March 11, 2009
"The true paradises are those that we have lost."
From my home, there are two ways to reach Mangalore. One is via Surathkal by highway the fast route. The other one is via Maravoor, the long way. Being a slow person I have always preferred the slow route. On the slow route the first major stop is Kateel, the temple city. During my school days, I used to bunk classes to attend various functions at the temple. The lunches were free. Somehow, these free lunches were responsible for my broad view of religion. They made me a cosmopolitan.
Few yards from the temple there is a bridge, across the river, and if you are lucky you could see the elephant bathing in the river. The tar road snakes ahead, amidst scenic views, finally reaches Mangalore. I have traveled on this road several times. Some time without purpose. Some time just to have an ice cream at Ideal.
On rare occasions though, I have taken the fast route, and got down at Surathkal. There is a beach. Bordering the beach there are many nameless trees. As a child I have built castles on the sand. At night, moon light plays on the sea waves. Other times sky is dark and full of stars. Now and then lights of far ships twinkle on the horizon. Light house makes a period illumination. Meteors fall suddenly. I have closed my eyes and made wishes at falling stars. And each time these wishes have been granted.
There was chaos in the out side world. However Mangalore was like an island. Nothing could possibly go wrong here. In those days, if someone had asked me to describe heaven, I couldn’t have given a better picture than Mangalore. They were beautiful days. They were heavenly days, but they didn’t last long. No Mangalorean had imagined, in their wildest dream, the days that followed.
Arrival at Bajpe
It is not a well known fact that how precariously Bajpe airport is situated. There is a quarry just around the corner. If a pilot presses accelerator instead of brakes - or aeronautical instruments meant for such purposes –then only Gods’ intervention can save the plane. Landing at Bajpe is a nightmare for new pilots.
I always compose a small prayer, just before the landing. “God, please not this time!” just a one liner, but to the point.
When the plane landed this time, I let a deep sigh, children clapped, old people closed prayer books, air hostesses smiled artificially and gave “All OK” look. “Thank you, God” I said.
I saw mom in the lounge: she had not seen me yet. Normally, moms have an intuition for their children. They can feel when their child is in the vicinity. They can always guess what their children are up to, their little secrets and plots. Moms have this pre installed motherly thing. My mom doesn’t have such intuition for me. I am her least favorite child.
She was searching me in the crowd: I was standing right behind her. I gave a small tap on her shoulder. “Hello Mom,” I said. For a moment our gazes locked. We didn’t say anything. I was seeing her after 2 years. There was so much to share; so many things. Where to start? Finally she said: “When did you last cut your hair?”
“You heard me”
“C’mon mom!” I said.
“First thing tomorrow, you are going to cut your hair. I don’t want a hippie in my house.”
She has a thing for long hair. Long back, when dad had gone to see her first time, he had hair up to shoulders. Dad’s family was modern. They were searching for an intelligent wife for dad. They asked many questions to mom. It was a tough elimination process. They wanted to make sure she was the right person. The questions to mom were unconventional. What is the 12th number in a Fibonacci series? What is the possibility of fetching a red ball from a bag of 6 red and 5 white balls? Finally a managerial question – What mom would do if her future son, opts for totally useless profession - that of a writer?
Mom answered all these questions. Later boy’s side asked mom, whether she has any questions. This was just a formality. She was not expected to ask anything. However mom had one question for Dad. “Why the long hair?” she asked.
This was not expected. Dad clearly astounded.
“What?” he said.
“You heard me”
“I don’t want to marry a hippie,” mom said.
“I am not a hippie, I am a fan of – Beatles,” dad said.
“Well, you have to select between Beatles and me.” She concluded.
That was long time back. Dad did the right choice, cut his hair, forgot Beatles, married mom and soon I was born.
Welcome to Mangalore
At the airport, when I opened the door for a lady, she was clearly surprised. Strangers gave me strange looks when I smiled at them.
“Stop your pseudo courtesy,” mom said.
In the car, I noticed, our driver was not wearing the seat belt. I politely reminded him.
“Pardon me Monsieur,” I said, “you are not wearing your seat belt.”
“Shut up and keep quiet,” mom said, “No need for seat belts here!”
