Saturday, August 24, 2013

Adventures of Little Babu: Flying Club

The boundary wall at the back of his house was about three hundred meter away. It was supposed to have barbed wire top for protection but lack of maintenance rendered it flat and bald. The space in between was filled with Imli, Jamun, Mango and other assorted tropical trees. A narrow road ran parallel to the boundary wall. Across the road was an obscure flying club surrounded by high barbed wired fence. The flying club usually lacked activity, a fluttering cylindrical piece of cloth slung to a pole bellowing in air was sole animate object meant to show degree of intensity and direction of the wind. On the far side was a small hanger, its gates mostly open; you could see a couple of twin seater aeroplanes there. The runway was only partially visible due to uneven growth of grass. Sometimes these small planes would take off from the runway hover over the sky and return. When in the afternoon Mom would take siesta, little Babu with his friends would run off to the boundary where a fallen tree trunk on the wall made a bridge for them to climb up the wall. They would sit at the top of the wall and watch planes taking off and landing on the runway. 

Beyond the Flying club and on the south side was empty land. Once he heard older kids in a huddle talking in hushed tones about some ‘lakaRbagha’ roaming around and taking children away. He couldn’t quite make out what a ‘lakaRbagha’ was, thought it was a delinquent man who had a piece of exotic wood (lakaRi therefore lakaRbagha) that emitted some kind of toxic fumes which would faint little kids. The myth of ‘lakaRbagha’ stayed in air for a while without causing much panic but mystic aura of ‘laKaRbagha’ remained with him for a long time; died only when he learnt ‘lakaRbagha’ was merely a hyena. 

The northern flank of boundary wall was behind the MI room. There was a railway line running along it. Those days steam locomotives would ferry passengers across towns. This track was mostly busy with passenger trains, hardly any goods train passed through it. Years later young Babu used to pass through this line to attend college. Every time he would pass through this section he would eagerly look at the campus in a surge of nostalgia. The house where he had spent his childhood looked awfully small to him…………


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Adventure of Little Babu: Temple

The temple was in the middle, dividing the elitist section of officers and the one belonging to JCOs. In army this divide is pretty sharp and dehumanizing. The temple was a bland construction, a hall on one end and an acute pyramid like ‘garbhgrih’ at the other end painted most likely in white, saffron and azure. Tropical trees stood like sentinels around it but not exactly obscuring its view. It was the place for occasional hangout and nocturnal adventure in festival times. Every now and then little Babu and other kids would volunteer to sit in the hall and make those decorative strings with colored papers. They would have wads of yellow, crimson and green or some other colored paper and a ball of jute string called ‘sutli’. They would paste on the string these triangularly cut colored papers in systematic order till all the papers were exhausted. It was a tedious and boring job, the only reward being a sense of accomplishment and noble purpose behind it. The temple priest had two sons the elder Devidutt was stern looking reserved type but the younger one Gokulanand for some reason reminded him of monkey god Hanuman, perhaps he was as energetic and frivolous as a monkey. These two fellows were buddies of his much older brothers. They would occasionally organize ‘Ramayan paath’, a twenty four hours nonstop relay reciting of Tulsidas’ Ramayana. They would set up a ‘chowkie’ at one side of the hall, decorate it with four banana trunks and trinkets, setup the holy book and install a bulb above it. A large ‘dari’ would be taken out from the storeroom and spread on the hall for the audience which mostly was a bunch of kids like little Babu. Little Babu was not allowed to sit on the podium and recite even though his one year older brighter sibling was. He would still accompany them to the temple and stay over the night. But for the sense of adventure of spending night outside the home, it wasn’t really fun. At night all kinds of insect would collect and hover around the glowing bulb. The reciter of ‘paath’ would constantly scratch his exposed limbs or shoo away the moths, meanwhile someone will be busy making dark maroon tea from a make shift ‘chullah’. Little Babu would make effort to stay awake as long as possible then fall asleep on the ‘dari’ oblivious to insects all around there. 

A little distance from the temple straight in line of its hall was a small abandoned pool. Its tiled walls were dark with green algae, plaster ripped at places and tiles broken all over. The pool would fill up in the monsoon with clean water. Frogs would float and jump out of the tank along with the bunch of kids. This pool was considered dangerous therefore kids were told not to jump in it. A sentry was on constant duty to see that nobody enters the pool. However this sentry combined other duties so the children would get opportunity to jump into the pool when the sentry went away on some errand and as soon as this sentry was sighted again they would jump out of it and run home. Tired of the constant harassment, the sentry decided to teach the kids some lesson. One day he deliberately went away for a long time so that everyone would be in the pool then he quietly and stealthily came to the pool collected their clothes and went to his officer to complain. Little Babu too was in the pool clinging to its wall not too far away from a swollen frog. Everybody had something on except him. He was stark naked. As the commotion rose suddenly he was overwhelmed with the realization that not only he has come out of pool naked but walk all the way home naked. It was one long walk home in utter embarrassment never to be forgotten. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Adventures of Little Babu: School

Little Babu wasn't dumb but constant hammering of such an idea and relentless comparison with his elder sibling convinced him he was one. The self doubt percolated deep into his psyche so much so that he lost the art of making effort to understand anything cerebral. As a result he found one easy escapist solution to his dilemma in the classroom. He would answer only the questions that had obvious answers. Anything complicated, he would burst in to crying releasing copious amount of tears. That would rattle his teachers and discourage them to ask questions off him because a crying child was always considered handful. This arrangement worked well for him even though fellow mates occasionally jeered at him made fun of him but he would not respond; in fact sink further into his shell. After a while it made no difference. The habit of crying in the classroom became an addiction with him and when he got tired of the game he couldn't find an easy escape route without shattering the myth that his cry in class was plain sham. This game lasted all through his stay in Kanpur only when his family moved to Secunderabad on transfer he was able to shed this burden.

