtu" with the eyes shining excitement.
"Aivaththu rupya" was his reply 

50 rupees per disc and was excited at the best bargain he could ever get. He started searching through the whole bundles of discs. Old ones, classics, devotional.... the collection was so huge, Kannan knew in his mind, that if he let his mind into buying, it would cost him a fortune as all of them were so luring.

He saw a particular disc 45 rpm Short Play disc with red label in the middle. The black shellac disc had the name "SHOLAY" written on it. He remembered the songs so well. He had the disc and started smiling to himself. 

It was a regular event at home when Venki mama used to come for vacations to dance to the tunes of the songs played on the record player. Appa always played MS Subbalakshmi classical and devotional songs, but Venki mama and the four year old Kannan always chose film songs and the few English Discs of Usha Iyer, later who became popular as Usha Uthup. The black Odeon Discs knew the time when they would be picked up by Venki mama and carefully placed on the turning disc on the record player. Then he would catch hold of the needle arm by its ears and place it on the shining black groove after switching the rpm knob and started the player. The needle when it rests on the groove, it starts moving towards the inner circles of the record and the song would be heard after the initial silent hiss of the player. Then it was dance time for Kannan and Venkimama. 

It was another vacation for Venkimama and the usual dance sessions where on when Amma was returning from her tailoring classes. 

"Venki... here is a disc of Sholay... I borrowed it from my teacher" said Amma
The name of the teacher sent shivers down the spine of Kannan. He was scared of the tailoring teacher who used to come 

home for tea sometimes. It was a big black mole on her face that scared Kannan.
"Great ...Kanna... time for a new dance" said Venki mama to Kannan

He played the record and Kannan heard the Hindi song which even remains close to his heart till date

"O0000 ....Mehbooba ... mehbooba ...."

They danced to the song over and over again till they dropped exhausted laughing and dancing. For the next two weeks the record found its top position at home for Venki and Kannan.

That morning it was time for Venki to leave and bags were packed. Kannan stood there by the door with a sad drooping face that his playmate was leaving. He had tears in his eyes, when Venki came and hugged him tight. 

"Don’t worry, I will be back soon" said Venki to Kannan which brought a smile back to his face.

Venki mama left and Amma had her tailoring classes.

"Kanna... be a good boy, I will be back soon, if you want anything ask periyamma ... okay?" said Amma waving to him with her black two fold umbrella and her brown floral pattern saree and black oval bakelite spectacles. 

As Amma walked out of sight, Kannan ran to the cupboard where the records were kept. He pulled the Sholay Disc to play and it slipped from his hand. Kannan's heart started pounding seeing the edge of the disc break and a piece fall apart. The face of the tailoring teacher came to his mind. Her anger was so evident in Kannan's thought, when she would come to know that her disc was broken. For the next hour, Kannan could not do anything. He kept running from room to room trying to find a place to hide. His heart was still beating fast

"Oh what have I done ... Amma will scold me ... no she will be furious... no... She will beat me... what will Appa say... what will the teacher say" thoughts ran wild in Kannan's mind. 

It was then the sight doubled his fears. He saw Amma walking towards home with the tailoring teacher

"Why did she have to come today itself.... Oh she is coming to take her record back... now what to do?" Kannan started sweating. His throat went dry, heart beats were more like drum beats at its crescendo. 

Amma and her teacher walked into the home to find no one around and the door was open. 

"Kanna ...." called Amma

Kannan could hear the muffled calls but did not respond. Amma kept calling finding no response. 

"May be he has gone to his periyappa's house" Kannan heard Amma telling the teacher

Amma seated the teacher in the hall and walked into the room to keep her bag. 

"Teacher I stitched the frock, you taught me.... please come inside... I want to show you"

Kannan heard the footsteps and the heart was in a roll. Amma opened the cupboard to take the frock out and she screamed. 

She saw Kannan crouched among the clothes on the second shelf inside the cupboard with the broken record clenched in his hands. Amma and teacher had a laugh when they realized what had happened. The record breaking attempt was successful and since then the memories of the dances and music also had a companion.... the record breaking attempt. 

Kannan thought about his antics in the childhood while he decided the LP discs he would buy. The man in his monkey cap counted the discs and took money from Kannan. Kannan walked with the white plastic bag with the LP records with a smile on his lips. He brushed his long hair with his fingers back which flew in the breeze and kept smiling. The cover had the record which brought back the sweet memories on the top and it read .... 


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dining Out ...

"Good evening Sir" 

Greeted the Restaurant Manager in crisp grey suit and white shirt. Well trimmed beard and a smile fixed on to his lips. Five star hospitality at its best, thought Kannan seeing him. Kannan smiled back with a grace which was so much a part of his lifestyle.

"Do you have a reservation" He asked
"Yes... I stay in Room 411" replied Kannan

"Oh is it... Pleasure to welcome you sir and you are our privileged customer... please come this way" said the suave Manager and led Kannan to the table.  

Kannan was in his relaxed favorite attire, a long brush cotton beige colored Kurta and pure white pyjamas.

