P.RAJA (October 07, 1952) a son of this divine soil, Pondicherry, India famed for its spiritual heritage, writes in his chosen language, English, and also in his mother tongue, Tamil. More than 5000 of his works – poems, short stories, interviews, articles, book reviews, plays, skits, features and novellas – have seen the light through newspapers and magazines that number to 350 in both India and elsewhere. He has 30 books for adults and 8 books for children in English and 14 books in Tamil. Apart from contributing special articles to Encyclopaedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English (London), Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature in English, and to several other edited volumes, he has also written scripts for Television (Delhi). He broadcasts his short stories and poems from All India Radio, Pondicherry. He was GENERAL COUNCIL MEMBER of CENTRAL SAHITYA AKADEMI, New Delhi (ENGLISH ADVISORY BOARD -- 2008-2012) representing Pondicherry University. He is EDITOR of TRANSFIRE, a literary quarterly devoted to translations from various languages into English. His website: www.professorraja.com
THE FUN LOVER by P. RAJA
On a sultry afternoon, when all my family members left for a nearby temple to participate in the fun and fanfare of the festivities there, I was left alone in my house with my toddler grandson.
Like me, my grandson has taken a liking neither for the temple nor for the stone gods installed there. Neither his mother nor his grandmother, to whom he was very much attached, could ever cajole him into visiting places of worship.
For a long time, my son too strictly followed my ideals and shunned from going to temples. God knows what really happened…a dramatic change took place after his marriage. He stopped loitering around and began visiting places of worship with his wife.
I am like my father and no amount of advice from my pious better half had ever helped me in changing my views about temples and stone gods. Only the Lord in the firmament knows when my grandson would abandon his grandpa’s ideals and stick to his grandma’s.
Before I start this story, I must introduce the hero to you. He is the very same fellow, left under my care in the loneliness of the house. I registered his name as Ramana when he was born in a private hospital though very rarely others call him by that name. He has several names to his credit, all of them coined by the witnesses of his mischief. And he himself, perhaps confused with the different names he was called by, would give different names at different times when he was asked: “What is your name, child?”
Ramana’s favourites are cell phones. Almost everyone in my family has one or two cell phones to call his or her own. The child is quite familiar with all the brand names of our cell phones and so he would answer “My name is Nokia,” other times he would say, “I am Samsung,” sometimes he would club two brand names and coin one on his own, and say, “My name is LG Motorola” or Blackberry Lava,” thereby putting everyone to peals of laughter.
Ramana knows not only the several brand names of cells but also the ways of handling them. At times, he would send empty messages to friends who will call back to know what that empty message was meant for. He would press buttons of his choice and call people. And when he hears a response from the other aside, he would either howl into the machine and put the one at the receiving end to fright or sing the nursery rhymes he had learnt by heart and give a concert to the listener and carry him to dizzy heights. Sometimes he would simply keep mum and drive the listener to the verge of madness. After a while, he would put it into the refrigerator and run away to play.
Those who accidentally see the cell in that unwanted place would rush to its rescue, smiling at the mischief of the child. “Thank god, the freezer is too high for him to reach,” they would mumble and hand it over to its owner.
The double-door refrigerator served as a ‘safe’ for Ramana, and he kept only the valuables there. Sometimes we came across his playthings like tiny cars, spinning tops, half-chewed chocolates, etc. We rarely disturbed them for we were happy to know that the child was learning the value of things.
Once when I was in a hurry to go out to keep an appointment with a writer, someone handed over my house tax bill and said that the tax should be paid within fifteen days from the date mentioned. I handed it over to my wife, standing at the gate to see me off and said, “Keep it safe.”
Ramana seated on my wife’s hip – that was the seat he highly preferred for where could he find such a cozy seat – perhaps understood the value of the demand from the government.
