Saturday, February 18, 2006

A day I'll never forget - Part 3

(this post took me days to write...)

I was really sad when Binny said it was doubtful if he would make it to the concert as he had an important overseas call to attend to at 6.30 P.M. However he promised he would do his best. Breakfast almost resembled a meal after which Binny headed off for work. Siji would be leaving in a short while later. The little one was up but I gave him time to get used to the stranger in the house. It was also time for me to leave. As I was getting ready I was wondering if my ex-principal's address that I got from my school was the right one. How sad that she did not leave a phone number. Was it to remain private? Would she be here in Bangalore or had she gone abroad to one of her children? I had many questions on my mind. I was just left with the optimism that my hope gave me. Promising Binny's mother-in-law that I would be there for the lunch she was preparing for me I stepped out into Charles Cambell Road to find an auto to take me to the address I dearly held in my shirt pocket.

All autos seemed to be heading in only one direction and none of them were prepared to take me to Frazer Town. Finally I managed to talk one guy in knowing fully that he was ripping me off. Hard to believe that he was Tamil. But I just didn't care. All I wanted was to see J.P, my "Princy", just one more time. Though it was hardly a 10 minute ride, the auto driver didn't seem to know the way. He was asking me to ask people for directions and I had to tell him it wasn't my job to do so. Fortunately wherever I turned to it seemed there were tamil speaking people who gave me directions. Very soon we were riding on Promenate road and luckily the words "Aaron Moore" on the compound of a building flashed past my eyes. I instantly asked the auto driver to stop and turn around. I couldn't believe I was actually standing before the building. I was still in doubt. Would J.P be here? A security guy came towards me and I did not waste time to enquire about Mrs. Jabamalai Peter. When he said that they live here, I thanked God profoundly. He then told me sadly, "You just missed Mr.Peter. He just stepped out. But Madam is inside." That's all I wanted to hear. I enquired about the nearest flower shop where I could buy flowers and hurried to the auto. The impatient auto driver said he would take me there for the same fare but not any further. The florist was a kilometer away. Once I reached there I tried to negotiate with him a trip back to Promenate Road but this time he was almost in a ready-to-fight mood and started his unreasoanble terms. I paid him the fare to get rid of him. For the boquet I chose bright red just-about-to-bloom roses (big rose buds just opening). The boquet turned out to be more beautiful than I thought it would. On the card I wrote "To my most respected and beloved Principal". I tried walking the route back to Aaron Moore but I decided to take the auto for fear of spoiling the flowers. What if princy had to leave the apartment for something? I checked that with the security a second time as soon as I got there. This time I just had to pay the minimum fare for the ride.

