Friday, June 18, 2010

NO HEAVEN FOR TULIO!

The one-horse town of Chikkulli in South India had nothing much to speak for itself.It was just a matter of dusty lanes and a few streets into which were crammed the few shops selling house-hold amenities, and well, the usual stuff.Apart from this the town had an old temple on the outskirts and an equally rambling church.The people were mostly tradesmen and farmers with lands in the outskirts of the town.The main street of the town held the shop of the jeweller Krishna-an old, stooping man whose otherwise dull eyes lit up on seeing the yellow metal..The greed in his eyes notwithstanding, the folk of the town had no options but to buy or sell gold at his place.Then there was the grocer's-the grocer Raju was a kind man with twinkling eyes,who often gifted kids chocolates.And then there was the baker's-THE BAKER-an old shop.No one knew how long it had been there.It was as if it had always been there.And everyone bought their bread from there..It was run by Xavier-the baker,and it had always belonged to his family.The Garcias as they were called were probably the first to have stepped off the boat that arrived first from Portugal, 'cos everyone in the town remembered a Garcia in their time.And bake they all did, unparalleled in taste in all these years.They had carried their trade over the seas, and had mixed with the people of this land.And had stayed back like many others, long after the last of the Portuguese had left these shores.Xavier Garcia and his wife Martha were affable folks and they ran a roaring trade, and were quite well-off.

Now,they had a son named Tulio.A strapping young lad,he attended St.Angus school where the people of the town sent their kids.Tulio was eight,with blue eyes-his mother's and long straight hair which he inherited from Dad.It was evening and he was out playing with his friends-Kishore,Arjun,Asif,Ramya,Divya and his cousin Fernando.They had many games to pick from.Sometimes it would be marbles,otherwise hide-and-seek,or driving with cycle tyres.Today it was those tyres..Tulio liked them the most.You had to hit the wobbly tyres with a stick and make them run,balance them and do lots of tricks with them.It was fun to make the tyres jump over sticks placed as obstacles and of course to be the fastest to go around their houses.They were playing thus and Tulio was turning the last corner with the others in hot pursuit when it happened.A car had taken a sharp turn and overran a cat.Tulio looked at the furry creature as it lay spread out on the road.He had seen it before..But where?His question was answered soon enough..

"Oh!!my Taffy!!Oh!not you!!..no..no..."He turned to his side to see Kishore running like mad to the dead cat.And then it came rushing back to him,Kishore's Taffy,a sweet little thing it was,always playing around in his courtyard.They would give it a paper ball and watch as it played with it and then it would come purring back to them exhausted.Then Kishore would give it some milk in a saucer and they would watch as Taffy lapped it up hungrily.But all that was over,Taffy was dead.They finally helped the inconsolable Kishore carry the dead cat back on a piece of card-board.The cat was buried in Kishore's backyard.No one felt like playing anymore and they walked to Raju anna's(elder brother's) grocery store.Raju was good at stories or solving fights which broke out between them, and the children liked him.Raju was dealing with some customers and they waited till he was done.

"What happened to you lot?Fighting again?"Raju asked.
"No anna Kishore's cat got run over by a car"Asif replied, and he explained the incident.
"Oh Iam so sorry to hear that.I know u loved that cat Kishore.Come sit down all of you."They sat where they could find space."You know...you couldn't have stopped it from happening.In life you lose certain things you love.Maybe one day you will have a stray cat wander into your courtyard Kishore, that needs looking after and you could love it just like you did Taffy..But you will have to wait for that o.k?"Raju said kindly."Now you must have these new chocolates which have come today"And he handed each one of them a chocolate each.
"Raju anna where do we go when we die?"asked Tulio
"Well if we are good then we go to heaven dont we?"
"And Taffy?Will he go to heaven too?"
"Taffy?no.He wouldn't go to heaven dear"Raju said."But he will be safe wherever he is don't you worry"he added 'cos he knew the children were upset."Now off you go while I check my register".

They went to their homes.And Tulio couldn't stop thinking about it.He had a pet dog-Waffles and he was really fond of him..He couldn't bear to think that one day he would be seperated from Waffles.He would probably be going to dog-heaven and I would have to go to our heaven.Why does it have to be that way?He would have to ask mom more about this.She would know more..

