Subbu walked out of the classroom having just completed his last paper of the unit-test-series. His hatred for biology was second only to his hatred for geography, which had however gone fairly smoothly, thanks to the additional day he’d got for preparation. Biology on the other hand, had not. So it was no wonder that his face was filled with dismay and apprehension as he walked to the school bus that would take him home. His friend Murali spotted him on the way despite his efforts to get away unnoticed and called out – “Dei Subbu!! Wait da!”. Subbu tried walking faster, but Murali caught up with him and Subbu had to pretend that he was happy to see him. “Heyy Murali, didn’t see you there.”, he said. “Hey, what value did you get for the seventh question?”, Murali asked. Subbu froze. “Wasn’t this the Biology paper?”, he asked, shocked, “What value are you talking about?”. Murali’s face broke into a grin. An unamused Subbu punched him playfully on the arm and continued walking towards the bus accompanied by Murali, who still wore a proud expression having successfully pranked his friend. Subbu couldn’t be bothered to entertain anymore nonsense from anyone. He had more important things on his mind. Like how he would deal with Appa. A grim face floated lazily to the surface of Subbu’s mind – “Do well today, Subbu”, he had said. Despite the laconic tone, Subbu knew each of those words weighed a ton. He frowned. First of all, it was unfair for a Maths professor’s son to be expected to do well in a subject like Biology. Isn’t that what genes were all about? He had, despite his general disinterest in the subject, written a short para on whatever he could remember about genes in the test (the question was “Describe the different types of human chromosomes [10 marks]”) and felt qualified to assess the situation objectively.
He got onto the bus pondering the complications of life and trying to convince himself that genetics had to be the main reason for his less than awesome performance in today’s paper and the fact that he had spent the whole of yesterday playing cricket with Venky couldn’t have played a role. The bus weaved in and out of traffic for 30 minutes before reaching his house and he still hadn’t thought of a compelling reason to give Appa for what he considered to be a dismal performance in the test. He wondered if he could stall the inevitable by perhaps interesting him in some juicy school gossip. Apparently the school sweeper, Babu had been pilfering equipment from the headmaster’s office. Surely that would interest Appa? That’s what adults did, right? Talk about other people? Why, just yesterday he’d heard him calling out loudly to Amma about something he’d read in the paper – some guy had robbed an elderly gentleman not far from our place. “Did you know either of them appa?”,Subbu had asked innocently and he’d been told, as usual, to continue studying. But no doubt, the topic had piqued his interest. Yes, the Babu diversion would be the way to go.
He stepped into the house and called out, “Amma, Vandhutenn” (Mum, I’m back), trying to appear confident, well aware that his knees were involuntarily shivering. “Subbu?”, his dad called out from the sofa on the hall. “Hi pa”,came the nonchalant reply. “Drink your milk and get ready. We’re going to Kalyanasundaram uncle’s son’s wedding”. That threw Subbu’s entire gameplan out the window. No questions about the test?? Who was Kalyanasundaram? Nevertheless, he got ready still pondering this weird turn of events. On the way, Appa chatted animatedly about the current political situation, among other things, mostly for Amma’s benefit. Subbu kept nodding knowledgeably whenever he heard a word he was familiar with. “BJP” and “Congress” were names he’d read about in his Civics text. Kalyanasundaram (KS) uncle turned out to be a tall, burly man (“close to 7ft tall”, Subbu would later tell his friends) who greeted Appa at the entrance of the wedding hall and took them with him to get some refreshments immediately. They had been childhood friends and were colleagues at Appa’s college. K.S and Appa were soon busy discussing the qualifications of his son and the bride and the color of their new Audi Q3. Subbu got bored and entertained himself by observing the movement of a chain of ants that had just discovered a few cubes of sugar. Just then K.S called out, “Ah! Mr Sekaran, meet my friend Mr. Sundaram”. Subbu looked up. Something about the name seemed familiar. As he looked at the man in the horn-rimmed glasses walk up to K.S Uncle and shake his hand, Subbu’s eyes widened. “This is my son’s father-in-law, Mr. Sekaran”, K.S said to Subbu’s dad. Subbu was still in a state of confusion. What was his Biology teacher doing there? Meanwhile Mr. Sekaran had spotted the scrawny kid and said, “Hey Subbu!”. Subbu groaned internally, but managed to arrange his face into an obsequious smile. “Hello sir”, he greeted obediently. “This boy is in my Biology class!”, he explained to Mr.K.S and Appa. Subbu had by then broken ten thousand coconuts to Lord Ganesha in his head in the hope that there would be no further exchanges between any of them about him. But Ganesha was busy in the kalyana mantapam, it appeared.
“So how was your exam today Subbu?”, Mr. Sekaran enquired. Subbu looked at Mr.Sekaran, staring daggers at him and then at Appa, who was watching intently.
“Sir, do you know Babu, the sweeper?”, Subbu asked hopefully.