Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 13

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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.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.