Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mani's Little Sister


Mani sat visualizing himself as a trim, quick-on-his-feet boy who got selected in his school cricket team for his aggressive batsmanship and extraordinary fielding skills. His happy daydreaming was punctuated by the stern call of his name by his father. He came out of his reverie and looked down at his plump self. With a shake of his head he went to the drawing room as he heard his father call him again.

“What took you so long?” the head of the house asked Mani, only to get the usual response of bowed-head silence.

“Tomorrow onwards you have to bring your sister along with you when you return home from School”

Many unfinished thoughts filled Mani’s mind as he heard this ultimatum from his father. He knew it would be futile to ask what he always thought was the most logical question to counter any uncomfortable decision – Why. He had tried asking this question on previous occasions only to receive angry glares and, once, a reply that was in no way the logical answer – ‘because I said so and I am your father’.

So he nodded in a resigned manner and ran to the kitchen to confront his mother.

“Why should I bring Aarthi with me? Let her come with Auto Anna as usual no?” Mani fumed at his mother.

She sighed and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Aarthi has come to 6th grade now kanna. Her classes will finish at 2:30 pm and yours get over by 3:15 pm. So Appa wants to discontinue the Auto. He feels there is no point of spending on Auto when Aarthi can wait for you inside the school campus for some time and both of you can come back together”, she told.

“This is not fair”, hissed Mani.

But he knew he could do little else to change the decision or the situation. He had only one option.

*          *          *

Aarthi was leafing through her new sixth grade English textbook as she saw her brother come towards her. Aarthi adored her elder brother but if anyone asked her why, she would find it difficult to pinpoint a reason. That was the kind of relationship they had.

“Hi Anna!” chirped Aarthi as Mani came and sat beside her in the small storage room-cum-pooja room-cum-study room.

Mani was elder to Aarthi by only three years and hated it when she called her Anna.

“How many times have I told you not to call me Anna?” he snapped.

“But Appa insists that I call you so”

“Then you do so only in front of him”

“Ok Mani”, she replied with a twinkle in her eyes.

“Did they tell you about how you will be coming back from school? They are stopping your Auto”, he said, stressing on the last sentence while trying to maintain a tone of sympathy.

“Yes! Isn’t it wonderful? Now we can come together every day after school”, she replied happily.

Mani did not want to give in easily and decided to approach it from the angle of physical effort.
“You know we have to walk right? It will be hard for you”

“That’s ok. We will come together only no? It will be fine”

Now Mani started to desperately clutch at last straws.

“Aarthi. Can you do me a favour?” he asked.

“Sure Ann… I mean Mani” she replied eagerly.

“I can’t bring you from school every day. Can you please go by yourself? You are a big girl anyway” he reasoned.

Her smiling face suddenly became clouded.

“Why? Do you not like me” she asked.

Ayyo it’s not like that! It is difficult to explain! Will you help me or not?” he asked irritably.

Aarthi had never seen her brother get this upset. He was usually the calm and silent kind. She reluctantly agreed to his request.

“And remember. Don’t tell Amma and Appa” he warned, before leaving the room.

*          *          *

Aarthi wanted to understand why Mani was behaving this way. Mani had joined her school after completing his eighth grade from a different one, since her school was more popular for giving good results in the tenth and twelfth public examinations. Ever since he joined ninth grade in the new school, there seemed to be something amiss about him. Aarthi had noticed her brother lost in thoughts or staring vacantly at nothing in particular many times. What surprised her even more was the fact that he barely showed the kind of enthusiasm he was known for when watching India’s cricket matches. While his parents did not seem to register these changes, it did not escape the keen girl. She decided to talk to him about this when he was in a better mood.

The next day was Aarthi’s first in sixth grade and it proceeded without any major surprises. Keeping her word to her brother, she walked back home once her classes ended, without waiting for him. She opened the house using the spare key under the potted plant and carefully bolted the main door from inside. She made herself a jam sandwich and waited for her brother to come.

More than an hour lapsed and the time was nearing 4 pm but Mani had not returned. Aarthi was worried, not only because her brother had not returned, but also because she had lied to her father when he had called few minutes ago by telling him that they both came together and Mani was in the toilet. Her father was expecting Mani to call back.

As she struggled thinking about what to do next, the doorbell rang. She gave a sigh of relief and ran to open the door.

