The Idi Amin of Malleshwaram

Yesterday I was seeing an Indian movie made over half a century ago ‘Musafir’. It was the times when technology had not progressed and obscene amount of wealth was not being poured into films. But the movie turned out to be much better than any of the current day movies. The movie had a nice simple theme and executed in a sensitive manner. Even the songs made sense. It is the story of 3 families who come to stay at a rented house one after the other and their lives, their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and tribulations. The term ‘Musafir’ means traveler in Hindi, Urdu and Arabic. Here the tenants are called travelers as they travel from one rented apartment to another. The theme was kind of nostalgic one for me for I have been one such ‘Musafir’ or traveler. I have stayed in 11 different rented houses, three student hostel accommodations, one hotel room accommodation and my father’s home. That’s 15 different places in a span of 30 years. My mind went on a time travel reminiscing my life and times at each place.

My memories of my existence starts at a little house in an area called Malleshwaram in Bangalore. The house had a small veranda, a smaller bedroom and a still smaller kitchen and of course a bathroom and a toilet. It was way back in the early 1980s and the concept of combined toilet and bathroom was yet to become popular. The owner of the house was a genius who had managed to squeeze in 6 houses within his tiny strip of land: two on each floor. Four of the houses, the two on the ground and first floor and ground floor were rented out while the owner retained the two penthouse apartments, if you can call them that. We stayed on the one of the first floor houses. The other one was occupied by my dad’s childhood friend, who had a son called Gowtham who was around my age. He was the first friend I have ever had. The two houses on the ground floor were occupied by two couples, one of them newly married and the other with a baby. Anyway I don’t have too many memories of them except for one small incident with the baby and her mom, which I shall be narrating soon.

When light is scattered from an atom or molecule, most photons are elastically scattered (Rayleigh scattering). The scattered photons have the same energy (frequency) and wavelength as the incident photons. However, a small fraction of the scattered light (approximately 1 in 10 million photons) is scattered by an excitation, with the scattered photons having a frequency different from, and usually lower than, the frequency of the incident photons. Now where did this come from? Have no clue what I am talking about? Actually nor do I. No. I am not going nuts. This is a portion lifted from Wikipedia description of Raman Effect discovered by C V Raman, the famous Indian scientist and Nobel Prize winner. However, this is not the Raman Effect I am going to talk about here. The one I am going to mention is going to be a Raman effect of a different kind for the owner of our house was also called C V Raman and was no less an exceptional man in his own way. There is this old movie of Rajnikanth called 'Munru Mukam' where the villain says babies will stop crying if the mother mentions his name. Rajnikanth responds by saying that when mothers say his name, the child will not only shut its own mouth with one hand, but shut the mouth of the mother with the other hand. Such was the effect Mr. Raman had on his tenants. He was a dictator who ruled over his family and tenants with an iron hand, an Idi Amin in his own right.

Where there are dictators, there is usually a rebel faction. The rebellion against Mr. Raman was lead by able rebel general Gowtham and his faithful lieutenant: "yours truly". We used to hatch conspiracy after conspiracy to overthrow his evil regime. But our plans and courage lasted only till he was out of sight. The minute he was in sight, General Gowtham would immediately salute him smartly and wish him good morning. I would still hold out a defiant posse and receive a couple of taunts from Mr. Raman. Gowtham later explained to me that we were operating undercover and must not let him get scent of the rebellion till the time was ripe. Other than hatching conspiracies, we also indulged in scientific exploration, adventure, travel and commerce. We used to create controls of rockets on the walls with chalk piece and launch reconnaissance missions to outer space. We used to explore dark caves that used to be the lair of monsters in quest for hidden treasures: the area below the staircase was dark and used to be the abode of cockroaches and one may find a chalk piece or an old bottle or old bus tickets there. We used to go on long bike trips on the corridors outside our house on our tricycles. We used to collect old lottery tickets, shining stones; I don’t mean diamonds, more in the lines of pieces broken from marble slabs in construction sites, chalk pieces and ‘tick tuck’ , the name we gave to tablet covers for the sound they made. We used to run a thriving business in these commodities.

My parents were becoming gravely concerned about the influence Gowtham was beginning to have on me. He had become my friend, philosopher and guide. I often used to quote him as an authoritative source to support my arguments during verbal duels with my parents. My parents tried to counter this by trying to develop ’independent’ thinking in me by getting me books such as Knowledge Bank books published by Pustak Mahal. But reading general knowledge books is not a five year old kid’s idea of fun. Needless to say, the books retain their brand new look to date, which cannot be said of many an other unfortunate book that fell into my clutches over the years. But the following incident confirmed my parents worst fears.

Every tribe has this coming of age ceremony, where young men have to prove their mettle by a feat of daring. So Gowtham devised one such task for us. Mrs. Usha, the tenant on the ground floor was standing with her baby in hand and talking to someone. So the task was this. We had to take aim and spit such that our spit landed exactly on the baby’s head. Gowtham, as the leader lead the way. He accomplished the task successfully and ducked before Ms. Usha could see who was responsible for the mucous fluid globule on her poor baby’s head. Next it was my turn. I prepared myself, waited for my mouth to fill and carefully took aim. The time of trial had come. I could not let down my leader at this crucial juncture. The rebellion against Raman needed staunch hearted men and I had to prove myself worthy of the cause. I managed to hit the bull’s eye but could not evade being seen for mama had become alert after the first attack on her beloved one. The impudence of attacking her poor little one a second time totally enraged her and she was at our door in no time.

My mom was rudely awakened from her sleep and had to listen to 15 minutes of the virago’s ravings. Anger is so infectious. By the time the lady left having blown the steam off, the devil had taken possession of my mom. She seized me and dragged me to the kitchen and lit the gas stove. And then she proceeded to heat a steel spoon and with that she proceeded to brand me on my forearm. And that is how I first got my first lesson on branding. I wonder how many people know the marketing term 'branding' originated from the practice of branding livestock and slaves with a hot iron. In Dutch ‘branden’ means to burn. From that day I was known as the ‘Spitting warrior of the steel spoon clan’. They say some people are born great, some people become great through their efforts while other have greatness thrust upon them. I would say some people are born with a silver spoon while others achieve a steel spoon through their feats of bravery.

But then all good things come to an end and same was the case with our adventures. By the time I was nearing my eighth birthday, Gowtham’s dad had decided to move to the defense quarters and my dad had got transferred to Kerala. But the memories of the house were etched deep in my mind and it was with a heavy heart that I took leave of the domain of Raman the tyrant. As the dialogue in the movie Musafir goes, you have to eventually leave every rented house and when you leave each one you will carry your unique memories with it.

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