No longer a MIPOP?

No longer a MIPOP?

SHORT STORY

No longer a MIPOP?

Illustration and text by Kavitha MandanaWhen I remember how I behaved five years ago when Ma’s youngest sister, Leela Chikkamma, got married, I want to hide my face in shame. Back then, my Chikkamma lived with us in this big old house with my parents and grandpa. She was my best friend, favourite adult, bank manager, junk food supplier and nightmare banisher, all in one. And her room, which was almost as messy as mine (except more interesting, somehow) was where I went to lick my wounds after a bad day at school or if I needed some crash-course speed-studying before a test. Chikkamma could make me learn anything, like magic.

When she finished her college and began looking for a job, she refused any offer that meant leaving Bangalore. When one of my grand aunts asked her why, my Chikkamma snorted with disgust, “What? Leave Bangalore before Muthu completes his 10th finals? No way, Aunty!”

That’s me, Muthu, short for Muthappa. And overhearing that remark made me feel like the Most Important Person On the Planet, a MIPOP, in other words. Since my Std 10 exams were a good four years away when she said that, I felt safe. Leela Chikkamma would be around for ever!

Being a MIPOP had various advantages. A lot of my Chikkamma’s salary was spent on me. Comics and shoes that Ma refused, chocolates that Pa said were bad for my teeth, soft drinks that ‘give you a cold’ and a lot else. But best of all was that while all my friends went to grumpy tuition teachers after school, being a MIPOP meant that only my Chikkamma taught me.  With chocolate biscuits served up regularly so that I wouldn’t feel weak, and a big hug from Chikkamma whenever I cracked a tough sum. I loved it.

But one day my world was turned upside down. My Chikkamma fell in love. This most sensible, intelligent and capable of adults fell in love with a most inappropriate person. I didn’t realise that in the beginning. Because it was very clear that I still remained the MIPOP in my Chikkamma’s life. In fact, I think I became the No 2 MIPOP in her boy friend’s life too, because he was quite happy to take me along whenever they both went out. I sat between the two of them at the movies. And next to Manoj Anna at restaurants, with Leela Chikkamma across the table.

But where my sensible junior aunt had failed was not realising that Manoj Anna was going to be in Bangalore for only a year, after which he was to go off to the States for his PhD. Soon, everybody at home started talking about their marriage. I thought Manoj Anna would just move in with us; there were so many rooms in the house. My grandpa approved of Manoj Anna. Ma and Pa thought he was a good match for my Chikkamma, and so did I till I discovered the ugly secret about the States. From that moment, I hated him.

I tried to tell my Chikkamma that there were much smarter men in the neighbourhood. But for the first time in her life, she didn’t listen to me. And because I refused to set eyes on Manoj Anna, poor Chikkamma would go off alone with him. We stopped doing things together. But I know I still was my aunt’s MIPOP. She still made me sit for my studies and I topped my class in Std 8.

Before I knew it, the week of their marriage was upon us. My Chikkamma took me into her room one day and asked me to open a flattish box. I did, and was shocked to find a gleaming laptop in there. Chikkamma switched it on, opened the Internet connection and showed me how to use the Webcam. “Our study sessions will continue even when I’m in the US, okay Muthu?” I hugged her tight. I was certainly still her No 1 MIPOP. Imagine planning my homework routine, just days before her wedding! But she said, “That’s Manoj’s gift to you…he doesn’t want your studies to suffer.”

I felt awful. Just that morning, on the tag for the gift Ma had packed for my Chikkamma, I had angrily scratched out  ‘and Manoj’, leaving only ‘To dearest Leela’ on the note. I vowed to make another tag. And that night, when Manoj Anna came home for dinner, I sat next to him.

When no one was looking, I said I was sorry. He gave me a tough guy hug and said, “Great! We friends again! And don’t worry, you’ll always be Leela’s MIPOP…I come a distant second.” That’s what I’d wanted to hear. And it made me feel a lot better than even the laptop! The year I was to write my Std 10 exams, Manoj Chikkappa (I stopped calling him Anna after the wedding) gave me another present…the best one, ever.

Two whole months before my exams, there was a knock on our front door at 2 o’clock in the morning. Pa opened the door to find Leela Chikkamma beaming away, 2 large suitcases beside her. “Manoj sent me because he knew I was worried about your exams,” she whispered when I woke up later in the morning.” I hugged her tight. She would be mine for 2 whole months! I now knew I was Manoj Chikkappa’s No 1 MIPOP, too.

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