Wonder Years

Shoeing it in !

The group that I run with is upto some crazy stuff. Just a shade short of ‘filmy stunts’, several runners have taken to, hold your breath, barefoot running. On the streets of Mumbai !

Life is not a bed of roses. Life in Mumbai is definitely not. Running barefoot will get you to deal with the fact that roads are not even a bed of tar. Forget roses! Yet, chanting the name of long term health of the knee, getting ‘closer to nature’ and better running posture, they are pounding the pavements of Powai with bare skin of their feet. Feet that are used to sophisticated shoes. Yes. Sophisticated is the word.

‘If they could do it, I could too’. I told myself in one of those half-assed-belligerent moments that’s usually devoid of reason. And I decided to venture out too. But no. Not the whole hog. A stepping stone to eventually running barefoot, they said, was to run in ‘Canvas shoes’ I was told. You remember these shoes, don’t you ?




The stuff that you wore for PT classes and something called ‘mass drill’! The mass drill that seemed such a extravagantly pointless exercise and fun filled day : ‘Sports Day’! Yes, the same ‘Mass Drill’ that came nowhere close to a ‘sport’ on ‘Sports day’! Of course, you had to be a sport in taking the effortless affront to ‘synchronous movement’ that was perpetuated in the name of ‘mass drill’, in your stride.

I, as regular readers are aware, am a perpetual sucker for nostalgia, diving into the past at the slightest whiff of an opportunity. Sitting in the shoe store and caressing the coarse canvas shoe was no slight whiff. It was a tornado of sorts! Before you could say four-five words like ‘The- Prime Minister-needs-to-speak’, (or any other four five words for that matter) full chronicles from the past years of starting off with the canvas shoe, were relived in my mind!

Many images from the past did many more sorties in the mind. Images of the ‘mass drills’ were just one genre. The ‘March Past’ was another wonderful display of how earnest kids supervised by strict ‘PT masters’ (as they were called), could swing their arms and legs in such a belligerent spectrum of directions, very rarely in synchrony!

Sports day itself was a delight of a day. Other than the mass drill and the march past, there were Olympic stature events like ‘lemon & spoon race’ where the ‘gold medal’ would go to the bloke who would balance a lemon on a spoon, with his teeth and run a distance of ten meters. Or thereabouts.

If that didn’t excite some, there were other ‘games’ like ‘Sack race’, ‘slow cycle race’, ‘ One leg hop’ and such else. (Now, these are not to be confused with similar games that go on in the present day corporate world). The ones at school were adorned with innocence and glorious charm.

(With such sport that gripped our imagination, India’s medals tally at the Olympics makes sense. A tally thats often eclipsed many times over by nations with population no more than population of Powai. Or even, an apartment complex here!)

Oh yes victory in these events meant that the ‘houses’ that you were allotted to would get points. The ‘houses’ were named after colours and a ribbon of the same arresting colours ( Fluorescent green, or blue, orange or whatever. The essence was in ‘Fluorescent’.) would be tied to your hand. Just in case you wanted to jump ship to a group that held more allure (err… due to a variety of reasons). Alas we couldn’t ! Those scheming teachers!

For several formative years the sport that occupied the mind was cricket. A sport that you could play with anything that resembled a bat, including a fallen branch of a coconut tree, with just a bit of appropriate chiseling! To play which, you couldnt care what you wore ! Anything was good!

In a few years, as innocence faded, newer sport held interest. Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis. I graduated to these new sport and took to new special shoes that pester power at home, brought me. The good old coarse canvas shoes, in my mind, were for the sissies doing the sack race!

So there ! So much for nostalgia !

Last week, I sat in this grand shoe store, in a brand new mall buying the good old canvas shoe. Running my hand over the coarseness of the canvas, i guess I was sitting there for a while! For it was the missus’s embarrassed nudging that brought me alive to the fact that the entire store staff had turned out to see the chap who was caressing the canvas shoe! Almost !

