Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Adorable Boy

This was published in the books page of the Sunday Supplement

When I was in college, the most-talked about book was Prakash Sant’s Vanwas, or ‘exile’. I was staying in a hostel and was always homesick; and I didn’t want to read a book that would have proclaimed my state of mind loud and clear. It was a chance conversation with my roommate, four years later, that I developed an interest in Lampan or Lampu, the boy character (Sant himself), on whom the books — Vanwas, Pankha, (Fan) Sharada Sangeet and Zumbar (Chandelier) — were based.
A highly imaginative and sensitive child, Lampan lives with his maternal grandparents (Narayan Sant and poetess Indira Sant) in a small village near Maharashtra-Karnataka border. He’s a gifted musician: he can sing, compose and play all the musical instruments; but scores a duck in Maths and Geography. Lampu speaks Marathi with a distinct Kannada lilt. His favourite words are “Mad”, Tantotant and Kay mhantat na... tyatli gat. He “measures” his happiness and sadness in numeric terms, like “don hajar charshe chhappan”, or 2,456 times.
Lampu has the ability to become friends with children and adult alike: Mhapsekar Master and Jamkhandikar in Sharada Sangeet; Savkar (landlord) in Pankha; Baburao (Ajji and Ajoba’s Man Friday). The only exception is Sumi or Sumitra; Lampu is not sure about his feelings for his next-door neighbour. The emotional sea-sickness of the adolescence stage is brought out beautifully in the sequels. Sant later weds Sumi.
I loved the way relations and relationships are described in Sant’s works. The warm bickering between his grandparents speak of love and respect they have for each other. Lampan’s parents too are good friends; that knowledge unknowingly found its way in his thinking — married couple need to be friends first.
Sant was a master of portraying emotions in few short sentences. He describes Lampan’s separation from his parents and Mini, his younger sister, when they come to drop him at his grandparents’ house. After they leave, Lampan feels restless; his eyes shine with unshed tears. He feels he has been “exiled” and wants to hide in some corner of the house.
The situation is trying for both Lampan and his grandparents until the boy is taken to the room his mother lived in as a child; Lampan finds his mother’s old photographs, prizes and certificates that she had won as a student. They offer him solace: he feels ‘reunited’ with his mother; he belongs to this house.
Sant beautifully describes the emotions of his grandparents when their grandson comes to stay with them. Ajji and Ajoba are not sure how to deal with the boy. They try to reassure Lampan with their queries and kind words.
Lampan is also very fond of his father; he is left emotionally shattered with his father’s untimely death. Sant wanted to write a book on this incident exploring his feelings, but instead he wrote a heart-warming story, Sparsh, on his father.
What appeals to me the most is that Lampan and his friends understood and grasped so much of worldly life: death, suicide, passion, separation and fair-weather friends. The summations about the ‘adult affairs’ were made in crisp, staccato, one or two sentences and hit home the truth that not much can escape a child, even if they don’t know the whole truth.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Thank You!

This was written as a second edit piece.

The lal dabba, as it is often derisively referred to, holds very special memories for me. I was a gawky, confused teenager when I first came to Pune to study in a reputed city college.
I was always homesick for the first few months, and counted days when I could go home. The first opportunity came around the ten-day Ganesh festival. I took an autorickshaw to Swargate and then made my way to the platform for Mumbai bound buses. I stayed in a small village near Panvel, so I had to get down at a 'request stop'.
I, therefore, decided to wait for the conductor to ask if he could stop the bus at Dand Phata, the request stop.
When he came, with the driver, I was scared of his gruff manner and I fumbled. I had to repeat myself twice before he nodded. I was travelling alone for the first and that too on a bus, so after Khopoli I kept my eyes peeled for Dand Phata. I need not have worried because the conductor called me as the stop neared.
The next few times, whenever I made a trip back home, I invariably met the same conductor-driver pair. We didn't become friends, but I grew less fearful of the conductor.
I was soon to realise that he had appointed himself as my 'guardian'. After making a call home from Lonavla, he didn't let me linger at the stand, talk to strangers. He also ensured that I always sat next to another lady passenger.
When I entered graduation year I used to take a bus in the evening, which meant that I didn't meet the same conductor-driver pair. However, I met other 'guardians'.
There was one conductor, who repeatedly asked if someone was coming to pick me up from Dand Phata. He didn't let me alight till he caught the lights of my father's motorcycle. There was another driver, who had yelled at the conductor for letting a lady passenger travelling alone, alight at some unknown spot on the old highway.
They are all nameless guardians. I never asked their names nor checked their coat lapels.
It was because of their care and concern that I could relax on the journey back home. It was because of them that I could make myself trust strangers.
When I read or edit news reports regarding teenagers molested or abused on bus, in trains and in flights...I considered myself blessed. This is a Big Thank You for all the employees of the State Transport.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

KP and After That...

This appeared in the Sunday supplement

The chat signal turned green.
“Hey!” my friend pinged.
‘Hey... long time...’ I pinged back.
“Yeah... KP...” she said.
‘Koregaon Park? Aare... I need to go shopping...’ I typed furiously.
“Not that KP re...” she said.
‘Then?’ I wondered.
“C’mon... KP...” she sounded tired.
Ah! KP... My friend was talking about the kande pohe meeting! In Maharashtra, when the prospective groom, accompanied by his family members, comes to ‘see’ the girl at her house, he is generally served kande pohe and chaha (tea). Of course, modern girls prefer to meet the guys in a cafe or restaurant. But the name has stuck.
Anyway, I was eager to know how the KP meeting transpired. I had several KP meetings to my credit, and since I also got married through an ‘arranged’ match, I was considered a ‘veteran’. No wonder then, my friend started keying in the details about her experience.
“The meeting wasn’t great,” she pinged.
‘So, you didn’t like him?’ I asked.
“No... aisa nahi hai...” she replied.
‘Aisa nahi toh phir kaisa hai? Did you like him or not?’ I grilled.
“See... he’s nice. But just nice”.
‘What are you looking for?’
“Well, something more than nice,” she drawled.
‘And you think he can’t be more than nice?’
“Are you my friend or his? You are not empathising with me...” she whimpered.
‘So, what else is happening?’ I tried to change the conversation.
“My parents, ya, they are after my life. ‘Get married, get married’, is all they say”.
‘Hmm. I have been through this’.
“And, I have to meet the boys every week ya. How the hell can I say ‘He is the one’ in just one meeting? I don’t know what to do. This guy... I don’t know anything else about him...” she trailed off.
‘What did you talk about? You didn’t ask him the details? What were you doing?’ I was becoming agitated.
“I did”.
“He’s okay... He has asked to meet him at the tekadi. Do you think I should?”
‘In the morning?’
“Nope... evening around six”.
‘No... no. Never! You know, how lonely the place is after six,’ I said in my matronly voice.
“Yeah... I know. See... that’s why I had this odd feeling about the guy. What do you think I should do now?”
‘Isn’t it clear?’
“So, I shouldn’t meet him, right?”
‘Do what you want to do,’ I was short. I was already regretting my eagerness to know.
“But... you have been through this. You can help me out”.
‘Don’t go...’ I was gritting my teeth now. Where’s her common sense?
“He won’t feel bad na?”
Well... I always thought that shopping for marriage was very tiring. Never thought that kande pohe chat can be so tiring as well.