Monday, September 23, 2013

Uppu's smile

As far as I can remember she always had the corner room in the huge tharavad across the Mahe railway bridge and maybe around a 100 metres from the river. She'd be up at the crack of dawn, opening the windows, on the side of her bed, to the fresh smell of an early morning spell of rain, the cackling of a myriad birds and the cold winds blowing through the iron grills. The windows opening to the inner courtyard would be opened by her youngest daughter who slept in the same room along with her kids. She would then make it to the adjoining room, looking for her eldest daughter, and gently lift her legs across the maze of doorways and corridors to come on to the veranda. Large beams supported the extensive veranda with a raised platform on either sides. But her favourite seat was the reclining cane chair. It was her place to be early in the morning and late evenings, until the Maghrib azaan sounded. Sometimes her eldest daughter would bring her tea and biscuits (or eggs, banana fry, rusks) – as is ritual to have before breakfast once you got up in that tharavad – to the verandah. But otherwise she would nimbly make her way back across to the hall adjoining her room and have a seat at the dining table. Groggily, us cousins would also join her, when we were all together during vacations, to have the same tea and biscuits or eggs or banana fry or rusks. But she would see that we always got a treat when nobody was looking. She had chocolates or treats hidden under her bed or her one door almirah, and we would take it with eager hands and chomp on them when the adults would disappear from the room. All the while a mischievous warm smile on her face.
One day, she got angry. A cousin and myself hadn't prayed Isha'a. But we insisted we had. An argument ensued between us and our respective moms. That was when she came into the room with her light cotton bath towel, twisted to form a tight rope like whip. She never threatened, and whipped the towel on the table, very calmly asking us to go and pray. We stopped the ruckus immediately, no questions asked, and headed straight to the raised platform in the veranda and prayed. I don't think we ever saw that side of hers ever after that. After the prayers, she called us to her room. No menacing scowl awaited us, but just a warm smile synonymous to her and the slight gesture of the chocolate that magically made it's way into our hands.
The tharavad's no more. She is in a corner room again, but the window next to her bed has been replaced by a split AC above her bed. There is another bed in the same room for one of her daughter's to sleep in. The age old doors, rickety stairs, rocky earthen floors, heavy wooden ceilings and the forest in the front and back have been replaced by concrete blocks all around. But she is happy her kids are happy. The last time I had visited her, in May, she held my hand, reminiscent of the 'treat' giving days and slowly placed a 100 rupee note in my hand and asked me to buy something for myself. She smiled and talked to me like the child i was, her memories playing see-saw, while I held on to her hands and reassured her that I will definitely take care of mom and agreed on finding somebody for myself. She intermittently mistook me for my dad, and the next moment asked me when he would come to see her.
There was dancing, singing and a lot of merriment. She adorned a light cotton saree for the August wedding of her youngest daughter's son. She liked sitting outside, but ill-health usually saw her subjected to just the inner room. But that night was for celebration. And she found herself sitting outside in the same old cane recliner beaming at all that was happening in front of her. People went, people came, she talked, she clapped hands to the the aunts singing around the groom, she kissed foreheads and her sons, daughters, grandkids – everyone was there.
Today the gentle smile bids adieu. Today the treats cease. Today we pray for her soul.

Rest in peace Uppuma.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Message

He woke to the hum of the three tonne truck outside his home, unloading or loading bricks or wood or whatever the landlord is crazy enough to get at nine in the morning everyday. It was nothing new. Ever since he'd moved to this side of town, or rather this side of the village, this is how his daily routine had been. He couldn't remember exactly when he had gone to sleep, but could remember that he had had a good night's sleep. He had come in late last night. It was his job, basically. It was all Roger Federer's fault. If he had not dragged on a match he was already losing into a tiebreak every set, all of them could have gone home earlier. But it was not to be. (click to continue reading...)

(This story has been chosen for the New Asian Writing's 2013 Short Story Anthology, so i am obligated to give you the link to the story on their website, to prevent duplication of content on the web)

But all said and done, i am definitely chuffed to have a short story published for the second time. :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

How We Were Taught Part 4 (surpassing Part 3)

The school that provided a cacophony o f memories

A week back, after being constantly hounded by friends, I decided to make a Whatsapp group for our batchmates from MES Raja Residential School, Pavangad, where I spent the last five years of my school life. The chitter-chatter that ensued on the group encouraged me to continue the series, which has seen the longest lag on this blog. It is this institution and the atmosphere it presented me and the friends that it gifted me, that has influenced me the most. 