It was more than the attention that I had bargained for, and certainly more than the Rs.299/- I paid for these. I was surprised that Rs.299/- went the distance a long way! Especially, when it came to drawing the attention of an entire store!

Since then, I have run once for 40 minutes in these shoes. I was left with a mega blister that ballooned ‘boulder size’ by evening that bristled with irritant pain for a couple of days.

The blister will go. The blistering pace at which some memories returned, will linger for longer.

By the way, do you remember these shoes ?

Goats & apples !



There was a verbal volley with a definitive purpose that the ear was used to. When the marks didn’t turn up as well as they perhaps should have. When they were a marathon of a distance away from the swagger with which an extra hour with TinTin was devoured claiming that the math exam had gone off ‘beyond expectations’ .

This verbal tranche of insults and such else, were delivered all ofcourse, with the intention of somehow getting me more focused and ‘into’ the subject !

The assortment of words that made the sentence was remarkable for the sentence could masquerade as sarcasm, retort, insult, insinuation, motivation, display of anger. An extravagant paraphernalia of diverse meanings that I don’t have the patience to recount.

For that wide an array of interpretations, the sentence and its constituents were ( and still are ) remarkably pithy : “I’ll get you a few cows

It was supposed to be the ultimate insult to an average young mind. It meant, that the new depths the maths marks touched could fit the grand occupation of herding cows and goats. It was a singularly frightening thought. Completely inappropriate by a grotesque proportion to what caused this : the math paper !

For the math question paper would have had a question like ‘ A has five apples. Of which he gave one-fifth to B and another one-third to C……’ . Finally ending with some vague question like ‘So how many apples was A left with’ or something to that effect.

For the record, I have always believed that the impact of apples are best felt on the tongue. The teeth biting into fresh fruit, and the tongue swarming with tasty juice was all that mattered.

If you had five apples, you ate five apples. Obviously, Mr.B and Mr.C were non-entities once the apples were sighted. Even if the apples happened to be theirs.

To me, people featured in the question paper like Mr.A, were beyond comprehension. To subject something as tasty as a simple apple, to such a fractious assault was downright unnecessary, completely impractical and cruel to an imaginative test taking kid!

These and such thoughts would play in the mind. Before I knew, test would be over and the mark statement would have touched a new nadir.

Oftentimes holding the report card in hand with the math marks settling in a new marina trench, would send me on a imagination frenzy to see myself herding an assortment of cows and goats. Which obviously lead to serious palpitations to form on my forehead. And other parts too, but that’s besides the point.

No no. Dont get me wrong. Not for me the insult. Not for me the insinuation. At that age, I didn’t give goats horn about what people would think of me being a cowherd. Nor do I care much now. It was not that. The problem was something else.

It was keeping count of those goats and cows.


Beads of sweat transformed into enormous water streams just thinking of the proposition of losing two goats for no fault of mine. As a matter of addition and subtraction we were taught to ‘borrow’ ‘from the next digit’. Or in case of addition, ‘carry over’ to the next column was important.

After dutifully ‘carrying over’ or ‘borrowing from’ I would ofcourse gloriously forget that act of generosity and move on with life and other numbers. Until such a time, the math teacher made me write such ‘carry overs’ and ‘borrowing froms’ in such gigantic font size to enable recall.

If that was the case with random numbers, to keep track of cows and goats was a different ask, to my fertile imagination. To keep counting them and finding I was two short ( or three short, for that matter) would have had some serious explanation, I figured.

I fretted that I would lose count for no fault of mine. It would be comprehensively unfair if, say, the goats wanted to scratch themselves against a specific tree, or stayed back at the local pond, or sighted a far attractive mate and decide to have a good time!

I would be reduced to taking the blame on myself and my math skills.

Grotesquely unfair. Isnt it ?