A week or so later, when I asked for the bill, my wife became panicky for she forgot its whereabouts. A bickering ensued and a little later, Ramana prattled “Hai! Hai!” perhaps with the intention of putting an end to our quarrel and dragged his grandma to the refrigerator. He then opened the bottom door and told her to pull out the vegetable container at the bottom tray.
We were all smiles when we saw the house tax bill resting there. But poor thing! It got completely soaked. With great care, we took it out and dried it up in the sun. Thank god, we got the bill but the details of the amount to be paid were smudged and hard to decipher.
How I was looked down upon and jeered at by the cashier in the Municipality would make another interesting story. But I would better stop here and go ahead with the story I want to tell you.
Stretching myself and relaxing in the sofa, I was watching my favourite Animal Planet channel. Ramana was resting his head in the crook of my arm, his wee body close to my chest and his one leg on my tummy; he was meddling with my Blackberry, a present from my second son settled in Canada.
After a while, Ramana fed up with the digital game he was playing, gave the machine to me and said that he wanted to listen to music and songs. I switched on the FM radio and handed it over to him in order to keep him cool and away from his monkey business.
A half-hour would have passed. I was engrossed in the life and style of Amazon women they were showing on the channel. Ramana was deep asleep. I released the Blackberry from his sleeping hands and switched off the radio.
I do not know when I dozed off. Is sleep contagious? I was startled out of sleep, when my landline screamed.
I rushed to know who the caller was.
The moment I said ‘hello’ into the receiver, I heard my wife banging me from the other end.
“How many times did I call you over your cell? Where the hell have you disappeared? Is Ramana alright? Is he troubling you? I don’t think that we will be able to reach home before dark. The temple is overcrowded and we have not yet seen the Lord. To wriggle our way out through this milling crowd would be far from easy. Feed the child if he complains of hunger. All that you have to do is to boil the milk kept on the oven. Don’t forget to add a little sugar. Give him biscuits if he asks. Biscuits are in the tin kept in the kitchen cupboard. If you have to go out, take Ramana along with you. Don’t forget to handover the door key to that talkative old lady in the opposite house. Don’t forget to take your cell phone with you, when you go out.”
I heaved a sigh of relief, when she disconnected her cell phone.
My eyes began to search for my Blackberry. I couldn’t find it anywhere. And the sleeping child was also missing.
“Where the hell has this child gone along with my cell phone?” I asked myself and called out his name.
There was absolutely no response. I entered one room after another. He was not to be seen anywhere. Neither was my Blackberry.
I began to bellow out his name Ramana…Ramana…Ramana…There was no response.
I was sure that the fellow had not moved out of the house for the main door remained bolted. I rushed to the backyard of the house, entered the loo and then the bathroom. He was not found anywhere there.
Something in me said that he was involved in a bigger mischief, for he was a shrewd organizer of such things. The only place I had not yet searched for him was my study.
Yes! Ramana was there. I found him preoccupied with a big fat book. “Hei! What are you doing here?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “I am busy. Don’t disturb.” He simply aped what I used to tell him when he entered my study.
As I went nearer to him, I found that he had already pulled out a few pages of a dictionary and had torn them to shreds.
Wild with rage, I pulled out the dictionary from him, only to find out that all the pages under ‘A’ had gone and that he had started tearing the pages under ‘B’.
There was no use in howling at the child. For if he began to howl back, nothing on earth could stop him.
“You shouldn’t have done this,” I said to him showing the shreds that covered the floor, all the time maintaining my unusual calm.
Ramana continued with the work and said, “Don’t disturb. I am busy.”
I had no other option, but to okay his work. I had lost several books from my library to rats, squirrels and moths. So why not a few to a lovable biped?
“When will you be free, Sir?” I asked in all humility, with my arms across my chest and my body bent forward.
“Why?” Ramana asked, without even taking away his eyes from the book he was butchering.
I said, “Sir! I need my cell phone. Where have you kept it? Give it back to me and I will leave you to your serious work.”
“Oh! Your Blackberry? It’s safe thatha,” said he.