Little Babu walked to school. It was some distance from home. He has no memory of how far it was but there is no memory either of tired walks to and back from school so the walk to school must have leisurely and fun. They lived in an enclosed campus of the army bang in the middle of civilian population. Army men had low opinion of civilians primarily due their own sanitized and organized living conditions. The campus was kept neat and trimmed and there was always some sort of activity that kept the men in uniform busy. One recurring theme little Babu remembers that kept the folks on their toes was impending Inspection. Some hotshot officer would descend at the campus go round the place make speeches, point out anomalies amid the chorus of 'saabji' 'saabji'. That sounded funny to him akin to calling him 'sabzi' (vegetables). Out the front gate of campus was a road they called GT road. Back then it wasn’t all that busy, some heavy trucks would pass occasionally but mostly ‘tongas’, rickshaws and people on bikes. The way to school was across this road past a stretch of empty land then a railway line ….. Just past the GT road was first obstacle little Babu couldn’t quite overcome. It was a small ‘nullah’  possibly half a meter across. There was always some flow in it and the bottom had turned blackish with darkish green algae making it look slippery. While his brothers had no difficulty jumping over it he couldn’t muster enough courage to jump over it so ran about thirty meters along it to a culvert passed over it then ran back to the join them. When he did succeed in jump over it the exhilaration he felt was so much that he jumped back and forth over the nullah several times. Going to school was a chore he disliked but he felt quite unhappy that Sunday because he was denied the opportunity of jumping over the nullah and exalt.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I had to spend a night in a spooky guest house in the megapolis going by the name Delhi. I am a creature of Bombay so harbor natural disdain for the boorish character of this glorified mega-town. 

The Y-Shaped highrise looked spooky not because of any of its constructional features but it’s dimly lit front drive had one lamp going blink periodically then awakening abruptly creating a sense of surrealism like mystery. Building itself towered all of its thirteen floors but it was bland showing total lack of aesthetics; essentially a functional construction as if a civil engineer designed it and not a regular architect. My room was on first floor; the less said about it the better. The excuse offered was that the guest house was under renovation therefore the derelict state. The only redeeming feature was the bedroom neatly tucked up and air-conditioning going full blast. I arrived at the watering hole at midnight, some alcohol in my system helped me manage my dislike of the milieu; promptly discarded clothes, switched off the lights and jumped into the bed. The day had been hectic, the weight of weariness sent me immediately to sleep. After the deep sleep period I was dreaming. 

I was with CP, an ace detective of the Intelligence Bureau; despite great skill in his trade the man had weakness for fine liquor. I knew the fellow would be in trouble someday for this debilitating hole in his professional persona. Anyway we were going from one bar to another purposelessly; CP being a fellow from capital guiding me through the downtown. After a while we were out of the glitzy part of the city and then went into a shady bar. The bartender was unusual in that setting, in fact extremely unusual. He was a standard stereotype of a Muslim from our movies……… Afghani Kurta, skull cap, thin goatee and apparently ankle high salwar which of course we couldn't see. At the bar we asked the fellow if he had Chivas Regal, the man said, sure he had without batting an eyelid. 
‘How much?’ we asked, the guy said, 
‘Four hundred bucks’. 
‘Four hundred buck!’ we repeated incredulously, he simply nodded his head.
‘Hand over’, we said
The man nonchalantly bent down under the bar, removed a large glass jar filled with an inch high glistening yellow liquid. We looked at each other in amazement … At this time suddenly it occurred to me that I have been submerged in bright light. The thought occurred to me that dawn has descended therefore the light. A few seconds later I was wide awake and annoyed at the glare of lamp right over my head switched on. In reflex action I got up went to the switch board across the room switched off the light and also the fan as the room had chilled beyond my comfort endurance. Then I went back to bed and to sleep… Now suddenly it occurred to me how the light was switched on! The thought was disturbing with only one implication. So I went back quietly, switched on the light and began thinking. The room looked still, the time on my cellphone showed 3:18

Wardrobe on the side of bed had its door ajar, through the slit I could see nothing just dark space. An empty mind, as they say, is devil’s workshop, in my case it seemed like imagination of Bram Stoker going wild. Slowly I pulled my head over the pillow, gradually lowered blanked from the face and scanned the room gingerly. All quiet except tag on the collar of shirt, slung over the chair, was fluttering from blast of AC. After some brooding I took out my cellphone and began taking pictures of the room; nothing moved, nothing showed in the pictures. By now I was enough rattled so sleeping was out of question so got up and quietly came out of the room in to the lobby. I could see a couple of cars parked below; some traffic on the road in front of the Guest House would disturb the quiet of the night. The light that was blinking kept blinking eerily. So there on the staircase I sat and waited for dawn. Meanwhile I felt thirsty so ventured into the room again but before that jammed the front door open with the help doormat. I went in and dived out with the water bottle. Then I waited endlessly in that spooky lobby, thinking about utter absurdity of life. At last I heard the ‘azaan’, call of Mullah from nearby mosque, clearly indicating beginning of day. That was sign for me to relax and go to bed, which I did and went to sleep. ….      

