The Kai Pavai

O, ye! This is the second in the series of masterly delineations ( so, I would like to think) by the great writer ( you know who). First, Kai Pavai is Tamil and translated into English is Puppet. Now on to her description.

She is old but doesn’t look it, so vigorous is her walk. She has a low key guttural voice. She has a quick eye for sizing up people. In one glance she knew my dreaded, fiercely fighting ( hey, what is this, don’t divulge the next delineation already) neighbour guy is the powerful one to kowtow to. In another glance she knew that this thin myopic hesitant figure was to be used if not subdued.

But who is she? You want to know her identity. Much as you may, sheer cowardice prevents me from divulging it. I can disclose this much she lives in our neighbourhood.

When she moved in many years ago she arrived with great fanfare. She had a host of relatives attending on her. She even conducted a grand Grihapravesha. Unknown to her the Eye was watching. After the dust settled down by means of the aforesaid penetrating glance she discovered who the boss of the block ( self styled) was. For all her aggressiveness she is extremely clever and knew where her advantage lay. So, ever since she discovered the boss she has been his faithful puppet. He too on his part knew where his advantage lay. He knew the value of an informer. You see, he is forever alert about the threats to his empire. So he treats this informer well. He is very courteous with her, gives outward deference as it suits his image, such as he thinks he has.

In return she waylays other neighbours and cleverly extracts all their secrets from them – major and minor – by means of seemingly innocuous questions. Oh, what a consummate artist she is! Effortlessly she pours out question after question and the helpless victim simply answers them as though it were a government questionnaire. Perhaps she would be even very effective as a police interrogator. Ok, she now passes on the information to the Appropriate Authority (A.A). But what does she get in return? I am tempted to speculate.

Suspicious low creature that I am, I am tempted to think that she gets exemption from the Great Tax levied by A.A. Which we all have to pay.

Now, to more about our Kai Pavai. Kai Pavai has a large circle of elderly relatives who flock around to help her. People older and feebler are also on this list. In fact there are many to do her bidding. Did I tell you that Kai Pavai has a very pleasant and devoted junior O.L ( old lady)? This state of Kai Pavai may seem enigmatic – puppet on one side and queen on the other. However one cannot call her a puppet queen. When she is queen she is queen and when she is puppet, she is puppet. Get it?

Back to a recurrent theme – her unbounded curiosity. I remember once a close friend of ours, a lady, was visiting us. I had gone to the railway station to pick her up as my wife had gone to her office. So, when we arrived home (friend and I), the curiosity antenna was extended to the maximum. Here was a sight, wife gone to office, man bringing home a lady. What a delicious scandal.

The friend and I after alighting from the cab got into our apartment where as it was lunch time we straight away sat down to eat. We had a leisurely lunch, chatting and laughing. I think Kai pavai must have been in a real ferment. “What”? She must have thought. First, the brazen arrival and now this conversation and laughter. OMG! Is this man the ultimate Casanova? She couldn’t control herself. In no time she was at my door and then inside and then conversing with the lady to find out all about her. I don’t know whether she realised that her suspicions were unfounded! Wisely, she didn’t talk to my wife and ask her questions. If she had she would have got such a rebuff that she would have lost her job as Kai pavai for chasing wild geese!

So, friends, there she is the inimitable Kai pavai, serving her master in myriad ways. I must stop now. I can hear her listening!

Disclaimer: All the characters mentioned in this article are imaginary! No offence meant Saar!


Incidents At The Staff Meeting

There was an expectant hush in the school staff room. The lights had been switched on and all was set for the meeting. The Head looked up in his usual way and stared at the invisible sky through the concrete ceiling. We all interpreted the signal correctly. He was going to say, “Shall we start?” I often wondered whether the Head shared Alexander’s disease if not his greatness. Every body put on serious stuffed frog looks appropriate for the occasion.

P secretly wondered if the rumblings in her stomach produced by the evening’s awful bonda were audible to everybody. Nearby D who had, no such sensitivity let out a burp unashamedly and patted his stomach. Everybody could tell from V sir’s grim straight look that he was going to hit the Head verbally. M, (Macchiavelli) sat with his legs outstretched gazing as though he owned the place. Probably he did too, considering that he held the purse strings of the school. Z, the Great Child and the favourite of the Director walked in breezily, looking for a place from where she could catch the eye of the Director.

