It was loud. Very loud. And little Nadi woke up with a jolt.
A few minutes back, she was sleeping peacefully. Nadi was enjoying that cozy embrace of blanket and the soothing touch of misty- cool morning breeze flowing through the window. The chirruping sound of birds was so sweet; it seemed to melt like a lullaby in her ears. Her room was pristine white, newly painted. The bed and wardrobe were all plush, made of teak wood. Her books were stacked neatly on her study table towards the far right corner of her bedroom. Right on the wall, opposite to her bed, was a big poster of Sachin Tendulkar. She felt happy seeing Sachin in his glossy blue jersey, lifting his bat and smiling at her. It was like he was sharing his triumph with her. Nadi loved cricket and she loved to play. She loved speaking about everything under the sky and loved to listen to people. She had her own doubts about people, places and objects. But she always found people very busy to share her dreams. Nadi’s father, Abdul Karim, was a PWD contractor. She along with her brother and parents lived in a two storey house built over a plot of nearly 9 cents. Coconut trees surrounded their house, blessing it with shade and nuts alike. Abdul Karim had lovingly named his home after his daughter as Nadisha Manzil. Nadisha was her real name, but she liked people calling her pet name- Nadi. Her parents occupied the ground floor and she along with her brother Shihab kept the top floor. They were living in one of the well to do neighborhoods in Vazhakad. Vazhakad is located in Northern Kerala. It had the credentials of a town, but the landscape carried the innocence of a village. But modern day technology and globalization had already started making inroads into the soul of Vazhakad and the people who lived there.
11 year old Nadi was having her early morning dream where ice cream cats were chasing chocolate rabbits. Like a beautiful butterfly, she was flying around in a garden full of flowers, watching these yummy cats and rabbits running around. She was flapping her wings merrily, merrily, merrily… and all of a sudden this blaring music from the 5.1 speaker shook her like a hurricane. Rabbits burst in to crumble, cats seemed to melt and her wings were gone. She had no clue why her elder brother Shihab did this to her every day. Disturbing her mornings. She would be in those final laps of her dear sleep and he would put some junk song in full volume. She had complained but he won’t listen. Not even Uppa (father) could control him. Whenever challenged, he would retort saying this was new generation. Loud. Very loud.
But today it was so loud that when she covered her ears with the pillow, she could hear her heart banging against her ribs. Lup-dup, lup-dup, lup-dup. She lied down like that, reluctant to wish goodbye to sleep. Minutes longingly cried with an innocent desperation in her mind to become hours. That is when Ummi’s (mom’s) wakeup call that blended perfectly with Shihab’s music whacked her head.
“Nadi mol it is 7:00…wake up…” Love. It was not more than 5 minutes and her Ummi, Zohara called her again. Ummi’s voice sounded like a ghost caught in a barbaric storm of clamor:
“Nadi… it is 7:30…wake up and get ready for school or I will come there…” Threat. And Nadi would wonder how the hell those 5 minutes blitzed its way to 30. Again she dozed off hugging her pillow tight against her ear. Ummi finally came in, and then frisked the pillow and little Nadi off the bed.
“How many times I have to call you Nadi… GET READY…” Terror. Nadi heard Ummi roar as she struggled to open her eyes. Ummi was slim yet she was astonishingly strong for her stature. Mission accomplished, Ummi dashed back to kitchen. Only then, when Ummi was gone, Nadi opened her eyes. The clock showed 7:25 AM. She felt deprived…sad…even cheated.
“I could have slept for 5 more minutes…” she thought as she dragged herself to the bathroom.
She stood there facing the mirror with toothbrush and paste in her hand, contemplating on whether to brush or not. Time just seemed to drag a bit too slow. The songs had changed from Malayalam to Tamil to Hindi and now it was some Telugu song that seemed to have followed her in to the bathroom. She felt it thumping her back. Irritated she closed the door with a bang and went on with her chores.
Nadi got ready for another boring day at school. She looked at the clock and it was 8:05 AM now. She was in her usual creamy-white shirt, blue skirt and white socks. The Donald Duck in her Fast track watch seemed to smile her hugging the red strap from her right wrist. Her hair was pony tailed and hung beautifully on both sides of her shoulders. Black, bold kajjal highlighted her big lovely eyes and Cuticura talc made her look fresher and a shade fairer. She neatly folded a white hand kerchief into perfect square, and kept it in her pocket. Then she took her thattam (head scarf) and covered her head so that only her beautiful face could be seen. She cross checked the books in her bag against the Monday timetable.
“Mathematics, Hindi, Social, Malayam, and Science…pencil box…” yes everything was there. She closed her red bag, grabbed her multi-colored Poppy umbrella. She gave one final glance at Sachin’s poster on wall. Bleed blue. A faint smile ran across her lips and Sachin returned her smile. Quickly she headed down for the dining table for breakfast. It was getting late.
