I have a dream… A song to sing… To help me cope… With anything…

Say ‘music’…. And I have a million memories.

Play music…. And I’m filled with nostalgia. From old days. A mist of blurred activity… Growing clearer as I think harder. Clearer…clearer… And finally settling to reveal one incident. A 16 year old memory.

I was 4 years old. It was the Alumni meet of my dad’s college. And the Old Boys had gathered with their families to celebrate their reunion. I had been asked to sing a song that evening. For weeks before that dad would sing to me a Hindi oldie as he put me to bed… ‘Lakhon hain yahaan dilwaale.. Aur pyaar nahin milta.. Aankhon mein..’

That lilting, enchanting melody was his favorite. And I would listen fascinated, as I went to sleep… And soon I had learnt the song.

Bennett Pinto, one of the well known musicians of coastal Karnataka was an Old Boy too. And he agreed to accompany me on the guitar. My name was called out. I didn’t know what to expect and was filled with apprehension.

What is all this about? What am I supposed to do there? Oh yes. I have to sing. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the song. My hands were all clammy. And suddenly the whole prospect of opening my mouth to sing looked scary. And the stage with a hundred wires sneaking from underneath it, looked like a monster. Menacing and ferocious.

I think Bennett understood. And as dad hoisted me on to the platform, (it was too high for me to attempt any stunts) Bennett smiled at me gently and said, “You’re going to be ok.” Yeah right, I thought. Given that I can’t remember the song that I have to sing. My throat went dry. I walked towards the mike.

Lights. Glaring and blazing hot lights. I could hear the pounding of my heart in my ears and I felt dizzy for a moment. As my eyes adjusted to the brightness, I saw the crowd. Hundreds and hundreds of people. And they were smiling. The picture of a six foot tall famous man with a pixie of a girl clinging to the folds of her dress must have somehow looked amusing.

Then I heard the strumming of the guitar. Mesmerizing and beautiful. That was what Bennett could do effortlessly. Work magic on the guitar with his fingers. And I forgot to be nervous. Suddenly it was only the music and me and the sea of people. And they wanted me to sing.

I sang. I must have missed the beats a lot of times, but I sang. And it was the most beautiful experience of my life. When I finished, the crowd applauded and Bennett said, “Good job!” I was so exhilarated that I forgot to walk back to my dad who was waiting for me, beside the stage. Instead, I went the other way, not realizing that I could not get down, and had a royal fall.

And I made my own music. Several chocolates and ice cubes later, when my bawling had subsided, I realized that I had given my first performance on stage in the presence of a thousand people.

Music became my life. And over the years, I have learnt that it has no boundaries. It binds people of all races, castes, religions and age. It needs no language. It needs no education. All it needs is an inspiration.

To make the homeless in old age homes and orphanages happy as you sing Christmas Carols to them. To make your college team win. To touch someone’s heart as you sing their favorite song. To bring laughter where there is gloom. To make happy memories. To spread love and cheer. To conquer fear.

Because one man with his music inspired me to walk onto that stage and made me realize that I could never be afraid of it anymore.

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When Benjamin Drove Out The Dead…

I have heard fascinating stories from my father….. About a man called Benjamin.

Benjamin the quiet man… Benjamin the feared… Benjamin and his hunting rifle…Benjamin the story-teller… Who possessed marvelous skills when it came to story-telling and could weave the most colorful story out of the most drab details of daily life. And (on feast eves, after downing a good amount of country spirit ;-)….)Benjamin the fearless…. It made me proud of him…

This is one such story. Dad narrated it to us one boring night when the dinner dishes had been cleared. He had to travel years down his memory lane, to remember this incident. And I shall narrate it to you as I have heard it… Spicing it up with a few things from my own story-telling skills. 🙂

Several years ago, in a village on the outskirts of Mangalore, there was a family that lived in a nice house very close to the church. There were quite a few children. When most of them had married and left, the house was left with the parents, two boys and a girl. The older boy was Antony(14) and the girl Marceline(8). The younger boy’s name was John(10). He’s my dad.