As usual, the meeting started without any verbal punctuation. All of a sudden, we were into some vague topic. The Head pontificated aimlessly and the Approvers eagerly leaned forward and calculated their chances of saying their approved pieces.

Suddenly the beautiful dull endless non-challenging monotony was broken as V sir fired his salvo. The Approvers vainly tried their patriot missiles but V being what he was the salvo came like a scud missile. I forget what it was but I think vaguely it was something about a bulletin board and freedom of expression. The Head tried a clever dodge by saying that articles could be whetted by the senior staff members and then put on the board. This gave the chance to an Approver to suggest that the Head himself could be the Editor and thus earned his (Approver’s) keep. However, do not underestimate our V. He would not be deflected. He stared childishly and child like-ly at all of us and pointing to the Head said, “ he can’t be the Editor. Teachers are afraid of him”. A notable truth this and only V Sir would be brave and foolish to say this. He got suitably snubbed of course.

Then there was a brilliant stroke by the great child Z who introduced an entirely different topic and so the freedom of expression topic was dropped into the abyss where it belonged. Thus, the long evening wore on. The unintelligible Foreigner spoke at length about various matters but no one paid any heed.

A clatter of tea cups announced that Chotu to whom all these things were bagatelle had arrived and was making tea for the staff. J looked across the room at L and speculated mentally what L’s earrings would have cost and what L’s husband did for a living. She knew that they were filthy rich and she often also wondered about the state of their relationships – that is L’s and her husband’s. She saw that N as usual was sitting too close to L. Shameless she thought.

Thankfully, it was time for tea break. Any one not familiar with the tea ceremony here had missed a great educative experience. The ceremony far surpassed the much-vaunted Japanese Original. Actually, it went some thing like this. First, there was a blocking of the route to tea by the high and the mighty – the Head, the Director, the foreigner, the finance man and of course all the Approvers in their correct pecking order. The ordinary teachers fell in line and looked wistfully at the distant horizon of tea like the mariner looking for a landfall. The second block was done at the Sugar Bowl where one had to add sugar to the tea served by Chotu. Don’t underestimate Chotu. A stocky build, a determined face, a steady look in the eye are the features that describe this man. Nobody knew his real name, nor did he volunteer it. If M could be called the pillar of the school, so could chotu be. A small pillar if you like. Chotu never took any nonsense from anybody and showed each person his or her correct place in society. He knew to whom to give the tea first and could distinguish to a nicety between the Head and the slightly more powerful Secretary. He knew how to handle the situation if both appeared before him simultaneously.

But I am digressing. Back to the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl stance was perfected long ago by the rulers and nobles of the school. Briefly put, what they did was to cluster around the Sugar Bowl table and having taken a spoon of sugar from the bowl they would hold it poised in the air and talk deliberately and slowly about other powerful nobles in the sister schools.

All the while P was desperately trying to decide whether the rumbles of her stomach would increase if she took tea. The incorrigible D actually was going to let off some thing else without saying excuse me. This was his way of getting even with the management.

There was a sudden commotion. S had as usual in his purblind fashion tripped over the outstretched legs of M. The as yet unsugared hot tea spilt on M’s beautifully tailored trousers. Now, here was a piquant situation. Who should apologise? S for not having seen M’s outstretched legs or M for having stretched out his legs beyond the decent distance? S spluttered something indistinctly – it could have been damn you or sorry but you were in the way. S by the way was the unsuccessful stickler for Justice. M retained his cool, while privately vowing revenge. He knew he could order large unspecified deductions in S’s salary and S would not know what to do about it. He smiled at S and reassured him with aplomb that the damage to his trousers was minimal thereby making it appear to the bystanders that the fault was S’s.

If you looked farther than the Sugar Bowl (it is very difficult to do so, occupied as one was with the arduous task of getting tea before the meeting resumed) you could see the great B bending down at an odd angle to talk to the squatter R who disdained chairs and sat on the mat instead. Not for the first time J thought that B need not display so much of her curves (front and back). She wondered how or rather where R could keep his eyes. Elsewhere Z was busy buttonholing the Director to ensure his favours.

