Life People Personal

Carrom Bonding

The Carrom Board is a rite of passage for Indian families. To write this article, I looked up the origin of the Carrom game. No surprise, there is strong evidence that it originated in the Indian subcontinent.

For many of us, Carrom is not only a game. It is a family and friends bonding platform. A game can go on for hours with lots of interspersed small talk, jabs and pokes of the mental type, tantrums, taunts, distractions, exhilarations, near misses and a captive audience waiting for it’s turn to play. 

I remember one annual game that started at 10 PM and went on until 3 AM. At 3 AM it was time to get showered and head onto the temple for the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival. The twists and turns of the game were so exciting that no one bothered to get a shut eye for the night. 

The beauty of the game is that one can bring in their own technique and personality. Some believe in precise geometry and physics and wouldn’t hesitate to crow about it when a coin was pocketed. Some play it quietly and can’t tolerate chit chats and distractions during their turn. The same kind do not reveal their techniques for fear of copycats. Some would lean back so far back on their backless chair to strike a coin that it was certain they crossed the international border to SriLanka.  A person’s true personality came through loud and clear.  

The carrom coins are of 2 colors – brown (white) and black. There is also a red one. The brown carries 2 points and the black carries one point. The queen (red) is valued at 5 points. You can note the color discrimination there too in the value system.

The powder is the substance that makes it all work. Boric Acid and Nycil are the two common ones. Without the powder, it is practically impossible for the striker to move smoothly on the  polished board made of plywood.

Last week, we received our new carrom board. We finally replaced our previous one that has gone missing for years. I feel like a kid again. To my horror, I taunted my wife to play and she gave it right back to me. However, we are spending more time looking at each other across the table than viewing the TV next to each other. 

Game on! What’s your Carrom story? 

Life People Personal

On Friendship

This is a guest post from my long time friend. Diraviam Kannan (aka TDK aka tadukki). TDK lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. We became classmates at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. TDK writes mellifluously after researching Thiruvalluvar’s writings on Friendship in Thirukural. It’s a fascinating read and longer than my typical couple of paragraphs. Sorry, there is no TL;DR version.

TDK, take it away…

Greetings, Vanakkam!

Living with limited social interactions for awhile now, all of us wonder when this status will change. We look forward with hope, more of a disappointing longing, as to when we can freely meet and mingle with our friends and beloved ones. As social beings, we find this isolated lifestyle painful.

Constrained by this isolation, we have used social media to connect with our friends and extended families. In a way, it has been a blessing in disguise as we are able to have closer and frequent contact with them. It is a great pleasure to be able to connect with our school and college friends. Friendship that is unique and distinct. Friendship that allows us to be ourselves, providing an environment wherein we can share our thoughts freely and safely, without the fear of being judged.

Musing about friendship in this manner led me to wonder what Thamizh literature would hold about friendship. Thamizh is an ancient language but has stayed vibrant and kept up with changing times. A lifetime is not sufficient to know all that’s written about friendship in Thamizh literature. Hence, I decided to look into Thirukkural, revered as ‘Thamizh Vedam’, about Friendship.

The great Thamizh poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, in his epic work Thirukkural, has expounded about friendship in the ‘Porul’(‘Wealth’) section, in five chapters titled ‘Natpu’  (‘Friendship’), ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’), ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’), ‘Thee Natpu’ (‘Evil Friendship’), and ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not to be had’). He has written 10 couplets in each topic totaling 50 couplets on friendship and related aspects. Thiruvalluvar considered friendship to be quite important in our lives as he has written a lot about it.

Let’s explore.

செயற்கரிய யாவுள நட்பின் அதுபோல்
வினைக்கரிய யாவுள காப்பு.

What is so hard for men to gain as friendship true?
What is so sure defence ‘gainst all that foe can do?

Is anything dearer than acquiring friendship? Once we have friendship, are there any stronger things to guard us from evils? Thiruvalluvar treats friendship as a precious thing. Realizing true friendship is the ultimate protection for our lives, he says

உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கைபோல ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவதாம் நட்பு.