“Why are you so late? Appa almost found…” she stopped her chiding abruptly as she saw her brother’s tear-streaked face. She could see that his clothes were soiled.

“What happened Anna?” She asked.

He turned his face away from her, rushed to the study room and banged the door shut.

It was only when their parents came back that he came out of the room.

“Did Mani take good care of his little sister?” Amma asked looking at Aarthi.

Aarthi glanced at her brother. He had a pleading look on his face and shook his head imperceptibly.

“Yes Amma! He took care of me very well”, she replied.

Mani’s tensed face relaxed a little as his mother patted him on the back.

The afternoons continued in a similar manner for a week and Aarthi could not get her brother to speak about who or what was giving him trouble every day after school. He just brushed her off saying it was some small scuffle which was normal in his grade. She wanted to confide in her mother about this but that would then put Mani in an uncomfortable position. She decided that she will do something about it the next day.

*          *          *

The next day as her classes got over, she decided to hide near the school gate and wait for her brother. Five minutes after the last bell of ninth grade rang, her brother walked out slowly. He was walking alone and looking nervous. He exited the school gate and started to walk towards their home. Aarthi stealthily followed him.

Mani crossed the main road and turned into the lane that led to the area where their home was situated. Aarthi could feel her brother slow down as he entered the lane. As he disappeared from her view, she resumed following him. As she entered the lane she could see her brother walking slowly with his head bowed down. There were a group of boys, seemingly seniors from their school, talking loudly and cracking jokes at the corner of the street. As one of them saw Mani, he nudged the guy near him. They all became silent.

“Oi Gundumani!” one guy called out, making fun of Mani’s rotund frame. The other boys screamed with laughter. Mani did not raise his head and hurried his steps.

The boys now started to surround him. There were five of them and the tallest guy came and stood in front of Mani, blocking his path.  

He placed both his hands on Mani’s ample stomach.

“This water bag seems to get bigger by the day”, he guffawed, to the merriment of his gang.

Mani squirmed and tried to move away. Two boys blocked him from behind.

“I guess the Fatso is going to cry today also. Such a girl!” one boy retorted nastily.

“Maybe he will go crying to his mommy!” another boy said, giving a pathetic imitation of a crying baby.

“Will you go complaining to your mommy and daddy fatso?” The tall guy asked, while slapping Mani’s stomach.

Mani shook his head without looking up.

“Guys! Doesn’t his stomach look like a football?” the tall guy asked.

There was a chorus answer in the affirmative.

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s play”, he shouted.

Aarthi was shocked to see her brother being treated this way. She couldn’t hold back anymore and ran towards Mani and the gang of bullies.

As he heard the sound of someone running towards him, Mani looked up. He was terrified to see Aarthi. The gang of boys temporarily suspended their entertainment and looked amusedly at the figure of a small girl approaching them.

She came and stopped directly in front of the tall guy and glared at him.

“Why are you troubling my brother?” she asked angrily.

“Look at what fatso brought for support! His kid sister!” the tall guy snickered.

Before he could proceed with another remark, he felt a strong kick on his abdomen and a sharp slap on his cheek.

There was a look of pain mixed with shock on his face as he clutched his abdomen and fell down. Tears streamed down his face as he looked at the faces of his friends. The faces did not register anger. They registered a mix of surprise and, to an extent, embarrassment.

The group of boys were amazed to see their leader brought to his knees by a small girl. They used to be in awe of this guy. They used to look up to him and always tried to emulate the recklessness and irreverence he projected. Today when they saw him at the receiving end of a punch and slap from a girl almost half his age, the image they carried of him was shattered.

They looked on in stunned silence as Aarthi held the hand of her bewildered brother and led him towards their home.

*          *          *

The parents returned that evening to find brother and sister watching television and laughing.

The mother planted a kiss on Aarthi’s head and pulled Mani’s chubby cheek.

“Did Mani take good care of his little sister?” she asked.

Mani looked at Aarthi and smiled.

“Aarthi took good care of her brother, Amma!” he said as the little girl beamed proudly.


Friday, September 1, 2017

To Run or not to Run...

Over the course of the past two weeks I experienced contrasting reactions to an activity I perform regularly. The reactions left me amused and also served as a confirmation that I am now part of a generation that is right in the middle of a curious but affable previous generation and an inquisitive but unafraid next generation.