One evening as the small village was preparing to retire after the day’s toil, the peace and quiet was pierced by a shrill cry. It was like a banshee was wailing from the surrounding mountains. The people of the village were jolted out of their senses. Such was the intensity of that wail. It continued for about three minutes.

Then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. Isabel, my grandmother stood up from the grinding stone,  bewildered. Never in her whole blessed life had she heard something so strange. When she was about to resume grinding, the air was once again pierced by the same cry. People everywhere, got out of their houses to see what was going on. But they could just not figure out the source of the disturbance.

The cry stopped. And the evening broke into night which passed uneventfully. Early the next dawn, the brothers Antony and John, went about their daily scuffle, to decide as to who would be the first to reach the church for the morning service. They both served as altar boys in the church and the first to get  to church would get to ring the church bells. Antony mostly won because he was bigger and stronger.

After the service, the parishioners gathered in the church yard to exchange news (though they met everyday, there was no scarcity of petty village gossip here) and greetings. But today everyone could discuss just one subject. What was that ‘thing’  last evening that nobody had ever heard before? The consensus was that such ‘things’ should not be discussed in the presence of children (like our two young heroes)  because we do not want them coming up with fancy ideas, do we?

That evening after drinking a cup of strong tea prepared by their mother, Antony and John accompanied by their little sister Marceline, went out to play with the kids in the neighborhood.

“Come back before sun down!” their mother shouted after them. When the sun did go down they trudged up the road to their house with their friends.

“Hey, the people are all speaking about that wail we heard last evening.” said Cyprian.

“Yeah, so what.” replied Henry carelessly. “It’s a good distraction in this boring village. And I hope it continues.”

“This place is not boring!” protested young Marceline.” And that thing whatever it was, was really horrible. I hope it does NOT continue.”

“It will come again” said Henry. The boys admired Marceline’s pluck. She was as fast and lithe as the next boy when it came to running or climbing trees. But they liked to tease and annoy her nevertheless.

“Will not come” she retorted.

“Will.” Henry laughed.

“Will not.”

“Stop it both of you” said Antony. ” Maybe it was just a passing migratory bird. I don’t think-”

They froze. In the distance they could hear a wail. Mournful at first, and as it grew louder, shrill and piercing. Marceline stuffed her fingers in her ears as her eyes rounded in fright. It stopped. But the air resounded with the cry. The kids realised they had been holding their breath.

“It’s gone” said Henry. “The wily witch has passed. She will now go home and brew a fragrance that will cause all young girls to come to her. Then she will cook and eat them.”

“Stop it!” cried Marceline trying to put on a brave face.”It’s not funny.”

No sooner had she said this than the wail began all over again. AAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE…..On and on like a mourning woman. They noticed that it was coming from the North. But the first time it had been from the West. It stopped and started again. This time coming from the hills in the East.

The kids hurried home when it had stopped completely.

“Ma… Henry says its the wailing witch. And she will take little girls away!” Marceline cried breathlessly.

“There is no such thing as the wailing witch dear.” said Isabel sensibly.


“Of course.” the mother smiled. “And you are a nice little girl. Nobody would do you any harm. And it’s probably the last we’ve heard of this strange happening.”

She was wrong of course.

Because the ominous creature wailed the next day too. And the next.

This happened for quite a few days. The people could speak of nothing but the wailing. In the crowded bars and in the marketplace. In the church premises. And this time not bothering to keep the children away. They came up with several theories. Some said it was some bird that had come from some distant land and was looking for a mate. Some others said it was a sign. An omen. Maybe some evil would befall this quiet village. Someone remembered that a man had died a very painful death not too long ago. He had been buried in the church cemetery. His name was Michael Gomes. Maybe it’s his soul they said. One that had not rested in peace.

And the people stuck to this theory. They began to get paranoid. They started to fear their own shadow at twilight. Soon the bars lost their attendance. And in the evenings, the roads were deserted. Mothers forbade their children to go outside to play.

