Escape


1. Circus Boy

Cherian Circus had set camp at Palace grounds in Bangalore. The curious public looked on as the circus folks went about setting up their colorful tents. They were greeted by a bedlam of noises- growl of tigers, roar of lions, chattering of monkeys, trumpeting of elephants, neighing of horses and squawking of parrots.

“Get going, you lazy bones. We need the tents up before it gets dark”, boomed Mr. Cherian, a large portly man in his 40s.

“Ramu, get the tent pegs”, “Ramu, check if the monkeys are fine”, “Ramu, bring the vessels to the kitchen tent.” were some of the other voices that could be heard.

Ramu, a little boy of 11 with his dog ‘Lucky’ in tow was running from tent to tent cheerfully carrying out his chores. It was late into the night and most circus folks were already asleep by the time Ramu could finally call it a day. It had been another hard but happy day. Ramu just loved the life at the circus – the diverse people, and the camaraderie between them, the animals, the glitz and the glamour during the shows. He was no longer an orphan on the streets. The circus was the best family any one could dream of. It was not long before sleep embraced him.

2. Sick Man
His chest was aching from constant coughing. He struggled to take a couple of short breaths and gave out a heart rending cough. He lay on a cot in a corner of the room, almost a skeleton but for the long strands of unkept hair and the shaggy beard on his gaunt face. A strange musty odor wafted out of the room. The windows were shut possibly to spare the neighbors the stench. The room was dreary, dark and gloomy – an ideal breeding ground for rats, cockroaches and other vermin. With painstaking effort he managed to drag himself out of the cot towards the door where the kind hearted lady next door had left a pot of porridge. He slowly filled porridge in his bowl and began his journey back. Having overcome the first hurdle of fetching the porridge, taking in ever sip was a challenge in itself. Miraculously he managed to empty the bowl over the next 3 hours. He then retired back to the corner of his cot and began to leaf through an old book with yellowed pages. His health did not permit him to get any quality sleep as such. Sitting in the corner of the cot in a half dreamy state, leafing through the book was the closest he got to tranquil sleep.

3.A visit to the circus boss' tent
Ramu opened his eyes as the first rays of the sun reached out to him through the opening in the tent. The circus camp was already a bustle of activity. The circus folk were early raisers.

“The cook is looking for you. Get out of your slumber and move your ass to the kitchen. Once you are done helping the cook, papa wants to see you. Wonder what new mischief you have got into” called out Rani, Cherian’s daughter as she rushed past his tent.

He was nervous throughout the morning as he went through with the chores. At last the hour of doom arrived and he found himself in the boss’ tent.

“Well, my boy, you have been with us for 3 months since my daughter picked you up from outside the camp at Chennai. How are you finding life with us so far?” Ramu was relieved. Boss did not seem angry with him after all.

“I have really enjoyed every moment here, Sir”.

“Good. You have been a good boy and working quite hard. Almost everyone seems to have a good word for you. But you see we are circus folks and all circus folks are expected to be out there on the ring. So it is time we found something for you”

Ramu was very excited. It was his dream also to become a performer one day.

“Sir, I have been practicing this act with Lucky. If you can spare some time…”

The boss cut him short. “I don’t want to hear about Lucky again, my boy. Let me tell you, audience don’t pay to see a street mongrel do its stupid tricks”

“But Sir, she is so smart. You should just see once”

“I said no once and no it is. No arguments. I know my business well.”

The boss had got into a dark mood. “Now listen to what I have to say. Sarojamma, who manages the monkeys, tells me the monkeys are getting to be a handful and she can use an extra hand with the monkeys. So you go and peak to her, ok? Now scoot. I have other work to do”

Things had not turned out as good as Ramu expected. But not too bad either. Now he had to find time amidst his daily odd jobs to practice with Saro Akka as well. But he was only too happy and it was again late by the time he found comfort in his bed. Not that it was really a great comfort for that same terrible dream was haunting him night after night that he had almost begun to dread sleep. He hoped at least today the dream would spare him.

4. Visit from an old college friend
There was a knock on the door. He wondered who it was. Nobody had knocked the door for the past two years now. He got himself out of bed and ambled towards the door. By the time he got to the door, he was too tired to even unbolt the door. He gave himself 3 minutes rest and then began to work on the bolt. There stood a neatly dressed man in his early thirties.

