Winter – Romance

I met G on New Year’s Eve 2016 at Mandi House.

It was winter. The best part of winter. When it’s cold but not too much.
You can smoke fumes out of your mouth in the thick morning air while walking to class. Peas still sprout when soaked overnight and Parachute oil hasn’t frozen in its entirety in the bottle. You wear just enough layers to not need a bra (at least the less endowed ones), yet do not have to hide your cute sweater under another quilted jacket. The chilly wind against their scantily clothed chests hasn’t eaten into the rickshaw bhayyas’ pace in the mornings, yet.

Shaving of course is out of the question.

At this point, I need to confess a couple of things. My roommate had been away for almost two months, and I was thoroughly enjoying it.
I lived in my natural habitat of a cluttered room, the little floorspace was filled with copies of The Hindu and printed fliers of IAS coaching material, collected and shoved into my bag after class. I’d started wearing bhasmam regularly because it reminded me of people I love. My warrior of a chair carried a backbreaking pile of dirty clothes to topple over any moment and I went to class in the clothes I went to bed in. The bed itself was filled with Haldiram’s Aloo Bujia, a thin plastic cover of 5 tomatoes bought for 10, and leftover packs from previous tiffin any time of the day.
I fit my body in there somehow.

Evenings were dry and beautiful with an occasional warm drizzle, and by all means I avoided being in my room for long. It’s when (home)sickness slowly creeps in and lodges itself on your neck to stay until dinner.

I was doing India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra. Love you Zindagi played in my room every night after I returned from the reading room. I routinely smiled at other building-mates and refrained from (/clearly avoided) talking. By this time the chetan at the sambar vada/pizza sandwich shop that had open counters and high tables knew I wanted chai to the brim, just like the chetan at office does now. Old Rajendra Nagar was filled with puppies that followed you on the roads and needed to be fed from your tiffin bits at night.

The terrace was still the only place I could see the sky wasn’t as little as it seemed from amidst all the buildings on the ground.

Probably most important bit is I didn’t have to zone into my thoughts like I do now and did before. I was living in them.

In college, I’d go to canteen alone for a lot of different reasons, and I was lucky to always have people that asked “Are you here all by yourself?”
It was only after almost a year I realized I was disappointing people with answers such as “It’s alright” cos they thought I was upset at not having company. So I later rephrased it to “Oh a friend is coming. It’s alright” and things were sorted out. Unless they decided to give me company until the friend (never) came :D.

I hadn’t talked to a soul at ORN in the course of these two months. Except the sabjiwala and Komal at my reading room reception. And New Year’s Eve was to be spent watching a play at ShriRam’s Arts Center, Mandi House. Alone.

(Yeah don’t worry, a friend was coming).


“Can I have one at the extreme back please?”

First time at a theatre alone and I had mistaken a play for a movie, and extreme back for  balcony view.
G in the second queue overhears and looks over, smiles a friendly stranger smile. I return the smile and wait for the doors to open.

On the way to the Arts Center were walls painted Inquilab Zindabad, posters of Che Guevera, lots of young and older men and women all of whom seemed like students. Reading newspaper and eating Maggi, outside shacks and shops nearby and on circles around tall trees. And all I could think was how I’d have turned out had I joined DU and studied English, or even joined for MA after B.Tech.

I wasn’t sure then, but when was I ever?

I’d quite probably have turned leftist, sat under those trees reading The Hindu, turned up in loose neutral kurtas instead of my favourite Lifestyle sweater, worn chappal instead of Converse and carried a cloth bag instead of Wildcraft. I’d probably still have turned up for this play. Probably.
At least I knew I wasn’t a literature person by then.

As soon as I get seated I realize my folly. I can hardly see the actors’ faces, having especially asked for the backseat. The play is about the revolt of 1857 and I have a leaflet about the troupe and the actors. They’re probably college students, always rushing to catch the Metro for their practice sessions in scorching summers and chilly winters. I would’ve impressed with my Doordarshan-imparted Hindi, though started from the top every time I missed a line.
I would’ve sucked with the lines.