Last week, I was in Ludhiana for three days and stayed in one of the innumerable hotels on Ferozepur Road. Ferozepur Road is a broad, well-maintained road which is ideal for an early morning jog. I generally jog on the road and try to find long circular routes to avoid monotony of repeating the same stretch over and over. I found a lovely route from Ferozepur Road to Mall road which also had a fairly empty stretch where middle-aged and elderly people come for their morning walks. One such gentleman saw me jogging with my now customary Mobile-holder Armband strapped to my left arm. He stopped me, not with a show of hand, but with a bright smile and a question. 

Beta, What is it that you are wearing”, he asked, pointing at my armband.

I slowed down to his pace and explained to him about the mobile which also had a running application which tracked my speed, distance and calories among other things.

He seemed really impressed.

“How long do you run every day?” he asked.

“4-5 kilometers on average”, I replied.

“That is very good. Carry on Beta”, he smiled and bade me farewell.

I felt energized by this conversation as it had absolutely no motive other than curiosity and genuine warmth from the gentleman’s side and an eagerness to reply out of deference from my side. I also felt younger by his loving reference to me as beta.

This was an enduring memory of my long trip to Punjab and Delhi which culminated with my return to Bangalore last week.

My early morning office hours in Bangalore has forced me to reschedule my daily jogs to evenings. I usually go for my evening runs at around 6:30 pm which also happens to be the prime playing time for the children in my apartment. I remember my childhood when most of us talked only to our age group or at best to boys or girls just a few years elder to us. But today’s children are altogether different. They have no qualms about speaking to anyone and everyone.

As I stepped down for my evening run yesterday, a badminton racquet-wielding boy came up to me.

“Going for a walk Uncle?” he asked.

I gave myself a once over before replying. I had put on a pretty decent dry-fit tee-shirt over running shorts and was also wearing my Nike Lite running shoes. Even after exuding so much coolness I was getting ‘Uncle’!

That’s when I realized I was not wearing my mobile-holder armband. I immediately tucked in my belly and brought out the armband from my pocket.

“Going for a jog”, I replied, while giving him a supercilious smile as he curiously watched me wearing my armband. I was sure his impression of me being a middle-aged uncle would have changed now.

“What is it that you are wearing?” he asked.

I felt a wave of satisfaction as I explained to him about the running application in the mobile which I was wearing.

“Oh! So you don’t have a Fitbit?” he asked.

It felt as if someone punched me in the stomach.

“No”, I replied meekly.


“You should really get a Fitbit. It is much better than carrying around your mobile in an armband Uncle”, he further advised.

It felt as if someone thumped me on the back before I could recover from the punch in my stomach.

I thanked him and moved away from his eyesight before the impending extra-long inhalation brought my belly back to its original position.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Death

An eerie stillness succeeds the crude shock
As they see the termination of their life’s clock
The warmth when he lived gives way to the grim cold of death
That animal can consume someone even in his prime health

Friends reminisce, relative anguish
Even Foes forgive and join the languish
Stories emerge, nostalgia strengthens
In dire hopes that the inevitable lengthens

The son slowly readies for the formal last rites
The pain in his heart reaches tumultuous heights
He drenches his body from head to toe
Hoping it would drown the piling sorrow

Before proceeding he goes to his mother
Unable to face, he prostrates before her
She raises her hand, as if to bless
Something breaks in me, I become a mess

At no more than twenty six years of age
He is about to cremate his immediate lineage
I think through the heaviness for justification
I encounter blankness, and a lot of frustration




Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thoughts on Dangal

There is a scene in Dangal where Sakshi Tanwar’s Daya Phogat wonders aloud to her husband that she is unable to understand his methods to drive their daughters towards a career in the sport of wrestling. Aamir Khan’s Mahavir Phogat replies that he is in a situation where he can either be a Teacher (Guru) or a father, but not both. The line is intended towards the audience lest they end up thinking what a cruel father Phogat was. Towards the later part of the movie we get a brilliant scene where Phogat’s elder daughter Geeta calls home and asks to speak to her father. This scene is preceded by an ego-cum-wrestling clash between the teacher Phogat and the student Geeta. As Daya hands over the phone to her husband, we get to see the Teacher Phogat say a brusque ‘Haan’ intended to the student Geeta. But what he hears is sobbing at the other end, from the daughter Geeta. At that instant, the Teacher Phogat and the Father Phogat fight an internal battle and merge into one. Aamir Khan aces this scene in a way only he can and succeeds in making the audience buy this metamorphosis. I found this scene to be the most significant one in this brilliantly made sports drama.
 
