[Editor’s Choice: Short Story from College days. One student spent all his money to pursue a new hobby – Playing Guitar and left with no money even to eat.]
PS: All characters and incidents in this story are purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any real person or incident is purely coincidental.
I have written this story in first person, but that doesn’t imply that it is about me. Comments and criticism are most welcome.
I was pursuing my third year in B-tech at a medium rated private Engineering college in Kochi, which if you don’t know, is in the God’s own country – Kerala. Speaking about my third year, it was during this time that my academic graph began to plunge like an Indian cricket scorecard of the 90’s, after Sachin’s dismissal. But more importantly, that was the time the Tamil movie ‘Varanam Aayiram’ was released.
The Suriya starrer blockbuster had two major effects to the college boys of that time.
a) Many started hitting the gym religiously; six packs were back in fashion.
b) The rest began to learn guitar.
I was of the second category.
It was not like I wanted to be a rock star. But there was this cute girl with curly hair and deep dimples that I was infatuated to. She joined that year in first year CS, thereby distracting my fragile heart for the days to come.
Her name was ‘Daisy’ and there was a stupid romantic film song in Malayalam about platonic love that goes like this:
‘Ormathan vaasantha nandhana thoppil,
Oru pushpam mathram,
oru pushpam mathram…
Daisy….. Daisy…. Daisy………….
La la la la laa.. ‘
This can be translated roughly as :
“In the Eden garden of love, there is only one lovely flower. One flower, that is ‘Daisy’ “.
The fresher’s day was round the corner. Arts club secretary was my friend and he would give me a chance to play this song if I learn to play it without inflicting heavy damage to the music. So the plan was to play the song in guitar for a while, and when the ‘Daisy part’ of the song comes, I would look at her amidst the entire college and sing aloud:
“Daisy… Daisy…. Daisy… la la la la laaa…”.
This way of expressing love to a girl is rather childish, I know now. But at that time, I found it innovative. I was proud to have devised a new filmy style of proposing, which was not yet featured in any of the Kolywood, Molywood or Bollywood masalas.
In order to learn to play, I bought a second hand Yamaha guitar from a friend of mine for three thousand bucks.
Three thousand rupees!
That was a lot of money for a college student like me who lived in a humble bachelor room with very humble monetary rations from my father. It was enough money to leave a hole in my wallet.
A very big hole!
Speaking about my wallet, I was standing beside a busy road near my college and was inspecting the contents of my five hundred bucks worth Levis purse. Other than the useless bits of rubbish, there were two ten rupee notes in it, with the Father of the nation smiling at me, in each one of them.
That was a Saturday and I had come out to have my brunch. Since I had only twenty rupees, I didn’t have many options.
I walked into Balan chettan’s ‘thattukada’, (kind of Malayali Dhabha). The ‘Oonu’ (meals) was cheap. Just fifteen rupees. The ever smiling Balan chettan served me his modest offering of unlimited rice, sambar, two varieties of thoran, a pappadam, pickle and some slices of onion dipped in vinegar. I had two rounds of rice and was about to ask for a third round. But then, I had a prick of conscience. How would this simple man get a profit by feeding shameless morons like me, and that too for just fifteen bucks! So I decided against the third round, paid Balan chettan, and headed to my rented room with a five rupee coin in my Levis wallet.
Back at my room, my roommate Sami was still sound asleep. His short skinny body was covered from head to toe in his ‘lungi’ (colourful dhoti) which had the miraculous ability to double up as a blanket whenever it was too cold or while the mosquito bites increased beyond a limit.
‘Wake up, you rascal’– I kicked my lazy roommate’s skinny backbone.
‘Get lost you #@$#’ – The last word was not clear as Sami yelled at me. But I could very well fill up that profanity for myself.
I always wonder how Sami could sleep till late afternoon on any given holiday. This was impossible for me, as my hunger always overwhelmed me. It compelled me to wake up at relatively respectable hours so that I could at least have my brunch.
I looked around my stinking bachelor room. However hard I tried to keep it neat and tidy, Sami would spoil it always. Books and clothes coexisted in that room without any order. I would have told Sami a hundred times to keep the books on the table and the clothes in the shelf. But it was my third year of college with this moron and he had not tried a bit to make any attempts to keep our room clean, and I had given up.
‘I like my room to be dirty’ he used to say, ‘for intellectuals are always untidy’.
But then I saw something that shattered my heart apart. The bastard Sami, had left his underwear on my guitar! I took my guitar in my hand and looked at Sami, still sleeping as peacefully as a baby. My instincts were to give one strong blow at his head with my guitar. His golf ball sized head was ready for the Tiger Woods in me. But the sum of three thousand rupees flashed over my mind. I controlled myself from doing so. After all, my adorable musical instrument had other divine duties to perform.
I took my guitar and gently rubbed off the overnight dust with a soft cloth. I had been practicing with this guitar for over a month now. My friend, who sold it to me, had helped me learn to play it. He initially tried to start from the basics. But as I insisted, he agreed to teach me to play this one song ‘Daisy’.