The manager pulled the chair and smiled to offer the seat to Kannan. Waved out to the service waiter to attend to the special guest. The slim young gentleman in black and black came towards Kannan and greeted

"Good evening Sir, My name is Vaibhav and I would be happy to take care of your needs this evening" said the smiling young man.

"Get me something light and special" said Kannan

"Sure Sir, I will take the privilege to place the order on your behalf" said Vaibhav and moved towards the Open kitchen counter in the huge restaurant. He  returned in a while with an exotic tropical refresher as the welcome drink

"Sir this is our special welcome drink for you with Fresh Orange juice, sliced banana,  diced mangoes, watermelon,  and pineapple over crushed ice... enjoy" said Vaibhav

Sipping the welcome drink Kannan was reminded of the weekly outings he had with his family. He was reminded of Appa who never bothered to get himself new clothes but would clothe Kannan and Pachai with the best possible. He was reminded of Amma who would be ready to give them all the food, even if it means to go hungry herself. He was reminded of the happy moments they shared, the trips, the Sunday morning breakfast which Appa used to bring home, the evening outings and the film and a treat at the restaurant. 

Sunday was the day when Appa would pick a movie to watch, and post the film, would be a dinner at a Restaurant. Nothing high flying but a fun outing for a normal middle class family. During one such outing, after watching the film 15 year old Kannan walked out looking at others, with airs around him like the hero of the film. Appa, Amma and Akka joined him in a while. They got into the car and everyone knew the destination "Arul Jyothi".

Car was parked and they reached the hotel, where the manager in white and white smiled seeing the regular weekly customers. His smile was so broad and bright like a tube light in its full power. The hotel had glass showcases with different varieties of sweets and savories. The smell of dosas and chutney filled the air with the smell of burning agarbathies in front of the Gods pictures. As they walked in Kannan saw the glass refrigerator with soft drinks with the glass frosted with the moisture. They walked in and sat down to order. The smiling waiter raised his eye brows at Kannan as it was his way of greeting Kannan.

"Sir Soup" asked the waiter
"No... what do you have" Asked Appa
He listed out the dishes in his nonstop regular style
"Dosa, Nai roast, Rocket Masal, Masal Dosa, Idly, Borotta, Uthappam, chapaththi, Poori, Chola puri, koththu Porotta, upma, Pongal ..."

Hardly could Kannan understand the rest, but heard his favorite Chola Puri in between and quickly retorted out in excitement
"I want Chola Puri"
Appa smiled and placed the order asking Amma and Akka too
"Nai Roast" said Akka
"Poori" said Amma

One plate chapatti kurma, one Nai roast, one set poori and one Chola Puri" said Appa

Then it was the waiting time when the discussion was on about the film they had just watched, with topics from inside the family about someone getting married, some function to be attended, someone coming in search of a job and so on till the food arrived. Then it would be silence except for the munching sounds around the table. The aroma of the fresh coconut chutney, the masala, the chole, the sliced onions, the raita, the crisp dosa roasted to perfection like paper in ghee, and the aroma of the fluffy poori in full bloom like balloons. 

The eating ends with the waiter coming to take the dessert order
"Sir ... kafi, tea, juice, rose milk"
"One masala milk for me" said Appa
"I want Rose milk" said Kannan
Akka smiled and said "Me too"
Amma was silent.

Appa asked her "Don’t you want anything"
Amma shrugged her shoulder and gestured that she did not want anything.

Akka, Kannan and Appa finished the last course and waited for the bill. Amma went on talking about Venki Mama, Swami Mama and about a few others which was not much of interest to Kannan. He walked to the sweet show case and stood there looking at them. Appa paid the bill and walked out and tapped Kannan's shoulder and kept the hand on his back as they walked towards the car. As they slowly drove through the slowly sleeping town roads and reached home Kannan noticed Amma's face. The car stopped in front of the house and Appa parked the car. As they walked out Kannan noticed again at Amma's face a strange silent expression.

"Amma... why are you silent... what happened... are you ok" asked Kannan
"Ya ... I am ok" said Amma
"There is something... tell me"
"No ... it’s okay" she said
"tell me what the matter is" Kannan insisted
"No one asked me whether I wanted rose milk...." said Amma

Thinking of that moment, Kannan sipped the refresher he was having and coughed when a seed of the watermelon hit his throat in the last draw of the drink.  

Kannan called Vaibhav and asked for the main course and went on to think

"Mothers are like that, they never tell what they want. They hide their wishes for their children, even simple wishes. She could have asked that day, but didn’t. I still don’t know the reason. She would be happy seeing a smile on her children's faces but would hide all her wants and needs"

Kannan quickly put his hands to his pockets and took the mobile phone out. Dialed the number and waited till it was answered... in a few rings

"Hello" came the answer from Amma and Kannan could see the smile in his heart
"How are you Amma... finished dinner... where is Appa?" Asked Kannan
"Ya... and Appa is watching his favorite serial on TV" replied Amma

They talked for a few minutes and after the call was dropped the dinner was served before him, delicacies from far and wide a special combo designed for him.