Of course, Benjamin heard. And laughed his head off. “Honestly!” he said to himself. “Do they think they can shut themselves up forever? Silly cowards!”

Looks like the same thought had crossed the minds of the Parish Council. They agreed that something needed to be done. And after a session of brainstorming, they decided on the action plan. They summoned the youth of the church, who obediently gathered in the front yard one fine evening.

“When this… this…. cry begins,” said the priest. “I want three groups to head toward the three different mountains. Move up the mountains and chase that creature.”

“And you Father? What are you going to do?” asked one young man.

“I want a couple of men to come with me.” said the priest wiping his perspiring forehead with the sleeve of his cassock. ” We shall proceed to the cemetery.”

The men exchanged looks. Apparently they admired the guts of the priest.

“We have to solve this mystery today.” he said. “Now go. May God be with you.” They set out with the vigor that comes naturally to young men faced with adventure. The Parish priest and five other men started out to the cemetery. It was dark.

No sooner had the men stationed themselves at the foot of the hills, than the cry began. Sounding twice as terrible to the anxious crowd. They ran up the hills leaving behind clouds of dust. Shouting to each other and trying to decipher what each one was saying in the chaos. It was pandemonium.

“What is it? Where is it?” they asked breathlessly. And to their utter shock and disappointment, they found nothing.

Nothing. Despite the fact that the wail was now closer, louder, and more dramatic, being magnified at the hilltops and echoing in the distance.

Meanwhile the priest and his band of young men, had positioned themselves behind the bushes bordering the cemetery. They could feel shivers pass down their spines as the cry began. The atmosphere was eerie and chilly. The tombstones looked like humans frozen in time. Every leaf that rustled in the wind made them jump.

And suddenly one man pointed out to the left. ” L-Look! Oh my God! Look at that!”

“Where?” asked the priest. And then he saw it. In the distance a figure was approaching with a lantern. Floating in the swirling mists. The priest swallowed. “Mother of God!” he exclaimed. His courage failed him.Two of the men ran away in fear. The remaining, including the priest continued to watch, frozen to the ground and dumbstruck -their mouths wide open. In the background was the wailing, and in the foreground a new drama was unveiling.

The figure stopped at a tombstone, not far away. The priest who knew every corner of the graveyard suddenly recognized it as the one belonging to Michael Gomes, and trembled violently. The clouds shifted and in the pale moonlight, they watched the figure raise its arms. Now the shadows lifted off its face.

“It’s Benjamin!” exclaimed the priest who was now sweating profusely. “Jesus Christ!”

There was a loud noise as Benjamin struck the tombstone with a long wooden stick. “Michael!” he yelled (apparently full of country spirits) at the top of his lungs.  “Michael! You useless country loafer! I knew you when you were alive! You drank like a leaky water tank and smoked like a chimney! And I know every other secret of yours that your wife doesn’t!” The priest thought his heart would fail and shut his ears in horror.

“Now go to hell you oaf!” Benjamin was unstoppable. “Because that’s where you deserve to be! And if you think that we will be scared of a loser like you, you’re mistaken! Now stop wailing! Stop! I said SHUT UP!”

The wailing stopped. “That’s right!” he shouted. “And if you ever come back, I’ll bury you in the gutters!” Then he made his way around the tombstones, muttering to himself and disappeared around the corner.

And miracle of miracles, the wailing had ceased forever. Benjamin was the hero of the village. Everyone spoke of him. For the next four days, a priest had to be called from the neighboring village to offer mass in the church, because the Parish priest was down with a violent bout of headache and fever.

“So what was it?” I asked dad when he had finished. “I mean that mysterious creature.”

Dad smiled.

“Oh come on.” I said rolling my eyes.”You don’t expect me to believe it was Michael’s spirit?”

“Honestly?” replied dad. “I don’t know what it was. I dunno if it was his spirit or if it was some strange bird that coincidentally migrated away after that night…. I don’t know. In fact nobody knows.”