As I walked into the beautiful frontyard my heart was already beating fast. Would she recognize me? She used to have a photographic memory. Apart from the flowers, I also carried with me photographs from my school days, photographs of my son, my wife and our entire family comprising my parents, my brother's family and my sister's family and my Canon SLR. My brother and sister had also studied in the same school. I was directed to the first ground floor on the left. As I approached the door slowly, I saw a maid cleaning the entrance. I asked her to call for the lady of the house and told her who I was. The maid went inside. I strained hard to hear the conversation but could hardly hear a sound. I couldn't believe that my principal was inside and it was just a few seconds before I would see her. The smiling maid returned asking me to come in and be seated. "Madam will be here in a moment" she said. When I tried to remove my shoes the maid assured it was alright and that I could enter wearing them. I could already see how impeccably clean and fresh the home looked. "Yogah Karmasu Kousalam" in action. It almost reflected the way princy used to maintain VanaVani. Somehow I also began to get a feeling of the inside of church. Almost everywhere I looked there were pictures of Jesus or the Holy Cross and items related to prayer and worship. There was just two photographs in the room. One I guessed was that of Father Murphy. The other on a coffee table was of three people and of them I could recognise two. They were the daughters of my principal, my super seniors at school. I waited, sitting on the edge of the sofa seat staring at all doorways not knowing from which one she would emerge. A few more minutes went by, my hands were beginning to feel cold and then.....she appeared! Walking in slow steps and slightly slouching on her feet as if there was a limp she approached the guest in the room. Gone were the elegant sari, the neatly done hair ball or the perfume. Most of her hair had greyed but her intellect and will power shone from those dark powerful eyes. The strict disciplinarian she was, she was neatly and plesantly dressed for her age in some kind of skirt/gown/overalls combination. A strange sense of disbelief and curiosity was there on the face that I had not seen in 20 years. She hadn't seen me for 20 years either. Without wasting a moment I stood up, approached her with the flowers and said the words with all the excitement and respect I had for her, "Maam, I am S L Subash, VanaVani student from 1971 to 1985. I have come to see you from Chennai, after 20 years". I saw an intense suprise, excitement in my principal's eyes. I even wondered if she was angry but I was ready to take anything from her. "Twenty years, twenty years...", she repeated in her disbelief and she was almost shaking as she took the boquet from my hand. I held her hands as she almost fell into my arms. It was so intense I couldn't believe I had tears in my eyes. "Idhu Naan Valartha Pulla ma, yen pulla, naan valartha pulla ma..." she proclaimed to her maid in tamil, who was also watching the scenes. "Tell me, tell me, where are you now, what are you doing, why did you come to Bangalore, how did you know I lived here.......", the innemerable questions poured from her non-stop. I answered them patiently. "Sit Down here, I'll get something for you, Kalai inga vaa ma......." her excitement knew no bounds. I just thanked God, He kept her alive all these years for this moment. She asked me sit on the sofa and as she was counting the flowers I told myself, "Oh my God, was the count correct". "Beautiful roses, beautiful roses", she said and quickly got up to arrange them in a vase. "Those are angel flowers" she said pointing to the white small flowers on their green stems that were arranged between the roses. I had something to learn from her even now. For the next 30 minutes or so we were competing with each other with a volley of questions and answers as though we were left with only a few minutes of meeting time. It looked as though we had a zillion things to tell each other and I was surprised to hear and learn many things about school, her life, friends and teachers. Most of the time I would just stare at my principal or hold her hands as I gave time for her to do the speaking. At times when I would caress her back or her knees I realised how old age had caught up with her. Her knees were swollen and in the cold Bangalore weather I wondered how she bravely fought her arthritis condition. As we continued talking she walked to the kitchen (another neat room) to get me some goodies (murukku, the thin vadai and laddus made of milk and ghee). She told me they were all home made. They were very good indeed. I avoided the sweets though. As we talked further I learnt later the truth about several of my teachers. Many of them had died, some very painfully. I did tell her how the English and the education that VanaVani had taught me had been of immense help during my years in Singapore and the U.S.A.

I then showed her the photographs I had brought along. There were pictures of me in my third and fifth standard. My XII Std. photograph was there too but unfortunately I wasn't there in the picture as I had not come to school that day but my principal did. Princy was sharp in identifying most of my classmates. She corrected me even when I got one of those names wrong. Behind one of those photographs I requested her to write for me and sign her name which she gladly did. At 76 years her writing had become a little shaky but I thought 76 was an achievement indeed for a person who had been through a lot in life. How nice it was to see that same signature that used to be on my report cards every month, every year for almost 12 years. I thanked God again for this moment.

(Fifth Standard, J.P is not in this picture. I am in the top most row, standing 6'th from right, the little dark guy with the crooked grin)

It looked we could go on for a full day talking things. There seemed to be an endless list of topics for discussion. It would be another hour or so (I am not sure) before Mr. Peter would turn up. Mr. Peter had undergone a bypass surgery of the heart. He seemed cheerful and young. Not many people could still retain the sense of humour he still had at this age. Together they showed me the house. It was a comfortable house for the couple. There was yet another photograph of J.P in her younger days with her daughters in another more spiritually peaceful room and I instantly recognized my seniors as those were the faces still fresh in my memory.

For the first time in its life (10 years) my Canon SLR let me down. It wouldn't load the film in the case. I tried several times but it just wouldn't work. I didn't know if it was the problem of the camera or the roll of film. "If I had only borrowed my sister's digital camera", I scolded myself. I only wondered when there would be a next time for me to take pictures with princy.

