I was covering Global Summit of Women Speakers in Parliament when the call came. Just a number that showed up on the screen, with no name accompanying it. But then that has been the case since I changed phones. Even my oldest friends have become mere numbers, though they don’t know it.
“Can I call you back?” I texted, and went back to the session. There were world parliaments waiting to transform, and urgently. And I was there to document it. A plethora of voices, faces, costumes, hairdos, accents, nationalities, languages, concerns… Each interesting, relevant.
The evening was a treat to my linguistic senses: English, Arabic, English, Spanish, Russian, English, Portuguese, Arabic, French, English, Swahili…you name it. Mr R. Frost, you would understand me when I say that sometimes my vocation and avocation are one. On the flip side, it also means that I need to be alert and attuned – to the myriad voices and accents including the translators’.
So it was a good while later that I returned the call. The voice at the other end was familiar and apologetic.
“Sorry, Chechi! He was fussing so much that I had to call you. You were busy, weren’t you?”
I told Rajitha what I had been doing. “Is he awake?” It was pretty late by then.
“No, he has gone to sleep, after all that drama. I’ll ask him to call you when he comes back from school tomorrow.”
I was bathing when he called me the next day, but this time the phone showed his name as I had stored it: Puli Murugan. Aka Rahul.
We had met on the flight from Kochi to Dubai. He was sitting next to me, and eyeing my window seat with the kind of pathos only a four-year-old is capable of.
I couldn’t hold out for too long in the face of such misery.”Do you want to sit here?” I asked.
He nodded, his face still a picture of lost hope.
“Come on over,” I said, getting up to exchange seats.
But apparently that wasn’t enough. He wanted his mother to sit next to him.
The young lady refused. Sitting on the other side of her was her newly widowed mother in law, whom she was understandably reluctant to leave alone. I managed to convince them that no, I really did not mind moving, please! You can all sit together.
We played our little round of musical chair once the seatbelt sign went off.
From where I was sitting, I could feel a pair of eyes shooting covert glances in my direction. Each time I look back, he would turn his face. After a while I beckoned him over. His face broke into an impish grin and he came running, as if he had been waiting for me to call. And parked himself firmly on my lap.
“What’s your name, love?”
He lowered his head, looking shyly at me through a mop of hair.
“Tell auntie your name!” His mother admonished.
“Rahul…” he whispered, and fell silent.
“Like Shah Rukh Khan?” He shook his still bent head vehemently. Definitely not SRK.
A minute later, he lifted up his head, looked me in the eye, and stated, “But you can call me Puli Murugan!” For a minute I thought I heard wrong, but I hadn’t. And he wasn’t joking.
“Of course!” I answered with equal seriousness. Silence, again.
“So did you watch it? Puli Murugan?” I asked, for the sake of making conversation.
He looked at me as if I was daft. Of course he did! And he was appalled to find out that I had not. The next half an hour was spent in telling me why I must.
That was the beginning – of a friendship that was cemented by our shared love for Mohanlal. We both agreed that he was the bestest. He also adored Mammootty, but when he found out that I had reservations, he let it pass. Mohanlal it shall be, from now on.
An hour or so later, things between us got more serious and we started making plans for future.
“A yellow Ferrari!” he decided. And a two seater at that. We don’t want anyone else intruding on us, do we?
“And we will go places in it, you and I. Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa…hmmm…” He thought hard. “Ferrari World…” Of course. “Then…yes, Kongad! We will go to my grandmother’s place and have lunch, and payasam…”
By the time we landed, we had made a million plans about where to go in his yellow Ferrari, and every single one of them ended at his grandmother’s place in Kongad. We also decided to buy a purple motorbike, just in case.
Just so I don’t forget him, he took my card and gave it to his mother, insisting that she saved my name and number now! Then he took the card back from her hand and shoved it into the recesses of his trouser pocket. We parted with a lot of reluctance and promises.
I did not expect him to remember me, much less call me. But he did – and in the month hence, we have talked over the phone quite a few times. He was thrilled when I told him that I watched Puli Murugan.
“Yes, finally…” I agreed that the stunt scenes were awesome, and Mohanlal was awesomer – killing all those man-eating tigers and saving the villagers and all that.
“You will call, won’t you?” He would ask each time before disconnecting.
In Real Time:
I called him back. Again his mother was apologetic. “He made such a lot of fuss yesterday, Chechi, insisting that he wants to speak to you. Your card tore a bit around the edges, and that upset him too…” I could hear him in the background, pestering her for the phone.
“Remember the yellow Ferrari?” he asked as soon as he took the phone.
“Of course! Did you buy it?”
“Not yet, not yet. But remember that we have to go to so many places when I do!”
I assured him I will.
And on we talked for a while. In between he tried to make his elder brother talk to me, but the latter refused, quite understandably. To him, I’m just an apparition his brother keeps making a lot of noise about. “Appu doesn’t want to!” he said, incredulous. I convinced him it was ok not to.
“Call me, alright? Don’t forget. You wouldn’t, would you?” he asked as his mother told him Enough! Auntie has work to do..
I promised him that I wouldn’t. And so we parted. Until next time.
Yesterday I told my family about the lovely moon that travelled with me all the way from Abu Dhabi, flitting in and out of the clouds. It was indeed a lovely sight: it made me smile.
The men in my life looked at each other, shaking their heads. The same reaction they have when they catch me discussing yellow Ferraris over the phone. “No wonder she has four year olds as her fan club!”
Yet there are times when I wonder about the luminous, invisible, divine thread that connects people. Strangers in time and space, like stars in the sky. Each separate, yet bound. One tugs at the fragile cord, and the other feels. Despite.
Only you seem to get such people in your life, ‘Mma!
I’m not so sure, love. What about them, those strangers at the other end? Don’t they feel this – this sense of wonderment? Wouldn’t the four year old grow up and gradually forget and then one day remember the elderly stranger he had cried for? Would he then smile and shake his head at his own childishness?
I wonder. At the wonder of it all. Sometimes, nothing seems to make sense.
But then again, it doesn’t need to, does it? As long as it makes you smile…
Images courtesy Google