Moves are often not momentous when they happen.
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In hindsight, many of them turn out to have been keys that opened doors to rich treasures.
Moving from N R Colony (to where auto drivers still balk at plying!) to Jayanagar in 1963-64, on the shores of the Lakes Yediyur (yes, plural), is a vague memory for me.
Most of life in the new house, however, is as fresh in memory as if it were only yesterday. Well, day before.
The north-facing house was owned by film personality Chi. Sadashivaiah (1908-1982), or some close relative of his. It was set in the back of the plot, with a small front yard. North and east had a beli (barbed wire fence with granite posts), the west had a compound wall that the neighbors had built, and the south was a stone wall that was probably the handiwork of the neighbor on the next street behind us.
Having not yet reached the ripe age required to be enrolled in school, I whiled away almost a year at home. This consisted of loafing, sitting on the front steps of the house, loafing, and… you get the picture. There weren’t any Activity Classes to which I could be packed off to Keep me ‘Occupied’ and to prepare me for entrance to IIT, AIIMS, JIPMER, or some such for an illustrious career as an Engineer or Doctor.
What the loafing did was to give me a vivid imagination of what my life would be, what I would do as a grown-up, and how that little chain of small steel beads (attached to a vinyl/rubber stopper, once having served as part of a wash basin sink), was like a train. The hours that I could spend imagining it to be a train going round a curve, but not maintaining its formation… the chain kept straightening out!
I remember the cool touch of the red oxide floor on my cheek, as I would try to get a close-up view of the train in motion, so that the train would loom large in front of me. I saw wheels, pistons, doors… the lot.
I was sitting on the doorstep one day, while amma was taking a siesta and everyone was away at work or college. The street was deserted. The day was quite sunny and warm.
I saw this bloke walking down the street. Well-dressed chap. Probably about 30 years old.
He was smoking a cigarette. As he passed in front of our house, he threw the butt down. He did not stamp on it.
I don’t know what possessed me. I dashed into the street, picked it up and tried to smoke the remainder. Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled.
It was End Times! The Death Knell had been sounded and Apocalypse was upon me. It was the most revolting thing I had ever tasted in my mouth. Gyaaarggghhh… pTHOOOOO! Blyaaargh!
Off I ran to the bathroom, picked up the copper chombu, scooped water from the storage thotti, and gargled and spat and retched. I was savvy enough to close the bathroom door before the production got underway! If amma had heard me, woken up and investigated what was going on… serious trouble would likely have ensued. (Or so I presumed at the time.)
But you know what? For a child of that age, I was incredibly strong of will, even though I say so myself (for who else will? Hardly anyone knows about this!). I gave up smoking that day.
Just.like.that! Yes. Cold turkey. Never smoked after that!
I moved on to bigger and better things. No, no. Not what you might be thinking. I meant, I got enrolled in school.
School and the new life
Next-door neighbor, the music teacher, volunteered to do this so that appa didn’t have to take a day off just for that. Loaded with currency worth some 18 or 20 rupees, he took me to Sri Kamala Nehru Makkala Mandira (KNMM) which had branches in all manner of old houses rented around the area.
First standard classes were in a small corner house in Tata Silk Farm. A small cloth shoulder bag, a slate, a few balapas, and a small tiffin carrier with lunch in it. Shorts, a ‘bush’-shirt, and the little feet shod with hawai’i chappals. Sri Chinnappa would herd a dozen or so of us little kids off to the school. For this, if I recall correctly, he got paid the outrageous sum of 5 rupees a month!
Class work was done on a slate. So was homework. On the days when I had homework, if it rained… the trauma of having to protect the slate upon which the homework was written… I am scarred for life, I tell you!
Appa and amma seem to have decided, without any consultation with me, that my second language shall be Tamizh. (I was in English medium – important to “come forward” in life.)
As I slowly started learning the Tamizh alphabet, I would join amma in reading the captions of the cartoons in the magazines she used to read – Ananda Vikatan, Kalki, Kumudam and so on. I would eagerly await the arrival of these magazines.
Sunny morning. Second standard was over. Summer holidays had just begun. Third standard, at that age, was a distant idea. Amma at the east fence (barbed wire, remember?). Sri Nanjundaiah, teacher and Head Master at National High School, very highly respected on all counts, talking to amma, asked her, among other things, “What second language is Shekhar studying?”
Sri Nanjundaiah: “For him to prosper and, in the future, get a job in Mysore State, he will need to know Kannada. You should put him in Kannada class.”
Amma agreed. Appa comes home from work. Brief discussion. A nearby neighbor, a middle-school teacher, was enlisted to teach me Kannada during the holidays. I have no memory of any individual classes.
Come third standard, a chit with me taken to school asking that I be enrolled in Kannada class. Hey, presto! I was in Smt Rajalakshmi’s Kannada class.
I love Mankutimmana Kagga, Parva, N Narasimhaiah’s various pulp fiction, Daasa Saahitya, Vachana Saahitya, S K Ramachandra Rao’s fascinating books, the gentle wit and humor of BGL Swamy’s “Namma hotteyalli Dakshina America” (South America in our tummies), Shatavadhani Ra Ganesh’s lectures…
The richness of these is unbounded and I soak it all up as much as I possibly can. Today, I have much fun with little kids whose primary language is Kannada, sharing with them the joys of discovering geography. Every Kannada language geography workshop is a source of so much fun and learning for me. It affirms life and its goodness – the gifts that one gets by knowing one more language.
One conversation with someone whose judgement was respected, one conversation between parents who cared, and I am still enjoying the many delights of life in Kannada.
The Tamizh? Well, I’ll tell you another time.
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