‘Shouldn’t have worn this shirt, bloody! Now that I’m all sweaty it looks more brown than red”, he muttered, walking down the steep slope. Cow dung everywhere and they don’t even bother to clean it up. Appa* keeps complaining about this guy called ‘Corporation‘. Some big-shot. Seems like he’s not doing a lot of things he is supposed to be in charge of. Last week while playing with little Jaanu- we were pouring water over each other- Amma** came running out to chase us away, shouting all the while – the ‘Corporation‘ guy again, was not giving us enough water apparently. Ruined a jolly afternoon. (*Dad **Mom)
After what seemed like thousand hours, he could see the house in a distance. Above the gate hung a board, and on it, neatly written underneath a serene looking picture of Goddess Saraswati- ‘Mantraalaya Sangeetha Nirtha Padhanashaala*’. Climbing quickly up the stairs, as fast as his 14 year old feet could, he took his spot right next to the window. Just like every week. (*Mantralaya Music and Dance Academy)
He was earlier than usual, by about half an hour. Nirmal had got suspicious. That sly smile and knowing look. Never could trust the fellow. Always sweet talking Ammalu mami* into buying him ice creams. Weird set of friends, he had. There was Kichu, the big show off. Fastest in school. Keeps snatching stuff from others and sprinting away. Then there was Mahesh a.k.a Thadiyan**. Fat as a pig, but thinks he’s Mohan Lal- big movie buff. His Appa, Narayanan uncle owns a saloon nearby. So he gets to read film magazines every week. Meenakshi, his twin sister is our M.S Subbulakshmi. She doesn’t sing any nice songs though. But everyone keeps saying she’s gifted. Odd. (*aunt **fatso)
And then there is me. I was born in Edavam* and that too on a very lucky day. ‘Raajayogam**’- the astrologer had said. Everyone says I’ll become an engineer. Manu chettan*** is an engineer and he has a bike. He goes out every morning, wearing a big helmet and vroooom…a puff of smoke and he’ll be gone. A real sight! Being an engineer seems real fun. Riding bikes and all. But should get a red one; Manu chettan already has a black one. People shouldn’t get confused. (*April **Auspicious ***Elder brother )
‘Thwack’. He almost fell off the tall chair. Had dozed off and somebody had opened the window across the street with brutality. It was still early for class to begin. There were just two other students and they always came late. He peeped outside, opening the window a little, just enough so that he could see the terrace of Mr Verma’s house. No. No sign of her.
“You are already here? How dedicated! I had told Mrs. Menon that you were doing really well”. Sir had come and he quickly got off his chair. Freckled and silver haired, but always with a smile on his face, Kuruppu mash* reminded him of a lion– a mighty ole one. He was a wizard, with a violin in his hands. He would close his eyes and start playing. Sad, slow melodies at first, nostalgic. Quickly picking up pace, he would hop on to a different tune, unannounced. And then another and another and….he could play for hours. A true genius and he expected such standards from his students too. “So where did we stop last time? ……” (*Sir)
He placed his letter behind the stairs leading up to her house. Like every week. He was starting to doubt the whole point of this exercise. He had been writing his precious letters for over a year. Now, one year is a very long time. A long long time. Letters were hard to write too. After the first three he had run out of content. Not that the initial ones were dripping with Dickensian quality, but then he did have stuff to say. Like how pretty she was. Like how he loved her doe eyes. The wavy hair, the dimpled smile. The smile. Sigh. It was a pain to watch her smile. Beautiful.
A purring cat was curling up near his feet. It was an omnipresent witness to his barely existent love life. He read the letter once more. Frowning, he mouthed a curse. It wasn’t impressive. If only they would teach useful things at school, like penning one of these? He had tried poetry once. But had a hard timing finding words that rhymed with love- except for stove. And dove. And cow. They didn’t really fit in with the theme, so he chucked it. He wished he was invisible; that way he could linger unnoticed and make sure that she read them. Wish wish wish. He folded the letter neatly and placed it behind the broken brick. The street was empty except for the burly boys playing cricket. They were too engrossed to spy on him anyway. Bangles; he had almost forgotten them. This was Jaanu’s idea. He hadn’t got the gist of it, yet. But maybe it was a girl thing. He placed them beside the letter, and walked away whistling.
It was almost sunset when they had all gone. Nosy parkers these boys were. Always meddling in things. She came hopping down the stairs, and then stepped out onto the road. Made sure no one was around, turned and ducked behind the stairs, to claim her treasure.
The sun was too dim to match the brightness of her oval face.
[14 years later]
Resting on his arm chair, he opened the invitation letter. It was artfully done. The Ganesha on top was glowing in the light. Calligraphy with glittering ink. Judging from the cover, the people concerned must be very rich- he made a mental note.
“Fetch me those glasses, will you Supriya?”. Since the last attack, his eyes had become real weak. Couldn’t read a word these days without four eyes.
“Wedding? Whose? I can finally wear the red silk one that Lekshmi bought me this Onam* “, she gave him his spectacles. (*A festival)
“Yeah yeah, you should. In fact, make sure that you look very very special. Celebrities will be around. Ashwin Menon is getting married”, he said beaming.
“Our Ashwin? Your student? The star?”
“My very own little maestro”
“And the bride?”
“It says Amrusha Verma. Remember the Vermas, who used to live opposite us? Didn’t they call their little darling Ammu?….”