Time flew. One fine day it suddenly hit me that I had only
two more days left before I had to pack my bags and leave
for Chennai. I felt odd. I didn't know whether to feel happy
that I would be home soon or sad that I was leaving Sruthi
and the luxurious life with refrigerators, colour T.Vs,
LTA et al. Sruthi wept uncontrollably on the day that I
was supposed to leave for Chennai. I didn't cry as I had
a huge lump in my throat. Words failed me. I just sat next
to her, wondering what to say.
"I'll write to you, I promise," I mumbled.
"That is different...” she said, wiping the tears
that rolled down her cheeks.
Her eyes were red. "Will you miss me?" she asked.
"Then why don't you say it!" she snapped at me;
like only a girl can I guess, interspersing logic and emotion
and at times confusing one for the other and vice-versa.
I suppressed a smile. That was typical of her. She knew
the answers for the questions, but she wanted answers even
before she asked the questions. "Why don't you come
to Chennai?" I asked her.
"I'll try, but mom and dad are reluctant to send me
alone and Venky hates Chennai."
She clung on to me till I got into the taxi. She held my
hand all along. She gifted me her Tintin comics, which,
undoubtedly, were some of her prized possessions. I refused
to accept them, but she insisted, saying, "Don't hurt
me by not taking these," she said. And I decided not
to push it, it was already heavy duty stuff.
Aunt had a lot of, well, almost cliched advice for me.
"Study well, don't trouble Mom, and write to us every
I took a last look around the huge apartment. I went to
the terrace. I was going to miss all these luxuries that
the upper class life provided. We finally got out to get
into the taxi. Uncle and Venky were coming to VT to see
us off. Aunt pecked me and I was surprised to see tears
in her eyes. Sruthi was silent. That said a lot about her
hurt, her longing and her friendship. Just before I got
into the taxi, I wept. I let the warm tears wash the pain
away. The taxi started and I waved at Sruthi, looking at
her through the glass window of the car till she became
a small dot and faded away. Uncle stuffed some money into
Sundar's pocket. He gave us a string of instructions.
"Don't get down from the train till you reach Chennai,
don't accept food from strangers, always stay together."
We shook our heads in agreement. The train blared its horn.
Venky said bye to us and hugged Sundar. The train moved
out of the platform slowly, leaving behind uncle and Venky.
Leaving behind Bombay. Leaving behind a slice of life flavoured
with fond memories and, of course, loving and caring people.
Mom and Dad received us at the Chennai Central. I was overjoyed
to see dad after a long time. Dad had bought a lot of sweets
from Delhi. I asked him when he'd buy a T.V., a fridge and
an air-cooler. "Soon, very soon," he promised.
Dad took all of us, Mom, Sundar, Suresh and me to the movies.
He had a month's leave. It was the greatest summer holiday
of my life. Life seemed so bright, so full of promise. Suresh
and I got into St. John's. The school was eight kilometres
away and the city buses were so crowded. It was difficult
to manage Suresh. He was always up to something. He was
dreaded in his class. He kept frogs as pets and tugged at
the girls' ponytails. He stole food! His report card was
in absolute contrast to mine. The teachers had a lot to
write about him. His teacher summoned me once. I walked
into his class and saw him standing by the teacher's desk,
looking like a priest in hell. The teacher pointed to the
classroom wall. There were numerous footprints in the middle
of the wall. A person had to defy gravity to walk on those
walls at that angle, or simply, he must have been standing
upside down against the wall! Ingenious! Suresh promised
Mom that he would behave in school. The very next day, he
put a rubber lizard in a boy's lunch box. I made a lot of
friends at school. One thing that I found unacceptable was
the unwarranted animosity the boys had for the girls. When
I asked Gopi, the guy who sat next to me in the class, why
they teased the girls all the time, he looked surprised
at my question.
"Simple," he said. "They are girls!"
I could not figure out that profound logic, but I had the
presence of mind not to show any sympathy towards the girls.
The boys would have outlawed me as they thought that was
an unpardonable crime. We teased them in the classroom.
