For the very first time

The Father

It was a cold December morning as we walked to the hospital . I was shaken to my core at what she had done , swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills and washing it down with insecticide . I am a good husband, a good father and yet she was willing to abandon me , my children …. her children, our children . Did she not realize what that would do to these young kids ? With morose thoughts, I walked taking my young son along to see his mother . We stopped by a bookstore , my son is a bookworm , takes after his mother . I bought him his favorite comics . Something to keep his mind occupied . I wondered what was going through that tiny mind , did he realize what his mother had done ? I wondered if I would have to deal with some long term damage to that tiny mind . I cannot imagine abandoning him and depriving him of my love and security and yet that is what she had done . Some boys gravitate towards their father, some towards their mother . I had gravitated towards my father but my son gravitated towards her . I imagine that is so because he is very similar to her ; overly sensitive , extremely imaginative and very emotional . He actually walked out of the house when he was barely six because he got mad at me for chiding him . His mother had to run after him and beg him to come back . I was stunned at the ego and pride that he displayed and have tried to be more sensitive to his needs but it has been a challenge for me. Looking back at my childhood, I don’t think I would have dared to walk out on my father. I don’t resent that he has gravitated towards her and I do realize that he would be far more devastated losing her than losing me so that leaves me pensive. We entered the hospital , nurses in white uniforms walking around with pads and trays made the place look alive and helped alleviate the sepulchral feeling.

Thankfully we had pumped her stomach and managed to save her but I wonder if he realizes that she was willing to abandon him, the apple of her eye. He is only seven but he is a very precocious seven . At the age of three , he could repeat things that teenagers would have struggled with. He also has a memory like a clap trap, one of the few things that he seems to have inherited from me so I wonder if this  will come back to haunt and torture him,my mind was in a jumble as I opened the door to her room. I watched them , mother and son , so alike ; along with my daughter , they are the most important people in my life but at that minute , I might as well have not existed . But she ignored him after the initial look and asked me some mundane questions about groceries . I realized she was making small talk so that she would not have meet his eyes . I answered her questions and  eventually she ran out of steam and turned to look at our son. His face broke into a grateful smile at her acknowledgement.My heart broke when I saw his smile of relief. How could anybody imagine abandoning this child ? I sank into the couch with the newspaper but I was watching both of them. He was saying something to hear that I could not hear and I saw her eyes tear up and she motioned for the glass of water that he helped to her lips . I could not hold my tears back any longer , I had to leave . I got up and asked her if she wanted tea , she mutely shook her head and I started to leave when she suggested that I take him along . I shook my head and ran outside so neither of them would have to see my tears .

The Son
I had some books to keep me busy in case things took too long at the hospital . My neighbours told me that my mother had swallowed some pills and insecticide . I was curious if she knew that she drank insecticide . I decided to smell it yesterday and almost gagged . It is a foul and disgusting smell . No wonder she was sick , I would be sick too ?
My thoughts abruptly came to an end when I came to the hospital , supposedly the place of my rebirth . I had been given up for dead and I was resurrected here . Perhaps some memory of that remains in my unconscious and I had developed a natural distaste for the place , more so than any other hospital that I have visited . Couple of years ago, my dad had taken me along to visit another hospital to see my new born baby sister , somehow that did not leave an unpleasant memory .  , I would have been happy to skip the whole thing but I wanted to see her . I quietly accompanied my father through the long  corridors lined with white doors . My father opened the door and went in and I followed him quietly . She was lying on the bed , looking pale . She seemed to ignore me and focused on talking to my dad. I stared at her closely. She had a gown on , not the nightgown that I was used to seeing her in but a white hospital gown . She had no jewellery on , not even her ear rings or bangles . As I looked at her hands , I could not help but notice the needles pocking into the back of her right hand and another on her arm . The lines from those needles went up to several different bags filled with liquids . The bags were  hanging from a metal pole with hooks that seemed specially designed for this purpose and these bags . The liquids looked colorless . I looked at the shiny steel and saw the reflection of the bags and looking closer at the reflection  , I caught her looking at me . I turned to her and smiled . At this point my father had sat down on the couch and started reading a newspaper that he had purchased from the bookstore . She asked me what I was holding in my hand , I handed her my comics. She took it from me with the left hand that was not riddled with needles and seemed to wince at the effort . I asked her if she was in pain , she looked at me and swallowed and averted her gaze from me again . She seemed to like the comic , she started turning the pages . She never reads these comics and she would always tell me that I should be reading books not comics. She has always been a fast reader , much faster than me . I was mildly jealous of that and had always tried to catch with her but miserably failing but at this instant I knew her well enough to know that she was not reading. Her mind was far away, racing towards some unknown destination . I wanted to ask her if she knew that she was drinking insecticide when she was drinking it , but my sensibilities would not permit me . She was silent for a long period and then she turned to me , her eyes glistened and she motioned for a glass of water which I handed to her but realizing that she probably could not reach, I held the glass to her mouth . She sipped the water gratefully and murmured thanks . My dad got up abruptly and brusquely asked my mother if she wanted tea, she shook her dad and he said he will be back. She murmured and asked him to take me along, he merely shook his head and walked out. I told her that my sister was silly , she was so attached to our neighbour’s cat that she did not want to come with us to visit mom. My mother simply smiled and I was suddenly relieved and happy.

The mother

I woke up on a cold December morning in a strange hospital bed . Somebody had undressed me and put on this flimsy hospital gown that made me feel overly self conscious. But it was not modesty that was not on my mind right now , I had vague memories of yesterday . I had started fainting yesterday morning and my husband had caught me before I hit the floor . My last memory was that of my young son looking at me as his father caught me , his look of concern and fright had etched itself in my mind . So what happened ? I had washed down about 15  sleeping pills with an industrial strength pesticide .  I wanted to be absolutely certain that I was going to go through with it . However the sleeping pills never seemed to kick in and I could not sleep a wink and next morning , I was groggy but awake . But my husband sensed something was wrong so he promptly sent word to his work that he would not be coming in . I sometimes wonder if I don’t do him justice  , the man can be thick but he has an intuitive understanding that can be quite alarming and at times flattering .  He helped get our son ready for school but before the kid ever set foot outside the door , I passed out as I mentioned earlier and he had caught me . He had got a cab and got me admitted to this hospital . This hospital brings back memories for me  , 7 years ago they had bought my infant son back from the dead , seems strange that this hospital has saved lives in my family twice and while I could not have been more delighted about saving my son’s life , this time around whilst saving me,  I am not so certain . I am more than a little embarrassed . There will be streams of people pouring in with wishes and I don’t really wish to indulge them and stoke their need for gossip and make myself an object of mockery . The anger inside me wells up and turns everything inside me putrid. It was a welcome relief to see my son this morning , his large brown eyes writ with concern . There was no judgement ,no expectations just pure unadulterated love , untainted by society and its traditions of poison and expectations. He is still innocent , unwary , trusts me completely , his world seems to revolve around me and his father . I do have a daughter as well but she is very young , just turned 2 a fortnight ago and while I do love her , she is too young to know . But it was too hard to keep looking into those brown eyes so I turned to his father and I asked him about the groceries and the laundry, anything to avoid looking into those large brown eyes on that tiny face but my heart was not in groceries . I had to look at him , I saw him looking at my saline bags and I wondered if he understood. The thought of him judging me was too terrifying to contemplate. He felt my gaze and turned around and grinned at me. The same grin , utterly devoid of any machinations , any motives just pure adulation. I asked him about his books and he handed me his comics and I turned the pages listlessly , all the while feeling his eyes on me. He asked me if the needles hurt and I choked but I did not want him to see so I motioned for the glass of water which he held out to be me but realizing that I could not reach with all my tubes, he held it to my lips which I sipped gratefully . My husband got up abruptly and asked if I wanted tea, he loves tea , strong and syrupy . I murmured no and he said he would be back soon . I asked him to take our boy along but he said he would be back in a flash and turned away and left the room but not before I caught the break in his voice and the tears in his eyes. This has been hard on him , it is a wonder he does not have a nervous breakdown but I know he is resilient.   I imagine that if I had succeeded ,my husband will probably marry again . My daughter is young enough that she will bond with her step mother easily. My son on the other hand,  I wonder if he would accept any other woman in my stead . But I have faith in him . He will get by fine without me ,  he is a strong boy , he is sensitive and emotional like me but he also has his father’s resilience and strength . My sense of grief is too overwhelming for me . I have suffered too much loss for one lifetime , the world is just ugly shades of grey and I don’t feel wanted or needed nor can I trust anybody.  I just want it to end , once and for all . They have managed to save me this time but I am persistent, I will succeed…

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The Replacements

“Well hello there , I am Bluebell , a beautiful Korat with velvet like fur and this is Scooty , a big nasty hairy fluff ball . We are back to our weekly installment presenting the misadventures of our human slave , Sparky the Jackass that we will hereafter refer to as Jack . The … ”

“Our lawyers called us after the last episode and informed us that Sparky was a bad nom de guerre due to some boring legal concerns . I am of the opinion that it  clue people in to the fact that he is in fact a firebug , likes to light candles all over the house and in one dreadful incident , my tail actually caught fire when I was jumping up to the window to exchange some gossip with the neighborhood squirrel . I think Jack panicked more than I did but nevertheless folks , the habit of lighting candles is an annoying one and does lead me to conclude that he is indeed a firebug” , interrupted Scooty a little excitedly .

