Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 6

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I expected some verbal assault from him first, before he started bashing me up. But no, Raghu Ram didn't waste precious time. He landed an upper cut on my chin, which threw me off balance and also re-orientated the bones in my jaw. I lay sprawled on the ground. "Get up, you spineless idiot!" he hissed. I was up on my feet. He charged at me like a rogue elephant and landed a punch on my nose. I felt sharp pain shoot up my head and I screamed. At the same time I felt something warm on my chest. I looked down and almost fainted. The front of my cream coloured shirt had turned crimson. My nose was bleeding like an open tap. I covered my face with my hands and slumped to the ground. Not even a single onlooker bothered to help me out. In fact, I thought I heard some idiot counting "One, two, three..." before I was finally knocked out by Raghu. I was sitting there alone with my face buried in my palms. The school ayah saw my miserable plight. She cleaned me up and washed the blood from my shirt. I was sitting outside the chapel, on the steps. She hung my wet shirt on the lines to dry.

"It will dry in ten minutes," she said, smiling at me.

"Thank you, ayah," I said, trying to sound normal.

"What exactly happened there?" she asked me after sitting in front of me and stuffing some pan leaves into her mouth.

"Raghu Ram hit me." My voice was shaky, and I had tears in my eyes again.

She nodded, grinding the pan with her aging teeth. "Why didn't you hit him back?" she asked me as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

I paused, pondered over it for a while, and managed a brilliant answer. "I don't know."

She gave me a thoughtful look. "It is all right to hit back sometimes. You can't help it, you know. See what you got yourself into... anyway keep away from those who trouble you, and from those who you are scared of," she advised.

I felt like a piece of dirt. She was right. I was scared of Raghu Ram. But most of all, I was scared of hitting someone. I have never really tried to retaliate; violence always made me sick in my stomach. But then if I am like this, like a saint, there will be more who would make hitting me, their favourite pastime. Probably at this rate I might win the 'Punch Bag of the Year' award too.

I walked back home with these nagging thoughts. I also needed to cook up a nice story about my bruised nose. I told my mom that I accidentally collided with a friend while playing.

Mom shook her head. "Why don't you grow up for a change?" I agreed with her.

I needed to grow out of this fear psychosis but I didn't know how. I couldn't sleep peacefully that night. I had a bad dream that night. The school was filled with Raghu Rams. I was tied to a chair and was punched in the face by all the Raghu Rams- one after the other. The school ayah, dressed in a fairy costume, complete with a halo over her head, was screaming, "Get them, and hit them!" which I thought was very uncharacteristic of a fairy.

The next morning I entered the classroom with a whole lot of confusion in my head. Raghu Ram had a victorious smile on his face. I hated that. I put my bag down and sat next to him, and immediately sensed that something was wrong. The whole class, which included the silly girls, was giggling. I tried standing up, and realised why these clowns were laughing. I had chewing gum stuck to the back of my trousers.

"A nice way to eat gum!" Raghu sniggered and had the class roaring with laughter.

These guys definitely needed some sense of humour. "Don't try these stupid jokes on me," I roared at Raghu.

He froze and stared into my eyes. I didn't know what to say. "You are a bag of dirt Ram. That's exactly what you are and I don't enjoy talking to idiots like you," I retorted in one stretch, plucked out whatever gum I could from my trousers and sat down again.

My sudden outburst must have incensed Raghu, he suddenly kicked me on my sides so hard that I was lifted off the chair and went crashing to the ground. I don't know what happened next, but I still can't believe that I did it that day. I was up on my feet somehow. I kicked him on his legs and he fell on his knees. I wasted no time. I punched him straight in the nose. It started bleeding. Raghu started howling in pain.

I grabbed his hair in my hands rather roughly and shook it vigorously.

At that moment, the prayer bell rang. Raghu's friends escorted him to the headmistress's office for first aid. I was sure that I would be suspended from school. During prayer, I was not worrying about what would be in store for me in the headmistress's office. In fact, I was feeling light and happy. I guess what the ayah said had worked on me. To my utter surprise, I never got the call from the headmistress's office. Raghu Ram did not want to break the rule of the school fights I guess. We found ourselves sitting next to each other in the class after the prayer. I could feel the eyes of the whole class on us. I thought he would jump on me the moment the teacher left the room. He did not. I turned to look at him. He looked pale and his nose was still red. He knew I was looking at him and he kept staring into oblivion.

"I am sorry," I said.

"It is ok," he said, after pausing for a while.

"I don't think we need to fight like this," I opined.

