K was his name. A natural leader, philosopher, knowledgeable and who stood front in every event that happen in our world. He was short, dark – somewhere I have read that most of the dictators the world has seen are short stature – and K was one in such a mould! He was our savior on all those fights with the next street boys, he had the courage to climb over the electric post to retrieve the cricket ball that was hit to the neighborhood terrace during street crickets, and he knew how to ride a bicycle with both hands off the handle bar! As kids most of us were naturally attracted to him and we followed his rules - without any questions.
He and I were class mates from classes One to Seven. The very first incident I could remember was when we were at class 3. K took my ‘balpam’ without my permission – for those who are not familiar with it: imagine a smaller version of Chalk that as kids we use to write in black slates. When I asked back for my priced possession the answer I got from him was a pinch using a safety pin on my thighs. Like all kids I screamed suddenly at the class and I was loud enough to attract the class teacher towards us. I complained about what K had just done and the teacher decided that this was too big a case to be handled at his level. So he sent us to the principal’s room with the class rep to represent the neutral view! Now the class rep was no real great leader and was afraid of K. In one earlier instance, during a lunch time rumble, K managed to emerge victorious – ripped off the rep’s shorts and thrown it to the exhaust fan opening near the ceiling! And the rep ran back to his home half naked to come back only the next day!K walked towards the principal’s room briskly urging the rep to speed things up. Being a bony guy physically, I could barely manage to enter the principal’s room two minutes after both these guys. In this small gap, all that the class rep could manage to convey the half deaf principal was the exact opposite of what happened– that I used the safety pin on K’s thighs. Being a busy & angry man, the principal didn’t think much – he took his bamboo stick and promptly landed two blows on my thighs – tit for tat!
Weeping loudly I conveyed that it was the reverse and in both the instances my thighs were punctured for no reason. By now the seriousness of the whole issue was lost and K got only a knock on his head. I can never forget this gross injustice committed to me. And for the rest of the years we managed to stick around, K was always the winner.
K led the things from front in our street as well. He decided who would get to bat and bowl. He decided who would stand in the third man position. All of us were somewhat mesmerized by him. He had a charisma to attract people; He knew many of the Tamil Bad words with meaning; Sometimes he would be so nice to me, with a hand around my shoulders; talking loosely; sometimes he would also attack, push, hit me suddenly from behind; He was never predictable. He had many things to share with us during our afternoon meets at the backyards; like how he felt when he smoked a cigarette! In our world those days, girls never had a schema of things in our routines; they had their own games and functions (like Thirupaavai, Paavai Vizha) separately. We all used to feel very shy to talk about them; talking about girls was considered inferior. The best way to humiliate a person was to call him a ‘pottai’ (meaning a lady!). But K had many stories to tell us which were beyond this border! He explained us about the primary physical differences between male & female. He would narrate some of those posters he had seen in the barber shops – we were never allowed to go to the barber shop – the barber would come to our homes for his duties! He would explain us his heroics – like how he followed one of our street girls to find that daily she used to meet a person behind the temple chariot! He had seen a couple from the street at a closed house in the street during noons. When we tried to do the same invariably we found nothing! He would show some of those torn pages from some old books – that would have content and words which most of us couldn’t understand. We would beg him to explain them – he would not! He would demand for 50 paisa! That was a big money for us in those days! Or he would demand for fifty match box labels or ten glass marbles per word. We could not afford them – and till the end I never got the chance to look at those pages! His stories were exciting – something we never heard of!
K used to be very much a leader with a lot of partiality. Most of the times he lied; he favored his own people; if I would have got into a brawl with him directly, probably I would have won! But though physically I was taller than him, I never had the courage inside me to fight back. He would never pick up the cricket ball from the gutter – I had to do it!
Some five or six of us would collectively put some money and rent a cycle for an hour to learn cycling. K was an expert already. In the name of showing us how to ride, he used to ride the cycle for almost half hour. We were made to run with him till the street end and back – just to watch how he rides! The rest of us had to share the remaining half hour! He taught most of us to cycle! I was very slow to learn – one day suddenly he took his hands off from the back of my seat when I was still very new to cycling. I didn’t realize that! The instruction was to look straight! I was riding the cycle at an angle for some distance suddenly to realize that there was nobody to back me up! I was scared – I could not stop the cycle as at that time I could only climb or get down from a cycle from an elevated ‘Thinnai’. I could not find a suitable place to stop – I didn’t know how to turn – the buttermilk vendor was coming right in front of me – shouting ‘Saami – paathu; paathu’. She tried her level best to get away from the way – she climbed to the parapet wall of the gutter – As I was looking at her ‘straight’ as per the instructions, without my control the cycle was running towards her. I collide with her and both of us slipped into the gutter! The pot was broken and her per day wage was in gutters! None of my mates were to be seen around! I got up and ran towards my home and went to the terrace and hid behind the chimney! The vendor came to my home – shouted – got the compensation and went away! To my surprise, instead of being angry with me, my grandparents were busy checking if I was hurt! And they consoled me saying it was all normal when we try to learn new things and the next time I should be more careful! That day I thought I understood my grandparents better! K made me pay for the damages done to the cycle conveniently overruling his contribution – stranded me in the middle when I was quite new to the learning process!