"Whatever be the cuisine, the smile which comes to my face when I walked out of Arul Jyothi with Appa's hand on my shoulder and the sad face of Amma not able to have the rose milk.... priceless" Kannan thought

Quickly took the phone and typed a message to Amma on Whatsapp

"Amma... I'm coming home this Sunday... after the event. We will go for a movie and then a dinner at Arul Jyothi... and this time you should tell me what you want... and also a Rose milk is pending from my side"

The phone buzzed a reply within a short while

" :) "

Monday, May 23, 2016

Its Raining ...

"Kanna ... we will be back by 8.30, so take care and be a good boy" Amma gave Kannan the instructions with a smile.

It was for the first time, Kannan was alone at home late. Kannan smiled back and felt the pride in the fact that he is being given the responsibility to take care of the house. A bit of studies, bit of sun, and all the time all alone at home. Though it was not a home alone story, Kannan waved a happy bye to Appa Amma and Akka. 

"Don’t worry Amma.... I will take care" Kannan replied like a grown up.

Kannan went to the gate and saw them get into the car and drive away. Kannan ran back up home, locked the door and took the keys, started throwing and catching it in style and went straight to the TV room. 

"Will watch TV for some time and then study", Kannan thought

As Appa drove towards Swaminathan Mama's house Amma started her usual doubts

"Did I turn the gas off?”
"Did I switch the heater off?”
... and so on

Appa and Akka heard a half and left the rest for her to voice and not be heard, as they were used to her doubts wherever they went, be it a day at the movies or a long distance vacation. These were common doubts in every mother's mind for sure and Amma was not an exception.

"Amma ... Kannan is there and he will take care of it... can you stop worrying" said Pachai from the back seat.

"No... I think I left the gas main switch on"

Appa and Pachai remained silent.  

Meanwhile, Kannan switched the TV on and sat back in the chair like the boss of the house. In his Black shorts and favorite Blue and Brown Full sleeve T shirt, he went to the mirror and had a look at the boss of the house for the evening. Combed back his hair and smiled at himself. Went back to his chair and watched TV for some time and then felt the hunger creep up in his tummy. 

The kitchen shelf was smiling at him with the yummy sweets Amma had made at home for Diwali. He ran to the kitchen shelf and took the whole big boxful of sweets. For a 12 year old boy, the whole house to his wish was more of a fun arena. He took a bottle of ice cold water and kept it near the chair. Sat on it with folded legs and kept the box in his lap like a baby. Opened the lid and started helping himself. Yummy ladoos, Puran Poli and all the delicacies smiled at him. 

Each time he had a piece, he kept telling himself, "This is the last one" and had one more. 

After a while, having had too much sweets Kannan felt a bit high in his head. Sweets can do it to you too... He switched the TV off and went to his study. He opened the school bag and took out his note books and placed them in front of him.

"Homework", Kannan decided

He started with Maths, and then went on to English, and then Geography... As he was writing he saw his handwriting turn to wavy lines and not words. They made no sense to him; neither would it make any sense to the Arundhathi teacher, if she tries to read it the next day.

After the visit to Swaminathan Mama's house for a function Appa was driving back home, when Amma continued expressing her concerns...

"What would Kannan be doing...hope he does not lock the house from inside"
"He would be fine... will you please stop worrying" said Appa in a stern voice, tired of the incessant questions for the past three hours.

They reached home and saw the study on the first floor and were relieved. Appa locked the car and Amma and Pachai moved ahead. As Appa reached the door Amma was ringing the bell and already looking worried.

"Listen.... he is not opening the door...."

Appa looked slightly worried and rang the bell again. Akka's eyes started getting wet with tears, thinking what would have happened to her little brother. Amma was panicked and started calling out to the neighbors. People started gathering and the knocks started getting louder and louder. No one had a clue what was happening inside.

"Call Unni" Appa told Amma "He can climb the wall and reach out to the sunshade and open the window"

Amma ran to the next house to call Unni. Always ready to help, he was a darling of the colony, who would go any length to help others. Unni was having his dinner when Amma went to call him. Amma voice shuddered as she called Unni

"Unni... something has happened to Kannan. He is not opening the door"

He washed his hands and ran out with Amma in his lungi and a vest. He reached the door where almost the half of those who were awake in the colony to find out what had happened to the lovely little boy. Unni immediately jumped on the wall and climbed it. Swiftly he reached the sunshade. He tried to open the window and they were closed. 

"Someone get me a screwdriver" shouted Unni

Padmanabhan uncle who stayed in the next house sent his driver home to get the screwdriver from the tool box. Tool box was brought and the screwdriver was thrown to Unni, who was still on the sunshade near the window. He jagged the window open with a screwdriver and opened it.

"The fan is on, lights are on ..." Unni's commentary started
"I can see the table and chair... no Kannan is not on the chair" he continued

"Check the floor... is Kannan ok" Appa asked Unni with concern

"There he is... I think he is sleeping... he is on the books...." said Unni which sent waves of relief to all waiting there.

"Kannan... Kannan..."Unni called getting no response from him.

"Someone get me a hose and connect it to the tap in the garden pipe" instructed Unni.

A long green hose was reeled out in rescue. The hose was connected to the tap and the other end reached out to Unni. The tap was opened and there it was... an artificial rain.

