Monday, April 11, 2005
When lines never meet...
Dark brown poured into warm, moist white; while others admired Rohit-anna pouring the coffee from one vessel into another, I watched Kumar's eyes eagerly looking at me. I smiled at him and softly ruffled his hair. He loved it and would withdraw playfully. His hair, immediately, settled into the partition, which he had brought with him when he had reached this place about 3 months ago. His mother had left her kind hands' impression on his hair.
"Amma would seat me with my head between her knees and comb it for me. Bhaiyya, don't use mustard oil. Its not good for your hair."
"But Kumar, it seems to have given you a nice mane."
"Smells bad, bhaiyya. How does it matter if you have good hair while you smell horrible."
I would run my hand through his hair and he would laugh and step back although he ensured that he never stepped far away from my hand.
Today was different. The news was bearing on the tea shop like a heavy pal. Our batch was slowly breaking up and going back home. I preferred to come here to going to the movie party. Rohit-anna had promised me a special poha dish. We had spent 3 years with these guys. They were from some village in Karnataka. Nice guys. There was never a shortage of sugar at this place and teas and coffees were emptied into earnest conversation. We discussed code, algorithms, hostel gossip and the guys and girls coming out of the international hostel nearby. Rohit-anna and his relatives (and friends although we never knew who was who) would feed us with the latest information running the university grounds. It was immediately spiced up and decked to suit one's taste and passed on. Little surprise was shown in receiving the same gossip in five different cultural costumes. The only person who was a true virgin was Kumar. He was always Kumar to anyone and his picture around the univ. was the same on a Tibetian tongue as well as the Mallu lips. Kumar was the boy who delivered the tea and coffee and aloo paratha wherever you seated yourself around the tea shop. He would run upto you, all 4 feet of oversized shorts and perforated T-shirts, and serve you the veg. fried rice you asked with a smile you never did, but which, you realise, goes well with nearly all that the shop has to serve. The smile stayed when Rohit-anna smacked him for forgetting someone's order and when I ran my hand through his stubborn hair which still carried the design his mother's comb created before he boarded the bus to here.
Kumar is what you had with tea and with coffee and today I had him in front of me watching me with moist eyes and a smile, which he didn't want to erase, lest I fail to recognise him.
"You'll be a good boy?"
He nodded his head.
"He is useless", Rohit-anna said with a smile as he handed me the coffee.
"Annnaaaaa. After 3 years you still don't ...", and I looked at him disapprovingly.
"Oh! Oh! Sorry", and handed the coffee to Kumar. "Go give it to the green man there."
Kumar reluctantly took it and looked up at me.
"I am not leaving now."
He smiled and ran towards the "green" guy.
I inhaled as much of the tea shop I could and looked at the cream rolls in the glass jar. Their cream had dried and the shell was in crumbs. I had to exhale although the shop stayed in me.
"I will return at least once a year."
"Please come. They say that they will shut our shop", Rohit-anna said
"No, they won't. Give them one of your sheera-poha mix."
He started laughing.
"But not the curd that you serve with aloo paratha"
He threw his towel at me.
Kumar was back beside me. I looked at Rohit-anna and he produced the poha that he had specially saved for me. Brown was the colour for the day as I lovingly accepted the porcelain bowl of yellow wonder dotted with dark fried peanuts.
"Bhaiyya, I will bring it for you."
I handed it over to Kumar and let him carry it for me till I was under my favourite gum tree. He hastily whipped out his towel and swatted the stones for me and looked up at me happily. I sat down on the stone and put out my hand. Kumar straightened the spoon in the bowl and handed it over to me. I smiled at him and expected him to rush back to Rohit-anna, but he went down on his haunches in front of me. I raised my eyebrows questioningly. "For some time, bhaiyya." I smiled at him and proceeded to eat the wonderful dish. When I was done I laid it down beside me and Kumar hurried to pick it up. I stopped him and asked him to stand up erect in front of me. I asked him to close his eyes. He did so immediately and smiled even wider. I took out the surprise I had for him and spread it across his chest. He started and opened his eyes.
I smacked him on his head and rushed to gather the end of the T that was released by that hand.
That is when it struck him.
"For me?" he asked with eyes widening slowly.
I smiled at him and asked him to take off his weather and moth hole ridden T-shirt. He took it off rapidly and wiped his face with it. I offered the new one to him and asked him to face the sun while he wore it. It was a shade large for him but looked nice on him. He turned around and tried to fill his new garb as much as he could. I pursed my lips and look him up and down with phoney criticism.
"Hmmm. You need to eat properly, but it suits you very well."
He was shaking visibly and tried to conceal it by falling to his knees and touching my feet. I smacked him hard on his head and pulled him up.
"How many times have I told you?" and filled a palm full of his face and shook it playfully.
I had been planning on this evening for quite some time. I recalled all my rehearsals and started out slowly.
"So, what do I get in return?"
"Bhaiyya, I saved some soft cream rolls for you and ..."
"No, no. I don't want that. I want you to study hard. You want to study, right?"
He nodded his head as vigourously as his neck allowed him.
"So what will you do?"
"I will study hard and take all the money I earn to my amma."
I frowned at him.
"I will be earning money for my amma, right? She needs it. Now that I am studying like you, I will earn a lot of money and will send it to her."
"After you finish studying, you will start earning", and I ran my hand through his hair, but his mother's love was stronger than my most well conceived plans to alter his hair style.
"Till then? No, no. Amma will be hungry."
"Kumaaaaaaaar", Rohit-anna called out.
Kumar ran a few steps towards him and stopped. He turned around and looked at me. I had risen to my feet. I was looking straight ahead at the setting sun but was aware of Kumar's eyes. He paused long enough before I turned and walked away. I heard his small feet run as he carried someone's dishes and somebody's tea. I parted ways with my poha, Kumar and my academic confidence of changing the world with a T-shirt and hollow dreams.