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I is for Ignored [#AtoZChallenge]

“Whoaaaaaaa”, he yelled, a sound only he could hear. One second he saw the clear blue skies and in the very next, an expansive patch of brown mud and this pattern repeated as he rose into an arc and his ascent slowed to a halt and then he descended in the same topsy-turvy fashion with increasing velocity before crashing onto a rough surface that was immediately engulfed in darkness. He blinked. He could see nothing for what seemed like ages, but heard muffled voices in a tongue he’d come to understand in bits and pieces – some words more familiar than others. He’d learnt a lot of things over the years. He knew his name was what his handlers called “fifty paisa” , but he was always spoken about carelessly, it seemed, with lesser reverence than others of his kind.

“Heads”, he heard someone call out. And he knew his outing for the day was almost done. A brief glimmer of sunlight when one of the voices would whoop and the other would groan (he’d come to distinguish these sounds over time as well). And back into the recesses of a velcro covered, stifling enclosure he’d go with the rest of his species for company – who didn’t say much but sometimes brushed against him involuntarily. 

He closed his eyes and waited for the familiar scrape of velcros indicating his nap-time. But it never came. Instead, today, he found himself being slipped in a crevice of sorts lined with material he was unfamiliar with. He fell and waited for a landing but he kept slipping further down, grazing a surface, rolling slightly and falling through another hole of sorts for a duration only slightly lesser than the time it had taken him to down the arc moments earlier. “Thump”, he fell face down on something hard and dusty. He whimpered. Again, no one heard him. He waited for some agent to retrieve and return him to his familiar surroundings. No one came. He kept waiting even as dust settled on his side that faced the skies. Once in a while he felt enormous pressure on his backside, but it was always a hurried application that was immediately lifted. Initially he mistook those events to be rescue missions. But they weren’t and he stayed where he was.

After a while, he felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He felt akin to what we would describle as …moist. “Patter”. “Patter”. “Patter”. The sound accompanying the object that caused the wetness kept hitting him and eventually he felt himself rising slowly. From his vantage point, all he could see was the surface he had been lying on but from a slight height through a medium he could not explain, but it wasn’t clear. Now this surface seemed to be moving and him along with itself. He felt himself being rocked gently initially – back and forth – and then the surface began pushing him. He kept moving for a while and then fell sharply. Another thump. This time he’d fallen face-up so he could see the new gap he’d fallen from – one among a series of adjacent gaps. By now, the skies had cleared up so he could see the skies but the view was punctuated uniformly by the surface above.

He sighed in resignation. As he felt the moisture slowly abandoning him, so did hopes of his being rescued this time.

Not that it mattered to anyone.

Unbreakable

I don’t watch many movies at home because I lack the patience and 20 minute “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” episodes are so much more fun. But I had some extra time on my hands today and a little more resilience, so I watched –

“Unbreakable” – by M Night Shyamalan – I watched this for the first time today, almost 18 years after it was released on 12 Jan 2001. And what a movie it was  The pace was very slow without seeming like a drag, pausing carefully at every point where pause seemed necessary. It’s the first time I’ve seen Bruce Willis in a non-John McClane role and I am impressed. He’s his characteristic tough-guy self with very few emotions on his face, maybe a hint of a smile once in a while, but it worked. Samuel L Jackson – This guy played the “obsessed comic book nerd wishing for superheroes to be real” to perfection; I even got tired of him at some point, which is more to his credit than anything for playing the unnecessary Messiah brilliantly.

I’ve come to expect very little from M Night Shyamalan and the only reason I even
watched this movie is because I found out that it was a precursor to Split after I watched it  (I know). But it’s somewhat redeeming(?) in a sense to know that he has made some good movies in the past, Unbreakable being one of them. Right from the first train scene to tying in the stories of Elijah and David (Jewish lore connection?) and a stunning revelation at the end that takes it to that next level.
I loved this movie and I can’t wait for Glass (2019). Coz almost scene in this movie made me feel like there was a borderline horror movie – like there was something unexpected that would happen at …any…second – like someone was standing behind me with a hand on my shoulder, creeping up my neck and low-key choking me, but from inside.
Or maybe that’s the cough and cold I’m currently suffering.Oh well.