In other countries if your mom harasses you like this you can call the police. Police will come and arrest your mom. Then you will be taken away from your mom and will be put in a state-of-the-art child care facility. These countries believe that children are their future. In our country, we are not sure about the Present; there is no question of Future. Many moms exploit this fact.
Security at the airport
Every year I used to get two bottles of Johnnie Walker from Duty-Free. I stopped this after a curious incident at the airport, couple of years back.
The security person stopped me at the airport, “you can not take these bottles inside the plane,” he said.
“For security reasons”
“What security reasons?”
“For example, the content of these bottles could be RDX”
“RDX is solid, the bottles have liquid,” I said.
“Is it? I didn't know that”
“You should know, you are the security person, if I really want to smuggle explosives in the plane, I would probably use liquid Nitroglycerin”
Then a senior security person intervened. “What is going on here?”
“Sir, this gentleman wants to take these two bottles of alcohol inside the plane,” said the first officer.
“Never!” the senior guy shouted. “This could be RDX”
“No Sir! RDX is solid,” said the opportunistic first officer. “But this could be very well liquid Nitroglycerin”
“Smart boy, I was just testing you”
This drama went on for a while. No amount of begging convinced these morons. Subsequently I stopped getting alcohol. Other thing I didn’t get this time is –Tiger Balm that is a different story.
A tiger from Kerala
Every time when I come down for vacation, among other things, mom always wants me to get – Tiger Balm. I searched for Tiger Balm in Boston and New Jersey but failed.
“You used to get it from Middle East,” mom said anxiously.
Middle East was a different story. You could probably get anything there.
One time in Bahrain, I was having Kori Rotti, a Mangalorean delicacy, in a Mallu restaurant. After a while I noticed a man stooping over me.
“Are you from Mangalapuram, sir?” he asked.
This AKA name, for my home place, irked me to the core.
“Yes” I said.
“Nice place sir, however I must say, the people are bit queer.”
“What’s wrong with the people?”
“Like the Mangalapuram crabs…”
“What’s wrong with the crabs?”
“Mangalapuram crabs are unique sir. You can keep them in a lidless container. Like Mangalapuram people, crabs pull each others legs to make sure no one would escape.”
“All crabs do that! Not only Mangalorean crabs.”
“No Sir, last time we had some Italian crabs; not knowing much about them I had kept the lid open and was doing some chores outside. Like the Italian people, crabs helped each other, when I came back the container was empty.”
I knew the moron was lying. But I was not sure.
“Sir, Let me tell you a story, to justify my point”
“I don’t want any stories. I am a story teller myself,” I said.
“Sir, please hear my story. Unlike the things happening in Mangalapuram, my story has a moral.”
I kept silent. He continued.
“Long time back, there was a boy working at our home in Kottayam. He was an orphan. He was doing the chores at daytime and night used to sleep in the corner. Hard working boy, sir. I treated him well; He worked for me few years. One day this boy comes to me and says - he no more wants to work for me; he says he wants to go to Arab land. I told him, very well, go to Arab land, work hard, sell them sand but don't forget your old master; off he goes to Bahrain; I thought that was the end of it. But in few months he sends me a visa; can you believe that sir? And now here I am, working in Bahrain. The boy works in the adjacent store. We are no more master and servant. We are equal. Now I have not read - 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but isn’t this an effective approach? Tell me sir, is this possible in your holy land - Mangalapuram?”
This universal brotherhood story didn’t move me. Provoked by my silence I heard lot of praise for Kerala People. How they have captured the Middle East market; how they survive at any place; how a Mallu surprised Tenzing at the top of Everest; how they can do any work and get anything needed in the market.
At this point I suddenly intervened: “Can you get me, Tiger Balm?”
“You need a tiger?”
“No. Tiger Balm,” I said.
“Oh! A balm for your tiger?”
“No. No. I need Tiger Balm”
“What is that?”
“It’s a balm”
“..for the tigers?”
“No. For human beings”
“Let me see.”
He vanished for fifteen minutes, when he was back he had 2 small bottles of Tiger Balm. I paid for them and came out.
