Thursday, July 27, 2006

Beach Soccer (2002)

When I came down from US for holidays I had to finally face the fact that I had gone from hunk to huge. Like any self respecting adult I had stoutly refused to acknowledge my rapidly expanding bulk till the day my buttons tore as I struggled to compress myself into my shirt. I stole into my brother's room and borrowed his shirt and would have kept doing that if he hadn't informed dad about my creditable achievement. Much remonstrating and cajoling later I was forced to commit to a more healthy lifestyle. Consequently I ended up one day, joining my friends, on an ill fated outing to play beach soccer.

There was Anish, Vinod, Janson, his cousin and me. We got together at Janson's place in the morning. Chatted, joked, ate, played games and had a rip roaring time till roundabout 3 o clock in the afternoon. That's when I sat on that wretched weak chair of Janson's which promptly squeaked it's final breath and collapsed under me. It was a none too gentle reminder of our decadent lifestyle and so we decided to do something outdoors. We talked about different options and soon we were all pumped up. We wanted to climb mount Everest and take K2 on the way down, but because we dint have any equipment we settled on soccer, or beach soccer to be more precise.

Since we were all committed to this new healthy lifestyle and were all going to be chiseled hunks in a few months we decided to play were all the babes would be out to watch us. Off we went to the most famous beach in Kerala where we could play with loads of sand in front of us and a turquoise blue ocean behind us. Unfortunately this is also the place where the foreigners crowd. They are very friendly folk, but they attract a lot of anti socials and so the police presence in such areas is quite strong. These policemen are instructed to keep an eye on the locals to make sure they don't harass the guests. Not ones to worry about these minor details we rolled into the beach. Soon a spirited game was on and a small crowd had also gathered to watch us. Suddenly something shot through the feet of the people and charged at the ball. It was a dog. Looked like a mangy mongrel that needed a good feed. "I got it" said Vinod, gave it a kick, and sent it yelping on it's way. Police whistles blew all around us and a fuming cop came charging through the crowd.

"How dare you harass foreigners!! They are our guests, where is your culture?"

"psst Vinod .. You sure you kicked the dog? Or did you get someone else?"

The policeman was staring straight at Vinod who, for some insane reason, was staring right back. It dint help matters that Vinod looked like a bouncer at the local bar. His body had run out of space for his muscle and it took up a little space in his skull too, that was the space reserved for common sense. The situation was getting out of hand, but we had a veteran troubleshooter with us. Pratheesh stepped in and negotiated a truce with the cop. Apparently, the mangy mongrel was actually a pedigree dog that came on an airplane with one of the foreigners. It was the guest the cop was talking about. Anyway, we apologized to the foreigner, to the dog, to the cop, and even to the fishmonger who wandered by see what's going on and finally the cop cooled down.

"I'll keep the ball, you folk go, take a swim and come pick it up from me on the way out" he said.

We clapped pratheesh on the back for his slick handling and set off for the water. But something was wrong. We were 6 people and right now there were only 5. Elation turned to dread as we turned round and saw Vinod still staring at the cop.

"I paid money for that ball, who are you to take it?"

Next thing we knew we were all in the police station with one foot in the lockup. Vinod was still trying to handle the situation by waving the ball in front of the head constable whose face was getting redder by the microsecond. I stamped down hard on vinod's foot and brought him back to earth. The cop dint care who was right. You insult him .. you get thrashed .. it's as simple as that. He started off with the choicest abuse I had heard in my whole entire life. It was almost like poetry, the rhyme he managed to find while stringing out the sentences. He was heartily joined by any cop who happened to wander down to where we were. A good fifteen minutes later he said that the rest of us could go but Vinod would stay. Us leaving then would be like leaving Vinod to the guillotine. We doubted if he would make it out alive. All of us started remonstrating with the cop explaining how his tough exterior hid a soft and tender heart and how his muscle had invaded the common sense portion of his brain. The policeman responded with a new string of words even stronger than the first. But we persisted and finally he relented. The evening was over and so were our aspirations to reform our lifestyle. A sadder, wiser group of friends trudged home and resolved to never mention this incident again.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fighting with my brother (1985-1995)

My elder brother's name is Kiran. He takes after my mother, big built, strong bones, ferocious strength and a ruthless fearlessness, altogether not really a person to mess around with. All this toughness hid a soft heart inside it but that's besides the point as, being his younger brother, I believed it was my birthright to pester the sanity out of him, and once insane he really was a terror. There was hardly a year and four months difference in age between Kiran and me. This was negligible enough for my parents to treat us like twins and so if my parents got wind that my brother and I fought, both of us would get a thrashing. That would be my second thrashing of the day since I would already have got a thrashing during the fight. However, logic not being my forte, fight I would, and emerge with a black eye and an appointment with a bamboo cane I would.