Memorizing dialogues and scenes, indulging chai sessions between, and Maggi from that shop outside on lazy afternoons after naps. Streetplays on weekends, processions at India Gate, LeftWord Books for every book launch. Never miss a LitFest and never miss a lecture. Debate over Yechury’s points on the phone with Achan and borrow Amma’s sari for characters when I went home for vacation.

I don’t really know how differently I’d have turned out.
What if’s and I have had a romantic relationship since forever anyway.


There’s a cosy canteen attached to Centre’s right with low tables and chairs. It’s evening now and the sky is losing light, it’s getting chilly outside. I sit down with hot chowmein at an empty table. There are a couple of benches and desks outside, and through the door I can see young students in their sweaters and mufflers clicking selfies before their foods arrive.
We could all be at a tea shop in a beautiful hill station at Manali or Nainital, sipping tea and eating chowmein. Barfi could jump in any second singing Iss dil ka kya karooon with Ileana De Cruz in her long dress, shoes and pink hairband. And I wouldn’t need to get up and dance because I’d already be.

Next to me, a lady who I’m positive appeared in Taare Zameen Par to judge the painting contest comments “Isn’t Three Arts Club doing quite brilliant these days?”
She has grey cropped hair,  wears a starched saree and is seated with other older men who look like they could be college professors or The Hindu editors, with a general wise air. All neutral shades. They drink tea. I wonder if I should’ve ordered tea with my chowmein.

G appears opposite to me at my table, placing a bag on the last vacant one, and has ordered Maggi. I shift my water bottle away from G’s plate, polite. I’m hardly ever impolite to strangers. At this point I’d like to say I’m one of those I’m sure everyone’s good at heart people. I love being disappointed.

“Is it your first time to a play?” G is smiling more broadly than the summer sun.

“I’ve been to a couple back home, first time alone though.” G sits down.

“So where are you from?” “I’m from Kerala. Where are you from?” I can’t help the full sentences amidst all the smiling.

“Delhi.”

I smile broadly as well.
Like when you find the flavor of tic-tac you were rummaging for in a large bucket at a supermarket. Except there’s no way we knew each other’s flavors. Yet.

G is an arts graduate. PG in English Literature. Civil Services preparation.
“ORN?”
“Yes. You go to Vajiram?”
“I go to Sriram.”
“Evening batch?”
“Morning, actually. You must go in the evening batch?”
“Morning, actually.”

Later as we walk out from the canteen into the tall trees, under the orange lamps I can spot G’s backpack that says WildCraft. I smile stupidly, like Swetha says I often do when seated by the window in our office bus.

Everyone should have the privilege to meet themselves, sometime.


I had earlier decided I’d remain stoic for as long as I could hold out. But that New Year night I talked to more humans over Never Have I Ever. And realized I’d always, always loved people.

When Umadri packed up and left for college in late May, I asked her to list out the things and people she’d miss (yea I do that). On top of the list, was who she was when we were at ORN.

Some days I think I’d give anything to go back to being the unfuck-withable dragon-hunter. Impenetrable to my mother’s calls to life as we know it.

Why is life not the way I know it?

IMG_20161216_175545                                               Old Rajendra Nagar, Winter 2016

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Cry

I’m a crier.

I mean I own a weak-ass heart that feels too much.

It’s funny because I didn’t quite cry for a long time, although I was sad for the longest time. Then came this study leave before sixth semester exams in college when I cried 24×7.

Like after a breakup you look at your face in the washbasin mirror but realize it’s already wet all over with tears.
Like you don’t cry for two decades, and then you do.
And you can’t stop.

So one evening after my second last exam I cried to someone, and although I didn’t think it was possible, this time I cried it out.
Well, most of it. Which is when I started crying for all the right (you decide) reasons.

For those of us that feel too strongly, crying just happens to be the easiest release in a world where we’re a minority. It isn’t reserved just for when I’m really sad or really happy, it’s for everything overwhelming in between.


At how time conned us, and didn’t let me meet my parents’ magnificent younger selves.

As most 70/80s songs play, I can see my father contesting elections in engineering college (to lose, of course) in black & white, while my mother (in color, cos she has described the shades of her college saris to me) is studying her ass off in medical college hostel. Achan vehemently yells SFI slogans in CET while Amma scoffs at party members in MCH, and they both listen and tap their feet to the same songs, but I never got to see or hear any of it.

