Thursday, June 21, 2007


Five years of college in a popular city college ensured that I marked my attendance more regularly at the cinema multiplex close by. While I could blame this truancy on coursework that neither demanded any effort nor inspired to learn any more than required, I think it is a very usual and widespread college-goer tendency. Anyway, this Thursday afternoon , I found myself outside the multiplex with A, staring at the posters while we decided which movie to watch. We had been there 3 times already since the Friday past and that meant we had already seen every movie that was worth watching. Victims of media sensationalism and prey to the controversy that was created for this very purpose, we decided to watch Mallika Sherawat's "Murder" making sure Mahesh Bhatt recovered at least some of the money he had spent on raking up all the hullabaloo. We bought the tickets and seated ourselves on the parapet wall nearby while we waited for the previous showing to get done so we could go in.

So we sat there, establishing whose idea it really was so that jibes and looks of disbelief from others when we confessed what movie we had seen could be directed to the rightful party. There was a tap on my shoulder and I turned around to see a Murugan, 8 years old as he later informed us, and a beggar. However, a beggar unlike other beggar kids. He was clean and did not have the sing song "Amma" tone that , unfortunately, drives even the most charitable ,away from these people nowadays. Very lucidly he proceeded to tell us that he had not eaten all day and that his little sister also needed food so we should go around to the restaurant nearby and please buy him food.

A and I exchanged glances and instantly knew we were going to help the kid only because we are both curious about people in general and something out of the stereotype, such as this kid , was most interesting. Our conversation with him for the rest of the 20 minutes we did spend with him went something like this:

A: So where is your sister?
M: She is outside the restaurant saar. I left her there so I could find someone to buy us food.
A: How old are you both?
M: I am 8 and she is 6. Our mother died last year because she got sick. I have been trying to get a job since but some days, like today , I can't find anything to do and we have to go hungry.
A: (Opening mouth to say something, even as M continues)
M: Its not safe you know, leaving a young girl like her alone around here all day. I want her to go to school but that also needs some money.

(A and I have grins on our faces by now not knowing how much of this right-out-of-a-movie-story to believe but we liked his spunk.)

M: What movie are you going to watch Sir?
A : Oh we are here for "Murder" that hindi movie.
M: The one with that woman sitting showing her back? ( Promotional posters of Murder had a back shot of Mallika in a backless swimsuit).
We grinned in agreement.
I: Why Madam you are letting Sir take you to such movies? ( MUAHAHAHA! I like stereotypes when they help you establish whose idea the movie could have been!)

We reach the restaurant and sure enough there is a small girl , looking as clean as Murugan standing there. She sees Murugan and flashes a really cute smile and suddenly this little white woman with the halo over the head appears on my right shoulder and chides me for doubting Murugan's story even if for just a minute. We go in and the restaurant owner greets Murugan warmly, like he would, a daily customer. Murugan informs us that the man lets him and his sister wash up in the restaurant everyday so they can look as clean as they do.

Murugan orders the meal and A offers to buy him dinner too, but Murugan declines. The take out parcels arrive , we pay for them, hand them over to Murugan and say our goodbyes. It's time for the movie.

That makes-you-feel-good-on-the-inside feeling that comes out of having done a good deed is very special and adds the proverbial spring to one's step. Urban India, unfortunately, makes one so cynical that 20 paces later, as we entered the movie hall we knew we had been had. The spring giving way to stomping and the kicking oneself for letting an 8 year old take you for a ride. Murugan was probably returning the food parcel and making his money, giving that "sister" of his her share. Fortunately the movie was about to start and the excitement of being in a theatre to watch Murder of all movies took over quickly. The movie was , to put it charitably, a big disappointment in every way but did make us laugh a lot ( least of all when it was trying to be funny) and forget Murugan for 2 hours.

As we walked out toward the bike parked by the parapet, our blame-game now raised to a shout match, two little hands waved at us from the corner and in a picture perfect shot we saw two big smiles on two small but very happy faces.

Friends in Small Places

Summer is a good time to start doing all that you have been procrastinating because you run out of inane excuses relating to coursework and research. Finding myself in that position right now , I start here something I have been meaning to do for over 6 months now.

My admiration for Ruskin Bond stems not only from the fact that I think his prose has an easy style that I would myself like to emulate but also from the often O. Henryesque depiction of very Indian characters. My favorite collection of his writings is a small book called Friends in Small Places. It is a collection of essays of snippets about the various cameos in his other books and in the 2 pages they each claim, they take you along on a very endearing journey of a slice of their lives. Their likeness to a lot of people I have personally known makes it closer to my heart even as all the warm, fuzzy, sometimes not-so-nice but always real feelings I relate with them emerge everytime I pick up the book and read an essay.

That said, with this post I start putting forth my own set of short essays on people I have known..peppered of course with a lot of fiction driven by my constant useless daydreaming of what could have been :) . I am also thrilled with my recently acquired knowledge of adding labels to my posts ( STOP! before you go on about what a primitive art it is and suchlike blah.... ve are like this only!) so posts in this series shall henceforth be under the FISP label.