“Trrrrring”, the alarm went off and he woke up groggily. “ Uthishtothishta Govinda Uthishta Garuda dwaja Uthishta Kamalakantha trilokyam mangalam kuru” , MS Subbulakshmi’s voice rang through the air even as his parents were yelling at each other over what he was sure would be trivialities like who’d let the milk boil a little too long or who forgot to put out food for the crow. He frowned. So much noise. And his day hadn’t even started yet. He got out of bed and let out a sharp yelp as his right foot touched the ground. He had stepped on a pin he’d told himself he wouldn’t step on when he saw it fall from the bed the previous night. He examined his foot and rubbed it where the pin had poked him. No blood. That was good. It was a Saturday, but he hadn’t the leisure of a typical weekend. There was to be a function at home and a lot of guests were expected. So he had to get ready quickly and appear presentable to greet (ugh) people. Normally he would have vehemently rejected this order from his parents and gone off to Venkatraman’s house to play cricket for the whole day, but this time there were bigger things at stake. No sooner had he gotten ready and dressed up when his mom called out, “Subbuuuuu!! Poi paal vaangindu vaa da” (Subbu, go and buy milk!). Subramani had just made up his mind to catch up on the latest cricket highlights on Star Sports before the day’s chaotic scene would set in. This milk-buying very much cut into that scenario. He chose a plastic bag from the bunch of plastic bags at the end of the kitchen and walked out, muttering all the way about God and his plans to thwart his plans in life. As he got to the end of the road, he looked out of the corner of his eye for the dog that was his sworn nemesis on this road. This dog (“Veerappan”, he had christened it), had only one mission in life. To bark at Subbu every time he crossed “his area” and on days that he felt not-so-lazy, chase him down the road to the corner where 3rd main ended and Murali Stores began. Today however, Veerappan seemed to be contently sleeping on the mat someone had laid out for him. “Lucky dog. No dog functions that he has to wake up early for”, Subbu thought and continued walking past. He greeted Murali uncle, bought the milk and made his way back. Out of habit, he looked for Veerappan again. This time, the dog was missing. Subbu’s heart skipped a beat. He looked around and sure enough, Veeru was standing right behind him, growling. Subbu , without a second thought ran with Veeru close behind his heels, or so he imagined. When he no longer felt chased, he looked back, only to see Veeru in the distance, sleeping, solemnly. “WHAT. Argh.”, Subbu walked the rest of the distance wondering what had just happened. By now, there were a few vehicles already outside the gate and he warily walked in, not wanting to chit-chat with anyone right then. “Subbuuuuuu”, a voice called out. He closed his eyes, rearranged his face into a pleasant smile and turned around to face a rotund, elderly woman, with a glint in her eye and a wide smile that was accentuated by badly applied lipstick. It was Shyamala aunty, his mom’s second cousin. “You’ve become so big!!!”, she exclaimed. “Yes, well the Earth did revolve around the Sun multiple times”, he wanted to say, but he settled for just continuing to awkwardly smile and wonder if 10 seconds was sufficient time to start backing away slowly like Michael Jackson or if he was supposed to actually say something to her. He decided on the former and backed away successfully into the house and into the kitchen where he disposed of the milk packets. His first mission now complete, he thought he’d close the door to his room and relax for a few minutes before the poojai started, when his dad called “Subbuuu, yaar vandhurkaa paaru” (Subbu, see who’s at the door). He groaned and ambled to the door. It was Murali mama and Co. The fake smile again in place on his face, he greeted the family in and told them to sit on the chairs that had been neatly arranged in the hall for people who arrived to be seated on. He mentally bid the cricket highlights goodbye and waited obediently on the guests that continued to pour in. His face, ever the picture of cheeriness, Subbu flitted around the house, giving people glasses of water when they asked for it or even just looked like they wanted it, serving pongal for breakfast and later lunch. He even went along with the Poojari’s requests to go and buy bananas for the homam offering, braving Veerappan again. By the time it was 5 PM, Subbu was thoroughly exhausted. But the fake smile as he bid all his relatives goodbye did not fade.
As the last of the relatives trickled out, he went inside and sat on the sofa, furiously debating if the time was right to broach the topic he had been thinking about all day. Then he made up his mind and walked up to his dad who was in the kitchen making coffee for the 5th time that day. “Appa”, he asked gingerly, “You said if I was chamathu today, you’d buy me that Harry Potter book no?”. Appa peered at him through his glasses. “First you finish your exams next week. Then we will see.”
Subbu walked back to his room with his head hung low. He could have atleast utilized the day for studying.
(* Chamathu means well-behaved or good/disciplined in Tamil – an expected trait repeatedly thrust by parents on unsuspecting kids)