Bluebell glares at him for a full minute , her eyes are mottled with rage but with an enormous effort that is evident to all she continues tightly.

“The problem for our discerning readers is that even though Jack is a blundering idiot and there is no dearth of misadventures around him , for example he likes to clip our claws . How idiotic is that? God in her infinite wisdom meant for us to have sharp claws and then we have idiots like Jack brandishing their claw clippers chasing us around . And all this because we scratch the furniture. I ask you why would anybody buy furniture if not to sharpen claws. So as you can tell, we have our job cut out for us. It has been hard to find truly entertaining ones for our discerning readers , so instead we decided to enlighten you about the abuse that we had to endure in the past , maybe you could call up the ASPCA and have us rescued  .
The ungrateful SOB , after all the time that I laid on his lap or slept on top of him, he actually abandoned us , just because his woman insisted that we belonged to the kids. RIDICULOUS!!! She always claimed that she was allergic to us , a likely story if you ask me , I always found her to be a distasteful woman ,  never cared for us, never fed us , never cleaned the litter or even opened the door to let us out and play when Jack was not around . The blasted room was not even heated except for a miserable ceramic heater, for those of you who dont know, the Ohio winters are not particularly pleasant . Scooty is fine , he is  a big nasty hairy furball from Maine but me , my folks were immigrants from warm sunny beautiful Thailand. I am a short hair as god in her infinite wisdom meant me to be. That frigid room was no place for a self respecting animal , let alone a cat to live in  . It was not until several years later that Jack riddled with guilt would buy us a fancy heater for the room .But coming back to our story,  Jack knew all of that but he just caved in as soon as she mentioned the kids .As I said before Jack has no common sense.” finished Bluebell with a flourish .

Scooty yawns , he really hates Bluebell taking the limelight and he suddenly remembers something

“You know , I begged him to take me along but instead of taking me ,he asks her and she just tells him that even I don’t want him to go  because I was meowing , as though she has morphed into Dr Dolittle overnight !!! . She informed him that we belonged to the kids and he was not taking us anywhere. I could care less about him staying or leaving . I just wanted to make sure that he did not abandon me with her”

“You never told me that before . Suck up!!!, Bluebell was a little annoyed , the thought of being stuck there without Scooty or Jack was a scary one.

Bluebell muses about those horrid days “And Do you remember that she did not put any of that flea medication on us and we were riddled with fleas . ”

Scooty looked distant and annoyed “Yes, it just meant that we were banished into the dungeon forever.We were truly prisoner kitties. Whoever heard of such abuse . We were locked up in the room all the time , the litter was not cleaned , water fountain developed a slime , she even changed our food to some cheap crap”

“And he never visited us !!! She made some silly rules about him not coming to the house and he just stopped coming . Cold!!! just cold!!” , Scooty and Bluebell reflect gloomily on the inconsistencies and utter unreliability of  Jack.

“Unbeknownst to us , he went and got himself a brand new kitten called Gabster simply because he was alone , as if that is a good enough reason .RESIZED_0728121744a RESIZED_0728121636a

and within a couple of weeks , he got himself a second kitten, TiggerRESIZED_0811121515a RESIZED_0812120819c

. You just could not turn your back on him . We  were gone for a few weeks and he has already replaced us with newer younger trophy kitties. Just disgraceful !!! No loyalty whatsoever , whatever happened to till death do us apart!!! ” , continued Bluebell passionately and getting more animated.

“We were fortunate though that his woman finally came to her senses and realized she could not take care of us . Though it was touch and go there for a while, I was certain that she maliciously would have us taken to the hitmen before she would let us go back to Jack”, mused Bluebell at the close call .

She paused as though gasping for breath and Scooty jumps in

“These two horrid little kittens were a pain in the rear, their overabundant and unusually high energy meant that they would insist on bothering us constantly. I had to actually take up Tai chi Zhuazi (Tai Chi Chuan for cats) to stand my ground against them . Here are a couple of dramatic poses” , reminisced Scooty

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“Worse they even took up all our favorite spots , the pet warmer(laptop!!) was taken up so was the hard bed that Jack likes to call his table and the absolute favorite of all cats around the world , the bath mat. It is the only opportunity to trip up our tyrannical owners as they steps out of the shower “RESIZED_0729121014a RESIZED_0805121935b RESIZED_Kitties 087RESIZED_0812120844b

“It got so bad that we could not even watch our favorite show ‘The Whirlpool of death’ anymore without being interrupted  , I could not even get space to get my paws up to watch and I really love to watch it. Sometimes that is my favorite part of the day after eating , sleeping and gossiping with the neighborhood squirrels . ” , now Scooty was getting animated.

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Bluebell chuckles “In one sense I was luckier than Scooty. Since I was the only female , I got all the attention . But I was forced to start some meditation and yoga , specifically Sherasana , a long obscure branch of yoga specific to cats, to channel their inner tiger .  I had to , living in a house with 4 males , one human and 3 felines !!!! Some of you might think it is heaven , believe me !! It ain’t. Males have a long way to go before they can be admitted to respectable society  “Bluebell pauses thoughtfully , “It did help me tremendously though , I stopped hating and started loving”

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8th Grade and The Three Musketeers

Sampat

I was excited about going to 8th grade, I was finally moving back to morning shift after 3 painful years in the afternoon shift. I hated afternoon shifts, because I wasted all morning doing either homework or worrying about teachers spanking me for two reasons

1) Things I did not do

2) Things I did do.

I loved the morning shift because I  could get out before 1.00 PM and then I could play outside until dad got home. Why only until dad got home? Because dad believed that pressure creates diamonds . No no , not out of coal but out of young malleable minds who should be pressured to better their minds rather than waste valuable time in idle horseplay.I once recited  “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, he flew into a rage and finally after calming down , he informed me that  it was an English conspiracy to keep the Indian proletariat under their thumbs.

For my first day , I was excitedly awaiting the class teacher , the teacher came in into the class and I saw with great pleasure that it was Mrs. Mascarenhas, the elderly lady who was extremely affectionate towards all the kids. However I learnt to my utter dismay that it was not her who would be the class teacher but Mrs. Sudha, Mrs. Sudha had a reputation for toughness, today they would probably lock her up and throw away the key . There was a rumor among the students that in one of her fits of rage she had pulled an arm out of a socket permanently, the dude apparently walked around with one hand swinging to the ground. Mrs. S’s entrance was followed by a pin drop silence, Mrs. Sudha wore the look of a satisfied tigress who had just devoured a full cow and she announced her plan for helping the repeaters in the class. “I have decided that all the boys who have been in the 8th grade for the last few years need to make a attempt to pass this year, these boys need a role model to emulate and so we are going to have these boys sit with the smart new boys of 8th grade. Srikanth will sit with Sachin, Vineet will sit with Deepak, Sanjay will sit with Virendra and Johnson will sit with Sampat….”. I stopped listening and looked around in trepidation trying to see who Johnson was but I saw so many new faces that I was completely at a loss. Apparently Mrs. Sudha was preoccupied with bigger priorities and she busied herself with the schedules and soon afterwards it was time to go home. I was thrilled when it was time to go home, I was looking forward to playing with my friend Somu  . I really liked Somu and considered him a good natured gentle soul

(Narr – Somu was one of those boys who was scraping by the skin of his teeth each year and his parents had convinced him to hang around boys who were more academically gifted so that intellectual osmosis could succeed where they had failed.)

