13 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 13

There appears to be a tag on the rounds – thirteen pieces of wisdom that you wish your 13 year old self knew. No one has asked me to do the tag, which is probably why I’m so eager to type it out this wonderfully busy Monday afternoon. Before I begin though, two major observations – One, I was 13 twelve years ago. Two, I was 13 TWELVE YEARS AGO. I’m pretty sure there’s Scotch my age that is being sold with a “vintage” label.

Sad face.

Anyway, here goes:

1. Eat healthy. I know that eating junk food the way you did was nothing short of an art, but I have to tell you that 19 year old you had a really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY hard time losing the weight you accumulated with your specific diet of top ramen noodles, cheese on everything and potato chips. A thumb rule: 3 Pringles are ok. 3 tubes of Pringles in one go while watching the Johnny Bravo marathon aren’t.

2. Don’t judge people. This is something you’ve recently begun to do, miss. Just because someone is ‘X’ never implies that they are also ‘Y’. Everyone has a story, and everyone knows something you don’t. The quicker you stop doing this, the less annoying you will be when you grow up.

3. Make strong friendships. This is the age when real friendships are forged. It’s good to have “lots of friends” but it is so much more important to forge close friendships – especially of the female kind – invite your friends home, go to their places, don’t bunk birthday parties because you were feeling lazy, and spend half an hour after school talking about nothing. When you grow up, they will become the people to whom you can send TR Speaking English videos without the fear of being physically abused.

4. Read. Read everything. You have a great reading habit. Don’t get lost in the literary quicksand that is fluffy young adult. Read the classics. Read Shakespeare. Read Russian writing. Read poetry. It all seems overwhelming now, but I promise you’ll get it. Put The Princess Diaries down. Please.

5. Get Good Marks. Sorry to sound like Amma, but really – if you can get 80 by not studying and watching Cartoon Network all day, imagine HOW MUCH MORE you’ll get if you actually studied. You can be a topper! You’re smart enough! Why are you not listening to me? Fine, don’t listen to me. They’re your marks. YOUR LIFE. Do whatever. I am not paying for your college. *slams door*

6. Play A Sport: Even if you suck at it (which I know you do). Nothing comes automatically, but sport gives you an hour to take the day off, and indulge in something for fun. It gives you team mates, new friends, a different social circle, and makes you an interesting person. Note: Competitive Eating is NOT a sport.

7. Work on Your Writing: So I found something you wrote recently, and while the writing itself was beyond awful, I will tell you that it had a lot of potential. You can be really good if you work on what you have. You will lose a lot of writing competitions in school despite being the English teacher suck-up simply because you were too lazy. Read more. Write even more. Work, work, work. (If you had worked hard, I wouldn’t be writing crap in this blog now. I’d have been writing crap in newspaper columns. Sigh)

8. Get back to Paatu Class/ Dance Class: But don’t get back to both. One is enough. Get back to dance class. Or Paatu class. But get back.


10. Don’t Be Embarrassed By Yourself:  Ya. You’re chubby. People make fun of you. But guess what, people will make fun of you even after you’ve dropped the 25 extra kg and got yourself a nice haircut because people, they suck. Don’t listen to them. You’re pretty cool. Except when you’re being whiny and annoying because then you’re totally not cool.

11. Geography isn’t as difficult as you thought it was: You’d know too, if you actually read it instead of sleeping in class and trying to mug the lesson at 5 AM on the day of your exam.

12. Be More Careful With Your Stuff: I still don’t get how you managed to lose your pens on an everyday basis.

13. Boys Your Age Are Stupid: If you must absolutely have a crush on someone, pick an older boy – in fact there is a really cute boy with the most incredible brown eyes and half a pair of dimples about 4 batches senior to you in Vidya Mandir. Keep an eye on him but for heaven’s sake don’t creep him out the way you creep other guys out THIS IS IMPORTANT OKAY.

Those Two Marks

Much hullabaloo was raised yesterday on the many methods of gentle persuasion that schools are employing to ensure that their students are watching the Prime Minister’s Teacher’s Day address that will be aired on DD today from 3 pm to 4.45 pm. Here is one example:

The more you read it, the funnier it gets. Photo Credit @masalabai

This is where this post stops being about our Prime Minister and his speech.

