A Wednesday Evening

I sat down on the pavement facing the sunset and opened up the Parle-G packet. There must have been others who followed the crackling opening of the cover with the subsequent sating of his hunger , for he bounded up to me from nowhere at the sound.

Unexpected but welcome, the visitor padded the ground next to my feet and looked in turn at me and the yellow cover in my hand. I held one of the biscuits out in front of him and he bit at it from my hand pausing right at the intersection between my fingers and the biscuit. He waited eagerly and yet patiently, while I had one as well.

We repeated the activity till the cover had been deprived of its contents entirely. 10 minutes? 15 minutes? 20? I’d lost track. I patted the top of his head gingerly and he reciprocated with a gentle nuzzle against my palm.

The light drowning us by now was artificial. The sun had set.

Leisure – SubbuUnplugged #1

This is a story set in the world of the Subbu Chronicles but doesn’t follow the #A2Z pattern or the chronology of the rest of the stories. This is, quite simply – Subbu Unplugged. Episode 1.

All that is yours is rightfully mine… and mine it will be!”. 10-year old Subbu’s eyes widened in wonder as he gripped the joystick a little tighter and watched The Dark Prince whisper the next few lines and vanish into smoke…so much smoke… the screen had gone black. He waited for a few more seconds before he realised the vanishing had more to do with an external agent than an internal actor. Amma stood by the side of the TV, the disconnected plug in her hand, an expression of impatience on her facing and one foot tapping on the ground with the rhythm of one who has been ignored for a while. “Amma!”, he protested, “I was about to get to an important level!”. “I’ve been calling you for the last ten minutes”, Amma protested in retaliation and with a shriller voice that indicated the victor of this argument even before further sparring could ensue. “Dei! You have your exams in two weeks!”, she continued, “And you’re sitting here playing this useless..this useless..”. “Game”, Subbu completed, a look of resignation and decreasing annoyance on his face, even as he knew the end of the sentence was irrelevant. 

He sighed, got up and went back to his room and picked up his Maths book, placed it on the bed and knelt on the floor, his elbows propped next to the book, a notebook on the side and an Apsara Black pencil in hand; if he was going to study, he might as well start with a subject  with the most syllabus to cover and get it over with. And that was the first paper anyway.

“If Ramu’s gardening plot is 10ft long and 5ft wide, and each flower pot is 1m x 1m, how many flower pots can Ramu place across the plot’s edges?”, Subbu read out loudly. It seemed like quite the predicament Ramu was in and it reminded him of a problem his father had read to him from a story that featured a boy named Swamy. Swamy had been, to quote his father from the book, “an extraordinary idiot”. Subbu could hear Swamy’s father’s words in his own father’s voice and scratched his head in puzzlement. He gave up and proceeded to read the next 20 problems from the page in the text (which were all along the same vein), none of which he felt his skills obtained at school had adequately prepared him for. He felt immense sympathy for Swamy and decided he had made a huge mistake in starting with Maths. It had reduced his morale  a lot. He needed a break to rejuvenate. If nothing else, surely, he’d earned some leisure time for toiling this long? He tiptoed to the kitchen and teetered on his feet as he waited for Amma to turn around from chopping the vegetables. Once she seemed to have reached a logical conclusion, he nervously called out – “Amma…I’ve tried to solve twenty one problems”, he chose his words carefully and gestured with open palms to indicate a measure beyond what his hands could show. “Can I continue my game for just five minutes?”. Amma had heard this request before and she knew what five minutes meant. She sternly looked at him and said, “I’m sorry Subbu but the game will have to wait till the exams are over. You go to Pandi’s house and see if he wants to play with you for 10-15 minutes.”. Subbu groaned and shuffled out the kitchen but by the time he reached the hall, he’d accepted this free-time barter and ran out the house distractedly. Pandi and he were classmates and had also known each other ever since he had moved in. 

