Feb 27, 2007

The New Untouchables

I did not wash dishes and toil my whole life for this" Lisie shouted furiously "I can’t let thirty years of my struggle go like that. How could you forget all our dreams and bring a buyer for our home"

Biju stood there dumb as ever. He had gulped two pegs of "tusker rum" from the local wine shop, on the way back for some courage. Not that those two would suddenly induce that in him. Even with a bottle of rum inside during his heydays he could never face Lisie. There was always this feeling that he failed her.

Think over it. This is the best price that we could get and Govindankutty chettan will pay immediately on registration. His son Madhav is coming next week from Dubai and we could get all of seven lakhs in no time"

"As if he is doing a favor" retorted Lisie as she walked into the kitchen. "With Varkey's fifty cents with him everybody knows that Madhav is eyeing our three cents that covers his plot to build the shopping complex for that aatakari menothi.” Somehow she couldn't accept Madhav Menon's acclaimed dancer wife who reminded her of the bitchy Shobha in shreejanmam her dose of daily soap.

Lisie heated the fish curry and took some pappad to fry. "Did you have something from the brandy shop " she shouted.

"I will have some kanji" he replied while changing into a kalliMundu.

Lisie cooked kanji and left in the dining room of their modest dwelling with the curry. To think that the place for which she had strived all her life would be someone else's - how fatuously erroneous were her father’s maxims. “Good things always comes to good people” he always used to say. Andrew her father was a man to reckon with in the fishing hamlet Chellanam where she grew up. His knowledge of the sea and passion for work were unparalleled. Andrew had an uncanny sense of the weather and sea and it was rare that his fishing group came with an empty boat. Shranks – the middlemen and boat owners would wrestle for Andrew’s skills. Not for him the drunken singing and brawls at the local toddy shop or gambling under coconut palms that had destroyed many fishermen families. His life revolved around Lisie, her mother and the local drama troupe. But when Lisie was fifteen her dad’s life ended in a freak accident in the sea. There were quite a few rumors about the actual cause of the accident but her father’s bosom pal and partner married her mom six months later. It was difficult for her to stay in the island after that and she moved to the city.

“It is not an easy choice, nevertheless you have to do something” ThankamaChechi replied on hearing Lisie’s woes. A decision had to be made on the marriage proposal for Beatrice, Lisie’s daughter. The prospective bridegroom had a decent job in a private company and Beatrice liked him. His parents had subtly suggested that their second daughter is of marriageable age and required money.

“You cant dilly-dally on Beatrice’s marriage now. She is past her prime and it will be difficult to get such a good alliance for her.” something Lisie never wanted to acknowledge, though she knew it was late. All of Beatrice’s friends were wedded with kids. She thought things would fall into place, though the dynamics of the matrimony with its nerve-racking requirements would put the Pollachi cattle market to shame.

“Chechi but you know how I had wanted this house and how much I slogged for it. Did I go to gulf, accrue rupee by rupee and construct the home to finally sell ? I too finally wanted to die in a place of my own. I deserve atleast that amidst all dicey games that life has played on me. Why is God so bent on shredding things into pieces every time I put it back”. she broke down.

When she came to city she did not have anything except a strong will to survive. She found employment as a cook in a government officer’s house. Her excellent culinary skills with a unique blend of coastal flavors made her popular and soon she was sought after by working families in the area. She would take one or two-hour assignments at each of the homes while they went to offices and rented a small home. It was a beautiful period. There were colors that exploded in multiple dimensions and alluring sounds, but Lisie had her feet on the ground. Amidst the swirls and the storm she created a borough of her own. A cute, exquisite one, where she wanted to invite someone special.

That is when Biju came into her life. He was an electrician and they met at a place where Lisie worked. He came from a town down south and earned pretty well as construction activity was booming in the city. It was that tinge of rebelliousness and defiance to order that fascinated her, besides he was the first man who looked into her eyes and asked her hand. The rest were all lecherous, prying eyes that wandered all over except her face. After a whirlwind romance Lisie married Biju.

“If only he Biju had taken a little of my responsibility, we wouldn’t have come to this”

Lisie was referring to her husbands compulsive alcoholism. After the unruffled days of their matrimony when Beatrice was born, the villain showed up as hootch. The monotony that sets in after a turbulent romance coupled with a ridiculous mainstream stereotype that men ought to drink and beat up their wives to retain their machismo made an addict of him though he never physically harmed Lisie. By the time Beatrice was five he had wrecked their future. He quit work and would chase out anybody who offered anything remotely of a job, forcibly empty Lisie of all her money without indignity and borrow from all and sundry. It came to a point where strangers would walk into their home in the middle of the night carrying Biju, pickled in Rum and demand money and at times even more.