As hand of him whose clothing slips away,
Friendship at once the coming grief will stay.

True friendship hastens to the rescue of the afflicted as readily as the hand of one whose garment is loosened before an assembly.

Most of us are familiar with this couplet. In the midst of others, if our dress slips, our hand rushes to catch it. Likewise when our friends are in distress, we should rush to help them. Akin to the involuntary action of our hands, true friends will help without being asked. Such is true friendship according to Thiruvalluvar. Not only that, he goes on to explain how good a true friendship is and should be.

அழிவி னவைநீக்கி ஆறுய்த்து அழிவின்கண்
அல்லல் உழப்பதாம் நட்பு.

Friendship from ruin saves, in way of virtue keeps;
In troublous time, it weeps with him who weeps.

A true friend turns one aside from evil ways, makes him/her walk in the good way, and, in case of loss, grieves with them.


முகநக நட்பது நட்பன்று நெஞ்சத்து
அகநக நட்பது நட்பு.

Not the face’s smile of welcome shows the friend sincere,
But the heart’s rejoicing gladness when the friend is near.

The love that dwells (merely in the smiles of the face is not friendship; (but) that which dwells deep in the smiles of the heart is true friendship.

Thiruvalluvar appears to relish, as he explains how true friendship feels.

நவில்தொறும் நூல்நயம் போலும் பயில்தொறும்
பண்புடை யாளர் தொடர்பு.

Learned scroll the more you ponder, Sweeter grows the mental food;
So the heart by use grows fonder, Bound in friendship with the good.

The pleasure that we get in our relationship with a true and noble friend is akin to the pleasure that we get every time we read a good book.

How amazing is this thought ! Even 2000 years ago a good book was considered like a good friend. If this were true, as this couplet implies, how Thamizhians must have been well read then!

நட்பிற்கு வீற்றிருக்கை யாதெனின் கொட்பின்றி
ஒல்லும்வாய் ஊன்றும் நிலை.

And where is friendship’s royal seat? In stable mind,
Where friend in every time of need support may find.

Friendship may be said to be on its throne when it possesses the power of supporting one another at all times and under all circumstances.

That’s how Valluvar defines the intrinsic nature of Friendship.

Moving on….

As Friendship is of such paramount importance, the ways to make friends must be treated with even more rigor. Accordingly, Thiruvalluvar stipulates the ways to make friends in the chapter ‘Natparaithal’ (‘Investigation in forming friendship’).

குணமும் குடிமையும் குற்றமும் குன்றா
இனனும் அறிந்தியாக்க நட்பு.

Temper, descent, defects, associations free
From blame: know these, then let the man be friend to thee.

We should know about a person’s character, their lineage, defects, and the nature of their associations prior to extending our friendship to them, As to why, he says below.

நாடாது நட்டலிற் கேடில்லை நட்டபின்
வீடில்லை நட்பாள் பவர்க்கு.

To make an untried man your friend is ruin sure;
For friendship formed unbroken must endure.

There is no way to forsake friendship that we form as a true friend and so there is nothing as harmful as extending friendship without adequate inquiry about the friend.

How true! Thirukkural is thus credited to be the “Code of Social and Personal Life”, one among the many acclaims bestowed on this great literary work. Though it has been written over two thousand years ago it is still relevant and applicable to our way of life.

ஆய்ந்தாய்ந்து கொள்ளாதான் கேண்மை கடைமுறை
தான்சாம் துயரம் தரும்.

Alliance with the man you have not proved and proved again,
In length of days will give you mortal pain.

The friendship contracted by one who has not made a thorough inquiry will in the end grieve one to death, Thus warns Valluvar!

In “Thee Natpu” (‘Evil Friendship’) chapter, Thiruvalluvar proscribes forming friendship with persons such as

உறுவது சீர்தூக்கும் நட்பும் பெறுவது
கொள்வாரும் கள்வரும் நேர்.

These are alike: the friends who ponder friendship’s gain
Those who accept whate’er you give, and all the plundering train.