“Dei Machi Aunty, is this really you? You are looking totally give-up man. I did not believe even when our Junta told me. And what are you doing in a shady place like this, da?”

“Bobs! I am seeing you after such a long time. I am glad to see you. Let me welcome you into my royal palace”

“I remember the last time I visited you, Machi. Hujjar time back when we were still at IIT, at your father’s estate in Ooty. At that time I never even dreamed my next visit to you would be at an arbit place like this.”

” So what would you like to have – tea, coffee, cold drinks?”

As he stepped inside the room, Bobs’ eyes fell upon a photo in the corner of the room.

“Isn’t that Anu? Where is she these days? I thought you guys were planning to get married. She also accompanied you to US for higher studies, didn’t she? Finally she gave you the KLPD?”

“You must be hungry. Should I order some refreshments? Please let me know your menu preferences.”

“Pack this nonsense, asshole. I have had enough of your sick humor, da. I am seeing you after such a long time and I am so disturbed to see you in this cuppaxe condition. And you! You are acting like a jerk.”

“I wish I had been a jerk. If I had been a jerk I wouldn't have ended up in such a sorry state.”

5. Beginning of a fresh Chapter of life
Ramu was relieved when at last it was morning again. The dream was giving him no respite. Day after day it continued. He wondered why he was always a grown up man in the dream. Was the dream some kind of a premonition? He hoped his future would not turn out to be a nightmare like that.

Ramu had been working with Saro Akka for 3 months now. Ramu had a natural way with animals and Saro Akka’s five monkeys Shilpa, Aishwarya, Deepika, Priyanka and Sushmita took to him from day one. He could manage them almost independently now. Ramu had come up with lot of innovative ideas for new acts and most of his ideas were turning out to be hit with the audience. Saro Akka and her monkeys were fast becoming the star attraction of the circus. However Ramu had not yet made his appearance on-stage. Every time he asked about it, Saro Akka had some ready excuse. Ramu had so looked forward to being on stage and he was slowly getting disappointed. But he did not let his disappointment dampen his enthusiasm and continued to work tirelessly. His latest idea for an act involved Lucky as well. He was making an act based on the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ story he had heard from Rani with Priyanka as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, Aishwarya as the grandmother, Sushmitha as the wood cutter and Lucky as the ‘Big Bad Wolf’.

One day, when Ramu walked into Saro Akka’s tent, he found her still in bed.

“Ramu, I am feeling very tired today and my whole body is paining”

He quickly checked her forehead and found she was running a fever.

“I will go and get the cook”, he said.

He came back with the cook who was also an expert on natural remedies and healing techniques.

The cook examined her and said “I will give her some herbs. She needs to be given an infusion of these herbs once every 2 hours. She would need to be given warm meals at regular hours and she must not stir out of bed the next 2 days”

“But will I be alright in time for the show on Friday? You know I am the star attraction.”

“Depends on how well you recover over the next two days”

For the next 2 days Ramu dedicated himself to the care of Saro Akka. He also did not neglect his other chores and the training of the monkeys. His efforts yielded fruit and Saro Akka was perfectly all right on the day of the next show and managed another excellent performance. The past two days’ hard work had totally tired Ramu out. He was fast asleep long before the show was over.

6. Revisiting a forgotten chapter of life
“8 years back I had everything in the world – degrees from India’s and the world’s best institutes, an enviable family fortune, a girl friend to kill for and a job to die for. My life had been a blessed one – right out of a fairy tale. The job went well for 2 years and then there were first signs of trouble. For the past 2 years, my superior Dough had been rejecting most of my ideas. I had innocently thought that they were not really good enough and continued to toil on to come up with better ideas. One day, I was going through one of Dough’s latest star projects. I began to see silhouettes of my own ideas in them. I confronted Dough about that. He staunchly denied using my ideas and deplored me for the high opinion I held about myself and my ideas. But I was not the one to take it lying down. I decided to lodge a complaint against him. But it did not stick and I was the one who had to leave the company. With a reputation as a trouble maker. My area of specialization was so narrow that everyone in the field knew each other. Dough ensure no one else would have me. So I had to return to India where there was no vacancies for my area of specialization."

"Meanwhile my relationship with Anu had also begun to see strains. There was already resistance from both our parents as we were from a different caste and region. Added to that, my loss of jobs began to cause rifts between us. She felt I was not trying hard enough. But the pressure was getting to me and I had to get away. Now instead of comforting me in this hour of need, the relationship also was becoming too much of a bother. So I decided to break it off and go back home to my parents."

