Monday, July 18, 2011
Friends Indeed: To My Children Series 19
I liked the golden shower trees that lined a cemented pavement running along the square shape of the plot in which the University College was located. These trees are called ‘konna’ in Malayalam. During the summer days, doing justice to its name this tree showers golden flowers all over. There would be a riot of yellow all over the place. Trivandrum city, even today is famous for the konna trees and the konna flowers. The new year of Malayalis falls in April and it is called Vishu. On that day, besides fresh vegetables, raw mangoes and gold, people decorate the idol of Lord Krishna with konna flowers. People literally strip the trees of their flowers in the name of idol worship. Selling konna flowers on the Vishu eve has become a small scale business in Kerala now. Most of the magazines that published specials Vishu issues often have a beautiful picture of the golden shower tree as its cover page. Nostalgic Malayalis post the picture of this tree in their facebook accounts and internet space.
I liked these trees because they filled me with some unknown happiness. You felt fresh before them. Though its flowering is seasonal, some of the trees always bloomed as if they were perpetually having the dreams of springs in their sap. Young girls and boys with glowing skin and sparkling eyes stood under these trees like newly freed birds from a prolonged captivity. When laughed more than they spoke and spoke more than they thought and there were glimpses of hurt darting between gazes of those who were about to be the victims of cupids hovering profusely around the campus. A girl in red under the tree with full of yellow flowers looked exactly like a lamp lit right under the sun challenging its own indomitable shine with the glow in her cheeks. A boy in white shirt and blue jeans looked like a passionate devotee drunken by the presence of his goddess.
It was interesting to watch all of them and you also felt like being with them. And you always looked around for friends. I was comfortable with girls and they too were comfortable with me but it was difficult to imagine any one of them as a girl friend who would just fall in love with you. I had my own reservations about girls because of the goof ups that I had done while I was doing pre-degree at the Varkala SN College. One of my classmates there, finding a good friend in me, started talking to me quite often. She laughed when I cracked jokes; the kind of jokes that only a boy of sixteen could crack. She showed her amusement when I told her the stories of different people heard from sources or deliberately woven up by myself just to amuse her. And I thought she was in love with me.
So one of those tormenting nights I sat at my desk with a piece of paper glowing like fire with the light falling from a table lamp painted coarsely with blue enamel paint by a cousin who found himself bored enough to paint all the utensils at home in blue colour. My hands were shivering and inspired by the fear, anxiety and choking felt usually by the people who fall in love for the nth time and thought it was for the first time again, I took out my pen and let it go deep into a stocky bottle of Chelpark ink. The filter of the Pilot pen with a small nib that stuck out of its tip as if it was mocking the person who held it, sucked a lot of ink from the bottle with a gulping sound which reassured me that I was going to write a good love letter.
I wrote a good love letter and to show my ‘maturity’ the letter was pepped up with references to sex, free life, live in relationships, masturbation as a way to escape existential angst and so on. I never thought that how a girl felt who got a love letter like this and whether she ever expected such things from the hard trying suitor. I was just trying to be different and I did not want to impress her with the words like ‘sweet’, ‘honey’ and so on. I did not want to sell her any dreams of a flowery future. I was pretending that I was someone who was supposed to become a revolutionary poet who had been hunted by the state. There was no limit to imagination then.
During those days there were three different ways to hand over a letter to a girl. One, through proper channel, that means you always befriended a friend of the girl and this befriended friend would always be less beautiful and more liberal and more sensually aggressive and outspoken who would give a perfect contrast to the docile, domesticated and dreamy eyed girl whom you eye as your partner. You hand over the letter to the befriended friend of the girl in order to pass it on to ‘your’ girl. You never know whether it reaches the right person or it will take a different course and become a talking point amongst their circle and facilitating your transformation from a serious lover to an unparalleled joker. The possible danger of using the proper channel is that the interlocutor often grows sympathetic towards your repeatedly failing attempts and would give you a sympathetic audience. Slowly you end up in falling in love with her who is less beautiful, more liberal and sensually and sexually aggressive.
Route number two is a more rural and down to earth in approach. First of all you impress the girl with your cycling skills which means you cycle up and down the street just to see at least six times on the same day. She must be on her way to the bus stop to catch a bus for the college. Slowly she will raise her dove like eyes from her toes that continuously measure the distance between her dreams and actual existence and will give you a side glance and you grow bolder. As days pass you jot down your feelings for her and try your best to hand over the letter. Villages are the places where scandals grow faster than fungi. So you don’t want to tarnish your reputation or that of your family. So one day you pick up all your courage and drop the letter right in front of her. You expect that she would pick it up and read. It happens at times. And at other times, you would even hear your own lines being recited by your friends from the tailor’s shop at the junction. In the worst case scenario, the letter would come back to you or to your mother as it is picked up by one of the urchins who keep his eyes on the earth unflinchingly hoping that some treasure might come up one day for him. He would find the letter, read it once and as he knows you by name runs back to your home and while handing over the letter to your mother he would declare that you were really lucky for only he could procure it from permanent loss. End of the day your mother and father would come to know about the concept of love, radically different from theirs, cherished and theorized by their own son.