Kannan was in a dream world, when he felt drops of water falling on him. He couldn’t understand what was happening or where he was, when he woke up from the sweet slumber all the sweets had given him. He ran to the door and took the keys from his pocket and opened it. He saw a whole lot of people standing there in front of the door. The little boy with surprise in his eyes and seeing Appa, Amma and Akka standing with a whole lot of people he said

"It's raining in the house ..."

Everyone laughed. Amma with tears in her eyes started laughing too. Appa was angry, and his anger fizzled out with the comment from Kannan. Akka was laughing out loud looking at the soaking wet Kannan. Kannan got a grip of what had happened. His head went down with a smile and the realization. For many years to come Kannan was taunted in fun by all who were there

"It's raining in the house ..."

Some memories are sweet and others sweeter.... Every time water drops fell on Kannan's face, he would remember the episode at home when it was raining inside the house.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Bedtime Story ...

"Narayan" Kannan called out to his 16 year old sweetheart
"Son... it’s time for the bed time story" said Kannan
"I'm coming Appa..." said Narayan

Kannan, at 56 was all excited and was restless like a five-year-old. Dinner was over and Kannan walked towards the garden outside the house and to wait for his son Narayan. 

"I am here outside in the garden Narayana ..."

The nightfall had a special feeling in the hill station. Kannan had been living there, with Narayan, for more than a year now. The stars were shining so close to the mountain, Kannan felt he was in the paradise. It was a full moon night and the moonlight was like a spot light on the Garden. The white full plate on the sky with heavenly mead porridge in it, waiting to feed the hungry shining stars around it. Kannan breathed in fresh air with the smell of pine cones and eucalyptus all around. 

"Appa .... Thatha used to tell you stories?" Narayan asked. The bright young eyes of Narayan were shining just like the stars when he asked the question. Tall, bright faced, with long hair like his Appa and in the loose white pyjama kurta, Narayan looked more angelic in the moonlight. Kannan laughed at Narayan's question and started looking at his son, who looked the same as when he was in his teens, if not better. 

"I and Akka very well know that in Ramayana Dasarath had four children and they were Ram, Lakshman, Bharath and Shatrughna... Thanks to your Gopal Thatha"

Kannan sat down on the white cast iron garden chair with soft cushions on it, in the green lawn lit by the moon. He sipped the cup of coffee Narayan gave him with a smile. It has been a hard to break habit for Kannan since childhood that he could sleep well only if he had coffee. 

"Me and Akka used to pester your Gopal Thatha to tell us stories ...” said Kannan thinking about his childhood days.

The house used to be doldrums of activities at night. Amma settling with her daily chores of washing after dinner, Appa patting the bed to make it for all, Kannan and Pachai working on their bags for the next day at school and everyone would be busy bees after dinner. Once the sheets were on, the blankets in place and the last dish washed all would be at the gateway to the dream world, the bedroom. Amma would be tired and would be the first to hit the bed. Appa would be joined by Pachai and Kannan with their regular requests...

"Appa story ... Appa story ...."

And Appa would start with a smile. Tired after a whole day's work in his eyes so red like an apple, he would make all the efforts to keep them open. Kannan would sit on his stomach and beat his chest to tell them a story. Each one of them would be in their respective positions, Amma on the left corner, then Kannan with his favorite black blanket, Appa next and then Pachai. 

"In a far of land called Ayodhya, there was a king called Dasarath. He had four sons. Eldest was Ram, then Lakshman, then Bharat and then Shatrugna ... They grew up together and their upanayanam (Initiation) function was conducted ..."

By the time he reached the portion of the four sons being initiated spiritually Appa would have initiated his dream trip to sleep. His eyes would close with the days fatigue and his big nose and mouth start with a light snore. As soon as he dozed off, from both sides the attack would start

"Appa Appa ... then what happened???" Kannan and Pachai together.

Appa would startle and wake up with a jolt and start all over again

"There was a very nice king in Ayodhya, and he was called Dasarath. He had four sons. Eldest was Ram, then Lakshman, then Bharat and then Shatrugna ... They grew up together and their upanayanam (Initiation) function was conducted ..."

Again the sleep fairy would have put Appa to sleep again. The way the Ramayana start would differ but the content remained the same. For a very long time Kannan and Pachai only knew the initial part of Ramayana as Appa had only one story to tell them. The sleep fairy would finally put everyone to rest... gifting each one with dreams of their choice. Amma would dream of buying a new refrigerator or a new house or about her brothers, Appa would be dreaming about the account statements or balance sheets or profit and loss accounts, Kannan would be dreaming about the school drama or the cousins and friends, and Pachai obviously would be having dreams about writing exams and studies alone.

"That’s what we knew about Ramayana from your Gopal Thatha" concluded Kannan with a chuckle
Narayan laughed a hearty one and said
"Appa... it’s too cold outside ... I know you like cold, but it’s no fun to fall sick in this mountain... come ... come inside.... bedtime story time"

They both walked in a hug and went to the warm and cozy bedroom. Kannan removed his home shoes and kept it in the rack, Narayan followed. As Kannan tucked Narayan to bed and got himself inside a warm quilt, Narayan took a book out switched the bed light on and switched off the main lights of the bedroom. 