"Within a year of coming home, my parents passed away in an accident leaving the estate to me. I tried managing the estate. But all the unpleasantness with the worker unions, the local politicians and the wholesalers was getting on to my sensitive nerves. So I decided my father’s loyal manager was the best man to take care of such things and gave him full power of attorney. But the loyal manager was more loyal to his own sons than to his dead master’s son. He was mostly making small amounts. And things would have continued that way for years if I had not discovered his deceit. But I did and was going to throw him out. But it turned out that I was the one to be thrown out. I was not even left with money to fight him in the court."

"I packed my bags and came to Chennai. One of our old family servants still retained her loyalty to me and arranged these rooms for me. The fiend had thankfully left one bank account of mine untouched which has allowed me to sustain myself to date along with the mercies of the kindhearted old lady. But I could not reconcile my steep fall from grace and the thoughts kept coming and worrying me. I had to get away from such thoughts. So I began to drink. And for the escape it afforded, a costly price it demanded – my health. I already have enough worries in my head to further have a doctor saying worrying things. So I have not been to see a doctor. I am just hanging on and hoping somehow all my problems will get magically resolved one day. That’s my story, my friend. I rest my case and now would you please be kind enough to let me rest?”

7. All is well......
Ramu was very excited. Finally his day had come. Saro Akka was going to let Ramu do the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ act with Priyanka, Aishwarya, Sushmitha and Lucky on stage. Every since his tender care for her during her illness, she had become like a second mother to him. She had personally stitched shiny new clothes for his first stage appearance. All the circus folks had excused him from his daily chores that day so that he could prepare for his special moment. The day changed to night. The show began. It was time for Ramu’s act. Initially he was nervous standing there alone in front of the big crowd. But then the presence of his four friends comforted him and soon he was in his elements. He orchestrated his act with the finesse of a music composer, each animal faithfully playing the right tune. At the end of the act, the whole tent exploded in applause. He bowed gracefully to the audience and left the arena, his heart filled with triumph and joy. At the end of the show, the boss himself came up to him.

“Well done my boy. I am proud of you. You have now really become one of us. By the way, when do you plan to show me that act you had with that dog of yours?”

He had stood and fought and won. Now he could sleep peacefully.

8. ......That ends well
Bobs arrived at his friend’s place the next morning accompanied by one of the city’s leading doctors. He found the door ajar. On stepping inside, he found his friend sprawled on the cot, lifeless. He had a calm, contended, serene expression on his face. In his hand he held a book with yellowed pages. An open pen lay on the floor near his outstretched hand. Bobs slowly prised the book out of his friend’s hands. The cover of the book said “Mr. Galliano’s Circus by Enid Blyton”. He opened the first page. It said “To my dearest son Ramu on his 11th Birthday”.

Bob had seen this book before. His friend had brought the book with him to college and everyone had teased him mercilessly about it. But he had still persisted in keeping it with him through the four years. It was no surprise

He flipped through the pages. There were small pencil scribbles all over.  and came to the last page where his eyes fell upon a few lines had been scrawled painstakingly very recently

“How does one escape life? Are dreams the escape that brings succor to the wearied soul? But aren’t dreams too just a reflection of reality? Or maybe reality is just a reflection of dreams? How does one know which is reality, which the dream? But then does it even matter? If I were to chose one, I would choose the one that makes me happy. The one that lets me escape."

A note of IIT-Madras lingo and Nicknames:
In section 4 - 'Visit from a college friend'. Bobs, whose real name is not mentioned in the story makes use of campus lingo and nickname Aunty for Anantharaman which are an integral part of IIT-M culture. Using them when meeting old batch mates is part of the nostalgic feeling. We find only Bobs using them and not Anantharaman because Aunty's current state of affairs don't indulge him the luxury of nostalgia. Please find below the brief meanings of some of the slang words for the benefit of the readers.

1. Da/Dei - Usual suffix/Prefix to any sentence when talking to close friends or relatives of same age group

2. Machi - An informal form of address for close friends

3. Junta - Gang of college friends

4. Give-up - In a bad shape

5. Shady - Nasty

6. Hujjar - Many

7. Arbit - Wierd

8. Pack - Stop

9. Cuppaxe - Lousy

10. KLPD - To get jilted

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