Friday, May 25, 2007

Birthday bumps.

1963, come to think of it, was quite an eventful year. JFK, CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley all exited the world on 22 November. Six months before that simulti-exit, 233 Khetwadi Main Road welcomed Ashutosh among the Mankars. On 25 May, also the birthday of the living Advaita teacher, Ramesh Balsekar, to be exact. A bonny and pink baby, Ashu was an instant darling of all the nurses in the maternity ward on the then top floor at the northwest corner of Sir Harkisondas Narottamdas Hospital which used to be our landlords at the time. (Please read an earlier story about the Hospital here: Abhijeet was born 15 months later in the same Hospital. My father, who loved babies, used to sing to both of them and they would fall asleep listening to him on a four-foster ancient bed, a Mankar family heirloom. I remember my father once weeping loudly when Ashu fell off the edge of the dining table where he was perched laughing uproariously at something. He bumped his head and I guess he was so zapped both from the fall and my father’s crying that he forgot to cry himself. I also remember Ujwal, as exemplary a mother and daughter-in-law (she single-handedly nursed my mother through her final illness) as she is a teacher, comforting both of them. Speaking of falls, I also distinctly recall that when Ashu was still an infant, I slipped down the staircase of a holiday place in Pune we went to with Ujwal’s parents with him cradled in my arms. It could have been a major disaster had I not managed to twist and turn, break the stumble and take the fall on my shoulder. Luckily, nobody was the worse for wear. As tiny tots, Ashu and Abhi used to sit on their respective potties, red and crome yellow, and have long chats under Ujwal’s watchful eye. I was the world’s worst father, absentee to boot and more wedded to work, I’m afraid. Even Homer Simpson would come out with flying colours in comparison, I daresay. The Mankars owed their existence and continuance to Ujwal. Another memory is the time when Ashu used my razor to cut himself on the face claiming that he was “shaving, na”. Once around noon, Ujwal got called by the Principal of Cathedral & John Cannon School. When she rushed to her office, she found Ashu sitting on her table quietly sobbing but absorbed in drawing a picture. The front of his white shirt, she noticed, was all covered in blood. He had a gash on his forehead acquired from a fall while playing in the lunch break. The bleeding had stopped thanks to ice compresses but the wound had turned stark white. Come evening, Ujwal ferried him to Dr. Talwalkar, a well-known pediatrician and the father of Ashu’s classmate, Mark. He used to have his rooms on Lamington Road, fifteen minutes from 233 Khetwadi Main Road. He examined the wound, applied some disinfectant and medicine and asked Ujwal to hold the edges tightly together while he slapped a tape on it. No stitches, thank you. The scar gradually faded away with the passing years. As a child, Ashu used to be generous to a fault, wanting to bring home every sobbing kid whose mother was late in fetching him after school. So he and Ujwal would stand vigil until the defaulting mom turned up apologizing profusely. Ashu was also very intense about what he did. Once while, we were holidaying in Matheran, he went with Shantaram who used to stay and study with us to the bazaar. When they failed to return for more than hour, Ujwal was worried. When they finally arrived, Shantaram explained that the delay had been because Ashu insisted on bowing down to every road marker insisting that it was a deity. Ashu would always run out of his stock of pencils before it was supposed to get over and then ask Abhi, the hoarder, for one. Abhi would always rise to the occasion although a bit grudgingly. Nonetheless, they were brothers in arms and would rise to each other’s defence if one of them was being disciplined. Abhi who started staying with his grandmother, Jubie, became interested in cars and motorbikes quite early in life. Once, the fool that I was, I denied him permission to enter into a Mumbai-Pune bicycle race. My self-justification was that I was thinking of his safety. Ashu and Abhi had a large circle of friends. They all used to come home and Ujwal would feed them puri-bhaji or oodles of idli-sambhar. To their and Ujwal’s credit, both Ashu and Abhi passed high school with good grades without tutoring unlike me (I had a tutor throughout my school years). After Cathedral, they managed to get admitted to good colleges – Ashu in St Xavier’s and later in the Pune Univ and Abhi in Rachana Academy of Architecture and later in the Joliet School in Illinois (yes, the very same Joliet, boys and girls, in the closed State Prison of which the first season of Prison Break was shot) – all on their own steam. So, the birthday boy’s day has brought out quite a flood of memories, eh? Well, well, well. Many happy returns, Ashu. The Chinese Astrology book says you’re The Cat while I’m The Rat. Hmmm. Interesting coincidence, wouldn’t you say?

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