Thursday, June 30, 2016

A savings account of memories ...

It was after a very long time that Kannan went back to home, and was trying to clear the cupboard. 

"Clutter has to be cleared ...." thought Kannan

Amma came with his morning cup of filter coffee, steaming hot with strong smell of the freshly brewed coffee. It was different from all the mugs of coffee at the stores as it also had mothers love in it. Amma smiled and said

"After so many years, your cupboard is going to get a new life ... at last"

Kannan smiled back, took the cup from Amma and sipped the cup of love. It was a unique feeling when the hot coffee went down his throat, refreshing him. He continued taking out old book, papers, files and all that had been stacked for years. Some old photographs, faded negatives in the translucent covers, note books, texts and so much more. The dust from them made him cough a bit, but the feeling of going back in time seeing the writings, the books and the memories associated with it was worth every moment of it. He got a blue plastic bound book among the loads of things. He wiped it with a cloth and opened it.

"New Bank of India.... Kannan Iyer.... SB Account ... 1453"

It was the first ever bank account he had. Every small amount of money he got, be it for Vishu or from periyamma as a reward for his achievements in academics as a blessing, or the small amounts of money he took from Appa for cleaning the car or selling old paper. All that went into the account sparing a bit for his books from the book store Paico. He went through each line of it and the first deposit of 5000 rupees dated March 12, 1984. He remembered walking into the bank along with Amma and starting the first ever Bank account in his life with the money he got for his upanayanam. Appa had asked Amma to go with him to start the account. Saving little by little started with that day in his life. 

When he got the blue passbook from the accountant at the teller counter, which he could hardly reach, the nine year old Kannan had a smile worth a million in the Swiss bank. 

"Appa.... I will clean the car every week" said the young Kannan "two rupees for car and one rupee for the scooter" was his demand.

Appa patted on his back with a glowing smile and said "Done"

The hard earned money was stored in a box he kept secretly inside his study table which had a green sticker on the inner wall which read "Chant Hare Krishna and Be Happy". Every time he opened the desk he would look at the sticker and chant and then look at his safely saved money, to be deposited in the bank.

Months went by and every month Kannan would go with Amma to the bank to deposit the small amounts counting it with care every time he did. He would walk into the huge bank premises as if he owned the world tightly holding the red velvet pouch which Ammamma had given him and give it to the teller along with his pass book.

Kannan stopped the cleaning for a while and was seeing every small entry in the passbook. The money he had saved as a child. He saw a withdrawal entry in it. 


Kannan smiled looking at that entry. That was the time when Videocon had launched the economical version of a walkman. It was 300, as Kannan saw it in the Sunday Supplement of Indian Express. The advertisement enticed him and he decided to buy one for himself. 

"Amma ... when are you going to the bank" Kannan asked Amma who was busy preparing biriyani for lunch. 
"Tomorrow... why what happened... deposit" asked Amma stirring the masala which gave the kitchen a unique smell of the spices.
"No ... I want to buy something... withdrawal" Kannan said with a proud smile.
"Ok" replied Amma

The day went looking forward to the next morning when he would go to the bank to withdraw money. Kannan checked again at night before sleep,

"Amma ... take me to the bank ... okay"
Tired with the day’s work, with sleepy eyes, Amma removed her spectacles and kept on the bedside table and smiled affirmatively.

Kannan woke up early, finished his bath, prayers and got dressed up, ready to go to the bank with Amma. Every now and then he would go and check whether Amma is getting ready. And the moment he saw Amma ready he rushed and put his shiny black shoes on which he had kept polished the previous evening. He was looking at his best when he held Amma's hands and walked with her to the bank which was just a block away. 

The person who took the red pouch every time looked at Kannan walk in and extended his arms as if to take the red pouch. Kannan smiled at him and said

"No... I want to withdraw money"

His eyes sparkled as he took the withdrawal slip and signed it and gave it to Amma for her signature as it was mandatory for the guardian’s signature for minor accounts. He took the money in his hands as Amma watched him take it with the brightest of expressions she had seen. He carefully put all the notes in the brown wallet he had hid in his back pocket, the one which he got when they shopped for the previous festival from the cloth store. The wallet had the emblem of the store embossed on it and the address of the shop printed in white inside.

"Amma... I will come soon... can I go shopping" asked Kannan.