But it was a great story I decided. One of a kind. It’s strange how dad can convert a simple incident, into an intriguing story. Just like Benjamin. And funny how I can embroider it to make it different.

But then no surprise. Benjamin happens to be my grandfather.

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” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

                                                                                              Margaret Mead


            How true. After their parents, children look up to the youth for guidance, for support, for answers and sometimes just for a reason to do something they want to. What is so special about youth?


            Sophia Lauren says:

            “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your lives and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”



In the youth, children see enthusiasm; the bubbling vivacity that drives boredom away. A thirst to prove themselves and an endearing recklessness that inspires them to do things that age approaches warily. Children emulate what they find attractive and special in these young people. That is because childhood believes that what it sees is real. It is a time of innocence, of slow psychological change.


            And it was in this phase of my life (feels like ages ago), that I happened to know and appreciate a bunch of young men and women who spent time and came together to train kids like me in the vast field of fine arts. For me it was my first brush with competitive singing and speech. After a month of sweating it out in the mini hall of the church, we would present our songs and well-prepared speeches at the Konkani Natak Sabha (Don Bosco Hall, we called it), in the tough annual inter-parish competitions. We brought home the overall championship without fail for several years. If we lost individually, we would put on brave smiles or walk away with drooping shoulders (or even cry and make a mess) and they would still be with us.


            Thinking back on the training period makes me nostalgic. The qualifying auditions were never scary and come to think of it I don’t even remember feeling nervous. Everything was so informal. There was this time when our practice went on till long after it was supposed to. And as six-o-clock neared I started glancing at the clock every few seconds and simultaneously got my verses mixed up. Actually I watched this program on tv at six every evening and I did not want to miss it (missing programs was a big deal). After putting up with my sloppiness for a while they asked me what was wrong. I was embarrassed and didn’t reply. But then one of them started guessing and (uncannily) got her first guess right!  I did not get an extra hour of practice as punishment but a couple of good laughs and a drop home. It was five minutes after six, but I got to watch the rest of the program!


            But it wasn’t always easy. A singing competition meant a strict hot diet and hot diets are difficult to follow when you are eight years old and love ice-creams. So one rainy evening when we were early and had nothing to do, we happily got drenched in the rain and got scolded so much (“Playing in the rain! Ridiculous! Get a cold, and I’ll teach you to get wet!”), we won’t forget it in a hurry.


            On the big day we all gathered in the church in our colorful dresses looking important and excited and the priest said a short prayer to sooth our nerves and after the customary ‘three cheers’ we hopped into the car and sped off to Don Bosco Hall. When we finished singing, these youngsters would always be there to cheer the loudest whether they knew us personally or not. It was a special bond.


            When the results were announced (some delay meant that we would bite our nails to the flesh), if we won, one among them would carry us to the stage to receive the prize.   One such time, I remember demanding to be grounded because I was terribly shy and considered getting carried to the stage some kind of a shame.


            What we shared with them was something wonderful. A rare experience that will never fade from our memories. Their behavior left an indelible mark on our lives. They brought out the talent in us. They used to gather in big numbers in the church premises but they did not smoke. They did not use abusive language. What I’m trying to say is that they acted like responsible people. Why? Because they knew that children believe what they see. They knew that their actions were setting us an example.


            Wherever they are today I am sure they have made good husbands and wives, good parents and most of all good citizens. Because, to learn out of experience is what age does, but to show the way to others much younger than you, without being told, is great. It is the mark of responsible youth.




                        “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We will remember them.”

                                   Laurence Binyon                                                          








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To My Vandal….. With Love.

     It looked like it was going to snow. The cold was getting worse everyday and the nights were unbearably bitter.

     Janaica lifted her face in one abrupt motion and glared at the cold, grey December sky.  The steel was reflected in her eyes of roughly the same color. The one thing that made Janaica look older and more terrifying than her 14 year old self, were her steel grey eyes. She had a straight nose, full pink lips, now pale from the cold and high cheekbones-all belonging to her mother.