“Pandiiiii”, he went chanting even as he reached the 11 year old’s house’s gate. He noisily opened the gate with an air of familiarity and rapped on the door. The Ramakrishnan residence was very well acquainted with Subbu and had come to regard him a part of their family  – well, everyone except the baby of the house that always bit his hand as though indicating disapproval. He didn’t have to wait long at the door. Pandi’s mother, Mrs.Maami (as he knew her), opened the door with her ever-smiling face and greeted Subbu warmly , “Vaa da Subbu.. Padichutiya?” (Come, come Subbu. Have you completed studying?). Subbu rolled his eyes but quickly said with every ounce of politeness he could muster , “Aaan aunty, innum konjam daan irruku” (Yes aunty, only a little bit left to go). Was Pandi at home, he enquired. No, Pandi had gone to his cousin’s place to “group-study”, he was informed. Maybe he should also go back home and continue studying, she suggested. Subbu frowned a little at this unexpected dashing of his plans to have fun and even more deeply at the suggestion that he ought to resume his preparations. Hmph. Didn’t Maami aunty understand the importance of enjoyable activities? Nevertheless, he thanked Maami aunty and shuffled out, contemplating his next actions. His eyes fell on the parked cycle as he stepped into his gate and decided that would be a good act of leisure. 

He took the cycle out and began his new act with renewed vigour, the previous disappointment forgotten. He pedalled despite the midday sun, passing the regular shops he visited with his dad, and the idle shopkeepers who were looking out on the streets hailed him, “Ay Subbu, enga da porai! Paarthu votu ” (Hey Subbu, where are you headed? Ride safely!), (those that recognised him anyway) and he yelled back  – “Hi uncle!”,” Hi aunty!”. Everyone was “uncle” and “aunty” as far as he was concerned. One of these greeters was Paramasivan uncle, the local florist. He went one step further than the rest of the shopkeepers and called Subbu into his store. Subbu’s mother was a regular patron here, being quite the green thumb and Param uncle and she had become good friends (which meant discounts were given without being asked for). Subbu regularly accompanied her on her visits; needless to say, Paramasivan uncle had taken a shine to this charming youngster who stood by his mother patiently every time she chose seeds for what must be quite the forest by now and given him a lot of free methi seeds “under the table” in an attempt to inculcate the interest in the boy as well. Subbu wondered why he was being invited , maybe Amma had said she’d collect something from him and he, Subbu was to be the conduit? Maybe. He went into the shop nevertheless and looked at Param uncle who was surveying the boy with a glint in his eyes. Then suddenly he said, “Subbu! I haven’t even shown your mum this, but I’ve been working on a new project. Come!”, he dashed to a backdoor and beckoned the boy into it. Subbu warily stepped in and gasped. It was a huge greenhouse with a whole bunch of pots with plants huddled at one side of the room. A small portion of the floor had been cordoned off by an array of red bricks. 

“Subbu”, Param uncle called. Subbu felt a strange memory knocking at the back of his mind, even as he looked at all the pots at the corner of the room. 

“Subbu, I have this plot of land here 10ft by 5ft and I want to place pots all along the edges….”

J is for Jealousy [#AtoZChallenge]

Subbu’s jaw dropped.

“And I got this for my last birthday”, Mani said as he produced a white, shiny Hot Wheels car. “And this one was for my previous 95 out of 100 in Social Studies”. Another item emerged from the bag that seemed to hold an infinite supply of toys – this time a GiJoe. It was the short break hour and Mani had decided to exhibit his collection atop Prema ma’am’s table that day to his huddled group of gawking, incredulous classmates. “Mani”, Subbu asked when he finally found his voice, “What does your father do?”. This endowment of seemingly hundreds of toys could only be justified if Mani’s father owned a toy shop. “Don’t you know da?”, Mani asked with a mixture of condescension and genuine puzzlement, “Your father and my father are colleagues at the same company.”. The knot in Subbu’s chest tightened and he found himself looking at the bench lost in thought about the unfairness being meted out to him by life, his parents and everyone. He had scored a lot of 95s as well. Mostly in English, but it counted, didn’t it? He was shaken from his reverie by Murugan who was by now staring daggers at Mani. “He thinks he’s some sort of big shot just because he has more toys than us. We’ll see who’s smiling when something goes missing.”. Subbu didn’t like the glint in Murugan’s eyes but he didn’t want to antagonise his friend, so he meekly nodded hoping his face didn’t betray his conscience.  Mani had just finished displaying a tiny He-Man eraser (that held in an outstretched plastic hand a small, but sharp plastic sword of sorts, sharp enough to prick any of Subbu’s mental balloons of happiness, if any were left), when Prema ma’am walked into the classroom and Mani hastily replaced all the objects back into his “akshayapatra” of a bag and the rest of them hurriedly took their places in their seats.