Those who form friendship based on possible gains are equivalent to women of the streets and thieves.

Not only that, he goes on to caution about…

கனவினும் இன்னாது மன்னோ வினைவேறு
சொல்வேறு பட்டார் தொடர்பு.

E’en in a dream the intercourse is bitterness
With men whose deeds are other than their words profess.

The friendship of those whose actions do not agree with their words will distress (one) even in (one’s) dreams.

Though Thiruvalluvar has praised the greatness of true friendship he also details about unreal friendship in the chapter ‘Kooda Natpu’ (‘Friendship not be had’).

முகத்தின் இனிய நகாஅ அகத்தின்னா
வஞ்சரை அஞ்சப் படும்.

‘Tis fitting you should dread dissemblers’ guile,
Whose hearts are bitter while their faces smile.

One should fear the deceitful who smile sweetly with their face but never love with their heart.

இனம்போன்று இனமல்லார் கேண்மை மகளிர்
மனம்போல வேறு படும்.

Friendship of those who seem our kin, but are not really kind.
Will change from hour to hour like woman’s mind.

The friendship of those who seem to be friends while they are not, is like the mind of woman whose deeds are different from their intent.

This is the same idea that the great Thamizh Saint Thiru Ramalinga Swamigal aka Vallalar purports in his verse

உள்ளொன்று வைத்து புறமொன்று பேசுவார் உறவு கலவாமை வேண்டும்

We desire not to have friendship with those whose speech and deeds are different from their intent.

Thiruvalluvar even goes to the extent of preferring loneliness over friendship when the choice of friendship is with people who would forsake friends at times of critical need.

அமரகத்து ஆற்றறுக்கும் கல்லாமா அன்னார்
தமரின் தனிமை தலை.

A steed untrained will leave you in the tug of war;
Than friends like that to dwell alone is better far.

Solitude is more to be desired than the society of those who resemble the untrained horses which throw down (their riders) in the fields of battle.

Friendship involves minds of two people and it is impossible to conceive that two minds can think the same way, at all times. Hence, friends will land up having difference of opinions and altercations. Valluvar provides guidance on the ways to handle such differences in the chapter ‘Pazhaimai’ (‘Familiarity’).

பேதைமை ஒன்றோ பெருங்கிழமை என்றுணர்க
நோதக்க நட்டார் செயின்.

Not folly merely, but familiar carelessness,
Esteem it, when your friends cause you distress.

If friends should perform what is painful, understand that it is owing not only to ignorance, but also to the strong claims of intimacy.

பழைமை எனப்படுவது யாதெனின் யாதும்
கிழமையைக் கீழ்ந்திடா நட்பு.

Familiarity is friendship’s silent pact,
That puts restraint on no familiar act

Intimate friendship is that which cannot in the least be injured by things done through the right of longstanding intimacy.

Between two true friends if one commits a mistake that can harm the relationship it is important for the other to forgive, if not, the friendship may not survive. There is also a verse from ‘Naaladiyaar’ that reiterates this notion

இறப்பவே தீய செயினும், தன் நட்டார் பொறுத்தல் தகுவது ஒன்று அன்றோ?-நிறக் கோங்கு உருவ வண்டு ஆர்க்கும் உயர் வரை நாட!- ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு.

Even if a friend causes us much grief,

To put up with them is worth it; My Lord!

Bees buzz around bright flowers in your country’s tall peaks;

Patience of one saves friendship of two.

In the collection of poems famed as the ‘Naaladiyaar’, this poem is listed in the chapter ‘Natpirt pizahi poruththal’ (‘Toleration of mistakes committed in Friendship’) and illustrates

In spite of the grief created by the deeds of our true friend it is imperative to tolerate and forgive that O King, just as how the bees go in search of the blossom flowers at the mountain highs in your fair land so it is for one to be patient about ones true friend’s mistakes towards one in order to maintain that true friendship.