Neither know at the time they’d marry each other. Or that they’d have 3 kids who’ll listen to them humming these songs (with a much much lower tempo) some 15 years later on moonlit nights at engineering college quarters, sleeping on their shoulders and laps and chests. So I was upset when I finally heard the originals of Aayiram Padasarangal Kilungi  – “that’s NOT how you sing it, those are not even the lyrics, this record is all SO wrong”.
Because that’s not how Achan sang it to us.

Some days I wonder at how beautiful the world looks during sunrise and wish I could broadcast it across people’s minds in a network so we can feel one another (okay Amal I know that sounds wrong on many levels).
Or how we could both be looking at it and I could be thinking of you right now, and you could be thinking of me, but we’d never know.

And the sunrise could be a Kathak performance or a ghazal recital, or two lines of a brilliant poem or a song or an instrument, the beauty of how its boundlessness dissolves us into one, for as brief and fleeting a moment it be.

Like listening to Vijay Yesudas’ Malare and remembering that’s the closest I can listen to his father’s voice sing it, and how we weren’t lucky enough to belong to the generation whose lives can be traced along Yesudas’ songs.

Or those dusty college windows with sunlight streaming into classrooms and how there was never such a romance as Premam to enjoy all of that on evenings after classes, how I never had the appetite for those back then either.

Of how we were (I mean I was) ugly and sweaty and sick dressers in school (and college, pfft) and how the people and the happiness was innocently believed to be ‘a trial version of what’s to follow’ yet the trial was the best there ever came.

That there was this magical duet of If I Lose Myself we practised during monsoon 2015, when the song could hardly be heard over the patter on chetan’s studio roof, that we never took a video of, that the world never got to see, that’ll die in team memories.

Or of how we cycled through the college forests at Madras at 4am on borrowed bicycles after placing a wrist watch on loan, stopping under orange streetlamps for breaths and shouting across roads, turning in zigzags as trucks passed us by, not knowing it would be our only time.

Of how often I deserved to lose so many from my life yet how they always stayed. And stayed.

Of longing to have known certain people just a little bit more, and to have hung onto certain chapters of our lives just a little bit longer.

How life is short and life is unfair and life is cruel and yet how it comes back together to us every time. And just how much we endure in those hopes. Alone.

Of the stories we hear delivered, and how there remains so much more untold.
Of how no poetry is more beautiful than the conversations we leave unexplored.

And at the end of the day, how we all deserve more.
So much more.


I know most of this is worth smiling over. But you can only smile so much.
And then you can only cry.

No?

I was middle class before being middle class was cool

I lived a major part of my life thinking we’re a poor family. It started when I was really young, like 5 or 6, was confirmed by the time I was 7 or 8, and stayed until I was done with my 10th (15 years). By ‘poor’ I don’t mean unable to afford meals, but more like we have the bare minimum and nothing more. Of course we weren’t anywhere close to rich, but I was young and I didn’t know there existed such a thing called ‘middle class’.

Yes we were middle class before being middle class was cool.

(Although I thought we were just poor).

I mean we’d lived in staff quarters since I was born (Engineering quarters till I was 4 and then Medical college quarters), I never owned more than 5 presentable (to non- relatives) clothes at a time, 4 cousins shared one double bed during summer vacations. That might be enough for a regular child but me being the self-centred kid I was, it was the more personal stuff that convinced me we were poor.

My parents were of the opinion that Manichechi (my aunt) already spoiled me by buying everything I wanted so they were under no obligation to make matters worse.

For starters, I never got any dolls from my parents – Barbie or otherwise – the fact that I never wanted any doesn’t matter. All little girls need dolls, okay? Buy your own daughter some dolls, for my sake. And when they paint monsters on the faces and detach all the limbs like I did is when you stop, knowing that she doesn’t deserve any. I also innocently checked under the frock for underwear (there wasn’t one), probably would’ve highlighted them as well.