Our favorite activity was cricket . The baffled reader might query “Cricket with 2 players!!!” ,  let me respond to that with a quote “Necessity is the mother of invention”. The rules of modified cricket were more complex than straight cricket and even a professional player would have been befuddled by the rules but we enjoyed themselves hugely until Somu’s mother came over and screamed at Somu “Arre melya(wastrel), when are you going to read your textbooks? Sampat is a smart boy he can pass without studying, you need to study and work hard. Sampat, you need to let Somu study so he can pass with good marks too” .I smiled a sheepish grin and made off wistfully towards my house and worse it was just 5.00 PM . I chanced upon Amrita , my neighbour as I was walking back home, she was growing up to be a beautiful girl .  Alas , it is one of tragedies of my life that the poetry that flows in  my heart cannot make it way to my tongue so I walked on, tongue tied , trying hard to think of something clever , something impressive , anything but myself but before I could succeed in my brilliant plan, she passed me oblivious to my pain , more concerned about the state of her makeup . Probably getting ready to meet her boyfriend Pramod who liked to brag about her .

As I morosely entered the house, the gloom pervaded and I wondered gloomily about homework.  I hated homework with a passion. The school bag held no attraction so decided instead to re read the latest issue of Chandamama . I loved the story of Vikram and the Vampire and the story involved a beautiful princess trapped by a wizard and a handsome prince rescuing her and the Chandamama artist had done a great job of depicting the beauty of the princess on paper along with dressing her suitably to arouse a normal full blooded male’s passion. I stared at the princess long enough to get uncomfortably aroused, when my uncle happened to spy upon me and he snapped ,”You better stop that or else you will go blind”.

Fortunately for me , my evening turned out to be entirely uneventful with the only piece of conversation between me and my dad being a gruff inquiry about my first day at school , after I started my unintelligible mumble about him being unhappy about Mrs. S being the class teacher, dad said “well done , you have to make us proud in SSC”.  Mom is usually more sympathetic but she seemed disinterested in my woes today . I wondered morosely at the purpose of academics and the futility of it all . At that fateful moment of self-pity and inner contemplation, I ‘realized’ that my wife would be that person . She had to be!!! after all everybody knew that the quality of the procured wife was directly proportional to my grades. After more deep contemplation on those lines, I decided to try my textbooks again , but the ungainly sight of that wretched school bag undid all my efforts and add to the distraction when dad had turned on the Television for his news so I picked up my Chandamama for the umpteenth time and opened up the page which showed the beautiful well endowed princess.

The next day turned out to be a nightmare . Johnson was a bully who looked old enough to have a child as old as me, he looked at him in contempt and spat out “So you are Sampat huh, ” It was followed by a long list of profanities in chaste Marathi directed at my mother , my father and general ancestry.  “The smart mother f*&$#r who is supposed to help me pass this year”. went on Johnson.  I was extremely offended by the choice of his language but wisdom honed by centuries of survival instincts dictated that I dare not air my annoyance . So I smiled as pleasantly as I could and spat out “That stupid Sudha, she is brainless” to which Johnson laughed and  I seemed to create a spirit of bon homie in him by inventing a common foe. “You are a smart sisterf#@$r, I like you. Just know one thing, mind your own business and don’t tell me what to do and you can sit here peacefully else I will f$@% you up . This here is Sanjay and Srikanth, you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us . Got that , Shorty?? ” I had no clue what ‘f$@%’ meant but I understood enough not to ever raise Johnson’s ire or Srikanth’s or Sanjay’s. Some might call them the unholy trinity of our school but having just read Alexander Dumas’ three Musketeers , I knew what I was about to christen them.

So I patiently bore Johnson’s annoying habit of spluttering saliva all over the person nearest to him , or his odious habit of chewing tobacco or his awful  body odor.

One day however the three musketeers did not come to school which was a big relief ,I decided to move and sit next to my oldest pal Virendra , who has been with me since 1st grade. The teacher discussed the Aryan invasion of India about 5000 years ago and mentioned that Aryans were fair and tall whereas Dravidians were short and ugly and the Dravidians had lost to the Aryans. Dhani and Virendra decided they were Aryans since they were fair skinned decided to gang up on me.  I was told that I was a dravidian because I was short and dark and from South India . Some pals, right??  I was annoyed with my ‘ancestors’ for having lost the war to the stupid Aryans and putting me in this position today. I went home brooding and wondered what made my stupid ancestors lose and decided to ask my father in the evening , but he was not the least interested which made me feel even worse and I invariably dreaded the next morning.

However the next day Johnson returned and I lovingly toyed with the idea of letting Johnson know what Virendra and Dhani thought of dark short people since Johnson was just a touch lighter than coal but then I did not like the thought of being labelled a ‘chamcha’ (squealer) for the rest of the term.

Johnson was singing a song in the same tune as V Shantaram’s immortal classic “Eh Maalik tere Bande hum” in terrible Hindi.

oh darling, I am in your homestead

admiring your wondrous bedstead

your softness beckons

my manhood hardens

The original lyrics in a vulgar dialect of Hindi was in a language so colorful that it would make a sailor blush and sure to offend the refined senses of my readers so I will forego that.

The actual translation took several years for me to fully comprehend .At the time it sounded like some vulgar gibberish. Johnson looked extremely happy so out of courtesy I asked him why he was so happy to which he replied, “Ooooh , I saw my whore yesterday”. I had always heard the term whore in a derogatory manner and yet Johnson seemed to say that with real affection and of course I had no idea what ‘saw’ meant so I decided I would rather not play too stupid in case Johnson got mad. So I ventured casually “Where did you see your whore?” to which Johnson bemusedly replied “In the whorehouse , of course?” , it was follow by a guffaw from Srikanth who was listening in. He asked me with a conspiratorial chuckle , “Do you know what we do with a whore?”

I was too dumbstricken to answer. I was not aware of the quote “Deer in the headlights” but I imagine that was probably me , Deer with a 18 wheeler barreling towards me at 100 miles an hour.

“You just have to go there and pick yourself whoever you think you like the most and then you take her into her room and take her clothes off and make love to her” Johnson replied as if that was the most natural thing in the world for a 14 year old to know.My eyes glazed over “make what??????” . Johnson looked at me affectionately in that manner which a venerable wise man looks at a eager student who is desirous of all the knowledge in the world. “Tell you what, get 15 rupees next month and I will take you with me to meet my whore and you can kiss her  too” and he winked. My joy knew no bounds and the excitement made my head pound. Starting that day,  the sole purpose of my existence was to collect 15 rupees.

I walked home with a spring in my step feeling somewhat powerful and the delicious feeling of stealth that comes over when you know you have a secret from the whole wide world. I felt a feeling almost bordering on contempt as I saw people that I interacted with daily. I then started worrying about procuring 15 rupees from my mother without her finding out what I was planning to do with it. I decided maybe I would try to run more grocery errands for her, that way I would sneak out a few rupees and hopefully have the magical amount by the end of the month. Now much as I thought I could not conjure up the magical amount by the month end cos my mother was just too sharp so my last resort was hoodwinking my uncle into letting me run errands around the house . But try as I may , I could not think of anything useful that I could do which would enable the magic amount to change hands .

