My Nai died yesterday in an accident.My family and I are desolate and are only slowly recovering from the pain.
We adopted our dog from the streets about 8 years back.Brown in colour and with one ear misshapen,our dog showed up in our house and decided to stay.Fond as we are of dogs we decided to adopt it.We named it "nAI" which literally means dog in tamil.All my neighbours were used to us shouting Nai...at the top of our voices.
My dog ate anything.But it loved tomatoes more than any other thing.If during cooking Mom forgot to put the tomatoes at a safe height,the tomatoes would be gone.It was the cleverest dog i had ever seen.It understood every word we said.It was human,my nai.
When ever the Paper recycling guy used to bicycle down the road in front of my house yelling,my dog would imitate his tone and pitch to perfection.The paper guys soon got used to it. But whenever a new guy came,he would look at our house warily as he cycled past.
We gave it the most comfortable life a dog could ever wish for.It slept only in the AC room or in front of the cooler.It would share our food,right fromn icecreams to curd rice.Whenever it felf that we were eating something without it, it would sit down and utter a sharp bark to remind us.It had blankets during winter but ended up sleeping on the bed.
Once every 2 months it would stay out for 2 ,3 days at a strech and worry us.My father would go out to look for it .It was scared of bathing.It would run miles whenever we planned to bathe it.
I cant go on.I love you Nai.More than you ever know.And i am sure you are looking down upon us from some doggy heaven with lots of tomatoes strewn beside you and having a lot of fun.But we miss you.Rip.
My Nai died yesterday in an accident.My family and I are desolate and are only slowly recovering from the pain.
I looked out of the third floor balcony of the brown colored building. Appa, Amma, Thatas and Pattis, uncles, aunts and a few stray cousins were all waving their hands. My family has this quality of gathering around in big numbers when they foresee an event of some consequence about to take place. And my engineering entrance exam which was scheduled to begin in 13 minutes 34 seconds qualified as an event of consequence. The culmination of months and months of back breaking effort, the thousands of rupees of carefully hoarded money paid for study material and tuitions, the hopes and dreams of a family as they all looked at me as a way out of generations of penury and struggles. Only a small factor stood in the way of their aspirations, a factor that only I realized. I had no hope in hell of clearing the exam.
I carried a water bottle slung over my shoulder. My forehead was smeared with vermillion and veebhudhi as a safety precaution if my mind was not at its razor best on this important day. I carried three gold and red pencils assiduously sharpened to a sharp point by my mother. I carried a pad, which would be used to support the answer sheet. The pad was covered with various stickers. A saraswathi photo tidily pasted to the top right corner was ample evidence that my mother had been at work here too. But there was also a sticker of Spiderman and one of the WWE wrestler the “ROCK”. And in a clear concise handwriting the name Senthil Ragavan scribbled below in tiny letters.
No. That was not my name. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Surya Vinayaka Ragavan. Senthil is my brother. ”Was” rather. He was five years older to me. He was brilliant guy. After effortlessly getting into the BITS, pilani, he died of a lung problem in his final year of his engineering. He smoked too much; catching the habit early from a friend and never was quite able to give it up. My parents were shell shocked for a year. They then recovered rapidly and proceeded to pin their hopes on me instead.
I really liked my brother when he was alive. He would buy me and my friends’ ice golas at the corner shop if we came across him when we were loitering on the hot dusty streets of Hyderabad, for that’s where we lived. He would fly kites with me during the festival of Sankaranthi. I would patiently catch the chakri as he deftly flew the kite and I would yell “Affaaaaa” with all my might when he would cut the kites of the other kids. I was proud of my brother.
But I am ashamed to say, I don’t like him anymore when he is dead.
I looked at Appa. He looked really small and inconsequential from this high up, a small wizened man, prematurely old from too much work and too little money. He looked lonely and forlorn in spite of the people around him. I genuinely prayed for a moment, hoping for a heaven sent miracle to clear the exam, to make him happy. But I neither had the brains or the application required to clear the exam.
I really want to be a writer. I am writing this story at the age of 37.My story. As I sit all day long in this dim room in my cramped flat typing away with one finger my wife thinks I’ve gone mad and leaves me to my own work. But I am happy; finally I am doing what I always wanted to do. Where was I? .Oh yeah I was about to step into the examination hall to write the exam. But let me rewind the story to two years ago.
I had just got the results of class 10 Board Exam. A steady stream of relatives, well wishers and friends poured into my house offering congratulatory messages to Appa and Amma for having been blessed with such a fine son who scored 92% in his board exams. I had my cheeked pulled by a Punjabi aunty, who then proceeded to stuff my mouth with an outsize laddoo saying “Mooh Meetha Kar lo” as was her custom.
This was the earliest I remembered of the sub conscious rebellion against my parents which persisted all through my life. My parents always held centre stage in my life, relegating me to being a nobody in my own life. They were graciously receiving visitors now. Appa was dressed in a Kurta pyjama, old but spotlessly immaculate. Amma was wearing her best kanchipuram Silk sari, resplendently wearing all her jewellery as if she were decked out to go to a wedding. She was being very nonchalant about the whole thing as if brilliance in the family was commonplace.