For a 10 year old, he was taller and the town was known to him with his frequent visits to the book shops nearby. 

"Careful" Amma said "Cross the road with care and come back soon"

Kannan walked with the money in his pocket and kept looking back where Amma was standing in front of the bank seeing her son walk with his head held high. There was a smile on her which Kannan never could forget. 

Kannan walked into the electronics shop and asked the person behind the counter where there was a huge hoarding of the newly launched Videocon Walkman. 

"I want a walkman" said the 10 year old to the salesman.

The salesman looked with wonder. He showed the small black box which had the three buttons on top and a headset. 

"Do you want to see how it works" He asked.
"Yes ... please" replied Kannan

He inserted the cassette and played it for Kannan and put the headset on the young boy's head. Kannan head the song ring in his head and just fell in love with the experience. Private sound system... he thought to himself.

"Pack it please ..." said Kannan and took the purse out and carefully counted three notes of hundred and gave it to the salesman.
"At the cash counter please " said the salesman still not able to believe his eyes, seeing the small boy doing his shopping with style.

Walking out of the store, Kannan looked at the world outside, the bright new world where he had done shopping for himself, with his own money he had saved. He started walking back and saw a cloth store and the mannequin adorned with a peacock blue churidar with black leaves design on it. It looked very attractive. Kannan walked into the store after checking again for his wallet. 

It was evening and Kannan was sipping the coffee Amma had given him and Akka walked in after her embroidery class, she used to attend, as it was holidays for both of them. Kannan looked at her enter and quickly rushed to the study room where he had unpacked the walkman and came back to the dining table with his walkman. Put on the headset and kept glancing at Akka, and her reactions seeing him have a new walkman.

"Oh new walkman..." asked Akka
"Ya... mine" said Kannan

The tease did not go well, but Akka kept her calm and asked
"Can I see it..?"
"Sure..." was Kannan's reply.

He handed the walkman and switched it on for her and as she was listening to the song, ran back to the room. He opened the cupboard and took the white plastic carry bag which had a package in it. Came back in style and looked at Akka who was enjoying the song.

"This is for you... from me... Happy Birthday" said Kannan

The surprise and the smile on her face was priceless. She opened the package and it was the flowy peacock blue churidar for her from her little brother. Even till date, Akka has that churidar that her little brother had given her. Old but kept safe as a priceless possession, and Kannan knows it too. 

Kannan sat down to write his diary that night after cleaning the cupboard and giving it a new life as Amma said. He wrote:
"Money saved remains as it is... but spent for loved ones gifts you memories to treasure worth a million times its value" and smiled, putting his pen down.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The First Stage ...

It was yet another event in Kannan's life and Narayan was on stage for the first time. Kannan had his usual set of butterflies in his stomach. The fear and the apprehension had kept him going all these years were there when his son was on stage. The stage always beckoned again and again since childhood. Kannan spent hours to write the speech for him on teacher’s day for Narayan. The pride he had when Narayan rehearsed his lines with style. He saw the smile on Narayan's face when he was rendering his lines to perfection. 

Kannan remembered the first time he was on stage when he was in his Upper Kindergarten. He was enacting a play as the King in "The Sleeping Beauty". Seema played his Queen, Roshini was a fairy and Sheena was the princess. Kids of the same class rehearsed the play over and over again and the day arrived when the play was to be staged. The orange cape, red silk dress and the shoes with the silver lining all gave Kannan a smile which was beyond compare. He went on stage and played his part to the fullest. For years he kept looking at the pictures with pride. Amma was there to see the play, but never expressed her joy thinking it would spoil him. 

The next time was when he was in his Class 1, when he was to give a speech on Teacher's day. The speech was written by Kottayam Thatha and he took pride when Kannan rendered those lines.

"Dear Parents Teachers and my dear friends.... I would like to tell you about our teachers, who make us what we are...." Kannan had learnt those lines by rote and said as if he understood all that he was saying. Kottayam Thatha in his white shirt and dhoti was sitting eagerly to listen to his brother's grandson speak so well. Kannan saw the tears in his eyes when he completed the speech with those two magical words "Thank You"

"Kottayam Thatha... did I say it right" Kannan asked
"Yes Kanna ... you did" He smiled, wiped the tears of joy with his hands and hugged him.