I knew he agreed with me. After that we spoke very little to each other. He avoided me. I too, didnít try to over emphasise my spirit of camaraderie. I left Little Flower halfway through my fifth standard as dad was deputed to Delhi for some training. I moved to Chennai along with my younger brother Suresh and mom. I was supposed to continue my fifth standard in Chennai, but no school was ready to admit me, as it was already halfway through the academic year.

Before I start telling you how I fared in the big city of Chennai, I have to tell you about my life in Chittoor, apart from Little Flower Convent.

Babu was my best friend all through those years. He was a brilliant chap. By the time we reached third standard, he was pedalling away on his dad's bicycle. I only managed to pedal one when I was in my sixth. He was the first boy on the block to buy a cork ball and also get his dad to make a wooden cricket bat for him. When all the other kids in Pagadamanu Street, Greamspet, Chittoor were playing cops and robbers, we were playing cricket. I decided that I will become a bowler and Babu felt he was an all rounder. But our plans never really took off as I left for Chennai. Babu also taught Suresh and me how to steal mangoes from our neighbour's tree. Initially we were very apprehensive, but later relished the idea, as it was adventurous. Babu's mom, Kalyaniamma, was a practical woman. My mom used to entrust her the responsibility of removing lice from my head. It was a torturous experience. I had to sit with my head hung low and she used to pick on the lice and crush them with her fingers dexterously. It hurts when someone keeps on crunching your head with their fingers. I used to run away whenever I could, from her lice killer assignments. Babu had three sisters. Prema was the eldest. Next was Gowri, Janaki was the youngest. They were elder to us, and from time to time, shared their wisdom with us over a whole range of things. For example, when the rocket sky lab crashed, they forecasted that it would fall in the Arts College grounds. But then, there was a small error in their calculations. The rocket crashed to Earth, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Whatever it was, they missed it by only a few thousand miles. They took us to the movies too. While Babu, Suresh and I invariably slept through the movie, they got themselves seriously involved in the movie. Sometimes I used to wake up to the harmonic sobs of these girls- caused by the pathetic situation of the heroine (mostly after falling into the trap of the sixty-year old lecherous villain). It was too much for us. Normally we rated a movie based on the number of fight scenes it had. We loved watching the hero clobbering some three hundred guys single-handedly. The bad guys in the movies had a terrible sense of dressing and the hero's wasn't any better. Most of the time, he wore a leather jacket and tight fitting leather pants along with a ridiculous looking hat. He wore this costume even in the scorching heat of a desert. I always used to wonder why they sang duets. The heroine only had to look into the hero's eyes and he would wink, supposedly suggesting something very naughty, and they would instantly be transported to Kashmir where they ran around trees, threw snowballs at each other, and in-between, dance too. Now, it would not be fair, if I don't mention something about the dancing here. Most of the time, the dances resembled a kung-fu fight and sometimes it appeared like an inferior version of aerobics. The best thing about Telugu movies in those days was that they firmly believed that the hero could never age, even if he looked perfectly shapeless like popcorn. The heroines, on the other hand, became mothers to the heroes against who they were cast as heroines only a few years back. It never made sense to me, and I thought the moviemakers were male chauvinists.

We lived in a tile-roofed house, one of the many in a row that Lakshmiamma the landlady owned. The walls were built of mud and bricks. The roofs were high and they were constructed using tiles that were set on a pyramidal structure of bamboo sticks. Babu's family occupied the house on our right whereas Lalitha-akka's family owned the one on the left. Vani's family occupied the house next to Babu's. Thilaga-akka was the youngest in her family. I have never seen her dad. She had two brothers, Seenu and Jayakumar and three sisters, Paddu, Santhi and Banu. They were a Tamilian family (like us), so we got along with them very well. They loved me. Seenu and Jayakumar were priests in two different temples. They brought back loads of prasad every evening. Babu and I would prowl around their home everyday at that particular time. Thilaga-akka seldom disappointed us, although her brothers were not too impressed by her show of affection. Renu-akka was different. She was very fond of me. She displayed a rare maturity, which the other akkas lacked. She was married when I was in my third standard. She could not stay away from me for long. So, she took me to Pondy after convincing my parents. I stayed in Pondy for a few days. I don't remember what I did there, but I will never forget her unfathomable affection and love.

I had to leave all this behind when I left for Chennai. Somehow, I knew it would never be the same again. Watching movies on weekends. Flying kites. Hunting for non-existent wild creatures in the backyard. Dancing to Kishore Kumar's songs on the radio. The row of huge tamarind trees filled with sweet-sour tamarind just behind our backyard. The garden lizards, the winter morning fog, the breath-taking mist clad hills and the woods. I knew it. Knew that it was never going to be the same again.



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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R. Email:suman5kumar@hotmail.com
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