Later during lunch, Subbu spotted Mani frantically looking for something. He had an inkling as to what might have happened but he innocently went and asked the worried boy, “Mani, are you searching for something?”. Mani looked up ashen-faced at Subbu and said, “My brand new kaleidoscope, Subbu. Have you seen it?”. Subbu thought Murugan might have something to do with this missing tube of mirrors but he shook his head vigorously…perhaps a little too vigorously, for Mani surveyed him for a few seconds as though the location of the missing cylinder was marked with an “X” on Subbu’s forehead, before resuming his search under the desks. The latter stayed there a few more minutes watching the former struggle before sympathetically patting him on his back and walking away. 

As he moved away from the seeker he saw Murugan, standing a few benches away, looking at Mani with a satisfied expression on his face. “See how he pitifully searches for his Parker Pen”, he smirked with a whisper once Subbu was within earshot. Subbu furrowed his eyebrows – “Parker ..Pen?” he thought, but not aloud. “Now Mani has lost two items, only one of which he has noticed missing”, he brooded. “Subbu?”, Murugan enquired, “Do you think we should keep it for ourselves or break it?”. Subbu frowned. Of course, he had been jealous of how many more things Mani had and maybe a tiny part of him had revelled at the thought of Mani grappling with the loss of one of his prized possessions that he had “shown off”, but was he, Subbu, an evil person? What would Harry Potter do? He pondered the paths his heroes from fiction and mythology might take if faced with such moral questions and decided with a resolve as a wave of shame washed over him – “No”, and prepared himself to patronise Murugan for his action; but the thief had vanished out of sight and Subbu’s eyes wandered back to a still worried-looking Mani. He walked back to the bemoaner and said with the tone of a savior, “Don’t worry Mani, I’ll help you find your pen…err..telescope.”, he corrected himself as Mani looked at him quizzically. “Kaleidoscope”, he was corrected. Subbu adopted a loftier expression all the while muttering to himself about having overcome jealousy and being the bigger man and yet being corrected by ungrateful monsters. As he bent under the desk himself, he wondered if he should bring up the topic of adequate compensation with his parents and ran a possible scenario over in his head about how that conversation with his father might go –

He would gingerly broach the topic – “Appa, Mani had brought 4 HotWheels cars today.”
Appa would remark only partially listening – “Mm Hmm.”
He would repeat the premise for father’s benefit.
Appa would feign interest this time and look at him as if to wonder why this sentence was being posed to him.
Then he would ask for an increase in number of cars for himself and let the chips fall where they may. He had no idea how Appa would react to this new man with a spine, but he was prepared to try, for justice’s sake.

For the second time that day, he jerked back to reality only to notice that he had wandered off to the opposite row of benches on his knees, all the while, trying to look for Mani’s kaleidoscope, obviously unsuccessfully. As he prepared to abandon the search, he spotted a glint of something shiny by the trash can situated at the left end of Prema ma’am’s table. He rushed to it and picked it up even as it came undone in his hand, the glass pieces smashed to smithereens. It would seem that in Mani’s haste to pick up his things, this tube had fallen to the ground and scattered. He brought the remnants of the tube and the bad news back to Mani. The boy took one look at the glass pieces and started weeping profusely, spluttering pieces of speech from which Subbu gathered that Mani had had to sweep the entire house to get his Appa to buy him this what-was-once-a-fine-bangle-piece-displayer. Subbu felt even more sympathetic towards this boy and thought he should probably, at this point, not add insult to injury by enquiring if Mani had noticed anything else missing from his Bag of Wonders. By this time, two more of their classmates had arrived by Mani’s side and had begun consoling him. Subbu felt confident about the moral support Mani was receiving and decided to confront Murugan immediately, chide him, maybe teach him a lesson or two about the virtues of honesty and the horridness of jealousy and get the pen back to Mani before the latter even discovered its loss – surely the poor boy had suffered enough already.

His thoughts and actions were interrupted by Prema ma’am walking in again with an expression of what he could only surmise was absolute rage. She slammed the notebooks she was holding onto her table and dust from 1947 rose up to fill the air in the classroom, it seemed.

“Everyone take your bags and keep them on your desks”, she said, in an icy tone. Subbu blinked and looked around at his classmates who looked equally clueless.

“One of you has stolen my Parker Pen and I’m going to find out who.”

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.

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.