Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Warriors at Home

I live in an apartment in Chennai these days. The residents usually keep to themselves. We don't hear a lot of noises from outside. It is a good community, with some common facilities.
One of these facilities is a Gym. I can see people sneaking in and out some times. At times I walk around the complex listening to the birds. But otherwise I strain to hear a snatch of conversation from any other house.
You see, when I was growing up, we did not have Gyms in our flats. Instead families lost calories by having loud fights in their homes. Everyone could listen in and they usually did. I remember during one of my family fights, the entire neighborhood was standing outside, sometimes cheering. They all had broad smiles in their faces.
I keep saying this - while television saved our nation from itself, it messed up some old-fashioned entertainment and exercise.
People were healthier in olden days because they would have a lot of exercise at home; most of this came from fighting within joint families. This is why the joint family was a great idea. You put together two guys in a room, with a transistor radio in between. They will soon be fighting over the channel to turn to. Now imagine three different families with that same radio.

Our family issues were usually long running epic wars. At any point we may be engaged in a small battle and one or the other may lose. But we were focussed on long term victory and total domination. We even had epic battles, in which the location of the fight kept changing from room to room. One such battle with my brother started in the kitchen; and then my mother joined in and the action went from kitchen to hall to even the toilet.
My brother and me were having lunch. It is a small kitchen, so my brother reached out to get something. It stuck me that he deliberately dropped a bit of his food on my plate.
I yelled at him and we went back and forth. Finally I dumped my plate's content - not on his plate, but on him.
Brother did not expect this and before he could react my mother joined in and asked me what the hell I was doing. She took the plate from my brother's head, and dumped more food into it. And she wanted me to eat it. (Both of us ignored my brother who was sitting with Sambar dripping from his hair)
I ran to the toilet and tried to close the door. Mother follows me in and asks me to eat it right there. I push mother and mother falls on cement tank; cement tank breaks. Mother is fine.
I feel sorry for her. I feel more sorry for myself, because I know that Father will come in the evening; and he may not understand my perspective about the cement tank. In fact I am sure I won't have time to explain my perspective, before the beating started.
I sit at the dining room and was saying abject apologies to my mom, when my brother walks in. He has by now removed the food stuff from his person. He takes a metal pot and bangs it on my head.
There ended the battle of the cement tank.

I had seen some other families - they did not fight. But they also ended up being fat. In our family you have to be nimble. My brother was very nimble, but he also had the knack of saying the exact wrong thing to my Father.
One day we were all eating together. Joking to each other; Enjoying the meal. I remember now that I had a eerie sense of foreboding - the whole setting was unnatural.
Then my Father asked the Family a question - what was his first job?
I stayed quiet. My brother could not. He jumped in and started counting down from Senior Clerk, Upper Division Clerk etc. Father kept smiling and saying no.
Then my brother had a brain wave. He said, "Were you a peon?"
Soon he was running from cupboard to cupboard seeking sanctuary. His idea seemed to be that he could get in a closet and close the door; and Father will then abandon the "battle". Alas, none of our closets had doors. He only got himself wedged in a narrow closet, unable to move, while Father pummeled him.

One of our neighbor families had a different problem. Doordarshan telecast the movie "Mudhal Mariyadhai" in the usual Sunday afternoon slot. In that movie, Shivaji Ganesan plays a middle-aged man who is ill-treated by his wife. He falls in love with a young fisher-woman and they become very close.
This movie fulfilled the fantasy of every family man in Tamil Nadu at that time. Since the actress Radha played the young woman, these guys imagined that they all had their own Radhas waiting for them. They also imagined that they were all being ill-treated by their wives. It helped them feel like Shivaji Ganesan. More importantly, it made them find Radha in every younger woman they saw.
This particular neighbor was in a good mood until the movie started playing in the TV. Then as the movie progressed, the family noticed that he was being morose. he started complaining about his wife. By the end of the movie, he was in a frenzy about being ill-treated. He could not stand his malign family - nagging wife and ungrateful children. He started yelling and screaming. We all were listening and making fun of them.
It took him a few days to come out of "Mudhal Maryadhai" syndrome.

Now, during all this, there was one family, that was annoyingly peaceful. they never fought. We could never hear their voices outside. They were very proud of it and we were all waiting for them to have a big fight.
It finally happened this way. You have to follow this closely.
There was a teen aged girl who lived with her parents in our colony. This girl, thinking back now, was not all that great; but she was there (as Sir Edmund Hilary would have said). Her neighbor had a teen-aged son. This young man took a fancy to the girl next door. She had no idea.
There was a servant maid in the girl's home. That maid was also serving in another house.
Our Romeo thought that his way to the heart of the girl went through the maid. Why? No idea. But he wanted desperately to give the girl a love letter. He could easily have passed that letter on. But our genius, instead, approached the servant maid. He wanted her to pass on the love-letter.
This he did with the help of two other friends. One of these was the son of the peaceful family guy.
As you can imagine, it was not the best plan. First, the maid thought the letter was for herself. Then she was faced with three young guys assuring her that Romeo would take care of his lady love forever (he was in Plus One at that time). She went and told everyone.
One fine evening we were all playing downstairs, when there were shouts from somewhere. I automatically thought it was my family, in battle stations. Well, it was not. Surprise of surprises, the peaceful family were all yelling at each other and fighting. Their son had brought shame on them.

We watched the fight for some time. It followed us in our homes. We talked about it for a few days, complaining about how these families were too loud. Everybody felt very mature and good for some time.
Then my brother asked for a bicycle and all hell broke loose.

1 comment:

Mouli said...

Good way to do exercise; should probably try it in my new residence.

On a side note, I think "because she was there" (or something along those lines) was told by George Mallory, and not Edmund Hillary.