We boarded the Charminar Express at Chennai Central that
weekend. Mr Ramani, our family friend, bribed the ticket
inspector and moved Sundar and me to his compartment. The
compartment was poorly lit. The electric fans looked like
as if they belonged to the museum; they were ancient and
they made a lot of noise. The train left the big, noisy
and overcrowded Chennai Central at six in the evening.
The train reached Hyderabad at six-thirty next morning.
The air was unusually cold for a summer morning. Mr Ramani
escorted us out of the railway station. We managed to give
the slip to quite a few auto-rickshaw drivers. Those guys
didn't solicit business; they demanded it!
We took a cab and checked into Hotel Asoka, a star hotel.
We planned to freshen up first and then meet our uncle at
his bank later. Our room was on the third floor. I enjoyed
my first ride in a lift. It felt strange. It was like getting
inside a room and closing the door, and when you opened
the door again, you are in some other place! I was simply
amazed. Sundar constantly poked me in my ribs with his elbow
while we were in the lift. He wanted me to close my mouth,
which was hanging open in sheer awe and amazement. 'Technology
is a wonderful thing', I kept thinking. We took our baths
and got into the lift again to go down to the restaurant.
It got stuck between the second and the first floor. Technology
is not always wonderful, you know. We were stuck in the
lift until they had to pull open the doors manually. By
then, we were sweating like pigs.
We had Idly for breakfast. Idlys in Hyderabad were no match
for those served in Chennai. The sambar was sweet. The chutney
was bitter. The idlies were rock hard. The coffee too, was
not up to the mark. According to me, you get the best coffee
only in Chennai. These guys are tea lovers. I never liked
tea. Nothing can beat a cup of hot, strong and stimulating
I was busy checking out the so-called star hotel. I thought
it was not as great as they all claimed it to be, and this
was my first time in a star hotel. First of all, I have
never eaten idly with fork, and knife. It was a laborious
task. You had to cut the idly, pick the piece up with your
fork and dunk it in the sambar or chutney... Forget it!
I put the fork and spoon down; nothing like eating with
"Sunnu! What the hell are you doing?" Mr Ramani
shouted at me.
I was shocked and almost spilt my idly. I was wondering
what had pissed this guy off.
"What?" I asked him.
"Manners, young man, manners... use your spoon."
I really didn't understand. Indian culture in its rulebook
never prescribed forks or spoons. The white men who ruled
us till 1947 had forks, spoons and knives in their culture.
These people wanted to be like white men and I did not.
But when it comes to women, the guys wanted her to be a
cook cum baby producing machine. While the white girls were
flying planes, Indian girls had restrictions even on flying
kites I suppose. They were traded like livestock. Those
days a woman, before getting married to a man, had to pay
a dowry (money, property as a fee for the groom). It was
illegal to take dowry, but neither the girl nor her parents
dared to complain. The parents of the girl accepted it grudgingly.
And here we are talking about manners.
"I hate spoons and I love eating with my fingers.
And of course, it won't look nice if I licked a fork or
spoon, would it?" I said.
Mr Ramani threw his hands in the air. "Suit yourself!"
I winked at Sundar who was shaking his head, obviously
to impress Mr Ramani.
We were about to leave the table when I noticed that Mr
Ramani had left some money in a small plate. "Hey,
your money is still here. You have left it here!"
I shouted at Mr Ramani who was already a few feet ahead.
He swivelled round. "Shut up and move it!" he
The waiter collected the money from the plate. Sundar told
me later that it was called tips. I learnt two new things
that morning. Tips were a token of thanks, and Mr Ramani
was a stingy idiot. He had left seventy-five paise and our
bill had come up to a couple of hundred rupees.
We met our uncle at his bank. He thanked Mr Ramani for
his help. Mr.Ramani left us soon after as he had some pressing
engagements. Mr Rajan, our uncle was in his late forties.
He had a huge smile and appeared to be nice. He took us
to his home in an auto-rickshaw. It took twenty minutes
to reach his home. It was an independent house. Two coconut
trees stood tall in front of it. The iron gate needed some
painting though. The house was surrounded with rose bushes
and other plants. A Jasmine creeper climbed across the terrace
wall. I opened the gate.
"Watch out for Bruno!" said my uncle who was
paying the auto-rickshaw driver.
'Wow! They have a cat and he has a nice name', I thought.
I was wrong. Bruno was a German shepherd. He came running
out, but froze in his tracks the minute he saw me. I stood
there, my feet glued to the ground. I was jinxed with dogs,
I guess. Bruno was already letting out a fierce, deep-throated
growl. My uncle was taking his own sweet time. I turned
around to ask him for help. A mistake. Bruno pounced on
me, pinning me to the ground. His nose was two inches away
from mine and his tongue was dangling out, occasionally
brushing my chin. I was too scared even to close my eyes
as I thought that the movement might not appeal to the sensibilities
of Mr Bruno. I was looking straight into his eyes and Bruno
just stood on me. He was heavy. His forelegs were on my
chest. Time took its own time to pass.
After what appeared like ages, "Get back to your room!"
uncle barked. Bruno got off my chest and went into the house.