A game of Bambaram
K was an expert in the game of Bambaram.The game of Bambaram had again very simple rules. All of us had to go at the same time for the ‘Goes’ – this was the ‘toss’ for the Bambaram game. The ‘Goes’ process was – one of us would count get, set, go. All the players should wind their Bambarams with their ropes, unwind it on the ground to rotate and then pick it up with the rope as quickly as possible. The primary skill on this relies on shortest rope length usage and still make the bamabram to rotate on the ground allowing you to catch it back with the rope– K used to do it with simple two winds of the rope; I needed atleast four winds; some others needed to wind to the full extent; If the Bambaram failed to rotate on its nail on the ground – we call it as ‘Mattai’, you lose the toss. Or if you fail to catch the Bambaram through the rope then you lose the toss. Similarly the last person to finish the ‘Goes’ lose as well. Their Bambarams would be placed inside the circle drawn on the ground. The rest of the members would have a go at the Bambarams inside the circle. If you manage to land your nail on the Bambarams inside the circle it would leave a mark – called as ‘Aakkar’ in our circles. The best player’s Bambaram will have the least number of Aakkars – and as usual it was a matter of prestige. To avoid our main Bambaram getting too many Aakkars, we would always keep a spare on – we called it as ‘Pondatti Bambaram’ (Pondatti means wife in Tamil). We used the ‘Purushan Bambaram’ (Purushan means Husband in Tamil), to give Aakars to others’ Bambarams and used Pondatti Bambaram to receive Aakars from others. We take special care of the Purushan Bambaram. We would hand pick the nails from the black smith work shop, sit with him to see that he inserted the nail to our Bambaram without any cracks. We also would do a couple of dry runs to ensure that all was well before paying the blacksmith his 60 paisa! We would collect the lids of the soda or cool drink bottles – which we used to decorate our ropes. We would put a hole at the center of those lids and inserted the rope such that the lids would form one end of the rope and the other end would be used to start the winding process. In our petty fights these ropes with solid lids at one end used to serve as our weapons as well and those blows really hurt!
K started the culture of playing Bambaram at the school also. Normally we get around 45 minutes lunch break. We would all finish our lunch as quickly as possible and used the rest of the lunch time to play. Normally we played football with a small rubber ball and one could imagine the pathetic looks of our legs – without shoes playing on hard sand that too chasing a rubber ball! The person who carried most of the cuts was hailed an expert! Some of us broke our nails! We had scars all over our legs that are left by others' nails! But nothing stopped us from playing that game! I didn’t join the Bambaram gang initially – my grandma used to check my bag before I leave for school and invariably she removed all the ‘unnecessary’ items from it. So I could never manage to get my two Bambarams to school! K started bullying me, consistently stirred my ego at the class rooms – that I am afraid of receiving aakars and I didn’t dare to face him in the game. In between periods he would shout 'Pottai' - the whole class would laugh including the girls! Slowly it acted on my mind. The only other way to handle this pressure was to participate in the game – but I needed a Bambaram for that! I checked with some of my friends if they would be able to lend me theirs, in vain. I realized that I needed to get a new one for school!
I started saving some money towards it – it took me two whole months to save the Two Rupees I needed to buy the Bambaram. I used to get 25 Paisa per week from my Grandma towards the expense of filling air to the cycle tyres. If you could help yourself at shop with the mechanical instrument to fill air it would cost 10 paisa. The normal air compressor machine would cost 25 paisa. I preferred to use the cheaper option, sweating it out as I saved the rest towards buying a new Bambaram. I practiced hard at the backyards of my home throughout. Finally I managed to buy a new one on my way to school! I also fixed up an agreement with one of my other classmates that he would maintain the Bambaram for me and bring it to school everyday! The very first day, at the lunch time rumble I proudly displayed my Bambaram and joined the gang. I was always good at the ‘Goes’ and so I managed not to get into circle. I had a field day displaying very good form! A couple of rounds went by – I managed to leave some Aakkars as well. I had a proud look at my face – looking round to realize that even some of the girls were watching the game!
In a rare event of concentration lapse, as K was trying to get rid of a person from the circle, he failed to take the catch smoothly and so his Bambaram went inside the circle. I was excited to the core – the moment I was waiting for! There was my chance to prove K and especially the girls that I was better than the best! I took my time to wind my Bambaram tightly - Aimed properly at K’s Bambaram which was kept at the center among the rest of them. I whipped my rope with full force to release my weapon and I was on the dot! My Bambaram’s nail landed right on the top of K’s Bambaram and left a nice, deep Aakkar on its pink face, sent his out of the circle – but then the lady luck deserted me once more. My Bambaram went on to ‘mattai’ after hitting K’s Bambaram and I could not complete the ‘catch’ process! Mine went inside the circle and K had his weapon on hand! He was enraged to see the plight of his possession - the Aakkar from me - He aimed, released his weapon – on the dot – my Bambaram broke into two pieces! Once again K was the winner! My two month’s savings was lost in a second! Two tear drops on my eyes! Not willing to stand there anymore, I collected the two pieces, ran into the classroom! My agreement with my friend to ‘maintain’ my Bambaram never got materialized! And on that date I swore that I will never again play Bambaram at the school and I managed to keep that promise till this date!
… to be continued …