The day when Kannan was to deliver his speech had arrived, but Kottayam Thatha had to leave. Kannan waved goodbye to Thatha the previous evening. As he was leaving, he asked Kannan to say those lines again and Kannan stood on the steps and said it with style to see Kottayam Thatha's eyes fill with joy.

It was teacher’s day and Kannan was at his best. The red and black chequered shorts and the red tie with the school badge, hair cut to perfection and groomed like an army officer at his best. Kannan looked at the mirror many times before he went to the dining table to have his breakfast quickly before rushing to school. Akka was already at the table with her cream top, blue skirt and hair braided well in two pigtails on the sides tied with black ribbon. 

"Amma... give me breakfast quick" said Kannan
"Coming" said Amma

Kannan held the piece of paper, which had the script, in his hand which Kottayam Thatha had given him. He was reading it over and over again with a smile. 

"What is that" asked Akka

For a second Kannan felt blank. and replied

"I had told you... I am giving a speech for Teachers Day today... are you not coming" Kannan asked eagerly
"No we also have something in our class" replied Akka quickly finishing her breakfast.
"Amma..." called out Kannan
"Yes Kanna..." was the reply from the kitchen
"Are you not coming to school today to listen to my speech" asked Kannan
"I don’t know... have loads of work, Appa also has given me a lot of work... I have heard you say the speech so many times" said Amma as she came to the fining table from the kitchen wiping her sweat from the forehead with the back of her hand.

Kannan felt sad and his face did show it.

"Now don’t sulk... be a good boy... I know you will do well" Amma said

Kannan folded the piece of paper and put it in his shirt pocket. He finished his breakfast and rushed to school. 

The festivities added color to the same premises Kannan and his friends spent all the time. The steps of the school turned to be the place where the stage was put up and the back drop read "Teachers Day 81". All the students from different classes walked to the corridor which was the venue for the event. There were parents and other elders too, who were there to witness the festivities. Kannan looked at the stage and there were butterflies in his stomach, which was a new feeling for him. He wanted to do his best and there was the feeling "What if I go wrong..." Kannan prayed hard and was waiting for the name to be called...

"Kannan ... One B" the speakers boomed as the crowd stood there listening. It had teachers, his classmates, his school mates, their parent and so many people. Kannan stepped on the stage with a smile. There was only one thing in mind when he was on stage. How happy Kottayam Thatha would be if he were there. He just thought of those eyes with tears of joy. Kannan walked to the mic, which was set to his height. He adjusted it with his little hands and started

"Dear Parents, Teachers and my dear friends...."

With a thumping heart Kannan finished his speech in a flow, not even stopping for a doubt, as Thatha had trained him so well with the lines. As he finished Kannan said

"Thank You"

The corridor of the school, overflowing with the sea of people, burst into applause seeing the little one finish the speech in confidence and style. The claps gave Kannan the sense of satisfaction and happiness. He was full of joy. His eyes searched for a familiar face among the crowd.... the eyes looked far ... kept looking for his loved ones.... kept looking for Amma, Akka or Appa.... no one was seen. He stood there by the side of the stage and each time a performance finished he saw the child’s parent come and lift him up with smiles galore and hug him. Kannan kept looking if someone would come and hug him too.  His face dropped like a flower in the midday sun and his heart sank deep. 

The event concluded with Victoria miss coming on stage and thanking everyone. Kannan stood there as everyone left, expecting someone to come to him too. But no one came. Kannan had the joy in his heart, about how well he did, but it was washed away by the waves of sadness which rose from the fact that there was no one to hug him. 

"Hey Kannan... You were great on stage" Kannan heard a little voice call out to him
With a smile Kannan turned to see Ajai standing there, waiting for him. Both of them smiled at each other and walked with hands over the shoulders. The friends smile and appreciation made Kannan smile again. They walked through the school gates back home, both being there for the other. 

There were many gathering where Amma made Kannan deliver the speech before uncles and friends, but Kannan felt the lack every time he did. He had no one to lift him up in their arms and hug him. History was repeating itself with Narayan giving his first speech on Teachers day. But there was a difference this time, Kannan was there to see his son on stage and the eyes fill with a smile and take pride. He was there waiting to run up to him and hug him as soon as the speech finished.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sleepless Night ...

Travel was both fun and work for Kannan. There were days when weekdays were regular job and on weekends he would leave on his bike in the morning and return with a smile on the face along with the dirt of the dusty roads late in the night as a part of his second job, rather a passion. The smile would be from all the accomplishments for the day, having trained his team far and wide in the multilevel marketing. It was a Sunday and Kannan set out on his work early in the morning. 

