Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 10

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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 filter coffee.

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 your fingers.

"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!" he said.

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 shouted back.

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 the bedroom.

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 the circus.

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 back.

"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.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.