That night, Ganu could not sleep. He had frightening visions of Jayabalan dragging him off to Lanka and pounding him with his mace.
Sivaramakrishna Ganapathy loved food. In any form, shape or size. The larger, the better. He looked rather like an extra-large road-roller and the village boys had a great time teasing him and pulling his leg. Ganu had a huge complex about looking like a beached whale, but no matter how hard he tried he could not keep his hands off food. So he simply took the barbs in his stride and was quite happy until the day he met Mr. Jayabalan.
The name itself was enough to strike terror in the hearts of all seventh graders for seven miles around the village. Mr. Jayabalan was the drillmaster at Ganu’s school. He used his stick generously, and when the boys stole the hateful thing and threw it into the river, he used his hands to lift them by the ear and instill some sense of discipline into their unruly minds. During every class Mr. Jayabalan would make it a point to call Ganu apart and make him perform all the difficult exercises. The slightest hint of resistance from him would result in a spanking session. Ganu loathed the man.
Ganu had only one friend, Shyamu. Shyamu never went to school like he did. Instead, he worked in his uncle’s bi-cycle shop. Shyamu was a thin dark boy, with a crop of curly black hair. Ganu and Shyamu would often spend long evenings by the river, enjoying the cool evening breeze and gobbling up the delicacies made by Ganu’s mother. When Shyamu had money they would spend it on stick-ices and Kamarkattus. Ganu was very fond of the sticky & sweet Kamarkattu, never mind the fact it sometimes upset his stomach.
On the way to school, Ganu caught sight of Shyamu at the bicycle shop. Shyamu was squatting on the floor, poking at the wheels of a rusty old bicycle. The uncle was nowhere to be seen.
“Going to school?”
“Yes. I just don’t feel like attending class. Jamboo will take life out of me today!” Ganu told him, referring to the drillmaster.
Shyamu had a brilliant idea. “Hey, why don’t you bunk class? We can go for a movie at the Diamond Talkies. NTR’s Sampoorna Ramayanam is running there!”
The Diamond Talkies was the sole theatre in the village and the owner being a fan of the erstwhile hero NTR featured only his movies. It was a dilapidated structure that looked like it might collapse any moment. Ganu hesitated. His father would kill him for this.
“Oh, come on! I have a lot of money today. We can have Kamarkattus and ice-cream cones during the interval.” Shyamu prodded.
That clinched it. The thought of going to the cinema, even to see an old faded rerun was undoubtedly more enticing than having to go to school and facing Jamboo’s exercises. And if it meant having ice creams and kamarkattus, Ganu was ready to brave anything. even his father’s lectures and Jamboo’s spankings.
They walked down to the crowded theatre. Shyamu managed to weave his way through the milling crowd and came out disheveled, but victorious. He held two pink first class tickets in his hand.
“We are going to see the film in style!” He smiled at Ganu who let out a loud whoop of joy. They settled down to watch the movie.
A hush fell over the audience as the lights dimmed and the credits came on the screen. Scenes from the movie played in the background while credits flashed. There were loud whistles and claps when NTR who was playing Ram, smiled at the audience and bestowed his benevolent gaze upon his faithful followers. One of the spectators jumped up and did a little jig on the theatre floor to welcome his hero.
Ganu enjoyed the film thoroughly. He wept with Dasarath and laughed at the antics of the monkeys. He cheered Lakshman when he cut of Soorpanaka’s nose. His mood was really upbeat when the interval came.
Ganu and Shyamu got out and stretched themselves. They bought the ice creams and headed for the kamarkattu seller’s stall. Ganu almost dropped the cone when he caught sight of the tall lean man at the stall. There was no mistaking it. It was Mr. Jayabalan.
Mr. Jayabalan turned and caught sight of him, cone and all. His eyebrows lifted till they almost reached his hairline. He seemed to be about to come towards Ganu when the lady standing next to him pulled at his hand and whispered something into his ears. Jamboo laughed and Ganu was forgotten. For the moment.
Ganu pulled Shyamu back into the theatre. Shyamu was rather annoyed.
“What’s the problem?”
“That’s Jamboo near the Kamarkattu stall. I bid you farewell my dear friend, for tomorrow, I shall be dead. If Jamboo does not kill me with his own hands, then my father surely will…” Ganu was almost in tears.
Shyamu did not quite understand. He was used to beatings and could not see what the big fuss was all about. He tried to comfort Ganu. “Cheer up! It can’t be so bad!”
Ganu wanted to leave, but Shyamu convinced him to stay. If he had to die, was it not better to die after having watched NTR?
They waited in the shadows till the crowd cleared. It was only after Shyamu made sure that Jamboo and his ladylove had left that Ganu dared to step out. He was gloomy all the way home. Even the kamarkattu had lost its ability to tempt him. Shyamu tried his best to comfort him.
That night, Ganu could not sleep. He had frightening visions of Jayabalan dragging him off to Lanka and pounding him with his mace. Umpteen heads seemed to sprout out of Jayabalan’s neck and they all were laughing at poor Ganu. Suddenly NTR appeared with his bow and arrow and bestowed his benevolent smile on Ganu. Jayabalan raised his mace to strike NTR…
Ganu woke up. He was sweating profusely. His mother was shaking him awake.
“Get up! It is time for school.”
Ganu pretended to be ill. But one sharp look from his father was enough to get him going. Even his usual enthusiasm for breakfast was missing. Ganu’s mother started wondering if the boy was really ill. She fussed and fretted over him, much to Ganu’s annoyance.
A despondent Ganu dragged his feet and walked slowly to class. Shyamu was not there at the cycle shop. Ganu’s heart was pounding. This was probably his last day on earth. He passed the Diamond Talkies and paused for a moment to stare at the pictures of NTR in Ram’s costume. NTR smiled as benignly as ever. Don’t worry! He seemed to say.
Ganu inched towards the gates. He did not even respond to the usual biting remarks made by his classmates. The children had already gathered for the assembly. The Head master glared at him.
I have it coming soon, thought Ganu. The Head master raised his brows. He once again glared at Ganu and then straightened to address the gathering. His stance was severe, as though he were about to announce a grave and important issue. Ganu was faint with fear. His lips were white and his hands were shaking. He thought the entire assembly could hear the rapid pounding of his heart. To be humiliated in front of the whole school was more than what he could take.
“The National Anthem!” announced the Head master. Ganu breathed a sigh of relief.
The children started dispersing. The boy by Ganu’s side whispered to him. “Have you heard the rumor? Jamboo went to the movies yesterday with his lady love and had more kamarkattus than he could handle.”
“So?” Ganu tried to be nonchalant.
“He’s down with dysentery and will be out of action for a week!”
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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