Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Spark of Childhood

"The children of Holland take pleasure in making, What the children of England take pleasure in breaking."

Old nursery proverb

The path I walk every morning to Pangal for breakfast isn't the easiest route one can take. In more ways than one, it's an epic pedestrian adventure. It takes me to the center of the university town of Manipal, a roundabout with a tasteless fountain in its middle. The centerpiece of the fountain is a scrap-metal reject; a stainless steel globe which feeble jets of water douse day and night - especially during the monsoon season, when water is available in copious and expendable quantity (however, I am happy to report that on certain summer days when conservation of H2O is priority one, we are spared the pathetic sight). Manipal University's earthy, bronze 'M' is emblazoned across the globe, a gentle reminder to the town that the medical institute is the sheriff around these parts. This entire ensemble - the roundabout, the fountain, and the insult to world aesthetic sensibility - is known by all as the Tiger Circle.

The peril of traversing the Circle lies in the asphalt - or rather, in the sorry lack of it. Orange, muddy water encircled the fountain pool like a moat, sequestered by the many potholes in the road. In fact, the potholes were so vast and numerous that I find it more accurate to describe the whole roundabout as a giant doughnut-shaped pothole which happened to have bits of road floating in it. When vehicles go on oceanic cruises in the waterlogged craters, their wheels often displace large amounts of the muddy shlop - and the disgusting fluid in turn, having lost their home, would invariably take up residence in my shoes and trouser legs if I happen to be in firing range.

Surviving that in a satisfactorily dry state, I will have to contend with the road divider as I cross the road. It's nothing more than a strip of soil bordered by crumbling curbstones running in between the lanes which suffered an overgrowth of all sorts of botanical lepers. It looked most assuredly harmless but ha! Do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Just when you least expect it, a ripe cow pat will ambush you as you tramp through the weed. Let me just make this clear to you; Stepping into a cow pat is a vastly different experience from stepping into dog turd (I should know as I've experienced the tragedy twice). It's similar to the sensation you get when you're ascending a staircase in the dark and you took one step too many at the top. You gasp in horror in that millisecond you realise you are stepping air. Same brief, horrible, sinking feeling. Only with a cow pat, it's also squelchy and stinky - and you get that sick sucking noise when you pull your foot out of deep shit.

The third and last tribulation (or fourth, really, since I consider having to look at the god-ugly fountain as a traumatic trial) is the horde of smelly, flea-ridden beggar kids that loiter on the sidewalk outside Pangal. They would tug on the hem of your shirt or lab coat with their grubby little hands, hoping to disgust a coupla' of rupees out of you to make them stop. If you're skint, you just have to wade past them with the most forbidding expression you can muster on your face. I find that a diversionary tactic I have devised to be most serviceable - just toss a one rupee coin over your shoulder and while the little Indian Oliver Twists scrambled for the loot, you run like hell. Just be reminded that no matter what you do, don't hit them with an umbrella (if you happen to have one in your employ) because believe me, they will bite in retaliation - and I have the scars to prove it1.

Yes, it's a difficult route to walk, but hey - it's the only one. Sometimes, we don't get to make choices.

Anyway, forget everything I've written above this line. They are usually what happen when I write without paying attention to what I'm typing.

What I meant to tell you in this post is about a boy I saw at Pangal.

I just finished my customary breakfast of upma and chai, and I have set my plate and cutleries aside. This boy - he looked no older than 13 - who was wearing the peach-coloured uniform of Pangal's waiters, leant in beside me to gather them up. I spotted, in that short moment, a flash of colours nestled in the crook of his right elbow. It was a decal - a temp tattoo we typically find in the wrappers of those 10 cents apiece chewing gum we bought in our days of frivolous youthfulness and state-sanctioned idiocy. Just add spittle, slap it on and five minutes later, you got a flippin' cool tat that make you da gangsta of the playground

The one the serving boy had on was already half rubbed off and I could no longer tell if it used to be a flower, a beetle or a cartoon hero. But there's no mistaking it - it was a decal.

That happened so fast that I couldn't get my camera out to take a picture of him with his arm extended. Anyway, I looked in my photo folders to see if I got any old photos of the coffee shop with the boy accidentally included in it and this was the only one I found;

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I took this last week as I walked past the kitchen and forgot all about it till now.

You know, with some of these kids on the streets begging for change, and not having the chance to go to school - and some, having to work for their life and bread before they are barely of age, we tend to think them older and more worldly than they really are.

We must not forget that they are children.

k0k s3n w4i

1 Okay, okay - that's bullshit. My genral stance towards the pipsqueak panhandlers is to pay the runtiest ones. And I only cough up to every second one I meet. Considering their population in Manipal, that's the most I can afford anyway.

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