So I went home this weekend too - to Thanjavur. As usual, as someone with no plans & someone fond of public transport, esp. the general class ones, I went hopping a few buses. Bangalore - Hosur - Salem - Trichy - Thanjavur. Thankfully, this time, I got a direct bus to Salem from the 1st point, but not thankfully, it seemed to have more # of stops than from there to Silk Board, leaving the bypass & cutting through every village possible.
At around 11 PM, i.e. after some 5+ hrs, I reached Salem. I had dinner at a Sri Saravana Bhavan (no, not HSB) which was a rava dosa I could finish in less than a minute but had to pay for it Rs. 55. Such are the times I feel blessed for having a job & not having to beg in front of the same hotel. Anyway, I boarded a bus to Trichy, and no sooner did the bus start, there was this guy – tall, sorta well-built, thick-bearded, checked-shirt, village hero's friend-types with a shoulder bag bearing a name plagiarized from an intl. brand – walked from the rear & sat at the corner seat right at the entrance, facing the steps. From my seat at the one right next to the steps, I could see him struggling for something & hesitating to blurt it out. The conductor was coming on his way back to his seat near the driver’s, and this guy just raised his little finger to him like a kindergarten kid, making me re-live the moment from a POTC part with the ferocious-looking Indian king having a gurly voice. “innum Salem thANdala! adhukkuLLa!” [we're yet to cross Salem, but already!], the conductor exclaimed, quite definitely annoyed. Yet he stopped at the next stop possible, and asked this guy to go get his thing done asap. This guy just exited the bus, stood less than a foot away from someone waiting there & unzipped. The observing wait-er just moved a couple of feet away in disgust, while I & the guy sitting next to me, unanimously cringed. Despite the bus having started, the guy didn't seem to be done with it, but soon got in through the back door & came back to his seat.
I was into a book, and just a few minutes later, I heard something so mild, and looking up, saw this guy spit right at his step, inside the bus. Yeah, inside. For the first time ever, I raised my voice at a stranger all by myself, in a public place. And that's when I was sure that he was drunk. A couple of sentences later, the conductor arrived there, scolded him with words I didn't want to use, while I just poured over it some water from my bottle. That guy kept staring at me for some time since then, but soon dozed off. And that's when I & the one next to me went into a conversation that continued till I alighted at Trichy.
My usual conversation starter template in a bus is “So, uh, you're going to X?”. He was to Velankanni, for his son's head-shaving ceremony at the church there – one of the oldest & very famous ones, btw. The ceremony, of course, wasn’t originally a Christian thing, but AFAIK, in TN, there are many who ritually visit the holy places of other religions carrying their own rituals, while some wouldn't think beyond their sub-caste's-sub-sect's-sub-
“So you're a Christian?”, asked I.
“No, I'm a Muslim”.
First surprise. “Oh, that's nice. I've never been there. It's quite famous, I know.”
“Even I haven't been there. First time."
“So you don't go there every year?”
“No. Not that I wouldn't have gone, but I was a Hindu earlier.”
A bigger surprise. “Then why Velankanni?”
“My wife is a Christian.”
I was like, “Wow!”, but asked, “How did your family agree to this?”
“Love marriage, actually. But they were convinced eventually.” Only later in the conversation, that too when I asked him of his age, he said that he was 23, and that he was a BA in Economics.
Okay, so, by the age of twenty-bleddy-damn-three, this guy had completed a degree in Economics, fell in mutual love with a girl, got married to her, had a kid, and converted to a different religion. Had I done any of these other than the first, I’d’ve been rusticated from my home. I could only envy the liberty he was bestowed. I sorta became an interviewer and bombarded him with questions of why, how & when, etc., and he patiently answered all of ‘em. Apparently, his parents-in-law wanted him to convert to Christianity, and he was asked to attend a few classes where a priest persuaded him with comparisons of the faiths, and this guy had defended it seriously back then. But a seed sown is sown, and that’s when he had begun to question the faith & system he grew up in. And once, in Chennai, he had met someone there, and was asked to consider adopting Islam. A few weeks later, after a lot of queries, he had converted. Initially, his parents & wife were all reluctant about it, but he said that he had assured them, “I would keep my faith to myself, and I promise not to force it upon anyone of you. I would respect yours, and I simply ask of you the same.”