Ofcourse this attempt at fear laced motivation, stopped getting uttered one day. One fine day, one of those ‘uncles’ was home to launch into moms cooking. Such genial uncles back then ( and these days too) have a set of questions which were simple to figure out.

Usually starting with ‘Which school do you go to and somewhere along the line leading to ‘what do you want to become when you grow up’. ( At a younger age, ‘what is your teacher name’ used to be one persistent such, which in hindsight, rises an eyebrow. Actually both my eyebrows. )

Just as he was finishing the question of ‘what do you want to become’, in a flash, my mind streamed an image of a proud me, managing an array of goats and cows without losing count of any.

Without losing a breath, I announced with a singular flourish that I wanted to become a ‘Cowherd’. Much to the blasphemous horror of all around, evidenced by the stellar silence that followed an intemperate bout of laughter from the genial uncle.

After that, the subject of ‘grazing cows’ as a default occupational choice, in case the math marks didn’t move north, made a quiet exit. I must say, the cows and goats haven’t been ever so thankful as then.

Do you have such recollections of your childhood ? Or were you the Mr.A type ?


Still standing


These are not buildings with architectural significance ! But then, like every other building they hold in them a history. A tale. Perhaps two.

These were used as car garages. Many many years ago. In these ‘sheds’, as they were called, many an Ambassador or a Premier Padmini would stand. In the company of a slew of bikes. All from the housing colony over there.

And so these sheds shielded those vehicles that were owned with great pride. Sometimes to get people around. Many other times, to just keep up with the Joneses !

There were a motley crew of incorrigible kids who thought of this ‘shed’ with greater affection. For it was part of their life for most of their day. And dreams too.


These are snaps that were clicked a few months back. For at the side of these ‘sheds’ do you see those ‘stumps’ drawn.

Cricket !!!

Yes. Those three vertical lines, topped with one horizontal connection ? They were drawn with charcoal. A bowler of any merit, in the local community of local kids, gunned for those stumps.

The boundary was the road. The sixers meant broken glass panes. Tennis ball. Wooden bat. Teams. Matches. Challenges. All there.

There was no third umpire. There was no umpire in the first place. As kids, things were sorted out, mostly in a jiffy. Arguments. Fights. Sometimes walk outs. All would happen. But the game had to go on.

Kids didn’t play for honour or advertisements. Every kid played there, for cricket was life. Cricket was fun. Cricket defined. And cricket helped connect to other kids.

Many years later, those garages still stand. No longer are cars parked inside. They still stand though, with perhaps a thousand memories. Of kids, who live adult lives elsewhere.

The garages still hold evidence of their creativity. Of their ability to sort out things between themselves. And move on to the next match.

And perhaps those garages wonder, how different these kids grow up to be. With degrees in the pocket, jobs and routines as life. Treating cricket as a spectator sport. And somewhere, living life by rote.

Does this remind you of a different time. When passion ruled. The possessions were few. The heart was light. Losses never mourned. Fights were resolved. Smiles prevailed.

hmm..

Give me some company, will you. I’ll get the bat and the ball. We’ll have a heck of a match. And more importantly, a heck of a time.

You see, the stumps..they are still standing.

The fruits of labour

There is something about whats available by the street, that excites the taste buds. Lets leave alone the samosas, jalebis and such else. Those deep fried grenades. That will sit two minutes on the lips, and blast into fragments that etch a permanent place on the hips.
This blog advocates healthy living and healthier eating !

So, Lets stick to, good for the body stuff : Fruits ! The varieties of fruits that are available for a roadside snack, is not only mind boggling but also, mouth wateringly awing.


For you could choose from Apples to Oranges. From Jack fruits to Mangoes. And from sweet ripe mangoes to unripe sour ones. And many more.

The mind wonders how it is with you. If you lay all these fruits side by side, and you were to pick one, which one would you choose ?

Ask that question in a MBA class and in nine cases out of ten, the answer begins with a ‘it depends’. And dependencies will stretch from global warning to Bernanke to Osama Bin Laden !

