Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 14

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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.

"Of course!"

"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 week."

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.

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.