Why we ventured on such a thing despite the accumulating evidence that our own parents had met with complete and utter failure, was not altogether clear to us at the time. But if life teaches you anything, it is that the shortest path to wisdom is to stick your finger in odd places labelled ‘don’t’.
Entering U’s room one afternoon circa august 2002, I found him and S delicately examining a fur ball at odd angles with a curiosity that would have made Galileo proud. I joined the quest not entirely sure what we were looking for in a palm sized, brown puppy when it was explained to me that they had found it outside the hostel gates snuggled in the bushes and because the mother hadn’t shown for the whole hour that they had scouted the litter, S and U decided that the most vulnerable-looking of them needed a home – survival of the unfittest being the civilisational parallel to the natural world. Since obviously the puppy needed a name, the present search was to determine whether it was a boy or a girl. Several people stopped in to offer their opinions and after much debate lasting most of the afternoon, it was decided that the fur-ball was a boy and we christened him Doogie.
The first order of business was to feed doogie. It was decided that all babies are the same don’t you know and so we should treat it just like one did a human baby. This involved dropping Doogie repeatedly into an ashtray full of milk. It didn’t work. Then it was suggested that given Doogie’s propensity to vacuum anything within sucking distance and given U’s prominent nipples (cause for much pontificating in his early college days), U should take one for the team and offer his services and look, its going to be difficult for us too since we would have to smear those with milk in between sucks. Worried that U was showing only mild horror at this suggestion, the ever resourceful S engineered an ink dropper into a feeder and the problem had been solved.
Doogie soon learnt to feed himself and to see him attack the milk-ashtray with such savagery filled us with pride little realising that this was a survival response to the 6 droppers of milk we were giving him at feeding time. Life then subsequently fell into a pattern and U and S’s rooms which were next to eachother, soon became the olefactory centres in the hostel. U and his room continually smelt of milk for years while S’s room, one thinks with some prodding from U, was identified by Doogie as the potty zone. This was fitting since in all our experimentation with personal hygeine in those days, S was the true pioneer (multi-coloured fungi that talked back when prodded). Rumour has it that his room is still being fumigated.
Doogie’s upbringing met with several bumps in the early days, many of them literal. According to one estimate, Doogie got cozy with Newton’s laws at least 442 times from varying heights depending on who was paternally flinging him in the air, sitting, standing or lying down. Doogie, a quick learner, would frantically work his legs whenever any one approached his belly with baby noises.
But in one thing we did not fail as parents – we gave Doogie culture.
We taught him how not to play the guitar, showed him how not to woo women and taught him how to roll a joint. Informed him on Gilmore, Knopfler and Tarantino and showed him Pune from behind a rucksack atop a scooter. It would later prove that Doogie in fact was a girl but as U would say, “Ah! that’s ok. We’ve raised her as a boy”. She turned out alright in the end although her left eye still twitches when occasioned with photographs of U bare chested.
Illustration: Samia Singh
Published in Tehelka, 18 Sep 2010
Having moved to Chennai recently I found myself in the now familiar situation of looking for student lodgings. Something that would fit the budget and the psychology in so far as the former constraint would allow. Below is described the fruition of these efforts.
I stay as a paying guest in a very humble home at a very modest part of town, 3 kms from MatScience alongside the IIT back wall. The home belongs to the father of one Mr Nageswara Rao, of whom, more later. This area was an erstwhile slum which in the years since has grown concrete walls and discovered sanitation (hidden underground pipes, septic tanks,plastic flush tanks that go woosh and generally a little more intimacy about the morning rituals). The gate opens into a paved sitting area, shielded by an asbestos sloping roof, to the right of which, opposing the compound wall is what we shall call loo#1 and loo#2. (more about loo#2 later) As you move past this sitting area and through the main door, you find yourself in a corridor which opens onto 3 doors. Through the central door you will see a room furnished with two beds, a cupboard and an elderly, dilapidated couple who will stare you down until you make apologetic bubbling noises. The left door opens into the kitchen and the right into 1.5 rooms, containing three hospital beds. while you are taking all this in, you will also notice a smell. a sweet smell. but the kind of sweet smell which always made you suspicious as a kid. a sweet medicinal smell. if you move towards the kitchen, the smell will change in shape to include that of sambar or alternately a thick dal, which apart from being genuinely very tasty has the distinction of ending up on my plate every single day, unaccompanied as it were, by any of its more illustrious cousins from the plant family. Its dal and bhath in this house. thats our motto. thats our creed.
