For the first eight months in Chennai, I did nothing. I
just hung around and made friends. During this period, I
realised how tough it was to run a family. We used to struggle
to make ends meet as the funds that dad sent from Delhi
were not sufficient.
I discovered during this period that four of my uncles
were drunks. I hated them for it. My grandmother, whom we
called Amma, was a strict no-nonsense lady. She hated kids
who made noises or stole food from her kitchen. Amma is
a good cook. Suresh and I used to steal the food that she
had cooked. Mom was always puzzled why all the food that
she cooked remained untouched. Amma would gladly part with
a pot of gold, but she would never do the same with a single
drop of water. Such was the scarcity of water in Chennai.
I hated the city for this. The corporation taps supplied
water between four and seven in the morning and from eleven
to two in the night. This meant that we had to finish taking
our baths before seven in the morning and that seemed like
a truly idiotic proposition to me. All these things only
aggravated my hatred for the city. I had come from a place
where water problem was inconceivable; Chittoor was a place
with a surplus of space. Here in this city, the people had
no respect for the other guy’s privacy. They just buzzed
about at break-neck speed, day in and day out, as if tomorrow
was doomsday. No one had the time to stop by and say hello.
They were always worried about the morning bus or the queue
at the ration shop or the season ticket at the railway station.
They ran all the time; from others, from themselves and
from life. I longed to get back to Chittoor, where life
was far simpler and uncomplicated, but I had to wait till
I finish my sixth standard here, in this god forbidden city.
Yet, I had a few pleasant experiences in Chennai. I met
some really wonderful people here. Most importantly, I started
developing a relationship with my elder brother Sundar,
who had been away from us all this while. He was in his
ninth standard. His best friend was a guy called Prabhu,
probably one of the funniest persons I have ever met. Sundar
and Prabhu would take both Suresh and I to either to the
movies, or the beach. They took us to the Snake Park too.
It all depended on mom's instructions. I got along well
with Prabhu. Although he came from a rich family and his
father was a well-known lawyer in the city, Prabhu was a
very down-to-earth guy. I once went along with Sundar and
Prabhu to watch a horror movie called 'Visiting Hours.'
Prabhu sat in the middle while Sundar and I flanked him.
Everything seemed peaceful and perfect for a couple of hours
of good fun, until the guy sitting next to me opened his
"I have seen this movie in Bombay. The effects, the
sound, the 70mm screen... Man! These cinema halls in Chennai
are no match to those of Bombay."
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I turned to look at
Prabhu. He just brought his index finger to his lips and
nodded. 'Ok', I told myself, 'I'll stay calm'. It was a
"The air-conditioning is not working. In Bombay, you'd
get a hundred percent refund for this," continued the
guy on his eulogy on Bombay. I was on the edge of my sanity.
"Tell us more about Bombay, sir." That had come
I was zapped. This was unbelievable. It sure looked like
asking for trouble. 'Why is he doing this?' I wondered.
That guy immediately took the cue and went on and on about
how wonderful life is in Bombay and how the city helped
his business grow by leaps and bounds. God knows what 'business'
he was in. With that he claimed that he was well off, but
I never understood why he was not in the balcony. The movie
was soon over and I felt a sense of relief come over me,
until I saw Prabhu slapping the Bombay guy's back, obviously
laughing at a joke that he had just cracked. I thought he
was as boring as history classes. I wondered why Prabhu
was trying so hard to impress the guy.
"Why don't you join us for a snack?" Prabhu asked
Sundar and I spun around at such a speed that you would
have thought an artillery shell had landed on our heads.
We had exactly two rupees, which were just about enough
for our bus fare home. Prabhu, from the corner of his eye,
caught our hard stares and winked at Sundar. God knows what
that meant, but a beaming smile appeared on Sundar's face.
I was confused, but had the sense to keep my mouth shut.
I knew I was safe, for mom would beat the daylights out
of these guys, if they put me through any nonsense.
We walked into an air-conditioned café. The guy was still
talking to Prabhu. "I left my wallet in my room at
the hotel, so I have very little dough on me. If you can
give me a few minutes, I will go and get some." After
all the talk about his cars and his deluxe apartment, that
didn't really lift his image. He was a gas-pot. A hot-air
balloon filled with lies. "Do you have a fiver on you?
If you could loan it to me, I will go and get the cash,"
he said and he actually grinned after saying that.
I looked for some gold teeth but only found tobacco stained
"Don't bother, sir. This treat is on me", Prabhu
said, as if he were the Prince of Edinburgh.
"Tell us more about Bombay," he continued.
Now this was too much! Prabhu had gone nuts. Sundar was
grinning the whole time and I was just confused. I ordered
a sandwich and a coffee whereas the boys ate as if they
were just out of some refugee camp. Coffee arrived.
"I have a test for you. I 'm sure you'll crack it.
This test is designed by my uncle who is a psychoanalyst,"
This uncle was obviously non-existent. The guy was busy
sipping his lassi, probably the first lassi of his entire
life. He cocked his head up, shrugged and replied, "No
problem!" He probably couldn't believe his stroke of
"I'll hold my hands apart, with my palms facing each
other. You will have to close your eyes and move your hands
between them, up and down, and count till two hundred and
fifty," explained Prabhu.
"Absolutely no problem!" came the guy's instant
response. There was a brief period of silence between them.
I could see that Prabhu was nervous during that time. "I'll
give it a shot," said the guy and I saw a sense of
relief come over Prabhu's face.
The circus began. The guy started moving his hands between
Prabhu's outstretched palms, in a slow movement. He knotted
his eyebrows, in what appeared to be an expression of concentration
and determination. "Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two...”
the guy kept counting and Sundar signalled me to get out.
I was bewildered but still obeyed. I went out and stood
near the cash counter.
"Ok, let's go," Prabhu said.
"What about that guy?" I asked.
"Take a look for yourself," said Sundar, winking
at me. That guy was busy moving his hands up and down, still
counting with his eyes tightly shut. I burst out laughing.
Sundar urged me to get the hell out of there.
"Boss, who will pay the bill?" enquired the cashier.
"Our sir, sitting over there will pay. He is busy
meditating. Please don't disturb him," Prabhu said.
We walked out. Even before I could open my mouth and ask
them anything, they both screamed in chorus "RUN!!"
and we ran as if there was a pack of wolves after us. I
was laughing all the way. I learnt that it was dangerous
to mess with Prabhu. Sundar told me that he was very notorious
for his practical jokes. He really was a wonderful person.
Apart from his sense of humour, he was also gifted with
a big heart. He was very kind and he also taught me how
to ride a bicycle. All of us loved him.
We received a letter from our aunt, dad's younger sister.
She wanted Sundar and me to spend the summer with her in
Hyderabad. I was excited about the whole thing and so was
Sundar. Mom, on the other hand, was worried about how I
would behave at my aunt's place. When Sundar's summer holidays
began, I was more excited about it than he was. A friend
of our family who was also on his way to Hyderabad offered
to take care of us and drop us at our aunt's house. What
was supposed to be just another summer trip for me, turned
out to be an adventurous and eventful roller-coaster ride!