I studied in PSBB, where we took our “annual day” very seriously. We were so serious about it, that we didn’t even call it “Annual Day” like the other schools did. It was the school Anniversary. The Anniversary, like most weddings these days, was essentially the same programme that was performed over a span of three days at one of the biggest auditoriums in the city. Day 1 was for students, Day 2, parents of Nungambakkam and T.Nagar branch, and Day 3, parents of KK Nagar branch. Each year, the programme would have a different theme based on which the teachers had to conceptualize dance/music/theatre performances.

The anniversary usually began on a Wednesday, and after the three days of performing, the weekend was off for the participants to recuperate and begin school refreshed. This was something I got to know only after I saw my sister participate – she has participated in the programme every year she was in school, apart from giving the School Pupil Leader address during her last year. I was a non participant all my years in school – I quite enjoyed being one too – my holiday began two weeks before the anniversary – amidst the wonderful chaos that would ensue in the auditorium with multiple practice sessions and cross-batch bonhomie, I would get about 7 free periods during the day to catch up on sleep that I didn’t need. I did do a voice recording for a Tamil play as Avvaiyaar in Standard XII because the girl who was supposed to do the part got a sore throat, but I’ve never been on stage because I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t sing, and while I could emote, I “wasn’t stage friendly”, which was basically polite for “we can’t have hippo sized students on stage”.

ANYWAY, once the programme was all done and we got back to routine and extra classes to make up for those we missed, there would be an Anniversary Quiz. The quiz, based on the theme and the performances in the anniversary, would be for twenty marks, which would later be shrunk to two, and added to the marks that you’d already scored in your Half Yearly exams. Most of the questions were from the synopsis of the programme that was attached with the invitation, and the questions that weren’t from the synopsis were always vague and open to interpretation, like, “What are the benefits of honesty?”

Everyone cared about the Anniversary Quiz, whether they were hoping to turn their 38 into 40 (“The Anniversary Miracle”) or their 98 into 100 (“The Anniversary Centum”). I was a recipient myself of The Anniversary Miracle when I got 38 in Economics (40 was pass) in Std XII and it was this completely, completely, pointless quiz with academic consequences that prevented the school from calling my parents up.

The reason I took the trouble to write all this down, is not because I wanted to write a lofty sounding post about how sometimes you need to know more than just the subject (such as the benefits of honesty) to get through school, or because I have problems with anything that the Government is trying to do (if you do want to read my opinions on the Government read my columns where I write under the pen name “Siddharth Varadarajan”), but because, for the first time, it feels like my school has prepared me for the future.

Fifty Shades Of Blue

(Originally Written For & Published In Tamarind Rice)

