|| Teen-age Idol ||


My first teen-age idol was my cousin Dilip. The eldest child of my aunt (mother’s side), he was a year or so older than me. My uncle worked in a railway workshop. They lived in a small town of railway quarters and little else on one side of the railway track. On its other side, there was a small settlement of tribal folks, whose women could be seen selling vegetables once a week in a farmers’ market. Compared to that, I lived in a big city, and had access to a broader spectrum of people and situations. Yet, Dilip was way ahead of me in a few matters of juvenile importance. He knew most girls in the railway colony, and had a way of enjoying their confidence, and some secrets. He could categorize the film songs heard on the radio ad nauseam, measuring the dimensions of tune, lyric and romance on a scale of ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘passable’ and a dismissive shrug of the shoulder. This faculty of his went completely over my head. Many of my later-life favourite numbers were recommended by him. His friends, who played cricket with him, were far more cooperating than my friends were, on the matter of when to call off a game that was from all looks going well. Dilip could bargain with the tribal women in the market, speaking their language that made them giggle and sway, but finally accede to his overtures. To me he was Romeo incarnate. Probably, the only thing that dented his complete image as a Romeo – he had a book published by Mir Publishers, Moscow on quantum mechanics, though I am not sure if he ever read the book. I once borrowed the book from him, to understand this side of him better, I suppose. The book remained with me, and he never asked me for it, thus giving me hope about his being a true lady’s man.

My second idol was my friend Bablu, who sometime treated me to sweets procured free. The milkman who supplied milk to his family sold sweets made from unsold milk. Bablu would often take me along to his shop, and ask for some sweets. We would go to a small hillock by the dry river that ran a couple of hundred yards from our homes. There, sitting under the shade of overhanging rocks, we would eat the sweets. Then we would descend to the sand bed of the river, in which Bablu would dig a small hole to filter the river water to drink. I have never eaten sweets sweeter or drunk water cooler – with so much pleasure – because they were all free. This dream state lasted only a couple of months, until his father found the monthly bill for milk (and sweets) inexplicably inflated. He used to send his sons (there were others besides Bablu) to buy sweets from the milkman’s shop, when they had guests. He settled the bills by the month. Bablu believed that against the milk, which they obviously paid for, the sweets were free! He got a sound round of scolding from his father who barred him completely from going to the sweet meat shop forever. When asked, Bablu was quite nonchalant about the thrashing he had received. With a shrug, he changed the topic, and suggested that we should try smoking. Of course, we could do that only after we collected enough money, and courage, to go buy cigarettes sold in tins costing a fortune for two boys with little pocket-money. Nevertheless, at once I liked his sang-froid, and the ability to tide over a permanent loss by generating the hope for a new adventure!

The third idol was my cousin Popa, several years older than me. He was a hands-on wunderkind, who could paint and sculpt, as well as repair sundry things like broken furniture, the iron that would not warm up, the radio that could not be tuned, the leaking tap, name it. Once he fooled the postal department, and made an uncle proud, by mailing him an envelope with the postage stamps painted on it. Another time, he made a snake with spots on it, by shaping a wire frame, winding some cloth on it and painting it. We used it for frightening old people promenading on the riverfront before our grandfather’s house. At a cue, we, several cousins together, would chorus a shriek, “Snake! Watch it!”at someone about to cross the strategically placed decoy. We obtained the funniest effect when we played the trick on a group of old friends taking a walk together. The panic of a group of friends is different from the panic of a single person, as the fear of one works on everyone else in the group. You have to watch how they regain composure and then reassure each other!

That made up the trio who made up my childhood idolatry. Recently, I met Dilip after probably fifty years, and found him to have turned quite prosaic. After going to college, I had met Bablu couple of times. He had started working after school, grew an ever-growing beard, carried a cloth bag on his shoulders perennially, and talked of ordinary matters with philosophical overtones. I met Popa after I started working, when he came to live in Bangalore, my abode then. Already married, he had a most raucous son without any artistic inclination, though I probably judged him a bit prematurely. Anyway, he wanted my just acquired and much cherished stereophonic music system for his birthday party. I gave them up there and then.

Come to think of it, ruefully, I was never anyone’s teen-age idol.

To put it succinctly – once a follower, always a follower.

Indroneer / 25 Apr 2014