Saturday, September 4

Once upon a time

Summer in Bangalore, a long time ago.

A family came visiting relatives. The elders got together, drank steaming cups of coffee and caught up with the highs and lows of a year gone by. In a time without email and even the telephone, the rich, orthodox Tamil words entwined themselves in the rafters and burrowed into the nooks. The youngsters, left to their own devices, played games, read books and explored the neighbourhood. Imagination was a prized asset.

M's cousin brother R, called Bangalore - R to distinguish him from Hyderabad - R, owned a gramophone player. More importantly, he owned, as far as one could tell, the only Beatles records in the entire family. And by family, one means immediate, 1st, 2nd and 3rd level relatives. Which, in a Tamil Iyer family, was a LOT of people. Naturally, owning these records made R quite popular among his mates. One in particular, D, would drop in every now to listen, nod and croon in unison.

At 17, M, whose upbringing could only be called conservative and nothing less, was naturally fascinated by the music. She, R & D would listen to the record every afternoon all summer, while the rest of the house indulged in the postprandial snooze. After a few of these sessions, M realised that D was quite fond of one particular song. Inordinately fond, she thought as they listened to it again, although even M had to admit it was some song. It took her just a few more days to notice that R no longer seemed very interested in the music. As soon as the Beatles came on, he found some work to occupy his time. But, as a very considerate host, he didn't object to M & D listening to the record. Every afternoon.

D wondered how much courage he needed to gather before he could voice his thoughts to M. The record, hardy as it was, surely couldn't last the whole summer at that rate. And the song ! Didn't she understand ? Worse, it looked like R's mother, M's fiercely protective aunt, was becoming suspicious. He'd caught her glancing at him occasionally with a less than benevolent gleam in her eye. What was he to do ? As most young men in this oft-repeated situation are wont to do, he became moody and silent. There came a day when the Beatles stopped singing, having exhausted their pleas, M's interest in English music and D's hopes. The holidays were over and M's family started their purchases in anticipation of returning to their home city.

At Bangalore Cantonment station, M sat at the window, pensively staring at the platform. Once or twice in those last days, R had looked like he wanted to say something to her, but he never did. Deep within, M knew it had something to do with D. And the song. But, like a lot of people, she chose to wonder rather than ask. As the train began to reluctantly pull away from Bangalore, the family waved goodbye to the relatives who'd come to see them off. A surprisingly large contingent, M thought, but they were a very close family. She wondered, though...

Carefully placed behind a pillar some distance from the others, a pair of eyes watched M. And then, the train picked up speed, chugged out of Bangalore and she was gone. Leaving behind the ghost of a feeling stifled and many unspoken words. Only a song remained.

Song for the moment: Oh! Darling - The Beatles 

Epilogue - M made many more trips to Bangalore but never saw D again. She did not speak about it till one afternoon, 24 years later. The above story is a relative's version of M's wistful words.