Saturday, September 13, 2008


Antony had been sitting on the hard cement wall for more than an hour, intensely watching a game of basket ball that his seniors played. He never wanted to leave but the boys stopped playing and went home.

Usually, when the court emptied, he sat alone in the balcony. Very few children were seen watching the game for such a long time; either they didn't want to, or their parents did not let them hang around so late after school.

Anthony walked slowly homeward. His text books hung lazily by his side in a rather fancy cloth bag. He had no footwear, but felt no strain on his feet as he transferred his weight confidently to the potholed, pebble strewn PWD road. He had got used to it. He thrust forth and enjoyed the familiar evening warmth of the molten bitumen below his hardened feet. He would sometimes look down and was thrilled by the retreating road between his legs. He derived a strange pleasure in dropping his head and in return missed many people and events on the way. Or was he contemplating on the faces and events that pulled his head down?

He sometimes raised his head and surveyed the tall yellow house of his old friend, which had many windows and windowpanes, some splintered, framed in dark and grained teak wood but sun and rain had dimmed the yellow paint of the decorated walls. Roof-tiles had darkened and mossy edges let moisture seep into the interiors of the house. His grandfather had owned tea estates but his riches did not last long enough to reach his grandson. The tall structure still faintly bore the splendour of rich old times.

This year when the school reopened his friend did not come back to school. He had joined a new school in his mother’s hometown and Anthony knew about it very late, because his friend never told him anything about going to a new school. May be, it was decided during the long summer holidays, when friends never met each other away from school. He did not see him ever since.

Further down the road the wooden billboard of a Muslim astrologer caught his imagination, which condensed the types of human misfortunes that the astrologer could find a solution to. In the early days he never figured out what it meant, nor did he care to seek an explanation. He also looked with interest at a pretty young girl, who often played around the house of the astrologer, in a long skirt and smiled. He was not sure what pulled his eyes to the board, the board or the girl.

After the road curved and straightened, the minaret of the mosque jetted out from the shadow of a tall light green enclosure and two bell shaped loud speakers announced the call for prayer “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah”, five times a day.

All the other houses, on this hundred meter stretch, after my friend’s bungalow, on either side belonged to Muslims. Women, with flying veils pinned tightly to their long hairs, cautiously crisscrossed the road and men in their white caps and bearded faces walked in and out of the mosque.

Carrying in hard cane baskets, Muslim men sold aluminium pots and pans in the neighbouring villages and towns. Some traded in goats, butchered them and sold religiously prepared meat. Some scaled fish without any rites and sold them in the market and made more money. Anthony knew a middle-aged woman called Kunjalu Maakka very closely, who made delicious appams at home and sold them in households for breakfast, for their women couldn't make such soft and milky appams as Kunjalu Maakka did.

He always followed Noushad with awe, a stylish dribbler and a sharp three point shooter, who led the school basket ball team. The girls from St. Mary’s secretly dreamed about his fair skin, curved nose shaped like the beak of a falcon, and Bruce Lee hair cropping, waved down his collar. With every twist of his torso he would wriggle past advancing players and rising in the air wrestled the leather ball into the ring amidst cheering admirers like Anthony.

The middles aged, frail doc at ‘Keeners’, delayed her concoctions in the inner room, while kids with leaking noses, aching intestines and burning foreheads waited on their mother’s laps, for sweet homeo balls.

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