While there have been many discussions as to whether Dangal is feminist or patriarchal, I personally found the cusp of the movie to be this metamorphosis of the Teacher and the Father. Of course, the movie had an engaging screenplay with some of the best casting one could see in a Hindi movie. Aamir Khan is easily the most assured star of Indian cinema. He doesn’t need all 161 minutes of screen time to enhance his stardom. He lets the new girls hog the limelight for most part of the movie while coming up with frequent scene-stealing performances. The Girls, be it Zaira and Suhani as the younger versions of the Phogat sisters or Fatima and Sana as the elder versions, are pitch perfect in casting as well as performance. It is hard to believe they are young actors and not actual wrestlers. While credit for this must go to the girls, a significant part of it must also go to the wrestling choreographer Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. The wrestling sequences were absolutely nail biting and never once felt staged. The second half is packed with so much of wrestling action that if there had been a slight misstep in the action choreography, it would have impacted the whole movie. But the sequences end up saving even the otherwise clich├ęd jingoistic climax.

As Geeta stands on the podium with her medal and the national anthem plays out, we see Phogat reacting like the true blue nationalist sportsman who has helped his country win an international gold medal. It is ironic that Phogat was played to perfection by the very same actor who was called out for being ‘anti-national’ and asked to leave the country if he found it ‘intolerant’. If Aamir Khan can give us a movie like Dangal every year, I personally wouldn’t give two hoots as to whether he is a chest-thumping patriot or not.


Friday, November 25, 2016

One Ticket to Bhayander

“How was your day?’ Sudeshna asked as her son made his way into his room.

He gave an almost imperceptible upward nod of his head to indicate nothing out of the ordinary happened, grabbed a towel and went into the washroom. Sudeshna waited carefully till she heard the bolt of the bathroom door and the sound of running water. With one eye on the bathroom door, she quickly went through his bag. She heaved a sigh of relief as she found nothing which she was afraid she would find. But that didn’t mean she would stop this routine of searching his belongings or keeping an eye on him.

She remembered the day vividly. She had just sat down after lunch to catch up on the series of Marathi soap operas on television when the landline had started to ring. The Principal of NMCC, the college where her son studied, had been on the other end of the line.

“This is regarding your son, Mrs. Kale. He seems to be permanently in a trance and least bothered about courses or exams. He already has very poor attendance and hasn’t come to the college today also, despite knowing there is a cycle test which has 30% weightage for the semester grades”, he had said.

Not knowing how to react, she had assured the principal that she would talk about this to her son and make him understand. She had been puzzled. Just as she had been about to call her son on his mobile, the landline had rang again. This time the voice on the other end was that of a stranger.

“Are you related to Mr. Pramod Kale?”

“Yes I am his mother. Who is this?”

“Sorry to say this madam. Your son attempted to kill himself by lying down on the railway track. One of our constables saw him and has brought him to the police station. Can you please come down to Parel Police Station?”

She had found out a whole new side to her Son that day. She had seen a vacant frozen look on his face that sent a chill down her spine. Her attempts at drawing him out and finding a reason for his depression were futile and she had no choice but to resort to professional medical help. She had lost count of the number of psychologists and psychiatrists she had taken Pramod to, after that day. While most of them were quick in their diagnosis of depression, none of them could give any clarity on the reason for the same.

It had been three years since that fateful day. The paranoia of checking her son’s belongings and following his movements in and out of the house had started since then and had not stopped. Pramod hardly talked to anyone anymore. Though he had scraped through college and started working in a local digital media company in the Kamla Mills compound, Sudeshna lived in constant fear. The only reason she had been fine with Pramod going to work was due to the fact that the company was situated at a walking distance from their house.  

But, over the last week or so, she had noticed an ever so slight change in her son’s demeanor. While he continued to converse in monosyllables with Sudeshna, she definitely found a positive change in him. She noticed it for the first time a week ago when he had a slight smile on his face when he had come out after a shower. Today, she was pleasantly taken aback by his off-tune whistling of the song Yad Lagle from the famous Marathi movie Sairat as he came out of the washroom. As he made his way into the hall, she went into the washroom. Nothing seemed to be out of place. Just as she turned to move out, her eyes fell on the box of detergent on the shelf. It seemed to be precariously balanced on something. She went across and lifted the box. Under it was a bunch of local train tickets. There were about eight of them, each bought over the past eight days. They were all tickets to the same destination – Bhayander.

