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.
"Haan. T-shirt."
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.
"Bhaiyaa... thanks."
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."
"But Kumar..."
"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.


  1. Anonymous1:07 AM

    Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
    Is our destined end or way;
    But to act, that each to-morrow
    Find us farther than to-day.

    I don't know whats more important;hunger for survival or education for a better future.
    I guess the little boy chose the former.


  2. First my favourites-
    'Dark brown poured into warm, moist white'...nice description :)
    'His hair, immediately, settled into the partition, which he had brought with him when he had reached this place about 3 months ago'.... I love this one.
    'I parted ways with my poha, Kumar and my academic confidence of changing the world with a T-shirt and hollow dreams.' There's still plenty of time to refresh forgotten dreams.
    I love the simplicity and straight forwardness(with literally no crookedness of the mind/soul) of people like Kumar.It's his kind that always brings a smile on my face & makes me feel 'life'. I wonder if he would be the same if he was educated & like every body else. I know he was just a child & he def had to learn not earn at that stage...

  3. Hey M,
    Nice snippet. I think I should go back and re-visit HWL. Lot of things to catch up... I don't suppose that the boy really made a choice. He really didn't see a life without earning for his mother...

    Hey W, (funny, M is upward and W is downward, each a reflection of the other)
    Glad you liked those lines. :-)
    It is amazing that we think that education to all is the right thing. No, seriously, think about it. Have you seen the movie "My Fair Lady"? Hmmm

  4. I have often wondered to what extent the 'poorer sections of the society' value education (or literacy). I had been on a village visit to a place called Aarkavaadi in TN as a part of my course.

    I was shocked to see that the way the people there perceived education was so dramatically different from how we perceive it..Many of them had accepted illiteracy as a way of life and I really felt sad about it, I don't know why..
    I thought I would pick lines that I liked but I realise I would probably be pasting the entire post again!! :) Eroteme, it was such a pleasure (mingled with sadness) reading this post! :).Keep writing..

  5. Hi Eroteme,
    I loved the pic and the title :)
    There was this tinge of sadness in ur post..Mixed feelings is what I can say..

  6. Dear P,
    Glad you liked the title. :-)

    Its not sadness (I usually don't make time for that ;-). Its more like hopelessness. If you read Anu's comment, there is an element of truth to it (no, no, not the part about copying the entire post ;-).
    People like us talk about literacy, emancipation, liberation, women's rights, child labour and god know what not. Then we spice it up with positive attitude, energy, philosophy, etc. Did you go to the places struck by the tsunami? They care a tinker's damn about all that we have to say. They only care about tangibles. Relatives, money, houses, boats, a broken leg and a fused village under water. That is what shakes me up. We really don't care about these people as much as we like to think that we do. We love to sit in armchairs and talk the world, but we haven't reached out to anyone and done a thing. Simply giving money or buying books doesn't help...Ummm. Forget it. We'll take it up sometime later :-)
    Why make a post out of a comment? ;-)

    Hey A,
    You are so generous with compliments that you forgot that there were lines like "Shirt?" in the post. Don't tell me you liked that too?? :-o

    ;-) Kidding. Glad you liked it.
    Literacy doesn't matter when the stomach growls.
    Ethics doesn't matter when the hearth is cold.
    God doesn't matter when my brother lies dead in front of me.
    These are some things I got to see in my short life and I am not sure what to make of it...

  7. eorteme-yeah, I have seen "My Fair Lady" hmm
    Hey you know it just struck me that,maybe your mannu and his chai shop (from all your writings) is an extension of Kumar & the coffee shop that you so badly miss.

  8. that was really awesome! i finally got out the short dictionary u gave me and read it. very nice. so when u become an author and ur all rich and famous- dont forget me!
    and can i have ur signature?!!!!!! please!

    i wouldnt mind an autographed picture either

    and if u meet tarkan
    i'll give u more detailed instructions later

  9. Ah, eroteme, I finally take the time to visit realm of blogs again. If only every small act and thought goes to fuel a bigger bonfire. There, I go dreaming again. A topic very close to my heart and so I can never objectively comment on this post. Neat!!

