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Vol. XXX No. 10, September 16-30, 2020

United India Colony Days – II

by Ramanuja Iyer (Ramanuja.Iyer@gmail.com)

(Continued from last fortnight)

We had fun with the simple things in life, starting the day early with the morning newspaper, chatting with friends devoid of any devices, enjoying whatever food we got to fill our stomach, watching TV as a group on the only channel we had and of course playing cricket wherever we found space.

We spent so much time together, especially during the vacations. The day’s cricket began with us going to each person’s home, waking them up, and most likely their neighbors too with the early morning ruckus. We would get back home for breakfast, play monopoly at Keshav’s place, or Carroms at Kunal’s or at my place, and then have lunch and snacks in between, and then end the day at the terrace of Govindham apartments, lying down on the sloping roof and looking into the starry night, and talk about anything under the earth – movies, cricket, tennis and girls in the neighborhood.

We would try to watch TV together as a group, and mostly at one of the third floor apartments whose occupants were so open to us joining them even if they were in the middle of doing other things. If there was a cricket match going on, then their whole day was also spent with us. Diwali was always great fun as we’d all pool together to buy the firecrackers and light them on the terrace, doing the honors for the rest of the folks at the apartment as well. Then on some weekends or holidays, we’d decide last minute on watching a movie and rush to the theatre on cycles of all sizes or by bus. We could reach Udhayam complex in under 15 minutes and the Mount Road theatres in 20 mins by PTC bus, which was a bit of a stretch even with the light traffic of those days. Sometimes we had the kids tag along, and we’d then change the plan to a more age-appropriate movie.

Life otherwise was just ordinary, and a bit of a struggle at times. We were not blessed economically, my dad was a mix of a good engineer and a bad businessman, which is not a good recipe for entrepreneurial success. So the going was tough at home in that sense, compared to many others, what with four of the family at school. School was fun in some ways but had its pressures too with the rat race as you were getting close to facing board exams and then the pressure of getting into college. So the evening games were a great stressbuster in many ways. There was a period when I was also really down and that is when the hand tennis incident happened. Now, what exactly is this hand tennis? You see, we were great tennis fans after reading about it in the papers and watching it on TV at one of our neighbor’s.

I loved watching Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker battle it out at Wimbledon and other Grand Slams. Keshav and I were hardcore Lendl fans and agonized watching live his close defeats to Becker. Being blessed with good hands and weak finances, playing tennis in a proper court was ruled out, but that did not stop us from playing it using our hands on the terrace or in front of our apartments. We even played doubles and that helped my net game as I got to play real tennis later in the US. Keshav was again the player to beat and I was second best. We would play intense games, diving on the cemented floor and hitting the ball with all our might. At the end of the game we’d have both hands red and sore, as you used with your left hand as backhand. We even had full round-robin tournaments played in the heat of Chennai during our summer break.

At that time in the early 90s, we were renting an flat at Anu apartments on Circular road across the Fatima church. The apartment had a very tiny open space in the front which was our tennis court. Keshav and I usually play tennis when we did not have more company, as he’d cross over from Govindham apartments just across the street.

That evening was the first time I set eyes on Maya, and I just could not take my eyes off her.

I am sure that was the case with anyone like me in the neighborhood. She was slim with great looks, intense eyes that were bordering on hazel and had a killer smile. After that first incident she kept appearing more frequently in the area as that was her route to Fatima School. I then found that she was a Mallu too and was staying around 120 degrees apart on Circular road in an old classical styled house that I nicknamed Bhargavi Nilayam (after an old Malayalam movie). Eyes started to meet more frequently as I understood her timings, and I believe the same could be said of her as well.

Maya had an elder sister who was in college and used to accompany her most times during their evening walks. I then got to know her real name from Srikanth, but we will still call her Maya for this story, as it was all like an illusion anyway. Their mom also used to join them during visits to the Vinayagar temple on the adjacent Rajaram colony. It looked like they were also not blessed financially, I realized that this was another common ground. Now in those days, we were all simple middle-class guys and talking to girls was just done at school or if they were related to you and not with anyone on the road.

So, I never mustered the courage to introduce myself. Obviously, I was not riding high on confidence due to many factors and that played a part too, but we were still ‘seeing’ each other on a daily basis. I was not tough, but the ‘seeing’ got me going when the going got tough. It could have started as an infatuation given our age, but it felt like it was more than just a crush.

We then had to shift to Gokul apartments which was to the other end of 4th cross street, which as I wrote earlier is tangential to the Circular road. I thought that the regular ‘seeing’ would vanish as I was not on her way to school, but I could always walk a little extra to catch a glimpse. I guess Maya quickly figured that we had moved and then increased the frequency of the evening temple visits mostly with her elder sister for company, and I assume that the sister knew what she was up to but just played along in good faith. Those days our eyes were much better thanks to no devices and lot of long-distance viewing, so I could make her out from far, right from our bedroom window itself. I then would move to the balcony looking out into the road and as Maya reached a certain spot the slender neck would tilt up and the eyes would meet again, a full smile would be hard to come from both sides, we’d just settle on a half-smile as a sense of satisfaction.

This continued on most days. My mom and younger sister got some wind of what was going on as the slender neck would turn even when I was not there, but quickly retreat back to its position in my absence, leading my mom to tell me in jest that someone might end up having spondylitis soon. An elder cousin of mine came to stay with us for a short period and he could figure out something was cooking too, and he pulled me aside and told me that there was this nice looking girl who strains her neck up to look at our balcony, but he was sure it was not for him, and the most likely candidate was me. I did not resist, on the contrary I did enjoy the small embarrassment that came with it.

(To be concluded next fortnight)

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