Questions started flooding her mind. Pramod’s office was in Parel. Why were there eight tickets to Bhayander lying in the bathroom? And why were there only one way tickets and not a single return ticket to be found among them? Sudeshna was perplexed. She had been following Pramod to his office ever since he had started working there and he had always gone straight from their home to office every day, including these past eight days. Then it struck her! She raced back to the bathroom and grabbed the tickets again. Her eyes scanned the top right hand corner of each ticket – the time on all of them were between 13:10 and 13:15 – lunch hour at office.

***********************************************
The next day, Sudeshna was outside his office by12:45 pm. He came out exactly at 1:00 pm and started walking towards Lower Parel station. There was an unusual spring in his step. She followed him at a safe distance. He climbed the stairs and stood in line at the ticket counter. She stood a few feet behind him. He approached the counter and said “One ticket to Bhayander”.

She was surprised to find the sudden softness in his voice. It was as though his voice contained a smile of its own. As he took the ticket and walked back, she turned away, careful not to reveal herself. She could notice the same slight smile on his lips. As he moved towards the staircase, he started to whistle Yad lagle in his off-tuned style. As she leaned backward to get a better view, she could see him heading out of the station. The line in front of her was now non-existent and she found herself at the ticket counter. That was when she noticed the girl at the counter. She seemed to be in her early twenties, with curly hair, a pleasant smiling face and dusky complexion. The oval-shaped sandalwood bindi´ on her forehead enhanced her beauty manifold. Sudeshna noticed how crisp her salwar looked despite being old. There emanated from her a quiet sense of confidence and dignity. Sudeshna quickly got a ticket and made her way back home.

That evening she did not ask Pramod the usual question about his work. Nor, did she carry out her usual check of his bag. He finished his bath, came to the hall and sat on the sofa. She came by and sat next to him.

“You should tell her that you like her, Pramod’ she said.

Pramod did not respond. She could see that his mind was struggling to come up with questions and more importantly, reasons. She put a hand gently on his shoulder.

“Why don’t you tell her when you buy the ticket tomorrow?’ she asked.

Pramod slowly looked at her. He consciously smiled for the first time in a few years.

“I saw her a few days ago when I came out of the office during lunch. I followed her and found out that she worked in the Lower parel ticket counter. But I didn’t know how to approach her. So I went and stood at the counter. When my turn came I just asked for a ticket to the first station I noticed on the map”, he blurted.

This was the most he had talked in a few years. Sudeshna could barely hide her happiness as she listened to her son elaborate on his first love.

“I have been repeating this since then. I just feel happy whenever I think of those few seconds I spend with her. Those few seconds drive the remainder of my day”, he continued.

“Then imagine if those few seconds can transform to a lifetime”, Sudeshna said.

“But how do I ask her Aaiyee?”

Sudeshna couldn’t control her tears. Pramod acknowledged her relation to him by calling her Aaiyee after so many years. It was in high school that she remembered him lovingly call her Aaiyee. She wiped her tears and looked at him.

“Take a leaf out of her book. Be simple and straight”, she said.

***********************************************

The next day as he stood at the ticket counter, he could feel his heart thumping. He smiled at her as his turn came. She recognized him and returned the smile.

“Two tickets to Bhayander”, He said.

“Oh! So you have a companion today for your travel”, she said as she punched the tickets.

“I will, if you say yes”, he said.

***********************************************

They got married three months later.

The first local train journey they took after marriage was from Lower Parel to Bhayander.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Iruvar - Cinema that flows

The enduring image I had of Iruvar before actually seeing the full movie in 2003 was Aishwarya Rai’s bottle-green dress backed by Harini’s sonorous voice singing “Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi”. I found this image captivating, not because of Aishwarya Rai but because it was a song from a Mani Ratnam movie. 