The meeting resumed. Suddenly we were into a mundane discussion on punctuality. The most unpunctual T wondered with unmeant irony grandly how anyone could be late. Then some body brought up the issue of the clock being not punctual and following its own vagaries. Chotu – the bell ringer in his spare time- was also not spared. It was recalled that two weeks ago on a fine morning, the 9:55 bell was not rung at all leading to great confusion. Actually, it was Z who brought it up. She had the discomfiture of standing before her students with nothing to say. Inspite of a chronic verbal diarrohea, she ran out of matter that day in the class room. Eventually the truth came out of a reluctant M that he had sent the bell ringer on an errand minutes before the bell. There was a perplexed silence. Who could fault the great M? Not the Head, who did not enjoy financial power, nor the Director who needed M’s help and certainly not poor S whose salary could be cut off entirely and so it was decided to put the blame on Chotu. “Why did he not inform M that he had the bell to ring?”, asked an Approver. “How was M to remember the duties of Chotu?”, he continued. M assured the assembly that he would ‘speak’ to Chotu. One could see the Director heave a sigh of relief. It was another matter of course that if the reprimand was not suitable in the proper sense of the word, that Chotu would leave and plunge the school into chaos. No better bell-ringer, tea-maker, general factotum could be found at so low a salary. You get an idea of Chotu’s proper standing, if you knew that he was known on occasion to deprive the Director of his tea.

By now it was eight o’clock. It was time to wind up the meeting with the usual abrupt graceless words of the Head “I think we will stop now”.

I think we will stop now.

The Wanderer

The Wanderer

Who doesn’t know Ulysses, the great wanderer? He was also known to cognoscenti as Odysseus and hence the word Odyssey. After Ulysses there have been a great many wanderers in history. The great Chinese wanderer with the unprounceable name ( in my mother tongue ‘ Yuang Swang’), did wander all over the world- without taking care of his health! ( meaning he died early!). Then there were Marco Polo, Magellan Columbus, some religious saints to name a few who all wandered.

All a bit heavy and history text bookish, what? So, I introduce here , in a light hearted vein, my own favourite wanderer.

He is all of five feet two inches, portly, bulging stomach, no exercise, a moustache to frighten little children, tight fitting awkward uniform besides. The uniform is that of a watchman but that doesn’t describe him fully, man of many parts that he is! Of course he watches over the welfare of the stray dogs in our street, he watches our apartment interestedly the whole day, he watches the proceedings when the garbage lorry arrives at the hospital. Did I mention that he is attached to the hospital opposite? He even lends a hand when patients arrive at the hospital in an ambulance. More – he actively participates in the parking of cars for the rich and powerful who may come to the hospital. In this task he uses a WHISTLE persistently, steadily and through out the day. He pushes elderly pedestrians onto the road so that the cars may park on the sidewalk. He effectively frightens the weak and the old with his whistle and hand gestures. The hand gestures are worthy of the guys who guide airplanes on the runway!

Of his whistle whole poems can be written ( if I could). Not being able I am content to give him a label. I could call him a “maestro of the whistle”, but for the stiff competition from the garbage trucker, who younger, has more breath.

But what of wandering? Aren’t you digressing? you may ask. No, my dear reader, I am not. This watchman in his small sphere can out do even Ulysses. Full hundred times a day he cris crosses the street in his wandering. No sooner has he watched a fight on the other side, than he has to cross to this side to participate in the argument developing at the tea shop. Immediately afterwords he has to cross again to watch the pharmacy and then on to the end of the street to watch the municipal truck and so on. Thus to my mind dear readers, he is the greater wanderer than Ulysses. It breaks my heart this poor fellow doesn’t even have a stool to sit on and seems to wander forever.

I can only hope that his mind won’t start wandering along with his body!!

All Hail or Else!

The throng of intensely chatting women students would not make way for the diffident young male lecturers whose ‘excuse mes ‘ were drowned in the din. Fortunately their lady colleagues came to their rescue and safely escorted them to ‘The Room’. All the teachers were making a beeline to this room.

