Disclaimer: All the characters in this story are fictitious and an outcome of the writer’s retarded imagination. Any resemblance to any person driving an auto, traveling by auto or unaware of auto is, as usual, mere coincidence.
It was late Friday night. No, it was almost early Saturday morning. I got down from Airavatha and hired an auto. The driver looked very familiar. I could see a similar flash of recognition on the driver’s face. Yes, it was Manjunath, also known as Manja. I went into an instant “flashback” mode.
It was in the mid 80s and there were not many houses in my locality at that time. Next to our street lived Manjunath. Manju, as we called him, was a year elder to me, though he looked 4 years elder. He was well built and always short-tempered, a trait which was hereditary. I used to call him for playing cricket with us in the evening. He was a match winner, not because of his superior batting or bowling abilities – but because of his ability to fight. He would come in handy for close calls like run outs, stumping etc. Had he been an international cricketer, ICC would have banned him for lifetime for his misconducts on field.
After a few years, we stopped playing cricket (thanks to the irritating cricket-hating fat lady next to my house, who used to take away the tennis balls every time it went inside her compound). I used to meet Manju on the road once in a while. He had a new set of friends now – Naaga, Budda, Loki, Koli, who all had a reputation of smoking and drinking, even before entering high school.
Once Manju, or Manja, as he was being called now, came to my house along with his friends – “Aunty, Ganapathi kundristhideevi”. Like any person in the locality, we donated some money, to avoid disappointing Ganapathi and Manja’s friends. The “Vidya Ganapathi Bhakta Mandali”, headed by Manja, constructed a huge ‘pendaal’ and got many orchestra groups and drama groups to perform for a week. In the remaining time, they were dancing to some loud songs (they called it “ricaald” – their pronunciation of the word “record”) Manja fought with a couple of his friends the same week, which I later came to know as something regarding mismanagement of Ganapathi funds. Somehow, Ganapathi was not pleased with this and made sure that none from the “Vidya Ganapathi Bhakta Mandali” passed their exams.
A few of his friends had left him and he had made some new friends. Some younger “wannabe-Manjas” in the locality started calling him as “Anna” or “Guru” whenever they met him. The road-end “Saraswathi Provision Stores” had become his default hangout place, where he demonstrated to his friends, as to how to create a ring from smoke.
Surprisingly, he finished his tenth in the third attempt and he was not seen often near that provision stores after that. He had joined some JOC college. Somebody told me that he was going out with some girl and he was spotted at the nearby temples with that girl.
After a few months, I saw Manja near the same provision stores. He looked drunk, his clothes were shabby and he looked completely Devdas-ish. His girlfriend had dumped him and married a guy of her parents’ choice. That was the last time I had seen him. I later moved out to Bangalore and lost track of Manja.
“Saar, do you come so late every week?”, Manja interrupted, breaking my flashback sequence.
“Yes”. He seemed better than the last time I had seen him. His auto was decorated and was in good shape. You can tell about an auto driver looking at his auto!
On one of the mirrors was a photo of Upendra and the slogan on the glass read ‘Love is blind’.
“How are you Manja?”
“Life is going on saar. Got this auto on loan. Dad is not that well nowadays. All my friends are gone now. We can only depend only on our family…” he was getting philosophical.
“Do you like Upendra?”
“Uppi sooper saar. Hudgeerna sakkattagi baythane”, he smiled.
I was in front of my home, as the auto stopped.
As the auto sped by, I could not help but notice the statements on the mudguards, even in that dull streetlight.
On the left was written “Thande Thaayi Aasheerwaada”. On the right was written “Preethisidha hudugi kayyi kottaLu”, with an image of a knife piercing a heart!