Walking under the near-noon day Madurai sun,even in early January(winter?ya right),can be agreeably called as a sweltering experience. Hate to imagine how the place would be in the peak of summer,the sun would be at its incandescent best, bearing down mercilessly on the land.
I was late for work that day,having overslept by a couple of hours. Navigating the crowded and dirty lanes of Thiruparankundram,avoiding the mass of humanity on the streets,the dogs,the beggars,and the spit,with the hot sun overhead can make one's patience wear thin and edgy. Added to this,i had a demo to show on Mule ESB to my mentor that day,and hence was typing out a message to my teammate anxiously to enquire if he visited our seats. So it took a little longer to realise that something was tugging at my t-shirt gently from the sides.
Taken slightly by suprise,i turned to see a small boy,about 8 years old holding the edge of my t-shirt by the tips of his fingers.
"Enna da paiya?"(What is it boy?),i asked with a trace of irritation, at being interrupted from my task.
"Anna anna pasikuthu anna. Etha kaasu kodunga anna"(brother,i'm hungry..give me some money brother), he said in a shaky voice.
He had a small frame,and was wearing a white shirt that had dulled to gray with dust and dirt,and grimy dark coloured trousers.He had a thin whip tied across his chest,like the holy thread. A larger whip was slung over his shoulder.Looked like his family earned a living by whipping themselves for others amusement. I wondered what income they would earn a day.
"Dai. Enna vayasu da unaku? School ku ellam porathu illaya?" ( dai. how old are you? you dont go to school do you?)
He mumbled something in response.I repeated my question again.
"7 vayasu anna."( 7 years old bhaiya)
"School? Padikanum nu aasai iruka?" (school? do you wish to learn?)
"veedu illa.."(no home...)
"school la sapadu kodupaanga da. Theriyuma?" (they give you food at school...did you know?)
"veedu illa.." (no home...)
"Hm...un pearu enna?" (Hm..whats your name da?)
"Anna Durai",he said timidly.
Irony,it seemed. I told him he is named after a very good orator and writer,and that he should somehow aspire to have an education. He reminded me that he was hungry,and asked for some money. He sprinted away after i handed him a ten rupee note.
It was 8 p.m.The narrow,stony mud path leading up to my friend's place was almost dark,and it would have been pitch black had it not been for the light that escaped from the houses lining one side of the lane. The other side had weed shrubs, piles of sand,rubble and freshly dug up earth - the result of a demolition of a small theater a couple of months ago,as i came to know later. I took out my mobile,and with whatever light that spilled out from it onto the road, i started walking up the slope. You have to watch where you land your next step,because you never know what you'd step on- toads or dung,for instance. Jumping over the pool of water that had formed due to the leaking road-tap,i proceeded up the slope carefully,and eventually reached the end of the path,and thereby the house where my friend was staying.
It was quite a hard day for me,sitting before the computer and trying to trace that elusive bug,without much success.I was hungry.We decided to go have dinner. I came back onto the road and started walking. He was not out of the house yet, so i decided to wait near the brighter spot a few paces away,courtesy the house that had a tubelight fixed above their doorway.The atmosphere was almost quiet,with only the faint sounds of a television running somewhere nearby. Approaching the spot,i saw ,sitting on the steps near the door,a thin boy,with a book in his hand and a note on his lap.He seemed to be writing,back bent,with his face hovering inches of the note. He paused in his writing and looked up,no doubt hearing my foot falls. I stopped,turned away from the boy and waited for my friend to arrive. The boy went back to his work,i could say,as i heard the scratch of the pencil and the rustle of the pages.
A few minutes passed in silence.
I turned in the direction of the sound. It was the boy,now sitting erect. He had a smile on his face. He wore thick glasses,greasy hair,and looked frail. Maybe it was the glasses that made his head look disproportionately larger than his body. He was wearing a torn vest,and a pair of khaki half-pants.
"Hello!", i said.
"Enna padikiringa?",he asked. (What are you studying?)
"Studies mudinjuthu. Nee enna padikara?" (studies over..what class are you in?)
"9th std. My name is Karthik",he said with a smile.
"Ah,Nice! I'm Karthik,too", i replied.
"Unga 10th std marks evalo? Maths la how much?"( Bro,how much did you score in 10th? Maths?) , he asked with excitement.
"95 percent and 200."
He seemed impressed with the figures,and enquired more about my academics. I obliged.
I told him its nice to see that he is showing interest in studies.
"I want to be an aeronautical engineer!",he said in a loud voice. The english words were pronounced clearly,which took me a little by suprise,seeing that he studies in the government school nearby. He resided elsewhere,and had come down to this house to learn Hindi.
In a place like Thiruparankundram,where you can see lungi-wearing men of all ages loafing outside tea-shops and parotta kadai s almost all throughout the day,such aspiration to progress was really good to see.I told him this.
"We should be friends",he said,and extended his hand. Again,his english tongue was good,and his gesture caught me by total suprise,pleasant ofcourse.I laughed out aloud,and shook his hand.
"Super da! Nalla Padi. Nalaiku meet pannalaam seriya"(Super da! study well. we ll meet up tom ok?),i said as my friend was approaching.I wished him good night,and went to eat,with a light heart,thinking what book i can gift an aspiring,14 year-old boy.