I had to take leave as I know Binny's mother would be waiting for lunch but I just hadn't had enough of talking with J.P and Mr.Peter. I gave my principal my company card on which she wrote my name as she would always address me "S.L.Subash". She then took other details of mine such as address, phone numbers of my home, my parent's home, my mother's name and my father's name. As I was about to take leave promising I would certainly visit her again, stay with her for a day, bring my family...,I bent down to touch her feet. "You must not do that, you must not do that." she cried and with an affectionate hug cheeked both my cheeks with hers.

Mr. Peter called security and fetched me an auto. I left Aaron Moore, Promenate Road feeling accomplished and deeply moved. In all this excitement I forgot yet another thing, to get J.P's phone number. But will I go and visit her again next time I go to Bangalore? Yes, of course.

To be concluded...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A day I'll never forget - Part 2

Sleeping in the side uppper berth is certainly not comfortable, but I tried hard to get some sleep with much twisting and contorting. Anyway it helped me stay awake to check the time on my watch. The train was scheduled to reach Bangalore Cantonment at 4.00 A.M but I think I overestimated the punctuality. I was up at 3.00 A.M and the train would reach Cantonment only at 4.45 A.M. I felt so sorry for Binny who would be waiting for me there. One of the girls who was sleeping in the upper berth almost stepped on my shoulder as she was trying to get down in a hurry when the train arrived at the station. "You should have been up at 3.00 A.M, girl", I almost wanted to say but my mind was not on any of such things. My heart was already racing anxiously to see the friend I had never seen in 10 years. As I alighted into the platform into the cold Bangalore weather with my jacket fully zipped, ears and head covered with my tuke I frantically looked for Binny. He wasn't there. I started walking towards the exit knowing I would bump into him any moment in a rapturous welcome. But Binny was no where to be found on the platform. I then passed the ticket collector on the gates of the exit to whom I gave my ticket. Within seconds my head scanning the waiting area like a radar fixed my gaze on a familiar face I had seen 10 years ago. It was Binny who was also looking straight at me. Smiling wide from ear to ear we ran to each other in an embrace that simply melted away the years of seperation. Binny had put on some weight but most of his hair had turned completely white. A volley of questions and answers about life, career, friends and family followed forgetting how tired we really were. He had also been up since 3.00 A.M that day. His normal hours at work are also stretched to hours after sundown. He had come driving and so there wasn't any hassles for transport.

We reached his roomy and comfortable apartment in Cox Town in 15 minutes or less. Binny's wife was up and the hot tea she made for us kept us awake for more talking. Seji also hails from Panampilly Nagar in Ernakulam where my wife also used to live at the time of my marriage. How small the world is. I had brought photographs of Binny, myself and friends when we were at I.T.C, in Thiruvottiyur, Chennai in 1995. How different we looked then with so much hope and promise about the future. After talking for some more time Binny suggested we drive to a place to meet someone. I thought that would be a fine idea so that Seji could get some sleep. As we drove to the vicinity of the L.I.C building that morning and parked beside the neat road there, I recalled the days when I would visit my brother in the late 80's and early 90's when he was doing his Engineering at M.S.R.I.T. It was so much fun, those days. I immersed myself in these thoughts enjoying Bangalore's early morning calm and cool weather as Binny walked across the road to do some business with a friend on the other side. On our way back we stopped at one of those tea/snack stalls that Bangalore is filled with. It was a working day afterall and Binny had to rush to work.

By the time we reached home Seji and her mother were already preparing breakfast. The little one, Prahlad was going to be up any moment. Although I was feeling a bit tired I knew I had to save all my energy for the most overwhelming moment of the day which was to happen in just a couple of hours.

To be continued...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A day I'll never forget - Part 1

What a truly unforgettable day Feb 8'th turned out to be. It was also this day 10 years ago that I stepped into the now defunct East-West Airways flight enroute to my first trip outside India, to Singapore. The circuitous trip would take me to Bombay's domestic airport and then from Bombay's International Airport to Singapore via Bangkok. Why that long roundabout trip instead of a direct flight is another story. I hardly could have guessed then what I would be doing 10 years later.