The magic number 15 etched itself in my mind , my soul . Johnson however seemed to have all but forgotten his promise and seemed disinterested in me. The next couple of weeks seemed like eternity stretched out and no solution or end in sight .One of those days, our biology teacher was teaching us all about the mating habits of frogs.  After all the gory details were laid out , Johnson , Srikanth and Sanjay chuckled and Johnson said in a low tone “wonder if he has to give Rs 15 too”, it was a sneaky chuckle . I was baffled now , I failed to see the connection between the mating habits of frogs and the magical amount of Rs 15. I imagined that I had somehow missed a critical part of the frog commerce due to my own affliction with the number 15 .  After school , I saw the three musketeers at a Kulfi (Indian icecream) stand , the science of making kulfi is honed into a fine art by these kulfi artists.  The sweetened cream spiced with cardamom is dropped into thin metal pyramidal moulds and a bamboo stick is inserted into the center and stuck inside an ice box . There are 3 sizes to choose from , the thin one which lasted maybe a dozen licks was 25p , the one bigger than that was 50p and then you had the giant for Rs 1. Magically the kulfi vendor knows which one is frozen solid and which ones to leave in longer . When you give him the money, he will whip out a mould and dip it in a water canister that he keeps nearby and viola the ice cream stick slides out like butter. It would take two more years before I found out that it was actually salt water and why it slid out so easily but at the time, it seemed like magic . I could never get the ice cubes out of trays by merely dipping them in water .

But coming back the three musketeers had each bought the 25p one and gawking at the girls coming out  so I ventured to ask Johnson if he would still take me with him at month end if I did not have the money  . He told me to “f@#^ off” in no uncertain terms and also picked up a few pebbles and threw them at me just to reinforce his decision .

Come the month end and I was all antsy , I was in school but my mind was not in school.I was still too busy trying to figure out how to get that magic amount and convince Johnson to take me along . I could visualize myself with this extremely gorgeous woman who looked like the personification of the princess in my Chandamama . I imagined that she would be pleased to do the slightest bidding when I handed her the magical amount of Rs 15 . I was lost in my own private melodrama when I heard something akin to a thunderous roar , I jumped up and realized that Mrs Vasantha was upon me. I looked up petrified at her

“Sorry , maam ”

She roared this time “when do frogs mate??”

I have not the slightest clue but Johnson’s comment came to mind and I decided to venture an answer  “When the frog gets 15 Rs” .

I will never forget the expression on Mrs. Vasantha’s face ,nor will I ever forget the laughter that arose from the class . I looked around and saw Johnson glare at me.  Needless to say that was warning enough for me not to rat him out . I realized I was in trouble, but little idea as to how deep I was in, I was made to kneel down before the principals office for the whole day but before that I got a humiliating whacking from Mrs. Vasantha in front of the class and then from Mrs. Shanthi the principal. My parents were summoned the next day, I will never forget the heart wrenching panic I felt. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for the parent teacher meeting. Luckily for me , my father did not come along. When my mother came out , she came out in a daze, I guess it never crossed her mind that her dear son had actually grown up and lost at least part of his innocence, though in all honesty looking back I have to say that I had lost none of that innocence yet but somehow I was guilty . Her face made a terrible impression on me , one that I never forgot . It was one of anguish and confusion, for the life of me I could not understand why I had hurt her so badly , her look which seemed to convey disappointment and shame , all in one glance . It seemed too terrible a punishment . But she pulled herself together very quickly , not before I swore to myself , never ever again would I ever do something that would hurt her so terribly.

We stopped outside the school at a guava vendor and she asked him to cut up a guava for us and spice it up with that special mixture of salt and chili powder . She took one slice and gave me the rest started walking home . She started talking about the spice mixture and how it never seems to taste that way when she made at home .I could care less about the spice mixture and dreaded the moment my father found out, if my mother seemed so shook up, I shuddered to think what my dad would say and do.   I was silent on the way home dreading the inevitable. Finally the terror of having to explain this to my father got the better of me, I turned around and asked her “Can you please not tell dad about this?”

She looked at me silently ,”I wont but I need to know where you found out about this” . Shamefacedly I told her about Johnson and also imploring her not to complain because a Chamcha (squealer) gets ostracized and beaten up at school.

She smiled at me and told me not to worry . She kept her word , my dad queried as to why she needed to go to school , she fobbed him off with some answer that seemed to satisfy him.

The next day at school seemed as though nothing had changed , Johnson sat next to me and leered at me and said “Whats up , Rs 15?” . I politely smiled and said nothing. After that point I tried my damnedest to ignore him and focus. The week passed by uneventfully but I had a big surprise on Monday when I came back .The three musketeers were missing , I figured they had pulled another disappearing act but Mrs Sudha announced that Johnson , Srikanth and Sanjay had been transferred to a different division . To say that I was relieved would be an understatement.

That afternoon after returning home , I told mom the news . She acted surprised and happy but I knew her well enough to know that she was not truly surprised. She had managed to somehow pull strings  or make calls to make this happen. All my years in that school, I had never seen that happen before or happen since .  I looked at her with gratitude and pride , my mother was not one who was about to let anybody harm her cubs . She caught my look and smiled benevolently and went back to the kitchen .

The Surrogacy of happiness

Sampat

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Tennyson

I was an arrogant stripling in my teenage years, an infuriating know it all. I was also an insufferable chauvinistic pig , my poor sister probably bore the brunt of those years but so did the few female classmates who seemed overly interested in me and would land up at my house without invitation . Perhaps the quality of those girls was suspect but my egoism and scorn for the female gender just got worse as time passed and I was convinced that getting married was probably the dumbest thing that anybody could do. Add to that arrogance a general contempt for the foibles and fallacies of the common man and a general conviction that an IQ test be administered before one is allowed to breed and you have the perfect bachelor, not  that he is perfect but his air of smugness would ensure that it would drive away any self respecting woman within a radius of a 100 miles.

The idea of being bound to a single woman seemed like fiction, something that I could not even begin to fathom because it seemed so ridiculously absurd . Matrimony seemed akin to a prison that a man unwillingly walks into, blackmailed into , forced into by social norms, by parents who having undergone the ordeal of matrimony and who cannot endure the thought that their offspring be happy forever or perhaps more charitably put, a myth specifically perpetrated on the human race to ensure the survival of children, in short social norms formed the walls of this prison . The price of breaking through these walls are worse than breaking through prison walls, one is ostracized for life so fear keeps us in check.

I was convinced that blissful bachelorhood was the fate that I was destined for, I was certainly going to fight tooth and nail to ensure that , I was compiling a long list of arguments that I was going to offer my dad when time would come by when he would insist on me getting handcuffed to some girl who would probably be as unwilling as me .  My arguments and demands were as follows

  1. I want to travel the world , wife and family will hamper that
  2. I want to read all the great books and unless she is as interested in reading those great books and discuss with me, I will not marry her because it needs to be a wavelength match . I know what I want and don’t mind being alone.
  3. She should be exceptionally fair  (good luck finding that in my caste)
  4. She should also be exceptionally beautiful otherwise I might get enticed by the next beautiful woman who comes along. Only way to guard against that is to make sure that she was exceptionally beautiful
  5. She should be a cook as good as my dad or my mom (I was firmly convinced that 4 and 5 are mutually exclusive)
  6. She has to smarter than me (I was arrogance personified and I just knew that to be not possible )
  7. She should know as many languages as I do , through an happy accident of fate, I could speak 5 languages fluently and learning two more so I knew damn well and certain that I would never find anybody else who could .
  8. She should be exceptionally good humored and keep me in good humor at all times (a tall order!!)
  9. She should be extremely patient.
  10. She should never criticize me , merely lovingly correct me
  11. She should encourage me to reach for the stars and if things get too hard then provide TLC as she lovingly continues to encourage me.