From what I can remember of being 10 years old, and mind that my memory is elephantine, I particularly recall looking forward to Std V, term 3, with the same excitement most kids that age associated with getting free ice cream.
You see, the third term of fifth standard was when we could start using pens to write. Pens! Those magical instruments that glided on paper in a wondrous shade of blue, and not those shabby, eternally breaking sticks that we called pencils. In case it didn’t seem obvious already, when I was 10, pens were as alien to me as humans were to Martians. I had been given crayons and pencils of all shades growing up, and even the odd sketch pen, but it was during one of my many Treasure Hunter (an extraordinarily entertaining game for one which basically involves raiding your parents’ dresser drawers) games the previous year that I first truly discovered these magical things.
It was a very heavy ink pen, and I remember thinking how ugly it looked, but the moment I let the coppery-gold nib touch paper it became a thing of beauty, of perfection. I had never seen anything like it before! It didn’t break like my pencils, or become coarse. It was just continuously smooth. The pen wrote in the shade of midnight, a blue which made even my doodle look like carefully thought out art. I scrawled until all the ink in the pen had been transferred to my paper, my hands, my clothes and my face. I ended up getting a dressing down from my mother that day for colouring myself beyond recognition.
But it was worth it.
Discovering the pen that day had changed my life, and while I waited for term 3, I started smuggling all the pens in the household. The more I wrote with them, the more I fell in love with the instrument. I wrote quickest with the ball point pen, but the interrupted flow of ink was something that I found annoying. I really liked the lighter, more turquoise ink of the gel pen and adored the smooth white shell of the “Pilot” pens.
My absolute favourite though, remained the ink pen. The steel nib with the miniscule engravings, the little compartment for the ink, the heaviness of a newly filled pen, the odd leak which flowed on to your hands as you wrote – for me, the ink pen was an instrument of joy. My first ink pen for school had been a Camlin, a maroon pen with steel accents and a wide barrel. It was hideous, but in the most glorious way possible. Every day I’d come back home from school with blue fingers (and some times, a blue nose) and spots on my uniform, but despite the inconveniences it gave my mother I adored my maroon Camlin. It was the only pen I carried that year. Eventually, I ended up losing the pen and predictably, moved on to it’s gel ink cousins for the sake of convenience and a stain free uniform. I did occasionally buy ink pens, but they stayed in my bag as remembrances of my former obsession with them as opposed to a functional writing instrument.
I’ve always believed that writing with a new ink pen is much like making a new friend. There are some pens with which you form a connection instantly, those pens where you just know exactly what it takes to bring out its best side the moment you come in contact with them. Those pens will last to be your favourites, the ones that you conveniently ‘lose’ in the depths of your bag every time anyone asks to borrow it, the ones that you’ll take time to clean every weekend in hot water, and the ones that will write out your most important exams, and your greatest secrets. There are some other pens that will take a little longer for you to like. They misbehave most of the time but occasionally show a good side so that you don’t give up on them; they teach you patience. And finally, those ink pens which, no matter how much time you spend on them, will never yield to you and like difficult people, are best left alone.
The last time I had used an ink pen was roughly seven years ago. I had stopped using them because they were very difficult when you were writing harshly timed exams. I became fully dependent on the keyboard and stopped using pens altogether when I cleared my Chartered Accountancy exams a year ago. Yesterday, I found an old ink pen while cleaning out my drawers – it was one of those relatively fuss free ink pens that operated on cartridges, and this one’s particular cartridge had been half full. I couldn’t help but try writing with it again – Half hour later, I had a paper filled with illegible squiggles that once used to be my beautiful handwriting, odd splats of ink, blue fingers and a blue nose.
But it was worth it.

How I Fractured My Funny Bone

[Originally Published In The Banyan Trees, here
When I was about 6 years old, I remember being the funniest person in all of Standard II. I just was, simply because of the fact that I had no sense of balance. Let’s get real here – when you’re that age, falling on your face is pretty much the funniest thing ever and therefore, having been gifted the ability to fall on your face multiple times like I had instantly made me 6 year old Russell Peters.
 I found my balance that year, but thanks to a severe affliction of foot in the mouth disease, I managed to hold on to my position in the elementary school comic scene (although it is pertinent to note that I did face the occasional threat from II “B” Roshan who couldn’t hold his glasses in place. Amateurs).  A few years later, cruel, cruel puberty happened, which meant that apart from the occasional bad joke, I also cracked mirrors.
 Basically, high school for me was like one of those terrible tragedy-dramas that the audience finds hilarious. When I look back, I am fairly confident that 5 years from now, when people get together for alumni meets, I will be “that person” of all the “you remember when that person did this and that hilarious thing happened?” stories.  Hell, I have a blog dedicated to all those stories (lest they forget) and it even includes some choice experiences which happened during my internship. It’s quite a neat compilation really, from trying to get my first crush to notice me by staring the crap out of him, to valiantly speaking terrible Hindi with a client in Mumbai in the pursuit of learning the language and then having him tell me he was actually Tamil, to getting into trouble with miscellaneous auto drivers, I’ve done it all.
 That’s where life got interesting. People started liking what I was writing, never mind that I was writing the blog as a “Do Not Repeat These Mistakes  Again” kind of journal.  It was great at the start, but then as time progressed, there was pressure. People who had been reading my blog for a while decided that it was about time that I actually grew up, whereas the newer ones wanted more of what I had previously written (“Hahaha, that episode with the Autorickshaw was great! You should try that with a conductor sometime…and blog about it!”).
 What people don’t get is that I belong to the unintentional humour department. I don’t particularly enjoy that my toes have a semi permanent residence in my mouth, yet I do know that other people do, and so I share it.  Apparently, if you have to be funny these days, it’s not as simple as offering your own embarrassment to make other people laugh.
Maybe modern humour is complicated, simply because there are so many kinds; Especially with the internet, everyone is humourous in every manner, which leads to great expectations. Point being, you’re not going to be thought of as anyone remotely funny unless you have achieved that perfect mix of black comedy interlaced with subtle wit, suitably juxtaposed by sarcasm bordering on parody, but not a farce.
 I miss the times when all I had to do to make people laugh was to fall on my face.