Exactly on the same day 10 years later, I am on the Mysore-Kaveri express train heading for Bangalore from Chennai for three important reasons. First, to meet an old friend after a decade. In fact I was with Binny for a month when he started his software career in Bangalore in 1996. I was working for another software company, also in Bangalore. Hardly three months later I was off to Singapore. Though I was in touch with him till 1997 contacts with Binny ceased. It was just a few months ago while searching in an old diary that I located his Kerala address and phone number which fortunately had not been changed. I tracked him down with that information and boy did I surprise him. We have been in touch ever since. He had changed three jobs, have got married and also had a son. I was only eager to see him and his folks but had no idea how he would look after all those years.

The second and most important reason, to meet my most respected and admired school principal after a period of 20 years. What a shame that I visited the only school I went to only once after leaving school, and that too the very next year of leaving to write an examination. I have met teachers and classmates on and off outside school but I wonder why was I an introvert in going to school and seeing my teachers or friends whom I respected and loved so much.

And finally the third reason. Going to watch Uriah Heep about whom I had written so much in my previous posts. They were playing in India (Bangalore/Chennai) after 23 years. My friend Binny was a big fan and it was he who had given me a "Best of Uriah Heep" cassette, during our first time together at Chennai.

To be continued...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Sad loss in the family

On Friday, a week before, we were told the news of a distant aunt's passing away in Kerala. The rotund, lively and cheerful aunt will definitely be missed. It is sad I will not be seeing her anymore on any of my future trips to Aratupuzha, my mother's native place in Kerala. However none of us were prepared for what was to happen on the morning of Sunday the 29'th. My uncle, the eldest of my mother's siblings and the last surviving maternal unlce passed away in his sleep. A man who lived heartily till his death and yet went through so much emotional pain in his life, he had the priviledge of seeing his closest of relatives just the previous night of his passing away. Everything seemed to come to a standstill for us because it was quite unexpected. My uncle was supposed to be discharged from hospital on Sunday after he was admitted for a brief illness. For a person of 77 years he was perfect in health. As the flames engulfed his body in the electric crematorium my brother, to make sure even asked me if he is still in a coma. There was no sign of any decay or odour even after 28 hours of his death (he was kept in a freezer box though). How healthy he looked. There was no sign of any stiffness in any part of his body either. Only that his body felt so cold. Not surprising for a person who deovoted much of his lifetime in deep spiritual endeavours. He was probably the most religious person in our family. Only his mother (i.e my grandmother) could come close. My uncle had mastered reciting the Gita from memory at a very early age and was a strong believer in The Christ. Years later he would confess to me about the awakening of the Kundalini Shakthi in him and the unbelievable experiences he had after it was raised to his Ajna Chakra.

My biggest regret though is the fact that I didn't do ENOUGH and give ENOUGH to a man who lived a very simple life. All he ever wanted was to be in the company of his folks and probably share a simple meal with them. If only I could have him back for one day. But can that happen? My only small consolation is that I was there for him during several of his difficult times but those things seem trivial in the face of his passing away.

It is overwhelming how 77 years of living can be put to an end in an instant. All the emotions of pain and suffering and happiness of all of those years, gone in a flash. How death can suddenly expand the conciousness. How silly and stupid some of my actions seem. How forgiving the mind becomes. All of a sudden there is a feeling that there is hardly any time left. So why not make most of it by being the best, doing the best you can at all times to anybody and everybody.

Here's a picture of my uncle in his 20's. An ardent fan of Thiagaraja Bhagavathar, he even met his matinee idol when he came to Madras searching for work in the early 60's.

My uncle had an interest to go to Dubai. Here's a pic he had taken then for the passport at G.K.Vale and Co.

My uncle weeks before his passing away.

Even Led Zeppelin themselves would not have detracted me from my decision of not going to the concert at Saarang that night. What concert anyway? I went to I.I.T and amidst the deafening noise of the informals (which I found to be so immature for my age) around the venue of the concert I sold my tickets easily. I later discovered that the concert was a shameful fiasco. More on that later.

And if that wasn't enough I learn the suicide of another very distant relative. Her entire life was a tale of tragic love and one that will make even the classics look puny. I only pray that the souls of these lovable people lie in peace and that the lessons that their deaths have taught me remain unforgotten.