I don't remember all the places we saw in Bombay. There
were a lot of them. Aunt and uncle shopped like mad. Sundar
and Venky too did their bit of shopping. They bought themselves
a 'nun cha ku', the weapon that Bruce Lee used in 'Enter
the Dragon.' I didn't know if they knew how to use the 'nun
cha ku.' Sruthi and I wanted to find out what these guys
actually did with their 'nun cha ku' every morning in the
terrace. We followed them and hid behind the water tank
and started watching Sundar and Venky. Sundar was teaching
Venky how to use the 'nun cha ku.' The 'nun cha ku' is a
powerful weapon that is made of two wooden sticks, connected
by a steel chain. You are supposed to hold the sticks in
your hands and create a circle of defence around you by
moving it in the space around your body. What we saw that
day redefined the usage of the 'nun cha ku.' Venky was trying
to master the basic moves by moving the weapon around his
shoulders. He hit himself on the back of his head nine times.
Sundar tried to play 'Mr. Know-it-all' and he hit himself
on the neck. Their dream of becoming Bruce Lee was not looking
very bright. Sundar and Venky yelled at both of us for making
fun of their efforts to become karate experts. Nonetheless,
Sruthi and I had some good entertainment.
On the Twelfth Day of our stay in Bombay, we set off to
visit the Elephanta Caves, an island on the Arabian Sea.
We took a motorboat from the Gateway of India. The boat
was big enough to hold at least thirty people. It was filled
to its capacity. I had a lump in my throat, as this was
the first time I had been on a boat. I have played on the
Marina beach in Chennai, standing in front of the waves,
the relentless barrage of the waves that caressed my legs,
sweeping the sand from under my feet, but this was different.
I was going to be in the middle of the ocean, and I couldn’t
swim! I kept thinking of all those innumerable stories of
ships sinking, the violent storms and the pirates. Too bad
the weather was too perfect even for a faint drizzle and
the pirates existed only in my mind. Yet I had this sinking
feeling. Sruthi was unbelievably excited. She was yakking
away to me but I was oblivious to her incessant chatter.
She noticed it after a few minutes and asked, "Hey,
are you alright?"
"I'm fine," I told her.
I didn't want her to know that I was scared. I don't know
what she thought, but she kept quiet after that. The boat
started its diesel engine and moved out on to the sea. Sometimes
it passed between ships that were a hundred times bigger
than it. Those vessels were old, worn-out and rusty. We
crossed the harbour and the boat swung along on the waves.
Sometimes the waves splashed water across my face. My fear
subsided and I actually began to enjoy the trip. A huge
wave tossed the boat and all of us screamed. We burst out
laughing, after realising how silly it all was. A guy I
took to be the Captain of the boat, I don't know if that
was his designation, was barking out orders to the guy who
was at the wheel. The sun was shining down mercilessly.
It was a great experience, drinking cola in the middle of
the sea, suffering the intolerable heat. My T-shirt was
stuck to my back. Sruthi was making a fuss about getting
a tan. Unbelievable! Girls are such a fussy lot; they ate
cautiously and spent hours over their eyelashes; they take
years to decide which shade of lipstick to wear and choosing
an outfit is another big story. Sruthi's make-up melted
under the sun's heat and she drove me mad with her raving.
We reached the island that held the caves. I really didn't
understand what these guys got by looking at a heap of stones.
They were historic and are reflections of civilisation all
right, but they were by no means a place for a boy like
me. Boys needed to have fun. They wanted to play. They wanted
to be at the zoo. They wanted to buy toys. Aunt and uncle
were seriously appreciating some age-old monument and I
just dragged along with them. Sundar and Venky were uncharacteristically
calm. Sruthi and I were both bored. We returned to Bombay
in the evening. I just wanted to sleep. We went to a well-known
restaurant for dinner. I was not feeling well inside and
I knew something was wrong. As soon as I reached home, I
ran to the toilet and puked. They put me to bed as I was
diagnosed with fever by aunt. I could not open my eyes when
I woke up. My whole body was on fire. They called a doctor
who jabbed an injection into my butt, gave me some pills
and warned me against going out. He prescribed complete
rest for two days. We were supposed to go to Khandala, a
hill station, the next morning.
Mr Ananth offered to take care of me. "It is only
a normal fever, please go ahead with your trip. He'll be
alright," he assured the rest.
I didn't understand how a fever could be 'normal'. I was
sad that I would be missing the trip. Aunt was hesitant
about making the trip, but after Mr Ananth and I assured
her that is was perfectly fine, she agreed to go. They said
bye to me and I told them to have a nice trip. Then they
said bye to Sruthi.
"What the hell?" I said.
"I'll keep you company," said Sruthi and smiled.
Before I could say anything.
Sruthi went out and came in with a stack of comics and
a glass jar of mousambi juice.
"Thanks," I finally said, after mulling over
what to say. I even planned to employ some cinema dialogue,
but the words were too big for me.
"You are my best friend Sunnu and I won't go anywhere
without you," she said.
I just smiled and shrugged. She sat there all day while
I slept in instalments.
Before I could even start my day, it was all over. The
summer night's breeze slipped in through the window and
caressed my face, sometimes gently and at times strongly
as if frowning at me for some mischief that I had committed.
I asked Sruthi to take me to the terrace. She hesitated.
She sought Mr Ananth's permission and he was only glad to
grant it. I wrapped myself in a bed sheet and sat in the
middle of the terrace. The illusory movement of the half
moon against the cloud was fascinating. The sky still had
some orange plumes, the footprints of the sun on his way
to bed I guess. The sea breeze saved us from the sticky
summer night. We talked a lot, although I don't recall about
what. After sometime, I decided to lie down on the floor,
facing the sky and the stars that managed to show up despite
the man-made hurdle, the city lights.
She woke me up. "It's late, let's go for dinner,"
she said. I felt a lot better now. As we walked down the
dark staircase, she held me as if she was hat I would trip
and fall. I thanked her again before I went to bed. She
was my best friend, whatever that meant.