My entry into the school was not something I really cherish. After getting out of Hilltop and then after just a year in Muscat, I came to MES unwillingly. I was into the third month of my schooling in the ninth grade at ISWK, when I had to come back to India, after Dad met with an accident. After reaching Calicut, no school agreed to take me in. The main reason being that they had already registered for something in the CBSE (the national syllabus board) exams. MES agreed to take me in, provided I was a genius. Which I so was not. They made me take an exam in each and every subject in the eighth grade. I flunked in all, except one – English. And then they made a proposition – I could sit in eighth grade again, or not take a seat at all. Without another choice, I joined. 

I was apparently a giant when I got into VIII-B. And my fashion didn't help me sullen down my gigantism - over-sized shirt with baggy pants (almost like a hobo). I seemed so out of place, even without wanting to. 

I still remember to this day, my first friend in the school – Deepak Das (whom incidentally, I got to get in touch with again, last month, at a men’s fashion store in my hometown, where he was the store manager). Deepak helped me to get into the groove of the life that I was to spend at MES then. Our class teacher, Sharmila miss, taught Malayalam (which was third language for me; the second being Hindi). On her insistence, one of the more all-round student (and also the class leader then) was asked to help me. And that’s how I got to meet Nunna (today a mother of three and a medical student - respect!). 

Both Nunna and Deepak helped me through the initial days. Even when Shameem, one of the ‘cool kids’, very playfully gave me a fresher’s welcome – grilling me with some of the most ridiculous questions, answer to which were quiet embarrassing. The initiation ceremony was concluded by him quizzing about a local soft pornstar’s latest film (which i very diligently answered). It was all taken in the stride, and before I knew it, I got into the act of school life in Calicut for a lengthier term. A crush developed, I religiously failed in a number of math exams and so on and so forth. But it wasn’t the favourite term of my school life. 

Ninth grade takes the cake, for being the best year of my life (after 2012, maybe). It was the 2002-03' academic year that changed my life. It was also the year I met Anusha, my best friend from school (this year marks a decade of our friendship). It is also in the ninth grade, I ‘found’ Vivek, Faris, Shamnad (the now famous back-benchers), Ashwin (aka Assman), Izhak, Akhtar, Nahana, Adithi and so many more friends that I will cherish forever. 

After breaking the two division pattern that was followed in eighth grade, ninth had three divisions – A,B,C. And we were the A divisioners. Our class teachers also varied throughout the year. We started off with Archana ma’am, a lazy eyed Geography teacher, who had to leave half way through. Then came Farzana miss, an English miss who understood youngsters as youngsters should be (and also reminded Vivek of a girl called Manasi he met in Bhopal on one of the National Science Drama competition traveling days. I can still hear him go on and on and on about that girl! God!) – thereby making her a class favourite for the best teacher ever.

But it was Subhan Babu, our Islamic studies teacher - a tiny man with a praying mantis like stance - who takes the 'most-interesting' teacher award for the ninth grade. He was not exactly a terror, but he got everyone's attention. It was he who remarked to a boy in our class, (when the boy wore really tight pants), that he would not be able to have kids in the future if he wore the pants any tighter. I think that kid is today the HR manager of an IT company , but has not been able to prove the theory of Subhan Babu to this day (not that i know of). And then there is the incident involving Shinaan, during our class tour, which i had earlier written in a post on this very blog five years back. Hate him or like him, you couldn't ignore the enterprise that was Subhan Babu. (last i heard, he was teaching somewhere in Sharjah).

There were poems written by groups, yes, you heard that right – a single poem written by a group of three-four people. There were who-could-be-the-funniest competitions (although it was more of who could torture you the most with their PJ's competition), there were fights between the different divisions (especially between A & C), there were literary competitions, there were silly pranks played on the least suspecting friends (the girls in front of the last benchers were usually the guinea pigs. Yes - Anusha, Adithi, Nahana - you are exactly who we are talking about). Ninth was a cacophony of memories aplenty.
The next year was back to normalcy, since we had the 'earth-shattering', 'mind-numbing', 'life-altering' (exact words used by our teachers) board exams coming up. But the exams were just 'meh', and school life all the more fun. 