For me, learning guitar had only one single objective -to play the song in front of the entire college and sing out my love to Daisy. But as I progressed with my guitar lessons, I had slowly started to develop an affection towards my guitar. I adored the curves of my yellow Yamaha beauty more than that of any Hollywood actress.
I began my practice.
‘Orma than vaasantha nandhana thoppil…’
It was getting better day by day. I was gaining in confidence.
‘It’s not bad, but I guess you are playing it one note high or two notes low’ – that was Sami’s expert comment about my current status with the song.
I continued my practice and lost track of time. Sometime later in the day, I dozed off.
My gastro enzymes did their amazing job once again. I was awake once again out of hunger. I realized that I had overslept as it was dark outside and the solitary forty watt Philips lamp was spreading yellow light all around my room. I saw Sami busy getting dressed up. He was wearing a T-shirt with a logo against weed.
‘Dude, are you coming to Sangeetha? We will have Biriyani’ – Sami said as he adjusted his thick spectacles.
The word Biriyani triggered my taste buds. My mouth was filled with saliva. A small paper boat could have sailed easily in my mouth. The people at Sangeetha hotel made real tasty chicken biriyani. The chunks of chicken were boneless and large. The aroma of the traditional masala was melody to the heart of a foodie like me. But I knew I was broke. All I had was a five rupee coin in my wallet.
There are some bizarre situations in life were your ego takes command over you. Ego is so powerful a devil, that it can override even the toughest challenges from a starved stomach of an accomplished food lover like me.
So, even though my instincts implored me to go with Sami and make him pay the bill, I found myself speak out:
‘No man, I am not hungry’ – Sami looked at me in disbelief, for it was the first time he was hearing a ‘no’ from me in a matter associated with food.
‘I even have a stomach pain’ – I tried to reason my rejection.
‘Ok then, carry on with your stupid guitar’ – Sami left without any further word.
A part of me had hoped Sami to force me for the dinner, but that was not to be expected from this bugger.
I came out of the room and sat down at the door looking at the horizon. The crescent moon seemed to give a ridiculing smile at me.
‘Chettaa.. Chettaa’ (Meaning big brother) – I heard a kid’s voice.
It was Appoos – the four year old boy who lived in the nearby home.
‘Can you open this up for me?’ – He asked, showing a Snickers chocolate bar.
I took the chocolate and noticed the Arabic script written all over the cover. It was obviously foreign, for Appoos’ father was an NRI, who worked at some oil field in the Gulf. Dubai or Muscat or Abudabi – I am not sure.
‘Open it quickly chettaa’ – the kid was impatient.
I opened it up and gaped at the tempting piece of chocolate. I had to eat it, it was too small a snack to pacify my hunger, but it was food nonetheless.
May be Appoos sensed my cruel intentions, for he snatched the chocolate from me and ran to his home without even thanking me.
‘These little creatures are so ill-mannered’ – I murmured.
I went inside and walked around the length and breadth of my room in acute distress. Many minutes passed by, as I shifted my positions from bed to chair and back to bed. Hunger was taking its toll on me. I cursed myself for telling no to Sami. I looked at my guitar. For the first time I felt a hatred towards it. Three thousand rupees! Why did I buy it? I could have bought fifty Chicken Biriyanis with that money. But then the curly hair and dimpled cheeks of Daisy flashed in front of my eyes.
Love can make people do crazier things. Can’t I do at least this much? – I tried to suppress my hunger with such platonic thoughts. But philosophy has historically been no good medicine for hunger .
I took my guitar and started playing. ‘Orma than vaasantha nandhana thoppil…’ – I have heard many stories about music. Music could cause rain, it could unite divided people and all those stuff. But it was not doing any good for me. At least my level of music was not sufficient to satisfy the cravings of my stomach.
I had a glass of water. It was a temporary relief, I should admit. But that was the best I could do. Nobody is going to die if they skip a supper. I lay down in my bed with my face down, spending as little energy as possible.
I hoped to catch some sleep.
It was a bit later that Sami came leisurely into the room, I was still awake and famished.
‘Sleeping early? What about the practice, great guitarist?’ – Sami ridiculed me. But I hesitated to look at him. My eyes were deep immersed in the fan, spinning over my head with a creaking noise.
‘Well if you have some time, you can have it’ – Sami said, placing a paper packet on my guitar. I was startled and I opened the packet to find the Sangeetha special.
Chicken Biriyani it was! The chicken chunks were boneless and spicy as ever. I pounced on the feast like a starving dog.
It was only a while later that I looked at my friend Sami. He was already in his bed with his lungi- blanket on. I could sense my eyes getting filled up out of gratitude.
It was one of those twenty – thirty instances in a man’s life where his eyes get filled up out of joy. My friend Sami could be a rascal, but at times, he is a very lovable rascal!
However, what I did not realize at that instant was that I was having my Biriyani, keeping the packet over my divine guitar, using it as a table.
The three grand worth guitar was finally of some real use!
– John Jose, Systems Engineer, Infosys Limited, Chennai (Mahindra city)