The word ‘safe’ reminded me of Ramana’s safest world – the refrigerator. From my study, I shuffled my way to the kitchen. I opened the big door and then the small one above…ransacked the whole machine. But there was no trace of my poor Blackberry.
I made my hunt for my Blackberry in all the favourite haunts of Ramana in the house. It was nowhere to be found.
My creative brain hit upon an idea. Why should not I try to wake up my slumbering Blackberry through my landline? Immediately I dialled my cell number. For a few seconds, there was only a beep…beep…beep response…And then a mellifluous voice said, “The cell phone number you are trying to reach is currently switched off.”
My God! Now the job of finding my cell phone has become all the more difficult. And the only one rescuer I could think of was Ramana.
I rushed back to my study. Ramana was busily engaged in shredding every page of the dictionary. My writing desk and the floor were cluttered with the broken parts of many of my pens that adorned the desk. Many of them do not write and that is another story; all the handiwork of Ramana.
“Ramana, dear! Where is my cell phone?” I cooed.
“Ramana gave an innocent look and then continued with his work. Perhaps he thought why this old man wanted to get the answer again, when he had already given it.
“Ramana, my little darling! Where did you put my cell phone? Blackberry! Blackberry?”
“Blackberry is safe thatha.” He said without even shifting his eyes from the mutilated dictionary.”
“Yes, my child! I know Blackberry is safe. But where did you keep it? It is not there in the refrigerator. And I can’t find it anywhere. Will you please help? I have to give a call to someone very urgently.”
“Who is it, thatha?” Ramana asked.
“You do not know him. Please help,” I held his chin and coaxed him.
Ramana shook his head as if he wanted to say he would not budge from the place, since I was going to give a call to someone he was not familiar with.
“Come on, Ramana! Please, please,” I said and showered his face with kisses.
Ramana smiled and said, “I will show you where it is, provided you help me in tearing this book.”
“Sure! Sure! I will give you another fat book to tear. But now help me out in getting my Blackberry,” I pleaded.
Ramana again shook his head and said, “Only after finishing my work.”
I had no other way but to help him in tearing the dictionary. It took another half-hour to tear page after page and then shred it.
The work was over. That was what I thought. But Ramana gave me the hard cover of the dictionary and motioned me to tear it. I put all my strength to action and with great difficulty managed to tear the hardboard into several bits.
Ramana clapped his hands in appreciation of my muscle power put to proper use. He let out a guffaw. I knew its meaning: “Rats too would not have done such a clean job of it.”
He then held my hand and dragged me to the kitchen.
“It’s not there in the refrigerator!” I said.
“Yes! It’s not there…I know where it is… It’s safe,” so saying he dragged me further and stood near the kitchen sink. “Here,” he said.
“Where?” I asked with all curiosity.
“Here… inside this,” he said pointing at a big bucket of dirty water.
My heart began to beat faster than ever.
“Is my Blackberry in this bucket of swill?” I asked.
“Yes, thatha! The Blackberry stopped singing songs to me. And so I punished it by throwing into this bucket.”
I titled the bucket to its left and emptied it. The little fellow, with his arms akimbo, was looking at the flowing dirty water.
“Ah! There it is,” he cried, “Ah! There it is…I told you, you know, it is safe,” Ramana said in glee.
Yes! My blackberry was safe, drenched to its sim. Without losing a second, I pulled my Blackberry out, shook off the dirty water….
“Why did you do this?” I howled at Ramana. The animal in me came up.
“It stopped singing me songs. It became useless,” he said, his eyes brimming with fear.
I remember to have told him that all useless things should go into the bucket. I never knew that he would follow every syllable of my advice.
The animal in me looked daggers at the child.
“Thatha,” Ramana called, expressing genuine fear. “Will you give me the second big fat book?” he asked.
“What for?” I asked gritting my teeth.
“To tear,” said the child laughing at the ugliness of my face.
The animal in me disappeared and the god came up.