"Mom will Waffles go to dog-heaven when he dies?"
"Yes dear"she wanted him to be happy.
"But wont that mean he will be seperated from me?"Now she hadnt expected this."Well he'll be happy where he is dear".
"Mom when you die and go to heaven you will be waiting there for me right?"
"Now why all this talk on dying?Be good and we will all go to heaven.Now come on I have made some hot chocolate for you".
Tulio was silent as he sipped his hot chocolate and watched his mom sew up two holes he had made in his trousers while playing the other day.He had torn them while climbing up the guava tree to play 'pirates'.Divya,Arjun and him had been part of a pirate gang and they had taken Fernando prisoner and tied him to the tree.Then it was upto the others to come rescue their man.They had a great game and his team had been victorious and had 'sunk' Fernando's team on the slope nearby with mud-bombs from up the tree...He loved his friends dearly and it pained him to think that they could be seperated from him..He should ask them to be extra good so that they could meet up in heaven,especially Arjun, who had a knack of carving big fat lies out of nothing.Only the other day he had told them hadn't he?, that he had seen a buffallo with big white spots wading in the village-pond.And they had all run helter-skelter to find that there was no buffallo, just the village priest who had come to take a bath.And he had shooed them away, afraid that they might hide his clothes like they had done the day before..How they had run!But Arjun was quite good at heart really..Didn't he dig up the 'grave' for poor Taffy all by himself?Still I should ask them to be extra careful...

"Mom when I die and go to heaven will I be a big man?"
"Well you will have to grow old and die wouldnt you?So yes I think you will be a big man.Now enough of this Tulio,or you are not going to get any more cream buns.Remember all you have to do is be good and God will take care of you".
Tulio liked his cream buns and didnt want to make his mom angry.So he stopped asking her.But it didnt stop thinking about it as the evening grew.Mom would grow old and die and so would I.And we would meet in heaven as big people.Now what fun would that be?He didnt want his mom to grow older.He didnt want to meet her like that in heaven.He just wanted his mom to be the way she was now and he, Tulio, would want to be the same too..He thought about the others..Kishore,Ramya,Fernando..No way, it wouldnt be fun at all if they were older in heaven..How could they play at pirates then?Old people never played at pirates..The time came for the evening prayer, and while he prayed Tulio was lost in thought.He made up his mind."God"he prayed"I dont want to come to heaven.I just want Waffles,Mom,Dad,Kishore,Arjun and all just the way they are.I know that You want me to come to heaven and I don't want You to be angry with me..I'll be a good boy here".He opened his eyes and looked at the figures of Jesus and Mother Mary in the small alcove.Shadows danced on their faces with the flickering of candles in the alcove.

Tulio went to bed that night thinking he had finally solved the issue..Meanwhile in heaven there was a whole lot going on.For in all his time God had never got as strange a request as Tulio's.There were all sorts of requests coming by the channel now-"help me God for my interview..dont let the boss fire me!..I will never be a bad boy again God,but please let there not be any surprise tests today..God please don't let mom notice the broken table..I know it lies dead-centre in the room but pleeease let her think it was someone or something else.."And God solved each one with a flourish which only, well, He could manage.. But Tulio's request hung at the back of His mind.Ah...well,He would have to do it then...