To be continued… (17/06/2015)
By the time Nadi came down, taking one step at a time, holding the wooden reeling with her right and Poppy umbrella with the left, it was almost 8:15 AM. The chillness of the marble seemed to creep through her cotton socks and touch her tender legs. Their dining hall was an extension of the main hall. Nadi walked towards the oval shaped, glass and steel dining table. Shihab was already sitting there with one leg on the chair. He was also in his school uniform (same blue and white). She kept her bag below the dining table. As usual the table was empty, except for the Malayalam Daily that lay there untouched. Ummi had still not finished preparing the breakfast. She looked at Shihab who was bent over the Samsung Tab Uppa had gifted him on his last birthday. He was fiddling it with all his might as though he was going to crack it open then and there. He was too occupied to notice her presence. Nadi felt almost scared since the pointed spikes of his awkwardly gelled hair menacingly pointed at her like a porcupine. She thought about the Porcupines she had seen in the zoo and in Animal Planet. Well, compared to her brother’s head, they looked far better. Shihab was a thin, fair boy. He was too tall for his age and what made him taller still was his spiked hair. He had sunken eyes and long fingers. When teachers and Uppa scolded him for keeping this awkward hairstyle, only then did he subdue those vigorously erect hairs of his. Else, they would again stand up straight in attention. Luckily for her, the music from the 5.1 had stopped. Now their 54 inch Sony Bravia, fitted on the wall that faced the dining table, was on. A guy with arms too huge for his thin body, wearing a tight red T-shirt and light-blue jeans was wishing all his loyal viewers a very good morning. He was speaking a mix of Malayalam and English. His English had a Malayalam hangover and his Malayalam seemed to be a distant cousin of English. She walked towards the kitchen that was on the far right corner of the main hall, adjacent to the dining area. She wanted to check if Ummi needed any help and at her sight Ummi growled:
“Go and sit there Nadi… I’m bringing the breakfast…”
She walked back to the dining table and Shihab smirked at her. Then he went back to his tab. She made a face at him but he did not notice. She sat on the chair opposite to Shihab, swinging her little feet weightlessly over the floor. Nadi could hear the sound of water being splashed in large quantities from the ground floor bathroom. That was her Uppa taking his routine power bath. Was he singing as well…? No. She opened the Malayalam Daily and started reading the news. In the first page, a minister was caught in 300 Crore rupees scandal. But she doubted if he was really ‘caught‘, since he was smiling gleefully showing all his teeth. Now that smile… she had seen it somewhere. Is this the same guy who had come to her school and hoisted the flag on the Republic day.
“Yes… it is him!!! Oh my god, did he not give a lengthy speech on patriotism and the importance of being true…” Nadi thought with dismay and confusion. Worst part was that her class teacher had made her climb the stage and offer a rose flower to this minister. And now he was smiling at her and all those people who opened this newspaper as if nothing had happened. Well, who cares, she thought. But 300 Crores…!!! She looked long and hard at those figures printed red- ‘3’ ‘0’ ‘0’ on the news paper. She started crunching hard at the number of zeros that needed to be added in real to that ‘300’ figure to actually make it 300 Crores.
“One’s, ten’s, hundred’s,…thou…thous…and…” Nadi’s fingers lost the battle with the mental count of zeros. She judged that these news papers were misleading the people and helping these politicians by not putting the exact number of zeros in the paper. In the next page, a cruel looking fellow had hacked his innocent looking father and mother to death. She got upset and scared and looked at Shihab for a moment. No, he had no interest in hacking anyone, only his hair looked dangerous and she felt a pinch of compassion for her brother. She searched for happy news, but the news that caught her eyes was devastating. A driver had slept off killing four passengers including himself as his car hit a big truck coming in the opposite direction in the highway. Both the drivers seemed to be in some dreamland of their own and BANG. Nadi wondered how someone could just sleep off while driving. Her Uppa would never sleep. He would talk, talk and talk until everybody in their car slept out of boredom. But Uppa would never sleep; he would happily listen to some Mapilla Pattu (songs that that have a unique Muslim touch of northern Malabar) and drive their white Volkswagen polo. However her heart went to the poor souls who lost their lives in that news.
“Why police is not fining the people who sleep while driving…?” Nadi thought as she moved to the next page. Next page had news of a prominent Malayalam poet protesting against sand mafia. She was complaining that there was no water in the rivers due to illegal sand extraction.
“So sad…but it is raining. How come there is no water in the rivers?” Nadi doubted the intensions of this poet. She made a note to ask her Uppa about this unbelievable connection between sand and water in the rivers. She swung her little feet as she read the next news. The swinging stopped when the news hit her hard. Three engineering students had drowned in some god forsaken river.
