It was a great year for Tamil cinema. ARR was showing off his international flavors in music and people were just loving it! His music albums were sold in no time and the CD-digital world was taking the world by storm. It also kick started lives of others like Sirpy, director Vikraman etc. So much was happening that year but yet unperturbed by all this around me, I was doing my milk abhishekham to the two Lingams we had at home. “Vishvesham, Madhavam, Dhondim, Dandapaanincha…..my lips muttered the hymns in perfect Shruthi under the watchful eyes and sharp ears of Paati.
That was the year that the sudden educational policy changes rocked certain sects of the society with a vengeance. Engineering and medical seats became Kohinoor diamonds. Some resorted to going back to Arts & Science trusting the reality of hard work anywhere. Others resigned to a waiting period, registering in unknown degrees or performing poojas just like me.
I was a huge fan of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings from my newspaper days. I engrossed myself in his teachings soon after my school and led a life of a simpleton for sometime. Paati was worried sick that I would take that route and stop studying. She made sure I registered in a degree and performed the poojas for better days to come.
“Aacha?, Neram aayiduthu. Shaaptutu AMIE class kelambara vazhiya paaru,” Paati said with a hint of pride. The pride was not in me doing AMIE but the pride was that she was finally able to remember those 4 alphabets and recite them in correct sequence!!
I finished the rest of the pooja and gobbled up the full meals and was out of the door at 7.40am. I looked at the bust size mirror and smiled at myself. The melancholy tune of “Aval varuvaala song from Nerukku Ner” played on as I passed the tea shop exactly echoing my thoughts!!
The AMIE class was diagonally opposite to Meenakshi college, a girls only college in Kodambakkam. It’s gates had seen a lot of young aspiring boys waiting for their heart throbs. To be that close to a college like Meenakshi was anyone’s dream but for me, I would have gladly swapped it if anyone said Four Shore Estate! That is where I saw her the first time when I was changing buses from 21B to 12B at that stop!
Can someone say Gesundheit? No, I wasn’t sneezing but my heartbeat stopped for a moment when I saw her. She looked stunningly beautiful in her Lady Sivaswamy Ayyar school dress and i knew AMIE came into my life for a reason!! She got into the same bus and alighted a few stops later. 5 mins to be precise but those 5 minutes were priceless…!
21B to 12B happened everyday of the week. Some days, she would come by bus and on others she would surprise me by walking to school. I was helpless those days trapped like a caged animal whether to follow her or go to AMIE class.
As usual I was standing at the bus stop. Her only friend had come but she was nowhere to be seen. And then suddenly the voice of her friend came floating,” Lakshmi, time aayiduthu, seekram va”. I turned around to see her walking towards to stop. So that’s your name, is it, I mused! She looked flushed that day. Was she blushing because i knew her name now or was it because she walked fast and came? Let’s stick to the first reason, please. My version of Kandhar shashti kavasam played in my thought ” Arindhenadullam ashtalakshmigalil, en adthirstha lakshmiyai enakku tharuvaaya?”…
Paati noticed the suddden change in me. “Ambi, Remo aaga try panraan..Let’s see how long this one will last..” Paati told Mudu who was struggling to keep the baby squirrel he found that day somewhere in the garden quiet.
Everything was moving ever so good until the little love devil inside me started to plot a rather mischievous plan to find her home. But little did it know that i was woefully ill equipped with any experience in these kind of situations and that is where it all started to go rapidly downhill!! With a totally blank mind, I decided to listen to the instructions of the devil inside me and follow her all alone! A very big mistake. I didn’t know that it was the last time I will be seeing her.
She lived in a huge colony that housed probably about 1000-1500 families and was the breeding site for at least 5 gangs. Foolhardy and naive, I entered into the colony following her, unaware of 2 gangs watching me closely. I must have walked a 100 meters or so when i started to realize the dangerous situation that I was in. I suddenly developed dog ears able to listen and understand the faintest of sounds from any corner. “Yaaru da avan? Thattalaam machi, thookidlaam, Gaali, $%#&, @#$@%^&**” I picked every single one of them with a matrix clarity. So this is how it is all going to end? Me, getting thrashed in front of her?
Suddenly from deep inside, I found my answer. I am not going to give up. Come what may, I took a resolve. “Run!!!!” My sixth sense kicked into power mode instantly and I knew what to do. Mustering all the courage that I had, I cut a sharp left turn at the next apartment cluster and sprinted up the stairs in a blink of an eye. I continued the Usain Bolt sprint between the drying clothes, cutting through them with the precision of a person who had this kind of experience. On the way, I picked up the scent of Bajji, Pakoda, Upma with Vengaya Sambhar and the aromatic filter coffees from different flats. Only the coffee slowed me down a little bit but i was fine. Finally out of breath, I looked back victoriously. Yes, I did it!!! I had lost the gangs.
Knowing that it would take them only a few minutes before they posted a sentry at the exit from the colony, I took another route racing towards the exit like a trained musician on a Raag Alapana. A minute later, I stepped out of the colony and breathed a sigh of relief. Phew, that was close!
I decided to lay low for some days fearing that the gangs could be hunting me down at the bus stop. I tried the other stops but she never came. And suddenly the big news came. Counselling was oficially on and I had to report at 10am the next day. At 12 noon the next day, on my villainous cousin’s advice and against my wishes for a college in Madras, my mom approved Kongu.
During the term holidays, I went back and sat at the same Fourshore estate bus stop waiting for her. It took me 4-5 hours to realize that she wasn’t coming and I had to move on. I was terribly disappointed and dejected. My whole life just seemed a big zero. “I am not destined for anything good”, I cursed myself. I kicked the ground aimlessly and vowed to completely transform myself, live the life of a hermit and follow my teacher, Swami Vivekananda forever. My resolve was stronger than ever before as I crossed the road and went to the other side to take the return bus. 21B came as usual semi-crowded and i got in and settled into a corner when i caught a pair of eyes looking at me. Those eyes lingered on me for an extra moment, her red thupataa fluttering in the breeze. Swami Vivekananda, enna mannichudu (please forgive me)…!