Small Town-World View (My Cousin Series)

Some of the things that Private, MS and my cousin discussed were world issues. As this was 1970’s small town with no Internet or TV, everything was hearsay. The fact that they had never ventured more than 50 miles of our town, did not read newspapers or listened to someone who was even remotely informed resulted in very interesting observations:

There definitely would be a world war III. India and Russia would be on one side and Pakistan, America, China and England would be on other side (these were constantly changing alliances and there was no reasoning behind it). We will win because Lord Hanumanjee is on our side and Russians are 7 feet tall.

Never eat meat! If you do, you will immediately become a Muslim and becoming Hindu again will be very difficult. Once you become a Muslim, they will cut your penis (this was their understanding of circumcision). Do you want to be a penisless Muslim?

Japan is a great country to be a schoolboy. You don’t have to read any books. You just make radios in school and TV’s in high school.

Never marry a Luzkrakter (Loose character). Never fall in love with a Sikh or Muslim girl. Their families will kill you.

Never marry a very beautiful woman because all your friends then are not visiting “you”.

Never marry an ugly woman. Your own children will be scared of her and you will have ugly children.

Bengalis are brainy but weak. Gujaratis are good businessmen but cowards (Gandhi never beat one Firangi). All south Indians are Madrassis and all they eat is rice. Always respect a fat man because they generally represent good families and are wealthy. If stereotyping was an art form these were the greatest artists of times.

All white people were from America, England and Germany. I tried to tell them that I have heard about countries such as Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark etc. They would immediately dismiss me. “We are talking about countries and you are talking about cities.”

When a girl says no, she means yes. Because that’s how they are!

If you want to find out if a girl is in love with you, all you have to do is shoulder bump her. If she smiles at you, she is in love with you. The details after that were sketchy but it involved giving a love letter as soon as possible. Because if you delay that part, someone else might shoulder bump her and she might become someone else’s.

Never trust or follow a person with toes in the back and heel in front. They are ghosts.

A love story; Boy is all in (part 2).

boyBoy puts his best clothes together. Boy tries them on, discards, hates, likes, throws them away and tries them on again. He puts himself together with effort. He does not have polish, he only has effort. And two tickets to a show for which he has begged and begged. Boy is all in.

Boy walks into the hostel where girl lives. He calls for her. His palms are sweaty. His legs are shaking. Girl comes out. She does not know him. She is puzzled. She does not know who called for her. Boy is scared. But it has to be done. Boy is all in. He walks to her. He starts speaking but realizes he is stuttering. Boy is headstrong. Boy is becoming a man right this minute.

He tells her that if he is not mistaken she likes classic music. It is so difficult to find people who like classic music. It so happens I have 2 tickets for the artist and would she want to go with him. Boy has become a man. He won’t be buried under an unmarked tombstone.

She is speechless. This has never happened to her before. Girl does not know how to react. This is very different from her world. This is illogical, unreasonable and pure madness. Her world has an order. This is anarchy.

Girl tries to place his face from somewhere. Has she seen him before? Who are you? Do I know you? Boy shrugs his shoulders. How do you know I like classical music? Boy is all in. He is going to dive headfirst. I have been trying to sit close to you and I overheard you. Isn’t that stalking though? Boy shrugs his shoulders again. Girls takes another look. He does look scared despite his bravado. At times he seems like he is going to cry. Harmless, girl thinks.

Why do you think I would go out with you? I don’t know. Did you learn classic music? No. How did you get in classic music? My father used to play records all the time when I was growing up. What artists do you follow? Boy had prepared well. He answered it perfectly. They talked some more. The aliens from two different worlds slowly trying to feel each other. She is a white cloud on blue sky, he is trampled grass.

The girl seems to have softened. Look, I appreciate you coming here and offering to take me to the show. But someone already asked me and I did commit. I am sorry. But may be some other time! At this very minute, boy realizes that he is in love. He does not mind that she has already committed and will be going to same show with someone else. He is happy that she simply did not turn him away. He is slowly choking. He tries to say something but the words won’t come out. The girl looks and feels something. He is not coarse. She is touched that Boy can cry. Boy simply nodes, turns around and walks away.