PS: May be the light switch was not snapped properly shut so when the room chilled the plastic shrank and the switch snapped back to on position. May be there was something in that room whatever I wouldn't want to be in that room again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Adventures of little Babu: Raw Force

There was a Ber tree in front of little Babu’s house. It was special, a microcosm around which one phase of his precious childhood revolved. A small road running parallel to the barrack like building separated the tree from his house which was at one end of the long building. He played under the tree with his cronies, climbed its branches and heard stories of apparitions going around it in the dead of night. Every day as the dusk settled they would sit on the verandah and gossip inanities. The seniors among them told fancy stories. In summers they would sleep out in the open; mosquito nets fixed to cots with the help of four bamboo sticks. Being a large family, young siblings slept in pairs in cots. They all helped taking the cots with its paraphernalia inside the house every morning and setting them up in parallels every evening all throughout the summers. One evening just as light was fading they were sitting on the cot and gossiping merrily; nobody noticed a piece of dark thick rope lying on the ground.  A few moments later little Babu realized the rope had changed its shape, it was in V shape whereas earlier it was straight. When he pointed the anomaly to his elder brother, he dismissed it with a shrug but another chap dittoed his assertion at the same time they saw real movement in that thing. All hell broke as they jumped off the cot and ran to the shelter of verandah. Commotion brought out elders but the snake had already vanished through an orifice under the culvert. Some effort was made to draw it out but it did not bear f­ruit. So little Babu was left with lingering fear of a sliding reptile still lurking around there in the neighborhood….  

Beyond the tree was large stretch of open land, unattended and at the mercy of elements therefore ugly and at places bald. Somewhere within this forsaken land, past the Ber tree was a small clearing, an island dotted with contraptions for children’s playing; a swing, a see-saw and may be a steel lattice constituting population of that island. One evening little Babu found himself all alone in that playing area. Everybody else had left and the light was fading quickly. Little Babu was musing type, thought he was unusual unlike anybody else. Strange thoughts would occupy his mind and then abruptly he would raise he head, look around to check if anyone has seen his thoughts naked. That lonely evening a bizarre thought came to his mind. He stood near the swing and gently pushed the seat and closed his eyes. His idea was to let the seat swing back and kiss his forehead. So he positioned himself away from the neutral position so that seat while swinging back would rise to the level of his forehead. Satisfied he shoved the seat away gently from him. A couple of times the seat would not quite reach back to his position so a little bored and impatient he gave the seat much stronger push, the seat swung back and instead kissing his forehead, knocked his head sending him tumbling down to ground. He felt a numbing jolt and then mild pain in his head, rubbed it vigorously, got up and went back home. At the house his brother was alarmed to see blood trickling down his forehead which little Babu had not noticed, soon everyone was asking how this happened. Little Babu honestly told them the swing knocked him. He felt relieved that nobody asked how the seat knocked his head. He has memories of sitting at the back of his father’s bike taking him to hospital along the aerodrome road and at the hospital a large disc over his head with four dull lights focused on him while doctors fixing his head. All that remained of the incident was a small permanent scar between his eyes.

One day his cronies came to him excitedly and told him there was ‘paagal’ in the MI room. MI (Medical Investigation or some such thing) room was acronym for the dispensary where he went to get inoculated. The place was morose and reeked of spirit therefore not a friendly place. Like most things there was a sketchy version of ‘paagal’ in his mind culled from bits of information from stories he read, movies he saw and conversations. It was of combative person possessing raw force and malevolence. He felt powerful masochistic urge to see the ‘paagal’. So they set out to MI room which he now remembers was on the far end side of his building not too far away. They took the short cut through the trees. MI room, small building with asbestos roof, was surrounded by tropical trees. A disused and abandoned motor vehicle permanently occupied one end of the dispensary. So the gang walked quietly and in taut anticipation to MI room. Near the MI room even when it was not visible due to cover of trees they heard men talking agitatedly.  As they came very near the MI room, positioned themselves behind tree trunks. Little Babu peered from behind the tree trunk with a sense of trepidation. He saw a metallic cot  with its steel frame in enameled white worn off at places out in the yard. Lying on bare mattress was an average sized man his arms and legs chained to cot. The man would convulse and rent out ear piercing shriek while a couple of men bent over him. His shear presence radiated extreme violence …

That’s the image I have of the man chained to the cot exuding such raw force that it ruffled me so far away …….