These class 10 board exams are very dangerous. They are the first genuine indicators of the capacity of a child. Senthil had scored a whopping 96% in his board exams. He was in his third year at BITS right now, smoking three packs a day. He has on-campus offers from a couple of companies to work for them already but he has not committed to anybody yet. He wants to pursue his masters in the USA.
Anyway as I was saying, my family used the class 10 exams as a litmus test of a child capability. If you get below 75% you were a social outcast like that neighbor Latha’s child. Between 75% to 90% you were considered good. And if by any chance you managed to get above 90% you were classified as “IIT material”. And then you were dead. Granted that there were people who got into the IITs and other top engineering colleges,and I am not saying it was a bad thing to do either. Cream of the intelligentsia and all that. But there were people cut out for engineering and people not cut out for engineering. I was most emphatically not.
Appa was a school teacher who taught class 10 mathematics in the neighboring school. He was a sticker for doing things at the right time. He got up at precisely 5 am every day. Took a cold water bath at 5 minutes past. He then went for a morning walk. Had breakfast at 9 am. Went to school at 9.30.Returned at 4 pm. He read the newspaper from end to end after that, commenting acidly to my mother about the articles he did not agree with. He wrote a couple of letters a week to the newspaper in stiff formal language. When one of these letters was printed he would cut them out with his scissors and paste them in a brown scrapbook he displayed proudly to every visitor that crossed our threshold. Pushing forty when I was in class 10 he was a sprightly fit man, proud and intelligent. He had three degrees already. A B.sc in Mathematics when he was a student followed by a B.ed when he was 30 and an M.sc through correspondence only a year ago.
Appa was a conventional old man. But in one aspect he was not conventional. He loved American fast food and would eat pizza and burgers and gulp down Coke like aa American teenager. In fact many years later he would die peacefully in his bed at precisely 9 pm, the last words we would ever hear him utter would be ”Get me some French fries”. It was a wonder he remained fit with all that junk he ate. It was a sight to behold .Appa with a pile of magnificent pizzas in front of him while Amma was timidly eating curd rice and avakai. For all the differences in their eating habits, Amma was the one who turned out to be fat in her middle age.
It was an arranged marriage obviously. Love obviously was frivolous so my Appa avoided it .He worked his way through school and college and supported seven brothers and three sisters besides. He was awarded a gold medal in his graduation which he displays proudly in his drawing room and which looks more like lead and less like gold if you ask me. But maybe I am jealous for I have never won anything in my life. He married my Amma when he was twenty two. My brother was born two years later. Around this time my father’s brother Seenu Peripa had an unusual bit of luck in his cloth business. So that was how Appa’s uneducated brother came to become an enormously wealthy man. He married a pretty, young girl who was closer to my age than his. Reena Perima would come to our house dressed in jeans and such a tight t shirt that my father would lock himself up in his room, refusing to come out till that “devil” had left the house. However I and Senthil would giggle uncontrollably when she would sway past us talking in her high affected voice. I don’t know why she came so often to our house for she had nothing to come for, save two gawky adolescents gaping at her .Appa refused to even speak to her and she drove Amma mad with her tales of what was the latest thing to wear in the Mumbai party circles and the latest piece of delicate artwork she had bought .
From very early on in our lives Amma and Appa made sure that everything that we saw, thought or did was in some way connected with the larger purpose of getting into a good engineering college. Before I even learnt to read a book of numbers was thrust into my hands. While my friends got cricket bats and tennis balls for birthday presents I remember all I got was books of various sorts like the “Magical Mathematical tricks” etc.
At most they would agree to buy us board games which were supposed to improve our thinking ability, while our friends played in the glorious rain outside. I remember playing countless games of Brain vita with my brother in our bedroom. When I was six years old the temptation was too much for me and I jumped out of the window one day and had two glorious hours of fun, playing football with the poor kids across the street. I came home gloriously dirty and tired, nose bleeding through a minor scuffle I had got into.
I was not punished at all. Amma and Appa did not utter a single word of reproach. But Amma did not eat well for three days afterwards, dabbing at her tear stained eyes with the end of her pallu. Corporal punishment was passé in our house. We had a novel kind of Indian torture, punishment by guilt. After the fourth day when Amma began to look weak, I went up to her and apologized. Only then did she eat.
It was not all bad obviously. During meal times my brother and I would sit on the floor in front of her as she made small balls of the sambhar rice and handed it alternately to us, along with a piece of fried papad. Appa would tell me stories about the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as we listened open mouthed. Afterwards Senthil and I would play mock games of the great epics. He loved to play the roles of Rama or Krishna while I was content to play a Duruyodhana or a Ravana.
I used to be rocked gently to sleep on my mother’s lap. Even as a child I used to suffer from insomnia. I would go crying to my Amma. She would gently lay my head on her lap and rock me, singing old Tamil songs from the movies of MGR and Shivaji. The moon would cast a solitary ray of silver through the broken window pane right on my eyes. She would cover my eyes from the rays, glaring at the moon for disturbing her son. They loved me a lot all right. But many years later I still cannot sleep. And when I lie awake thinking about them I realize that love alone is not enough sometimes.