Boy is in a daze. He does not know what just happened. He is a mess of joy, sadness, tears, question marks and adrenaline. He has never been so sad. He has never been so happy. He is almost nauseated with emotions. He can’t believe that she was almost ready to go with him.

Boy wanders around. Someone has a party. Boy drinks and then some. Boy laughs, Boy cries. Nobody knows what is going on with Boy. Boy is drunk. Boy throws all over himself. Boy passes out. Boy wakes up. He is not sure if it was a dream. He retraces his evening. This was real. Boy has a hangover. Boy is throwing up more. Boy is in love, heart-broken and hung over. Boy is becoming a man.

A love story-Boy is all in!

boyThe boy was shy, the girl was not. They were products of the same society but from different strata. She was polished, he was not. They were in same place but circulated in different universes. To see her he had to look upwards, she could not see him even if he was right in front of her. She smelled of generational success, he reeked of self-doubt and destined failure. She was silk, he was all edges.

There are rarely “love at first sights” in real world. It is a continuous hum dum of calculations, league to which one belongs and self-perceived notions of success and failure. The typical love stories are found in grave yards buried under tombstones which read nothing.

Boy sees her face fleeing through a crowd of faces and he feels something. Something within him stirs. A strange feeling! Just a strange itch. Nothing more. Earth did not stop rotating, flowers did not suddenly bloom and there was definitely no music in air.

Boy does not remember after few hours, girl does not even know of his existence. Boy sees her again, same strange feeling again. What is it? This time the feeling persists. He has an ache in his heart. He is puzzled. Boy does not know what to do. He tries to sleep. It won’t come.

He hopes he can see her next day and every day. He makes sure he does. But their paths don’t cross. She has her own friends and he has his own. Even their friend’s paths don’t cross. Boy is learning that even in one world we have different orbits around which we revolve.

The things are getting worse. Boy can’t get his thinking straight. What is it? Sleep won’t come. Everything is a drag. Life seems so barren, pointless and colorless. Not a single thing brings any joy.

Boy realizes that he has to do something. But what or how remains elusive. Does she even know that he exists? Boy tries to gradually gate crash in this world of privilege. He tries to grab a seat little bit closer in class and cafeteria. He wants to hear her voice. He wants to hear her laughter. He knows it is not for him. It makes it even harder.

Boy gets lucky. He overhears her that she likes classic music. Boy can’t stand classic music. But he finally found something that he knows about her. Boy goes home, turns radio to a classic station. This time it does not sound so bad. In fact it is almost pleasant. Boy goes and buys classic music cassettes. Boys learns names of singers, their music and reads about them. But boy still can’t get anywhere close. The invisible barriers are way too strong.

Boy gets lucky again. Or may be he is making his own luck. He finds out there is a classic music concert in coming days. He has heard her saying the name of singer. He begs, borrows and begs some more. He gets two prime seats for the show. Boy is headstrong. He is going to make it work. He will try something that has never been done in these parts. Boy is going to be a man. Boy is all in!        To be continued…..

Bathing and such luxuries in 1970’s small town India

lifebuoy

A Lifebuoy soap broken in half with a hammer. This was done to “save money” by housewives.

One of the things I remember growing up in India was bathing and washing products. The first memories of any soap I have are of Lifebuoy. This was not the type of Lifebuoy soap in some fancy wrapper you see now days. It was a no-nonsense hardcore tool. It was pretty much a red rectangular thick brick. It used to produce very minimal foam if any. I think the plan was to rub it vigorously against skin so that top layer would peel by sheer friction. This torturous activity was carried out in all households with children at least 2-3 times weekly.

The children protested it and based on their method of protest could be categorized as screamers, hiders, biters, spitters and cursers. But the soap them ruled all was Lifebuoy. Though highly unlikely that any kind of dirt will escape Lifebuoy’s vigorous rubbing, there was also a rock specifically designed to get rid of that stubborn dirt that even Lifebuoy could not get off.

mustard

Yes, it was a cooking oil as well!