Birthday Bumps

I turned thirteen not too long ago. Fine, close to 10 years ago. I don’t remember much of how I was at that time, which, knowing me, is probably a good thing, but what I do remember is my thirteenth birthday. 

Very clearly. 
My parents had just arranged for what they called a  “small family get together”, which in our family’s case almost always translates into a mini mob of close to 70 people. So there I was, birthday girl, in my orange shirt and super flare grey jeans (I just confirmed that with the photos) which made me look about 2 feet shorter and wider simultaneously, being all happy and birthday girl like and getting a lot of cash from wallet-happy relatives while waiting for more wallet-happy relatives to assemble so that I could cut my beautiful cake. No seriously, it was beautiful. It was yellow, with white frosting and it had my name on it. I was in love. Let me clarify something here – when I was 13, actually, even 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, I had a love-love relationship with food, which explained my extraordinarily startling resemblance to a sintex tank. Then things changed, but more on that later. 
Fifteen long minutes of staring at the cake later, the crowd had gathered, the candles had been lit, a bunch of 3 year olds next to me had started licking the icing off the sides and my mom handed me the knife. I blew the candles out among the awkward singing, when my 6 year old sister started screaming, and it wasn’t just any kind of screaming, it was the kind of high pitched screaming that should be patented for use by ambulances and firetrucks. The crowd became silent. She didn’t stop screaming. And then there were tears. And screaming. 
My mother was the first to react. “Did you stamp her foot?” she asked me. 
Thanks mom. 
“Then what is the issue?” 
“Ask her!” 
“Kannamma. What’s the issue?” 
Sidenote: Don’t you just hate it when a birthday ruining brat is called cute names? 
“Ammmaaa.” She said in between sobs. “She’s cutting the cake! ” 
“Yes, kuttima. It’s her birthday no?” 
“But I want to cut the cake!”
“Your birthday was in January, remember? You cut a big cake no?” 
“Noooo” she cried and started bawling even louder.  
My mother picked her up and tried to calm her down by calling her some more cute baby names and some enthu relatives even gave her birthday money (when it wasn’t even her birthday!). I tried to quickly cut the cake while she was distracted by the money, but there was no escaping her CIA spy camera eyes because the moment I picked the knife up, she started wailing again. 
My father finally decided to intervene. “You have to do something about her voice! My glasses are about to shatter any second.”
“I’m trying! Kutti, you can also cut the cake ok? Let Akka cut, and then you cut. Ok?” 
More screaming. 
“Enough!” my father proclaimed. I was overjoyed. Finally, the brat could be locked up until my party was over. 
“Lavanyaaaaa, let Vathoo cut the cake no? Look at her, she won’t stop crying. Be mature now. You’re grown up no?” 
“But Appaa..”
“Please? You’re a ChamathuKutti* no?” 
And so, the ChamathuKutti, very very reluctantly handed over the knife to the now beaming, evil, little birthday spoiling monster to cut the cake. Like, between the two of us, I’d have rather been the Cut-The-Cake-Kutti than the ChamathuKutti. 
That was in 2002. Flash forward to this Friday, 6th January 2012, when my sister celebrated her all important 16th Birthday. The cake arrived right on time for the party and this is what it looked like.
Moral of the Story : Karma loves only ChamathuKuttis. 
*Chamathu Kutti – Generally obedient and sweet little kid which I totally am, by the way. 

Two things

1. Done with my CA Final! I don’t know how I’ve done or what the result will be, but I’m prepared for anything. Even if I’m not going to make it, I don’t mind writing it again, because it’s like one step left for completion. My direct tax paper was godawful so I’m not ruling out flunking. I’m not too worried about either result though. But my parents aren’t too happy with my attitude – my mother told me that if I didn’t finish it soon (“soon” being when my results come), she’d get me married. But she’s only joking.

