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
"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
"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,"
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
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
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
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
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.