"He'll get along, don't worry," uncle said as
he helped me up. Sure, why not? I heard someone chuckling
behind me. I didn't bother to find out who it was. I knew
it was Sundar.
My aunt, Mrs Sarada Rajan and their son Venky greeted us.
Sundar and Venky disappeared into a room immediately. They
had been friends for sometime, I guess.
"Meet Sruthi, she's also in her sixth standard."
Whoa! No one told me aunt had a cute daughter. "Hellooooo!"
I didn't make any attempt to hide my excitement.
"Hi!" she replied, rather abruptly.
"I..." She didn't let me use my PR skills.
"Mom, I'm going for my tennis practice." With
that she was gone, with her nose way up in the air. Well,
I have all of one month to bring it down to earth. I made
myself at home. Aunt introduced me formally to Bruno. He
shook hands with me. He was a cute pooch, actually. There
were three cats too. The cats visited thrice a day - breakfast,
lunch and dinner. Puppy was one of them. I was zapped to
learn that she was Bruno's best friend. I thought that cats
and dogs were enemies. The other two cats, though not friends
of Bruno, were hardly scared of him. Bruno specialised in
knocking down humans I guess. One of the two cats, a Mr
Pepper, was Puppy's boyfriend. The way she purred when Pepper
was around made the Bollywood heroines look like amateurs.
Pepper was one hell of a lucky guy. After acquainting myself
with the new territory and the inhabitants, I retired to
Grandpa, my dad's father, visited us that evening. Beyond
the mandatory Hello and Hi, he didn't speak much to either
Sundar or me. He was busy showering his affection on Sruthi.
I had met Gramps only once before. Obviously it would take
some time for us to get along. The old boy would make it
up to me. They had a colour television at aunt's home. They
also had a refrigerator and a VCR. They were rich. I wondered
how long it would take our family to reach to this level.
I was excited about all this. In Chennai, I had to sit along
with ten other people in the owner's place and watch T.V.
It is not a comfortable feeling, and moreover, the house
owner would announce, "We are about to have dinner,
please leave." I cursed myself every time that happened
to me and I used to promise myself that I wouldn't watch
T.V. in their house again. But then I couldn't help it.
I kept going back there, telling myself, "This is the
last time." We could not afford a T.V. at that point
of time. It still remained a status symbol of the rich and
also of people who wanted others to believe that they were
rich. Well, at least for a month I need not compete for
a place before the T.V. For a month I could eat mangoes
chilled in the fridge. For a month I could pretend that
I was rich.
Despite their affluence, uncle and aunt were very nice
people. They were simple and down to earth; money didn't
get to their heads. Aunt told me that they used to live
in a single room house for years before uncle hit big time.
Venky too was a nice chap, though he never spoke to me like
a friend. He and Sundar still considered me a kid. My only
peer in the house was Sruthi. She never spoke to me after
our rather abrupt introduction. Her nose defied the law
of gravity. But she was a rather pretty girl, and like all
pretty girls she was a little hot-tempered. She wore expensive
outfits compared to my shabby clothes, but though they were
costly, they resembled the ones that the clowns wore at
After watching the state run program on how to make fuel
from cow dung on T.V. that evening, I went to bed. Thank
god we didn't have a T.V.
I woke up a bit early the next morning. Uncle had already
left for work. Grandpa was reading the papers. Aunt was
busy in the kitchen. It was only seven. Early for me since
I was jobless these days as I didn't have to go to school.
I took my toothbrush to the backyard. The cats were there.
Pepper was ogling at Puppy, as usual. Bruno was resting
under a swing, Sruthi's swing, that is. I finished brushing
my teeth and sat down sipping coffee. Puppy was sitting
next to me. She liked me right from the moment she saw me.
I patted her head gently and whenever I stopped, she purred
and I bet Pepper had goose bumps all over because of that.
Hyderabad was a calmer city than Chennai. I liked the city.
Maybe I was deciding too fast.
"Wash your hands every time you touch those dirty
cats!" Sruthi's voice boomed.
I wondered why God created beautiful girls and gave them
hot heads. I looked at her indifferently. As usual, she
was wearing one of her expensive, but funny outfits. "Well?"
she demanded rolling her beautiful eyes.
"Well what?" I snapped.
"You didn't answer my question!" she snapped
"You didn't ask one. What you made, was an ultimatum
and I am not interested in ultimatums."
"You Madarasi people have no manners!" She reminded
me of a steam engine. She was fuming and fussing all over.
I wasn't impressed by her comments about the people of Madras.
"You had better wash your hands, I am warning you,"
she said, pointing a finger at my face.
Nobody warns me. "Hey! Sweety pie, why don't you leave
me alone and get back to feeding your Barbie? I am not interested
in arguing with people with lesser IQ. Now, if you will
excuse me, I have to take my bath."
She was stunned. She wanted to say something. She opened
her mouth but I was not there to listen to her. I thought
that I had taken care of something that had the potential
to ruin my holiday, but as always I was wrong. My adversary
was much stronger than I thought she actually was.