Our fights usually broke up when we hear dad's car honk from the workshop half a kilometer from the house. A frantic attempt to hide all traces of the fight would begin. Book cases would be made upright, bruises would be hidden, floors would be cleaned and by the time the car reaches home both of us would be in our respecting rooms buried inside our school textbooks. When I grew up I realized that it was the textbooks that gave us away. We weren't exactly Einstein wannabes to study when no one was home and dad knew that. So, when he came home, if both of us were studying, a fight had just taken place. Out would come the bamboo cane and my brother and I would begin our dance around mom's legs to try and land the cane in the least painful spot.

I've tried many ways to avoid this. I remember once I ran to the balcony and threatened to jump. Dad closed the door back to the house and said that if there was any way I come down, it would be by jumping. After putting me through a miserable afternoon in the burning summer sun he let me in at tea time and I quietly took my caning. I never tried that again. Another time I refused to eat after getting the beating. Mom told my brother that he could pick whatever he wanted from my place. The delicious chicken legs that were on my place disappeared in an instant. It was all I could do to save my dessert by screaming out that I would eat. After many such failed attempts I learned to take my thrashing and also control my urge to pester my brother. I guess that's what they call growing up. To those who haven't yet done that, let me inform you, it is a very painful process.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Shopping for US (2001)

After my visa arrived I had to face the reality that I would be leaving India soon. All of a sudden even the beggar crying for alms outside the house was an expert on America and all things american. Comments and advise flew in from all sides. Some made sense, some dint and some were outright hilarious. The joke, however, falls right back on us if we choose to follow any of these outrageous comments.

One of my dad's friends was from England. A sane source for advise .. or so we thought. "you have to get atleast three pairs of coats and trousers. Abroad, you wear it all the time" he said with an oh so sagacious expression that dad fell for hook line and sinker. The next day we set out to get the coats and trousers. I saw a few decent looking shops on the way and suggested to dad that we should stop. "No way! This is America we are talking about .. Best place in the world!!" he said contemptuously and drove on. Off we went to the most expensive shop in town. By now I was working out the math. I dint have any coats but I had once bought a shirt from this shop .. it cost Rs 1500. Putting a coat at three times that would make it Rs 5000. "Whatever", I told myself "it is America, land of opportunity, where gold flowed on the streets .. I'll get back my investment in a jiffy." Poor poor me.

Once inside, I could see that the shop was empty. No surprise that. Who in his right mind would shop at a place like this! The person at the counter saw us and came sprinting. I think he was waiting all day for a customer. "show us the coats please" dad said. Now this one was a smooth talker. He had already sized us up as those who don't usually buy coats. He walked us slowly to the coat section.

Salesman:"for you sir .. or your son?".
Dad: "My son .. He's going to America."
Salesman:"I see .. Handsome boy .. He will look good in a coat and suit"

I glanced around to see who he was talking about ... No one in sight. That meant the game was on. I had seen this pitch before, having done it many times to get my way with people. As if on cue he started off.

salesman:"Sir I have a suggestion. Your son has broad shoulders. I think a tailor made coat would look better. We have a wonderful tailor here. Just pick the cloth and we'll take care of the rest."

He did it well. Never once mentioned the price. My protests were silenced and back we went to the tailoring section. There was an even slicker talker there. "Hariharan sir?? Do you remember me? I was your student in college". My dad's face suddenly took on a knowledgeable dignified look and I knew right then that dad would buy ice pops in the artic circle from that guy. He showed a lot of cloth pieces and recommended the most expensive one. Dad just nodded wisely and send me off to give my measurements. I was able to talk him out of buying a third coat. But by the time we got out of the shop we had spent Rs20000 on two pairs of coats and trousers and dad's pockets were empty. Eventually dad came back to earth. We sat silently in the car on the way back. By the end of the trip dad had exercised his parental priviledges and somehow passed the blame on to me. Told me that this was the end of all my US related shopping. I wore the first coat only once, on my flight to US. The second one is still to be worn by anyone. They are now 4 years old and neither my dad nor I can bear to look at them.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Combined Study (1997-2001)