I think.

2. A favourite post exam ritual for Amma is to go around cleaning the house. We managed to stumble upon a bunch of old VCR tapes – including my parents’ wedding video and a couple of tapes of my birthdays from 1993 and 1994. Watching it with the family was a fun exercise for the first 10, 15 minutes, but the more we progressed, the more traumatic it got, with Amma looking at the video, then looking at me and wondering loudly as to what the bloody hell happened.

Sigh. I have absolutely no idea either. 


My sister was watching TV when the channel started playing a song from Alaipayuthey.

It was probably the millionth time I was watching it, as well as the millionth time I had that stupid grin on my face when I saw Madhavan prance about awkwardly. More than Madhavan, I think that grin was for Karthik, his character in the movie. Karthik pretty much epitomized every thing I’ve ever wanted in a guy – charming, intelligent and most importantly, he wasn’t afraid to get what he wanted.
So actuall-a paatha (Simbu in Vinnathaandi Varuvaaya. Yes. Same feel) my first crush wasn’t Madhavan. It was Karthik.
Who was yours?

Leadership, and such.

His name was Subramani (name changed to protect author from getting punched). He would come to school every morning with a great deal of vibhoothi plastered on his abnormally large forehead. By the end of the day, the vibhoothi would have spread all over his face, making him look like he had just used the compact from hell. We called him Powder Subramani – not very creative but then again, we were only 7 years old and our nicknaming skills weren’t exactly the sharpest. I think the best we did back then was Bajji Gomathi. Heh. Gomathi basically had too many molaga bajjis in the canteen and…I digress.

This post is not about Bajji Gomathi’s digestion problems.

Powder Subramani loved discipline. He was probably the only person in II C to have always brought books as per the time table. His walk had discipline. His speech may not have had grammar, but it had discipline. Even the way he ate rasam rice had discipline. It was no surprise that the teacher picked him to be class leader.
Subramani rose to the occasion, and how! Nobody could escape his sight, his 4 inch thick viewing apparatus (commonly referred to as soda buddi) made sure everyone in the perimeter was in his line of control. Even Badboy Naveen was quieter. It was almost as if class II ‘C’ had reformed.


It was a Wednesday, I think, or a Thursday. I don’t remember. Our science teacher was absent, which meant Powder Subramani would be on vigil for a full forty minutes. The class was mostly quiet, except for Badboy Naveen who was singing the Su-Su song (I don’t remember the lyrics but it had a lot of Su-Sus). His name was the first one on the “Bad Names” list, not to mention it had an underline and “100 ticks” which was cleverly added by Subramani to save the trouble of actually putting a 100 ticks.
See, when we were in 2nd standard (or even the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and the first term of 6th standard for that matter), the role of the class leader was well defined. He would be the guy who would write “Names” (The visionary that Powder Subramani was, he even innovated and came up with 2 lists – “Good Names” and “Bad Names”) on the board, which was essentially the list of people who were up to no good in the class (or in Subramani’s case, the list of people who were breathing a little too loudly) which would be passed on to the teacher who would decide upon a suitable punishment, like extra Moral Science classes.

Where were we?

That afternoon.
The Su-Su song.
Bad Names.
Now, in the middle of all this, there I was minding my own business when my pencil rolled off my desk and onto the floor. So I went to retrieve it, and in the process knocked down a couple of books from the adjacent desks as well (I wasn’t a big fan of poise. Especially not poise like Subramani).
When I fianlly came back to my desk, below Badboy Naveen’s name THERE WAS MINE.

I was appalled. My name was a Bad Name – which was somewhat WTF really, because my name is really nice and I’m sure my Grandfather knew much more than Powder Subramani when he named me.

Heated negotiations ensued.

“Ei, Subramani. Take my name off. I am quiet only”
“Ei, you are making noise”
“No I’m not. Take my name off.”
“No! You are not being quiet”
“Stupppid. I am quiet. Take my name off”

I had called the class leader stupppid. You can imagine what an Epic Badass I was, even back then.

“I am not stupppid. You are only stupppid”
“No I’m not”
“Stuppppid stupppid stupppppid” he said, with so much fervour that the first bench was full of his DNA samples.