 

Having just graduated from high school with grades that I perceived as a cut above the rest ,I thought no end of myself , I was self assured and deliriously over confident with a chip on my shoulder , the world was for my taking. High school was a place of known rules and restrictions with definite and concrete consequences for breaking the rules . These rules envelopes one into a comfortable cocoon . Like moths bursting out of a cocoon , we were  introduced to a college which had no rules , no  strictures that would be dealt with stark punishments when violated .  The sudden liberty got most of us intoxicated and it was followed by two years of wasted potential. Years later , I would encounter this quote and still marvel at its brilliance and succinct wisdom

Sudden power is apt to be insolent, sudden liberty saucy; that behaves best which has grown gradually

Benjamin Franklin

Pride comes before a fall , always . You can have a million and one reasons not to fall in love but when Cupid’s arrow finally finds it mark , the million reasons vanish quicker than hope after a lottery announcement. Cupid finally had me in his sights on a sunny July morning.While everybody around me seemed to be in awe of my mysterious silence and other sundry qualities that had been automatically assigned to me thanks to my seemingly impenetrable aura of silence , she seemed blissfully unaware and could penetrate my ‘invincible’ shield at will . She had several weapons at her disposal and I would have been utterly helpless against any one of these let alone the entire armory , first off she had her own feisty irrepressible sense of humor that could send me into peals of laughter, her voice sounded like the musical tinkling of bells ;a celebration of sorts by themselves that I could listen to for hours  , her eyes had a mesmerizing quality that could freeze me in place , a heady ,intoxicating fragrance always enveloped her , utterly self assured she seemed to have little or no trouble putting me in my place and while these interactions would send me to a fit of fury, she also seemed to know mysteriously how to calm me down just as quickly and as if all these qualities were not  enough she was extremely beautiful. With magic like this in the air , it would hardly come as a surprise to anyone but me that I quickly and completely fell in love with her. I was not old enough to understand what I felt or even what she meant to me and that those feelings are meant to be encountered only once in a lifetime . Having overdosed myself on Ayn Rand’s philosophy as spouted in the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, I had come to regard altruism as contemptible . But falling in love changed my purpose in life ; overnight altruism seemed all too essential . Seeing her smiling face was the only thing that made me happy . I existed just to make her happy . In that spirit seeing her unhappy made me miserable ,or anybody passing lewd comments made me near homicidal . I developed a pathological hatred for some of these folks and tried my damnedest to sabotage them in anyway that I could , with all the enthusiasm of an overconfident , hormone crazy teenager. In short everything in my life was transformed the moment that I met her ; I was totally and completely in love. It was as though my life before her was a black and white morass transformed overnight into a rich feast of colors , sounds , taste and sensation ; a sumptuous feast of life ,there was no other time in my life that I can remember having that zest for life as I had felt in those days. Those days were heady and intoxicating, years later I would learn that the oxytocins that the brain releases when you are in love are the same as released by cocaine , no wonder that drug addicts had such a hard time giving it up.  As time passed , I knew that there would be nobody else that could walk in her stead and I decided on the unthinkable , I actually decided to tell her that I was in love with her and was ready to walk the path of monogamy with her , the same path of monogamy that I had always scoffed at, but in this case monogamy was not something to be dreaded but welcomed like a prized crown jewel, it would be the crowning glory of my life . I suddenly encountered a thorny problem,  with all my knowledge and my reading and my erudition , I had a realization that I had missed out on learning some basic life skills ,namely asking a girl out. Some of my so called friends came to the rescue  and I had an eclectic collection of solutions from these idiots .  Though you will agree that I am the biggest idiot for considering these solutions.

  1. Hang out around her house all the time . After all we covet what we see so to make her covet me, make sure that she sees me everyday (this was advice from one who was obsessed with Silence of the Lambs, I am still waiting to see if his girlfriend disappears).
  2. Send her a letter , letting her know how I felt . This posed a second thorny problem , how to present it to her . So more idiotic solutions followed which only raised more questions
    1. Mail it to her house  .Question -How do I get the address????
    2. Steal a book from her bag and slip the letter into the book . Q – How will she know to look and who is going to steal ?
    3. Borrow a book and then slip it in. Q- same problem as above
    4. Have my friend deliver it
    5. Have her friend deliver it .Q – Who was to approach her friend?
    6. Telegram it . Q – Again begs for the home address?
    7. If I was worried about her reaction to the letter then write the letter in code and deliver it, that way she would not be able to decipher what was written. This particular idiot works on Wall street for a big investment firm these days , probably caused the financial catastrophe of 2008 all by himself  !!!
  3. Have one of my friends tell her how I felt and propose on my behalf (Hopefully it would be a loyal friend who would not interject his own proposal to her)
  4. Call her on the phone and tell her. Q – How do I get the Phone number???

Finally the pressure of desiring to let her know overcame me and I ended up creating acquaintances with undesirables for the sole purpose of getting her phone number instead of just asking her. The length to which I was willing to go for her had already convinced me that there was nothing that I would not do for her with the exception of being utterly honest with her about my feelings for her. I worshiped the ground she walked on , but paradoxically I would not tolerate chinks in my aura of fake invulnerability , priorities in life is a lesson that is hard to learn and harder to apply.So finally I managed to make that dreaded phone call, and as soon as I heard her voice , I froze up . I could not bring myself to tell her the reason for calling her, instead asked her about her dog . Needless to say, she was quite miffed but somehow deep down I knew that she already knew why I was calling. After 5 such calls where I asked about the dog, the chemistry homework, the physics practical , the botany exam and the location of the class (which never changed) , I shot out “I lvu” , understandably she was confused and asked me to repeat myself at which time, the syllables flowed out a little slower , just a little slower but enough to be comprehensible, “I lv u” . There was a short pause and then she said very coldly “So” . I don’t think that I have ever been deflated so quickly , so effectively, so ruthlessly , so completely. I listened in stunned disbelief , my emotions trampled underneath a giant steam roller, I would rather than I had been trampled underneath that steam roller instead of my emotions, humiliation surged through me like a hot knife through butter, my cheeks flushed and I could suddenly understand the sentiment of wanting the earth to open up and swallow me whole.After what seemed like an eternity , I heard my voice from another world snap “What do you mean by so? ” To which she responded just cool as a cucumber ,”What do you want me to do?” I could endure the humiliation no longer so I simply hung up.

The burning humiliation of the cold contemptuous rejection was like septic bile surging through my system . The impotence of rage finally gave in to the only possible avenue open to me, I cut off all ties . Eventually the foolishness of youth and the unhappy happenstances of providence cascaded into a series of decisions where by I ended up losing her before I ever had a chance to ask her to marry me.

The erstwhile quote from Tennyson has always bugged me . I wonder if Tennyson really understood what he meant , to me it sounds like he could duck hunt with a rake when he wrote that.

But I realize now that perhaps it was my former arrogance, my withering contempt for all and sundry that had come back to haunt me as a sense of contempt for myself because now I longer measured up to her and was obsessed with the incessant need to better myself , do something worthwhile so that I could be worthy of her . That was the effect she had on me, she made me want to be a better man .So maybe Tennyson did know what he was talking about.

A Travelogue long overdue

I announced my departure from Wooster with a heavy heart . It had become my home , the first time in my life that I had chosen a place as my home. Regardless of the occasional vituperic  outbursts at home about folks hating it , I loved it, loved the small town feel , loved the friendliness and the warmth of the people who welcomed me into their lives and their hearts, the change of seasons , the fall colors and even the brutal winters.  Working at the city of Wooster was also a delight , I had managed to make several friends for a lifetime. I had worked the longest among my 7 jobs so far ,almost 10 years of my 19 year career . Several of my friends met me for lunch or dinner over the next two weeks .

20140108_195645 IMG_20140113_203246_747 20140108_124456 20140104_212458 20140104_212426 20140103_215735 Arden and Darrell 002 Arden and Darrell 005

Then I headed down south to TennesseeIMG_20140112_133545_013 to see my step childrenIMG_20140111_192226_558 and niece

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While returning as I saw the “Welcome to Ohio” board IMG_20140112_170113_466and the Ohio river at Marietta IMG_20140112_170102_051, I wondered if I would ever see it again.

Time passed on rather quickly and I reached the end of my serving time at the City . There was a touching send off on my last day which simply exacerbated my agony. But I trudged on with packing.  The movers finally came and moved all my stuff out and then finally the day of reckoning came . I bid adieu to my house with a heavy heart IMG_20140116_085847_437.

My destination for the day was Omaha . I started out on the familiar US-250 route to Norwalk , I wanted to catch one last glimpse of Cedar Point BPSC Bike Ride 012 (2)before I left.

I was excited when I got on the Ohio turnpike . Years earlier , I had read Stephen’s Ambrose “Nothing Like It in the World” . A delightful history of the transcontinental rail road that was built to connect the east coast with the west after the Civil war. After the civil war, the feds gave loans to build a Trans continental rail road. The Union Pacific built westward from Chicago using Irish chain gangs and the Central Pacific built east from California using Chinese chain gangs ,without the Chinese knowledge of gun powder, it would have been impossible to tunnel through the Sierra Nevada. It was a task of awe inspiring engineering and an ultimate triumph for surveyors who used line of sight and rope to meet at one spot namely Promontory, Utah . Almost a hundred years later when I 80 was being built, the surveyors using aircraft and helicopters ended up choosing the same route . Here was my opportunity to retrace history. I-80 itself has a lot of interesting tidbits that are fascinating such as the longest stretch of straight road , the longest section of road that has no exits . The intersection of I-75 and I-80 around Toledo is called the Heartland of America though we are far away from what would be the geographical center of the country.