After the bath, the body was massaged with mustard oil. Those of you who never had this soul scorching experience, just imagine a yellow colored, foul-smelling thick viscous grease. This thing adhered to anything it was applied to. And applied it was! It was rubbed in hair, to face and whole body.

The torture did not end there. After this there was Kajal (mascara) applied to eyes, which was equivalent of water boarding for a child. If you never had the pleasure of this experience, imagine being 5-6 years old, being held down by all fours, someone forcing your eyes open and slithering a black powder inside your eyelids. It was applied to both boys and girls eyes. After this a black dot was put on forehead or face to protect one from evil spirits. There was also a black string tied around waste for the same reason. Only after all these things were done in this particular sequence, you were ready to face the world.

thapi

This is what was used to beat the clothes.

The washing soap was even more hardcore. It was a thick rock looking slab. It produced no foam. Women (no men ever washed clothes) continued to rub it against clothes and beat the heck out of clothes with a cricket bat like wooden slab called Thapi. In fact women were very happy that this soap lasted so long. I honestly believe that this was another cruel joke played on women by men. This thing was no soap, just looked like one.

This was creepy as hell!

Once in a while we were taken to barbershop. Rather we were conned into going there. We were made to believe that we are going to get some sweets/toys. Once we realized the con, most of us started to scream, cry and run away. But it was too late. The shops had one person whose job was to hold kid down while “master” did the cutting part.

At times your barber could be a trainee. This could result in some real unfortunate results. Grandmothers got very mad when they saw what has been done to apple of their eyes. As all grandmothers believed that their grandson was the best looking kid, they walked right to shop and told the shop owner what they thought about them. The “master” would try to fix trainees misdeeds and occasionally slap him a couple of times too.

My Cousin-Sex Education

questionMy cousin asked me, if I know about “it”. I asked him about “what”. He asked if I know how girls are different. As I was 10, I told him that apart from being annoying they are just like us. He shook his head. But why are they girls and you are a boy? Because god wanted it that way. You are an idiot, aren’t you. That’s the problem with you city types. You don’t know anything about real life. He was real frustrated. (In 70-80’s small town India there was no sex education. It was a taboo that nobody spoke about. Society did very best to decline existence of sex).

He changed his tactics. Do you know how babies are made. I told him parents pray and they get what they want. If they are real lucky they get boys. But where do they come from? To repeatedly not sound like an idiot I told him what I knew. I had heard somewhere that there is an umblical cord. I assumed that babies come from mom’s umblicus.He just kept on staring at me. What is it that you learn in those city schools?

He got write down to work. He drew some real disgusting sketches and crude drawings. They were so bad and not even remotely close to what you will call “reproductive organs” that even god could not have identified them. I told him so. He got real angry this time. Is there anything that you city types know?

He realized that there is no point going around in circles with me. He asked me what vagina is. I told him is it something to do with Japan. “You idiot, that’s where the babies come from”. No, they come from umbilicus. And besides how do they get in there in the first place.

“You really are an idiot”. He tried to find out if there was a cow giving birth on nearby farms. So he can show me a live birth. I told him that I have no interest in any such thing. But then how would you know about vagina. I had no idea that you needed to watch a live cow birth to find out this vagina thing.

His next idea was to show me a “magazine”. This was a very strange magazine. Most of the pages were glued together. I asked him why are they glued together. He said something like “beggars can’t be choosers”. As soon as I opened first page, I realized it was a “dirty” magazine. I immediately closed my eyes and told him that I am not going to look at dirty things. This time he got really mad.

“What is your real problem? Why don’t you want to learn anything new. Do you want to end up like that farmer from 3 farms down who did not know what “it” was and went childless simply because he did not know about “it”.

 

My Cousin-part 7

My Cousin, Private and moustached seducer (MS from now on) finally settled on a girl. A letter using my cousin’s ink and wisdom of MS was prepared. Private suggested writing letter in red ink and claiming that writer has written it with his own blood. MS advised them against it because he had already tried it. The girl fainted and then everybody knew about the letter.