Like most of my wannabe-intellectual friends I became a Mani Ratnam fan long before I saw this gem of a movie. In fact most of us do not know why we became Mani Ratnam fans. Was it because his movies struck a chord with us? Was it because he chose to make movies that attempted to be more relatable and grounded? Or was it because he genuinely believed in the marriage of the commercial and the connoisseur aspects of cinema? It could have been any of these reasons, but if truth be told, we became Mani Ratnam fans because we wanted to project ourselves as intellectuals. I always had this notion that people believed that someone who loved Mani’s movies had to have a certain level of intelligence. This was the fodder for the fan in me, until I read Baradwaj Rangan’s ‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’ and decided to revisit his movies. This myth of mine came unfounded and hence I decided to dig up my dormant blog to write about it. I could have written about Mouna Ragam’s poignant brilliance, Thiruda Thiruda’s extreme irreverence or Roja’s patriotic love but after watching Iruvar, there was no hesitation in my mind as to which movie to base this post upon.

Iruvar, in my humble opinion, is Mani Ratnam’s best work till date and not a single movie of his, save Kannathil Muthamittal to an extent, has even come close to the poetic flow that this movie has. Most of Mani’s other movies can be easily defined as a collection of brilliantly conceptualized scenes put together by masterful screenplay and strengthened by brilliant performances. Iruvar, on the other hand, consists of these sweeping sketches, each of which covers a phase of the protagonists’ life graph. The signature style of Mani ratnam – Shadow and lighting contrast – is limited in Iruvar. The film instead has a very different type of contrast. It has a highly detailed period setting as far as visuals are concerned and these visuals are contrasted by music that is stylized to give a modern feel to this setting. The song ‘Aayiratthil Naan Oruvan’ is a superb example of this. While Mohan Lal’s costume and the whole setting of the song are detailed in period, the music gives a periodic feel only with respect to lyrics and the voice. Otherwise the song is replete with electric guitar and pads. Another striking aspect of Iruvar is the manner in which Mani has written the two lead characters. Both the characters have a core and a periphery. A simplistic biopic could have easily imitated the periphery of these well-known stars – similar costumes, voice modulations, looks - thereby instantly invoking their memories in the audience mind. But Mani chose the more difficult route. He imitated the core. At the core of Anandan was a larger-than-life actor, a romantic and a charismatic do-gooder. The context was left to Mohan Lal and he came out with a performance that shouted out ‘MGR’s core while conceptualizing a periphery of his own. Similarly, at the core of Thamizhchelvan was a writer, a wizard with words and a fierce Dravidian. I don’t need to say anything further about Prakash Raj’s portrayal of this character.


After the protagonists and the ensemble cast, each of whom came up with such a stellar yet sedate performance, the backbone of the movie, I felt, were Vairamuthu’s poems. When Prakash Raj mouthed lines like “Unnoadu Naan Iruntha Ovvoru Mani Thuliyum Marana Padukkayilum Marakkaathu Kanmaniyae” or “Udal mannukku Uyir Thamizhukku Idhai urakka cholvom ulagukku” I was mesmerized by the beauty of my mother tongue and also surprised by how easily I was able to understand these lines. Vairamuthu’s poems actually added a commercial aspect to the film by taking the viewer back to the sixties – the era of cinematic influence. 

Iruvar was the first movie to be produced by Mani Ratnam’s home banner – Madras Talkies. When people conclude that Mani produced this movie because he wanted to do away with commercial pressures that tag along when other companies produce his films, they have missed seeing the movie for what it actually was – a movie aimed to entertain. Even the second or third viewing of Iruvar will have you in rapt attention. Mani attempts to captivate the viewer not by forcible induction of masala, but through beautiful visuals, brilliant performances and, above all, the trust he places on the viewer.

Mani Ratnam does not necessarily acknowledge the intelligence of his audience. He simply refuses to assume their gullibility. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

THE SECOND INNINGS


“Look at straightness of his elbow!” exclaimed Raman, slapping his six year old son on the back. Swami smiled gleefully as the little man on the screen punched another good length ball to the boundary.

Swami was introduced to cricket by his father on a rainy Monday. He did not want to attend school and his mother would hear none of it. Raman, however, reasoned with her.

“Let the child rest. As it is I am not going to office today. I will take care of him”.

Jaya smiled.

“So, what was his score overnight? “She asked.

Raman grinned sheepishly and went out to get the morning paper.