Kannan hugged Narayan in a warm hug and looked at his son eagerly, when he started

“Once upon a time in a far off beach, it rained heavily and the sea got rough. The sea hit the land and lashed all its anger on him. The land smiled and held her in his arms. He said to her, 
"I will be there for you always...."
The summer sun scorched the land and he was burning hot as if he had fever. The waves hit the sand gently and said
"shhhhh ... everything will be all right" and washed away all his tears...."

By the time Narayan finished the line, Kannan was fast asleep in a hug. Since the time Narayan could read, every night was a bedtime story time and Narayan would read the very same story to his Appa to put him to sleep. Narayan smiled, carefully, without making any sounds folded the book written by his Appa for kids years back, switched the reading lamp off and tucked himself to the hug and slept, waiting for another day and another night, when he would read the story again find his Appa sleeping with a smile,  hugging him.

One more candle ...

The doorbell buzzed and Kannan opened the door to see a man standing there at the door with a package

"Sir ... courier for you .... Mr. Kannan Iyer?
"Yes" Kannan replied

He signed the document with a smile and asked the courier boy who was in his red and yellow uniform, sweating as if he just had a shower, as he had been out in the sun. 

"Would you like to have some water?"

He smiled and his eyes thanked Kannan in return. There was no verbal communication but the gratitude was conveyed as Kannan handed him a cold bottle of water. The boy, who should be in his 20's, took the signed paper back and walked away smiling with a relief.

Kannan opened the grey pouch to see a gift pack in it. He opened the package and saw a purple colored aromatic lavender candle with a purple ribbon on it tied in a bow. There was a card in it from the sender. Every time Kannan sees a candle there are a million thoughts that rush to his mind. Thoughts about the time he spent in singing and fun with Akka during the power cuts at home, the candles that he lit in the Church, the candles which he blew to celebrate his birthday, the candles which were lit to light the fire crackers for Diwali and the lamps for Karthika, the candle which lives for a few hours and finally burns out giving memories to him.

During his teens, the power outage was very common and all family talks happen during that time of the evening. As usual, the very punctual electricity board switched the power off in the area. Kannan happily jumped from his table as studies could wait another half an hour. He heard Amma call out to him

"Kanna .... the candle is on the fridge top ... careful..."

Kannan tiptoed in the darkness to fetch the candle and heard Akka start singing a classical song, 

"Paripalayamam .... sree padmanabha murarae ..."

which was a mode of the power cut entertainment schedules and a way to practise, when she is not busy with what she liked the most - studying. Kannan walked towards the dining room where Akka and Amma were sitting and the light of the candle brightened to dark room to reveal the two blessings in his life - Amma and Akka. Akka was being trained in singing since childhood. 

It was a special music instructor who trained Pachai in singing. Tall, dark and slim young man, with thick hair combed back, long black beard and stern eyes. His forehead always had a white ash smeared in a thin line. The loose full sleeve shirt and white dhoti, on the back Hercules cycle with a green leather seat cover, made him look like a new age poor man's warrior. The sight of the music teacher, who looked more like dark complexioned Jesus with his long black beard and slim body, sent shivers down Akka's spine. Most often the classes would end up in a scene worth a mention. There would be a loud shout from Chandrasekhar, the music teacher

"Where is pa .... " when she misses a note in her singing.

The music notes would be all over the place and the leaves of the book flying around as if it were the fall and the pages were autumn leaves. Akka would be sitting near the harmonium which would have gone silent by then and Akka crying with her face covered after the thunderous shout. The chair would be empty and anyone could hardly see Chandrasekhar bang the door and fly out in lightning speed to his cycle and would pedal away in anger. 

But for Kannan she was the best singer ever. Kannan would sit and admire her singing for a short while and try his luck in matching her in the song along with her, for which she would shout back and the whole story would end up in a fight between the loving brother and sister. But power cuts helped Kannan learn singing from one his best teachers his Akka - Pachai. It was with her he learnt about the ragas. She still remains the Kadanakoodoohala raga which is a rag in the Carnatic stream which can even make the sad person smile. It was her notes that Kannan tried to trace and mimic and learnt singing. 

Many years later, the power cuts were a common entertainment time at home, when both of them joined in singing classical and film songs, where in the darkness Amma would wipe her tears of joy listening to the two gems she had given birth to. But never tell them about her pride as she always believed they might be arrogant, if she praises them. 

Kannan was reminded of the candle Thatha always lit in front of Alphonsa Amma's picture in his pooja, transcending the faith. The candles he and Amma lit before the St Antony's Church for Appa, when someone had suggested that lighting candles at the church will help Appa get well soon. He thought about the pack of candles he lit before Mother Mary and Immanuel’s church by the beach every night, till the morning he left for Dubai. There were no power cuts in Dubai, but still Kannan had a pack of candles always with him as they reminded him of his days, the memories and all the good things in life. 