C’est La Vie

Recently at the theater, I accidentally stood up in attention for the Vicco Vajradanti ad expecting the National Anthem in the sequence.
To my surprise there was another dude who’d also stood up. He was looking around the theater in embarrassment. Our eyes met. I instinctively and hastily waved at him, breaking my fixed posture. In that split second, he also understood and waved back and even grinned for good measure. I gestured wildly to mock-indicate that I’d catch up with him later. He understood and gestured appropriately.
As I resumed my seat, I wondered how wonderfully and smoothly that whole episode had gone. I shook out of my reverie to see a bunch of people glaring at me for remaining in my seat.

The Anthem had actually started.

H is for History [#AtoZChallenge]

“Good morning maaaaa’m”, the class bleated obediently like a herd of sheep, Subbu among them, as a stern looking Miss Prema entered the room with a thick book in her hand. She eyed the class suspiciously and dropped the book on the table where it landed with an  resounding thud. The class fell silent and Prema ma’am spoke in her high pitched voice, “This quarter, we have a lot of History to cover. So, we will not waste any time and continue where we left from before the test – ” Chapter 5: The Rise and Fall of Alexander the Great”. Subbu frowned. Why was she starting off on the first day? More importantly, had she corrected the papers yet? But he didn’t dare interrupt her as she read monotonously, “The land of Macedonia was already a great military power …”.
He instead nudged Venky, his best friend who always sat next to him in class (or rather they’d grown close as a result of being made to sit next to each) and said “Hey, why don’t you ask Prema ma’am for the marks. You did well in History no?”. Venky looked at his friend with a mixture of pride and condescension that Subbu had not only assumed his prowess in the subject, but also entrusted him with a task that he was too cowardly to do himself. “Okay you chicken”, he commented as he cleared his throat in preparation, a little louder than he’d intended. “Venkatraman!”, the teacher yelled, “What is it? Why are you making sounds?”. The lion in him had shrunk into a kitten at the admonishing and he mewed incoherently. “What is it boy? Speak up!”, she yelled again. “Ma’am..Can you..Can I drink some water ma’am?”, he managed to squeak. He was disapprovingly given permission and had to make a show of going to the back of the class, fetching his water bottle from the array of baskets and drink it despite not being thirsty at all. Subbu looked back at his courageous friend, disappointed that the soldier had fallen without even getting a chance to yell a war-chant, let alone draw a spear. When he returned to his station sheepishly, Subbu had half a mind to taunt him, but seeing the ashen expression on his face, thought the better of it. He gave him one last look before shaking his head and looking to the other side for another chess piece to move.

“Muralii”, he hissed at the boy seated at the edge of the bench in the column next to his. “Ask ma’am for test marks”, he mouthed, half voicelessly. Murali gave him a puzzled expression. He repeated his request once more before giving up hope in the method. He tore half a sheet from the last page of his neatly covered notebook , wordlessly begging Saraswati Devi forgiveness for having hurt her so and scribbled his message on it. With as much ninja skills as he could muster he casually passed the folded slip to Murali. Murali grabbed the note and read it. Then he scribbled something and passed it back clumsily to Subbu who received it with surprise. He had not expected that there would a second phase of transactions. “Ask her yourself.”, the message read. Subbu cursed under his breath , then closed his eyes and exhaled. He raised his hand and waited patiently for Prema ma’am to pause at the end of the paragraph she was impassionately reading and look up at the class to make sure no one had slept off. Their eyes met and she called, “Yes, what is it Subbu? Do you also want to drink water?”. The class laughed. “Silence! “, she barked and there was. Subbu realised at that minute what Venky must have gone through and a sudden rush of sympathy for the boy washed over him. But he’d powered through the fear and asked, “Ma’am , have you been able to maybe, correct our papers yet?”, with as much respect and doubt as he could fuel into the sentence. “Is this what you were thinking about then? Were you not paying attention to the class? When was Alexander born?” . Subbu was stumped. He hadn’t yet received feedback about his performance in the previous test when here he was being posed with a new one! Never mind the fact that he had no idea what Alexander’s birthday was! Why, he didn’t even know Venky’s birthday! Involuntarily, he felt ashamed that he was unaware of such an important detail about his best friend. Meanwhile Prema ma’am had decided that this silence was proof of inattentiveness (a valid accusation) and told Subbu to stand at the back of the class. Subbu was aghast. Not only had he not got an answer to his question, now he was being punished? But being the anvil, he had no choice but to meekly comply.