Lets leave that aside. And think, which one would you choose ?

Well, actually…. hmm…it depends. On the weather. On the mood. On what was had before. On what is to be had just after. And so on. Hmm. The MBA types with their ‘it depends’ seem to have a point. After all !


My all time favourite though is this. Cut (artistically so). Salted. A little bit of chilly powder. Throw in some winter chill. Ooh my mouth is watering already.

In my ‘wonder years’, three slices of unripe mangoes came for a rupee. Of course salted with garnished with a dash of chilly powder. Of course, it was forbidden. By ‘authorities’ at home. And at school.

Of course, it was mentioned that it was unhealthy. Flies and ‘exposed’ food were topics discussed. In all classes. Including moral science ! (yes, we had a class called ‘Moral Science!’).

Of course, the security guards at school, would whack your behind if they spotted you any close to the mango vendor.

But then, that was the most delicious of fruits. For it came by saving up those small five paisa, ten paisa and 25 paisa coins. With a sprinkling of labour !

Of distracting the attention of security guards enough to sneak out and buy. Through pacts with others for a share of the bounty.

Some of it was redistributed. Never for money. But for the odd favour, like a deal with the boy who sat in the first row to carry an extra pencil for me. Always! And of course, there were girls. I leave it there.

After a while it all became boring. For, whats to be done exactly to distract the security guards was known. The negotiation with the vendor was fairly straight. So, pronto, the only thing that needed to be done, was to induct others into doing it.

The other day, a slice of cut mangoes caught the attention of the camera. A flood of thought came rushing back. It was sweet. And sour !

For along with the lip smacking taste, came the lessons: Maths. Thrift. Saving. Marketing. Distribution. Positioning. Induction. Team Working. Oh boy. That sounds like one heck of a MBA curriculum.

It disturbs me. To think, that i went through two years of studying a formal MBA after having gone some distance with it in class three!

Rocking Horse


I am not sure if you see horses like these. Ok. Rocking horses like these. Where as toddlers, we swung back and forth. For all the energy that the kid expended, the horse didnt move from one place to another.

The child gets to ride a horse. So he is happy. The mother is happy for he stays in one place. Its win-win all the way ! (Until of course, he comes face to face with a real horse, and starts asking questions like ‘why does it not stay in one place” to his mother. But that’s another story).

Children of the modern times, get their first lessons in mobility on play items like this. My nephew’s first vehicle, just as he is learning to pronounce my name !

The horse (& such else) that rock, have been bypassed ! He zips and zooms from room to room in this three wheeler !

At an age, where i perhaps was learning to turn around to lie on my tummy (Ok, please go with the flow of this post and discount, for the present, that i am a ‘little’ slow) he zips. Felling whatever objects that come in the way. Be it the dinner plate, the TV remote or the coffee machine !

And in his victories, his parents claim to be monetarily poorer. ( I would contest that claim, and win hands down. But that’s another post)

Call it old fashioned attachment to things of the past, my heart lies with the rocking horse. And its variants : The swan. And the elephant. And such else.

Somehow, they brought about a connect to nature. And fueled imagination. So i think. You can imagine a whole lot of things while on a rocking horse ! I guess. Put me on a rocking horse today, and i can conjure up images of Porus and Alexander. Me fighting them, that is !

But, on another note, i don’t think he is missing much. At an age when i looked into the radio to wonder who was within such a small box, he watches Discovery channel and Sun TV with such precision, that he perhaps has a mental construct of not only horses, but also every conceivable life form.

(And of course, the Tamil movies will perhaps let him know that Tata Sumos are designed to fly in the air. Guns are like candy. That every man and woman has a soothing voice and a live orchestra inside them. And that, a hundred dance girls in funny costume ready to dance, come preordained with life. Thats again a separate post).

In a few years, he would perhaps access the internet. And learn. All about cars, bikes, buses. And horses too. If he wants.