The average engineering student opens his textbook for the first time after the first semester results have come in. By now, the euphoria of having made it through the entrance exam would have died down and he would be extra motivated by the fact that he has failed most of his subjects in the previous semester. A session of panic follows when he realizes that the scoundrels who write engineering text books write in a language more similar to Greek and Latin than to English. What with all the sigmas and Pis and Kasais, the poor fellow would barely be able to make out the page numbers. After a night of tossing, turning and dreaming bad dreams of begging for a living, our hero would turn up in college. He wouldn't have shaved, his eyes would be red and he would bear an uncanny resemblance to a monkey in a tunnel caught in the headlight of an oncoming train. Senior students would see him, nod sympathetically and remember a similar day in their lives. Birds of a feather flock together, and so, very soon, a group of students would get together and form what is called a combined study group.

Engineering college being what it is, depression never lingers, and our study group too would not stay dull for very long. After a couple of hours discussion a broad set of rules would be outlined. For every group that I have seen, they are the same rules.

1) Thou shall not commence study until a week/a day/ a night before the exam.
2) Thou shall study only what is in two out of three modules in the syllabus, if possible, thou shall not study that too
3) Thou shall not study for more than 5 minutes at a stretch
4) After this 5 mins thou shall take a break of at least 15 mins and finally .. most importantly,
5) There will be plenty of snacks

I was no different from the average student and so, in the fourth semester, armed with a failed subject, I ventured into the mystic world of combined study. Since I was a semester late in failing for a subject, most of the combined study groups had already formed. All I needed to do was to join one. I ended up in Janson's group. This consisted of a core group of 6 people. Janson, Anand, Pratheesh, Paulose, Akhil, Faizal and finally me. Akhil was the meticulous one. He would already have gone through the textbooks once and would attend the combined study sessions only for the food and some clarifications on portions he hadn't yet understood. Usually these portions would be stuff not in the syllabus and would hence end up never being discussed in the combined study. Faizal would have collected all the notes from all the girls. He would also have bought a copy of the syllabus and managed to get his hand on some old question papers. Without doubt, leaving Janson, he was the most important member of the combined study group. Janson was important because he was the host of the study group by virtue of the fact that his mom made the best tea and snacks. Also he lived in a protected forest outside city which meant we could make as much noise as we wanted and the only creatures that get disturbed would be hyenas and buffaloes. Anand and I were the regulars. We came early, cracked jokes, discussed politics, played computer games, had philosophic discussions on the irrelevance of mundane degrees like ours and finally bid polite good byes to everyone and left. In four years and eight semesters, we never once risked trying to decipher the cryptic messages inside the textbooks. That left Paulose. His was a cardinal role. He was what we called the benchmark for combined study. If he understood, everyone had mastered.

Janson being the fundamental and also the mental one, would read the portion we were to study. This is when Paulose would be at his active best trying to make Janson's task as hard as possible through such juvenile measures and pouring tea down his shirt, or sneezing boogies onto his face. However, once Janson is done studying, Paulose would retreat into a shell to wake up only when Janson is done explaining the portion to the rest of us. This meant that after a protracted session of crying and scolding, Janson would sit down and explain the portion again. Unfortunately, while Paulose is a wizard at some things, those are not in the syllabus for engineering. This means that by the time Janson is done teaching for the second time, Paulose would still be looking expectantly at Janson, waiting for that elusive explanation. Another crying and blaming session would follow and an exasperated Janson would agree to teach Paulose 'one last time'. By now Akhil would be snoring loudly, Anand and I would be into our 10th game of Mortal Combat and Faizal would be making whimpering noises from the next room wondering how we would manage to finish 2 out of three modules by the end of the day. Janson's mother would save the day. I am sure that without her Paulose would never have made it out alive from Janson's house. She would surface with her magical tea and myriad snacks and we would all forget our little differences. We would eat, drink, make merry, and when the last morsel is down Paulose would have forgotten all about the subject. Janson would pick up the book to study again and Paulose would pick up the remnants of the tea and pour it down his shirt again. Thus the cycle repeats till the morning of the exams.