The divisions were again conjoined this time to form just two - A & B. Our class teacher, Jalaja miss, a sweet doeful lady, taught us english, and took more than a willing role in getting to know more about our personal stories rather than the fiction in the text books. But all said and done, she was a wonderful teacher. 

Then there was Sindhu miss - who taught us geography like nobody else ever did. Her funda was - learn what she gives you, then she'd test you on the same matter, and if you passed that, then you could sit in class. Every recess, you could see a line of us (usually the boys) lining up in front of the staff room, to get the mountains, rainfall and the rajma chaaval statistics of the country right. Once again, it was more of a learning experience rather than punishment. All of us were eager to learn for her class, and i think she got the result, as many of us got marks in social studies in the excess of 90 percent during the finals.

I don't know when i started hating maths, but it seems to be exactly when i started failing the subject, the first instance being in my eighth grade. Along with not liking the subject came not liking the teacher too. But that was not the case with our teacher in the tenth grade -  Hema miss. She instilled the confidence, that i could at least pass maths. But i did not just pass it, i came close to getting around the whereabouts of 80 percent for my finals. For that, but more importantly, just for being an awesome teacher, i respect her. 

Then there was Asha miss, who seemed older than the institution we were under. She had that experience - and she'd been teaching hindi for close to three decades by the time she taught us. As Nahana reminded me while discussing on the same subject on chat - Hindi period meant free period. Asha miss would get over with our lessons with timed precision. All we had to do was listen to her as she went from story after story, poem after poem and grammar classes after grammar classes. Before you knew it, there would be no more to learn, and thus we would sit ducks, which is not entirely true, because we would be upto our mischievous best, even though there were only six or eight of us in the class. Once, Vivek took the opportunity of the freeness in the class and started crooning 'thadap thadap ke' from the movie 'Hum dil de chuke sanam'. Faris, not to be outdone, started translating the song as Vivek sang on. For the line - 'aisa kya guna kiya, ki lutt gayi' - came the hilarious translation - anganatthe enthu gunann njan cheythath - from Faris (apologies to the non Malayalee readers, but the joke's relevant only in Malayalam). But coming back to Asha miss, to reiterate her influence on me, (even though my Hindi speaking abilities are still mediocre), you need just go back to my previous blog post, wherein i have tried my level best to translate my favourite Hindi poem by Harivanshrai Bachchan. I first fell in love with it, during one of Asha miss's meticulous classes. Hindi has since then been part of my life, in one way or the other - be it seriously or humourously, it sure is Asha miss's Hindi that i carry forth.

Then there was Sheeja miss - the only terror apart from the principal. For lack of a better word, i reiterate terror, due to the fact that everyone was punctual, up-to-date and in tip-top shape in front of her. She took history and civics for us. There is this one instance, in which she punished us boys, just because we went to play at a ground at the ground near the next bus stop in our school uniforms after school got over! Ok, even today the last line reads - ridiculous. Just imagine - 20-or-so-odd boys standing on the ground, under the hot sun, not knowing what they have done wrong. But punishing so many people out of a class - not a good idea, and before we knew it, we were back in class. (But as i come to think of it now, i think the reason given for punishing us was - we went to play when we had to actually prepare for an exam the coming week, but when did a game of cricket ever hurt anybody or for the teachers sake, lower the score of a kid in an exam?)

Other than these colourful yet wonderful teachers, we also had Anitha miss for chemistry, Beena miss for biology, Rajeev sir for PE and so many more. All played their roles to perfection.

But the title memory of tenth grade would be when a handful of us boys went to Vaseem Kannankandy's house for a sleepover on the eve of our exam results. The excitement of us kids huddled in front of the computer screens, early next morning, eagerly awaiting our results is something that can never be forgotten. All did good. All passed. 


It was only in the winter of last year, after six long years, the same boys (along with the addition of a few new ones) got back under the same roof, and crowded around a laptop; albeit this time, watching comedy videos on Youtube.

(I never knew i would be able to write so much just about my time in MES, so i've decided to leave the rest for another time, another post, same blog. I'd also promised that this post would be about my second stint at ISWK, but that had to wait, after all the nostalgia talking to the 34 odd people on Whatsapp - it's like we never even left school)

P.S.: Other than Sindhu miss and Asha miss, i don't think anybody else teaches at the same school currently.