     But her mother belonged to heaven. Janaica stamped her feet to warm them up as she had a fleeting memory of her mother. Her mother and the smell of the warm, clean kitchen, of  pots of steaming soup and apple-pie weekends. Everything had vanished with her death. A six year old wide-eyed child and a not so brave husband were all that was left. Janaica got over the loss mainly because she didn’t know much. But her father couldn’t take it. He would drink most of the time and end up heavily in debt. Ultimately they lost everything. Their house, the small car, and a few antiques owned by her mother.

     It would be Christmas in another five days. Janaica lit a cigarette and drew in the smoke as she trudged up the road. Now Janaica cared about Christmas. Not because of what it meant to the whole world. She couldn’t even spell Christmas. Actually she couldn’t spell for nuts. But she cared, because the marijuana she was secretly obtaining from the dingy alleys in Benson Town, would become  more expensive.  That meant more odd jobs. She let out a string of swear words at the thought.

     This was Benson Town. A little land-locked town in its own world. The entrance to the town had a bunch of houses of the middle-classes. Then there were the posh villas and mansions overlooking Benson Lake.  Then the smaller houses all in a row with neat bronze numbers on the doors. As Janaica passed these houses, she saw the decorations on the gates and doors. Colorful ribbons, holly, beautiful Christmas trees and tiny cribs.

     Janaica smirked. ‘Celebrating Christmas eh?’ she thought. ‘How lovely.’

     She suddenly felt very jealous of these people. Not a care in the world, lots of money to spend…. ”Time to move on Jan” she told herself. “These scumbags are not your type.” She kept walking down the road, chewing on the cigarette when she noticed the brightly decorated front yard of Door No 52. A tiny sign on the gate read ‘Joy To The World’.

      Janaica  laughed.

     “Yeah.. Joy to pigs!” she guffawed. And on a sudden impulse she tore down the sign. She pulled off the holly hanging neatly on the spikes of the gate. “Joy to pigs!!” And she ran all the way down the road chortling.  Tired, she stopped and caught her breath. Her frost-bitten ears were stinging. But she felt exhilarated from the experience of destroying someones hard work. 

     The houses grew smaller and smaller till they were replaced by smelly, dark alleys where stray cats hissed and scratched and dirty, young men passed lewd comments  at the passing girls. Janaica crossed the tiny marketplace that was now closed and entered the small alley next to it. Five houses down the lane was her home. No decoration, no Christmas.

      She put out the cigarette and got into the house. Thankfully her father was nowhere in sight. It was dark outside by the time she had fixed herself a greasy hamburger and soda for dinner. She went to sleep, her stomach still growling loudly.

     The next day, as she was passing the row of neat houses again, and rubbing her palms together to keep warm, she saw Door no.52 had the sign back on. ‘Joy To The World’. New holly hung on the gate.

     She pulled it down again, this time breaking the plastic sign in two. And she ran off laughing madly.

     By the next evening a new sign was up. Janaica turned red with infuriation. “I love this game!!” she yelled, pulling down the sign and bursting some balloons that had been put up on the hinge. “You’ll get tired! But I wont!” she spat and set off on a mad run.

     But to her annoyance the sign was back again the next evening. This time she opened the gate, ran up the slippery path and rang the doorbell five times.  Then chuckling with glee, she sprinted back again. At the gate, she wreaked her usual havoc with the holly and looked up at the house. An old lady with crinkly blue eyes was looking at her from the window.

     “My name’s Janaica” she screamed, still laughing. “Catch me if you can!”

     The face at the window disappeared. But nobody came to meet her. “What is it?” she yelled “Looking for your scarf and gloves? Look at me! I haven’t any scarf or gloves!”

     Still nobody. Irritated by the old woman’s lack of response, she kicked the gate and walked back quietly.

     On Christmas eve as she passed Door no.52 Janaica was surprised. There was no sign on the gate. No balloons or ribbons. There was only one holly on the gate. Janaica gloated triumphantly and reached out to grab it, when she saw someone walk around the house, towards her. It was a young lady , a few years older to her. Janaica took a step backward and turned to run when the lady spoke.