This is the same notion spelt out in the familiar proverb “ஒருவர் பொறை இருவர் நட்பு” . The below verse is listed in ‘Pazahamozhi Naanooru’ (‘Proverbs Four hundred’) and conveys the same idea

தீமை இல்லவர், நட்டவர் தீமையையும்,
எம் தீமை’ என்றே உணர்ப, தாம்; அம் தண்
பொரு திரை வந்து உலாம் பொங்கு நீர்ச் சேர்ப்ப!-
ஒருவர் பொறை, இருவர் நட்பு.

True friends would consider sorrows caused by their friend’s mistakes as sorrows of their own ill fate and forgive their friends. Thus, O Chief of the lands that are rich in water and where the waves rolls on the shores, one’s patience with their true friend’s mistakes will ensure survival of their friendship.

This poem beautifully illustrates the notion that tolerance and patience is essential to safeguard friendships.

All that I have shared so far about friendship is akin to grazing just the top surface of lush green meadows. In the vast literary swath of old and modern Thamizh literature there are lot more poems and verses embedded with thoughts and ideas about friendship. Of course, I am keen to know about all of that and will try my best. I will surely then share that with you all when time comes.

Long live friendship! Long live Thamizh! Wish you all a great life! 

Thanks for reading my post.

Note: It is imperative for me to record that the explanations about the various Thirukkural, Naaladiyaar, Pazhamozhi Naanooru poems that I have shared in this post are not mine but are based on the explanations written by various Thamizh scholars like Professor Mu. Varatharasanaar, Professor Solomon Pappaiaah, Thiru Sivayogi Sivakumar available in website, Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural, Pulavar Saina Munivar’s Naaladiyaar, explanations by Thiru Thi, Su, Balasundaram Pillai, Pulavar Thiru Mundrurai Araiyanaar’s Pazhamozhi Naanooru, explanations by Thiru Puliyur Kesikan.

Life People Personal

The Bully Pulpit

A Short Story / Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan

Ashokar was a tall, lanky student in Venu’s school. He was too tall for his shorts, but that didn’t stop him from occasionally sporting the jock look. Ashokar was a few classes senior to Venu, and the two seemed to enjoy a cordial relationship. Beneath it however, Venu often felt tense and afraid. He couldn’t put a finger on why that was. Perhaps it was how Ashokar looked at him, greeted him, or played cricket with others in the school courtyard. Venu would frequently notice Ashokar intently staring at him, while in conversation with his protégé, Sundar, who happened to be Venu’s classmate. It was widely known that Sundar and Venu did not get along. Venu couldn’t put a finger on that as well.  

Sad Venu

“What’s the matter, Venu?”, enquired his aunt Jhansi as she saw him skulking in his study room. “Nothing. I’m just tired”, he said, attempting to deflect her attention. But he couldn’t control his sniffles. “Aiyayo, Vasantha, come here”, Jhansi exclaimed. “Venu is crying and doesn’t seem well. Something is wrong”, she emoted. 

Venu’s mother, Vasantha, and his aunt tried to get to the bottom of the matter, but they gave up after a while and started to walk away. “Ashokar pushed me and hit me”, Venu mumbled. 

“What did you say?”, exclaimed Venu’s mother. Venu could no longer control his tears. Between breaths, he recounted what Ashokar had done to him as he left school. 

“Where do you think you are going?”teased Ashokar as he cut into Venu’s path. Venu was heading home from school later than normal one day, as he took some special classes. “I’m going home Ashokar. I had some special classes today.”, replied Venu. “Oh, special classes, eh? Just for you?”, said Ashokar with sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “No, there were a few other students”, Venu replied in a muted voice, as the tall, gangly Ashokar leaned into Venu’s face. Venu quickly looked around and saw that there were very few people around. He made a mental note that this was a premeditated move from Ashokar. Venu swallowed in fear. “Leave me alone”, pleaded Venu as he looked at the gate watchman, hoping he would notice. The watchman averted Venu’s gaze and conveniently pretended to be busy with something else. Venu had observed the watchman and Ashokar in frequent friendly conversations.

“I have been meaning to teach you a lesson for a while now. I don’t like how you treat Sundar”, Ashokar threatened, as his hands moved closer to Venu’s chest. “That rat“, Venu thought to himself, as he pictured the cowardly and envious Sundar call in the school thug to teach him a lesson.  