In the evenings, Maami our maid cooked us snacks. On Maggi days, she boiled a single packet of Maggi and apportioned the noodles onto three plates. One packet for three okay?

These were only subtle hints my parents were throwing at me. There were more cruel ones.

I don’t think anybody could relate to Swamy (from Malgudi Days of course) more than I could. (Well maybe Achu Annan could). When Swamy prepared the Shopping list for Swamy and had to think hard to make sure those few things he jotted down were the only ones he needed and reflected at how his needs were so little, I must tell you I already knew he was stretching it a bit too far. Of course only to have the list brutally dismissed by his father’s “Take whatever you want from my drawer, I don’t have money to spend on all this.” I was relieved to know there existed other households like mine, if only in books.

The first time I asked my father explicitly for pencils (I don’t know why I remember it this way but it was really explicit) he cheerfully replied “Oh why didn’t you tell me you wanted them” and bought me a whole packet of Apsara HB. The next time I decided to cheerfully ask since I had such a considerate father, he asked me what I’d done with the bunch he bought me the last time.

You needed to reason for everything. Buying groceries at the Margin Free Market, he’d stand in billing queue with the full basket and say “Now go grab whatever else you want quick”. Pleasantly surprised (it was my first time, how would I know?), I picked up no less than what my tiny arms couldn’t carry. My father cross-checked the items and only what I really needed went in, plus 3 kitkats.

Next time on I had to pick things up before he stood in the queue so he could filter out Paru’s excesses. Trips to Margin Free ended that way, me attempting a critical examination of my own choices (really I was only trying to decide what I could hope to coax him into buying).

We always bought new clothes for Onam and Christmas and Deepavali but it was usually my uncles and aunt who took us shopping so I assumed we probably didn’t have much money to spend on that, or whatever grownup reason they had. And we never owned anything fancy at home or to wear.

At British Library we could pick 5 books among the 3 of us from WonderLand kids’ section (alright 2 since Achu Annan hardly cared about it) and I was under so much pressure to finish reading as many books as possible while we were there so I could take home other books. And I would negotiate with Kannenan, how many do you want to take? 3? Why are you picking THAT it doesn’t even look nice – if you’re taking 3 today it’ll be my turn to take 3 the next time. (*scrunches up face* you HATE books, why’d you do that to me Mr.Kannan, why?)

British library taught me I should always space my kids properly.

Also our Medical college quarters was so stuffed with all the furniture. During powercut nights you could hear Lagaan songs playing from Achu Annan’s Walkman and I would be choreographing my way through all the clutter, dancing wondrously until my toe hit against a stupid tea-pow. I’ve learned over the years that no matter how big/small the living room or even the house, my father will find a way to fill it with furniture.

So the time that I was very young I don’t know if I thought we were poor as in poor poor (‘tight’), but I knew that our lives had a lot of constraints. Also read : you can’t always get what you want, you may almost never get what you want unless your parents are in a good mood, ESPECIALLY if it involves spending money. And I took it upon me to correct them if any friends had the notion that ‘college professors and doctors earn reaally well’. (I don’t anymore since they revised the Pay scales).

I only realized when I was 15 that I’d vaguely thought of us to be people without money. (Some things you don’t realize, they’re solemnly understood, or something like that.) What happened when I was 15? My second brother went to college somewhere poor families probably don’t send their kids – no it wasn’t somewhere superposh but you don’t know how unresourceful I thought we were. You should’ve seen my face when I asked Amma if we could afford it and she replied with a suddenly formal ‘both your parents have been working since before you were born, we should be able to afford education’.

I was furious with her for almost a month after for letting me believe we were poor (it’s still true we didn’t have a lot of money) but of course I was happy we weren’t anymore. Not that we lived any different post-realization.

From time to time I complain to Amma about how I had to compress all my Shopping Lists for Paru just like Swamy did, and how having 3 kids was a bad idea and they should’ve had just me. Well you turned out fine (define fine? :D), she says, now get a good job and you can have kids and raise them the way you want.

She only says that cos I already told her if I ever have kids I’ll leave it upto her to raise them.

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Also, 2 kids maybe fun but 3 is the best 😀

But who misses home?

Do evenings still make you miss home, they ask.