I am sure he will do that all imaginatively, elegantly and efficiently. At many times the speed of what i can ever do.

I have one consternation though. About what he would think of me, when he reads this post someday. About my language skills. And perhaps my intelligence.

For what kind of a nitwit would one be, to even think of a stationary wooden horse as more fanciful than a colourful cycle that helps to zip inside the house and target the TV.

And worse still, call that horse a ‘rocking’ horse !

In awe of a plastic pot

I am in awe. Among other things, At the number of snaps of plastic pots that i have clicked.

There are many aspects of small town and village living that the ‘sophisticated’ cannot understand.


Amongst them, is the plastic pot. A very important lifeline to many. They come in different colours. Bright pink. Yellow. Orange. Green. Of course, the pot had to be identifiable in a sea of pots waiting for that trickle of water.

Getting to the tap, before anyone else can is important. At the dead of the night. Sometimes earlier than that. And take a place in the queue.

But that’s not where it ends. That’s where it starts.

It really ends when a pot full of water gets balanced on the head. And another on the hip. And gets home by walk. When home is a perhaps a kilometer or two away. And a flight of steps to climb, by the way. Careful that not a drop drips. For each drip means more trips to the tap.

And as this is getting written, there are other folks in big cities of the world. Who think water and such else, are in perpetual supply like a television soap. And the worst water woe is parked at the doorstep of the municipal corporation. But then, this post is not about them.

This post is about awe. And the plastic pot. The pot that helps carry water. With much love and such else.

I truly am in awe. Of a different life on the same planet. Of daily struggles. Of people. Of water. Of pots.

And of course, of mothers. Especially, one that i know, that carried many pot fulls, from the community tap. And climbed the stairway, many times. As her young sons fought over the plastic ball that each wanted for himself.

And she let them be. And they played, watching their mother amble along for more water in thirsty summers. Those were different times.

And so, the plastic pot opens a dam of memories.

And now, indeed there is awe. Now that i see.
What it would have taken to raise my brother and me.

Made in China


Their father bought them a car. This car. This red car. With yellow wheel caps, yellow seats and a white steering wheel. At the rear, this car sported a ‘Made In China’ tag. It was a different age. China was yet to be crowned an economic giant and ‘China’ still had a positive ring to it.

Having said that, the boys were disappointed that the car was not ‘Made in Japan’ as the other cars that their father bought them did.

The car did move with a smooth whine. For a few days, it was treated very well. Dust wiped off, many times, and given prime position right under the pillow, as the boys slept.

The days wore on and all hell gradually broke loose. For the car suddenly started finding legs of tables, chairs, humans and plain straight walls in its way.

A few months passed.

The car began to take the air. I mean, it was flying about. Hurled with supreme speed , accuracy and intent, which, if information is to be believed, inspired zillions of Tata Sumos to take to the air in Tamil movies !

The car just stood its ground. Dented here and there, the windshield broken, and the odd plastic tyre, twisted, but standing its ground. And the engine still whined very well. Made in China. It was !

A few years passed. The car still whined but moved. And pretty well too.

On a day when then mother and father were away, the younger boy, with a penchant for design and art worked on it. With a sharp blade and imagination. as tools. ‘

Volvo’. He wrote. ’10’ he wrote. ‘MRF’ he wrote. Actually, scrapping the red paint. Revealing grey metal inside. And suddenly, the car seemed to have acquired a certain character.

The rally driving he saw on Doordarshan needed an outlet. And this car was right there.

The older one, not given to such talent and imagination, hemmed and hawed. And took to moaning the loss of original paint. The parents were subtly made aware with select breaches of information. And to his surprise, they gave him a look that almost told him ‘grow up’ !

Many decades pass.

The young boy with imagination is now a successful corporate type. Using the imagination to scrape out the surface and give character to projects and proposals. And by the way, blessed with a young son, who is just studying the art of making cars fly.

