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Tales from a bygone summer

This is a re-telling of sorts. My brother’s subtle but personally poignant and emotional recounting of our hey days, if one may call it that, has a briefer account of the tale that follows here. If you’d like to read it with context, you should go here.

His narration is brief (to honor the importance of the theme of the write-up). But unbeknownst to him, I remember this tale better that he seems to. I thought I’d varnish it with my side of the narration.

PROLOGUE

In India - particularly the south - when a lizard falls on you, it is an omen. Good or bad depends on which part of your body the poor fellow landed on and there are legends for this. Any sexagenarian from the 90s (or octagenarian from today) would list out the legend but in my case, I found out the nuances of these silly little things on the back of a daily-sheet calendar - the one where you forget to tear off the date-sheet for about a week and then tear them in bulk on one fine morning.

Again, in India, when it’s summer, you abandon your house and travel anywhere between a dozen kilometers and a thousand to visit your relatives. Depending on how close the bonding is, you - along with your mom or dad or both (but mostly mom in a patriarchal family system) - stay with your relatives for a few days. To me, this was almost always my mausi (aunt; mother’s sister), followed only by my mami (aunt; mother’s sister-in-law). It so happened that this particular summer, my mausi’s daughter (let’s call her P) and my mami’s son (let’s call him S) came visiting me (let’s call me U).

Our days were filled with lazy mornings, lazier afternoons, hyperactive evenings and early-to-bed nights. You see this was a long time ago when we were still kids under the command of elders. Unlike now, we couldn’t afford to talk late into the night to the point where we hit the bed as the 4.00AM alarm went off. This was simpler times: by 10.00PM, all lights were turned off, everyone retired to sleep and my sister, P, turned on her hallucination of ghostly sounds and shapes.

P was - and, to a large extent, is - the scaredy-cat of our family. S was/is scared too but not to P’s extent. I played the courageous elder brother on almost all occasions but to this day I have only successfully hidden my fear of the unknown darkness and mystery-creatures. I was as much scared of Evil Dead as these guys were. These guys probably know it too but they choose to let me play my role. This is not just because they trust me to be courageous when needed. It’s also because the one leading the pack into the unknown is the sacrificial goat. Damn it. So much for me being the eldest of the three.

P’s list of “scares-me”s includes not just untraceable sounds of the night but also dolls that could be voodoo and insects that could be lizards, flying cockroaches and what’s popularly called pooraan.

On the surface, my brother and I make a lot of fun at her expense but deep down, we care.

And that’s why on a fateful night when a lizard fell on my sister, a tragicomedy of sorts unfurled thanks much to S, the brother who I can probably say is the apple of our eyes.

ACT ONE

In my house, a small passage cuts its way from the kitchen to the backyard where we do the dishes, wash the cloths and squat in the afternoons. In broad daylight, this passage is the gateway to freedom - because you could escape to the backyard and play cricket. At night, the deepening darkness of the passage kept it out of bounds for P unless she was accompanied by someone.

As we wound up our dinner and started filing out to wash our plates, P was following me through the passage. Of course, lights were on and the whole place was as bright as you could ask for. Still, no risks. U on the lead (scape goat), P right behind. I don’t precisely remember where S was. In one variation, he is still finishing his dinner. In another, surprisingly, he has taken the lead already and is out on the backyard.

This is where Murphy’s law kicks in. From out of nowhere (in retrospect, from the ceiling), a lizard falls. And it falls right on my sister’s hand. Reflex works for all of us. Most notably, the lizard. It jumps away (or P’s sudden movement throws the lizard off).

All of this happens in no more than a fraction of a second.

At the end of this fraction of a second, the lizard’s nowhere to be found and my sister is sobbing, shaking, slightly traumatized and utterly inconsolable.

ACT TWO
A little later…

You’ll probably tag this as a sexist reference but to a man, there is nothing as uncomfortable as watching a girl sobbing. It comes in a variety of people: a mother, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a daughter… why, even a random stranger. But when a girl cries, it is definitely uncomfortable. When the girl happens to be the sister you care for, it is slightly gut-wrenching.

Here’s P, sobbing uncontrollably, and despite the best efforts of my mom and my grandma, the shaking hasn’t subdued. Both the brothers are watching this, helpless in every way and we kind of know this is not the time to mock or screw up.

I decide to join the consoling party. The quickest thing I could think of was lizards and omen. I remembered reading that when a lizard falls on your hand, it was good omen. The daily calendar that I sourced the data from said, “pudhu varavu“, which meant new stuff (interpreted variantly as new cloths, new toys, new money depending on your age and gender). Eureka! I’ll show her that lizards falling on your hand were in fact good omen and nothing to be afraid of.

At this point you should dispense with logic. Here’s a girl frightened to death and here I am trying to console her through omens. You see in love, in affection, in care, logic doesn’t account for much.

I tell my sister, “Hey! Actually, lizards falling on your hand is good omen! Don’t cry! You should be happy! Look-” and I proceed to pick an old daily calendar from the top of a two-generation-old almirah with mirror on its door. The mirror had floral patterns on the edges.

Just to make sure I point her the right part of the lizard-omen-legend in the daily calendar, I hold it to myself and silently read through it.

And against “Hand”, the omen said, “Death” - meaning that if a lizard was to fall on your hand, you would die.

At this moment, I freeze. I don’t believe in stupid omens as these but obviously, my attempt at consolation was rapidly turning out into a nightmare. I decide, then and there, to silently slip away from this conundrum without supplying any more information. She doesn’t know the omen yet.

That’s when my brother, S, eyes wide with alarm and a voice that clearly echoed the impending doom, said, loud and clear: “It’s written ‘Death’, bro?!”

EPILOGUE

Needless to say, the rest of the night did not go down well for anybody. P made frantic calls to her house to listen to consolation from her parents - which I think helped at least to put her to sleep.

While she was at it (in the drawing room), S, my mother and I had a good laugh over how events turned out.

There was an occasional dab of rebuttal in my mother’s tone so I said I remembered reading something else in the legend. There was another daily calendar on top of the almirah. I picked it up and found, much to our chagrin, that in this one, the omen for a lizard falling on your hand was “pudhu varavu”. Damn it. That was when I realized that there was no such thing as a standardized lizard-omen chart.

In retrospect, this was also when I realized - not for the firs time though - that the funniest and the happiest moments of my life has two people in it: S and P. The summer days…

It’s getting nostalgic. I’ll let S take over from here.