At that very precise moment, as if by divine intervention, our class teacher walked in.

“Yes Miss”
“Did you just call this girl stupid?”
“Yes miss…no! no miss”
“I heard you! You tell me ma, did he call you stupid?”
“Yes Miss” I sniffed (for some extra effect)
“There will be no name call in my class”
“But Miss!” protested Subramani. “That girl was not shut-upping!”
“Enough! From tomorrow, she’ll be the class leader.”

It was too much for poor Powder Subramani to handle. He never spoke to me the entire year, and the next year, and the next year, and well, never. Clearly, he took IInd standard leadership a little too seriously. We had spent nearly 12 years without talking to each other.

Yesterday, Powder Subramani added me on facebook. My life has finally come full circle.

An Unnatural Incident

There used to be a time when was a genuine nature nut. The whole sleeping-out-in-the-woods-with-a-thousand-vicious-mosquitoes-needling-you-simultaneously-experience fascinated me thoroughly. Honest. But my tryst with the great outdoors ended with the summer of 2002. It seems like yesterday, I was like any normal 13 year old, fighting my own battles with evil things like acne and the strange growth of hair in stranger places, not to mention the weird smell that would follow me wherever I went (it took me sometime to realize it was me). A couple of classmates were all enthusiastic about signing up for some impromptu camp thing, it was a one night thing and it was being organized by a well known enterprise too, so I got swayed. This was my big chance to actually experience the stuff that made Enid Blyton’s characters go all gosh-golly. Convincing the parents was surprisingly easy and before I knew it I had been dropped at the Besant Camping grounds by my parents (after many ‘be careful’s). Truth be told, I enjoyed slushing through the “woods” and stamping on dry leaves to look exotic birds. All we saw were different varieties of crow, but then again, the experience was what really mattered. I also enjoyed the beach walk, which basically skilfully maneuvering through the dog poop spread all over the sand.
But Nature! Yes, the lone thought of all those beautiful “nature” wallpapers in my computer was the only thing that was fuelling my zest.
Before we knew it was 11 pm. Around 20 of us were packed into one tent, thanks to one of my friend’s extreme generosity. At about 3 am (I knew this ’cause I had a glow-in-the-dark watch then, it was like the heights of cool) my best friend, K, woke me up. Well, not wake up technically, because I wasn’t sleeping too soundly, it’s hard when there are a thousand blood thirsty mosquitoes trying to suck your life out at the same time.

Anyway, Queen K was in dire need to do the Royal Pee-Pee. Which meant she needed me, her loyal knight in my-honeybee-pajama-armour to help guide her to the royally-creepy loos. I didn’t have a problem, I am the regular braveheart after all. No creepy camping grounds at 3 am freaked me out, nope. So I guided K through the path to the toilets.

It was while waiting for her when the terror happened.

A giant THING was on the floor. I kid you not, it was the size of a komodo dragon. I squealed. Hearing my not-so-little squeal, K, my dutiful best friend squealed as well, and came hurtling out of the toilet 3 seconds later to lend me her support. Then we both saw the THING and squealed together while making a run for our tent. Now, we had sprinted back to our tent and went back to sleep in order to forget about the THING.

The next morning, while standing in line for breakfast, a rather enthusiastic boy came up to us.

“You know ya? There was wolf and all near our tents yesterday night”
“Wolf a?”
“Ya ya, wolf only. I think it ate somebody”
“Ate someone?”
“Yes ya! I heard screaming and all. It was horrible. Like the wolf tore the victim apart. Horrible ya, but I heard it, mother promise!”

By the end of breakfast, the wolf story (with full dramatization) had spread across the entire camp and some girls were in the verge of tears. It took some major damage control from the camp instructors to calm them down.
Some of the boys were extremely happy though, each one of them thought that he was some kind of Indiana Jones to have survived a night among the wolves. Stuff that they’d tell their grandchildren.

Which is why I never told them the truth about the blood curdling screams. An extremely fat lizard, somehow doesn’t quite have the same effect as a wolf.

Of Rickshaws, Among Other Things.

My accounts class gets over at around 8.30 am in the morning, after which I usually take a stroll through the little bylanes of Musuri Subramanian street, pass the Luz Church before I finally stumble onto the main road to catch an auto. A couple of days back, I happened to chance upon a rickshaw parked at the end of the little lane.

