Categories
Personal

Tuticorin Travails

          A Short Story 

 “Hey Sis, let’s close these windows, shall we?” Venu implored to his sister Kamala. “We are going to Sahupuram tomorrow and we should get ready”, he said excitedly. Not wanting to be bothered, Kamala said “there is plenty of time, Venu. I am busy now.” Venu’s mother didn’t want to be bothered as well. So, Venu went about closing most of the windows all by himself. Since his father was posted to Karur on work and his brother was out on a trip, Venu felt that he needed to be the “man” of the home. It was a task that he took with gusto.

He tossed and turned until it was time to get up. “Amma, the car is coming very soon to take us to the bus stand.”, he declared. Venu’s father had arranged a car to drop them at the bus stand to take Route No 511 to Tirunelveli. At Tirunelveli, they would get picked up by Venu’s Chithappa onwards to Sahupuram, a factory town near Tuticorin. Venu imagined how the drive would be and the wind hitting his face as he looked outside the bus window. 

“Good morning, Thambi”, greeted the driver, dressed in pearly whites. After some small talk, the suitcases were loaded up and they were on their way. There was not much chatter in the car as everyone was in their own thoughts. Venu’s mother was not her usual bubbly self, but Venu didn’t care much. 

As they pulled into the bus station, the driver enquired “Shall I stay back and help you into the bus?” Venu instantly responded without consulting his mother. “No, we got it”.  The driver wished them a good journey and left.

Ten minutes passed. Impatience set in as twenty minutes approached. The bus was supposed to arrive at 8:10 AM and leave at 8:15. Venu went to the counter and asked the agent, “When is Route 511 bus coming?” The person flashed a quizzical look at Venu and said “That bus left 10 minutes ago. I thought you folks were waiting for another bus.” It took a few minutes for them to realize what had happened. They had been standing right in front of the bus for 5 minutes and missed it. Desperate, Venu asked the agent if there was another bus to Tirunelveli. “Yes there is one at 11 AM.”, the agent said and that tickets were available. The family went into a huddle trying to figure out what to do. Venu’s mother was adamant that she didn’t want to take the next bus. Venu and Kamala kept cajoling her to change her mind, but she steadfastly refused. She claimed that there would be nobody to pick them up at Tirunelveli if they reached in the evening. As consolation, she said they could go to Chinthamani’s and eat samosa. The beetroot samosa was killer but the tradeoff was still quite sad for Venu and Kamala. The last few hours were a blur for Venu. Round 1 was a loss and the jokes kept pouring from all relatives and friends that day. Venu developed a mild case of the blues in the following days.

A few weeks later, another chance came up to go to Tuticorin. Venu’s father had gathered that his friend’s family was going by train to Tirunelveli. The Shencottah Express (an oxymoron) connected Trichy to Tirunelveli and the journey would take about 15 hours. Venu was none too happy about the duration but his desire to vacation in Sahupuram mitigated any consternation about traveling with strangers on a long ride. 

Even today, Venu tries to erase the smells and sounds of that train ride, but it keeps coming back to him, especially at night. After an arduous 15 hours, Venu was super jubilant to see his Chithappa. 

Sahupuram was an oasis. It was the site of DCW (Dharangadhara Chemical Works). Employees had great living quarters, tennis courts, swimming pool, cricket grounds, an outdoor movie theater among other wonderful things. A surfeit of riches to indulge in. It was downright dizzy for Venu. With his cousin Rajesh in tow, it was a fun filled two weeks for Venu. Except for the annoying red “heat boil” in his under thigh that had to be incised by the local doctor. Venu felt really brave to endure a cut without any anaesthetic.  

More fun was in the offing as Chithappa and family made plans to go to Bangalore and decided to take Venu along. At Bangalore, it was a big family gathering of uncles, aunts and grandmother of Venu’s father. With day long cricket, Venu’s first exposure to a Gramophone, followed by walks around the neighbourhood and a salubrious weather, Venu fell in love with Bangalore. 

