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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. 

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