He walked to the back of the class like Venky had and stood next to a blue basket, facing the board. As he stood there, his eyes flicking from student to student and occasionally to Prema ma’am, he wondered if Alexander had ever taken orders from his teachers like this. Surely they wouldn’t have conferred the title “Great” upon his if he had been so cowardly? Then again, being the son of a king probably came with perks like not having to listen to anyone. He stood there for what felt like a long time, day-dreaming up his own version of what Alexander’s life would have been like. Eventually, the end of the class arrived and as the students grew restless, Subbu slipped out of his reverie and saw what was happening. The class monitor, Maran was distributing the answer sheets! He waited until all the sheets were distributed and waited for the teacher to call him and give him his paper. She called out, “Subbu, because you interrupted my class, you will not be getting your paper today. Come for it tomorrow.”

Subbu stood at his station, dumbstruck. But after a few minutes, he comforted himself that he was probably sacrificing himself in a war for his kingdom like Alexander the Great. After all, it was because he had asked for the papers that Prema ma’am had allotted time to distribute them, he told himself. He had fought bravely, just like Alexander had, for the sake of his people and perished valiantly. Once the papers had been collected back, she said she would complete the last para that she had paused at. The class groaned but had no choice.

He listened, despite himself as she finished –

“…At the young age of 32, Alexander died of chronic liver disease due to excessive drinking, thereby ending his glorious reign.”

G is for Googly [#AtoZChallenge]

It had been 2 days since the wedding fiasco had happened and Subbu had had to lie through his teeth that his Bio paper had gone well. However, school was not due to start for another 10 days however and this was the reason for his renewed exuberance, having already forgotten about how guilty he had felt for lying to Appa. “Today I am going to Venky’s place and we will ride our cycles near his house for the whole day”, he announced to Amma. She surveyed him and decided there was nothing violent or idiotic about his decision, but said nothing. Empowered by the lack of protest from Amma, who normally always poured a bucket of water on his well laid plans, he continued, “Who knows? Maybe we will stop by Venky’s appa’s bakery and have some veg puffs. “. Amma did not take kindly to this next plan of action and promptly said, “Dei, do you know what oil they are using? Don’t eat anything from outside.”. “Then we will have sponge cake and salt biscuits”, he bargained, confident that neither of his new objects of desire had any oil in them. When Amma had nothing to say to this argument, he felt victorious and strutted back to his room to read a novel.