The phone rang and Venu’s uncle answered the phone. “Oh hello Gopal,” he said. Venu’s father was on the line. After a few niceties, Venu’s uncle enquired “What operation?” Upon hearing this, Venu knew he was in trouble. A few days earlier, he had written a letter to his parents recounting his experience in Sahupuram. At the end, he penned “I had a minor operation. Everything is fine.” Taking seriously his nonchalant use of “operation”, Venu’s parents had panicked and placed a trunk call to Bangalore. 

After the issue was clarified, the family burst into laughter and Venu ran out to hide his embarrassment. 

Categories
Personal Writing

Reading the room

Storm

What can one write? Everything else seems insignificant when :-

  1. It is THE ripe moment to turn the tide on systemic racism against the Black community in this country.
  2. It is legitimate and absolutely needed to question and change the Policing culture in this country.
  3. The “leader” of this country is turning a blind eye as this country’s soldiers are being sacrificed in war.
  4. The country is so divided about basic health safeguards and misinterprets the concept of personal freedom.
  5. A nurse bemoans that she is seriously depressed during a clinical visit
  6. Seeing so many kind people support a project to make something special for healthcare folks
  7. Scientists know so much about the Virus and are racing to create a vaccine.

Celebrate small victories. Keeping chin up everyday is table stakes.

Categories
Personal

#BLM

June 13 2020 – It’s been almost three weeks since the video of a Police officer mercilessly murdering a black man in Minneapolis was shared with the world.

America has righteously erupted into protest, big cities and small joining in a sustained expression of indignation against police treatment of African Americans in particular and systemic racism in general. The people who want to deflect the seriousness of the issue tend to focus on looting.

Smartphones and social media have converged in powerful ways to bring heart wrenching videos of the action in the streets to everyone’s hand. It’s inescapable. It is important to grab attention to the serious issues affecting our society.

I had recently read the book How to hide an Empire and got illuminated on how the USA has treated minorities and indigenous people over the centuries. It was a powerful read and opened my eyes. I wrote this then. https://www.krishgopalan.com/how-to-hide-an-empire/

I am hoping to use this opportunity to learn and experience more of this from the POV of a Black person. Black Lives Matter. Always has. Always will.

Categories
Nature Personal

Out in Nature

Being out in nature is a energy recovering move. The trees and forests have been witness to the planet for hundreds of years, yet are unperturbed. The quiet forest is punctuated by sound of flowing water and chirping birds. Big roots line the path and fallen trunks record upheaval. Wooden steps, railings and the path are a gratitude to those that make it possible to experience the woods. The mask reflects the turbulence of the times. The dog, he’s in his elements.

Categories
Personal

#BheemaStrong

A Short Story

Illustrations by Jayashree Krishnan

 “Your son has eosinophilia, Vasantha Ma,” Dr G declared. “He should avoid dusty places. He needs to get a little stronger. I’ll give him a syrup that should help with the wheezing,” he continued. “Don’t worry,” he assured Venu’s mother.

As she left the clinic, Venu’s mother was concerned. She and Venu’s father had spent a few sleepless nights tending to Venu’s wheezing. However, Venu now felt special. He had a fancy sounding condition that he could brag to his friends.

Venu’s father suggested that he bite on a handkerchief when wheezing symptoms started. Venu was puzzled at first but decided to give that a try. The syrup worked for a few days as Venu was able to go to sleep faster. The kerchief trick didn’t work for him and his mother didn’t want to deal with the “ecchal” kerchief next morning.

Somehow, word reached Venu’s family that raw eggs worked well for eosinophilia. After some back and forth with the hut dweller and poultry keeper Ramaswami across the street, it was arranged.  Ramaswami would deliver an egg every morning at 6:15 am. Venu would need to break it open and eat it raw. 

A small crowd had gathered to watch the grand first day event. Venu’s sister Kamala, his brother Renga, his mother, Ramaswami and his son Rangesh egged Venu on as the egg was broken and he swallowed it’s contents whole. It was a gross taste and Venu just managed to avoid throwing up on everyone. This spectacle continued for a few days. But Venu couldn’t stomach it anymore. He rebelled and the whole idea was shelved.