Pfft no not any more that was almost a year ago when I’d just left Trivandrum.

It was New Year and we were supposed to celebrate. I knew we were supposed to cos the reading room had remained shut. So the 60-odd souls, some unbespectacled (like me from the good ol’ days), mostly with specs and clothes worn straight for a week were made to dig up their roots growing from beneath their seats where they sit eating up WiFi all day and night, getting up only to attend calls and nature’s  calls.

The reading room basically shoves its occupants out once in a while viz. Holi, Christmas, etc and that’s how we know that it’s been a month or two or a year even. Well, two in some cases.

Since we were supposed to celebrate, I stayed in my room, ordered food and chomp-chomped watching Julia Roberts eating (well something between that and sucking in but isn’t that how many of us slurp it) spaghetti off her Italian plate, Katut sermons in tropical and sweaty Bali, When You Say Nothing At All in the middle of a park and singing Forever and Ever at rehearsal dinner table at the Best Friend’s Wedding.

I slept off somewhere in the middle.

When I woke up, it was dark and raining. Outside the window, there were lights and honking from rain-induced traffic below.

The tall curtains were only half-drawn and there was an army of headlights at the signal. Orange streetlamps bathed the building in front of mine from under, a pigeon was perched on its roof against the deep maroon sky, or was it?

Slanting slivers of rain hugged at my panes and more kept beating against, drowning everything else with them.

And I had that really strange/lonely/confused/clueless feeling when you wake up after an evening nap, and the first question when you open your eyes and scan the darkness around is (always), Am I in Hogwarts? Gryffindor Living Room? We must be on our Hogsmeade trip, I probably slept off. And finally to find out what ‘gingerbeer’ tastes like. Where are the others though?

Then you come to your senses that it isn’t Hogwarts. You never caught the train, never got the letter, you missed the feasts and the Sorting Hat and the Quidditch and Fred n George and everything else JK Rowling had promised. This is when it’s worst, when you feel like you missed the last 10 years of your life in ignorant sleep, when you are reminded that Hogwarts was a big big joke on you, and even if it wasn’t a joke, you’re 22 now. So again, joke’s on you.

In these deep situations, I usually decide I’ll make do with chaya if not gingerbeer. So I call for Amma.

Except this time, there was no chaya either. So I was just sitting on my bed, staring at the window not least because it was an inconsequential Jan 1 – it always is – but because it was evening. Alone.

Achan Amma were probably watching the 7pm news in our living room now, an old habit that stuck on from the days of Doordarshan. He would have attended the JanaMaitri meeting in the evening and she would now have lit the lamp and he would have shut all the windows to keep out mosquitoes, and they would’ve settled in front of the TV after tea.

Usually, it used to be Achan Amma and me on weekends. Usually, we would eat the stew I had cooked after extracting the three thengapaal’s (coconut milk) watching Om Shanthi Oshana at 5 pm (Asianet played that a lot).

Oh look who else wears shorts at home like paru, she says.

At least she doesn’t look homeless, says he, every time. Oh pinne’s (Yeah right’s) would surface. It happened so often it is almost a ritual.

Do evenings still remind me of home?
Some days, especially New Year’s, I think.

But what’s life without a little missing?

Evenings away from home

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It’s 6.30pm and it’s baking outside. Better than it was at say 10, or even 3. But still hot. The sky is a tasteless greyish blue, and you spot the tiny orange ball so elusively far from you it makes you feel lonelier than you were before. Evenings are the worst time to be when away from home. Especially if Kerala is home.

Unlike Delhi, where it’s evening till 7.30 and then it’s night, you’re used to evenings that metamorphose into dusk before they turn into nights.

In Kerala we have a (proper) slow evening whereafter, as twilight sets in, mothers hastily wake up lazy tots and grown-up kids saying “Sandhya ayi”, who then go back to sleep again. It’s the time reserved for evening prayers and, on text, study. It’s the holy hour and it really does extend for an hour. Celebrated by the scents of incense and the sight of oiled wicks and brass lamps that you so endearingly associate with your mother’s perennial “Velaku kathicho” (Did you light the lamp). On other days, an exasperated Amma does it on her own. But you always went there so you could cheat on an extra agarbati and carry it to your room. As the thin wafts of smoke rose while you held the stick, you danced it so that the grey grew patterns, you watched them against the dark. You also fancied it to be a cigarette when you were young, and held it between your teeth before the biting sweet burnt your tongue.

