They say there is no substitute for a good memory. How about native intelligence and academic excellence? Nay, not at all! Ramkumar says a good memory is a generic trait! (Shrug) No idea but its worked for me, right from childhood to the days of "aptitude tests”! So how does such a vague start about memory lead to a memoir - that's what i intend this to be a part of..someday.
Let me spin the wheel back a bit. In fact, quite a bit back! I had been a bright kid all my life! My mom still recounts how at 5, I could remember the capitals of around 90 countries including Senegal and Puerto Rico :-) I remember winning my first painting competition at 6 - I was no Van Gogh but all I did was painstakingly reproduce what my aunt had drawn for a wall painting in our house - the old Air India Maharaja!
My earliest learning in school occurred when I was in Std 2. It was poetry recitation class and I had some dumb lines to repeat - I had memorized them beautifully but still ended up finishing second best to my closest friend - just because he happened to be related to the teacher. I had learnt my first major lesson. Then there was this lady from Australia who handled Maths for us in Std 3. She had this wonderful way with all of us kids - posted stickers of stars against the name of those students who did well at school each day in the notice board. The winner after each week got a gift too! I still remember how hard I worked to submit my homework on time and neat (that was more challenging) so that I could earn my "stars and stripes".
Life rolled along peacefully for the next four years. I couldn’t have done better. I was on top of the class year after year, was beginning to excel in cricket, was winning cultural competitions throughout town and was the darling of the last benchers - the guys who usually were satisfied with "Aatha Naan Paasaayitaen" translated literally to mean - "Mom , I have somehow managed to pass" (In my days, it was more fashionable to be "accepted" by these guys than to be branded a geek/nerd) At the same time, I was growing up the "normal" way too - traveling with free bus passes, ogling at gals in mini skirts, collecting Big fun runs (anyone remembers?), watching Rajini and Kamal movies and signing other less fortunate students' report cards :-) Barring the occasional drawing exam where I just about managed to pass, (the teacher was now drawing complex landscapes which my simple mind could no longer fathom and memorise), the alarmingly regular comments from teachers that I had bad dressing sense on Saturdays (no uniform on that day) and the occasional scrap when someone poked fun of my "Venkatesh Prasad'ish" express pace bowling, I was having a ball.
This was all too good to be true - but all good things come to an end and along came Mr.Smartass in Std 6! (We’ll name no names since these are real ppl and I don’t want to be sued for libel) His father worked in the Indian railways and he had just been transferred from Bhopal. Needless to say, he was brilliant, hardworking and yes, he had a much better memory too! And so down I came crashing! I finished second best in academics throughout the year - the difference between us widening from a crack in the wall to the Grand Canyon by the end of the year. I gave up on studies feigning interest in cricket and extra-curriculars. And what did Mr.Smartass do? He followed me everywhere and beat me in everything! He didn’t leave till Std 10 and by then I had had enough of him. 8 years later in 2001, I chanced to see him in OUTLOOK and learnt that he had gone on to represent India in the Maths Olympiad, stood 25th in IIT-JEE and was pursuing his PhD at Stanford - Good riddance ;-) However those 3 years taught me the second of Life's invaluable lessons "What goes up has to come down" - I learnt and recognized the value of equanimity !
There is a silver lining in every dark cloud. Those 3 painful years also brought out the rebel in me. I started questioning a lot of facts about life - my teachers were annoyed, my friends were worried but i think my parents understood. It was at that time that I discovered the first love of my life - books! I had been part of the usual growing up - from Noddy to Jataka Tales to the Famous Five and then Hardy boys and Asterix and Tintin...but now I started turning to something meaningful and deep. I remember my first few attempts at reading serious literature were with A Tale of Two cities, Living with the Mahatma, To Kill a mocking bird, The Merchant of Venice ( I remember this distinctly coz I struggled a lot with Shylock's foul language and was naïve enough to ask my teacher doubts in L&D class). The more I read, the more I got hooked to books. It became such an obsession that I was soon reading Harold Robbins at night despite being clearly warned by my mom that "it wasn’t the right time" for me! I also ended up spending most of my pocket money buying books from roadside shops where I had the fortune of getting acquainted with the works of diverse geniuses like Leo Tolstoy, O Henry, Fredrick Forsyth and Hugh Hefner ;-)
All the glib talkers in the world will tell you that there are both pros and cons of studying in a co-education. At school, my "socially happening" mates kept cribbing that the pros outnumbered the cons 10 - 1 and how much they hated being holed up in a boy’s school. However at 16, I wouldn’t think of it. For me, women were sissy and a real pain "you know where". Despite having opportunities and a somewhat decent lot to choose from, I could never be bothered to engage in a decent conversation, leave alone relationship, with the fairer sex. All attempts by my close pals to set me up on "dates" were unmitigated disasters. But it was on one memorable day in July, 1994 that I discovered the second love of my life. Two of my best pals with their 4 women (2 guys with 4 women was close to a miracle in those good old days in that small town called Trichy) had fixed up a movie date. Not wanting to leave me alone they had included me in the party too. Much as I didn’t want to go, I chugged along for my friends’ sake. (To eat their popcorn and ice-cream while they cozily shared their dates' popcorn) An hour later, the women could not "tolerate the mind numbing comedy" and requested their dates to take them back home. I stayed back, watched the movie till the end and came back again to see it the next day too. For someone who had seen only Tamil and a few English films (Ben Hur, Bible and Ten commandments thanks to my Christian missionary schooling), it had been a revelation. GOVINDA had arrived and I had found the second love of my life. The movie: Coolie No: 1!