I wonder if becoming more and more nostalgic by the day is a sign of old age. I hope that is not the case for these days my blogging seems to have shifted towards sharing of some of the most precious memories. This time with Ganesh Chaturthi approaching it is about my favorite Ganesh Chaturti day.
It was the year of 1987, the year India hosted the cricket world cup and lost to Australia in the semi-finals. We had been at our new house for close to a year. The place was one of the ancient areas in Bangalore. The street was lined with houses packed next to each other like matchboxes. Almost every house had a kid making the place literally a children’s paradise. But I was very reserved by nature and had kept within the confines of our home. Recently however one boy had stopped me on the road and spoken to me. He had told me his name was Raju and he lived 2 houses from mine. Mom was happy to see me finally making a friend and tried to push me to go to him and play with him. But I was still too shy.
Around this time the Ganesha festival approached. The boys of the streets used to organize grand celebrations. They collected money for the celebrations from the houses on the street and they came to our house as well. Raju was one of them. Mother was shrewd by nature and decided to make best of the opportunity and made a deal with the boys. She would give them money for the celebrations. In return they had to take me off her hands. Raju was only too glad to oblige. I was soon introduced to a host of boys: Deepak, Nagaraj, Sanjay, Nanjesh, Kumar, Prashant, Vinayak, Pradeep, Naveen etc. There were many more but these are some I can still remember. Slowly I got over my inhibitions and joined in the preparations. The next day when Raju came home to pick me up, I had no hesitation in going along. Mom smiled to herself. Her plan seemed to be working. But little did she realize that she was soon going to be wishing her plan had not worked.
The Ganesha day finally arrived. The whole street was brightly decorated. A huge Ganesha idol had been procured and put up on display in the open garage one of the residents had been kind enough to donate. Sports and cultural programs were organized as part of the celebrations. I don’t know what came over me but I gave my name for something called a mono act. I still can’t remember what the hell I was thinking. All I did was to go on to the mike and narrate some random story in the most boring manner imaginable for close to 10 minutes. But surprisingly no one booed me off the stage. No wonder they say people were much nicer in those good old days.
Then there were the sports. The main events were the running races. It was a keenly contested one and I emerged as one of the key competitors. People who know me in the recent times may not think much of my sporting abilities. But I was not too bad at running then apparently. Raju and Deepak were older than me and were easily the first and second. The contest was for the third place between me and another boy of around my age, height and build. I got a last minute surge and pushed on ahead at the last minute. I had won. As I got over my victory to look around, the prizes were already being given. Then to my shock the third prize was not given to me but to the other boy – Pradeep. I was furious.
“I won the third prize. What is happening,” I shouted.
“Well you stood just short of the finishing line. He was the one to cross the finishing line. Deepak was the witness for that.”
It all came to me. The friendship between Deepak and Pradeep was legendary in the street. Pradeep was like Deepak’s shadow. Even in my one day I had realized that. Deepak had played dirty to help his crony.
“You cheat,” I shouted at Deepak.
Pradeep’s face turned red and he came towards me menacingly as if to hit me. The other boys restrained us. Deepak came up to me calmly and said, “If you feel you were cheated, come tomorrow to the deserted area behind the old cinema hall. We will settle it the way of boys. Let us not create a scene before adults here.” I had no clue what this ‘way of boys’ would be. But I nodded my head. The celebrations went well both at home and in the street.
The next day I went out immediately after coming home from school. Mother was so happy that I had found friends. 3 boys were waiting for me – Deepak, Pradeep and Nanjesh. They were apparently a gang or something. I was curious why they had called me here. I wondered if they were going to beat me up. Maybe I should not have come.
Deepak spoke up, “Good to see you did not chicken out. We still have the matter of the race to sort out. Let us get it settled through a trial of strength between you and Ragi.” Apparently Ragi was Pradeep’s nickname.
I did not have much experience fighting but was not going to buckle down. So I gingerly entered the ring. The fight did not last long. Ragi rushed at me like a roaring bull. I dodged him, got behind him and caught him in a lock. Then it was about waiting it out and slowly twisting his arms. He could not take it any longer and finally yielded. I was the victor, the rightful winner of the race. Matters should have ended there. But the win sent blood rushing through my head and I now challenged Deepak for a duel.
Deepak was altogether a different proposition. He was an older boy and it was not easy to get him into a lock. And he was really a vicious one. That day I came home battered. But I was not the one to give up so easily. Again the next day I found him, challenged him and again came home bruised. Then again a third day! By now Deepak was getting irritated and beginning to lose his cool. He dealt one violent blow that threw me on to the ground and a gash opened in my arm as I hit the ground.
“What is going on here boys? Are you all right?”
A neighborhood adult had come by. Deepak was now in deep shit, caught red handed bullying a younger boy.
“Thanks, uncle. We were playing. I slipped and fell down.”
I had my honor. I was not going to hide behind an adult.
“Ok. Take care. Deepak, maybe you can get your friend some Band-Aid or something.”
The 3 boys heaved a sigh of relief.
Deepak seemed to have a new respect for me, “You are one hell of a fighter. But you still need a lot of training before you can even think of challenging me seriously. Come and practice with us.“
I could see two pairs of friendly eyes and one pair of hostile eyes looking at me. I was being invited to join gang. But I was never going to be Ragi’s friend. Probably he had a foreboding of things to come. Deepak’s right hand man would soon have to make do with being the left hand man. Their legendary friendship was soon to be overshadowed by a greater legend. My mother who had struggled to get me out of the house would struggle to get me back in the days to come. It was going to be a real roller coaster ride, one of the happiest phases of my childhood. The Ganesh Chaturthi had been the beginning.
Picture Credit: http://www.hindu.com/2009/08/08/stories/2009080860180300.htm