As I entered Indiana , it was snowing down Travel Across America On I 80 - 17-SNOWand as I proceeded on , I was grateful for the snow plow crews that kept the roads clean so I could proceed at my regular breakneck speed . Indiana passed by without a whimper , ironical that it was the first time that I had gone to Indiana after 15 years in Ohio . Entering Illinois and I had to bid adieu to I-90. I-90 runs together with I-80 inside Ohio and Indiana but then it goes on northwards through Minnesotta , Dakotas , Montana , Idaho and Washington . I was supposed to have lunch with an old colleague in Chicago but she had not responded in time . Just as well because I could not afford any more delays. Hopefully another road trip is in the cards, on I-90  from Seattle to Boston . I was amazed by the number of windmills in Illinois . I did hear some comments about Chicago being a Windy City but I always figured that was  due to the corruption in the 20s and 30s rather than any geographical features but who knows

Unfortunately by the time I exited Illinois and entered Iowa , it was dark and I could not see squat . But undaunted I made a pit stop to see the mighty Mississippi Travel Across America On I 80 - 19 and got to see a Civil war battleshipTravel Across America On I 80 - 4 . It dawned on me that as much as the civil war fascinated me , I had never seen any civil war relic or monument other than some bullets that some of my family had showed me in the past . I had passed Gettysburg dozens of times , and Bristol is just a couple hundred miles from the Shenandoah valley but I was always promising myself that I would stop one of these days  . “One of these days” is yet to arrive and now I have managed to move myself 2500 miles away.   “One of these days” is probably the most dangerous lie that we tell ourselves.

Driving in the dark and especially while it is snowing is a dangerous business . Traffic screeched to a dead halt in front of me, reflexes honed by long years of driving in snowy and icy conditions stayed me in good stead. After a long and snaking crawl , we found out the reason for the traffic jam . An idiot who had no idea how to drive in snow !!!. Another waste of an hour when I did not have an hour .

I finally entered the city of Des Moines which seemed to be getting a skiff of snow, in no time , I started fish tailing . I had debated meeting my cousin’s husband who was in Des Moines but I quickly gave up the idea . Driving like this , I wont reach Omaha until the next morning if I decided to take a 20 mile detour to meet him . I could not comprehend why the snow plows in Des Moines could not keep the streets clean . I have lived in Wooster for 15 years and with the exception of snowstorms , I have never seen roads this bad .

From Des Moines to Omaha through the dark snowy night was eminently forgettable . I was relieved to reach my dear friend Apar’s house at some god forsaken hour . Apar had stayed up . I put my kitties in his unheated garage . He was terrified that they might freeze to death and suggested that I leave them inside the cage and bring them into his basement . Never having experienced the Nebraska winters , I scoffed at the idea and left them and the litter box and food for the night . I had to choose between a frigid garage or locking them in a cage all night long , the sentiment of freedom won over basic survival that night.

Day 2

The next morning , I saw the kitties huddled together in one of the corners , it must have gotten too cold for them.  They seemed happy to see me , the food had not been touched . Never figured out if it was the cold or just a new place

IMG_17871846698233 Waking up early next morning , I headed out . Apar laid out the plan for me , he suggested that I stop at Cheyenne , Wyoming for the night and the next night at Reno . In the absence of any self made plans , I was more than happy to go along with his suggestions . I decided that I needed to find a audio book , finally found a Barnes and Noble and an accompanying Starbucks . Picked up Dante’s inferno and drove out , onto Cheyenne , Wyoming . I passed Lincoln , Nebraska , my uncle who is also my namesake had spent some time here , I pinged another friend who lives in Lincoln but it was too short a notice so she could not make it. I found out later that the stretch of i-80 after Lincoln is the straightest stretch of road anywhere in the American highway system and it runs about straight for almost 40 miles with veering just a few feet here and there . Unfortunately this geographical artifact also means that this is not a particularly photogenic part of the highway , it can get monotonous.

As I was driving , I found this archway Travel Across America On I 80 - 5 and decided to stop and take some pictures . Apar had mentioned that as I get into Western Nebraska , I am likely to find more cows than humans and he was right on that one . I now see why I keep getting these flyers for Omaha steaks.  I was happy to enter Wyoming but the landscape changed none too much and suddenly it was dark and I noticed with a thrill that US-30 was running alongside . US-30 runs through Wooster together with Old Lincoln Highway . I found a very interesting artifact on these highways . I found that the highways had gates that would close the entrance , I imagine that it is needed around here for those enormous snow drifts that I have heard about .Not too long after , I  reached Cheyenne. I found myself a cheap motel and decided to stay there for the night , ironically I found myself on Old Lincoln Highway which again happens to run through the Wooster downtown , Massillon, Canton , Pittsburgh , Breezewood and other places where nostalgia hijacks me.

About 10 years ago  I used to travel to Philadelphia for a major pharmaceutical company . I usually traveled on I-76/Penna turnpike but occasionally I would take US-30 until Breezewood . US-30 also passes through Shanksville which houses the United 93 memorial . Not too far from Shanksville is a large unassuming barn which has the following poem painted on its wall

Times square to the East

Golden gate to the west

For cross country travel

Lincoln way is best

I have a real inexplicable affection for Old Lincoln Way , later on I realized that I am not the only loony . I found a documentary on Old Lincoln Way at the library . I was disappointed that they hardly mentioned Ohio. And apparently every state that Old Lincoln Way passes through has a Lincoln Way association .

But I had more surprises in store for me  ,I  saw signs of I-76. I  have driven the entire length of I-76 from NJ to Lodi,OH and seen the sign that states that it ends in Lodi. But apparently it gets resurrected around here , 1000 odd miles from Lodi and then goes to Denver . I was getting distinctly homesick , having been away barely 48 hours.I fed the kitties and scouted out for myself. Dinner was some dismal affair with country fried steak, biscuits ,gravy and hash, I retired for the night . I was too exhausted to go check out the city of Cheyenne.

Day 3

I started off early enough and started heading west again . I had always heard that when you are driving West  you dont see anything and then wham you run into the Rockies which signifies the end of Prairie country. I either fell asleep at the wheel or actually do not remember anything until I actually saw the Rockies and I was staggered by the beauty

Travel Across America On I 80 - 11 Travel Across America On I 80 - 13 Travel Across America On I 80 - 10 Travel Across America On I 80 - 6

This is the highest point on I-80 . It provides a beautiful vista .  Indeed I was sorry to leave it . I headed on till I ran into the town of Laramie where I decided to stop for breakfast and coffee . It is a quaint little town and the fact that it is surrounded by mountain ranges makes it very appealing. I drove on from Laramie still taking in the breath taking beauty when I was suddenly captivated by signs for Flaming Gorge River . I decided this was it, my one chance to see it , I might as well take the detour and go . So accordingly I punched in Flaming Gorge river into my GPS which assured me that I was a mere 25 miles away . Thrilled at that wonderful news, I headed out . After 20 some miles , I am still in some town called Rock Springs . But undaunted I continued on , until the GPS announced that I had reached my destination . I was inside a strip mall . Puzzled , I looked around and I found “Flaming Gorge Automotive” . I pulled out my phone and searched for Flaming Gorge River again and this time my Android informed me that I was at least 2 hours away . It was a painful debate and eventually I told myself the lie that I will be back “one of these days” and headed on towards Salt Lake city.

As I drove on , my Android informed me that I had just passed the Continental Divide . Having a general infatuation for geographical oddities , I pulled over but I could not find anything spectacular . Years earlier , I had ridden my bicycle with my friends from Pittsburgh to DC and had encountered the Eastern Continental Divide which is the demarcation line for water to flow either to the Chesapeake bay or the Gulf of Mexico.

 and it was a big deal but here there was nothing , not even a sign post. This continental divide is truly the big kahuna , on one side the water flows into the Atlantic and the other flows into the Pacific and it runs clear across both the American continents , from the Rockies to the Andes .