My hospital bed is in the room furthest from the kitchen and the corridor and therefore the smell. I will soon be sharing it with one Mr Nirmal, who is soon-to-be-joining me, anyday now, in the hospital bed opposite, or so Mr Rao assures.
The elderly couple in the central room are the people who brought Mr Rao into this world, “into a world of Uttter poverty”, in the words of Mr Rao. From those modest, humble beginnings, including a 36 hour period without food in the govt hostel(“free accomodation”), Mr Rao caught his destiny by its loins, twisted it for good measure and guided it into the present; a present that sees him as a CSIR employee, father to an MTech doing son, and the sole purveyor and undisputed king of a ‘paying guest’ empire of 51 souls (including mine). Coverting his parents place to include 3 more paying guests is the latest in his strategy for world domination. As he said to me himself ” My dream is to have one complex where all kinds of full business interactions will be taking place. So that next time you come to Chennai, i can provide for you and your wife. and also i want send car to airport to receive.”
Mr Rao’s mother is the defacto matron of the house. Mr Rao’s father, after retiring from work as a gardner, now has a 25% efficient heart and is mostly bedridden, and gets up, on average, once everyday to go to loo#2. He has severe food restrictions including consuming not more than one litre of liquid in any form per day. Most of this liquid finds its way into a transparent medical pouch attached to his bladder/ groin by means of a tube. When he walks, he has to carry that pouch along with him and manages to do it with a surprising dignity. So, that leaves Mr Rao’s mother, a woman with a most severe, angry set of eyes, as my sole point of contact in the house. Our conversations, which are essentially logistical in nature, are conducted in Telugu (which is great since its not tamil but only marginally so). This being somewhat of a hurdle, my basic strategy during these exchanges is to essentially get a few words right and using them as a sort of basic reference point, try and strike the approximate tone of voice, and all of this while waggling my head, kinda like trying to hypnotize her while speaking. After that its basically luck and good fortune. Its working so far.
In truth, its a decent place. Its walking distance from the institute, i get breakfast and dinner and its 3,500/- which i suppose is cheap given that there is also a washing machine and a maid who’ll do the laundry. And Mr Rao put in a false ceiling everywhere so i don’t think the asbestos will be a problem. The loo, loo#1 is clean though it has a faint smell of the sewer. the smell must have an external source since the loo and the bathing area is actually kept clean. The toilets actually double up also as a bath. Loo#2 in addition to having a western toilet and a bathing area , actually has a urinal! I was most intrigued by this on my first day. I have however, a grim determination to never set foot in there again after that first day. I treat it like a black hole event horizon, a most distressing singularity in space; stay away at all costs. Anyway, I kinda like Mr Nageswara Rao and his sincerity. He’s busy today completing all the fittings, appointments etc which will make the place fully operational before the two others arrive tommorow. I think he likes me but i suspect it may be because i am from the “elite class”(his words) and this oppurtunity to hobnob with the elite of the land is not to be missed. I haven’t told him yet that Ma acted in a film, but i think i’ll save it for his birthday.
I forgot to mention the cow. facing the house and a few paces to the right is a cow shed.You wouldn’t believe the amount of cowdung that one cow can produce. its a fucking massacre. Anyway, she sort of acknowledges me as i walk past her bum to the institute every morning. Its really just a subtle nod of greeting, but who knows, could be the start of a beautiful friendship.