Evenings at home are chaya always prepared latest by 6 by Amma. But I do make it better – I’m good at cooking only one thing but at that, I’m the self-declared best. I brew it strong, which can raise BP and induce a whole lot of other disorders according to elders. Your mother would keep asking to check if you’ve had your tea, you’d reply “I’ll have it, Amma” till with a loud sigh she’d bring it to you. You’d unabashedly grin and drink without complaints. She never complains either.

Evenings at home are the huge – indeed they’re bigger back home – orange ball slowly traversing the sky in an arc till it disappears in the horizon, or amidst a thick green of coconut trees as dusk approaches. Traffic peaks too – after-office hours. Many would be rushing home in terrifyingly cramped KSRTC buses and overcrowded pavements, some unlucky others would be making their way to night shifts. Amidst all of this, the trees would be gently swaying – relishing the retreating evening sun and the slow-cooling air. Now that I think of it, everything back home is against the backdrop of a cheerfully brilliant and imposing green.

Because concrete roofs do not define us, coconut trees do. Sunsets mean a lot to us too – perhaps you’d like to call it consequential to having a beach. And perhaps you could never expect a city without one to resonate that.

What pacifies you in these passive evenings is knowing that someplace else, somewhere a little far for you and 4 hours away for an air-passenger, the same sun is setting amidst undifferentiated green and a beautifully painted sky, somewhere not too far from there are kids frolicking in the wet sand and families watching the playful waves as the sun touches the horizon. And a bus-ride from there is your home, a vessel of still-warm tea waiting for you as Amma lights the evening lamp.

It’s raining!

My favourite season is here. To sit on the window seat of a KSRTC bus watching the looming clouds and romanticizing the things they’ve seen on the way. To sip steaming chaya and munch on piping hot ethakkappam from the overcrowded tiny tiffin shack that everyone scurries into as the downpour thickens. To sit on the verandah reading your favourite book and drinking hot kappi. To watch the shadowed buildings and the shady skies with your companion to decide if it’ll pour. To dotingly complain about not having picked the umbrella Amma handed on your way out, then carelessly remark ‘Maybe the dams will fill this time’ or hope ‘the rains don’t destroy our crops’. To sleep in, blissfully unaware of the position of the sun. The best weather in God’s own Country.

They said on the news a day ago that monsoon’s finally arrived. Of course I knew, it’s been raining heavily out the window directly facing my bed and indeed in other parts of the state for some days now. I’ve also been conveniently using it to explain my laziness to get out. Before, I abused sleeping late and before that it was the summer heat.

So I no longer have to spend time listening to Neeraduvan, wondering rather poignantly what waterbody would’ve replaced Nila had my future husband written the lyrics, and of course how lucky ONV’s wife is. After squeezing myself in amidst all the other stuff that occupies it, I can now lie on my bed and  watch as the sky, murky with the heavy clouds, tosses light breezes down below tugging at our frames. Soon to throw long heavy showers that send forth the cool of moist air and the comfort of familiar odours into half-lit rooms, invading the stagnant warmth and introducing the new season.

And I pretend to be a blogger seeking inspiration, before sleep lures me in rather unprofessionally.

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Evening Coffee House visits

Whenever I can, I visit the Indian Coffee House at Medical College for veg (beetroot and potato filled) cutlets and coffee and on hot days, their soothing refrigerated fruit salad my cousin and I found last year.

I only discovered the MC branch towards the end of my second year. Before, I would frequent the ICH near Statue, after visiting Public library or sauntering through Palayam. The place was mostly filled with middle-aged intellectuals, some working youngsters, a few college-goers, and a couple of odd families now and then. I’ve sat next to tables of wise-looking uncles who’d be engrossed in discussions of economics and politics, at other times next to long curly haired artsy people in kurtas vehemently discussing films and media. I’d wondered if some day when I grew up, I’d sit there discussing serious shit with my grown-up friends. Probably not cos they shut the place down a couple of months later for violating food quality standards or smth, or are they open again?