Venu crashed into a brick planter as Ashokar shoved his chest. Thankfully, his backpack cushioned the fall. Ashokar menacingly approached Venu as he struggled to get up. In an instant, Venu decided to run as fast as he could out of the school. Having achieved his objective, Ashokar did not chase after Venu. 

“Oh my god”, exclaimed Venu’s aunt Jhansi, as Venu finished recounting his experience. She vowed to visit his school and talk to the principal. Venu’s mother agreed with her and they planned to make a trip to his school. Venu didn’t want to stop them, as he couldn’t fathom a way to deal with Ashokar by himself.

Ashokar was a man of few words. Venu thought Ashokar compensated for it by surrounding himself with cronies. Ashokar contested the school election, but lost as his campaign was quite silent. Venu thought that Ashokar didn’t take the loss too well and led to the incident a few days ago. 

The daily School Assembly was in progress. Miss Kannamal paced up and down as she led the students in the final song of the day. She was a master teacher of the Bhagavad Gita slokas and her signature sing-song style made her popular with the students. Before Miss Kannamal dismissed the students, the Headmistress came on stage and made an announcement.

“It gives me no pleasure to do this”, she said sternly, as she gazed around the assembly. “Kamakoti is no place for bullies, it’s not a place where you play rough with each other instead of using words to solve your problems”, she declared. Venu trembled with excitement. Was she going to name names?, he thought to himself.  

The Principal called Ashokar to the stage and told him to apologize to Venu. The assembly was abuzz. Ashokar shamefully mumbled a few words, and ran as fast as possible back to his line. Venu was pleased at how his mother and aunt had advocated for him. In the back of his mind, he wished he had done so himself. For now, it was time to celebrate.

Venu in Celebration

Little did he realize that the story was just about to begin.

People Personal

Something of Meaning

We started banging pots and pans at 7 PM daily in early March to express support to the frontline and healthcare workers. Healthcare workers faced an enormous challenge during the early days of the pandemic with limited personal protective equipment and worked long hours. They became the rallying cry for the rest of society. It was an emotional time for all of us.

Having just come off a huge art project for the Chicago Temple, Jayashree had earned some well deserved rest and relaxation. Her “art” project for the temple consisted of painting about 40 works of the various deities and structures in the temple. These paintings were planned to be stored in a special room with the actual deities, while renovation (Samprokshanam) was in progress. The interesting aspect to this is that these paintings would actually host the deities (“avahanam”) during this time. Imagine that responsibility for the painting and its artist. As of this writing, the renovation work is still on pause due to COVID.

We celebrated her 50th birthday and then within a few days everything got shut down hard in Seattle. A few weeks after that, she casually painted her doctor cousins covered with PPE, caring for COVID patients.

In a way, Jayashree got immersed at a very deep level and heard many poignant stories from her subjects. I was grateful to hear many of those stories too that gave me a more meaningful perspective than just CFR/R0 and other data. We heard a heroic story from a friend. Her uncle, after treating dozens of COVID patients, finally succumbed. While being treated himself, he enquired and provided support to his patients. What a hero!

A Hero from Andhra Pradesh

Throughout, she got support from so many people. A Gofundme project to support making of over 30 portraits raised $1500 in a week. That was quite heartwarming. Art supply stores provided product at discount. Cheers and statements of support was so critical for her to keep going, significantly from fellow participants in the workshop. Her studio mate Rick Fichter and I made a lightbox to take pictures of all the paintings. Harish displayed his photography skills by taking pictures. Akshara, Samarjit and Malolan provided the finishing touches by mounting over 50 pictures on frames. As a finale, I was happy to install the portraits in Virginia Mason. Many more folks helped that I am certainly glossing over.

It’s glad to see her taking a well deserved break. Who knows what the next sprint is going to be?

Heroes from Jefferson Health in Philadelphia
Virginia Mason Heroes Exhibit

You can also visit her site where she has chronicled this entire project of significant meaning.

