You’d know that Dasara is around the corner when Suren, my brother, started collecting empty cigarette packets. I’ll come to that later but for now let’s talk about Dasara celebrations in Chittoor back in the wonder years. A week before the puja celebrations started, they’d start erecting a huge palm leaf structure that’d house the goddess for ten days. Even before the structure came up, they’d fix those loud speakers and play devotional numbers by L.R. Easwari. My favorite was ‘Aaatha Karumaari kan pattaa podhum.’ Freak, I still hum it when I am pissed off with the traffic.
The Durgamma temple near the colony entrance organized the celebrations. The temple was quite famous in and around Chittoor. Every bus or truck that went towards Chennai stopped at her door step and smashed a Pumpkin filled with Vermilion and One rupee coins. Suren and I used to hover around the temple when we were short of money, waiting for that huge truck with a huge shipment: when the stakes were high, the number of coins in the Pumpkin increased like mad. Obviously we had to compete with other losers, street urchins, and punks that gambled…. It was a always a tough fight. The driver or the cleaner of the truck would cut a slice out of the Pumpkin and fill that hole with Vermilion and money. He’d then light some camphor on the Pumpkin, swing it in a circle thrice before he smashed it on the road. That probably saved the truck from accidents and robbers but it caused accidents right outside the temple. Quite a few unsuspecting cyclists and motorists would slip and crash because of the squishy Pumpkin all over the road.
Anyway, when he smashed the Pumpkin, Suren would dive for it while I waited in the periphery: most times the coins ricocheted off the road and landed far away. While the poor bastards were fighting over the smashed Pumpkin, their hands crimson with the vermilion, I’d sneak out with the money and share it with Suren. On one such occasion, one of my dad’s colleagues broke the story to our folks. My dad almost skinned us alive but we promised to him that we’d never go after that money or go picking Coconut too (oh yeah, they smashed Coconuts too). And by then, we were a little grown up too. We started thinking about decency and all. I was after girls too and tell me, how would it look if I were spotted picking money off the streets? Which girl would have fallen for me?
I warned Suren that he can’t do such shit anymore as his actions could adversely impact my reputation. He said yes and started something totally different. This time, he switched religions. He convinced Hari, one of his friends, to sit alongside the beggars that thronged the Muslim prayer grounds in Greamspet. They even made up a begging song, which Hari rehearsed under the able supervison of Suren. The faithful Muslims gave lots of money to the beggars, I guess it is a religous practice. Suren would hover around, in the shadows, ensuring that his friend was not pulling a fast one on him. They used to make two hundred rupees per head in a single day. For an 8th standard boy, in Chittoor, that was a lot of money. That arrangement crashed after Feroz, Suren’s another friend, met him after the prayer and when they were crossing Hari, who was begging in his high-pitched voice, tugged at Feroz’s trousers and Feroz went ‘These beggars have become a major problem.’ Suren then shouted at Hari and told him to ‘study or work to make money.’ That ended the begging adventure for the morons.
But when Dasara arrived, it was boom time for my enterprising brother. He and Hari (the beggar kid, yeah) collected empty Cigarette packs, made numbered tokens out of them. From the first day until the tenth, they would slog away every evening at the Dasara Palm Leaf temple, where thousands of people came by to visit the goddess. Suren and Hari would spread a plastic mat right outside the temple and offer people ‘shoe protection.’ You can’t walk into the temple with your shoes on and you can’t leave it on the road. So, people paid 50 paise per pair to Suren and Hari, to look after the shoes. Genius! But my dad didn’t think so.
One day, a rather inspired Suren failed to notice that it was in fact his dad’s shoes he was pulling: Suren was fighting with a competitor that had sprung up from out of nowhere. As my dad reached, the competitor and Suren were locked in a fierce battle for my dad’s shoes. My perplexed dad, in that dim light, suddenly realized that it was in fact his youngest son that had won the shoes. Suren was grounded for 200 years and was spanked with my dad’s 1500-year-old leather belt.
[This is not a series but I will be compiling all Suren’s adventures very shortly. Watch this space. Baby.]