“Preposterous. Liar. ” She thought aloud. Shihab looked up at glowered at her with his eyes. She did not bother. Now she was sure that the poet was a liar since these engineering students had found enough water to drown and die. Nadi wondered why these news papers carried so many lies. She read the news once again and contemplated on the reasons as to why only engineering students drowned? At least once in a week some engineering student will drown somewhere. Her Uppa always insisted her becoming a Civil Engineer. She carried that dream as well, even though she did not have a clear idea as to what Civil Engineering meant. But now she understood that swimming was not being taught as a part of engineering curriculum. As a result of this cruelty, students went hunting for water and drowned themselves.
“Crazy. The frustrated poet should go with these engineering students and see the waters that get them drowned…” Nadi affirmed in her mind. She decided she will tell Uppa to take her for some swimming classes else she won’t do engineering. Nadi was not the one to foolishly go and drown in some river. She could not imagine herself becoming a column in the obituary. Suddenly, that thought kind of scared her. She shut the newspaper abruptly and closed her eyes. Nadi silently made a mental note to ask Uppa to take her swimming. That is when Ummi entered the dining area with a steaming casserole of dosa and kadala curry. She asked Nadi to get the Boost that she had prepared from the kitchen. Nadi jumped off the chair and brought the Boost and steel glasses. Ummi took them from her and kept it on the table. Nadi went back to her seat opposite to Shihab.
Appam or dosa or dinosaur made little difference to Shihab and he did not even look up from his tablet. He did not even flinch when Ummi pinched him to have breakfast. Nadi took a plate, took her normal quota of three dosas and poured some curry over them. The steam that rose from the dosa and curry seemed to fill her olfactory with its spicy aroma. And instinctively her mouth watered for those flavors. It was really very hot and her little fingers burned. But, she started slowly from the edge of one the dosa and with a feather touch of the curry, started her breakfast. Meanwhile Ummi laid the plate in front of Shihab, then served dosa and curry. Still he was engrossed in the tab, messaging someone over Whatsapp. Nadi guessed he was eating someone’s head, most probably a girl (sister instincts always proved right). Well, no one knew her brother like Nadi. Ummi put the ceiling fan over the dining table in full swing and sat on the right end of the dining table watching TV. The curry and dosa started cooling down instantly. Nadi continued with her breakfast and Ummi increased the volume of the TV. There was this strange expression of happy bewilderment in Ummi’s face as she watched her favorite song being played in the music channel. An expression gave an impression that she was waiting all her life to see this song. And Nadi knew Ummi was watching the song may be for the millionth time. But still Ummi was amused, bewildered and excited. All the while Shihab was making designs in the curry with a piece of dosa and with his left hand he would be typing. He would nibble a piece sometimes.
Towards the end of the third dosa, Nadi thought of putting forward the idea of swimming.
“Ummi…” No response from Ummi.
“Ummmmmiiii…. Shall I go for swimming classes?”
“Shhhh…let me listen to this song Nadi…” Ummi, like a Traffic Policeman, stretched her left palm indicating her to shut up.
“Ummi…” There was distress in Nadi’s voice.
“Nadi, be quick with your breakfast. It is getting late already for school…” Ummi growled at her.
Nadi looked down on her plate dejected and sad, and then continued with her breakfast. She was already feeling full, but Uppa had taught her not to waste food. She poured a glass of Boost and took a gulp to wash the dosa down her throat. Nadi was now desperate to discuss the matter of swimming with someone. She looked at her porcupine-headed brother in front of her. Hopeless. That is when her Uppa came and joined them. Like always Abdul Karim, her beloved Uppa, was meticulously dressed in white. He was and elegant looking man in his forties. Tall, fair with gleaming intelligent eyes, Karim was a man who could easily be categorized as handsome and charming. He carried a thick moustache, but had a receding hairline. His shirt and mundu (dhoti) was starched and pressed stiff. The fragrance of his expensive perfume seemed to fill the hall. He smiled at Nadi as he pulled the chair and sat next to her.
“How are you Nadi mol? How are your classes going on…?” Nadi’s spirits lifted as Uppa smiled lovingly at her. Meanwhile Ummi served him the breakfast.
“Fine Uppa… I want to go for swimming…” But he was not listening and was staring at Shihab. Then Uppa looked back into his own plate and continued with his breakfast. Hopeless. He too had thought. Nadi was confused whether to interrupt Uppa in the middle of his breakfast. She looked at Ummi to press the matter again. But she had settled down near Shihab, pulling the chair sideways so that she could watch the TV better. Now the earlier anchor who wished good morning was gone. In his place stood another boy and standing really close, was girl. The guy looked funny with a hair style that resembled her brother’s porcupine. And the girl looked as though she was dipped in white putty. Her lipstick was very bold and hair looked like the broomstick Ummi used to clean the floor. The girl looked beautiful though. That’s why she came every day morning to wish Happy Birthdays to tiny tots. Nadi was surprised to see that she pinched the guy many a times. Not only she pinched, the guy seemed to giggle at that and he even seemed to mildly enjoy her pinch. Nadi was surprised since Shihab would have beaten the hell out of her had she dared pinch him. But this ettan (elder brother) was laughing. Nadi wondered how thick his skin would be. Suddenly her thoughts came back to swimming.
