Sunday, February 27, 2011


The train leaves our small town station. Both of us seated adjacent to each window in the compartment eagerly glance at our parent’s watches, counting minutes for the next station, Rourkela to arrive. The journey from our town to Rourkela is only thirty minutes, but for us two, eight and nine year olds, the trains seems travelling at a snail’s pace. If we had the strength, we feel we could have pushed the train. We utter loudly each passing station’s name and as the train slows, we shriek with delight. Our eyes wander eagerly to locate the A.H.Wheeler book shop on the left side. “Daddy, Rourkela station has come” and we force him to get up from his seat even before the train comes to a halt. Both of us have been clutching our two precious, round, metallic coins of one rupee and twenty five paisa, the cost of one Amar Chitra Katha comic. The comic is our pastime till we reach our final destination, Vizag.

Our roving eyes eagerly scan all comics displayed and we quickly pick one comic each and hand over the tinkling coins to the shopkeeper. Each of us is allowed one comic for one journey. For both of us, train journey means Poppins, Amar Chitra Katha and roasted peanuts though not necessarily in that order. Each train journey adds to our individual treasure of comic collection. The deal is returning the copy in proper condition to the other party after reading. We both sisters jealously guard our little comic treasures.

Many a time, both of us have grabbed the same comic at the book shop and given dirty glances to each other. My sister would hate those moments when my dad would say ‘Let Chinni have it first, she is younger to you’. I would have a victorious smile on my lips for having the power to read the disputed comic first. We both would write our names the moment we got into the compartment. Sipping their matka chai, seeing us engrossed, my parents also would even wait for their turn to lay hands on these comics.

Each comic of Amar Chitra Katha with its colourful pictures and engrossing tales transported us into a world of its own. Amar Chitra Kathas were our first introduction to the world of Indian mythology, history and culture. I just loved reading stories of various characters of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Tenali Raman and Birbal were my all time favourite characters. Tales of Supandi, stories of Hitopadesha used to keep us kids in splits. They played an immense role in moulding our reading habits. I am positive that no Indian child born in late sixties and seventies can deny their influence as these were such easy reads.

I was fortunate to read them again after many years when I bought them for my daughter. Dasavathara and Ramayana were her preferred bed time reads. She used to rattle names of all the avatars next day morning. They still adorn her book shelf even today.

All of us have moved on in our journey of life, but these journeys would not have been so pleasurable without Uncle Pai. Watching a television quiz acted as trigger for Uncle Pai to launch the first Amar Chitra Katha comic. The kids in the quiz were able to answer questions on Greek mythology, but did not know Ram’s mother’s name.

The nation mourns the loss of Uncle Pai, who died last week in Mumbai. It is indeed a paradox, such immense contribution from a person who himself did not have any children.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I detested the first day I saw you. You had failed that year in class eight and joined us. We had been informed by our class teacher that there would be a new addition to the class and we were strictly advised not to ridicule you. What I remember most clearly was you entering with a beaming smile on the first day. You had a victorious look of having achieved something special. The teacher had seated you in the last bench since you were the tallest. You just slammed your school bag on the desk and dragged the bench with a loud screeching sound.

During one of the breaks you had enquired our names. The day ended and I still remember mentioning to my parents that evening about you. My sister, who was your previous classmate, clearly warned me to stay away from you. Her first comment was Oh! Naresh, eeks. Our fathers were friends. So my parents chose not to comment.

All the class felt intimated by your towering presence. The only exception was your sister, a dear friend of mine. She felt so let down since you were now in her class. I vaguely recollect, not even a month has passed by and you started having quite a fan following among the boys of our class. New tricks of catching frogs, eating from girls’ tiffin boxes, naming school teachers were slowly getting added to their repertoire. They were turning into pranksters.

