Confessions of the Misfit Monster

Today, I am a pilot with the Indian Air Force, proud to fly the Indian flag. The struggle to reach here was long and hard for me as well as my parents.

Bhagya, my mother and Hanumanthu, my father, were illiterate and very, very poor. They had migrated from their village to Bangalore in search of opportunity, only to land menial jobs. I hated them for their illiteracy, their poverty and their jobs.

My hatred grew by leaps and bounds when I started school and it ballooned till I reached college. My father worked for a catering contractor. His life revolved around frying, kneading and chopping in front of hot stoves in choultry kitchens. Preparing huge quantities of fancy food, day in and day out, had put him off solids. He survived on buttermilk and coffee.

“Munna, learn English. Nothing else will get you a good job.” This was his constant refrain.

My mother worked as an ayah in a private hospital, constantly cleaning up after patients, without ever complaining about the stink or the stench.

When patients and their relatives gave her a tip, she was grateful. The money could buy me a pen which I needed, or the ‘guide’ which would help me in my examination. “Study son, you have to do better than us,” she would say, softly.

My parents had admitted me into a school that had only rich kids as students. How they had managed this feat remains a mystery to me to this day. They had cut off ties with their village and their relatives. This was the second mystery. Did Amma and Appa belong to different communities? My imagination was piqued.

My imagination also helped me cope in school. I did not have the guts to speak the truth about my humble background, for I desperately wanted “to belong” to my peer group. So, I bragged about by CEO father, our posh house, my mother’s kitty parties and our super expensive car.

I always got off the school bus in front of a big, gated community and bought time by adjusting my shoe laces, which I had clandestinely untied in the bus! Once the bus moved out of sight, I would run through the crowded by lanes to reach my dingy one-room tenement! I could neither invite my school friends home nor could I play with my neighbours, for I already felt “a little above” them.

How could I explain to my simple parents my reasons for changing them every day (only at school) into what they were not? They would guess that I was ashamed of them. Add to my deceitful ways the stress of schooling in an alien language. My passport to the good life meant cramming and begging my classmates to help me with English.

Once, I was entering school talking to a “friend” when father cycled past, cheerfully waving out to me. I pretended not to see him. He was probably going to the marriage hall next door.

Just as Civics class began that day, a fire broke out in the marriage hall next door. Smoke belched from everywhere.

We watched the pandemonium from the safety of the school. With frightened shrieks, people rushed out, fire fighters ran into the hall and ambulances clanged past our school.
Suddenly, a little girl appeared near the second floor window, fear writ large on her face. We saw a man in caterer’s uniform rush into the inferno. After what seemed like ages he reappeared at the window with the girl in his arms. The fire fighters held a net and asked him to jump out of the window with the girl. An ambulance drove the pair away to a nearby hospital.

Normalcy was restored as soon as the fire was brought under control. We went back to class. Our Head Mistress decided that the brave man, who had rescued the child, would be honoured by the school on Founder’s Day.

It was only in the evening when I reached home that I realised it was my father who had saved the little girl. He was in hospital, lungs full of smoke and badly burnt.

He had covered the little girl completely with his gumcha. So, she had escaped with nothing more serious than a proper fright. Her parents were kind enough to pay father’s hospital bills. He came home cheerful but with scars all over.

On Founder’s Day, father walked up to the dais in his caterer’s uniform and trademark gumcha. I was afraid he would give me away. He did not.

He spoke straight from the heart. “Father Joseph was kind enough to admit my son into this school, giving him a chance to improve his life. But my son is ashamed of us, his working-class parents. A day will come when he will proudly acknowledge us, just as we are proud to say  he is our son. I hope to see that day very soon.”

Don’t you think that day has finally arrived? Thank you Amma and Appa. I am indeed very, very proud and grateful to be your son.

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