Kannan took the card from the box which held the candle and there was a note on it:

"I was in Pondicherry and saw this candle .... I thought of you... Spread light and aroma like this candle Love Pachai"

Kannan's eyes were moist with tears of joy. Again a candle which will rekindle the light of love and affection and spread the aroma of one of his first gurus, his Akka. Sure candles have a duty to spread the light and shed light on those happy memories and whenever Kannan lit a candle his heart heard him and Akka sing together the famous Swathithirunal Krithi "paripalayalam sree padmanabha murarae ..." the carnatic classical keerthanam in Reethigowla, Akka's favorite rag.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Destination Home ...

For many journey is for a destination, but for Kannan journeys were destinations. If there was something that excited Kannan all his life, one of them would be travel. A time for himself to let himself loose in imagination, fly with the wind that gets his hair flying, the people around him, the new lands, new languages, new people and each journey giving him something to remember. The childhood was filled with the memories of the black steam engine with its snout sneezing huge clouds of smoke with the smell of charcoal. The railway stations were a sight to remember. As a child Kannan was fascinated by how the red shirt wearing uncles, porters, could carry so many trunks, bags and boxes all at once, the smell of the roast hot vadas in the station and the small cups of hot coffee.

The visit to the book store at the station, the fresh smell of the books which always took Kannan to a different world. As soon as he got a new book, the first thing would be smelling the pages... something only those who have tried it before could tell. The strange gadgets with red and blue lights and a red and white striped disc which would stop rotating indicating the time to drop a coin when standing on it to get a small card with the weight on it and the reverse to hold a forecast to the day. Till his late teens the weighing machine at the station was more of a ritual where he would need the small shining silvery coin slipped into the slot to get the weight card. Kannan kept a whole lot of such weight cards and railway tickets for a very long time, till he lost them all in transit or misplaced it except from his mind.

Trains where Kannan learnt a lot. They were moving institutions. Debates with other passengers, sharing a cup of the murky waters called coffee, the bread omelette in the mornings, the packed lunches and the way to adjust oneself to the tiny space called the berth in a position that looked similar to the child before the childbirth, shrouded into the space for a nap. The fans which never moved, springing to life with the edge of a comp tapping on the leaf through the rusty grills, the singers who would sing their own tunes to the very famous numbers popular for that time. The later part of his teens, trains and buses were more of
me time providers, the more he traveled he fell in love with the journeys.

Many trips during childhood were the six hour long fun time from Ernakulam to Trivandrum. Looking at old uncles and aunties sleeping while sitting, young uncles looking at the young girls without being seen, the ones who tried to hide their face behind the newspaper as if their life depended on what was on the newspapers, all were intriguing sights. The regular journey towards Trivandrum always passed through Amma's college.

"This is the college where Amma studied" she would point out to the red bricked building with white shades by the side of the tracks as the train approached the station.

As soon as she would say that no matter if it is for the 100th time, Kannan and Akka who always fought for the window seat would stick their heads to see the college as if it were a family monument. That became a regular sight. Once during such a journey Amma missed saying the oft repeated lines. There was silence and Kannan and Akka were busy in their comic, they had got from the book store. A person sitting next to them quickly asked

"Are you not showing the college to the kids this time"

Amma, Kannan and Akka had a hearty laugh the laughs remained in Kannan's mind for a very long time and every time the train would pass the college Kannan would remember the funny incident.

It was April of 2002 and a special assignment for Kannan ... to emcee a mega event in Chennai. The tickets were booked by the organizers and he had everything packed in order. He reached the station and boarded the ac coach. The attendant, in his dull blue uniform, smiled at him and greeted, knowing that he would get some tips from each person in the compartment.

"Welcome Sir... which seat" He asked with a smile which would attract a toothpaste ad, as it needed cleaning badly.
"AC3 24" Said Kannan and smiled back.

He reached his seat and kept his bags on the upper berth for the time being. He removed the sling bag and kept it along with the luggage. Kannan remembered the ritualistic trip to the Book store and needed a bottle of water. He instructed the attendant that he would back in a minute and rushed to the book store. Somehow he managed to pick a novel and a magazine and a bottle of water from the convenience store next to the bookstore and rushed back to the compartment. He sat on his seat and wanted to check the printed material which was in the black sling bag which he had kept along with the other bags. For his shock surprise and all the wonder that bag was missing.

"Did anyone see a bag... I had kept it there" Kannan asked everyone sitting in the nearby seats frantically
"Did you see my bag" He kept asking

By then the train had started moving. Kannan's heart sank, as the bag had his passport, new shoes, more important as he wouldn't get his size anywhere and had got it made to order for the function, money, tickets and all the important documents for the function.

