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….”