Appa was out for his morning walk, Amma and Priya were sleeping. Sunday being a lazy day he knew they would wake up late. Kannan got himself ready in a pair of jeans and a jacket which carried the world for him. Each pocket was filled with something or the other for the day. The jacket was more of a pocket holder than a riding jacket. His choice of black for the ride was to hide the dirt and dust while he traveled far. He put his goggles on and got on the bike leaving a note on the dining table

"Will be late... off to work... Love Kannan"

As he drove into the morning roads the trees shaded his face from the morning sun, light enough to warm a smile, the streets were smiling with fragrant flowers, and morning had just started with its own set of activities. The bells of bicycles with newspaper rang a few bells; the milkman was also stopping by houses delivering milk at the doorstep. There were temple goers and the temples had their morning prayers on the worn out speakers. Kannan drove past the city and got on to the highway. The smell of freshly brewed tea and vadas lured Kannan as he passed every small tea shop. Hard to resist he stopped by for a tea and snack. He saw a small boy by the side of the tea shop in rags. His smile was fading off in hunger and seeing his eyes crave for a snack, Kannan got him a vada and a tea. The smile which blossomed gave him more energy to set out with double the vigour. The day was fruitful and he met his team in Tamil Nadu. Marthandam, Nagecoil, Kanyakumari, the list seemed endless. It was already half past nine when he wound up the last team meeting in Kanyakumari. 

"Sir... it was really interesting to see you handle your team" Said Vimal, one of his team members
Kannan smiled and was filled with joy to see his team active and revved up. 
"Would you have dinner with us" Vimal asked
"With Pleasure" said Kannan

They went to Vimal's house, a small portion of a row house where the poverty had taken its toll. The happiness with which Vimal's sister served the hot idlis made it tastier. The sambhar which smelled more of love than coriander, the idlis which looked more like smiley. The dinner was over a series of discussions on when the next meeting would be and what the plans were for the same. 

Deep in his heart, he was so happy and excited and with the smile started back home. Kannan checked his watch and it was well past 11. The day’s achievements, the small boy’s smiles, Vimal and his team mate’s love for him all kept him going and reached home by 1 in the night. He parked his bike and looked at the mirror on the bike. His eyes were sunk and the dirt had made them black as if he was returning from a boxing bout. But the sparkle in it was priceless. He was soaked in sweat but gave him the satisfaction of a successful day. He looked up to see the apartment lights were switched on. 

"Who is awake at this hour" Kannan thought and punched the third floor button of the lift. 

The lift came to a halt and the corridor was dark. The light from home was seeping through the gap of the slightly open door. Kannan opened the door to find Amma and Priya in the hall room.

"Oh you did not sleep" asked Kannan
"What on earth do you think you are doing" asked Amma angrily

Kannan saw Priya's eyes wet with tears. He understood that the discussion between them would have been about him. 

"The meeting got late and had dinner ... so... I" Kannan tried to explain
"I don't want explanations" Priya said in an affirmative voice moist with worry and concern
"How can you be careless like this... don't you know we are here.... couldn't you just call once from somewhere" Amma's 

started her firing with an arsenal of questions.

Kannan remained silent and stood there at the line of fire like a fallen soldier. The questions died down and night settled in another couple of minutes of scoffs scorn and shouting. The night was not as comfortable as Kannan's heart wanted to share the success of the day but in return he went into the dumps mentally. 

It was Monday morning and as Kannan woke up, he saw a cup of coffee by the bedside. Priya was getting ready to go to the temple, from where she would go to her parents home and then to work. No exchange of byes or morning wishes were there for the day owing to the previous night. Kannan sipped the coffee and went to the hall room to check the headlines. 

"Amma... I am going... see you in the evening" said Priya to Amma and walked away.

Kannan remained silent and was brushing through the news, when he felt a warm hand touch his arms. Kannan looked up and saw Amma. Fresh after a bath and prayers, but eyes revealed the sleepless night she had. She was smiling but still worried at heart.