He ran to the door and banged it open with his body and went to the attendant

"Did you see my bag"

There was not even an answer from him, just a shake of his hand gesturing an affirmative "NO"

He saw the Train Ticket Examiner with a dark face, darker than the black Jacket he was wearing, with pan in his mouth and a shell frame spectacles, who walked out to Kannan and asked

"What is the praablam" in a mix of Tamil and English
"Sir someone stole my bag and all my documents were in it... even the tickets"
"I know ... people like you have all the excuses of the world, I can’t do anything.... get down at the next station" said the TTE
"But sir you can check the list... my name is there AC3 24"
"That all I don’t know... you show the ticket or I put fine... or you can get down at next station"

Kannan searched his bags and pockets for all the money he had and paid for the fine. Somehow with the worry in his head Kannan reached Chennai. All his documents and ID cards were gone. The next two days went in worry and finished the show to the best possible. By then he had arranged the tickets for the return as they were also in the lost sling bag. The event got over and Kannan had to reach the railway station in an hour’s time. It was peak traffic and Kannan somehow reached the station exactly on time.

Kannan paid for the cab and rushed to the platform where he had to board the train. He ran through all the rush of the Chennai central. People where sleeping on the floor with luggage, there were vendors moving around the other trying to get to their trains. Kannan ran and jumped over people and boxes to reach the platform, where all that he saw was the train move away and the last compartment the signal staff was waving the green flag. He tried to run, but all in vain.

The pleasure of the onward and the return journey went down the drains. The success of the event did not give him enough happiness to cover the failure to catch the train.

With all the dismay in being late, he went to the information counter and got the cancellation form, but got a meagre amount as reimbursement as he missed the train and the train had already left. With all that remained with him Kannan got a train to Alleppy instead of Trivandrum and the train was full. With no reservation and the compartment full with people, Kannan experienced a new kind of journey, in an unreserved compartment by the side of the door and the lavatory with the vendors. His destination was for the first time - "Home" and forgot to enjoy the trip. But Kannan never forgot the journey.

He saw the life of the underprivileged, with no air-condition or fans, no seat or berth, all but a newspaper to sit on and spend the night without a wink of the eye by the smelly walkway till he reached Ernakulam. He opened the door and stood holding the railings for support. Wind washed him with the night’s cold. With the wind in his hair, he ran his fingers through them and took a deep breath. He saw the night sky and the houses far with lights switched on, the night crickets made the noise typical to the region. He was tired but started coming to terms with the journey of a different kind. He kept thinking about all the journeys he had made and started loving this one too.

He broke the journey and decided to continue his trip back home at least after a few hours of sleep. Every journey is an experience, Good or bad, it teaches you something new. Kannan stretched himself to sleep in the waiting room securely chaining with the baggage he had to the leg of the chair. He woke up in a few hours and got the tickets to board the afternoon train from Ernakulam Junction to Trivandrum.  As usual he checked his weight and smiled at the fortune card which said

"Life is a journey enjoy it... You will have new experiences"

He went to the book store and got one of his favorite author, Robin Cook's Novel, and boarded the train. There were uncles and aunties and teens and girls with their usual antics. By the evening the train was approaching Trivandrum. As the train passed the college, where Amma studied, reminded of the funny incident,  he laughed again and the smile remained till he reached home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Wish came true ....

Love is not just a shoulder to cry... But for Kannan, his shoulders were the ones which got soaked in tears. The strong friendship which was built over a year of being together in class reached a moment so beautiful that Kannan realized that he liked Priya. He wanted to tell her how comfortable her presence made him. The smiles they shared, the moments they enjoyed despite the differences and fights they were used to as close friends. The studies were the second reason for Kannan to be on time to college. It was that his eyes kept searching for the one. A friend to whom he could talk to, share his thoughts and feel that the day was worth every moment it had in it. 

There were evening when the sccoter wouldn’t start until Kannan had not dragged it along walking with Priya till the bus stop as he would be better off talking to her till the time she boarded the bus or days when a full tank petrol would be called empty and he would lock the scooter and board the bus with her. There would be evenings when suddenly Kannan would have a realization that there is an assignment to be submitted and that would be the reason for him to quickly take a ride down to her house. To see her stand there at the door in her nightie with a smile. But he never thought whether it was Love until that evening. When he wanted to tell her. He sat all night writing a message on a card he made to express his love. 

The clock chimed 12 and Kannan was still working on the card with sketch pens, scissors and all his creativity to create the best possible card which will carry the message of love. His eyes were turning red with strain, but he smiled to himself thinking that the color of love itself is red. He wrote a note on a piece of paper. Not satisfied, tore it into pieces. Wrote another one. Still not happy. The process went on and on. After two hours, he was happy with what he wrote and it was almost five past two. He packed the card with the message on it with a smile and sealed it with a kiss on it. It was his heart, the feeling he had. He was feeling loved and filled with love. Slept with the pack of love under his pillow.

The morning sun invited him out to take a breath of fresh air. He went out and felt the morning breeze. Finished his prayers, morning chores and had a wash with a song in his heart. Shaved to look the best and a generous splash of his favorite musk after shave. Dressed in his best in his favorite denims and light full sleeve shirt. And thought about Priya telling him in a casual talk

"I like full sleeve shirts... it has something special about it"

Dabbed the perfume and wore an enviable smile on his face. Had his breakfast in a hurry and rushed out. He went to parking and there stood the green scooter, his ride. Like the pig tails of a school girl the mirrors were waiting for Kannan. He checked twice in the mirror how he looked. That’s when the thought flashed in his mind. 