The curry that was left had almost dried in her plate, but Nadi was determined to discuss swimming with Uppa.
“Uppa… I want to learn swimming…”
“Swimming… Nadi mol…Why?” Amused, Uppa looked at her.
“I don’t want to drown doing engineering Uppa…” she replied with enthusiasm. She was happy her Uppa was listening.
“If you want I will….” Her Uppa started, and that’s when his white Blackberry rang.
To be continued… (18/06/2015)
Uppa got busy with his business call. Little Nadi waited for two minutes. Three minutes. Five minutes. Uppa would not cut the call. So she got down from the chair and kept her plate in the kitchen. She opened the tap and washed her tiny little hands in the tap and cleaned her lips with wet hands. She picked her bag and Poppy umbrella with a heavy heart and said:
“OK. go and come back safely”, Ummi wished her back without even a glance.
Little Nadi walked out of the house and looked at the Volkswagen Polo silently waiting for her departure with its hollow neon eyes set on the gate. Nadi walked across the rain drenched concrete lawn to the gate and opened the black iron gate. She had to lift her toes to reach the latch and open the gate. And when she was out, there stood an unexpected guest in front of her.
To be continued 24/06/2014…
“Mmmmmmeeeeehhhhhhh”, it bleated. Those copper brown eyes, tiny little horns and those huge hanging ears scared little Nadi. She stood there stunned as if a big cruel ox was in front of her. But it was just a black little goat. It looked menacingly aggressive at Nadi as she stood there clenching her umbrella with both her hands. The goat had a dirty red rope hanging loose from its neck and there was a small bell of brass that clinked with each subtle movement of its head. The hair of the goat was wet and clung slickly to its skin. It took a step forward threateningly towards Nadi, but she held her ground. She knew her Poppy umbrella had the power to even kill the devil. Well that was what the Umbrella Man did in the advertisement. The goat took another step towards Nadi and she flung the umbrella with all her might aimed at the enemies face. And it hit bulls-eye. The goat ran away as it was scared for its good old life. Nadi wiped off the perspiration that had gathered as a result of this unexpected encounter using her right hand. She looked at the cloudy sky and sent thanks to Poppy Umbrella Man for his timely intervention. As she walked ahead, Athira came out from her house and so did Anne. The trio walked together to school as usual.
To be continued 25/06/2015….
Nadi studied in one of the finest schools in her neighbourhood and the name of the school was “Holy Trinity”, a school run by Christian Missionaries. The students mainly came from well-to-do families. They hardly experienced any scarcity for anything in their lives and the abundance clearly reflected in their attire and body language.
As Athira, Anne and Nadi walked towards their school, Anne took her brand new Mobile Phone and looked at her reflection on its screen. Though the screen was ‘Gorilla’, Anne was reassured by her reflection that she was pretty still. Nadi could not stand this and she retorted:
“You are not supposed to bring mobile to the school…”. There was irritation in her voice; a kind of childish harshness which her friends readily ignored.
The girls shoved her aside as they walked ahead completely glued to Athira’s mobile phone. As Nadi followed them, head hung low and completely dejected, from nowhere came an auto rickshaw that almost ran her down from behind. She almost fell don over the sidewalk and cried out There was blaring music
But neither Athira nor Anne walking ahead even pretended to notice. In fact, they had no clue as to what was happening around them.
There was blaring music that trailed the speeding auto and Nadi noticed that the vehicle was jam packed with students to St. Pauls, yet another school in the town. She could see the slanting head of the auto-driver which clearly showed that he had a mobile phone squeezed in between his left ear and left shoulder and he was talking over the phone.
Nadi was too small to get dismayed about the catastrophic fate of a mad, technology-driven society, but surely felt irritated about crazy people like the auto rickshaw driver. She knew in the hearts of her heart that complaining was all in vain. So she dusted her hands, uniform, regained her composure and continued her journey.
On her way to school was a theatre complex. The Royal Talkies was one of the important screens in the town and there was a major release that day. Even though it was so early for the show, she could see college students with their bags waiting for the gates to open. She knew they were bunking classes and wondered when she could do the same.
“Why it was so cool and proper to bunk classes when you reached college and not when you are tied up in school? ” she thought airily. Her nose did catch the faint smell of gunpowder and she could see the multi-coloured remains of the crackers that were burst during the special screening of the Super Star’s latest flick for his fans early in the morning. Ignoring all these, she walked on 🙂