Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Madras Chronicles — Billa and Ranga

My first memory of Madras is from the year 1979. I was 4 years old. I still vividly remember walking along with my maternal grandfather, mom and dad in a suburb of Madras at that time called Annanagar. The most popular landmark that everyone associated with Annanagar was the Visweswaraya Tower built in the early '70s after the 1968 World Trade Fair held in that area. Most people just call it the Annanagar Tower.

The tar road ended at Vijaya Maruthi, the namesake of the landmark that was a residence on the corner of 4th Avenue. 15 D, 24 A and 47 C were the only three bus routes that stopped at the nearest bus stop on 18th main road. It was slushy from there all the way to the gravel topped 18th main road that led to the locality where our new home was.

It was around 7:45 PM and we were looking for the house that my grandfather had found to be available on rent. My father was transferred from Tiruchirapalli where we lived in Golden Rock1 along with my paternal grandfather who was in service at that time in Indian Railways. We were going to move into this suburb, if all went well.

The house had another tenant who was a bus conductor in the Pallavan Transport Corporation2. The family seemed friendly and my grandfather was convinced that it was a good place. After some negotiations with the homeowner, we paid the advance for the house. 

We returned back to our grandfather’s house in Aminjikarai taking a bus. 

* * *

After we settled into the rented house, construction work started at our own plot in the next street. I joined a new school. There was a shortcut from our street into 13th main road where the school bus stopped. It saved time whenever I had to rush to catch the school bus. But I was scared of the path that meandered between the thorny bushes on either side, more so whenever I heard any rustling noises that I feared could be snakes. It made me take the circuitous route to the school bus stop.

That roundabout route introduced me to my friend and classmate in the first year at school, a boy named Kaushik C who lived on 18th main road. The other boys in the school found the name funny and I vaguely remember calling him “Cow Ship” once and he got very angry that he didn't speak to me for a day.

* * *

The two of us were returning from school that evening. We picked up a few stones that lay on the roadside and threw them across the road trying to see who could throw the farthest. A PTC bus was speeding down the main road.

“Quick! Grab a stone. Let us see if we can throw it under the bus. Whoever gets it the farthest wins!”

We look around in a hurry. I notice a red brick, broken in two pieces. I pick one half and Kaushik picks the other.

He throws it first before the bus and gets it across the road. The bus is hurtling down the road. I throw it under the speeding bus. Perfect timing! The brick is smashed to pieces and red clay powder flies in all directions from the bus tires.


We hear abuses from inside the bus as it kept speeding away. We look at each other with a shocked expression and flee the scene immediately.

* * *

Later that evening, I find our bus conductor neighbor complaining to my mother about us.

How did he find out? I wondered.

It could have been anyone. I prepared my defense mentally.

What are the odds of him being in that bus. I gathered courage. I went out cautiously and stood beside my mom who was listening to him.

“It is him and that other brat... Please advise him not to do this kind of mischief in the future!"

Oops... Busted!

I never really figured out how he picked out the two of us until I realized that I was still in my white and blue school uniform.

It was a time when people still talked about Billa and Ranga, the duo who had been arrested for the murder of two children in Delhi. I heard that those notorious criminals lived in the same area as us years ago. I have no idea whether that rumor is true or not.

End notes

  1. Golden Rock or பொன்மலை as it was called.
  2. Pallavan Transport Corporation or பல்லவன் போக்குவரத்துக்கழகம் was eventually merged with what is now called Metropolitan Transport Corporation or மாநகர போக்குவரத்துக்கழகம்.
  3. I shudder to think what nickname the current generation would tease Kaushik with.

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