"Oops... the card"

He ran back home, rushed to his room, when Amma saw him run and asked

"What happened Kanna?"
"Nothing ma, my workshop record... I forgot it here"

He took the pack and hid it in the record, and pushed it into the bag and ran to the scooter back. He kicked the scooter and it sprung to life on the roads. He reached the classroom to find Priya sitting on the third bench with her regular mates. Smiled and lightly waved at her. The presence of the lecturer was of least importance. Waiting from hour to hour for the best moment. The time seemed to go slow with him that day. It was lunch break and still it was not the best moment. The regular chit chats about movies, classes, and casual jokes were gulping the time away and still it was not time for him to take the pack out from the record, where it was hiding with his heartbeats pacing for the moment. Before the classes resumed Priya came up to Kannan and said

"I need to talk to you... something special. Can you come home this evening" asked Priya
Kannan could not hide the smile in his heart. Smiled and said "With pleasure... I will be there before you reach"

The rest of the classes where just hours flying like seconds for Kannan. He was waiting to hear it from her. The last hour was over and Kannan ran to his scooter. Hung the bag in the clip, kick started the scooter and raised it to reach Priya who was as usual walking towards the bus stop. He braked his ride and smiled at her

"I will wait for you at your place... Should I take your bag too" asked Kannan
"Its okay... you go... I have told Amma that you would be coming home... Have a cup of coffee and have a chit chat" she smiled and replied. 

Over the year Priya's Amma and Kannan shared a special bond. They were more friends than his other college mates. They discussed everything under the sun. Kannan drove towards the moment with wind in his hair and love in his heart. He reached home, parked his ride and rushed to the door. Rang the bell and waited with his black sling bag on his back. Tall, well groomed for the day, Kannan was more than confident what Priya was going to tell him. The door opened and Priya's Amma was at the door.

"Come on in .... Priya had told me that you would be coming. You have a seat I will get you filter coffee"

The small guest room and a study on the ground floor and kitchen bedroom and living on the first floor, Priya's house was a remodeled old fashioned house partitioned to call it a separate home. Kannan picked the newspaper and was going through it. He seemed to read every line, but nothing made sense to him. He was still thinking about the time which is yet to come. He said to himself in his mind

"Well Priya... I... I think..."
"No no... That’s not how I should start"
"Priya... will you ..."
"Nah  ..."
"I want you in my life... for..."
"What the heck"

Kannan kept searching for the lines and he thought, "Let her say what she has to... maybe then I just have to give her this pack"
He took out the record from inside the bag and kept it by his side. He kept looking at his watch and waited for Priya's coming home. Her mother came with the coffee and started talking to him

"So... What’s special... something tell me that you are very happy today"
"Yes ma...nothing... just like that I am happy"

She went on talking to him, but his eyes were only at the door. Half an hour passed and her father reached home

"Well Kannan... Priya is coming ... I saw her round the corner"
"Good evening Uncle" Kannan greeted and his eyes went in search of her.

And there she was, tired by the ride and the whole day at college. But the smile seemed to be fresh. She threw the bag on the sofa and plunged herself into the chair out of sheer exhaustion. 

"Amma ... coffee" said Priya in a tired voice

Amma smiled and both her father and mother went upstairs. Uncle was talking about something at office to her Amma and the sounds faded. Priya jumped from the chair and grabbed Kannan by his arm and rushed to the study.

"Come come..."

Kannan's heart was beating faster than ever; he even forgot to pick the record that was lying on the sofa. 

"Guess what.... Anwar proposed to me and I said yesssss ...." she said with all the excitement Kannan had ever seen.

Kannan stopped for a second and couldn’t believe his ears. His heart sank. He had no words. His throat went dry. His heart almost stopped beating. He felt choked. He felt as if he was freezing. Priya shook him hard and said again

"Yes yes yes... Anwar loves me"

Kannan smiled and pulled himself back together again

"Congrats... so your Black Yamaha is yours now" referring to the joke which they cracked when Anwar a senior student, Always at his best, dark complexioned with a rectangular gold frame glasses, mostly with his black jeans and white full sleeve shirts with folded cuffs, and drove past Priya with a smile every now and then. "So... calls for a celebration" said Kannan with a heavy heart. He wanted to burst into tears, but couldn’t. He saw the happiness in her face and was happy for her. He smiled and said

"So party at Lords Cafe tomorrow... call him too... lets meet"
Her eyes were shining, smiles so full and shy... unusually shy. Probably that’s what love does to a woman and to a man. Kannan was heartbroken but still wore a smile as he walked to the other room. Grabbed his record and pushed it into the bag and started leaving.

"Have to go to the temple... tell Amma that I left" Kannan walked towards his scooter. As he was leaving he saw Priya at the door waving with a smile to her best friend, who still had the love hidden in his heart. Kannan rode waving back to her and before he reached home he parked he stopped by the side of the road. He opened his bag and took the hiding pack from the record. He opened it and read the lines he had written for her

"I want to see you smile ... I want to see the glow of love in you ... I want to see your happiness"

And yes, his wish came true. He threw the card in the dustbin by the side of the road. Kept the record back in the bag and rode home still hiding the love, which he had for her.