No teacher could discipline you. I still vividly recall the day; our Mathematics teacher had decided to punish you. She was fed up and wanted to pull your ear but couldn’t reach since she was very short. You just picked her up and placed her on the table. Her being the school Principal made no difference to you. Everyone was astonished, but you found it very amusing and even offered your ear after lifting her. This was the most talked about incident of our school.

The following months had more bizarre surprises in store. One day you caught a snake in the school grounds and started twirling it in the air. Many children started shrieking seeing you holding the snake. You had the nerve to come to school driving a tractor. You were always attracting attention for all the unnecessary reasons. You had even bleached your hair once. Your parents were summoned to school twice. But you had decided not to mend your ways. The word fear had no place in your life. Even deep gashes, fractures did not deter you. But the worst was yet to come for me.

One day as I just walked in the class, you started singing an old Hindi movie song "Madhuban mein radhika nache re ". I gave you an angry look and kept quiet. I was a thin petite girl and I did not have any courage to retort back. I had never realized that would be the last day of my happiness in school. After that, every single day as I walked in, you would sing that same song loud. I had no clue why you had singled me out for teasing. Your sister told you to stop bugging me, but you were defiant. I even screamed at you one day, but that only prompted you to croon even loudly. I grumbled at home that evening. My parents advised me to ignore you. I hated your guts. I wished that you would fail again and that you would be expelled. I desperately wanted to get rid of you. But you scraped through the exams. Next year had more sufferings in store for me.

Our class image was getting tarnished. The ninth class teacher had decided to separate the boys group. Till then the norm followed was boys would sit on one side of the class and the girls on the other side. But now, each girl had to share her bench with one boy. We girls were being punished for no fault of ours.

I was the unluckiest of the whole lot. I had to share my bench with you for the whole of ninth class. I was upset. I decided to keep my school bag in between both of us. You were persistently irritating me with that song. I loathed even looking at you. You took my pencils, pens, compass box without even bothering to ask my permission. Every day at home, I wiped anything that you had used during that day. I did not want any trace of you on my belongings. But you were the typical rugged Punjabi boy who was getting braver. You tried every means to make my life miserable and accomplished it by end of that year.

I was an ardent Ravi Shastri fan. I used to collect his posters. We girls used to carry a picture of our favourite cricket heroes in our school bag and rave about them during lunch hour. One day, during the class time, accidentally Ravi Shastri's poster fell out of my bag. Before I could bend to pick it up, you snatched it. I was too shocked to react. I pleaded but you refused to listen. The moment the bell rang, you showed to all the boys. That was my little secret and you had revealed to everyone. I was deeply hurt and tried to grab from you. The poster tore into pieces. I couldn't control my tears. I just walked out with my school bag. I feigned headache and came back home. That was the last day before the winter break. I started disliking school.

School re-opened in Janauary and I requested the class teacher to change my seat. She agreed and I felt relieved. I never wanted to cross path with you again. But I slowly observed a change in you. You had not mended your ways in general, but you had stopped troubling me. I continued ignoring you. Another year flew by. You did make couple of attempts to talk, but my answers were mostly in monosyllables.

The D-day arrived. We all had dressed in our best for the farewell party on the last day of the school. All of a sudden, I saw you approaching me. I started getting nervous. You walked up to me and said SORRY. I was speechless. You then gifted me a picture of Ravi Shastri. I stood like a statue transfixed to the ground.

We moved on with our lives. I used to get updates about you from your sister. Many years later your parents came over to invite us for your wedding. You sent a seperate invitation for me. I decided to attend the wedding. The moment I stepped in the wedding hall, you played this song "Madhuban mein radhika nache re". I could not stop laughing. You introduced me to your wife as the most tolerant friend you had ever known. I was touched.

All these incidents of our school days seem so fresh. It was a mail from your sister Meena, few days ago which brought back all these memories. The mail brought along tears in my eyes. She had written that a brain hemorrhage had snatched away your life a month ago. Naresh, 'Even those days when I hated you, I had never wished for you to die'.