Practical and direct is the route number three, which is more academic in nature and dignified in approach. You target your girl and approach her with all the seriousness you could gather on your face and ask for the notes from some class that you missed a few days back. Girls have this fantastic seventh sense (because boys are allowed till sixth sense) and they give you the note book expecting that you would put a letter in it. May be it is quite instinctual and genetically order like the behaviour of dogs. Dogs were steppe animals and to make their area of vision clear, before sleeping they used to compress the grass around them by rolling anti-clock wise several times. Even the domestic pet dogs, whatever their breeds be, do the same right on the marble floor. Genetic decisions! Hence, the girls who belonged to a time when there was no internet or mobile phones, knew that when a boy asked for a note book, he wanted to give a letter.
I chose the safest and clearest third way. I wrote a letter which was proved to be bizarre in nature later, and next day asked for a note book from the girl who was really my friend. By evening, I gave her the notebook telling her that during recess I copied the required portions. Without any change in her expression she took the note book back and clutched it stronger than ever as she knew all the chances of a thin sheet of paper tumbling out from between the pages of the note book. Next day she came and her face was swollen and she was not talking to me. I tried to go near her and speak to her something as if nothing had transpired through that bizarre bit of writing otherwise called a love letter. She refused to talk to me and that was the end of it. From her hurt and hateful looks I could make out that my declarations of manhood and revolution did not go well with her sixteen year old sensibilities, which were mostly shaped and nurtured by the then existing sentimental novels and films.
I was keeping my step cautiously in the University College. I did not want to fall again in the trap of girls who could allure me to write love letters for them and make enemies out of them in the process. I knew that I could never write a beautiful love letter as the girls wanted the boys to write to them as I could not do away with my bizarre misconceptions on love, poetry, madness, revolution, sex and so on. So it was easier for me to make boys as friends. And I got a couple of wonderful friends in the form of John Jyothi Raj and Clement Stephen. They were Christians and I was not, still people called us the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We were actually changing our status every other day.
Clement came from seashore village and his earlier education was done mostly in seminary where he was planning to become a priest. Clement had learnt logic and guitar. These two gifts underlined his wry sense of humour. He could make understatement on anything and logically argue anybody out. He stayed in a Christian hostel right across the street and I spent some of the leisure times in his room. He taught me to strum the strings of his guitar. I sang my poems while strumming at it to the maximum pleasure of Clement.
John Jyothi Raj was deeply religious. He was a Bible scholar and rode a very old bicycle. I too had a red BSA bicycle with an M-shaped handle. On Saturdays and Sundays I used to go his house near the Airport in Trivandrum or he came to my home by evening. We went out for long cycle rides. We spent our evenings at the Sanghumukham beach or in Veli Tourist resort. John spoke to about religion and he recited his poems mostly written in English. He was pious and always expressed his shock by widening his eyes and throwing up his hands when I spoke indecent things.
Ajay Raj was another important personality in our class. He was the biggest guy with a big moustache and he had tremendous sense of power. He could make anybody laugh by talking and by keeping mum. His very presence itself was pleasant and he was good at telling stories. One thing I remember clearly about Ajay Raj is the kind of sex education he imparted to me. I was very curious to know about the sexual intercourse though I had more than enough experience in actual sex by that time. However, I was very curious to know how small women could afford to take big guys or vice versa. It was a question out of ignorance or innocent curiosity. Ajay Raj did not tell me much about how it was done. Instead he asked me to put my small finger into one of my nostrils, which I promptly did. Then he asked me to put my thumb into the nostril, I did that too. He looked at me, laughed and walked away. I couldn’t have expected a better lesson on that than what Ajay Raj’s Zen way.
Clement, John Jyothi Raj and I used to sit at a doorstep on the one end of the corridor where along with each pillar stood a pair of lovers. We kept on talking but I don’t remember a thing today. But talking itself was a very pleasurable thing. From the vantage point of that threshold we watched girls and boys moving within the campus, political conspiracies unravelling, lovers falling out, teachers doing their duties. We saw poets, theatre activists, critics and all those who were in the making. Many were already showing talents as poets and writers. Jayaprakash was one of my classmates who showed all the talents to become an editor of a magazine. He used to design, illustrate and write a handwritten magazine in which most of us contributed our literary attempts. Indukumar J.S. was another classmate who did not show any inclination to become a journalist but became one of the acclaimed television personalities in Kerala.
We had a subsidiary Malayalam paper and it was handled by D.Vinayachandran, the poet and V.P.Sivakumar, the story writer. Both of them were acclaimed literary people in the cultural firmament of Kerala. I remember both of them never finished the syllabus because they used to get carried away by the pieces they taught us. References and counter references, allusions and applications enriched these classes and we never complained for the half finished portions. We were more interested in their classes than the syllabus itself. Slowly I developed personal friendship with these two teachers. I showed them my writings and they appreciated and V.P.Sivakumar was kind enough to give me a lot of directions and reading materials. D.Vinayachandran is still active in poetry and the general cultural scene in Kerala. V.P.Sivakumar passed away almost ten years back.
Three years went off like that. I don’t remember a thing from my syllabus today. What I found most difficult was the British History which was a compulsory paper to study English literature. I did not like the Charleses and Georges, the Elizabeths and Victorias conspiring, abdicating, fighting, marrying, adopting and exchanging and so on. I really got confused with the British history. It took many years for me to understand the intricate relationships between the Kingdom and its literature. I don’t remember the teachers either. I know a few of them by name but I don’ remember what they taught me. My education was not there in the classrooms. I was elsewhere. My life was elsewhere. I was learning, I was experiencing and I was experimenting with my life in Trivandrum.