I was visibly impressed. But like every other convert, I think, he was quite defensive about his new faith, comparing his & others holding his high, but at the same time, surprisingly, not trashing the other. We talked about a lot of stories, belief systems, rituals, etc., during which he mentioned about this temple kailAsanAthar kOil at kAramangaLam, near Salem, and a few others namely pudhoor, edappAdi & nangavalli. He used to visit them often, and would always hang out with the tourist guides befriending them and learning much about those sculptures. Apparently, whenever someone starts building a temple, the masons would take an oath that they wouldn’t try building it similar to the said temple, for there’s no other in the world with its design & architecture – maybe just a legend, but quite interesting. Of the features he mentioned, I don’t remember much but a stone chain, a stone-ball that could be rotated independently of the lion’s mouth that it’s inside in, a deity’s weapon in which a broomstick could pass through a side & come out at another, and a lion making love with a woman – something I would never be able to come up with even in the wildest of my imaginations. Wild, indeed!
He also mentioned of a dhAdikkombu near ottanchaththiram & one sangagiri near erode which had similarly stunning temples but weren’t maintained properly, and their lakes being polluted with bottles from the nearby bars & plastics, and of course, defecation. And, just then, or maybe a little later, there was something stinking in there & I had dismissed it to be something that we were passing by. But it being persistent, the driver unable to tolerate it, switched the lights on & asked the conductor to check on it – only then did we discover that the drunk guy had puked right in front of his feet, seeing which I’d’ve puked myself, but offered to help the conductor, who tried hard to keep his verbal abuse down at him & went out to fetch some sand when the bus had stopped. The hilarious side of this was – the drunk guy stoop up with his bag thinking it was his stop to alight, while the conductor tried to make him sit, for else he’d slip & lose his life. I couldn’t resist walking up to him & shouting at him to make him sit while trying to make him understand that the bus was in the move & that he’d’n’t be able to stand anymore should he slightly slip. Some of the passengers behind were already in laughs, but this guy was oblivious to all of it, but not refusing to religiously stare at me quite often for the next hour or so before. The drink’s effect on him was over, and it was quite funny to see him so. Sadism, maybe, but he deserved it.
We were back to our convo, and he expressed his regret for not being able to speak in English. He now runs a service center for mobile phones, and he said he quit his native village for he was only getting lower-end phones there, but wanted to learn the Android ones for they were clearly nearly ubiquitous to him. I asked if he would take care of the s/w or the h/w, and he said, “Both”. Intrigued, I asked what sorta s/w issues he’d fix, and he said, “Mostly, someone would’ve forgotten the unlock pattern. If they remember their mail id & password, we can recover, but if not, I’ll have it flashed in an hour or two.”
“Anyway, all the data would be in the memory card, so what’s the problem?”
“But there won’t be any contacts no?” For someone who has his contacts synced with his Google account, this made me look quite ignorant of a common man w.r.t such things as these. “Images also they’re ready to forego, but contacts are more important for them. I can search for the required file, download, flash and all that, but it would take me some time, because English is a huge problem. I even attended some classes in VETA” – Vivekananda English Training Academy, a popular one at that – “but they didn’t help much, and I discontinued too.”
That’s when I told him that I was just the same in my first year of college, kinda encouraging him that he only needed to practice, and that learning new words is of no use unless one can connect them to a sentence, with a few exercises starting with “My name is…”, “I’m going to…”, “I work at…”, etc. And he was visibly cheerful about it. He had cleared his school & graduation passing them all with 35%, and he wasn’t really into studies, and were only interested in mobile phones. He had taken this shop for a lease, paying an advance of 2L, and makes around a thousand to thousand five-hundred a day, and excluding all expenses towards rent, internet, his assistant’s salary, etc, gets around 15K for himself. At 23 years, (nearly 2 years younger than me) with a degree that’s generally considered lesser than mine (a B. Tech in Bioinformatics), with the love of his life (NA), being married (not for now), having a year-old kid already (of course, NA) earning 15K (a s/w engg. here), his confidence & stern statements were of nothing but of surprise to me. While I tell my parents that I don’t earn enough to run a family & constantly degrade myself (not without reasons though) citing a lot of much better ones, people such as this guy make me wonder if all that’s required of one to run a family is only confidence & nothing else!
The next day was spent in a lot other things, but having met this azhagarasan (a) Mohammed Abdullah was, even if anything else, a totally unique experience. When I alighted at Trichy, he asked, “Oh, you’re getting down uh?”
“Yeah, I’ll get a different one now. It was wonderful meeting you.”
“Me too. Are you on Facebook?”
“No, I don’t use it much.” – which despite being completely true has only become an excuse for me to not to extend my so-called “friends” list. But hey, hail Twitter! \m/