The bond between Raman and his son started because of one man – Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. That Monday changed the relationship between them as Sachin (thirty seven not out overnight on a tricky Mumbai wicket) went on to score a memorable century. A bewitched Swami fell into the world of Sachinism and, like millions of Indians, became its permanent occupant. His father was a purist as far as cricket was concerned and regarded Sachin as the most complete batsman. The expansive extolments by his father coupled with the string of breath-taking innings that Sachin played ensured that Swami matched his dad when it came to worshipping Sachin.

As the years passed Cricket and Sachin were the only topics that bound a rather fragile father-son relationship. Even after this mutual interest, the two of them found very few topics on which they were comfortable conversing with each other. Discussion regarding Sachin’s innings or India’s victory would last for hours after which there would be periods of awkward silence before both of them went their respective ways to mind their businesses. Further, College outside hometown and a subsequent job in North India meant that the relationship between Raman and Swami grew even more dysfunctional. Whenever Swami called home and Raman picked up, there would be uneasy pauses before either he asked for mother or Raman passed over the phone to his wife.

Fifteen years went by like this before Swami got an unexpected transfer back to his hometown. This meant that suddenly he was forced to spend more time with Raman. Like Swami, Raman had also changed. His conversations were now limited to Jaya and his need for companionship made him irritable on many occasions. When he got to know that Swami was coming back, he felt a surge of happiness mixed with a small dose of apprehension. What if his son carried the mannerisms he exhibited over the phone into the house? It had been more than ten years since they had had a decent one-on-one talk. When Swami arrived home and smiled at his mother while giving a perfunctory nod at Raman, his fears were confirmed. His son had almost become a stranger to him.

Swami’s views and outlook had changed a lot in the years he had stayed away from home. The same laidback, joke-cracking Raman who he used to look up to was now a source of annoyance to him. He despised the conservative attitude of his father and his insistence on following rules and regulations, even at home. Raman’s constant jibes at Jaya for issues of inconsequence irked him. When Raman tried to impose these rules on him as well, Swami’s attitude towards his father went from bad to worse. He gave a deaf ear to Raman’s pleas and appeals and refused to even look him in the eye.

Swami felt thankful for Sundays as it was a holiday for him and both his parents. This meant that he needn’t be alone with Raman. Saturdays, though, were a nightmare as Jaya went to work while Swami and Raman had holidays. Swami tried to avoid staying home on Saturdays by planning meetings with school friends, colleagues and even cousins. Another significant change in Swami was the fact that cricket had lost its charm on him. Sachin was no more the boy wonder who drew Swami to cricket and made him bunk school and college lectures. He was a tired old man trying his best to leave the cricketing scene with dignity. It had been three years since he had scored a century. Naturally the cricket conversations between Swami and Raman had become almost non-existent.

It was a usual Saturday morning and Swami was getting ready to flee the house as quickly as he could. The TV blared in a volume high enough for the whole apartment to hear, which was typical of Raman whenever he saw TV. Swami felt a bout of irritation creeping into him.

As he crossed the hallway he caught a glimpse of the TV. Live cricket was going on between India and Australia. He wanted to get across and out of the door quickly, but something held him back. The moment he slowed down, a wicket fell. India was now two down. Sachin Tendulkar walked into the ground. Swami cast a sideways glance at Raman and was surprised to see the familiar glint in his eyes. After all these years, the expectancy had not reduced one bit. He felt somewhat ashamed at his own loss of faith while his sixty year old father’s enthusiasm had not diminished at all. He looked back at the screen as Sachin took guard. The all-too-familiar body language of the champion had not changed. The fuss with the sightscreen, the adjustments in the groin area, the slight nod of the head, they were all intact. There was one difference though. The twinkly eyes had given way to a look of steely determination. He faced the first ball with a decisive forward movement and defended with a full-straight bat. Raman smiled eagerly. Swami knew that the old Raman would have immediately made his trademark comment – “Ah! The forward movement! He looks good today.” There was no comment from his father though. That moment threw open a floodgate of memories for Swami. He felt a pang of guilt at having side-lined the two men who had made sacrifices in their own capacities to nurture the love for cricket in him – Sachin Tendulkar and his father.

He pulled up a chair and sat down. The next ball was just short of good length. Sachin went back and punched it down the ground. The ball raced to the boundary.


Swami looked into his father’s eyes for the first time in many years.

“Look at the straightness of his elbow!” He exclaimed.

And thus began their second innings...