Saturday, October 13, 2012

Madras Chronicles—Fathers and Sons

We were driving home after I picked up my sons from violin class. The underground tunneling work for the Metro Rail had made our drive home a tad longer. I stopped humming Yuvan Shankar Raja's Billa theme and asked the boys, “What do you want to become when you grow up?”

“I want to become an actor!” said the younger one while the elder one kept quiet. It has been a pretty standard answer for him for almost as long as I can remember.

“What about you?” I kept prodding the elder one.

“I am not sure...”, he said.

“You should start with your interests. Don't ever get into something which doesn't interest you!” I let out a pearl of my wisdom.


“So, what interests you?”

He paused for a few seconds and said, “Video games, sports and cooking.” He seemed to be sure of his answer.

“That is a very good start... knowing what your interests are. Now, you need to develop and nurture these interests and find your calling.”

He looked at me and smiled.

“You can become a gamer and build a big business around video games. You can become a sportsperson... you will have to pick a sport that you absolutely love. I know you can become a chef because you already cook so well...Your dosas are fantastic! The possibilities are endless.We are going to build upon these ideas and you can figure out what you really want to pursue.”

In the two minutes before we reached home, the younger one started narrating his movie screenplay.

* * *

I had dislocated my left thumb for the second time. This time it was a game of football during a substitute P.T. period at school. I was the goalie. JVB kicked the ball. I tried to defend it with my left hand. The ball hit my thumb and I knew immediately that it had dislocated. I felt a sudden rush of panic that was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling of failure to defend the goal. I kicked the ball and continued play as if nothing happened.

Later that evening, I told my mother. My father took me to our family doctor. He called the visiting orthopaedist, the same doctor who fixed my thumb earlier when I got it dislocated trying to ride my bicycle hands-free on the road off Poonamallee High Road that led to the old Naduvankarai bridge. I learnt two lessons that day. One - don't try to steer the bicycle with your leg, especially when you are driving hands-free downhill. Two - you will never forget your first dislocation however old you get.

We left the clinic and my father started his faithful maroon Bajaj M-80. I rode pillion. Just as he merged into the traffic on Poonamallee High Road near the toll-gate bus stop, I hear a bang. A second later, both of us are thrown off the vehicle. Half a second later, I see the rear wheel of the speeding Tempo that hit us just a few inches away from my face. My whole life flashes before me. The Tempo screeches to a halt. I come to my senses and look around. My father is down on the ground. He had a few minor scratches. I feel a shooting pain in my right knee and toes. My pinky toe had its nail ripped and my knee had a bloody gash about an inch wide. I was a bit dazed from my near-death experience.

We went back up to the doctor and he treated our wounds.

For the next two weeks, my dad and I had to visit the doctor to get the wound dressing changed. One such day while waiting for the doctor, I tell my father, “I find the medical profession to be a noble one. I think I want to become a doctor!”

* * *

My dad worked as an accountant at a government-owned organization. The accounting department got two brand new IBM PCs from the head office. One of them was an IBM PC XT with a monochrome CRT monitor and another was an IBM PC/AT with a color VGA CRT monitor. You booted those monstrosities with a 5¼-inch floppy diskette MS-DOS operating system. My father was the go-to guy on computers in that company because he could do spreadsheets (Lotus-123, anyone?) and knew Ashton Tate's dBase III+.

He was the go-to guy for me for three reasons. One - he let me type the school projects using Wordstar on those machines and fire up the dot-matrix printer and look at it with awe as it rattled away (and I just loved greenbar continuous stationery for some Freudian reason); Two - he let me work on Harvard Graphics Presentation or the extremely popular Banner software and go crazy printing text in cool fonts (Did I say I loved continuous stationery?); Three - he always let me play Prince of Persia and Chess on those computers.

So, when I took the Biology/Math/Physics/Chemistry/English group in class XI, I volunteered to get our class notes for “The Human Reproductive System” printed. Due to time constraints this was typed by my dad's colleagues in record time so that our class could meet the deadline.

The first and only choice I made, when I couldn't get into medicine and chose to pursue engineering instead, was Computer Science & Engineering. Instead of class notes, it was now slides for technical papers created with Harvard Graphics Presentation on Overhead Projector film.

I think I owe it to Prince of Persia and my dad for being able to tell my son today that he can become a gamer, if he wants to.

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