A rickshaw. I hadn’t seen a rickshaw in the city for quite a few years, and well, I took a little bit of time seeing the vehicle.

Rickshaws bring a lot of memories. I used to come back home from school in my kindergarten days on a rick, along with a couple of other kids who were in the same neighborhood. The rickshaw wallah, with his big mustache and blue lungi would religiously be at the school gates at 2.40 pm sharp to pick us up. He would then take our bags and deposit them with a thud on the rickshaw floor after which he’d ask “Kalambalaama?” (shall we start?) and then we’d answer “Aama!” (yes!) in chorus.

The pace of the rickshaw was something that I loved. Relaxed, almost nonchalant. It represented Chennai at one point of time. There was just no hurry, no pressure, no frenzied honking. The world moved at the same pace as the rickshaw did. The rickshaw rides back home from school enabled me to make so many friends in and around the neighborhood who shared the rick. Today though, I am not able to remember a single name, a single face. All I remember is playing “Uma Joshi Yay Yay Yay” as we slowly passed the huge trees that were once all over GN Chetty road on the way home. Sometimes, the rickshaw wallah would sing “Vaadhiyaar paatu” (songs from MGR movies) as he pedalled, which always left us in giggles.

Although I don’t remember his name, I do remember the fact that his 3 wheeled vehicle was the apple of his eye. The rick was always shiny, and sported a kunkuma pottu and malli-poo every Friday and whenever a “bad boy” would jump on to the rick, he would give the boy a knock on his head for doing so. Sometimes I wondered if his rickshaw had a name, like in the movies. It didn’t. But it was a little something more than just a source of income for him. Appa got the second car when I was in my 2nd standard. Naturally, the rick ride back home was no longer required. But the rickshaw wallah prevailed, he would always be at the gates at 2.40 pm. He’d acknowledge my presence by giving me a wry smile from time to time, and would ask “Ennama Lavuniya, car innum varla?” (Hasn’t your car come yet?). It was almost as if I had betrayed him by not travelling in his rickshaw anymore.
I didn’t understand his problems then. Autos were gaining popularity among the Anxious-PSBB-parent since they were quicker and safer (or so they thought) and the batches were just getting more prosperous by the year. Almost everyone had their own vehicle. The faithful rickshaw was losing popularity, which meant that its owners were losing business, thus explaining the look on his face. Like I said before, this was much too much for a 2nd standard kid to figure out so I took the easy way out and thought him to be a “stupid goose” being so mean.

A few years down the line, he too inevitably converted to the zippy auto, in fact, he was the last of the lot to do so. But I knew for a fact that he wasn’t very happy about it, it was not out of choice, hell, he didn’t even have a choice. For me, that was the year the rickshaw died. The traffic issues that were cropping up in the city didn’t exactly help save the rickshaws either. There was no provision for leisurely pedalling among the speeding bikes and cars. Chennai had moved on, and the rickshaw was left behind. 
I loved the rickshaw for a lot of reasons although my grandmother told me that I had a “gandam” (bad luck) where they were concerned (I had a major accident when I fell off from one of them when I was 9. Surgery, hospitalization, the works).

“Innaama, sawaari venuma?”
(Do you need a ride?)
The rick driver brought me back to 2008.
“Illa, rickshaw laam paathu romba naal aachu, adhaan paakaren”
(Not really, I’m just looking, Its just that it’s been a long time since I saw a rickshaw)
“Aama ma, eggumore moosiyum-la vekka vendidhu…rickshaw laam pozhappe illa ma…na vandhu meyyin-a Auto ottaren.”
(Yes ma, this should be kept in the Egmore Musuem..driving rickshaw is not a livelihood…My main job is actually driving an auto)
More small talk revealed that he was holding on to the rick for “suntimend”and was nice enough to oblige when I told him I wanted to take a picture of his rickshaw.

As I walked further down the road after telling him my thanks, I realized that sometimes, certain changes are inevitable, and even if we don’t really like them, we can’t stop it from happening anyway. Even if the rickshaw is redundant on the streets of Chennai today, it will always be part of Madras, the Madras I grew up in, the Madras I loved.