Thursday, April 28, 2011

Small friends in my life

There is no dearth of peculiar peoples in my life but Chicha stands out from the crowd. Chicha had the knack of doing silly things and getting himself injured. That’s not his real name though. I don’t remember the episode that gave him that sobriquet. The name spread around like wildfire in no time and everyone in the neighbourhood started calling him Chicha. Even his parents. He disliked being called Chicha but he seldom protested. He knew that the more he showed his dislike the more often we would call him Chicha. He must have thought we would soon forget it. On the contrary, many years later as I write this post, I have forgotten his real name.

He was introduced to me by our mutual friend Mohan anna, himself a peculiar character. We were all living in the same street in West Mambalam. Mohan anna was a middle-aged man. And jobless. He claimed he played cricket for Railways and once bowled to Rahul Dravid in the nets. He was extremely popular among the children because he was an excellent cricketer and and we always fought to have him in our team during street cricket matches. He was hated by every parents for spoiling their kids. There was not a kid in neighbourhood who wasn’t warned by his parents not to mix with Mohan anna.

The day Chicha nearly became blind is still green in my mind. It was twilight and me, Chicha and a few more guys were playing with bambaram (Top). Chicha was the best of the lot and he was beating our bambarams to a pulp with his. Mohan anna happened to pass by at that moment and as usual he was curious to find out what we kids were up to. Chicha beamed at him, full of pride. But that pride soon vanished when Mohan anna grabbed a bambaram and did a trick with that that left us gaping at him with amazement: he spun the thread around the pambaram in a jiffy, tossed it down and just a millisecond before it hit the ground, he pulled it back and lo! the pambaram sat on his palm, spinning gloriously.

Soon Chicha and I began practising the same. We knew that would stand us in good stead when the time came for wooing the girls in the neighbourhood. Chicha did everything right except that he pulled it back too hard. The bambaram went miles in the air. And there was a power failure and the whole place was engulfed in darkness. We couldn’t see a thing, let alone a pambaram that was somewhere above our head, coming down at the speed of 9.2m/s. Finally I spotted an object coming down. Sharp as my eyesight was, my vocal chord did not spring into action when it was most needed and I found myself incapabale of performing simple tasks like shouting “Hey! step aside. It’s on you.” I was rather tongue-tied and remained a mute spectator as the bambaram landed right on his left eye. Sigh! He was immediately rushed to hospital. I thought he had seen the last of us as he would return a blind man.

We were so relieved when his mother greeted us the following morning with the news that all was well with her son. She was baffled why her son kept mumbling “Mohan anna… Mohan anna” all the way to hospital. ”Very affectionate about you,” she said to Mohan anna, not without a touch of conern. Mohan anna fixed me with a penetrating gaze as I struggled to suppress my giggles.

One would imagine this would have caused Chicha to stay indoors for sometime but he was not the sort of person who could be confined within four walls, even if he was half-blind. He joined us the very next evening for a game of cricket. He managed to go through the first half of the game without injuring himself further. But things took a turn for worse when he came in to bat.

In those days, word of the Captain was final, because often the kid who owned a bat would be the captain. Whatever he said, were the rules. When he claimed he hadn’t nicked when playing a shot, no one argued because we would rather give him an extra gajji than risk irking him, which would lead to him walking away with his bat. So when the captain hit the ball straight down the road and nonchalantly asked Chicha to fetch the ball he couldn’t refuse.

The ball had travelled quite a distance. The enterprising guy that he was, rather than walking all the way, he flagged down a two-wheeler and hitched a free ride. When they approached the place where he thought the ball was lurking, he asked the man who was riding to pull over.

“Niruthungooo,” he shouted, his words thickly laced with brahmin accent.

“KYAA,” replied the man, shouting louder to assert his decibel supremacy.

“NIRUTHUNGOOOOOOO,” he bawled.

“KYAAAAAA”, the man bawled too, as if there was a contest going on.

This hollering back and forth continued for a while, much to our amusement. An enterprising guy as he was at times, he was largely a dumb (affably dumb, if I might add) fellow who couldn’t figure out things that guys with IQ as good as that of jelly fish’s would do without breaking a sweat. Like a guy wearing turban and sporting big beard and replying only in Hindi, might be a Punjabi guy who can’t speak or understand tamil. Not being able to deduce simple things in one thing, and jumping to foolish conclusion is another thing. And Chicha concluded that the guy was trying to kidnap him.

“Kapathungoo.. kapathungoo.. kidnap.. kapathugoo”. He began to scream to get the attention of the people around.

They must have thought this was clownish, for everyone enjoyed the buffonery rather than come to his rescue. Taking matters into his own hands, he jumped off the moving vehicle… and was left with just one hand to take futher matters into. He suffered a fracture in his right hand.

I thought a half-blind, partially handicapped Chicha would be a mellowed boy. Not to be. He soon proved me wrong by trying to make nellika juice by feeding a peice of nellika into sugar-cane juice machine. He did make juice.. of his fingers. This soon faded into oblivion when he sustained several injuries, while performing a Bangra step in premature celebration of his victory in a cycle race and lost control and the race. And once he tried to jump off the first floor with an umbrella, when someone told him that umbrella was a miniature parachute. Good thing he was told ‘miniature’, or he would have tried to jump off the LIC building. And many more.

Three years later he moved out of that locality. That was the last I saw of him. Never heard from him, either, after that. I wonder if I’ll be able to recognize him if and when I run into him. Given the myriad damages he would have inflicted upon this anatomy through these years, he’d look a totally different man.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A fine balance

This is not a review but merely an attempt to write a few lines about a book that I recently read - A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

My friend when recommending this book to me said, “This will suck out all happiness in you.” Half-way through the book I was drained of all happiness in me. When I finished it I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and a lump in the throat. The novel is sad, grim, haunting and depressing, and although there are moments of joy, comedy, romance and happiness, it’s not a happy story. This is the most depressing book I’ve read so far.


This novel chronicles the life of four strangers thrown together under one roof in Bombay. Dina Dalal is a widow in a constant struggle to make both ends meets and keep her precarious independence, much to the chagrin of his wealthy brother. Maneck leaves the himalayan hills and his family he loves to purse a diploma in refregiration in Bombay, a course which his father thinks will equip him to carve a prosperous future for himself. Ishvar and Omprakash, uncle and nephew, leave their town plagued with “untouchability” with dreams of saving up enough money and returning to thier town to start their own tailoring shop. This is a story about how these four come together and find family in each other. This a story about their friendship, laughter, sharing and caring, their courage to struggle despite their problems, and the State of Emergency declared by the Prime Minister that leads to a series of events that wreaks havoc in the lives of these four and other poor people.

There are many moments in the book that will bring tears to your eyes. The author’s brilliance shines through in the last few pages and the unexpected twist in the end will blow your head off. Or make you sob if you are weak-hearted like me. For people like me, who can’t stand suspense, do resist the tempatation to read the last page in middle of the story. It’s worth it.