“With all that money he guzzled away we could have bought a mansion at Panampallinagar” – a swanky neighborhood in the city

“What is the point of cribbing about the past Lisie. Let bygones be bygones” Thankamachcehi replied.

Chechi was her alter ego whom she would embrace at times of crisis. Their bonds went back to a time when Lisie came to the city and was more equal than the normal employee-employer relationship. She helped her get a Visa for the job as a maid in Oman and would be local guardian to Beatrice while Lisie was away.

While at the Middle East Lisie’s life slowly started to get back on track. Mortal fear after being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, along with divine intervention at Potta prayer center finally cornered Biju. He reduced to a peg or two as if he were doing a favor. Lisie being away also didn’t help much in bullying her for money. She worked for five years and saved enough money to buy a home at a city suburb. It was not easy, but her indomitable spirit, helped to carry through the pain inside and heat outside.

“With one-third of the money from Madhav why don’t you buy five cents at Kizhakekara? That way you can easily marry off Beatrice and probably have a little bank balance after building a house”

Stagnant earnings and frequent requirements in the form of children’s education, marriage, hospital expenses, had made the poor and lower middleclass cash-in their meager land holdings in the real-estate boom. They were moving to places like Kizhakekara about hundred kilometers from the city were prices were low. It was almost a reverse of the urban migration phenomenon that economists were trying to fight elsewhere.

“ Would we need special passes to enter the city after few years” Lisie was sarcastic

“Like the lowborn’s shunted into small ghettos outside the town not so long ago, are we the new untouchables?

Thankama looked the other way. She couldn’t think of a better way.

Feb 7, 2007

Football Shootball Hai Rabba

This was the earliest that I had reached home in quite a while. 5:15 PM to be exact. The Cauvery water tribunal's final order was far below Karnataka's expectation and there were rumors of build-up or possible violence. Most organizations of the old and new economies closed pretty early, so that employees could reach home before dark. With Rajakumar riots in the background nobody could afford risks. In the Sadashivnagar area, establishments become resourceful and tied huge fishing nets over the glass facade. At the frequency b'lore is getting volatile and profusion of glass in offices the fishing net manufactures could find a good market here. The case of a product finding a totally orthogonal market.

My best plan for the evening was to catch up on Gunter Grass, finish some pending work and end it with somarasam and a movie. As I turned into the apartment compound the usual pack of boys were on their way to a game of football. There is vast expanse of land, possibly owned by a land shark, right next to the gated community that the children have converted into a football ground. Lest you have any illusions, the goal posts are 2 stones kept a few feet away and an implicit horizontal bar in thin year air based on how much the goalkeeper can jump was the upper limit. But compared to the Deshabhimani road by lane where we kicked of our dream of being Pele and Paulo Rossi this ground was very generous. I used to see the crowd at the game on weekends, but could never join them since weekends are tightly packed. At home, changing into a shorts and T-shirt I was a little edgy as to how the kids would receive me. Would the Reebok football that I recently bid and won for Paru while traveling Air Deccan entice them. However the Reebok football had diminished into a half-moon and there was no way I could impress them with that.

I put on my sneakers and walked quickly to the field. Wearing the intense look of a talent scout on a mission to recruit for the national team I parked outside the field. Didn’t have to wait much long before a call came in to play. Before I could get a hold of my teammates the ball was passed to me. Shouted out and found Vivek who called me in and passed it to him. He passed it back to me in the midfield. Couple of dribbles later I was in the penalty area and kicked it to the young boy who was calling "Uncle Uncle" he was deft with the ball and just connected it. Goal... 30 seconds into the game I had proved. I put on the nonchalant demeanor and congratulated Adhil ( the young boy) and Vivek. That detachment to success and a failure is a relic from the hockey days with Shenoy Sir – our favorite coach. There was strict diktat against expressionism of any form after striking. After all we just doing our karma. Can’t remember a better practitioner of the Gita than him. We would have looked from another planet in these days of somersaults, knee skating, and practiced seagull runs. I had made a mark as a play-maker and the opposing team started to sneer as if Zidane himself had been come in. Score 1-1

Now it was time to know the team. There were no formal introductions. There was Perry the tall slip chap who would have done better in basketball court. Sanjana reminded me of Jess from Gurindher Chada's cult movie Bend It Like Beckham about a traditional Sikh girl in London aspiring to be a professional footballer. Sanjana's smart little sister whose name I forget would tow her sister whenever she went near the ball. Vivek and Adhil were the other two. I realized early on in the game that the way to the kids hearts were to pass the ball as soon as I get it. More so because they were shouting "uncle uncle" every time the ball landed on my foot. Should say it fitted well with my overall grounding in team sports, at times perilously collaborative.

