Sunnu a novel by Suman Kumar

Chapter 9

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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 big mouth.

"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 Himalayan task.

"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 from Prabhu.

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 him.

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 ones.

"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," Prabhu said.

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 luck.

"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!

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sunnu 2001©Suman Kumar.R.