He was soon lost in the world of wizards and witches and did not stir from his cozy armchair for close to two hours. When Harry had finally walked towards Platform 9 and 3/4 with Ron and Hermione, he closed the book and sat for a minute. Then he rushed to the hall with a brainwave. “Amma”, he said,” Can you buy me a diary?”. “A diary? For what?”, she enquired. “I want to start maintaining a record of what I do everyday. Tom Riddle also had a diary Ma.”, he said. “You have your school diary no?”, she asked. Subbu frowned at the lack of understanding Amma was portraying. What if Tom Riddle’s amma had also asked him the same question? He would have never been able to store a part of his soul in it. He gave her a cold stare and without further explanation walked away to make Appa the same request, all the while thinking if he should call himself The Heir of Iyer or The Heir of Sundaram. That would depend on whether his father agreed to buy him the diary or not. “Appa?”, he called meekly, poking his dad on the shoulder as the latter animatedly watched an exciting match of India vs SriLanka. “Appaaa”. Clearly Mr.Sundaram was questioning all his life decisions and regretting having a tiny dependant member in the family because it reflected in his exasperated “Yennada?” [What, boy?]. Subbu repeated the request he’d made of his mother, but Appa was not in a state of attentiveness, because he had immediately yelled “Oh you idiot, how did you miss that shot!” and drowned Subbu’s request in the process.Subbu loved cricket, but at that moment he hated the 22 players on the field on that tiny 21 inch box more than anyone else in his life, maybe even more than Veerappan. He wondered for a second if he should repeat himself, but recognising the futility from the madness in Appa’s eyes, he thought better of it, took his cycle and rode out the gate to Venky’s house. On the way he saw Murali uncle at his shop watching a tiny TV on a shelf near the counter. “Hi Murali uncle!”, he called as Murali uncle’s gaze lifted from the TV and focused on Subbu. He had also been watching the same match Appa was. Subbu immediately gave him a disgusted look in response to the “Hello Subbu!” he received and pedalled away from a confused Murali.

He knocked thrice on Venky’s door, each time with increased force, before it was answered by a distracted Gopi uncle, Venky’s father. Gopi uncle’s torso faced Subbu, but his head was turned in the opposite direction. Subbu peered through a side to match his line of sight and closed his eyes momentarily. The same idiotic cricket match that had thwarted his one desire in life (He always referred to his current desire as his “one desire in life”) . Subbu muttered a hurried hello, eager to get away from the vile person’s presence. But he was told to sit on the sofa along with him because Venky was busy with something at the moment. “Busy???”, Subbu wondered. He felt an immediate sense of inferiority and shame that he was not busy himself. It was all Amma and Appa’s fault. If they’d got him a diary, he would have been busy as well chronicling his life in said diary while also pondering how he could save a part of his soul in it. He had also wondered if it had to be a soul that required preserving or if it could be something a little more tangible, like a nail or a strand of hair. “So Subbu”, Gopi uncle asked,” How were your exams?” . “This question again”, Subbu cursed internally. Why did the man want to make small talk? He was perfectly happy with his thoughts about objects to preserve and what kind of stunts he would try on his cycle with Venky. But he had no qualms about lying to this man who he had no obligation to, so he said “Great uncle!”, his previous feelings of shame now washed away by a sense of pride at having impressed Gopi uncle, which was evident by the wide smile he gave him. This happiness on uncle’s face may have been induced by the six that had just been scored seconds earlier on the screen, but that did not strike Subbu. “Good, good”, he absently remarked and his gaze returned to the screen which was considerably bigger than in the Sundaram residence. Subbu  returned to his reverie and a few more minutes passed in silence. “Subbu!”, a voice came from behind him and he went running to it eager to escape Gopi uncle and any further incriminating questions he may have to face.

“Dei Venky! What kept you so busy? Do you know how much mental torture I’ve had to face in the interim?”, Subbu exaggerated with a pained expression on his face. Venky replied with an equally grim expression – “Amma said I had to complete a whole chapter of Shakuntala Devi Maths problems da. Otherwise she wouldn’t let me watch the cricket match today. Let’s go fast, I think almost half of it is over.”

 

F is for Fate [#AtoZChallenge]

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.