The letter started with a “very new and original” opening which meant something like flower-body (Gulbadan) when translated.

The opening paragraph informed the girl why she is the lucky recipient of this letter. Apparently the letter writer finds her very pure and not a “loose character” at all. Though she is not particularly beautiful but she is not ugly as well. The writer has seen fairer girls but he is willing to overlook this deficiency because he thinks she is pure. Purity is very important to letter writer.

The next paragraph informs the girl a little bit about letter writer himself. He is tall, wheatish, has all his teeth and combs his hair to left. This was followed by conflicting and contradicting bits so my cousin could not be identified if the letter falls in wrong hands. He is tall but not very, could be fairer than wheatish and sometimes might comb the hair to right. He is a good boy, very good in studies and will definitely become “Collector, Doctor or Engineer”. These were spelled as “Klakter, Daktar or Enjuner”. I tried to correct them as even I knew couple of these spellings but they hushed me and told me not to bother grown ups when they were working.

They also decided to finish off a potential competing lover early. “And I am definitely not that Subhash who is not a good boy and says bad things about you. He is not pure and he wants to make you impure as well. If you become impure and a loose character who will marry you then? Not even a Sardar! Do you want to be with a Sardar or me?”

The ending was something like “forever yours” or “someone who can’t sleep at nights”. This was followed by a not so gentle reminder that the writer looks forward to a positive response. Otherwise he has other options. Off course there was never a name. That could get you in serious trouble.

My Cousin- the mating season (Part 5)

As he lived in a fantasy world inspired by Bollywood, he felt the needs for a “Heroine” of his own to be a real “Hero”. Now this was a major problem in a small conservative town. The girls were brought up in a very traditional manner. The plan was to get them some education, trained in household chores and marry them. They were not even allowed to go to movies but for religious movies and that too accompanied by female family members. These girls had no idea about romance and love. This drove my cousin crazy. His opinion in general of girls was poor.  He felt that god has played a cruel joke on him by surrounding him with this town’s girls. He would tell me that if he was in Delhi he would have at least 10 girlfriends. He believed that in Delhi girls walked around looking for a guy just like him.

It was impossible to reach these pious virgins. The schools were separate. The school gate was permanently shut and all communication with outside world was cut. Doormen guarded it and police station was not far away. All these measures were in place simply to discourage characters like my cousin. The girls would walk to school in groups, constantly monitored by all the self-appointed Mohalla (neighborhood) watchdogs and chaperoned by hawkish matrons. The same routine was repeated in evening. The school headmistress had a fierce reputation for beating the Romeos with a stick if they were found to be loitering around girl’s school. Such were the odds against which my cousin was fighting.

His methods of reaching these thin pickings were strange to say the least. The modus operandi was that you write something like a love note and get it to the girl somehow. My cousin used colored ink for this purpose. As per him girls were more likely to respond if the letter was written with colored ink. He would mix blue ink with red to get some kind of a pink shade, which he felt was sufficiently romantic. But it could not be too pink otherwise girl might laugh at you for being “girly”. You also had to make sure that girl knows who sent the letter but your name is not there. If you wrote your name and girl’s family found out a thrashing was in order. The girls’ family also reported to boy’s family, which sometimes resulted in another thrashing. He also never wrote letter himself because that carried the danger of writing getting identified.

His partner in crime in these endeavors was a buddy of his. His academic credentials were even more impressive. He had already failed so many times that he had been officially removed from school. Such students could only take state board exams as “private”. Everybody called him private from that time on. The Private lived on farm next to ours. He was a result of prayers and offerings to all kind of gods. His parents already had 4 daughters and off course how can a family be complete without a worthy son. The prayers were answered and they were blessed with Private.

Private was living a dream. He did not go to school, slept for close to 12 hours a day and pretty much did not do anything that can be considered productive. Any time his parents would ask him to do anything, he would threaten to run away. The family was hoping that if private somehow managed to pass 10th grade they could marry him off. If my cousin had zero ambitions, private had negative ambitions. He already felt that he has achieved a lot. All he lacked was a “Heroine” in his life to make it complete.