Every time I passed the watchman by, he’d give me a weird what-are-you-doing-here-kid look. I’d come home and inquire, “Amma, do I really look like a kid?” and she’d say “Pinnallathe, 10th standard max”. I’d sigh, secretly smug that I look so young but go on to complain gleefully about my parents’ genes (they’re both short, Amma’s even shorter than me). (I love complaining).

After the news spread about the unkempt kitchen –that’s what amma told me it was – I discovered the one at Medical College. Of course, it had always been there and I’d overlooked it, after the clothes on the corner chair in my room and my many messy tables and the newspapers that loyally arrive home everyday.

It was more convenient for me too, considering I stay at Ulloor. So now I don’t have to wait until my Public library due date to visit ICH. In S5, S6 my visits were few and far between, as dance practice engaged us on all evenings and most weekends. S7 started, bad stuff happened, princi kicked the dance team out of the dance room and Paru ate more ICH cutlets.

Visiting the ICH is a delightful thing. It’s like an hour devoted entirely to solemn sacred indulgence, so oft repeated yet always gratifying. No I’m not going overboard in describing them cutlets man, just read on. I usually go after 5, earlier if I’m craving ICH cutlets or in the mood to get out in the hot afternoon sun. It’s a 4-minute walk from my place to the bus-stop at medium pace. I walk all the way to ICH if there’s an hour to sun set (takes hardly 20 minutes), else I take the bus on a 7-rupee ticket. There’s a constant smile playing on my face on days I take the bus because it means I’ll be getting the sunset scenes complementary. Actually I always take the bus, the free stuff is pretty much star of the show 😀

I get down at MC bus-stop and cross the Chalakuzhy road. The place is overflowing with lower middle class men and women, relatives of patients staying at Medical College Hospital, all from different parts of the state, flasks and tiffins held or hanging from one hand, buying hot tea/tender coconut for the inmates or getting bites for themselves from the array of tiny chaya kadas and bakeries there.

There is a guy with his pushcart selling chaya+kadi, other street vendors seated by their platter of home-made assortments, there’s even home-made tea (I know right, must be good why else would they be permanently seated here), vada and idiyappams, idli and sambar, etc. The roadside they sit on is wet and always smelly coupled with the stench from bleaching powder carelessly sprinkled over the narrow open drain adjoining the footpath. The medical shops, general stores, all attending to customers. Throngs of people crossing the main road during STOP signals. The multitude of faces on foot, the unending lines of cars and autos and ambulances to and from the wide MC entrance arch. Vehicles parked in front of shops in no orderly way. Nothing’s different today.

The play begins. From where I stand now, the sun is a brilliant orange behind the Dental College block on the left. The world slows down here. I could stand for hours watching it, just as I could when it’s behind Palayam palli or at CET, but the memories they evoke differ. The setting sun here reminds me of all the evenings when we stayed at RMO quarters behind the Dental block (they were demolished some years back to construct the OP blocks) from when I was 6 until 10.

The veiled medical college ground seated somewhere deep behind the many hospital buildings and the bifurcated roads and all the trees. I have a single vague memory from when I was 9 or so of walking to the ground for a cricket/football game one evening with my brothers, the sun was the same brilliant orange then. The summer vacations we spent stealing mangoes and guavas from yards of empty quarters and hiding from kozhikkallans (chicken thief). Evenings spent playing cricket and football (I sucked at it) and badminton and cycling until sun went down with Achu annan, kannenan and Biju and Aju chetan and listening to the prayer calls from a mysterious mosque somewhere far away.

I’ve been coming and standing in the same spot watching the same sun remembering the same stuff here for so long but the novelty never wears off. I always wondered how nice it must be to go there every day. Probably not for the ones that do though, I’m sure they don’t stand out here on the smelly road watching the sun on the other side, reminiscing stuff. (At night, with the orange streetlamps and all, the MCH is way sexier than CET, that too is subjective I’m sure). (OK amma enne kollanda). (Aarum enne kollanda).