In case you are wondering what this is all about, let me explain. The scene is a college campus and ‘The Room’ was where the grand yearly drama took place. The lecturers, male and female, young and old lined up against the walls of high ceilinged room. There was set one solitary high backed chair in the centre, carved of course. There was an air of expectancy in the room. Somewhere a clock struck nine. Immediately all the teachers sprung to attention and there was a profound hush, into which hush regally strode in The Head. The head was a woman, suitably grave and forbidding. She strode towards the high carved chair and after an imperious glance around sat down. Her hand maidens took up positions on either side. The occasion was a well known festival.

Soon the hIghly interesting proceedings began. There was a general hemming and hawing and out from the ranks stepped forward the chief sycophant(CS). He looked old and distinguished but make no mistake, he was sly and crafty and mastered sycophancy thoroughly, better than the British. He impressively pulled out a roll of paper. Clearly he was about to read something. The assembled teachers stirred nervously wondering how long it was going to take.

S, the budding revolutionary – mild, mild – had hidden himself in the second row between two well built female colleagues. There wafted through out the room a perfume mixed with not so agreeable odours. S being a Chemistry teacher could take it. In fact he himself did not smell too great, sweat and all.

In low authoritative tone, the Head greeted them, advised them, admonished them and praised the lucky few. Next, the CS came forward. He straightened himself looked heavenwards once and then began. Soon, his sonorous sycophonic recital of adulatory poem filled the room. The audience squirmed to no avail. He was of all things, the Hindi pundit of the college. Don’t ask S what he said. S knew only ordinary “ kidhar jatha hai” of Mumbai, ok. But he vaguely understood that CS was likening the Head to Angel of Mercy, Guide Extraordinaire etc.. Somebody cheaply whispered, “Well, he got official quarters in college, didn’t he” ? Pure malice.

Anyhow since the Head did not understand hindi, being properly anglicised, CS obliged with a translation also, such as he could manage. There was mild suitable applause. Then the Head walked out with a stately stride matching the earlier stride in and the crowd dispersed to the refreshment room. There was much jostling by junior sycophants and discreet whispers, giggles and quite guffaws by the ordinary teachers. All were relieved. The next year’s event was far away, anyhow!

Sour Grapes

Those grapes are sour”, said the fox, who couldn’t get them. We all know this story from our childhood. Now, increasingly I find that I am feeling and behaving like the SG fox. In fact I feel most of us humans are SG foxes.

“Look at that fellow walking in the middle of the road yelling into his mobile”, I mutter, looking at a sturdily built young fellow of twenty I’ve who seems to glide through the maelstrom of traffic effortlessly, while I, timidly and jerkily and almost bumping into many fellow walkers. Classic case of SG fox , wouldn’t you say? More.

I see a young fellow roaring away on his two wheeler at high speed. From the kerb, I stare angrily and myopically as he whizzes by. Now, when I think deeply enough I realise that if I could I also would. I mean roar through the traffic in a two wheeler. As simple as that.

Another thing is extravaganza. I say “ so silly to waste so much money on display”. But in my heart of hearts I know, I also would if I could. I just don’t have the money, that’s all.

What does it matter if you go in a Mercedes car or an auto rickshaw or by bus? My saintly self tells me. But the deep down voice replies “ it is so nice to go in a Mercedes car”. So, I know I would if I could.

But one last reflection – a sobering one. Don’t ever forget, we are where god has put us. Behave suitably, huh? He is watching.

What is in a voice?

Probably the most distinctive human characteristic is our voice. The enormous variations in the pitch, tone and timbre of even a single person’s voice make it a very interesting phenomenon.

Thus we have gruff voices ( will cost thousand), sweet voices, thin voices (me), strong voices (my friend), screeching voices, tinny metallic voices (my neighbours?), nasal voices, dull voices, vibrant voices (my favourite actor), commanding voices (my headmaster), beseeching voices, whining voices, laughing voices (my students), seductive voices, chilling voices, roaring voices, grating voices, sneering voices, drunken voices, loud voices, soft voices, mobile phone voices (‘allo! ), stern voices (I told you not to do it), stentorian voices, bellowing voices, whispering voices, hoarse voices, monotonic voices(railway stations), sing song voices (tv news readers), quivering voices (past 90), friendly voices ( how are you , sir), hostile voices (please do not park here), barking voices, soothing voices (it is alright baby), sonorous voices (priests at the temple), querulous voices (my whole body is aching all the time in the morning), threatening voices that make you shiver and so on.

Finally delightful shrieking of my neighbour’s child!