Before I write the post that the title refers to, I want to write this!
Consider, the night before
- A talk that I have to give
- Meeting my adviser
- Telling a huge lie to someone
All these three events, have one thing is common. I practice the talk a million times as I struggle to sleep the night before, I go through my “parts” of the meeting, in which I tell about the research that I have been doing and the results that I have to my adviser, and I sure like hell, go through the lie that I have to tell the next day.
Now you know, what scenario 1 and 2 have in common with scenario 3!
It was the late eighties (’88, I think, need to confirm it with Amma), and we had gone to Coimbatore for Ramu Mama’s wedding. Sometime during the trip, the ladies were conducting the Sumangali Prathanai (which is explained in detail here). Men and boys were requested to stay outside while the ladies did the actual puja and ate the food inside. So, I was left with a lot of other small kids, which included my cousin Badri outside the house, and under the supervision of some random mama/chitappa. In my recollection, it was some 25-27 year old chap, related to us. The superviser mama, in order to keep us engaged, made paper boats for us, and we took turns to set them to drift in the nulla next to the house and watch it sail for some time. The most exciting part was not watching the paper boat sail in the nulla, but was the act of putting it in the nulla. All the kids awaited their turn, but my cousin was a little restless, and wanted to jump lines and take my turn to set the boat sailing in the nulla. I resisted the move, but he was (and is) stronger than me, and tried to push me to a side and steal the paper boat from me. The push, unfortunately was misdirected, and I, along with the boat fell into the gutter. The flurry of activities that followed has been a typical conversation fodder in many conversations when someone in the family gets nostalgic and goes, “Remember when Kaushik fell into the gutter”.
I was quickly taken out, and all the dettol available in Coimbatore was poured into a hot bucket of water, and I was cleansed, right in the middle of the road. Meanwhile, Badri was taken in, and given a flogging my Raghu Mama. I do not remember any of this, but a vivid descriptions by so many people, has helped me imagine such a situation, women in 9-yard saris crowding around a small kid being bathed in really hot water in the middle of the street, while another young boy, was being beaten and scolded, pretty loudly too, inside the house.
Would have been a good day for the passer-by’s on the street too!
59/5 Bakthiar Shah Road, is the first house that I remember living in (helps that there is a ton of photos of this house). Getting down at Mannar Khabar (a sweet shop that was missed all the years we were in Shaker Bazar in Calcutta), you walk into a narrow lane for a long time (a very long time for kids). I even remember seeing a python coiled on this particular stretch of road sometime. At the end of the lane, there was a gate, and a garden (which keeps becoming a wild unkept garden with tall grass in recollections of the lane), and a house deep inside the garden, from which I think we might have had a friend, but the house was one we hardly visited. You take a left at the end of the lane, walk just a little, and turn right and there was Bakthiarshah road. A residential lane, quite far away from any of the main roads in the area. Out house was the last one on the left in the lane (which also had a backyard). The second house on the left belonged to the judge in the Calcutta High court, the one next to us, belonged to an ex-major of the Indian Army, and the house right opposite ours, had the dominant South Indian population in the lane. The street ended with yet another gate, beyond which was a pretty closed community built amid lots of trees, where my childhood bully cum friend Kutush (he has also *-ed in this post). In the house above his, Puja, my sister’s best friend lived and not very far Kannan, another close buddy of my sister’s lived. Next to Kannan’s house was the old lady, who locked her house and gave the lock a tug to see if it comes out, and from who, I seem to have gotten the habit too!
Our house had a small gate to enter it, and a big varendah at the end of which was the main door. Right next to the house, flowed the gutter, which was pretty narrow by gutter standards, and pretty shallow too. A short kid could jump up, let a peek of his head show above the wall and spit right into the gutter. Sometime in ’91, cousins Bharath and Lakshmi with peripa and perima came to Calcutta from Zambia to visit us. We were super excited about their arrival, and begged Appa to take us along to the airport to receive them (also, the fact that they were flying in, from abroad, was a bragging point in school). But the flight was scheduled to come late in the night, and Appa refused to take us along.
The next day, upon waking up, I found Bharath sitting on the varendah wall, with his hand spread wide, and slowly swaying from side to side. He told me he was flying, and asked me (and I was 6 then, he was 12 or 13) to join him. Amma and the elders were talking inside, dangerously unaware that my sister and I were outside. Lakshmi joined Bharath up on the wall too, and Vidya was too little to get up. I was not and I got on the wall, and as soon as I spread my hand, I lost all balance and fell, unfortunately, on the wrong side of the wall, and straight into the gutter. The gutter was not very deep nor very wide, and it meant that I hurt the bridge of my nose and the top of my forehead. I was fished out of the gutter, all bathed in the black dirty waters of the gutter and the my thick red blood. Neighbors got involved, a taxi was called, and I was rushed to the doctor near the Mother Diary milk vending machines. After an emergency procedure, I ended up with three stitches in-between my eyes and three on my forehead ( the emergency procedure has been later repeated many times as a testimonial to the doctor, who could sew up a kid bathed in stinky gutter water and blood, in such a crucial place without affecting the eye, and also as a reminder of the bravery of the kid to withstand that pain without much tears). The sign on my nose still remains as a proof that this did happen (and so is the photo below).
After being stitched and cleaned with dettol, and after picking up a fever because of all the tension and all the pain, Amma decided to stay home with me, while the others went with Appa on the Calcutta tour. The tour, being the part of my cousin’s visit that I was most excited about. I relentlessly cried to come with them, and finally went. On the last part of the tour, in Banu Mami’s 13th floor apartment, the photo below was taken.
Also included is the photo of the varendah wall, the scene of crime.
Couple of years later, late afternoon, Kutush and I were bicycle racing on the street, confident in the knowledge that all our street-street dogs were sleeping peacefully somewhere. I had a small BSA-Champ cycle, while Kutush, having grown tall and strong real quick, had a much bigger cycle. These handicaps, not withstanding, I agreed to race Kutush. The race was going well for me, I was pedalling real quick, I was bent low on my seat, squirming to see ahead in the distance, accelerating, and was not much ahead of Kutush. But I had forgotten, one tiny little detail, in all my zest to finish first. There was a speed-breaker in the middle of the street. My bike took-off from the speed-breaker. I lost all control of the bike, because it was not on the ground. The speed that I generated, helped me fly a small distance ahead, and I crash landed right into (you guessed it), the gutter. Minor injuries were suffered, which included a bruise above my eye, and a swelling which left my left eye temporarily shut.
And I remember the next day, my Moral Education final exam. Amma took me to school and for some reason convinced the teachers to let me write the exam separately in a room, and being all alone, I peeked into my class notebook to look at a answer, ironically in a moral education exam.
This time, I did not fall into the gutter.
Sometime in the 4th semester, I got a real nice gift, a hand woven woolen keychain. I intended to keep it for a long time, but my old love of the gutter claimed the gift. It was the day of our Math’s Internals, and halfway through the exam, I just had to answer to natures call. Not trusting the department rest-rooms, I handed in a half completed answer paper, and ran to Chamundi, our hostel, and rushed to the rest-rooms. In all the hurry, I dropped my keys, with the keychain into the toilet, and saw the flush take it down. Later, I informed the hostel people that I had lost my keys and in an act that I don’t comprehend now, also informed them that they can, if they want to, find it in the gutters. Promptly a person was asked to go into all the shit, and fish for my keys. He found them, claimed to have cleaned them and handed them to me. As much as I wanted to keep the nice colourful keychain, which the gutters had changed into a uniform ugly black, I threw it away.
Now, this is one love affair that I would love to get broken up with!!