Breezing across the ground we made some excellent moves and passes, which were lauded. Nevertheless couldn’t convert any. Even relinquished the ball once to an unsuspecting Adhil when it was an easy goal for me, just that I don't appear selfish and be on right side of my teammates. But the end was near. I was fizzling out. We were playing without positions unlike the hockey and football I was used to and everybody was running everywhere. Ten minutes into the game panting like a mad dog I moved into the sidelines. The kids with their agile metabolism could take it. But my hulk that hasn’t set foot on a playground since college except for random bouts in the apartment Gym had given up. Years of desk job had taken its toll. If not for the last bit of pride, I would have left the ground.

It was time to hibernate, which meant - waiting for the ball to come to me, passing it as soon as it comes if not to my team atleast to the opponent, cheering the gang with amplified “well played”s even when they struck bad or good etc. Just anything that would let me stand and play the game. Alas this is football and it doesn’t remain frozen like the computer. The opposition struck 5 times in succession. Should say they had an excellent striker in Srikanth who could make into a club team if he pursued Football. Score 6-1

Suffice to say the initial aura had vaporized. They could see through me. Statements about being out of touch to anybody who would listen went unregistered. It came to point when my teammates were ready to trade me for Kaushik - the cool dude who landed up in bike near the playground. Me who captained the school hockey team, me who missed the Calicut university hockey team because my college never had a history of participating in the inter-university matches, me who with Mathai ruled the Deshabhimani bylane football for as long as it has been there. How could they ? I turned dumb and looked the other side as they were riveted in transfer negotiations. Luckily the opposing band didn't have any better appraisal than mine. “At best he could be stone pillar struck diagonally across the goalpost” someone remarked. They let Kaushik play in our team, without trading me. Thank God.

The strategy required a revamp and I fount one in the goalpost. Perry was supposed to be our goalkeeper. Being a Higuta himself, the opposing team's goalpost was where he colonized mostly. He would hire Sanjana's sister on temporary assignments to guard the post while he went on his expeditions far and wide. I smelled the opportunity and immediately opted to be the goalkeeper to Kaushik who had taken in the reins of the team by then. Kaushik showed sparks of brilliance along with Vivek and Adhil make some brilliant maneuvers.

The goalpost was also not cent percent stand zone. On one such occasion while I had gone little forward to kick, the ball came behind me . Srikant just hade to glide it slowly into the post while I watched sheepishly. I shouted excellent to register my infallibility. By then Kaushik developed a sudden sprain or he probably had the same problem as me and took over the goalpost. Back into the trenches after fifteen minutes of bliss. Score 6-1

It was time to play positions. If not the junta, a sensible game with little running, weighing my bodies compulsions was the need of the hour. The right flank was less occupied and I camped there, though the left extreme was were I aced in Hockey. I could take time to look around and get a sense of my buddies before I kick, since the competing boys were reluctant to tackle me due to the larger frame. Size and aggression always helps in amateur game. When I saw the ball flying slowly I almost tried a scissor cut. Some excellent teamwork later we scored the second goal. I scored the third for my team. This time I decided to be less of a socialist and kicked the ball to the post when there wasn’t a soul between the keeper and me. Srikant an co. struck again. But we had found our rhythm. The match ended at 6:30 when it was time for Sanjana and her sister to get back home. Score 8-3

On my way back I made small talk with the group. They were and interesting bunch. Most were between the 5th and 10th standard and went to Delhi Public school or Baldwins. However F*** as an adjective with every phrase was revolting even to my liberal self. At home in the shower, I was reminded of community baths at Rajagiri, conversations with a girlfriend coming back from the library as dusk set into Rajpath, hoping for a good piece of Chicken along with ghee rice at the hostel mess. All after a tiring game. It took only a good game and a little more to be happy those days

How much have we changed, how little is our life changed – Premchand