We teased them at the bus stop. We teased them till they
complained to the teacher. We booed them. Catcalls from
the boys sitting at the back sounded whenever a girl raised
a doubt or a question to the teacher. Somehow I did not
like this attitude. I was a mere spectator to this chauvinistic
outrage and there was very little that I could do, so I
lived with it.
We breezed through that academic year. I obtained good
grades and won quiz competitions. Suresh got miserable grades
and played marbles with the loafers outside the school.
Sundar passed his tenth public exams with flying colours.
He wanted to be an electronics engineer and took up math,
physics and chemistry in the eleventh grade.
I was moving to Chittoor to join the seventh grade. Suresh
gained admission to Little Flower. He was in fourth grade.
Dad arrived in Chennai from Delhi and all of us left for
Chittoor after a week. That ended the tough times; of common
toilets, midnight water storage and the tyranny of the house
owners. I was overjoyed that I was leaving Chennai for good.
Sundar cried when we left. Dad gave him hundred rupees.
Suresh and I insisted that he came along with us to Chittoor,
but he refused as he had school. Chennai gave me a relationship
with my elder brother. There were still some gaps, but I
knew time would take care of that. He still treated me like
a kid and I hated that. Nonetheless, I was happy to get
back to Chittoor. We were moving to a new house in Chittoor.
It was situated in Durga Colony. It was an independent house.
It had a garden that comprised guava, mango and lemon trees.
I had a room to myself. The house faced the hills that were
behind the Arts College and we had a beautiful view of them
from the veranda. I was happy that we were now living in
a 'pucca' house and not a tile roofed one. The colony was
at the edge of the town and there were a lot of hills around
us. In fact, the colony itself was at a higher altitude
than the other parts of the town. The colony was very calm.
It was not like Greamspet, which was closer to the heart
of the town. I liked the place, as it was so peaceful there.
One great thing was that on weekends we went trekking in
the hills directly behind our home. There was open grassland
that you had to pass before you reached a hill, the Turtle
Neck hill to be precise. The open land was covered with
a carpet of lush grass, dotted by small to medium sized
boulders and rocks. The highway ran somewhere below and
it was fun to watch trucks and cars that were headed for
Bangalore - race by, on the tar road. We also watched the
sunsets, sitting up there. It was beautiful- the ripe orange
ball descending behind the hills- the distant roar of a
truck on the highway below- Shepherd boys calling out loud
to their mothers, informing them of their arrival. The cooking
fires of the workers in the granite quarry. The hazy, mist-clad
hill. It was an experience, which mere words can't express.
There were a lot of snakes around there. Mom and dad were
always worried about that. Once a snake bit the one of our
neighbours and he lost his speech due to the shock.
I joined the seventh standard at PCR, an old school. It
was situated near the Gandhi statue junction in the heart
of the town. Chittoor was a bowl of a town. The winters
were so cold that the coconut hair oil froze. On winter
mornings, the town would be draped in thick fog. Chennai
was four hours away to the South and Bangalore was four
hours away to the South West. The Tamilnadu state border
was twenty minutes away by bus. The majority of the people
spoke Telugu, but Tamil was not far behind. The Hindus were
the majority, but the Muslims and the Christians were there
in good numbers. I have never heard of communal clashes
in Chittoor. I thought that we were the epitome of a secular
society. As the town was squeezed between two big cities,
Chennai and Bangalore, fashion happened in Chittoor. The
town had about dozen cinema halls; they screened Telugu,
Tamil, Hindi and also English movies. The people of the
town were not outgoing. They just minded their business
and left you alone. I loved Chittoor, its paddy fields,
hills, people, winters. I decided that one-day I would build
my home on one of the plots, just below Turtle Neck.
The government board conducted the seventh standard exams.
It was a common exam and Dad warned me not to lose concentration.
I had to score good grades in the semester exams. It was
actually fun studying at PCR. It was a big school with lots
of trees. The classrooms had huge pillars and big wooden
doors and windows. It had that unmistakable stamp of colonial
architecture. The teachers were not as strict here, so I
had an easy time at PCR, whereas all my friends at Little
Flower were having a tough time with Rajam sister and co.