"Don't feel bad" said Amma
"I scolded you as Priya would feel left out if I don't share her worries and concerns... we were worried... But I saw the sense of achievement in the smile you had when you walked in"

Kannan could not say anything seeing the care which kept her awake and rendered her sleepless. There are moments in life when we do certain things for others and get hurt ourselves, little did Kannan know how difficult it was for Amma. He saw Amma get back to the kitchen where the morning breakfast was keeping Amma busy. Kannan kept the coffee cup in the sink for washing and turned to Amma with a smile.

"I am sorry Amma... will try and avoid such situations" said Kannan.

The smile on Amma's face said it all. The day began with love and all the happiness of the previous day’s accomplishments.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Smiles come back home ...

"Smile please" said Babu Uncle of Ensign Studio

The studio was always a place of wonder for Kannan. He smiled at the amazing sights around him. Before the picture was clicked Kannan walked around the studio and the dressing room, he saw camera's of different kinds set to take pictures, the huge sheets of colored paper for the background. The red carpeted floor, the dressing room with a mirror and the smell of the orange and white tin of Cuticura powder kept on the dressing table by the mirror, the different combs and brushes, the coats and ties on the hanger on the wall, the huge reflectors and flashes of the studio floor, Kannan was lost in the world of photography. Kannan loved photography from a very young age and for the nine year old in his blue jeans which he got from Jean shack the previous day and well pressed white and blue chequered shirt, prim proper stood with Amma in her violet saree and Akka in her blue and white frock with hair tied up in two pig tails on the sides.

"Click", The huge white umbrellas flashed a lightning and the photo was taken.

The picture was for Appa and that picture was very special with Amma and Akka. All that he understood then was that Appa has got a job in Nigeria and that he would be flying in an aero plane soon, with the smiling family picture. Appa was at the counter checking for the date when he would get his passport size photograph and the family photo. The evening was young and the next in line was dinner at Bharath Tourist Home, a restaurant which they went for celebrating special occasions or weekend eat outs. 

As the dinner started Kannan heard Appa talk to Amma. While having the dosa silently he heard his words

"They say I will have to fly in two weeks" said Appa
"And how will you manage" Amma asked
"Will have to... and you three can come after two years" Appa replied

The silence after that statement said it all. It was for the better prospects of the family, but the separation was painful. There were no many smiles during the dinner. The aroma of the food did not lure the heart, nor did it make a difference as it usually did. The silence followed them till all slept that night.

Kannan opened his eyes the next day to see Appa get ready to go to office. He got up from the bed and ran to Appa and hugged him, holding the leg as it was the pillar of his love that he would not leave even at the cost of his life. Appa smiled and gave a pat on his cheeks.

"Chandu.... Kanna.... Good morning" Appa said with love

Kannan smiled and asked

"Appa... are you going to foreign"
"Yes Kanna ... and you will come too ... soon" said Appa.

The smile was slowly melting away to sad stares. The thought of being away from Appa was hurting Kannan for sure. The whole day at office Gopal, Kannan's Appa, found it difficult to forget the eyes which were looking at him in the morning when Kannan asked about his trip. Around 3pm he received a call

"Gopal Sir... call for you" said the receptionist and transferred the call.

"Hello" said Appa
"Mr. Gopal, you have to pay 30,000 for the visa and associated expenses"
"Ok" said Appa and continued "When should I make the payment"
"A weeks time... thank you"

As a matter of fact 30,000 was big money then, but it was not so difficult for him. The money was arranged in two days time. The list for purchase was made and home was more of silence than celebrations of the new avenue. Every day was mechanical as days nudged towards the day when the payment was to be made. More of sleepless nights for Appa and Amma. 

Appa reached office and dialed the number of the agent who was making arrangement for the placement. All procedures of interviews and forms to be filled was done and it was the agent on the other end of the call

"I am not interested" said Appa to the Agent.

He came back home that evening with a smile on his face. He hugged Kannan who ran to him as he came back home.

"You are so happy... what happened" Amma asked
"Yes. I said "No" to the Agent, I am not going ...."

Smiles returned home that evening as the heart filled with hopes of being together and not being separated from the family. Appa's life was completely for the three most precious people in his life - His family. Kannan, Pachai will have their Appa close to them. Amma smiled with a sigh of relief that they need not think about being away from him. Life is a choice we make as we live each day. And the choice Appa made between more money and more love was obvious. He chose love .... That choice would forever remain a lesson for Kannan when he grows up, and the picture they took at Ensign Studio will remind him of the same.