E is for Exam [#AtoZChallenge]

“Are you ready?”, the voice on the phone asked Subbu. Subbu didn’t feel remotely ready. But his response didn’t matter either way. It was 7.30 AM – time to leave for school. The dreaded exam week was to commence that day. He mumbled something incoherently and placed the receiver on the telephone. “Subbuuuuu, late aachu da. Breakfast saapdu!” [Subbuu, it’s late already. Finish your breakfast!]. He wasn’t hungry. In fact his stomach felt like they were full of polymers of isoprene. Why was he thinking about rubber now though? He should be mentally wading through the rivers of the world and jogging through the various farms of India. Geography had never been Subbu’s strong suit and yet, that was the  mountain he had to scale that day. He sat at the table obediently though and looked at his plate. Rice and Chapati.. Rice and wheat.. Bihar? Chattisgarh? No no.. The maximum production of rice was in West Bengal and wheat, in Uttar Pradesh. He tried to come up with mnemonics to avoid forgetting that as he poked at a chapati. His mum yelled at him again and he hastened to finish it. His mind was still buzzing with random keywords he had associated with lengthy paragraphs as he tied his shoe laces and noticed that he had worn mismatched socks. Well, it was too late to do anything about that now. He prayed that the class monitor would accept his offering of one Yummies packet and overlook this error during routine assembly checks. The school bus arrived and the driver honked rhythmically as usual. Subbu got on and waved absently to his mum. Was K2 the tallest mountain in the world or did that honor belong to Everest?  What was Kanchenjunga then? Wait, were K2 and Kanchenjunga synonymous? Aaah! He didn’t know anything! He moved to the back of the bus and squeezed in between two bulkier boys. Then he picked out a textbook with a slightly worn out cover and opened it to a page at random. Anything was worth revising. Itanagar was the capital of Arunchal Pradesh. “Itanagar – AP, Itanagar – AP , Itanagar – AP”, he chanted in a low voice. He remembered talking about capitals with his dad the previous evening. He had asked the old man what the capital of Telengana was, confident that he wouldn’t know what it was. Subbu’s dad had disappointed him by not only telling him the correct answer, but supplementing it with more historical information – “When we were studying, Andhra Pradesh was one state. Ippo daan kanna pinna nu state mela state pannindirrukange” [“It’s only now that they’re creating new states left, right and center”]. Subbu didn’t care for this new bit of information. Actually, he felt cheated that he was having to consume more nonsensical facts than his dad. He resumed memorizing the rest of the capitals of states and moved on to a chapter titled “Weather – seasons and their importance”. Subbu groaned. In Bangalore, it was summer but it had just rained heavily the previous evening. This completely contradicted what this – he flipped to the first page – this Veena Bhargava was telling him about Karnataka’s weather. She would have him believe that climate change was periodic and that there were months beyond which Summer would not last or months in which there would be no rain. He made a note to word a strong box-format letter to her after he got home. Maybe she would discard it though. He wasn’t sure if adults were in the habit of receiving letters from 14 year olds. He shook his head and continued reading about how Cherrapunji had the highest amount of rainfall in the country. What was the capital of Cherrapunji again? Wait. Cherrapunji wasn’t a state. He gave the page a distasteful stare and looked around at everyone else. Their peaceful expressions agitated him even further and he started flipping pages at random. He shook his head and decided he wouldn’t let this faze him any further. He leaned further into the book in an act of increased focus and started reading about soils and their significance in the plantation of different types of crops, about earthquakes and tsunamis and their places of likely occurrence. Mental images of everything he had read blazed through in his mind, and at that point, he seemed unstoppable, when the bus came to a slow halt. They had reached school. He hurriedly closed his book, suddenly feeling more unprepared than ever and got down from the bus following the long file of students ahead of him. He walked into the classroom and saw huddled groups of students everywhere, no doubt trying to cram in one last satellite’s name before the call for assembly. He wasn’t going to try anymore though. He quietly sat at a desk closest to the door and waited with his head on the desk, trying to recall any fact he could.

After what seemed like an eternity, he heard swift footsteps enter the door and instead of his P.E teacher’s voice, he heard his class teacher call out, “Children!”. Subbu looked up, confused. “I have an announcement. We’ve just had news that a low-intensity earthquake is about to strike parts of Bangalore. The Geography exam has been postponed to tomorrow. We will be arranging for the school buses to drop you back home. “.

“Dei…”, Subbu thought..”Bangalore was not listed in that chapter only no da!”.