Just to clarify things here, when I say MCH, I’m referring to its whereabouts and the places and people without referring to the Medical College hospital itself. This is a convo I had with amma back in first year (she works at SATH inside MCH).

“Amma, there’s SO many medical shops at Medical College and Ulloor alle. Appo aarku marunnu venengilum ingot varande, it’s so easy for us since we live here”. “That’s because it’s Medical College”. “I’m also talking about Medical College only”. “I’m talking about the hospital, paru”. “Ethu hospital, oh, OH. OOOOOH”.

That’s the day I remembered (soon to forget tho) there’s a hospital in there. I mean I always knew it’s a hospital, it’s just been in the background all of my life so I never really thought about it. Ok so it’s not just a place with students and goodlooking pg chetans and friendly chechis and some strict and some fun professors and tonnes and tonnes of people. I keep forgetting it from time to time, though.

I know there’s a lot of suffering you have to overlook to see the beauty here, and maybe only when you own the memories I do too. Then I think of the front blocks where my brothers had been admitted more recently, a little bit of guilt sets in and the odour catches up with me.

Walking to ICH from here takes around one minute. It’s a tiny footpath, dotted on its sides with old men and women selling cigarettes, paan masala, lottery tickets, toothpicks, mirrors and combs. Everyone’s walking past briskly or pausing in front of shops to read signs or making their way in, and more crowds take their place on the footpath as pedestrians dissolve into shops.

The time spent in ICH itself is pretty uneventful. I almost always order Veg cutlets with coffee/tea. If my parents are home, I get them packed too after tasting the beetroot sauce (they’re often too soggy or too watery or bitter). But almost every time, the taste differs. The ICH at Shangumugham always gave cutlets that tasted the same, perhaps cos they were consumed after being crusted with the salty breeze from the beach, or cos I was too young to notice. Even they shut down after a while. Once in a twenty batches or so, that old taste from the beachside ICH is delivered. I can’t describe the taste, but my father says it’s all potatoes and beetroots topped with more beetroot sauce and doesn’t do much good for the tummy. The last bit isn’t true, but rest of his description is spot on.

Well he suggested the famous ICH mutton omelette as good for the tummy once when I was a kid and that was the day I thought I was going to die of a stomach explosion (I got gastritis and get it every time I smell mutton from afar ever since). So no thankyou. Beetroot cutlets with beetroot sauce please.

Otherwise filled with relatives of people from the hospital and the working class, if you visit during 11-1, you may catch some pg’s with stethoscopes hanging around their necks walk into the partitioned doctors’ tables section. A few uncles/aunties always give me weird looks (here it’s are-you-here-all-by-yourself). I re-read the wall-hung menu board every single time I’m here, just the Malayali me complacently making sure nothing’s new. They keep updating the prices, that’s one thing they do. And the person at the counter NEVER asks me for change. Do you know how rare that is in today’s world?

The slow stroll back home is only the second best part of ICH visits. There are less people crossing my path now, wider roads. The medical college blocks to the left, some I’ve never visited, others I identify from having often curiously observed from home during nights. The orange sphere can be spotted where the buildings part, and to the right side, in the spaces between the proximate apartments, I catch glimpses of distant houses and coconut trees and mobile towers rising up from the bottom green patch against the blue skies. Somewhere there, my distant future awaits and I’m smiling again. It’s also (for some really weird reason) where my past resides. I’ve no clue why, I think somewhere along I associated distant past and distant future with literal distances 😐

The PT Chacko Nagar roads have been in a pathetic condition for too long, all opened up and left on their own. I walk a bit more, watching my future lying so far away, where I’m working in a bustling metropolis, all by myself and shit. JK, more often the image is me sleeping on the floor of a living room with hard copies of draft articles strewn all over.

I reach Ulloor, cross and reach Akkulam Road. It’s a downhill slope now on, the sun directly infront moving down the horizon, beckoning me back. From here, the journey is effortless, I just have to follow the straight (and make way for Biharis now and again) and usually takes longer than 900 seconds since the frame is reluctant to let go of the evening.

 

PS: Written after last visiting ICH yday evening