Pretty soon , I decided to stop at some small town on the Utah-Wyoming border for grabbing some juice / water and healthy snacks(read Jalapeno pretzels!!!) and accidentally found a frozen river that folks were using a skating rinkFB_IMG_13900743106731795

Nothing prepared me for Utah . It is gorgeous  , now I wish I had a GoPro.FB_IMG_13900786594778534 .

I finally came up to a fork where I could head on to Promontory or head towards Salt Lake City. It was not much of a debate there , I did want to see Promontory but I don’t expect to see much there, certainly not the famed golden spike but I have to see the Great Salt Lake . Pretty soon I was in Salt Lake city amidst the familiar bustle of big city traffic . I was relieved to leave it behind and see the Great Salt Lake which was frozen

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At the end of the Great Salt Lake , I saw the Morton Salt Factory . Probably pumping salt to ensure that the Great Salt Lake stays salty ,dashed good idea if you ask me. Imagine having to change the name to the “Great Freshwater lake” and Salt Lake City would look awfully funny sitting on a freshwater lake. (Ok Bad joke but I could not resist!!! Too much Wodehouse from my childhood.)

Hopefully I will be back to Utah to visit and take in this beauty again. I entered Nevada and what is known as the high desert . My idea of desert is the scenes from Lawrence of Arabia with the sand dunes as far as the eye can see so this was a pleasant interesting fact

, I eventually ended up in Reno for the night . I found myself another hotel and fed the kitties

FB_IMG_13901149539281778 FB_IMG_13901148906029378and decided to go feed myself. I found a Indian restaurant . The hostess was a blonde woman with a thick Eastern European accent. I tried to make idle chit chat with her and asked her where she was from , she tells me “Pooonjab” , it took several more attempts before I realized she was making a joke!!! She was saying “Punjab” . I grinned at the joke weakly and continued with the third degree , this time I was informed that she was Polish-Ukranian . Not knowing anything about Poland other than Kielbasa and Nazi concentration camps and nothing about Ukraine except for Chernobyl , I decided to drop the social act and continue with my food.  My brother in law who is married to my cousin pinged me and informed me that Reno was a mere 3 hours from where they lived and I should stop by  . I left Reno in the morning

Day 4

 and headed towards Sacramento, CA.

My entrance in California was through the city of Truckee , ,quite dramatic More Travels Across America - 5 More Travels Across America - 13  More Travels Across America - 3FB_IMG_13901590149515859. I am in the Sierra Nevada and as can be seen , it is just gorgeous country . I reached Sacramento in a few hours and made for my cousin’s placeFB_IMG_13901640099062977 FB_IMG_13901639842417543 FB_IMG_13901639742319363 . After a sumptuous home cooked lunch , I proceeded on .

I finally reached Fremont later that day and had dinner with my dear friend, Manoj.

It has been an unforgettable odyssey 4 days , 2600 miles , 9 states; minus the sirens and the one eyed cyclops and all the other exciting things that Odysseus had encountered .

I am excited but also terrified of the changes to my life . I keep thinking of Red’s words in “The Shawshank Redemption”

” I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”IMG_20140504_135116_118

By the way that is the Pacific and while it is gorgeous , it is certainly not as blue as can be seen in the Shawshank Redemption!!! Perhaps they meant the Pacific in Baja California . Probably time for another travelogue

Introducing our human slave

“Hello there , let me introduce myself  ;I am Scooty ,The gorgeous Maine Coon a gorgeous Maine Coon , look at my “doe eyes” don’t you think that I make a much better Puss n Boots than the silly tabby that they chose for the role.” , Scooty wondered about the general unfairness of life which had placed him as a pet here instead of being in the household of some Hollywood producer who could have done justice to his god given good looks. Bluebell kicks him and he continues , a trifle annoyed ” and this is Bluebell, a plain looking Korata plain looking Korat .   In case you are wondering , I am a native American, she is an immigrant from Thailand, only been here for 6 generations . My folks came from Maine which would explain my name and my gorgeous fur . But enough about us , time to introduce you to the main character in our series of comedies , our human slave , Sparky aka The Jack ass that we will hereafter refer to as Jack .Jack supposedly works as a programmer and harbors delusions of grandeur regarding his abilities at writing , cooking , cleaning and programming skills , personally he fits in among programmers like this

He keeps poring over his laptops , he has two of those shiny silver ones , one for me and one for her is how I view it but he is not very bright as I have already mentioned so he insists on bothering me when I am perched in comfort and poke at those keys, I have never seen any food come out of it so pointless and useless if you ask me . Personally I am convinced that the best use of those laptops is to warm my tail on cold winter nights Frascals (1).  That was me as a kitten ,am I gorgeous or am I gorgeous? I am so cute that Jack probably wishes that I am his baby. PICT014So as you can already tell Jack has no common sense whatsoever although I concede he does have a heart of gold .”

“You say that, because he is partial to you and oh yeah , you forgot to add that he does have ‘sucker’ printed on his forehead” , snapped Bluebell , not appreciating the “plain looking” adjective and annoyed at Scooty’s inability to focus on the job at hand.

“Oh yeah , I do think he has sucker printed on his forehead. For women anyway . He actually kissed this stinky fish because she was named Rose” . Aaaw look at that , Jack and Rose !!! Just like the Titanic!!! a doomed romance!!

Somebody needs to tell him to date only within his species!!!”

Scooty shook his head in disgust , “One thing to kiss a cat but a fish!!!”

“It is a dolphin , you dumb idiot!!!” , interrupted Bluebell , who was actually fairly educated before she ended up with Jack and Scooty. She had an especially high degree of contempt for Scooty with regard to his ignorance and his low beginnings from the American south whereas she had been a professor’s pet prior to coming to Jack. None of this was lost on Scooty who was extremely sensitive regarding his roots (or lack there of).

“Now please let me talk and don’t interrupt me, otherwise I will wrestle you to the ground and kick your head in ” , bristled Scooty

“I would like to see you try”, responded Bluebell

“Exasperating!!! females , can’t live with them, can’t live without them” , meowed Scooty mournfully

“We, females have no such problems. We are perfectly fine without males ” , hissed Bluebell

” They do say attached males live longer , perhaps it may just seem longer!! ” sighed Scooty

“Right , are we forgetting why we started this little documentary”, crooned Bluebell who knew she had won.

“Yes” , grumbled Scooty and coughed up a furball .

“You would not believe what he did just the other night , he actually bought this woman home that anybody within a million miles could see that he had no desire or interest for her, why would he do that” , Scooty was getting animated

“You males are all the same , I can tell you why ” , drawled Bluebell

“For god’s sake , please shut up , let me finish talking”

“Because of the one thing that is always topmost on your minds! even an idiot like you should be able to see that. ”   hissed Bluebell this time

“I wish that they had hitmen among cats and I could hire one . ” Scooty sighed again

“We do have hitmen for cats , remember ? They are called vets ” snapped Bluebell . “I also seem to remember how terrified you are of them, you could not stop meowing and wishing for Jack” continued Bluebell

“As though you are the catification of bravery, you were so stressed that you shed enough fur to procure a new coat of hair for Jack’s car. He had to go back and get it detailed ” , retorted Scooty unhappily remembering his own painful torture at the hands of these terrorists, he had been prodded ,had a glass tube shoved up his holiest of holies to measure his temperature , stabbed  with beastly devices called injections and worse they insisted on fasting so no food . Painful memories!!!

“Must have been some beastly cat karma to have been born as a pet. We get abandoned in this god forsaken place that when he leaves every day . These humans call it work, I am still trying to figure it out . If he is so hard up , why not find a master who can feed him . Might also shed some light for him on how badly he treats us  . He comes home and thinks he can feed us and then eat in peace . For god’s sake , we have been alone for 12 hours. We need some pampering and loving , but he seems to look askance when we demand it while he is eating his food . Surely he can wait to eat until he has finished petting us

It is CAT neglect and abuse , the man needs to be carted off to jail and locked up and then the keys to the cell thrown away!!! ” , Scooty gloomily pondered his dreadful fate.  Bluebell kicks him in the rear and he wakes up with a start “So anyway yesterday he brings a woman that he could not even bring himself to kiss  so I ask why bother bringing her home . So we ” …

“WE!!! ” , interrupted Bluebell . “It was my brainchild”

“Yes , Bluebell had this brilliant epiphany that we needed to document his misadventures  and then we could sell it and have enough money to move into that fancy cat hotel that they have in New Jersey .Once we have our royalties , we are so out of here” , continued Scooty smoothly .