Tulio dreamt a very strange dream that night..But suddenly the dream was cut short when he was well getting to be the hero,by a sudden flickering of light..he dreamt on..Shortly the flickering stopped and there was a pleasant white light..He was walking along a road with a lot of other people and they were queueing up at a great golden gate..and on it were the letters...HEAVEN..
"Oh no!!am already dead!!I can't see Mom and Dad again!!..Oh no.."poor Tulio broke out into sobs.
"Oh no you aren't!"He looked up to see St.Peter at the gate..
"So where am I?"
"Well you are at the gates of Heaven arent you,my boy!"boomed Peter"but you are not dead yet..you asked for something didn't you?So God thought He might throw you a little surprise and show you heaven.."
Tulio looked at St.Peter.He looked wise and old, but a little tired it seemed.Presently someone came upto him dressed in white robes and started talking to him.
"Well..well Peter the line is a bit long today eh?Thought I might give you a bit of company..Good Lord! wasn't the party yesterday just wonderful!..You were there weren't you?"
"Who me?No I was at the gate the whole time..they are dying in droves nowadays..Don't even get time to take a short nap..and don't even mention the party..I must ask God to give me a partner..But you see, people expect to see me here and if they don't, they'll think that they are getting tricked..So I dont know how am gonna attend any of those parties.."Tulio felt sad for poor Peter.."Oh gosh!you are still standing here Tulio!o.k here change into these white robes, and up the path you will meet St.Gabriel the angel..Know him don't you?He will show you around, and around afternoon God will see you..Now off you go!!"And off he went in his new white robes,and met Gabriel.He was just like Tulio knew him, all in white with a handsome face and pearly-white wings.
"Hello St.Gabriel!How do you do?And does everyone wear white around here?"
"Iam fine dear Tulio..and yes everyone wears white 'cos thats the official colour of heaven isn't it?!And we don't seem to get it dirty so its always pearly white.Now come on I have quite some things to show you."And off they flew with Tulio holding Gabriel's hand right to a party set in a rolling meadow..People were singing and dancing.They were all dressed in white and they all looked young.Infact Tulio couldn't figure out how old they were.Neither childish nor oldish..kind of in the middle..a fresh young kind.And men were strumming on the harps and some were playing the banjo and there was a wild jig on the dance floor.The men and women looked really happy and there was plenty of nice-looking food on the tables.
"So what do they do after the parties?..Do they go to work?"asked Tulio.
"No! theres no work here, its heaven remember?..We have parties and then sometimes God comes along and He speaks to His people..Boy does He have a way with His stories!..Has everyone in splits..And sometimes we have bonfire nights.."Gabriel explained.
Wow that must be some life..He remembered the New Year party which had gone on and on..'twas great fun..He had danced with Emilia, his cousin..But a little after midnight, we both felt so drowsy..and in the morning my bones ached..Must be different in heaven if they were to party and have fun all the time.Have fun all the time?Where had he heard that before?Ah yes..that was when Mr.Swamynathan his science teacher had thundered.."All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy..So now even though you have had P.T and had lots of fun,you must rest your minds a little and get set to understand how the Earth moves around the Sun.."The children like Mr.Swamy,even though he was a bit strict..He was a sport and didn't he take them all to the village pond and teach them how to catch fish?And he had shown them how they breathe too..

"Now we most get going"said Gabriel and of they flew to a valley with a beautiful lake.There were people on the banks and wild flowers grew there.Some people were in the lake on boats and the water was as still as glass.."Go on, taste the water,it would be the sweetest you had have ever tasted.And run around and play if you like for sometime.We do have sometime before we go to meet God."Gabriel said.
Tulio scooped up a palmful of water and drank..It was indeed very sweet..He ran along the bank with the water lapping his feet.There were couples along the bank with their feet stretched into the water and some were making wonderful patterns with the grass growing along the banks..Some were playing with the water..Tulio joined them and they had great fun splashing water onto each other..It made his robes wet however and he decided to sit for sometime on the bank to get his white robe dry..He would have to ask Gabriel for another set of robes..And he wondered if he could get another one..He liked this place, but at the back of his mind he felt something missing.Waffles-he wouldn't be able to bring him here,and how he liked the village pond!He would tear up the banks and roll on the grass like crazy..It would scratch him more and he loved swishing his tail this way and that on the grass..And the children took him to the pond whenever they went..He could swim well too and would shower them all with pond-water when he shook himself dry..Now he felt really sad,Waffles would have loved this place and he would have loved it too, with Waffles and the others.
"Come we must be going..We have to meet God.He is every where, but He said He'll meet you at the Palace."Gabriel said.So they flew to the palace.When they came to the palace,Tulio was surprised to see saints scurrying to and fro the steps carrying huge bundles of papers with them.
"What are they doing?"asked Tulio.
"Those bundles they are carrying are the prayers that people send through the saints.You see, God has this huge channel by which people can get in touch with him personally,but people doubt their own closeness with God and rely on the saints.So it is that the saints have to work non-stop even after coming here,whereas the work they do is what God is ever-willing to do all by Himself.Increases a lot of paper-work but people just don't understand you see".
They entered a big hall and Tulio could see God in all His glory seated on the throne.He knelt on the floor and bowed low.
"Arise my son..but, I see you still don't like the place eh?"God said smiling.Of course Tulio didnt need to say a word,God knew exactly how he felt.
"God you know how I feel.I liked a lot of things about heaven,but it just isn't the same as what Iam getting in Earth now.True there are sad times.But when Iam happy with my friends and family,..its like we are with You in heaven..so please, could I please have it that way?"
God was silent for sometime and Tulio could feel his heart thudding away.At last he spoke..
"You know....what you said is right from your heart and it is pure and innocent..So I couldn't agree more dear Tulio."So saying God scribbled on his note-pad and it read something like this"NO HEAVEN FOR TULIO..NOT THIS ONE ANYWAY!"
"Iam your God and if you keep your promise on being good, then you will have what your heart desires"."Now off you go, you have a busy day tomorrow"said God smiling at Tulio.
Tulio remembered His parting words...And woke up the next day to his mom's call.
"Tulio!!get up..get ready for school.."He wondered whether it was all a dream.Pulling himself out of his blankets, he decided that he would keep his end of the bargain and dream or no dream, God would keep His.
"Coming mom!!"Where is the tooth-paste now?!!"...

ps:@Sundeep..thanks a lot dude..u were the one who got me started on story writing.
    @Sapphire...if it wasnt for your thoughts on after-life i would not hav got hooked onto this one..thank you..