I stopped, when I heard someone calling. It was the same person.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” he said, “For the right price I can get you not only the balm but also a real tiger”
I didn’t have much time this vacation; Most of my time was spent for my apartment work. When I was a teenager, it was my dream to own a small house near the river and a small boat. Over the period some how this dream has been replaced by a dream of living in a concrete cement box in the sky. I blame grandpa for this paradigm shift.
Long time back my grandpa had an option of buying a flat in Mumbai for just 1 lac. He didn’t go for it. Not that, he didn’t have money; he had one lac: probably more. He didn’t like the flat being on the 10th floor. “I don't want to live in the tower of Babylon,” he said. “I want to live near the grass”. He was a grass root person.
My mom, the most practical non-artistic person in our family, tried to talk him out of it. "Dad this is a wrong decision," she said, "even your grandchildren will regret it." She was right. I regret it even today.
Grandpa didn't budge; he built a shelter, in an obscure village, outskirts of Mangalore. Till some time back, this house was in a pathetic state. We tried a lot to rent/sell the house. No one showed interest. Finally it collapsed one day. Today there is no sign of the old house; instead there is a thick patch of grass where the house stood once.
As of now, the Mumbai flat, the one rejected by grandpa is worth in crores. I can never think of buying that kind of flat. Last time when I visited it, watchman said: “We don’t have any openings.”
“Thank you, you are most kind,” I said.
“Come in December, we may have something,” he said.
“Sure,” I said.
Nevertheless, not to repeat grandpa’s mistake, I have taken an apartment in Bangalore. You won’t believe the amount it cost me. The EMI will be finished only after my death.
Builder had asked 10 lac down payment. (My ex dream house near the river, with the boat, would have cost me less.) I didn’t have that kind of money.
When I asked mom, for the down payment, she said: “Are you into drugs?”
Parents no more believe their children! The worst prior generation in the history!
“I know you are into drugs”
“God! Mom I want the money for house.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, “Let me ask you this. What is the difference between Marijuana and Heroin?”
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What is the full form of – LSD?”
“I don’t know”
“Which English word is derived from, - hashshashin; that means, ‘hashish eater’ in Arabic?”
“Mom, how would I know all this?”
“Ok, you are clean,” she said, “Do you really want money for the house?”
“You should be ashamed of yourself to beg money from old parents.”
“I am ashamed of myself. “ I said.
I was busier on my vacation than working days. I attended several weddings; sometimes as many as 3 on a single day. At Ideal, I tried their new delicacy – Tiramisu. It was devine. At night attended buffalo race, Boothada-Kola and Yakshagana. Yakshagana lasted till early in the morning. From there went straight to church for the early morning mass; prayed for everyone, including agnostics and atheists; tasted Kori Rotti and Chicken Sukha at many local restaurants; drank diluted toddy at nameless local joints.
People seeking donation made my life miserable.
“We are building a stage,” one group said.
“What happened to the stage built last year?”
“Last year we were demolishing the stage, not building,” they said.
“Oh! What happened to the one built last to last year?”
“That’s the one we demolished last year!”
“God! This is so confusing. We have more stages than Shakespeare had plays,” I said; gave them some money.
Life insurance people crowded me all the time. They were more concerned about my life than my mom. I already have many insurance policies, with a considerable amount at stake. I have a constant fear that my beneficiaries would delve into some kind of plot to avail that money.
Then something happened.
Someone got murdered for no reason, near to my home. Few days later there was another murder. This time the victim was from a different religion. Holy places were attacked. Then ladies were attacked in a pub.
Few weeks back, In Bangalore, I met a middle aged man in the local bus. We talked this and that. He came to know, I am a software engineer.
“My daughter is also going to be a software engineer,” he said proudly, “she just finished her BE and has been campus recruited by Infosys Mangalore.”
“That is very nice,” I said, “I am from Mangalore myself. It is a nice place. We have many temples and beautiful places to visit. I am sure your daughter will enjoy the new place.”
He hesitated for a moment. Then he said: “We are opting for a change of place.”
“Mangalore is not a safe place,” he said, “She is our only daughter.”
“That way, no place is safe,” I said.
“I know, may be I am just possessive about my daughter.”
“Which place you are opting for?”
“Any place, other than Mangalore,” he said.
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