  10. Dear N,
    You can have all of that now!! Girl, you surely love Tarkan don't ya?

    Dear W,
    So what was the one take-home from the movie? Hmmmm, you think Mannu and Kumar are related in my mind? :-| Not sure... :-)

    Dear SS,
    Long time. Glad you are back. I was wondering when would I get to see a new post on your blog! So don't comment objectively!! ;-) I 'spose this blog permits a lot... :-)

  11. AWESOME!!!! i will use it for my retirement fund. i will keep ur autograph and signed picture in a safe so when u become rich and famous i can sell it!!

    tarkan----> no comment

  12. i was kidding about selling them in case u were wondering. i would for sure keep them and cherish them

  13. Dear Eroteme,

    I have no idea whether the story is fact or fiction. But if I were the guy in the above story, just giving the tshirt or exhorting him to study would only make me feel worse.

    You want to know what I feel and what I want to do? Just like you had your concept of your creators paradise, I want to start a school for all the kumars in the city. How and when I dont know? But the reason for me to come back to India is mainly for this and another similar thing. I want to teach kids like kumar, no not about nanophotonics. An evening school for the kids who are still forced by their parents to work. For it may yet be beyond our abilities to make the parents understand or there may reasons like the one mentioned in the story.

    Obviously it would be free, where would I get people to do such things. I dont know from where yet but I know 10-15 years down the line I would still have my mother first in line to do such a thing. She does it now through a variety of means, everyday with our servant-maids son. She teaches english for high school but she knows as much about other subjects too, except maybe maths (sorry mom you couldnt teach that properly). Now its getting very personal for me, this is why I didnt want to delve too much into this.

    Well eroteme, there you have it. What I feel about this. Maybe through your blog, I can get volunteers for this.

  14. Dear SS,
    Doesn't matter whether the post is fact or fiction. Your point is well taken. THAT was the exact point of the post.
    My creator's paradise is simply a part of the entire painting. Glad to hear that you would love to go ahead and start a school. I was talking about this with a friend of mine. I don't know whether starting a school is as important as being clear about what we wish to impart to the student and how we wish to go abou tdoing this. If everyone started a school (and I am not discouraging you from doing that) then we would have many schools.
    I am glad to find someone interested in pedagogy (well, I found a some wonderful people interested in the same, but every new person is exciting). Some of my earlier (really early) posts discussed this matter. I have a series of about 3 posts which I am not putting up simply because I am unsure. Now that you are interested, I might put them up soon.
    Not sure whether education should be free. I would like to beleive in the old Indian scheme of guru-dakshina. The student should pay, not her/his parents. You might some of the ideas interesting in a post (Jan archives) on this blog. I shall go ahead and ready the other posts to be put up on this blog. As a wise friend of mine said, all we need is someone to do the thing, and everyone will follow. Let's do it together.
    Glad to hear about your mom's work. Why did you get into nanophotonics if what you finally wanted to do was teach? Just wondering! I simply put off my plans for my PhD, for the same reason. Not sure whether grid computing or Organisational Behaviour would help kids understand life and prepare them for it!
    You have me too, in case you need an extra pair of hands and a brain (assuming that it still works then!). :-)

    Yup, lets make some headway in this matter...

  15. Dear Eroteme

    To pursue nanophotonics and PhD was and is a selfish reason. I would have been happy with a B.E if I had learnt something. I felt that I did not earn a B.E, you would understand what I mean if I went through the Madras University education system. Especially an engineering college. There are certain things that I need to do first, things personal and doing a PhD was the first one in the list.

    What I get from teaching the kids would be more far more valuable. Like I mentioned I havent formulated a plan and what I want to teach. You would be surprised to know that teaching is my least favorite thing. Most of my friends and sister will tell you that Im a very bad teacher. But, I want to teach kids like kumar, for a wholly different reason. Again, personal reasons.

    Where exactly are you located?

  16. As always Eroteme, the POINT of your post was evident and obvious. Haha. Dont fret and fume that sometimes your posts are a mirror to your ways. Isnt that the point? :)

  17. hi! i came across your blog when i was blog hopping... fortunate chance indeed!

    that was a really lovely post. i enjoyed reading it very much. its sad the kind of burdens that kids have to shoulder so early in life. what awes me is the smiling uncomplaining way in which they do.

    you are gifted - keep posting! :-)

  18. Dear m,
    Thank you. Are you the same "m" from the Melancholetta blog?? If you are, then this is mighty coincidence. I was pointed to your blog by a friend of mine last evening and now I have you here. If you aren't the same "m" then please pardon my rambling!!! ;-)
    I am glad you liked the post. Will keep posting as and when I find time...