It was just a few days to go for the annual Chitrai Ther (“Chariot”) festival in Srirangam. The town was abuzz with preparations. White disinfectant powder was sprayed everywhere, vendor stalls kept popping up. Police outposts were installed and traffic diversions put in place. Venu was especially excited for this festival. Now that he was an older boy, he could venture out into areas that were prohibited earlier by his parents and others. He was especially keen to get to the back of the chariot to see the big youth climb on huge logs and ride it down. The logs were used to get the chariot rolling from a stationary position. It was like a lever, Venu made a connection from his Physics class. Venu was also keen to get a taste of the Bheema Pushti Halwa. He was hopeful that it would provide him strength to cure his eosinophilia. “Take that, you stinking eggs,” he said to himself.

Venu managed to get 1 Rupee from his mother to spend. He budgeted 25 paise for Coconut water, 25 paise for Jack fruit and 50 paise for the Halwa. It was going to be an awesome day, he thought. 

Venu sneaked out of home when everyone else was busy. His sister wanted to go with him but he found an excuse to leave her behind. As he neared his grandparent’s home, he greeted them. His thatha asked him to be careful in the crowds. Shouts of “Govindo, Govindo”  filled the air. The Ther was rumbling proudly as hordes of people pulled the huge jute ropes onwards. The Ther was draped in bright colours and he could spot the Bhattars standing next to the Lord. It must be so thrilling to be so high up and being pulled by thousands of people, he thought. 

As he tentatively approached the back of the Ther, Venu was awestruck by the scene. Those logs seemed so much bigger than he had imagined. He really wanted to ride up one of the logs but couldn’t gather much courage. When it was on the ground and the big youth took a break, he climbed up on one of them and felt mighty thrilled. 

Chitrai Ther

Now, it was time to find the Bheema Pushti halwa stall. The previous year, he had seen it near the Raja Gopuram, so he walked towards it through the difficult crowds. After some time trying to locate it, he asked a man “Sir, have you seen the Bheema Pushti halwa stall? I can’t seem to find it.”  The man replied immediately with a knowing smile “oh boy, I just saw him near the Gandhi statue. He was very busy. Shall I take you there? I am going that way only.” Venu thought for a moment and realizing the challenge of the crowds said “ok sir, please take me there”. “Follow me, keep close” said the man. As they walked, there were Police announcements every few minutes asking people to exercise caution against pickpockets and to keep their children in tow at all times.

The smell of the halwa was quite captivating. There was a short line and Venu debated spending 75 paise or 50 paise for the Halwa. He could always get jackfruit later, he thought. 

Strong Halwa

“Give me halwa for 50 paise,” he said excitedly. In a flash the halwa was in his hand and he started tasting it. After he had finished eating, he noticed the man that had helped him still there. Venu shouted “Thanks Sir. This halwa is very good.” The man came closer and said “There is another stall near Devi Talkies and his halwa is even better. We can go check it out if you want”  Since it was on his way home, Venu accepted and started walking with the man.

As they approached Devi Talkies, the man asked Venu where he lived. Venu told him about Periyar Nagar and the man remarked that it’s a nice colony. “Why don’t we take the bus so you can walk less?,” the man said. Venu declined and now could feel the sudden grip of the man on his wrist. He tried to free himself but couldn’t manage it. The man dragged him closer to the bus and pressured him to climb the steps. Venu was distressed and too paralyzed to scream. He had a sudden flash of Shivaji as the hero in a film he had seen recently. With a mix of cunning and bravery, “Veera Shivaji” had outwitted the British. 

“Veera Shivaji,” screamed Venu at the top of his voice and bit into the man’s wrist. The man recoiled in pain and let go of Venu’s hands. In a flash, Venu got free and ran away from the bus. The man tried to pursue but on seeing the throngs of people looking at him, hesitated and walked away. Venu ran and hid behind Devi Talkies.

Once the coast was clear, Venu made his way as fast as possible to his home.

“That Bheema Pushti halwa was very good, Amma,” he declared in an excited voice. “Next year, can you give me 2 Rupees please for Ther?,” Venu implored.

The End

.