Thanks for reading.

People Personal

Around the Block

A Short Story

Venu, a 9 year old boy had an idyllic life. He lived in a large corner house with an expansive garden. Most of the time, he could be found outside playing with his friends or climbing the easily accessible large Mango tree. It’s branches provided a sheltered space to play pretend hero games. A few falls and scrapes here and there were quickly forgotten with the excitement of daily play. In the big open space in his garden, he played cricket, gilli dhanda, marbles and pambaram. Venu was a happy boy. 

Venu’s house was on a street on the banks of the Thirumanjana Kaveri, a tributary of the Kaveri river. Not quite on the banks, but a road separated it from the huts that lined the banks. When the river was full, it was another perfect play area for Venu and his friends. To get to the river, Venu had to make his way through the huts and made friends with the children of the hut dwellers. It was a happy community despite the economic division between concrete and hut dwellers. 

The hut dwellers were day laborers, fishermen, construction workers, goat keepers and more. Venu was thick friends with many of the kids in his neighborhood. Together with many of his peers that lived in concrete houses, they would play games during school breaks. Many of the games happened in Venu’s backyard.

Venu’s thatha (grandfather) lived about half an hour away. Thatha would ride his bicycle to see his daughter and chat with her everyday. He would bring a small bag of vegetables and fruits that he picked on the way from his house to Venu’s. It was a good 30 minute bicycle ride amidst a sea of people. Venu loved his thatha for that and longed to ride a bicycle himself. 

Venu’s older brother had learnt how to ride a bicycle sometime ago. Venu had watched him with excitement and was quite impatient to get on a bicycle himself. However, no one came forward to teach him as they thought he was still too young. He was also seen as one prone to injuries and no one wanted to take a chance.  

He begged and pleaded with many of his older friends to have a turn on their bicycle. He tried to trade cricket batting chances for bicycle rides. His friend Murali graciously offered his bike for half an hour one day and Venu earnestly started the first of the 3 step process. To learn how to bike, a lad had to follow the 3 step process. The first step was the monkey pedal, the second step was the bar straddle and the 3rd step was to sit in the seat. To attain the 3rd step one would have to physically grow up so one could round the pedal with their feet.

When Venu was a boy,  they didn’t make and sell many junior bicycles. As Venu sees it now, kids go straight to sitting in the seat model and there is no looking back.  “So much easier, but much less fun”, he says.

The monkey pedal was a convoluted and risky maneuver. The left hand grabbed the left handlebar and the right hand reached over to grab the right one. One steps on the left pedal with their left leg and jiggers it back and forth in a half circle so the bicycle starts moving. Once it attains motion, the right leg quickly snaps over to the right pedal under the triangular frame. Then, it was a process of balancing and risk taking to be able to do just half circular motions or full ones. Graduating to a full circular motion on the pedals usually took weeks and weeks of practice. At the same time the handlebars have to be held steady so the bicycle could be steered correctly. 

Venu’s thatha parked and fastidiously locked his bicycle daily.  He was very possessive about his bicycle. Venu pleaded with his thatha “thatha, thatha can I please take your bike for just 5 minutes. I won’t take it far”. His thatha would say “No Venu, it’s too big for you. Here are some ripe guavas instead”. Sometimes it was a fair trade and Venu would run back into the garden biting into a juicy guava.

This went on for a few weeks. However, Venu constantly itched to take his thatha’s bicycle for a spin. On one fine morning, just as thatha was parking his bicycle. Venu greeted him and distracted him with some gibberish. In the ensuing distraction, thatha forgot to lock his bicycle and went inside to chat with his daughter.  Venu swung into action.

In the same street, there lived Krishna Iyengar. He was a vadhiyar and performed many religious ceremonies for families. Krishna Iyengar also served as Venu’s family’s vadhiyar. Venu liked the portly man very much as he was very soft spoken and didn’t constantly keep telling kids what not to do.