  19. Silly me, I just realised that I could click on the "m." and figure things out for myself... :-(

    So it is you!!! What a coincidence!! I really love your blog...

  20. thanks! :d and yup. that was me on melancholetta. lol... quite a few of us "m."s floating around the place arent there! ;-)

  21. Hi E, :)
    This is in reply to my comment.
    What u say is true..Yes we talk a lot of crap and dont do anything much..but u know its not possible to care about people we r not directly related to..beyond a point.Its a natural thing.And its not that we dont do anything.We do how much ever we can..we only do so much and thats that..

  22. Dear P,
    I totally agree with you and I don't want to sound like someone who has gone ahead and done a lot in life for others. Actually I haven't done much myself. :-(
    When I said "we don't like to care about people as much as we like to..." I meant those who make a noise about it. I suppose most of us would contribute to CRY or HelpAge India and that's it. There are some who pull out processions for women's liberation and stage dharnas and the like for these things. Then there are the godmen who say "God is everywhere..." and "we are all one in His eyes" (why not Her eyes?). These are the people who make me wonder. How many heads of organisations actually get down to the floor and do what their organisations stand for. I visited Cool advt. on TV channels with brad Pitt in it and the like, but what is their M-S?

    “WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”
    Americans? So I needn't bother about this campaign? And what will a signature get you?

    Oxfam is interesting. In Bangalore I heard about Parikrama Humanity Foundation which sounds interesting...
    What SS has is passion. So I basically think (and not accuse anyone of it) that we are armchair activists. We like to think that we would do something or what it would be like when we did something instead of actually getting down and doing it. I think we haven't yet realised that this is a single world and it makes sense that we all improve everyone's life...
    I think when I say "we" I quiet certainly mean "I"...

  23. Hi eroteme,How are you doing? visiting your blog after a long time.I was delighted with that post of yours. Needless to say another one of you stream of consciousness techniques.Now you know what I mean. Very moving as well. The use of colours, sights and touch in your story is what evoked me. Lovely! keep it up.

  24. How come no new posts?:|

  25. Eroteme,
    I read your post on education in the Jan archive. Very interesting. Incidentally, the school in which I studied made it compulsory to go through yoga, music, vedas, dance and indian music along with daily meditation and prayanama. While I was in school, I never appreciated what I was being taught. How are you going counter that? Do you think kids are going to appreciate whats forced on them? Bcoz, without understanding what being taught, its never going be effective.

    Another thing, like I told you I never had an educator frame of mind. So, I got address this issue with myself and decide whether Im going be an educator or otherwise. Maybe I will address that soon in a post. Until then, still keeping the flame of school alive. ciao.

  26. Dear A,
    I am doing good, thank you. How are you? Enjoying your time at home? :-) Thanks. I am glad you found it "lovely". You really are spoiling me with all those adjectives on each of your comment ;-)

    Dear W,
    Are you by any chance related to any of my school teachers? They were the only ones who would keep hounding me with "E, have you finished your assignment? Where is it?" ;-) Kidding!! I have got something for you this week... :-)

    Dear SS,
    Anything made compulsory is not education. Did I say that we would make something compulsory in my article? Let me check... Aaah I see what you mean:
    "Yoga should be introduced from the first day in school. The initial years should concentrate on making it fun and ensuring that the child's body stays supple and flexible. As the years proceed, the asanas should get stricter and more complex. The philosophy and ideology behind yoga should be gradually introduced." I suppose this does clarify the point that both the philosophy as well as the routine are introduced to the child. In the formative years, it doesn't make sense talking about philosophy. Children are more obedient then and can be asked to follow asanas and they could be made interesting. It is a gradual and balanced process. We shall take these and a few more things on Wednesday. Fine? :-)

  27. Anonymous10:37 PM

    There are many instances when exactly the same set of circumstances and actions and motivations have led to a complete transformation of a child's life from an uneducated subservient one to that of an educated man of self-reliance.

    We have to just keep on trying, I suppose, doing what we anyway do spontaneously, because that's what we are!