“Thats all for today, folks ” , concluded Scooty sleepily and walked into the bedroom where he was going to take his mid afternoon nap.

This time Bluebell checks and makes sure that the coast is clear and lets us in on a secret

“Scooty is the face but I am the brains of the organization, the feline with the plan” , proudly stated Bluebell . ” The female with the plan though truth be told  , when was the last time that we had a male with a plan. Maybe Hitler and look at where it got them!! ” , she dryly mused and paused as though searching for better exceptions. She suddenly realizes she was in the midst of a conversation so continues ,    “If Jack finds out that we are poking fun at his so called life pursuits  and he finds out that Scooty was poking fun at him all along, he might just blow his top and decide that Scooty needs a one way ticket to Cat Heaven or the Humane society (which might as well be the same thing ) . But on the other hand if this plan truly works out , me and Scooty would be off to the fancy pants Kitty motel . I heard that they even have spas and masseuses and liver and kidney pie , they have different varieties of fish every day, I might even get lucky and get a taste of dolphin . This silly human tendency to overtly revere intelligence causes them to anthropomorphize Dolphins and go all overboard about Dolphin safe tuna and other such nonsense. It just deprives us kitties of variety in protein sources . If intelligence was so important then they should have stopped eating pigs as well.  But what do I care, I love bacon . Maybe I could get dolphin wrapped in bacon …  aaaah , that would be the life ” , purred Bluebell contentedly

Twinkling Twelve and Charles Sobhraj – Part 2

(Continued from Part 1 )

As he walked towards Satish , the others seemed to form a protective wall around him almost seeming to push Sachin away , Sachin was anxious to get to Satish and start working . He had read that the government had put up a special task force to capture Sobhraj and the last thing he wanted is more competition especially from professionals who stood a chance of subverting his dreams of glory.

Sachin saw Satish and tried to catch his eye but no luck so he decided to wait but the others would not let up . At some point he heard his name spoken by Satish and he looked at Satish but there was no sign that Satish had seen him . Ajit yelled “Sachin is here ” . Satish looked in his direction mournfully , trepidation clearly marked on his face .

“Hey Sachin , man of the hour ” blurted Satish nervously

Sachin was puzzled at the sudden onslaught of recognition and attention that seemed directed at him . He slowly trudged towards the group uncertain as to what this could be about. When he was younger, he avoided groups like this because that was a certainty that he would get beaten up . But this group looked beckoning and even he could recognize the adulation in the eyes of his onlookers. He was still oblivious as to the reason for his sudden popularity when Ajit piped in , “Do you know that the government has offered Rs 50000 for his capture ”

Sachin paled and nervously asked with a gulp “What capture”

Ajit was happy to clear the air ,”Charles Sobhraj , of course , now with twinkling twelve , we can capture him and split the money 12 ways”

Sachin’s annoyance showed on his fair skin and a vein bulged but he also caught sight of Balaji among his thronged admirers, Balaji who liked to bully him and beat him when opportunity availed . Perhaps it was the hint of admiration in Balaji’s eyes , or perhaps it was the painful memory of the last wallop but something  aborted the course of resistance before it could even draw breath in this world.

“Twinkling Twelve”  , he slowly muttered . Yesterday he was reluctant to even entertain the thought of  “Twinkling Three” , today he was being forced into “Twinkling Twelve”

He slowly counted and saw only 10 excluding himself and wondered aloud , “who would the 12th member be?”

Satish was happy to clear that up . “We decided to ask Anurag because he has the perfect meeting spot ,the dark staircase that leads upstairs to his house . Nobody uses that and we could stay locked in there for days and nobody could find us. We also figured that is where we would lock up Charles Sobhraj until the Police get here”

Sachin was almost tearful by this time . He was thinking , will the hits never stop. His brilliant brainwave , not only muddied by these idiots now he would have to add Anurag to the mix , he despised Anurag and his haughty ways , his ease at school , the rest of the kids had to struggle whereas Anurag just sailed through . He was a natural and he knew it and moreover he made every attempt to ensure that you knew it too. Anurag was probably the only person to get bullied more than Sachin but that did not arouse any sympathy for him . Anurag was insufferable and a know it all .

They decided to walk over to Anurag’s house who lived just a block away from Sachin and Satish.

Pleasantries were exchanged which seemed to arouse no dearth of suspicions in Anurag. The last time people had been so cordial to him, they had taken him out for a game of cricket and instead it turned out to be a boxing match where he was the designated punching bag. But he knew better than to expect that kind of behavior from Sachin ,  Satish or even Yogesh whom he condescended to play with from time to time.

Finally Satish came to the point and exclaimed the whole plot to a doubting Anurag who seemed ready to scamper back into his house .

Anurag seemed scornful . Do you guys really believe that you can catch Charles Sobhraj without any weapons ?

Sachin angrily piped up “We do have a screw driver” and besides no matter how strong, he is not going to be able to deal with 12 kids at once

Anurag still looked doubtful , but where do we start searching . This time Satish had a brainwave “Well Pune , of course , after Tihar jail , Yerawada jail is the largest in the country”

That simple statement of authority satisfied everybody’s curiosity. Nobody felt the need to ascertain the facts after this suitably deft display of confidence . To my curious reader , if you are wondering , this statement is about as far from the truth as the Sun is from the Earth. And as to the wisdom of absconding criminals preferring  to hang around prisons, I do suppose home as a concept for young minds is an anchor

Finally Sachin spoke up acerbically with the wisdom of the ages which has taught us that we do what is convenient , not what is right .  “Well , we have to do whatever is easiest for us . We dont care that Charles Sobhraj did escape from Tihar jail which is is Delhi ,a 1000 miles away, we live in Pune and that is where we will search for him . If he wants to be captured by us , he best be getting to Pune otherwise he is going to be denied the glory of being captured by the Twinkling twelve”

Ajit was the first to notice the problem in the circular logic , “But we will get famous only after we capture Sobhraj, right”

“Right “, barked Sachin , getting more and more annoyed by the dim wits around him.

“So why should he worry about getting to Pune and being captured by us now, when we are not famous yet” murmured Ajit again

This sacrilegious statement did have the intended effect of getting everybody to think about the problem of luring Sobhraj to Pune to capture him.

Yogesh had a brainwave , “We could write to him and tell him that we will split the reward with him”

Satish queried “What is the reward?”

Sachin lost his train of thought , he meant to object to the original idea that nobody knew where Sobhraj was and therefore nobody was writing to him but instead he answered “At least 50,000 Rs”

Satish started “50,000 divided by 13 is approximately 4000”

Ajit started “That is chump change for an international gangster, he wont agree for it. We should try 50-50 so we give 25000. Sweeten the deal”

Vineet looked up “So how much does that leave us with?”

Satish started again “25000 divided by 12, approximately 2000”

Vineet looked annoyed “I dont get it, we do all the hard work and he gets to keep the lion’s share”

Ajit responded this time “We have to be practical, think of the glory after this. We will get to make more money after we get famous”

Everybody seemed to nod happily and if one could see the dreams that start floating , one would have seen more dreams of shopping and gadgets and travel than one could hope to accomplish in one lifetime.

Anurag looked around . “Ok you idiots , you are going to split the reward that you get for capturing Sobhraj with Sobhraj. Do you seriously believe that anybody would be stupid enough actually go through this? ”

Ajit piped up “It is fairly common . Dont you remember in Sholay how Amitabh and Dharmendra team up with Soorma Bhopali to get caught and split the reward for their capture”

Anurag was ready to blow at this when he was interrupted by Sachin, who was annoyed with Anurag stealing the thunder and also implying that he was an idiot along with the rest of these idiots . “That only happens in movies . Also the idea to send mail to somebody who is absconding is the stupidest idea that one can imagine”

Yogesh wanted the earth to open up and swallow him , Sita style but no such luck . The hard tiles showed him no sympathy or way to escape , no more than he was getting from his comrades .

Continued in Part 3