     “Wait! Are you Janaica?” she said.

     Janaica hesitated.

     “I maybe. Why?” she replied defiantly.

      ”Wait a moment please.” said the girl with perfect manners and walked back to the house.

     Bewildered Janaica waited for the young lady to return. She had a box in her hands.

     “I am Amanda Jones. I live down the lane. This is Mrs. Blackfeather’s house. She left this Christmas gift for you.” She handed Janaica the box. Her name was written on the cover.

     Janaica was utterly confused.  “Where is she? Why did she leave this for me? Doesn’t she have any family to give gifts to?”

     “No” replied Amanda shortly.

     “So where is she? Can I talk to her?” Janaica asked awkwardly.

      “She died last night. She had cancer.” said Amanda quietly.

     Janaica stared.

      She tried to take in the news. After several moments she opened the box. Inside was a red scarf with a green border, and thick red woollen gloves. And underneath a small note.

     “To my Vandal- With Love. I knew you would come. Merry Christmas.”

     Janaica looked up. There was a tear in her eye. Soft, white snowflakes were falling from the sky. She turned around and set off towards her home carrying the box in her hands.

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And This Is Justice…..

       ” Yea and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”

           Never has a  Bible saying come true in more completeness and intensity as it has now. All in all it started with the heinous crimes against Christians in Kandhamal,Orissa. But being a Mangalorean, I know more about the recent events in this small part of the world-insignificant really-which drew attention to itself for all the wrong reasons.

      The first of the infamous incidents occured when the Bajrangees trekked up a small hillock at Bondel, Mangalore where Christians generally gather to pray. After planting their flags there they walked away gloating triumphantly. They dared the troubled parishoners to complain and when they did they supplied smoothly-“It’s government land. So get down your crosses and get lost.” And added silently-“Or else… there’s more to follow.”

       The argument was ‘amicably’ settled. And everyone went home happy(disgruntled) and gay(simmering). We thought that this was the end when out of the blue the Milagres church was attacked and the Adoration house there plundered. Their argument this tme around being-“Conversions! Destroy them!” It gave me the fleeting impression of the Jews screaming for the execution of Jesus-“Crucify him! Crucify him!.”

                 Mangalorean Roman Catholics are a peace loving and amicable people. I am not saying that because I am one of them. But because it is true that they are the last to pick up a fight and the first to settle it. And not even in their wildest dreams would they go about converting people unless they came up to them wanting to be converted. And the Bajrangees probably expected us to shut up and bear all the atrocities. ‘Coz that is what we generally do isn’t it? Get slapped on one cheek only to show the other. But this time was different.  I have never seen such rage among the people. It again proves that you shoudn’t stretch people’s patience to such an extent that it breaks. Then you may have to unexpectedly bear the brunt of their anger.

        Now let me get this straight. I believe that in this country everyone has the right to voice out their opinions freely. But when the members of the Bajrang Dal went about destroying the churches, it didn’t make them look smart. Or even close. In fact they looked like disoriented, bumbling sheep, only, a thousand times more aggressive. They didn’t even bother to check if they were after the right people. In fact the right culprits belonged to a totally different sect of Christianity altogether. And they went about dissecting the firtst church they found. Burning Holy Books and desecrating the Sacrament. How pathetic. ATLEAST GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT MAN.

        Now comes the funny part. I have heard of religious fanatics. But whoever heard of fanatics-in-law? That’s right. Enter- our very capable police force-who do a lot of very commendable jobs, but are still the last to arrive, well-versed with the lathi language and from whose mouths spring words of eternal abuse-were the center of some more hair-raising action. In the friction between the police and the youth, during which some Christian youth threw stones on the police (very wrong of them, I don’t deny) the ‘gaurdians of law ‘ ended up lathi charging the rest of the peacefully protesting crowd. Unmercifully, inhumanly, and without any qualms. Men and women alike.