Gingerly opening the front gate and pushing the bicycle onto the road was no easy task. Once there, it was a quick one, two, three, four on the left foot and then a hop through the gap onto the right pedal and Venu was off. Venu was giddy with excitement and also nervous with fear. It was 8:30 in the morning and he was supposed to start getting ready for school. He thought everyone in the street was looking at him when in reality people just went on about their daily life. In no time, he took the first left turn and breathed a sigh of relief as he entered a low traffic street. His legs felt smooth and he had a good control of the handlebars. He felt good. 

The second left turn came up. This was a four way crossing and if he navigated the left turn smoothly, Venu could feel calmer. He spied his mother’s close friend waving at him and giving him a big smile. Though Venu liked her, it was not a time for politeness. He had to turn left.

Thankfully, he did. Now, Venu was coasting. With his heart beating fast, Venu looked forward to the long straight road before the next left turn. He saw many of his school friends already walking to school. His friend Viji waved to Venu from his veranda and egged him on. “Go Venu Go, Dei super da” he said.  Not wanting to lose focus, Venu had no choice but to ignore him. Later on that evening during Cricket, Venu thanked Viji for his encouragement and proceeded to tell him the whole story.

The 3rd left turn was coming up shortly. The house across this intersection had always been a mystery for Venu and his friends. It had high fences with bushes covering it. The owner of this house was also not cooperative in returning cricket balls that were hit into his yard. Venu handled the third turn with ease. He spotted SK, a friend of his brother waving to him. “Venu, great da” he said. Venu was thrilled because there was a rumour that SK had a girlfriend. 

The next left turn was going to be tricky. The road was in bad condition with many potholes. Roosters and goats took up half the road. The hut dwellers also encroached on it and many were still asleep. What the heck did they do at night anyway, that they are not awake now, wondered Venu. It was a tightrope walk for Venu, but he was focused. He made the left turn and now he felt he was in the home stretch.

“I’m going to tell your thatha”, screamed Pitchai from his veranda as he looked at Venu gingerly on his bicycle. Pitchai, a friend of Venu’s uncle lived a few doors from Krishna Iyengar. “What a party pooper”, Venu thought.

Venu got slightly distracted. Looking forward, he saw Krishna Iyengar comfortably ensconced in his easy chair. 

After his morning rounds, Krishna Iyengar liked to bring out an easy chair and relax on it in the open space in front of his house. Venu always questioned the wisdom of doing so as there was so much noise from sheep, people and other things on the road. Venu had wanted to ask Krishna Iyengar about this for a while but never really gathered the courage to do so.

Just then a rooster decided to scurry across the street. Venu got rattled a bit. His legs started feeling like lead now. He started breathing a little harder. 

Illustration by Jayashree Krishnan

What was he supposed to do? A lot of forces were resisting him. In a bid to get away from the situation, Venu pedaled a little harder. 

In a flash, the world turned bad for Venu.

“Aiyo”, screamed Krishna Iyengar as Venu crashed onto the easy chair. The easy chair tumbled and Krishna Iyengar tumbled onto the ground out of control. The bicycle ended up on the road and Venu ended up on Krishna Iyengar. It was not a pretty sight. 

Within seconds, a small crowd had gathered around them. Pitchai ran toward the scene and started examining Venu and Krishna Iyengar. He helped steady both of them. He declared that neither of us had sustained any injuries. Krishna Iyengar’s portliness had helped cushion Venu’s fall and the easy chair had helped mitigate Krishna Iyengar’s tumble.  

Venu was breathless, but still apologized profusely. After surveying himself, Krishna Iyengar promptly dismissed the boy softly. “Good thing. I am not hurt”.  You go home now. Be careful”. “What a nice man”, wondered Venu.

Scanning himself, Venu could see a few scratches on his knees and elbows. Some grease marks lined his shins. Grabbing the bicycle, Venu started pedaling slowly back home.  

Thatha had still not finished talking to his daughter. The coast was clear to park the bicycle, run to the outside pipe, wash up and head into the kitchen.

“Venu!, it’s time to eat and go to school.”, said Venu’s mother.

“Okay Amma, here I am!”. Venu said.