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Munnar...Re-birth,desi-goats and some firangi(foreign) cows!!!

The title is not part of a jumbled-up list,no no no..thats what my 9th std. trip was, an lots more..My friend Sundeep went trekking and his account stirred up memories of this one...Munnar is a hill-station in the Western Ghats,falling in Kerala..Known for its wild beauty and lush tea-plantations,it is a must-see in the tourist map of Kerala..

The trip was a 2 or 3 day one..i dont remember..We set off from school in high spirits and it was singing and dancing in the bus right from the start...its fun dancing in a bus..the bus' swinging this way and that and very little space..50 odd guys dancing-or trying to dance, and the bus driver's heroics make it even more exciting...the lads were spirited and we sang our voices hoarse...i wonder which made more noise-the bus's air-horn or our singing?anyway we stopped for breakfast which we found had been meticulously packed by our mess-chettans(brothers)...it was bread and some gram curry..but for 70 hungry guys..twas more than enough..back on the bus we continued with our singing and our mimickry..thats right-we imitated every one of our teachers and brought up hilarious accounts ..and all of this loud and clear on a microphone..whoever thought of keeping a mike in that bus was brilliant..but wait-i havent introduced everyone in the 2 buses..my mistake..there were 2 teachers accompanying us-Mr.TM(art) and Mr.P(geography).'twud be a good idea to describe these 2 guys as they couldnt be farther apart in profile as the closer they sat in adjacent seats...TM was a young,jovial guy who was relatively new to the school..he had a penchant for art and he often had a dreamy look to him..and his class resembled that of Harry-Potter's when the pixies had finished with it in 1st year..Mr.P on the other hand was relatively old but with a young heart it seemed(someone told me he used to be a hockey player and it showed),had an everliving love-story with geography..true,I have never met a more spirited geography teacher..and he had the wisdom of age wrapped into the many wrinkles on his fore-head..why am i describing these gentlemen in detail?you will see..so it was with the old and the new and our adoloscent hearts that we headed to munnar..

We had dinner at Basil's place where his mom (bless her!) had prepared chapatti and chicken curry for all of us..so it was that in the dead of the night we reached munnar and our lodgings at Bethany Retreat Centre..there followed an exciting game with the mattresses which were provided, which was brought to a halt with a very irate fellow tourist and the lodge-keepers..I woke up very early the next morning to try my luck at the only 2 bathrooms in the dorm..and found that i wasnt the only one who thought so..the guys who came out gave repeated warnings that the water was very cold..i decided to bath anyway..and i poured the first mug of water and two or three in quick succession to beat the cold..twas only then that i stopped to feel the cold..I swear I couldnt feel many parts of my body!!The WATER WAS FREEZING COLD!!...I WONDERED WHY IT WASNT ALREADY ICE..many vital parts of my body already were..i worried for my future generation and for myself..it was the only time apart from that one time again in ooty that i had a 'near-numb bath' as i call it..After breakfast,we found out that there were 3 spots to see-the Eravikulam National Park,The Tata Tea-Estate and the Swiss Diary Farm...