And yes. The car that was made in China, when ‘Made in China’ had a different ring to it, stands. A little broken and written all over, but standing proudly !

And the older son, yes, the same one who almost got the ‘grow up’ look from his parents, hopes to garner some sympathy hits on his blog through this post ! At the least, he pleads for a different ‘look’ from his readers.

In return, he promises to work on his imagination.

The Wonder Years !

So there ! The new year has brought in a reconnection ! Reconnection with long lost classmates from a distant time and a lost memory. Lost in the speed of day to day living and in the name of making a living !

Orkut and Facebook have suddenly occupied centrestage in life and voila, people that i last spoke to when the first dinosaur shed its last milk tooth suddenly came alive.

Well, the chaps from school did sound different ! Of course they would. I am sure they say the same of me, if not worse ! And boy do they look different !! Each with a kid or two. Some going to the same school that we went to. Some looking exactly as they used to. And many others, giving me comfort and company by looking…well, different !

An unintended consequence has been reminiscing the wonder years.

Those years where you played a serious cricket match (during a lunch break of 45 minutes), with a tennis ball and half a branch of a coconut tree. Years when the closest health worry was the quick healing of a twisted ankle, in time for the cricket match !

Those years where you had wind in your hair (and of course, hair in the first place..) and a spirit in your walk, that was tested only by the Maths test ! Years when ‘a house’ did not come with a home loan ! But with a sleeveless florescent vest !

“Houses” ( groups) you used to belong to for the Sports Day ! I think those houses, in our case, went by the name of Kaveri, Ganga, Yamuna, each signified and separated by a colour coded ( Fluorescent Blue, Green, Yellow, Red..) sleeveless vest !

Years when ‘competition’ didn’t mean valuation / contribution etc but simply : drawing, handwriting, essay writing et al !! And of course, those were the years when you got a prize for just showing up ! Yes. I recall winning a prize for two consecutive years years, for attending school without a single day of leave !! I wonder what i was thinking !

Those years of gleam eyed learning in the chemistry labs. In the library. In the Annual day. And the inevitable sinking feeling when the report cards showed up, or when parents were ‘summoned’ !

Years when ‘pedaling’ didn’t mean pedaling a stationary cycle to lose weight. But when you had to pedal all the way to school, and that you did with great fun ! And the jet black BSA SLR that stood gleaming at home, washed clean, many times in a week. My first set of wheels !

Years when you did not understand terrorism. When Soviet Union was ‘friend’, and disdain for anybody who said ‘America was good!’ Years of Span and Readers Digest. Years when you didnt care if your tie matched your shirt. And of course, didn’t care if the tie was in its place !

Years when you used to wear ‘colour dress’ on your birthday, and go from class to class, with a box of chocolates in your hand. Years when amma used to bake those wondrous sponge cakes !

Years when you didn’t understand what sex was ! And when you went up to appa, and asked aloud, (when he was with guests), ‘Appa, what is rape ?’. And tell him that the school has mandated reading of newspapers this question was part of home work !

Years when the only diet that you needed to be concerned of, was what was in the tiffin box, and of course,when calories where non-existent ! Years when holidays meant you play from morning to lunch time, have lunch, and then play from evening to late night and come home to have dinner and catch some sleep.

Years of static TV called Doordarshan. Of no FM radio. And no computers…. But those were years when you grew. Years that shaped you. Years that made you what you are today. Years that stay fresh in the mind. Every memory of it, brings a smile and a yearning for those times.

Today, classmates stay all scattered. Across the globe. Some working for those giant corporations, hospitals and other small companies. Many others, building their own organisations ! Still others married and settled down. And yet others remain untraceable !

But those shared years were the wonder years. Wonder years, when you could question anything and anybody. When the minds limit became clearer only when we graduated from each class to the next ! To me, those still are the defining years !

Defining wonder years !

A special thanks to Bala for the snaps !