His name was not but he wished to be called George Haroun Roy, perhaps, a jumble of names from the various books he read. He detested being part of the establishment. Let us call him Haroun.
Haroun grew up in a small town with his parents and 3 sisters. His mother, a homemaker, narrated old stories, the first raconteur he has ever encountered, he was so eager to hear it again and again. The favourite among them was that of his great grandfather’s. He was a retired magistrate. Living in an old laterite stoned house by the road, all the houses in that street are closely packed without compound walls, something beyond our state of mind in today’s times.
It’s a house with thick wooden creaking doors, small rooms, cracked tiled flooring, the weirdest of staircase you will find in haunted houses, with a rope hanging down to hold on to while climbing, no barricades, no toilets in the house, only one in the backest of back yard, where you have to queue up in the morning with a pail of water, going to the loo at night was a real nightmare.
His great grand father, so miserly, and a strict disciplinarian in his profession, he used to haggle with every Tom, Dick and Harry for every anna (old currency) spent. When he got old, had severe dementia, Alzheimer’s was unknown then, irritated by the light of the burning bulbs, having forgotten the way of operating switches, broke the bulbs with his peacock head engraved walking stick!
That was the story Haroun enjoyed most, albeit he had doubts, whether his mother had invented it herself. His two elder sisters, hardly a year and two, seeing his mother handle one, will ask for the other child, when my mother says child is with her aunt upstairs, he will go up and ask for the other. The climbing of the spooky stairs drama continues until he gets tired…
On a certain day, he went missing, it was very difficult to find someone in that old house as a single ray of light could not penetrate the thick wooden doors and windows, best place to play hide and seek, as it was a small locality, everyone knew everyone unlike today, someone said he was seen catching a rickshaw, they didn’t have to go far, near the bus station he was spotted bargaining with the driver.
The day he passed away, at mid night, his mother was delivered of another baby girl in the same house. Delivery at hospitals, not common, a midwife performed without any commotion. When he heard this, he was wondering whether the spirit was transcended into the little soul…
She was all praise for the great grand mother, he had never heard a nickname ‘onnantharamma” (First class mother) like that before, he always wondered how she looked like, angel like with feathers, in his memory ,she was always bedridden.
Haroun’s father, a chemist, deeply interested in horticulture and fertilizers, had few other interests. He was always involved in budding roses, rare lilies, orchids which grow on trees, dove orchids, buying all sorts of saplings from nurseries, nurturing them when ever he is at home. He used to bring his friends to proudly exhibit his collection of rare species of plants.
His father and mother were 11 years apart, representative of two generations. In those days, the wife hardly called the husband by name. He has heard umpteen times, either at the dining table or anywhere else, recalling something his father has said, father trying to clarify whose statement, as she could not address him by his name, will keep on beating around the bush, and the clarification went on and on… The more he thought about it, the more he got confused about the logic behind!
His father’s few other interests being, crosswords, travelling, animal world especially the canine and avian, and of course epicurean adventures. He has seen him working with the Hindu crossword. Such a gourmet he is, enjoying a wide range, South Indian, North Indian, Chinese, Continental. Once when he stealthily got into a local hotel, saw his father sitting at a table and ordering Puttu and upma, both in one go!!
As his father aged, he was more at home, always nestled in an arm chair, kept watching TV. Even to change a channel, for a glass of water, to switch off the fan, he will call his mother. He had no interest in sports, while watching cricket his comment like ‘why not the bowler use a water bottle’ when the bowler was spitting on the ball appalled him. The way he changed names was ridiculous, addressing Pakistani fast bowler Wasim Akram as ‘Nakraman’ irked him!!!
When it was summer, his father, fruits abound, he will devour at least 10 mangoes ( small ones extra juicy, slurping variety named ‘chandrakara’). He will take a step ladder, balance a stool on top, and guzzle on the blood red scram berries. He will sport a local cheap plastic cow boy hat, banana chips in his pocket, a chained transistor , a walking stick to drive away stray dogs, make his way to the yard as a regular morning ritual.
Other than these moorings, all the needs of the house were met by his mother, a very industrious lady. Mending the electrical fuse box, building a shallow area to hold a grid iron for drying cambogia fruits for her daily fish curry with bricks and cement, plucking guava, mangoes and even jack fruit with a bamboo stem and a hook and so on… He used to wonder whether she never tried her hand at driving. She certainly had the technical inclination and enthusiasm.
He used to love her chicken roast, almost a full chicken, after cleaning the innards, stuff with potatoes, onion and masala, sew it with a needle, marinate well with her concoction of chilli, coriander, mustard, salt, turmeric, spices and finally baked. The thought of the headless chicken on the table ready to gouge always made him hungry.
He used to go to a school run by priests, a bit far from home. He used to have lunch from his sister’s house who was staying near the school. He used to save the money for the bus by walking extra distance.
He loved adventure novels. Got absorbed by the unravelling of the conspiracy in ‘The Constant Gardener’ by British novelist John Le Carre. Scottish novelist Alistair MacLean’s ‘The Dark Crusader’ and other espionage stories thrilled him even on repeated readings.
Sculptures drew him, he collected all the moulding materials like plaster of paris, concrete, wood. He engaged himself with carving in wood, fascinated by Michael Angelo’s words “I saw the angel in marble and carved until I set him free”, although not an angel, the carved face was very much human!
He sculpted faces with concrete and plaster of paris. When his sisters appreciated the good work, his mother’s remark (which he accidentally overheard) ‘you appreciate and leave and he will continue making those apparitions’ hurt him.
As he joined the university, he began to lose interest in sculptures, also adventure novels, reduced himself to reading ‘Man eaters of Kumaon’ and the like by Jim Corbett. Like his father, he was also a connoisseur of good food. After all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But is there a way to a woman’s heart? He has not yet found an answer.
Time went by, he became a Doctor. Both his parents left. In his leisure time, makes an attempt to do an encore of the stories to his children. History repeats time and again….