We headed to Eravikulam home to the Nilgiri Tahr,which is a kind of mountain-goat,very nimble and it can climb up some of the steep rocky faces in the Western Ghats..we had to walk up the hill which is part of the park to see the goat..about halfway up was a waterfall and the road passes over a bridge with the water continuing down thr rocky slope undreneath,down below to the town of munnar....the sight is beautiful as you can stand on the bridge  and watch the water as it falls down the slope infront of you and pass below..I surfed and found a pic from a blog which am quite sure is the spot..
As we were watching one among us who was from a hilly region decided that he wanted to climb up the slopes.Before anyone had any time to react he was clambering up..then it was monkey-syndrome and everyone was climbing..all this while Mr.P full of wisdom was unaware of the situation and by the time he noticed the commotion,it was too late..on the other hand TM lover of art and full of youth didnt see anything dangerous in our exhuberance...I could see all the wisdom pouring out of  Mr.P's wrinkles and him asking us to get down but to no avail..TM meanwhile was still drinking in the scenery..I dont wish to blame either one of them in the slightest for what happened;it all happened so fast..Meanwhile I having seen the boys in action on the slippery slope had hung back..but heck who misses out on a chance to create history..these guys were probably going to conquer the water-fall and i was not one to miss out on the action..So I, taking leave of my good senses, started climbing up the rocks..It was only then i realised, that the rocks were wet and slippery to the nth degree..years of water flowing over them and the moss on them had left very few and dangerous foot-holds..why so dangerous?'cos the water flows under the bridge and down the rocky face to the town of munnar way,way below...and we were all climbing up in such a manner that we had to catch each other to keep ourselves from slipping very often..and one imbalance could have sent not only me but several others around me all the way down with not a thing to hold on to..the damn bridge also didnt have a centre pillar..it was small anyway..by now a guide had arrived on the scene and was shouting his lungs out at us.."its damn dangerous what you are doing and also this is the water which the wholle town drinks!!"We had conquered the waterfall all of us and hurrahed in unison on our 'achievement'.All this while I had felt my B.P grow as i kept moving my arms to maintain my balance..the veins on Mr.P's temple had grown to bursting point and he was asking us repeatedly to get down..TM too had woken up from his siesta and he was gesturing wildly to us..I started praying,pleading to God to save me..and my mind made a collective request to all the saints I knew..I looked down and saw the whole town beneath and imagined the after-life..We started the descent ..more horror..i discovered that Newton's Gravitational force which till now had helped me to stay on Mother Earth was now doing its max to take me away from her..I still remember the terror in my mind with every step that i took and the near-slips and the slips,how i hung on to anything in reach-human or rock..and the frequency of my prayers?Iam just happy that God's network doesnt get jammed like the insti's site when results are announced or online tatkal booking at 8am..Let me repeat-'its damn harder to climb down a slippery slope than climbing up'.When i got back down I felt God had given me a second life..in continuation with the first one that is...I felt like Gautham Budhha and Mahavira on enlightment day minus the extra knowledge..so happy to be still there..that was REBIRTH...Meanwhile Mr.P and TM looked highly relieved that they could hang a photo of us all at graduation day and not one with a garland on it when they got back home..

am sorry that this has to be such a long post,but this story is best told in one sitting..we reached the top of the hillock and the people there told us that we had just missed the goats by about 10 min..and that they had moved onto the other face of the neighbouring hillock...disappointment crept into the ranks..but the very same guy who was the villian in the waterfall episode was not to be undone by this news..apparently crashing through thick bushes and creepers and what-not was second nature to him..so off he went and we followed for all of us knew that it was the only way we could see this elusive creature..this wonder of wonders which climbs up steep rocky faces with no ropes..i wondered what could possibly go wrong here,after all there werent any slippery rocks here..so off i went ..and lo an behold there lay a group of goats on the neighbouring slope..beautiful,sturdy creatures they were..i tell you the way we greeted those goats people would have thought celebs were parajumping on the opposite slope..we were so glad we could see them after the long trek up the hill..we got bacck and that was when the trouble began..almost all of us had leeches sucking in our shoes,pants..and there ensued a mini-panic trying to get them off...and few of us yours truly were anxious 'cos we couldnt find any on our person..so it is not enough that you are not bitten by leeches but now we had to be absolutely sure they werent hiding and sucking our blood!!but all in all if it was not for that jungli amidst us i wouldnt have experienced rebirth,nor seen the GOATS..guess we hav to thank you Rupesh and gang from wayanad..

Now a final word-even though munnar is in India,the weather is from U.K..more often than not its wet and cold..with a perennial drizzle..so it was that by the time we reached the Swiss Farm at Matupetty(called so because the cows and not the people there, are from Switzerland),we were wet from the rain..and rushed indoors to the cow-shed..twas all the same except the FIRANGI COWS were fatter than our normal Indian ones and apparently gave more milk too..there is a system in place to clean the cow-sheds and the cows and to feed them...but cmon they are cows and who can blame them if they feel like peeing all the time,with the weather urging them on?so it was that the place reeked and we were happy to rush through the place and i noted that they had given the cows their original firangi names and kind of nice names too..

We enjoyed the bus-ride on our way back to school.And we went our seperate ways a lot later,but the memories of that trip and other incidents in my school-life will remain with me forever...