        And if there is one thing that exasperates and shocks me more than the police brutality, it is the indifference of the government to the plight of the victimised. When the chief minister was told about the whole issue, instead of taking immediate measures to arrest the miscreants he issues orders for the authenticity of churches to be verified. Wow! Crisis management.

        Why isn’t the main leader of Bajrang Dal (who proudly announces how the association under his leadership was responsible for the attacks) arrested? Is this how the government assures security to the minority?

         It is really amazing how bravely the Christians have put up with the atrocities meted out to them all over India. Unlike certain ‘lionheart leaders’ of the VHP who burrowed underground at the first news of an arrest coming their way. Talk about cowardice.

                 One thing is clear now. People will think twice before torturing the Christians again. And the credit goes to all the Roman Catholics who came forward hand in hand to prove to the world that we will take no more of this nonsense.


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Swaying coconut trees, the fresh smell of sea…. Sigh! That’s home… That’s Mangalore… It’s funny how you don’t realise what you have while you still have it… It’s when you have to live without their constant presence that you realise the worth of precious things.. Like family.. N watching the sun sink lower down the horizon… Now pure yellow.. now fiery orange..  Then streaked golden.. Then red.. Going..going..gone.. Living away from home is hard.. But then it teaches you to be thankful of whatever you have. You constantly are struck by beautiful things you hadn’t noticed before.. C’est la vie..

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Not so Nice

My memories of early school are of rainy days in June. Thunder. Cold sprays of water drenching me when I sat close to the window.. Squealing with my friends as we mopped ourselves.. The teacher demanding silence. New rainy shoes smelling of rubber and the shoe bites that came with them.

     But my oldest memory is of a particular teacher. And it’s not so pleasant. She was dark, chubby and had a minor hare-lip. She had a masculine voice, beady eyes and rough hands. Really rough. Altogether hideous.

   I know about the rough hands because they often made contact with my face. Too often. And not in a very kind way. Don’t get me wrong. I am not against children being disciplined with a couple of sharp slaps. But that was not the problem. There was something else that was wrong here.

   She hated me. I still don’t know why. In fact she hated me so much that she spared no opportunity to get her sandpaper hands on my face. Face, head, back..  Whatever. I think that’s wierd because.. come on.. how can you hate a six year old kid when you’re thirty?

   She had these really amusing games she used to play with me.. Amusing for her. Painful for me. She would wait eagerly for lunch break. Not because she was hungry. But because she saw her golden chance to bully me. Ok. Now I was a lousy eater. Actually  I hated lunch. I could not eat even three mouthsfull before I felt like throwing up. She would wait till I had closed my lunch box( which was practically never empty) and gone off to play. Then she would summon me after half an hour later with maddening authority.

   “Open the lunch box”. She would say

   “But I ate everything.” I would lie.

    “Yeah right. OPEN IT!”

     “Please miss… I ate it. I can’t eat anymore.”

     “Shut your mouth and open it.”

     “Miss pl-”

     WHACK! Sandpaper on my face. The classroom would spin once and come to a stop while I was seeing stars.

     So I was made to eat stale lunch while I cried all the time. This was a routine thing. She enjoyed it. I detested it.

    In time I plucked up courage and told my parents. (Dunno why I hadn’t thought of that before.) And my dad would take away my lunch box every afternoon after I had had my lunch. I also started eating more. And much to my teacher’s annoyance she had to leave me alone.

    She left the school some months later. The next time I saw her was at a competition some years later. She was standing at the same information desk as I was. Our eyes met. And I’m sure she recognised me. But she didn’t acknowledge me. And she kept giving me that look I couldn’t fathom till I turned around and went my way. I have never seen her since.

    That got me thinking. If she had acknowledged me.. What would I have said to her? “I hate you! You cow.” Or maybe.. “Been whacking anyone else?” Or “Any idea what stale food tastes like?”

   I don’t know what I would have said.

   Life is full of ups and downs. Every experience teaches us something. But this one only left me confused and hurt.

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